Two Texas, Heavy-Hitter Lawyers Square Off in Arbitration

11/17/2008 | Legal Malpractice

Two of Texas' heavy hitter trial lawyers have squared off against each other in an arbitration and one has to pay his former clients over $33 Million. John O'Quinn of The O'Quinn Law Firm has been ordered to repay thousands of his clients after being sued by another Texas heavy-weight, Joe Jamail. Joe Jamail is one of the most successful lawyers in the country and is infamous. Watch what it's like to be in a depostion with him. But, on to the meat of the story. The arbitration decision arose from a class action lawsuit against O'Quinn filed in 1999 by three ex-clients in East Texas. That lawsuit was later joined by thousands of women alleging O'Quinn improperly took funds from their settlements for group charges they had not agreed to pay. "Quite simply, if O'Quinn is allowed to improperly withhold client funds with impunity, other lawyers may believe that they can do likewise. Such a result would destroy the very integrity of the special and unique relationship that exists between attorney and client," the final order states. The order says that O'Quinn, through three legal entities under which he has practiced law, must pay back $10.7 million he improperly charged clients and a $25 million penalty because he broke his contract with them. The interest accumulated since the case began eight years ago could be more than $21 million. And he will be asked to pay about $2 million in legal fees for the lawyers his ex-clients hired." Ouch. The interesting thing is that the panel determined that "'Quinn did an exceptional job for his clients." Fortunately for Kentucky residents, Kentucky has a legal malpractice statute that says if a lawyer breaches his duty to his client, he can be sued and made to refund his fee. The statute does not require the client to prove the lawyer committed legal malpractice, or even did a bad job. The statute only requires the client prove the lawyer breached his fiduciary duty to his client. In simple terms, breaching a fiduciary duty means the client put his own interests ahead of his client. Unfortunately, this actually happens. I can't pass judgment on whether O'Quinn put his own interests ahead of his clients, (like Kentucky Lawyers Melbourne Mills Jr., Shirley Cunningham Jr., and William Gallion) and it appears he achieved a great result on their behalfs. I'm certain we haven't heard the end of this case.

Hans Poppe