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Austin lawyer Melissa Hamilton sued partners in a firm that represented her in a securities arbitration, after the firm sued her for alleged nonpayment of fees. But on June 9, she agreed to pay up. Michael Sean Quinn, Hamilton’s lawyer, says one reason for his client’s decision to pay Fritz, Byrne, Head & Harrison was the result of a mock jury survey Quinn conducted, showing a jury would be unsympathetic to Hamilton because she is a lawyer. “The fact she had a law degree turned out to be crucial in the reaction of our mock jury people,” says Quinn. Quinn, principal in the Law Firm of Michael Sean Quinn in Austin, says he conducted a survey of mock jurors about three weeks prior to the June 6 start of the trial in Fritz, Byrne, Head & Harrison v. Hamilton. He says survey respondents seemed sympathetic toward Hamilton, until they learned that she is a lawyer involved in a case against other lawyers. Richard Harrison, a partner in Austin’s Fritz Byrne, says Hamilton has agreed to pay $70,000 to settle the firm’s debt-collection suit against her. Harrison says Hamilton agreed to the settlement after the first day of testimony in the jury trial of the suit. Senior District Judge Paul Davis, sitting by assignment, presided over the case in an Austin district court. “We’re just really glad to be where we should have been a long time ago,” Harrison says. In March 2004, Fritz, Byrne sued Hamilton for approximately $60,000 in fees that the firm alleged she owed for legal services Harrison provided her in Wilson, et al. v. Hicks, et al., a securities suit filed in a Travis County court in the summer of 2001. In Wilson, investors in Interfase Capital Partners sued officers and directors of the venture capital partnership, including Hamilton, who was Interfase’s general counsel. Interfase had a $5 million directors and officers insurance policy with Travelers Casualty & Surety Co. of America, but the policy limits were reached before all of Hamilton’s legal fees were paid. The arbitration panel hearing the securities case found no liability against Hamilton but denied her request that the plaintiffs pay her attorney fees. When Hamilton refused to pay the rest of the fees owed to Fritz, Byrne, the firm sued her for nonpayment. Hamilton filed a counterclaim against the firm in August 2004 alleging in the counterclaim that she had already paid the firm approximately $100,000. On Jan. 24, Hamilton filed a separate suit — Hamilton v. Harrison, et al. — against Harrison, Daniel Byrne and Thomas Fritz, all Fritz Byrne partners, and John Schwartz, Fritz Byrne’s attorney in the debt collection suit and a partner in Austin’s Locke Liddell & Sapp. She also named Travelers, Interfase’s insurance company, as a defendant in her suit. Hamilton asserted numerous causes of action in her petition against the three Fritz Byrne attorneys, including breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, tortious interference with a contract, conspiracy and Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act violations. She also alleged that Schwartz, who was in a joint defense arrangement in Wilson, was her lawyer too and could not represent Fritz Byrne in the debt collection suit. Harrison said in a January interview that there was “absolutely no merit” to Hamilton’s allegations. “At the end of the day, we will get a judgment for the fees that we are owed, and she will get a judgment for nothing,” he said in the earlier interview. “This is exactly what has happened, and I could not be more pleased,” Harrison wrote in a June 16 letter to Texas Lawyer. In March, 261st District Judge Lora Livingston, acting on a motion filed by Fritz Byrne, ordered Hamilton’s suit against the three partners in the firm and Schwartz abated until after disposition of the firm’s suit. Hamilton then nonsuited the four attorneys. Although Hamilton agreed to pay Fritz Byrne, she still has an active suit against Interfase’s insurer. In February, Hamilton added Travelers as a defendant in Hamilton v. Harrison, et al., the suit she filed against the three Fritz Byrne lawyers and Schwartz. She continues to pursue that litigation, which challenges how the $5 million in Interfase’s insurance policy was spent. Acting on a motion by Travelers, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel moved Hamilton v. Travelers, as it is now known, from state district court to the U.S. District Court in Austin in April. J. Hampton Skelton, a partner in Austin’s Skelton & Woody, local counsel for Travelers, refers questions about the suit to Michael J. Rosen, a principal in Chicago’s Boundas, Skarzynski, Walsh & Black. Rosen, lead counsel on the case, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment before press time.

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