Michael Collyard ’00 won a jury verdict last year of nearly $564 million, the largest in Minnesota history, in part by zeroing in on evidence that wasn’t in court—millions of pages of destroyed documents.
The result came in a case arising from one of the biggest financial scams in U.S. history and the largest in Minnesota, Tom Petters’ multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
With Collyard, a Robins Kaplan partner, serving as lead trial counsel, a federal jury in November 2022 ordered BMO Harris Bank to pay bankruptcy trustee Douglas Kelley $484 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. Prejudgment interest dating to 2012 could raise the total to more than $1 billion.
Jurors found BMO liable for aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duty on the part of predecessor M&I Bank. Petters, serving 50 years in prison, and company laundered nearly $74 billion through M&I between 2002 and 2008. BMO acquired M&I in 2011.
“We are very pleased with this verdict,” said Kelley, in a statement. “We are eager to get these funds to creditors and investors who were victims of Tom Petters’ fraud.”
Based on a post-discovery email, Collyard eventually learned that BMO in 2014 had found but destroyed six backup tapes of Minnesota records. BMO was under federal order to keep any records it found.
At trial, Collyard got a BMO official to admit during cross-examination that the destruction occurred. The judge gave jurors an adverse inference instruction, allowing but not requiring them to assume that the destroyed documents were detrimental to BMO.
“I did my best to paint a picture for the jury that they were not being truthful,” Collyard said, including using BMO officials’ own words from deposition videos and transcripts.
The case was “incredibly fun and amazing,” he added, despite fighting at every turn for evidence and facing five opposing law firms.
“To get that type of recovery, to understand that the jury sat there for a month and really listened and came to the right conclusion, I can’t even describe it.
Collyard attended Hamline University School of Law after working for an alum during college. “I loved that it was practical and I loved that it was small,” he said.
Two adjuncts—former Hennepin County District Judge Allen Oleisky and attorney and the late Mark Gruesner ‘77—“taught the best trial class ever,” Collyard said. “One thing they taught us was that you need to teach the jury in a way where when you write, they write.
“You write on a flip chart and signal to the jury that this is an important issue that you need to know.”
This article was written by Todd Nelson, a freelance writer in the Twin Cities.