Philadelphia-based Duane Morris boasts 750 lawyers spread across more than two dozen offices, including Houston.
But that didn’t spare the firm and its Northeastern hometown from some convivial trash talk at a deposition this summer, when a trio of top Texas litigators gathered to depose one of their own in a three-quarter-billion-dollar lawsuit against the firm.
Tony Buzbee and David Beck deposed fellow Houstonian Mark Lanier for nearly three hours in the case, which involves complicated claims that Duane Morris duped oil and gas investors about a key conflict of interest in now-settled litigation involving Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its late CEO, Aubrey McClendon.
Buzbee represents the investors. Beck is defending Duane Morris, which denies the claims, and Lanier represented Chesapeake in the underlying case.
A pivotal evidentiary dispute in the lawsuit: Did Duane Morris convey to Chesapeake that the firm represented the investors as well as McClendon in the earlier case? Buzbee was seeking a firm yes to that question at the May 12 deposition, and Beck would have liked a firm no. Neither got a very clear answer.
Buzbee showed Lanier, pictured right, a list that included the investors’ companies. He asked: “Did you believe … that the lawyers from Duane Morris had authority to represent those entities?”
Lanier responded, in part: “I got to tell you, I don’t know who Duane Morris had the authority to represent and who they didn’t.”
At one point in the deposition, Lanier and Buzbee appeared to be poking fun at Duane Morris and the Philadelphia legal scene in general.
“He’s writing to you from Philadelphia,” Buzbee said to Lanier about correspondence from Matthew Taylor, who is Duane Morris’ vice chairman.
“Yeah, he’s a Philadelphia lawyer,” Lanier commented.
“OK,” Buzbee said, as if they both knew what “Philadelphia lawyer” conjured.
“I didn’t mean that in a negative. I have a lot of good friends who are Philadelphia lawyers,” Lanier backpedaled.
“And that’s where the Liberty Bell is, you know,” Buzbee added.
“That’s true,” Lanier said, with both men surely imagining how such talk would play with a Houston jury.
Then they mulled over Taylor’s title as chairman of Duane Morris’ trial practice group.
“That sounds pretty important,” Buzbee said.
“That’s kind of like being the second-best ballerina in Galveston. I mean I’m not sure it’s all that important,” Lanier said.
Beck interrupted: “I have to object to that part of the answer as nonresponsive.”
“I liked that part. Nothing personal against Duane Morris,” Buzbee said.
“No, I’m pretty sure that’s very, very important,” Lanier said about Taylor’s title.
At another point, when Beck seemed to want to explore rifts between Lanier and Buzbee, Lanier appeared to stick up for his fellow Houston plaintiffs lawyer.
“Frankly, my conversations with Tony have always been congenial, and we’ve never—we’ve never been in an adversarial position like that,” Lanier said. “I mean, he’s obviously… a worthy opponent, but … it’s never evolved into us chest thumping each other.”