Top Texas court considers whether to toss legal fee estimated at $48K an hour
Texas Supreme Court building. Photo by WhisperToMe, via Wikimedia Commons.
A federal appellate nominee and a former Texas Supreme Court justice are representing opposing sides in a battle over an oral agreement to pay legal fees in a case involving family trusts of the late oilman H.L. Hunt.
At issue is a $7.5 million contingency fee that amounts to an estimated $48,000 per hour for 150 hours of work, according to Texas Lawbook, which covered the dispute here (sub. req.), and in the Houston Chronicle.
The Dallas lawyer seeking the fee is Gregory Shamoun, a flamboyant laywer who once called a donkey named Buddy to testify in a court case.
Representing Hunt’s grandson, Albert Hill Jr., is Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner James Ho, whose recent nomination to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is pending. Representing Shamoun is former Texas chief justice Wallace Jefferson.
Another pending 5th Circuit nominee, Don Willett, is a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, which heard the case last week.
Shamoun had contended he wasn’t paid a promised incentive bonus after he successfully negotiated a global settlement that gave Hill control of the $1 billion family trust. Shamoun sued Hill, receiving a $7.5 million jury award for the few weeks he spent in negotiations.
Arguing for Hill, Ho contended said Texas law requires a contingency fee agreement to be in writing, and the oral agreement was illegal.
Arguing for Shamoun, Jefferson pointed to phone calls in which Hill and Hill’s personal lawyer allegedly discussed an agreement to pay Shamoun half of any settlement below $73 million. The settlement came in at $40.5 million, entitling Shamoun to far more than the jury award, Jefferson said.
Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller supports Hill’s argument that the oral contract is unenforceable. Arguing as an amicus, he said Shamoun was entitled to his regular hourly pay of $600 an hour, amounting to about $90,000.