Broken wedding cake Photo:Leon Rafael/Shutterstock

Every month for more than 20 years, Helen Vickery paid her three lawyers 45 percent of an annuity payment she was awarded in litigation related to her contentious divorce from Baytown lawyer Glenn Vickery.

But Helen Vickery died in 2017. Now, her daughter wants a judge to decide whether her estate must continue to pay the three Houston-area lawyers, and whether the $6.5 million in monthly payments that her mother already paid to Ronald Krist, Richard Morrison and Roy Mease from 1995 through 2017 were ever valid.

In a petition filed Wednesday in state district court in Houston, Jessica Vickery alleged that any agreement calling for her mother to pay 45 percent of the monthly annuity payments to the three defendant lawyers is not binding on her—even if such an agreement existed and is enforceable.

Jessica Vickery’s petition details the complicated sequence of events involved in her mother’s 1991 divorce from Glenn Vickery, which ultimately led Helen Vickery to file a bill of review to set aside the divorce decree and redivide the marital estate. Krist, Mease and Morrison represented her in that lawsuit, which ended with a $9.45 million verdict in 1994 in her favor.

“Plaintiff demands proof that there ever was a valid, enforceable written contract or assignment between Helen Vickery and defendants and she contends that any such agreement, if it existed, constituted a breach of fiduciary duty and imposed a fee on the client that was excessive, unreasonable and unconscionable, at least as to the annuity,” Jessica Vickery alleges in the petition.

Scott Krist, a son of defendant Ronald Krist, is representing all three defendant lawyers. Scott Krist said Jessica Vickery’s declaratory judgment suit is nothing more than someone trying to take advantage of lawyers who nearly 30 years ago obtained the full benefit of the annuity for their client.

Ronald Krist. Ronald Krist.

“She wouldn’t even be getting this money if we hadn’t gotten it for her mother,” said Scott Krist, owner of Krist Law Firm, a personal injury firm in Houston.

Scott Krist said his clients will file counterclaims and seek a declaratory judgment that the 45 percent interest is property of the lawyers by way of an assignment of the underlying causes of action. He said he had already been planning to file a lawsuit against Jessica Vickery making that claim.

“Helen Vickery was a client that very much appreciated her lawyers’ efforts and understood the benefits they brought to her,” Krist said.

Ronald Krist, of counsel at The Krist Law Firm, is retired, according to his son. He may be best known for representing Betty Grissom, the widow of astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who was killed in the Apollo 1 fire. Ronald Krist was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Mease, of Roy D. Mease & Associates in Pasadena, did not immediately return a call for comment. Morrison, a former partner of Ronald Krist, now lives in Austin and is listed as inactive on State Bar of Texas membership records. Attempts to locate Morrison’s contact information were unsuccessful.

According to the petition, in the 1994 litigation, a judge awarded Helen Vickery 58 percent of the $14.6 million community estate, plus other damages.

Jessica Vickery alleged the defendants need to prove her mother assigned them 45 percent of the annuity payments.

“It is not clear if there was a written contract or assignment and apparently defendants cannot now find a copy of the purported contract. It is also not clear now much Helen Vickery ended up recovering on her damage award or how much of that recovery was paid to defendants,” the plaintiff asserts in the petition.

According to the petition, as a result of the bill of review, Helen Vickery was awarded 100 percent of the annuity, which paid about $35,000 a month at the time, but now pays $77,772 a month and the amount increases by 3 percent each year.

The petition alleges that Krist and Mease each receive 25 percent of the lawyers’ share of the annuity payments and Morrison receives the other half.

The plaintiff alleged she paid the defendants about $435,776 from January 2018 through January 2019, when she stopped sending payments. She seeks recovery of these payments, on the ground the defendants made a false representation to her that she owed them 45 percent of the monthly annuity payments.

Jessica Vickery’s petition argued that the annuity award should be characterized as a family law matter, rather than a tort matter, and that contingency fees are “not usually charged in family law matters.”

In response, Scott Krist said the lawyers represented Helen Vickery in a bill of review, which is an action to set aside a judgment that cannot be appealed, and they made tort claims.

Attorney Greg Enos, of The Enos Law Firm in Webster, is representing Jessica Vickery and did not immediately return a call seeking comment.