It would seem that whenever a legal dust-up occurs in his adopted home town of Marfa, Houston criminal defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin finds his way straight into the middle of it.
In recent years, DeGuerin represented actor Randy Quaid after the star of National Lampoon's Vacation movies was arrested in the west Texas town after he allegedly failed to pay a hotel bill in California. DeGuerin also represented the owner of the local Dairy Queen after he was charged with wire-tapping the phone of his own restaurant.
And now he can count Playboy Enterprises as another Marfa client.
"It's just my kind of town," says DeGuerin of DeGuerin Dickson Hennessy & Ward who's lived and worked as a part-time Marfa resident for the better part of 20 years.
The legal dispute concerns an art installation that Playboy set up near U.S. Highway 90 just outside of the art-centric town. The display features a large concrete platform, topped with a 1972 Dodge Charger, and a neon display of the famous Playboy bunny symbol mounted on a pole.
When the display first appeared months ago, DeGuerin says he and his daughter stopped by to check it out and did what seemed reasonable to them at the time — they both took photographs of themselves under the concrete table doing yoga poses.
And a week after they snapped those photos, DeGuerin says he learned that the Texas Department of Transportation [TxDOT] had issued a removal order for Playboy's installation. So DeGuerin says he got in contact with Rachel Sagan, Playboy Enterprises' general counsel, to offer his help.
The dispute, DeGuerin says, is whether the installation is highway advertising — which is regulated by the agency — or whether it is art.
"I'm expressing my own personal opinion. And I'm not speaking as a spokesman for Playboy," DeGuerin says. "I think it's art. I think it is an expression of the artist interpretation of Marfa's art scene," including Donald Judd, the late minimalist artist whose work and name dots the small town, DeGuerin says.
"Art is in the eye of the beholder. It's a trite and true expression," DeGuerin says of the display. "Art is supposed to be provocative and it's that. It's supposed to generate discussion and it's done that. And just because it's sponsored by Playboy doesn't take away from the artists' expression."
DeGuerin says he helped Playboy put together a legal team, including Husch Blackwell [formerly Brown McCarroll] partner Ace Pickens and Alpine solo Kirk Meade, to meet with agency officials about the dispute. Sagan did not return a call for comment. Neither did TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer.
Since then, an Aug. 5 TxDOT deadline for the installation's removal has passed.
"There was a meeting and both sides agreed to hold off until there can be another meeting," DeGuerin says.
Playboy spokesman Flint Beamon says the company is hopeful for a reasonable resolution to the dispute.
"Playboy and the TxDOT are having a great dialogue in regards to the art installation by Richard Philips. Dick DeGuerin became an immediate advocate for protecting the artwork, so naturally he wanted to become a part of the process," Beamon says. "He's been a great supporter of the project, and his commentary is his personal expression. Playboy continues to utilize their internal and external legal advisors in conversation with TxDOT, and are focusing on those efforts right now."
Ultimately, DeGuerin believes the still-standing installation is really corporate art — a time-worn sponsorship that's been happening almost as long as man has been creating art, DeGuerin says.
"The Pope sponsored Michelangelo," DeGuerin says. "How about that for a comparison?"