IN THE MATTER OF THE MARRIAGE OF WILLIAM EDWARD PISKE, JR. AND JAMIE KRIVAN LANGE
Appeal from the 246th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2014-59709
consists of Justices Christopher, Jewell, and Hassan
Krivan Lange appeals the trial court's judgment
confirming an arbitration award entered in favor of William
Edward Piske, Jr. On appeal, Lange asserts the arbitrator
exhibited evident partiality in Piske's favor by failing
to disclose his personal and professional connections with
one of Piske's attorneys. For the reasons below, we
reverse the trial court's judgment, vacate the
arbitration award, and remand for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
Underlying Facts and Arbitration
and Piske married in 2008 and Piske filed a petition for
divorce in 2014. Lange filed a counter-petition asserting
breach of contract and tort claims against Piske arising from
the parties' joint business dealings. Lange and Piske
filed a joint motion to refer the case to arbitration in
accordance with their premarital agreement.
their "Amended Agreed Order Appointing Arbitrator and
Special Master," Lange and Piske appointed Houston
family-law attorney Warren Cole to arbitrate their dispute.
After his appointment, Cole emailed both parties'
attorneys a document entitled, "Family Law Arbitration
Rules." Under the subtitle "Qualifications of
Arbitrator," the rules state, in relevant part:
The Arbitrator shall disclose to the parties any circumstance
likely to affect impartiality, including any bias or
financial or personal interest in the result of the
arbitration, or any past or present relationship with the
parties or their counsel.
parties' initial status conference with Cole, Cole
represented that he did not have a material relationship with
any of the parties or their counsel other than normal
In January 2017, Houston family-law attorney Joan Jenkins
filed a notice of appearance in the case as Piske's
co-counsel. According to Cole, he did not supplement his
initial disclosures after Jenkins' appearance.
arbitration hearings were conducted between February 27 and
March 7, 2017. The trial court's order appointing Cole
required the arbitration award be issued within 21 days after
the case was closed, but Cole did not issue an award within
this period. On July 12, 2017, Jenkins emailed Cole
requesting a ruling:
Warren - You know how much I think of you as a friend and a
lawyer however I must address the issue with this case and
your lack of a ruling. It has now been 18 weeks since this
case was tried, almost 5 months. These parties need closure.
Each time you reply to us when we inquire about a ruling you
tell us you are "working on it" and should have it
out within a few days. Still nothing. Can you please rule?
With all due respect, this is becoming beyond anything
litigants should be required to endure, especially when they
are paying for your services. I would appreciate a reply
today. Thank you. Jo.
issued his arbitration award several days later, ruling in
favor of Piske and against most of Lange's claims. The
trial court scheduled a hearing to enter a final divorce
Post-Arbitration Legal Proceedings
days before the scheduled hearing, Lange filed a motion for
continuance. Asserting she had "bona fide evidence of an
undisclosed social relationship" between Cole and
Jenkins, Lange requested an opportunity to conduct additional
discovery. Concurrently, Lange also filed an emergency motion
to vacate the arbitration award. Lange asserted her rights
were "prejudiced by Cole's evident partiality
arising from Cole's failure to disclose a close
friendship with Piske's counsel, Joan Jenkins."
filed a response to Lange's motion to vacate and attached
an affidavit signed by Jenkins which states, in relevant
• Jenkins has known Cole for 30-plus years, and both she
and Cole are very involved with State Bar activities and CLE
programs. Jenkins and Cole often are featured on the same CLE
• Jenkins and Cole both "regularly practice in the
area of high wealth/high profile divorces." Attorneys
practicing in this area regularly see each other in practice.
• Along with other family lawyers, Jenkins
"attended three or four outdoor cookouts at Warren
Cole's home on Galveston Island." These events were