Denver developer Brian Watson and tech giant Amazon won’t be facing off in court next month.
A civil jury trial scheduled to start Oct. 16 over Amazon’s allegations that Watson paid kickbacks to win development deals in northern Virginia has been canceled in the wake of a recent appeal by Amazon.
The cancellation had been opposed by Watson, who continues to have no control over his personal finances or his development firm Northstar Commercial Partners.
“This once again confirms that Amazon’s strategy is a war of attrition,” Watson said in his unsuccessful bid to keep the trial on the books. “This is a strategy uniquely available to Amazon, a multibillion-dollar Goliath, and designed to crush the Watson Defendants.”
The David-and-Goliath case, as Watson has branded it, dates to April 2020. That’s when Amazon sued Watson, at the time 48 years old, saying he paid kickbacks to Amazon employees Carl Nelson and Casey Kirschner in exchange for being awarded deals to develop data centers outside Washington, D.C. for Amazon Web Services.
Watson, Nelson and Kirschner have denied wrongdoing.
Law enforcement also investigated Amazon’s claims. In March, former Northstar executive Kyle Ramstetter and Christian Kirschner — a friend of Watson and the brother of Casey Kirschner — pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with the matter. But the situation has become murkier since then. The sentencing dates for the men have been repeatedly pushed back, and the cases against two others expected to also plead guilty were essentially dropped in July.
On the civil side, Amazon’s lawsuit was originally supposed to go to trial in May in federal court in Virginia. But weeks before opening arguments, a judge dismissed the bulk of Amazon’s claims, drastically narrowing the scope of the case. The trial to settle the two remaining claims against Watson, and one remaining claim against Nelson and Casey Kirschner, was rescheduled for October.
Then, in late August, Amazon appealed the judge’s April dismissals, and asked the trial be stayed until the appeal is resolved. If the trial was held and Amazon subsequently prevailed even partially upon appeal, the company noted, a second trial would have to be held.
“A stay would preserve judicial resources and reduce the burdens on all parties,” the company’s Gibson Dunn attorneys wrote.
Watson, 52, argued against the cancellation in an Aug. 30 filing, saying the “never-ending civil litigation continues to be a living nightmare” for him and his family.
“Since the very beginning, the Watson Defendants have sought their day in court to defend themselves,” he wrote. “And now, approximately one and half months from trial, Amazon is again trying to postpone that day indefinitely.”
Watson objected to the cancellation because his company and personal finances continue to be overseen by a receiver, a court-appointed caretaker put in place in November 2021.
That receiver was put in place because Watson failed to deposit about $25 million in case he lost the case, as a judge had ordered him to do. Watson said he didn’t have the cash. Since being appointed, the receiver — whose expenses are being paid by Amazon — has repeatedly confirmed that is the case.
“Essentially, by leaving the injunction and receivership in place, Amazon gets the benefit of winning through destroying Brian Watson, his companies, and investments, even though it lost most of its claims on summary judgment and is 47 days away from losing the remaining two claims in a jury trial,” Watson said in the Aug. 30 filing.
Later the same day, U.S. District Court Judge Rossie D. Alston canceled the trial without making any changes to the receivership.
“Conducting two civil trials in this complicated case—each potentially lasting multiple weeks and involving many witnesses and pre-trial motions—would impose significant and unnecessary burdens on the Court, the parties, and the witnesses,” he wrote.
Despite the receivership remaining in place, an attorney for Watson said Tuesday that things are looking up for his client.
Stan Garnett, of Boulder’s Garnett Powell Maximon Barlow, told BusinessDen that “we fully expect” Alston’s dismissal of the various claims will be upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
If that happens, it raises the question of whether Amazon would move forward to trial on the two remaining claims.
“We don’t think that’s a very good trial for Amazon, and we think it’s a very good trial for Brian Watson,” Garnett said.
Garnett said his client is also considering an appeal of his own, regarding Judge Alston’s decision not to dismiss the two claims — which, if successful, could end the litigation for good.