The Insider

Muhammad even jokingly offered what must have been the ultimate endorsement of O'Quinn and Shaw, at least coming from a disciple of the Nation of Islam. Noting that O'Quinn is white and Shaw is Jewish (and white to boot, he forgot to add), Muhammad said he obviously wouldn't be supporting the pair if they weren't really good lawyers.

Although the TSU meeting was in a state-owned facility and involved public officials, Linda Brown, who's handling the Kennedy Heights PR for O'Quinn's firm, told a Channel 26 crew and The Insider that the function was closed to the media. The TV crew departed after filming some footage of the crowd, but we refused to leave. That led to a confrontation with Shaw. The meeting was being conducted at TSU, the lawyer explained, so the residents, many of them poor and elderly, could discuss the case in a comfortable, air-conditioned setting. If The Insider insisted on remaining, Shaw warned, he would send the crowd home.

Not wanting to be crowned the grinch of Kennedy Heights, we negotiated a deal with Shaw. The public portion of the meeting would remain open to the media, such as it was, but we would depart when O'Quinn got down to lawyer-client discussions with members of the audience.

With the question of access out of the way, the speeches began. Boney took the microphone to compare the Kennedy Heights suit to the successful struggles to free death row inmate Clarence Brandley and vanquish apartheid in South Africa. Then he got down to the business at hand, rebuking any of the clients in the audience who had dared to take issue with O'Quinn's handling of the case.

"Why would you question those that got you to this point?" said Boney. "When some who have been on the sidelines of the struggle come to a meeting and tell you what to do, they're out of line. We're not going to have that. We're going to follow battle protocol."

Unaware that Hoyt's recusal call was minutes away, Boney advised the audience to "celebrate the victory of the moment. You could have another judge now."

Then it was Congresswoman Lee's turn. She, too, had Hoyt on her mind. Noting that the judge was one of her constituents in the 18th District, Lee actually tried to excuse Hoyt for his bizarre ruminations on race, evolution and biodiversity that had provoked Chevron's effort to force him off the case.

"When you're among family and friends, it's easy for your tongue to slip," said Lee. "He just wanted to talk about the human family."

Hoyt, a Reagan administration appointee who was recommended for his judgeship by U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, certainly holds an interesting view of the human family. Among the comments that Chevron found objectionable was the judge's opinion that an Arthritis Foundation brochure positing that blacks have a higher incidence of lupus than whites was invalid "because white people wrote it."

In musing on the differences among races, the judge also offered Chevron's attorneys his unique take on Chinese and African physiques: "Why do you think Chinese people are short? Because there is so much damn wind over there, they need to be short. Why are they so tall in Africa? Because they need to be tall. It's environmental. I mean, you don't jump up and get a banana off the tree if you're only four feet." (Perhaps the winds are just exceptionally high where the Pygmies live.)

But strangest of all was Hoyt's observation that God put pigmentation in the skins of Africans because they wouldn't have survived in the jungle without it. "I think he knew that people in Europe, Great Britain, didn't need it because if they had that stuff in their skin, they would have died, but because they don't have the pigmentation, they can live in Europe. Because I have the pigmentation, I can't live in Europe."

That comment would come as quite a surprise to millions of people of African descent currently living in Great Britain, France and other former imperial powers that have absorbed colonial populations.

After pardoning Hoyt's "slips of the tongue," Lee, as she is wont to do, began drifting on to other issues, including her support for an apology by the U.S. government to African-Americans for the institution of slavery and her opposition to the upcoming referendum on doing away with the city of Houston's affirmative action programs.

As the talk rambled on and on, O'Quinn suddenly picked up his cellular phone and, with the phone still cupped to his ear, hurriedly exited the meeting through a side door. He returned minutes later, the message from Hoyt having been relayed to him.

Meanwhile, Muhammad had taken the stage for one last lecture to the clients who had the effrontery to question O'Quinn.

"You don't have the experience to lead," Muhammad admonished. "You're like a child. Grow up! 'Cause anything that's got two heads is a monster that should be in a zoo."

After Muhammad concluded, Shaw walked across the auditorium and asked The Insider to leave so that O'Quinn could have a private word with the clients. Unaware that Hoyt had just dropped out of the case, we complied. As it turned out, O'Quinn kept Lee, Boney and Muhammad around to help deal with his new task -- delivering the bad news to the residents without sending them home dispirited.

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