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John O’Quinn

How pathetic is the State Bar of Texas when it comes to protecting clients from rogue lawyers? This pathetic:

Dallas attorney Bruce Patton has a clean disciplinary record, according to the State Bar’s Web site, which provides profiles of the state’s 80,000 or more practicing attorneys. But consider this before you hire him to draft your will: Patton is in state prison after being convicted of a felony two years ago….

The Texas Legislature and Supreme Court, which share a role in establishing ethics rules for attorneys, have made it so that the public stays in the dark about thousands of lawyers accused of misconduct. Bar confidentiality rules ensure that many sanctions are private and that lawyers accused of felonies can continue practicing. The Bar doesn’t require attorneys to report their criminal record or malpractice suits.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s disturbing investigation goes into considerable detail, and mentions a couple of cases that will be familiar to readers of this site: “San Antonio attorney Ted Roberts, charged with stealing $100,000 from his wife’s lovers, was recently convicted, two years after being indicted. He faces a five-year sentence. The Bar didn’t suspend him until June and is now recommending disbarment.” And: “The firm of John O’Quinn, one of the state’s wealthiest personal-injury lawyers, was ordered by an arbitration panel this summer to pay $35 million to former clients who say he overbilled them for expenses, but no mention of that order is on the Bar’s Web site.” (Yamil Berard, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 19; “Panel seeks changes in Bar’s disciplinary system for lawyers”, Aug. 19). More: GruntDoc wonders whether doctors can expect a similar concern for confidentiality.

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The Houston Chronicle has more on Joe Jamail’s defeat of John O’Quinn in the expense-ethics battle earlier detailed in this space (Jul. 19, etc.). Several of the experts quoted seem at pains to minimize the seriousness of O’Quinn’s ethical lapse, but there’s a good quote at the end from Dallas legal-malpractice lawyer Randy Johnston: “When John O’Quinn goes up against Joe Jamail, I promise you, it isn’t all about the money.” Why? Because it’s about the ego too. (Mary Flood, “Legal trend of leveling suits against fellow litigators likened to cannibalism”, Houston Chronicle, Jul. 21)(via ShopFloor).

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Courtesy of one of the winning attorneys, Overlawyered is the first to have the July 18 arbitration ruling on-line, which, as we reported earlier, rejected O’Quinn’s affirmative defenses and finds that O’Quinn’s overbilling and breach of fiduciary duties to his clients requires him to pay $35.7 million in damages plus interest and attorneys’ fees. Not a great number of surprises in this if you’ve been following our previous coverage (Apr. 15, Jun. 9, Jul. 19), but there is one interesting disclosure: note how O’Quinn used $3 million of plaintiffs’ money to surreptitiously fund a “Baylor study” on breast implants and make it seem like it was something other than a litigation-generated study.

Once again, let us note the irony that trial lawyers recognize the value of mandatory arbitration agreements, even as they wish to deprive other professions of the ability to use them.

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Houston plaintiff lawyer John O’Quinn has been ordered to refund at least $35.7 million to more than 3,000 former breast implant litigation clients, according to an arbitration panel decision released today.

With interest and attorneys’ fees, O’Quinn could owe almost $60 million.

O’Quinn required his former clients to agree to mandatory arbitration (a money-saving option the plaintiffs’ bar wishes to preclude other businesses from using). “[I]mproper general expense deductions included professional association dues, flowers, fundraising, other lawyer’s fees, and overhead, the arbitrators said.” A dissenting arbitrator suggested that O’Quinn should also be liable for using money to fund a public relations campaign on his work. (Mary Flood, Houston Chronicle, Jul. 19).

Overlawyered broke this story Apr. 15, and had a followup post June 9.

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As we reported in April, trial lawyer John O’Quinn is subject to a potential contempt hearing for allegedly improperly withholding $18.9 million of settlement money from his breast implant clients. It turns out that this wasn’t the first mention of the scandal in Overlawyered. In August 1999, Walter reported:

As one of the wealthiest and most successful plaintiff’s lawyers ever, Houston’s John O’Quinn has been known to call press conferences at which he’s leveled charges highly damaging to his opponents’ reputations, accusing them (for example) of conspiring to “remain silent, conceal or suppress information” about problems with their products and operations. So what happened June 4 when O’Quinn was himself sued by a group of unhappy former breast-implant clients seeking class-action status against him? As Brenda Jeffreys reported in the June 14 Texas Lawyer, O’Quinn “didn’t hesitate before pummeling the class action lawyers with a libel suit” charging the lawyers with “encourag[ing] the news media to disseminate false, slanderous and libelous comments about Plaintiff” — said encouragement consisting of their press release about the lawsuit, and the press conference they were planning that would have explained it further.

Had the lawyers challenging O’Quinn succeeded in holding their press conference, interesting questions might have been aired. Their suit charges that a group of women numbering at least 2,000 were wrongfully overcharged tens of millions of dollars in claimed expenses, and that the firm of O’Quinn and Laminack breached its fiduciary duty to them; it sought a fee forfeiture totaling $580 million. But O’Quinn’s firm rushed to court to ask for a temporary restraining order to prevent the lawyers from holding a press event, and on June 7, while a judge was considering that motion, they agreed to a gag order and called off the conference they’d scheduled for that day. The whole process — from the first public notice of the suit to the gag order in hand — had taken only three days. “O’Quinn’s quick action may have prevented a firestorm of public attention to the class action suit,” writes the Texas Lawyer’s Jeffreys. It is not recorded whether any of the defendants O’Quinn has sued have ever tried, let alone succeeded in, such a tactic against him.

Here’s an entertaining wrinkle we haven’t reported: the case was sent to an arbitrator, because trial lawyer O’Quinn had required his clients to sign a binding arbitration agreement in the event of disputes! (The irony here is far greater than any Judge Bork personal injury suit.)

The Houston Chronicle reports that the three Houston attorneys on the arbitration panel determined in March that O’Quinn’s deduction was not authorized by his contracts with his clients, and that they are now deciding damages. The former clients, now represented by Joe Jamail, are asking for O’Quinn to completely disgorge all of his fees, a legitimate possibility under the Burrow v. Arce decision, which would be over half a billion dollars. Arbitration decisions are generally not appealable. It’s unclear what has happened to O’Quinn’s countersuit against his clients alleging libel. (Mary Flood, “O’Quinn’s law clients win round against him”, Houston Chronicle, Jun. 9 (h/t W.F.)).

Arbitration is generally quicker than litigation, but O’Quinn seems to have successfully stalled this case for over seven years, not to mention avoid any publicity from it. To date, we are the only media source that has even mentioned the contempt hearing.

John O’Quinn update

by Ted Frank on April 15, 2007

Judge Denise Page Hood has issued an order to show cause why the O’Quinn law firm (many entries; also POL Jul. 15, 2005, POL Jul. 10, and POL Aug. 3) should not be held in contempt for improperly withholding breast implant settlement money from their clients. There is no press coverage of this brewing scandal.

There has, however, been plenty of press coverage of one of O’Quinn’s other clients, Anna Nicole Smith’s mother. In that circus, O’Quinn finds himself a defendant in a civil defamation suit brought by Smith’s, er, widower, attorney Howard K. Stern, for going on national television and accusing Stern of murdering Smith. [AP/ABC News] The fact of having this client gave cause TMZ.com to dig up some of the more obvious scandals in O’Quinn’s past, though they still missed the more recent ones covered by Point of Law.

Elsewhere in O’Quinn news: the firm settled its $1 billion fen-phen verdict (Apr. 28, 2004) for an unknown amount on the eve of appeal as part of a global settlement of O’Quinn’s caseload of fen-phen cases. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “$1 Billion Fen-Phen Case Settles Before Appellate Oral Arguments”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 16). The verdict was tainted because the plaintiffs blamed fen-phen for Cynthia Cappel-Coffey’s PPH, but Ms. Cappel-Coffey had been taking four other diet drugs since fen-phen had been pulled from the market that had the known risk of causing PPH. Yet that evidence was excluded from the jury, though the Texas Lawyer coverage barely touches upon this outrage. The state court in judicial hellhole Beaumont also improperly applied Texas caps on punitive damages.

Complete text of the breast implant order after the jump, if you don’t want to read the order in PDF format.

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“Texas plaintiffs’ lawyer James ‘Wes’ Christian, the legal mind behind the rash of claims alleging naked short-selling in penny stocks…was a consistent seller of several companies that he is representing in high-profile and bitter legal fights,” according to records obtained by the New York Post. For example, “in May 2001, several months after Nanopierce retained Christian to launch one of the initial lawsuits against naked short-sellers – and after the publicity surrounding the legal battle goosed the stock price – he began unloading blocks of stock.” Christian is partnering with regular Overlawyered mentionee John O’Quinn on the naked-short-selling lawsuits, which have not fared well in court thus far. (Roddy Boyd, New York Post, Aug. 18).

Reporter Christopher Faille interviewed me for an August 23 article in the subscriber-only HedgeWorld. The article quotes me as saying that Mr. Christian

“seems to be preserving a possible line of argument that inducing a stock-price rise isn’t really part of his business plan, he just happens to own these stocks because the companies pay him in shares, he would have been happy to take cash payment instead, et cetera.”

That was precisely what Mr. Christian said in the interview Tuesday—that he took the stock instead of cash simply because Nanopierce didn’t have the cash necessary for him to do the original pre-litigation due diligence.

Older ethical rules — now often fallen into disuse — used to discourage or prohibit lawyers from taking stakes in enterprises they represented in litigation. As the HedgeWorld article quotes me as saying, “If what attorney Christian is doing is consistent with the ethical rules of the Texas bar, maybe it’s time to revisit those rules.”

Bar discipline and client protection, 2003: Probate’s misplaced trust” (Washington Post series), Jun. 16-17. 2002:Crumbs from the table“, Feb. 8-10.  2001:Law firm sued over fen-phen settlement practices“, Dec. 28; “Updates” (IOLTA), Dec. 15-16 (& Jan. 31); “Holiday special” (Canadian lawyer’s misconduct), May 28; “Mills of legal discipline” (updates on Brock, Hager, Fieger cases), Mar. 3; “Dangers of complaining about lawyers” (Ga. considers easing defamation counter-complaints by lawyers), Mar. 30-Apr. 1.  2000:‘Judge Lenient With Perjurer, Cites Clinton Case’“, Oct. 16-17 (& May 16); “Disbarred, with an asterisk” (Mass. has let many attorneys resume practice), Sept. 20; “Funds that don’t protect” (client protection funds), Aug. 23-24; “Fit to practice?” (California bar disciplinary board), Aug. 21-22; “That Hager case” (American U. law professor Mark Hager, settlement of Warner-Lambert Nix lice treatment case), Feb. 23 (& update May 3, 2001: board recommends three-year suspension). 

New legal ethics weblog” (ethicalEsq.?), Jun. 6-8, 2003.

Judicial conduct, 2003:Year’s most injudicious judges”  (NLJ roundup), May 6. 2002:‘Federal authorities say judge offered illegal payoff’“, Sept. 3-4; “‘Privileged chambers’” (Albany Times-Union series), May 30; “‘Injudicious conduct’” (NLJ roundup), May 1-2; “La. officials seek oyster judge recusal“, Mar. 25-26; “So depressed he stole $300K“, Mar. 19.  2001:‘Pseudologica fantastica’ won’t fly” (judge’s resum?ibs), June 7 (& update Aug. 20-21); “‘Judges behaving badly’” (NLJ roundup), May 11-13.  2000:Year’s most injudicious judges“, Jun. 5, 2000; “Brockovich story, cont’d: the judges’ cruise“, Apr. 18; “New Hampshire high court blowup“, Apr. 5 (& updates Oct. 11: chief justice acquitted at impeachment; May 3, 2001); “The costs of disclosure” (Washington state, Grant Anderson case), Jan. 19. 

Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant’s side“, Mar. 15-16, 2003.

Politico’s law associate suspended over ‘runner’ use” (Louisiana), Feb. 14-16, 2003.

Civility:Law’s attraction for the bully“, Dec. 13-15, 2002; “‘Attorney Ordered To Pay Fees for “Rambo” Tactics’“, Oct. 5-7, 2001; “Mills of legal discipline” (Geoffrey Fieger tirade against judges), May 3, 2001 (& more on Fieger: Apr. 23-24, 2002, Sept. 14, 1999; “Another Mr. Civility nominee” (“dreck”, “scum”), June 2-4, 2000; “From the incivility frontier” (“gag a maggot off a meat wagon”, “proctology exam”), April 19; “Majesty of the law” (alleged threat to kill opposing counsel), March 13, 2000 (& update May 17: attorney sanctioned); “Bright future in some areas of practice” (“abusive, hostile” applicant for law license), Oct. 13, 1999 (update, Nov. 23). 

Race-bias cases gone wrong“, Jan. 24-26, 2003.

Lawyers fret about bad image” (Fla. bar plans to rate and monitor tone of journalists’ coverage), Oct. 3, 2002. 

FTC cracks down on excessive legal fees“, Oct. 1-2, 2002. 

Second Circuit: we mean business about stopping frivolous securities suits” (scope of Rule 11), Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2002. 

Lawyer’s 44-hour workday“, Jun. 28-30, 2002; “Charged $16,000 for brief he copied from book“, May 17-19, 2002; “Lending rules trip up litigation-finance firms“, Dec. 3, 2001; Letter to the editor (incremental billing disclosed?), Oct. 22, 2001; “Law-firm bill-padding?  Say it isn’t so!“, Nov. 18, 1999. 

‘Student gets diploma after threatening lawsuit’“, Jun. 13, 2002.

Truth value, 2002:Lying’s not nice, especially when representing the bar“, Jul. 30-31; “Columbia Law School survey on public attitude toward lawyers“, Apr. 26-28; “‘Ex-student sentenced for rape lie’” (wants to become attorney), Jan. 11-13 (& see May 26-29, 2000: Stephen Glass graduates Georgetown Law).  2001: Criminal defense attorneys, doing what they do best“, Dec. 15-16; “‘Lawyers pay price for cruel hoaxes’” (phony heir claims after plane crashes), Aug. 3-5; “‘Lie-tery winners’“, April 20-22.  2000:What was the Florida court thinking?” (Boies-submitted affidavit), Dec. 11-12; “‘Judge Lenient With Perjurer, Cites Clinton Case’“, Oct. 16-17 (& May 16); “The judge wasn’t asleep” (sanctions for submission of dubious affidavits), June 14-15.  1999:If true, then all the better” (excerpt from Campos, Jurismania), Dec. 3-5; and see witness coaching, below. 

‘”Little” done for firm, Rendell says’” (law firms provide no-show jobs for politicians), May 9, 2002. 

‘Former clients sue attorney O’Quinn’” (Kennedy Heights case), Apr. 8-9, 2002 (& Aug. 4, 1999).

Gary & Co. shenanigans at Maris trial“, Apr. 1-2, 2002. 

Lawyers stage sham trial aimed at inculpating third party“, Mar. 22-24, 2002. 

Disclosure:Lending rules trip up litigation-finance firms“, Dec. 3, 2001; Letter to the editor (incremental billing disclosed?), Oct. 22, 2001; “Trial lawyers knew of tire failures, didn’t inform safety regulators“, June 25 (& June 28)(& letter to the editor, July 6); Letter to the editor (ghostwriting), June 13; “ABA’s toothless ethics proposals“, Jan. 17, 2001; “Contingency fee reform“, Nov. 1, 2000. 

Contingent fees, 2001:Lending rules trip up litigation-finance firms“, Dec. 3; “Red-light cameras“, Sept. 6, 2001; “‘The Louima millions’“, July 24; “The rest of Justice O’Connor’s speech“, July 6-8; “Evils of contingent-fee tax collection, cont’d“, May 30; “Reclaiming the tobacco loot“, March 15; “Hugh Rodham’s ‘success fee’“, Feb. 23-25; “Dangers of tax farming“, Jan. 10 (& letter to the editor, Jan. 16).  2000:Contingency fee reform“, Nov. 1; “‘Lawyer take all’” (equity stakes in clients), Oct. 27-29.  1999:Piece of the action” (contingent fees for public officials), Dec. 3-5; “Reform stirrings on public contingency fees“, Oct. 15.

Witness coaching, 2001:GAF sues asbestos lawyers“, Feb. 12-13, 2001 (& see Dec. 10).  2000:‘N.Y. lawyer charged in immigrant smuggling’“, Sept. 22-24; “Sunday’s Times on Fred Baron“, June 5 (& see “Thanks for the memories” by Walter Olson, Reason, June 1998 and subsequent letters exchange with William Hodes).  1999:State of legal ethics” (hey, what’s wrong with witness coaching?), Sept. 9. 

‘The Great Mouthpiece’” (Manhattan’s Bill Fallon, 1920s), Dec. 28, 2001. 

‘Halliburton shares plunge on verdict’” (law-firm whistleblowing), Dec. 10, 2001. 

’2d Circuit Upholds Sanctions Against Firms for Frivolous Securities Claims’“, July 23, 2001 (more on sanctions: Jul. 30-31, 2002). 

Estate law temptations“, July 6-8, 2001; “Lawyers charged with $4.7 million theft from clients“, April 10, 2000; “Lawyers stealing less, clients say“, Dec. 21, 1999. 

Lost his live client, had to substitute dead one instead“, April 11, 2001; “Turn of the screw” (lawyers alleged to have sued without client consent), Oct. 24, 2000; “Curious feature of lawyer’s retainer” (allowed him to settle case without client consent), Sept. 12, 2000. 

‘It’s time to disarm the hired guns’” (Arianna Huffington), Feb. 28-March 1, 2001; “Trustworthy professionals” (survey of public confidence), Dec. 11-12, 2000. 

Fed prosecutors chafe at state ethics rules“, Oct. 16-17, 2000. 

Lenzner: ‘I think what we do is practice law’” (private investigator in Oracle scandal), July 28-30, 2000. 

Access to something” (lawyer accused of working for Social Security Administration while helping clients sue it), July 13, 2000. 

Ready to handle your legal needs” (Stephen Glass graduates Georgetown Law), May 26-29, 2000. 

Steering the evidence” (DaimlerChrysler gets sanctions against lawyers for evidence and witness tampering), May 23, 2000 (& update June 26). 

‘Ad deal links Coke, lawyer in suit’” (Willie Gary, suing Coca-Cola on behalf of clients, enters into a lucrative ad deal with it), May 11, 2000. 

Splash of reality” (sanctions for frivolous litigation in case of claimed Jackson Pollock painting), May 4, 2000. 

Brockovich story, cont’d: the judges’ cruise“, April 18, 2000; “Brockovich story breaks wide open“, April 17, 2000 (& see Dec. 21). 

Majesty of the law” (Phila. attorney Marvin Barish could face sanctions for allegedly threatening to kill opposing counsel during trial break), March 13, 2000; “Relax, you’re being taken care of” (Barish advances injury client’s rent and expenses), Dec. 14, 1999. 

Legal ethics meet medical ethics” (lawyers advise schizophrenic murder defendant to go off his medication for trial), Feb. 26-27, 2000. 

Secrets of class action defense” (assisting cooperative opponent to draft complaint), Feb. 25, 2000. 

Watchdogs could use watching” (fee-splitting in Florida securities cases), Jan. 20, 2000. 

The costs of disclosure” (lawyer reveals misconduct by client, judge), Jan. 19, 2000; “Pack your toothbrush, son” (Ala. law-firm whistleblower), Dec. 20, 1999. 

Popular CLE course: ‘How to Hammer Allstate’” (insurer charged with unauthorized practice of law), Dec. 22, 1999 (update, April 18, 2000). 

Splitsville, N.Y.” (New York mag on divorce), Dec. 17-19, 1999. 

Victory in Florida” (plaintiffs deliberately run up gunmakers’ costs for leverage), Dec. 14, 1999. 

Weekend reading: evergreens” (St. Petersburg Times Pulitzer series on probate law), Dec. 3-5, 1999; “From the evergreen file: L.A. probate horror” (estate of art collector Fred Weisman), Nov. 20-21; “Weekend reading: evergreens” (Denver probate nightmare), Oct. 23-24, 1999. 

Class action fee control: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law“, Nov. 30, 1999; “Class action coupon-clippers“, Nov. 15; “$49 million legal fee okayed in case where clients got nothing“, Sept. 28, 1999. 

Accommodating theft“, Nov. 11, 1999. 

Who loves trusts-and-estates lawyers?“, Nov. 8, 1999. 

Criticizing lawyers proves hazardous“, Nov. 4, 1999 (update, Nov. 30); “No spotlight on me, thanks” (Houston’s John O’Quinn), Aug. 4, 1999. 

State of legal ethics” (lawyers take out glossy ad to stir up will-contest litigation), Oct. 5-6, 1999. 

Weekend reading: evergreens” (lawyer-abetted accident fraud), Sept. 25-26, 1999; “Wages of wrongdoing” (Staten Island lawyers convicted), Sept. 8, 1999. 

Join our new Verdict Rewards program” (checks for jurors), Sept. 13, 1999 (updates, Sept. 17-19, 1999 and Aug. 4-7, 2000). 

Cook County law bills a secret“, Sept. 11-12, 1999. 

My lawyer is an impostor“, Sept. 3, 1999. 

ABA thinks it can discourage ‘pay-for-play’“, Aug. 11, 1999 (& Aug. 14-15 update). 

Like calling the Orkin man to talk about bugs” (ABA convention), Aug. 10, 1999; “Weekend reading” (ABA choice of speakers), Aug. 28-29, 1999. 

No need for speed“, Aug. 3, 1999. 

Weekend reading” (at execution sale, law firm buys up client’s right to sue it for malpractice), July 31-Aug. 1, 1999. 

Honey, you’ve got mail” (solicitations from divorce lawyers arrive before unsuspecting spouses know they’re being divorced), July 15, 1999.


Articles by Overlawyered.com editor Walter Olson:

Thanks for the memories” (coaching of witnesses), June 1998 (& subsequent letters exchange with William Hodes) 

Tobacco Analysts Meet the Plaintiff’s Lawyers” (abuse of pretrial discovery), Wall Street Journal, August 30, 1995. 

Juries on Trial“, review of The Jury by Stephen J. Adler and We the Jury by Jeffrey Abramson, Reason, February 1995. 

Sue City: The Case Against the Contingency Fee“, excerpt from The Litigation Explosion, Policy Review, Winter 1991 [in two parts] [part one] [part two

Dentists, Bartenders, and Lawyer Unpopularity“, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo #37, April 1999. 

Lawyers with Stethoscopes: Clients Beware“, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo #26, June 1996. 

Taming the Litigators: Why Not More Disclosure?“, Manhattan Institute Civil Justice Memo #24, February 1996.


Codes of ethics:

ABA Center for Professional Responsibility
Overview — Rules of Lawyer Conduct
U.S. Judges Code of Conduct
California Rules of Professional Conduct
D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct

Some online articles of interest:

James McCauley, “The Ethics of Making Legal Services Affordable…” (Virginia bar; discusses unauthorized practice, pro se litigation) 

Rep. Chris Cox, Testimony on tobacco settlement (1997)

Lawrence Schonbrun, “Class Actions: The New Ethical Frontier” (Manhattan Institute, 1996)