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There’s a brawl raging in the Lone Star State among some of America’s richest plaintiffs lawyers. It’s much quieter than a fight you might find in a saloon on Telephone Road in Houston. Forget the racket of splintering bar stools and bottles shattered on skulls. Wire transfers are silent, and the time/date stamp a clerk puts on a brief amounts to nothing more than a thunk. But make no mistake: “This is a blood feud,” as one local lawyer puts it. In one corner is John O’Quinn, 66, of Houston, bloodied and bowed after convictions for drunk driving and practicing without a license, and after not one but two ethics probes by the state bar, one of which resulted in a public reprimand by the Texas Bar in 1989. In the other corner is Joseph Jamail, also of Houston, crowned the “King of Torts” by Newsweek. Speaking with the confidence that only a long string of wins can produce, Jamail, 82, claims to be above the fray. “I don’t have any animosity toward O’Quinn,” he says. Maybe that’s what $1.5 billion (Jamail’s net worth, according to Forbes magazine) will do for a man. The final combatant is Ronald Krist, 70, who essentially is acting as Jamail’s corner man. A veteran Houston litigator, Krist says he doesn’t go looking for cases that involve O’Quinn, but clients “present them and we take them.” These three men have been fighting for years. The latest round involves legal fees won by O’Quinn in a $2 billion settlement in a breast implant class action. O’Quinn collected $263 million of that money as legal fees, according to arbitrators. O’Quinn’s clients sued him, claiming that he kept too much of the award as legal fees. Their lawyers: Jamail and Krist, among others. The case was sent to arbitration, and the arbitrators found that O’Quinn had overbilled his clients. In September the arbitrators told O’Quinn to return $41.5 million. (The original award was $35.7 million, but as of September, interest continued to accrue.) It’s hardly their first fight. In 1998 Jamail accused the Texas attorney general of demanding kickbacks from lawyers who wanted to play a role in the state’s tobacco litigation. Krist backed him with similar allegations, and O’Quinn was drawn into the resulting scandal. Then, in 2001, Jamail and Krist were set to represent Kendall Montgomery, a former associate of O’Quinn’s, who claimed that O’Quinn’s firm owed him $105 million in fees from tobacco and other litigation. The contract dispute settled a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks because, the lawyers said, they realized there were more important issues in the world. Texas lawyers don’t know what to make of the spat. “There’s some bad blood, and I don’t know where it comes from,” says Stephen Susman of Susman Godfrey. But Jamail says talk of a feud is rubbish. Ego certainly appears to have something to do with it. O’Quinn has often said he is gunning for Jamail’s “King of Torts” title. As for Jamail, he says this about O’Quinn: “He’s no competition to me. Nobody is.” Krist says that somebody has to take on O’Quinn, “and if other people are reluctant to take on the task, Joe and I have never felt that reluctance.” And when a feud has been raging so long, why stop now? In August, O’Quinn filed a malpractice suit against Krist. O’Quinn represents a person who was injured in the 2005 BP p.l.c. refinery fire and who was represented by Krist in a resulting lawsuit. O’Quinn alleges that Krist negotiated settlements with BP for him, then turned around and defended BP in other suits. O’Quinn calls this a blatant conflict of interest. “Simply retaliation,” says Krist. In the breast implant case, O’Quinn is represented by Billy Shepherd of Cruse, Scott, Henderson & Allen in Houston, who says he is researching an appeal, though legal experts say reversing an arbitration decision is no easy feat. And Shepherd notes the judgment is technically against three legal entities connected to O’Quinn, not O’Quinn as an individual. The argument doesn’t hold much sway with Krist and Jamail. If O’Quinn won’t pay up, says Krist, they’ll go to court to seize his property, which includes everything from ranches to the $335,000 Batmobile from the movie Batman Forever. O’Quinn did not return calls seeking comment, but is likely not happy that Jamail and other lawyers in the arbitration were awarded $10.24 million in fees and $500,000 for expenses. Jamail brushes that aside. He says that he usually waives his fees these days, anyway. “I don’t need any more goddamn money,” he says. But maybe he’ll make an exception for O’Quinn. The case cost $2 million to prosecute, says Krist. After the recovery is split, each firm will take home more than $2.1 million in profit. Jamail says he’ll probably give his share to the University of Texas. Hook ‘em Horns! E-mail: [email protected]

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