A Last Bite of '97

Nineteen ninety-seven was not the best of years for plaintiffs' lawyer John O'Quinn ["O'Quinn Unzipped," by Mary Flood, January 23]. Two weeks ago, O'Quinn was fined $2,500 after pleading guilty to one count of improperly practicing law in South Carolina -- a charge that stemmed from allegations of "case-running" following the 1994 crash of a USAir jet bound from Columbia, South Carolina, to Charlotte, North Carolina. The lawyer also agreed to pay $250,000 to fund legal-ethics education and enforcement efforts in the state. Seven other charges of soliciting cases, fee-splitting and conspiracy against O'Quinn were dropped by prosecutors. Still pending is a State Bar of Texas inquiry into the actions of O'Quinn and associates after the USAir crash. Meanwhile, O'Quinn appears to have seriously scaled back his expectations for the Kennedy Heights lawsuit, in which he represents residents of that southeast Houston neighborhood against oil giant Chevron [The Insider, "The All-Too-Human Family," by Tim Fleck, August 28].

As a result of Steve McVicker's July 24 cover story "Death of an Informant," the body of gambler, drug dealer and onetime police informant Donald Wayne Chaline was exhumed in September. The 50-year-old Chaline was found dead in March at the bottom of the staircase outside his southwest Houston townhouse. His skull had been fractured, and the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, after determining that Chaline had a large amount of alcohol and cocaine in his system, concluded that he died from an accidental fall. But Chaline's daughter, Melinda Rogers, wasn't so sure. Her father had been a key witness in the capital murder trial of the notorious Markham Duff-Smith, who had arranged for the slaying of four members of his wealthy family in order to collect an inheritance. Rogers believed Chaline had also been murdered. After a second autopsy, though, the M.E.'s office stuck by its original opinion that Chaline's death was an accident.

Jaime Olmo, the surgical assistant accused of medical malpractice by pub-hungry state Attorney General Dan Morales ["Trial by Video," by Michael Berryhill, March 6], has been slowly rebuilding his business after signing a settlement with the A.G.'s office last January. The agreement allowed Olmo and his associates, many of them doctors with foreign medical degrees but without state licenses, to continue to assist licensed surgeons in Houston operating rooms, as they have successfully for years. Morales's lawsuit nearly broke Olmo, and the one-sided coverage by CBS television's nightly news and 60 Minutes ignored the fact that a Houston judge threw out the case against four remaining defendants in February. As it turns out, the newly married Morales didn't even need the publicity: He recently decided not to run for re-election.

The ill-fated Houston Daily News ["Off Line," by Bob Burtman, March 20], which was promoted as the city's first on-line daily newspaper, has metamorphosed into a new venture, Houston Today. With a new publisher (Bob Orkand, whose DBA Houston business magazine folded last January) and a new chairman and CEO (investment banker/stockbroker Robert Watson), Houston Today has been adapting over the months to the brave new world of Internet publishing. Despite what could be generously termed an uneven product, the paper claims to have logged 5.7 million hits on its web site in November. According to the paper's "multimedia news director," Scott E Berrett, Houston Today is on the verge of breaking even and is almost ready to expand into a number of other cities. "The page has turned," says Berrett. A decidedly nondigital pronouncement, Mr. "New-Media" Man.

In the wake of Bob Burtman's series on mismanagement in the city's public works department ["Easy Street," October 30, November 13 and November 27], John Hatch was transferred from his job as head of the department's Street and Bridge Division back to his old haunt, the Greater Houston Wastewater Program. Department sources say that other personnel changes are in the works. According to public works spokeswoman Marti Stein, the department is also examining several of the problems uncovered by the Press, including unnecessary street overlays and inaction after projects failed inspections. The scrutiny has already paid off: In November, five streets in Denver Harbor that had been slated for overlaying -- despite having been recently repaved --were deleted from the project.

Shortly after he was profiled in the Press ["The Legend," by Randall Patterson, August 14], playground basketballer Dwayne Rogers was asked again to play overseas, this time in Spain. Again, Rogers turned down the chance to play basketball for money. It was just too far from home. Instead, he tried out for two teams in the new professional Southwestern Basketball League. At the age of 33, he made the cut for both the Galveston Storm and the Lake Charles Hawks, and chose the Hawks because they asked him more nicely. Since October, Dwayne has been making $750 a week, which has made his wife, Andrea, interested enough in basketball to attend his games. Playing on a team that practiced and had a playbook was entirely new for Dwayne. As the Hawks' starting point guard, he was leading the league in scoring, with 28 points a game. In late December, the team folded for lack of funds. Something will happen, says Dwayne, or he will go back to work at the box factory. "As long as I'm making money," he says, "I'm happy."

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