Tom Melsheimer’s Absolutely Irrational Level of Dedication
There’s a reason he’s the lawyer other attorneys don’t want to face in court
Published in 2012 Texas Super Lawyers magazine
on September 10, 2012
Updated on September 21, 2012
No one wants to face Tom Melsheimer in court. Just talk to someone who has.
“Tom is a superior lawyer in town who moves in the upper echelon. There’s very little to criticize in terms of his integrity and ability and what he has demonstrated he can do,” says Richard Sayles, who unsuccessfully battled Melsheimer in a 2009 breach of fiduciary duty case that resulted in a $178.7 million jury verdict. The National Law Journal affiliate Verdict Search named IRCC v. NL Industries one of its top verdicts of 2009.
Sayles is such a believer in Melsheimer’s skills that he once hired him to mock-try a high-stakes case so he could hone his defense. “His personal confidence translates to confidence in his case. He has a very calm presence in the courtroom, and he can grasp complicated facts quite quickly and dissect them,” he says.
Clients value these traits. Allen Jones is one. He hired Melsheimer after leaving the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General after uncovering, and blowing the whistle, on Medicaid fraud in the department involving pharmaceutical products sold by Johnson & Johnson. After eight years of work, Melsheimer was able to secure a $158 million settlement for the state.
“It takes an absolutely irrational level of dedication to do this sort of thing,” says Jones. “He has a razor-sharp intellect, and he grasps very complex dynamics.”
Last summer, while representing Mark Cuban and his Dallas Mavericks against claims of mismanagement by minority owner Ross Perot Jr., Melsheimer wrote a motion for summary judgment that caught fire.
Dubbed the “Greatest Legal Brief in the History of Jurisprudence” by the Dallas Observer, the motion also became known as the “Ultimate ‘F— You’ Legal Brief” by the sports website Deadspin. It generated media coverage from CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, American Lawyer, the Huffington Post, and even TMZ. A law professor from Texas Tech University let Melsheimer know he would be presenting the brief in his procedures class; it also captured honors from The Green Bag Almanac & Reader for excellence in legal writing for 2011.
So what caused all the hoopla? Take the title for starters: “World Champion Dallas Mavericks and Radical Mavericks Management’s Motion for Summary Judgment.” In arguing against Perot’s claim that the Mavericks teetered on insolvency, Melsheimer laid out his case visually. Turn to page two and there sits an a half-page color photo of a group of Mavericks celebrating with their world championship trophy. Melsheimer’s argument: How can the Mavericks be mismanaged if they are the newly crowned world champs?
Melsheimer is still blown away by the attention from the brief. “It was stunning. It captured what every lawyer is trying to capture. How can I succinctly, memorably, provocatively make my point best?” says Melsheimer, who has represented Cuban and his various business interests for a dozen years. “Plus, the motion was granted.”
Melsheimer grew up in Dallas and studied English at the University of Notre Dame. Since law school at the University of Texas, Melsheimer spent three years in litigation at Akin Gump, then decided to pursue a U.S. attorney position. He’d call the first assistant every couple of weeks to see if there were any openings. When the government directed more funds to prosecute bank fraud at the height of the savings and loan crisis, Melsheimer was hired as federal prosecutor.
Melsheimer’s biggest success came in 1991 during the I-30 condo scandal—a real estate fraud and conspiracy case that resulted in taxpayers footing the bill for nearly $1 billion that was then the longest-running and most famous criminal case in Dallas. He helped win convictions of the four main defendants and successfully served as lead prosecutor for three other defendants.
“It was a turning point in my career—it was a big case, a high-profile, high-stakes case with excellent lawyers on both sides,” says Melsheimer.
After three years as a prosecutor Melsheimer entered private practice, and he co-founded Lynn Stodghill & Melsheimer in 1993. At the civil litigation boutique, Melsheimer continued to burnish his reputation as a trial lawyer, advocating for both individuals and businesses. One big case came when he represented Al Lipscomb, the former Dallas city council member and influential civil rights activist, after his federal bribery conviction. Melsheimer got the conviction reversed on appeal, and the U.S. attorney didn’t pursue a retrial.
These days Melsheimer is one of the most in-demand trial lawyers in Dallas for his ability to master the intricacies of a variety of patent litigation topics, from medical devices and online ticketing systems to semiconductors and Internet security. The diversity is what keeps Melsheimer engaged. “I like what I’m doing and I’d like to do more of it,” he says.