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Judge overturns $20 million verdict in lawsuit against Beretta

A Baltimore County judge reduced a $20 million jury verdict to $1 Tuesday after determining that the plaintiff, a local aerospace manufacturing company, had failed to prove damages against Beretta USA for breaching a nondisclosure agreement.

Adcor Defense Inc. brought its suit in 2015 accusing Beretta, a firearms manufacturing company, of misappropriating work done by Adcor to improve the AR-15 rifle.

The jury deliberated for roughly three and a half hours in December before returning the $20 million verdict, meant to compensate Adcor for research and development done in contemplation of a partnership with Beretta.

Beretta filed post-trial motions and on Tuesday Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts ruled from the bench, granting a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and reducing the damages.

“Obviously, we’re going to be noting an appeal on this,” said Thomas Donnelly, an attorney for Adcor. “We believe we have strong grounds for appellate reversal.”

H. Briggs Bedigian, who also represented Adcor, said he believes they have a “compelling case for reversal.” Bedigian is with Gilman & Bedigian LLC in Timonium.

T. Sky Woodward, an attorney for Beretta, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plaintiffs had previously asked Ballou-Watts to recuse herself after a series of adverse rulings. She denied the request.

The plaintiff’s motion, filed Nov. 21, said the judge granted most of the defendant’s motions and denied most of Adcor’s “in a manner that hamstrings Plaintiffs’ ability to try their case.”

Attorneys for Adcor say the judge made a “biased statement” in her chambers at a conference when she said she “hates guns.”

“Judge Ballou-Watts’ comment clearly demonstrates an extrajudicial bias and negative predisposition towards the subject matter of this litigation,” the motion argues.

The motion also alleges that Ballou-Watts caused extreme prejudice to the plaintiff’s case by restricting and then reducing Adcor’s time to put on its case at trial, postponing the trial at the last minute, and allowing the defense to file additional motions with no good cause shown.

Ballou-Watts also struck the plaintiff’s experts and denied discovery motions.

“The Court’s actions and inactions have given rise to a palpable appearance of impropriety, especially when taken in the context of this Court’s other rulings and conduct,” the motion concludes. “This partiality, or even the appearance of partiality, does not enhance, or even maintain, confidence in the legal system.”

In their case, the plaintiffs allege the Beretta family approached Adcor in 2012 about working together in the marketplace and integrating Adcor products into Beretta’s business plan. Adcor provided samples of its AR-15 in October 2012 but claimed that by then Beretta had made a plan to deprive Adcor of trade secrets pertaining to improvements to the rifle.

The case is the second this month in which a Baltimore County judge overturned a massive jury verdict. Judge Mickey J. Norman reversed a $38 million verdict in favor of the family of Korryn Gaines, who was fatally shot by police in 2016 after a standoff.

The case is Adcor Industries Inc., et al. v. Beretta USA Corp., 03C15006837.

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