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.