There's a brawl raging in the Lone Star state among some of America's richest plaintiffs lawyers. It's much quieter than a fight you might find in a saloon on Telephone Road in Houston. Forget the racket of splintering bar stools and bottles shattered on skulls. Wire transfers are silent, and the time/date stamp a clerk puts on a brief amounts to nothing more than a thunk. But make no mistake: "This is a blood feud," as one local lawyer puts it.
In one corner is John O'Quinn, 66, of Houston, bloodied and bowed after convictions for drunk driving and practicing without a license, and after not one but two ethics probes by the State Bar, one of which resulted in a public reprimand by the Texas Bar in 1989.
In the other corner is Joseph Jamail, also of Houston, crowned the "King of Torts" by Newsweek. Speaking with the confidence that only a long string of wins can produce, Jamail, 82, claims to be above the fray. "I don't have any animosity toward O'Quinn," he says. Maybe that's what $1.5 billion (Jamail's net worth, according to Forbes magazine) will do for a man.
The final combatant is Ronald Krist, 70, who essentially is acting as Jamail's corner man. A veteran Houston litigator, Krist says he doesn't go looking for cases that involve O'Quinn, but clients "present them and we take them."