I was the first to report when John O'Quinn's breast-implant clients successfully sued his firm for tens of millions of dollars of improper overbilling. [April 2007; June 2007; July 2007; Olson follow-up December 2009]
Now a group of O'Quinn's silicosis mass-tort clients allege similar overbilling and double-billing, including the pass-along to clients of referral fees paid to medical testing companies; document destruction and coverup is also alleged. A former O'Quinn partner denies everything, and claims a state probate court already rejected the allegations. [Alison Frankel @ Reuters]
Garance Franke-Ruta has a rule regarding married politicians' affairs: paraphrased, it's "It's never two. It's either one, or many." It would seem probable that the same principle is true for mass-tort lawyers: why would an attorney who skims tens of millions of dollars of recovery from breast-implant clients suddenly turn ethical and fastidious when it comes to similarly situated silicosis clients? And if the silicosis allegations are true, perhaps fen-phen and asbestos clients of O'Quinn's might want to look at their bills a bit more carefully? Another question that comes to mind is whether O'Quinn was especially aggressive when it comes to mass-tort billing, or whether other mass-tort settlements from other attorneys have similar skimming. Every once in a while there's a news story that suggests this could be a fruitful line of inquiry. Dickie Scruggs was reckless enough to attempt to bribe judges to get an upper hand in fee-splitting disputes with fellow attorneys; is it possible that he also took advantage of less-sophisticated clients in easier-to-hide ways? And the thing that has surprised me most in my work with the Center for Class Action Fairness is how the Ted Frank of five years ago wasn't cynical enough in anticipating the ways class action counsel unfairly treat their clients. Scrutinizing the recovery of mass-tort settlement plaintiffs seems like it would be a potentially profitable niche for entrepreneurial attorneys. Though, in general, the legal system protects its own.