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According to one witness, O'Quinn was at first uncertain whether to tell the residents about Hoyt's withdrawal, the news of which arrived as Lee was speaking. "Goddamn it, Hoyt just recused himself from the case," O'Quinn whispered to the officials in a huddle after the speeches. Because the meeting was going so well, O'Quinn wondered whether the residents should be told immediately. The group came to the conclusion the news had to be broken before the clients heard it via the media.
O'Quinn took the mike and started innocuously enough, saying there was no place he'd rather be than right there with his clients. "I've always believed that no matter what, always tell the truth," he said, "and I wish that what I'm about to say, I didn't have to say, but you need to hear it from me." O'Quinn paused and the hall was stone silent, except for Congresswoman Lee, who chimed in, "We're with you, John. Just tell 'em."
O'Quinn recalled how the residents had gone to New Orleans to sit in on the Fifth Circuit deliberations that resulted in Hoyt being allowed to remain on the case. That small victory was now history, said O'Quinn. "Judge Hoyt has just called my office to recuse himself from the case." Moans of "Oh, God" and "Jesus" rose from the crowd.
"We will overcome this," continued O'Quinn, who explained that the recusal meant a new jury, a new judge and starting over "at square one." Boney and Lee then reclaimed the floor and worked the crowd over one more time before the residents filed out in silence.
"It just shut it down," said one participant in the meeting. "The client dissatisfaction was never addressed. The mood became, 'Oh, John, what do we do now?' "
Afterward, O'Quinn wasn't available for comment, but Shaw said he's looking ahead to the new trial in Hittner's court, which he hopes will be under way by late fall.
"It would just seem like a heartless act to have these people out [of court] for more than two months," he said.
And expensive for the lawyers too. O'Quinn has poured millions of dollars of legal services and expenses into the litigation thus far, and is seemingly no closer to a judgment that when the suit first surfaced in state court three years ago.
The Insider can be reached at (713) 624-1483 or (713) 624-1496 (fax), or by e-mail at Insider@houstonpress.com.