After 14 months of work, Houston mediator M. A. “Mickey” Mills was confident the $12 million settlement he negotiated in the Kennedy Heights toxic-tort suit would end the contentious and costly court battle pitting Houston plaintiffs’ lawyer John O’Quinn against Chevron USA.

But the settlement crumbled in November 1998. Chevron blamed O’Quinn, and O’Quinn blamed Chevron. In truth, the deal fell apart because Chevron insisted O’Quinn’s firm cap its reimbursable expenses at $4 million, which was $6 million less than the $10 million in expenses O’Quinn wanted.