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Title company that lost record $706M Bexar verdict loses bid for new trial

January 9, 2019

The company on the hook for a record $706-million Bexar County jury verdict failed in its bid for a new trial.

State District Judge David A. Canales on Tuesday evening refused to grant a new trial to Amrock Inc., a Detroit company affiliated with mortgage lender Quicken Loans, which alleged there was fraud and collusion between witnesses during the original trial last year.

HouseCanary Inc., a real-estate analytics firm with a San Antonio office, won the jury verdict after alleging Amrock stole trade secrets and breached confidentiality agreements.

Amrock, a title insurance company formerly known as Title Source Inc., has indicated that it would appeal the massive verdict if the judge didn’t grant a new trial.

The judge did not give any reason in his one-page order for denying Amrock’s request for a new trial.

In February, a 12-person jury awarded HouseCanary more than $245 million in actual damages and $470.8 million in punitive damages following a seven-week trial.

Canales affirmed the jury’s award and added almost $29 million in prejudgment interest in October. The judge also awarded almost $4.5 million in attorneys’ fees to HouseCanary, though the company had asked for $72 million in fees.

Last month, Canales held four days of hearings on Amrock’s motion for a new trial. Lawyers for both sides gave closing arguments Friday.

Amrock sought a new trial following receipt — a day after the verdict — of an anonymous email that alleged collusion between its former chief appraiser Jordan Petkovski and HouseCanary CEO Jeremy Sicklick. Petkovski testified on behalf of Amrock during the trial.

HouseCanary attorney Kalpana Srinivasan, during her closing argument, called Amrock’s collusion theory “pure fiction” and a “post-trial invention.” Petkovski “came to court to trash our technology” during the trial, she added.

Amrock alleged in a court filing that Petkovski and Sicklick colluded to “hide from (Amrock) and the Court the fact that HouseCanary had no proprietary technology and lied … repeatedly — holding out promises of a revolutionary app while exploiting its relationship with (Amrock) to keep (HouseCanary’s) business afloat,” Amrock alleged in a court filing.

Sicklick “dangled” a job offer and an equity stake in HouseCanary to secure Petkovski’s cooperation, Amrock said. HouseCanary also tried to buy the silence of adverse witnesses by offering post-trial lucrative “consulting agreements,” Amrock added.

It was later learned the email received by Amrock right after the verdict had been sent by former HouseCanary official Anthony Roveda, who was responsible for testing an appraiser app designed to value real estate.

Roveda testified that not all parts of the appraiser app worked while he was employed at HouseCanary in 2015 and 2016.

“I touched this thing daily. I knew what was broken and what didn’t work,” Roveda said in court on Dec. 17.

Amrock, a provider of property valuations and closing services, first sued HouseCanary in April 2016 claiming it failed to deliver functioning software for valuing residential properties.

HouseCanary fired back with it own claims. It accused Amrock of fraudulently misappropriating HouseCanary’s technology and asked for more than $5 million in damages, according to an amended version of its lawsuit filed in October.

Three other former HouseCanary executives testified last month that the app never worked as the company represented. The ex-HouseCanary employees have been described by their former employer’s lawyers as “disgruntled.”

Randy Mastro, an Amrock lawyer, called Petkovski, Amrock’s former chief appraiser, a “Judas” and a “Benedict Arnold” for betraying his former employer.

Petkovski’s testimony during the trial “did not inure to our benefit,” Srinivasan countered. “What the court heard from Mr. Petkovski, as the jury did, was that our appraiser app didn’t work, that we didn’t have any technology.”

As for the four ex-HouseCanary employees who testified at the hearing, Srinivasan said they couldn’t say that false testimony was presented at the trial because they didn’t attend the proceedings or read the trial transcript.

“The truth is, these four witnesses knew nothing about the trial,” Srinivasan said. “These whistleblowers, as (Amrock) calls them, who were supposed to come here and tell (the court) that witnesses were lying on the stand — they have no idea what was presented in this court.”

Patrick Danner is a San Antonio-based staff writer covering banking and civil courts. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | pdanner@express-news.net | Twitter: @AlamoPD

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