The Insider

The Unstoppable O'Quinn
Houston super-lawyer John O'Quinn has built a reputation as a plaintiff's attorney on the edge in recent years, provoking investigations in South Carolina and Texas for allegedly hiring case runners to bring him business -- which is illegal. At the same time, he was drinking heavily enough to earn a D.W.I. conviction. Last month, O'Quinn took a drive on the wild side by trying to outrun the law in his vintage green Chevy Impala.

In the latest incident, O'Quinn apparently decided to do his own running, but thanks to an unusually considerate Houston policeman, the lawyer was spared a Breathalyzer session and a trip to jail. O'Quinn still faces a misdemeanor charge of evading arrest that carries a $4,000 fine and a year in jail.

Patrol officer Stephen Augustine reported spotting O'Quinn making an illegal turn off Main onto Prairie on the afternoon of February 14 and pulled up behind him with lights flashing. According to the officer, John O'Quinn put the pedal to the metal and took off, running through a red light at Travis with the officer in pursuit, his lights still flashing and siren wailing. O'Quinn then drove to the gated Lyric Center garage, waved his pass card and ducked into the garage. The gate then came down, shutting out the frustrated patrolman.

By the time the officer got into the garage, O'Quinn had disappeared, but a witness directed the policeman to an elevator where the lawyer was waiting for a lift to the security of his law office.

Augustine, apparently uncertain he had cornered the right man, asked O'Quinn what type of vehicle he was driving. O'Quinn answered that he drove a Ford Explorer. The confused officer examined O'Quinn's license, and let him go on up to his office.

Not too many people suspected of evading arrest by fleeing a Houston police officer get that kind of kid-glove treatment. In fact, O'Quinn's lawyer, the legendary Houston trial attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, jokes that a Hispanic suspect would likely have been greeted by Augustine with "Hands up ... Policia!"

After he returned to his patrol car, Augustine ran a computer check on O'Quinn, and discovered that the vehicle he had chased to the Lyric Center was indeed registered to the lawyer. Still, rather than going back up to O'Quinn's office to arrest the lawyer, the officer went on to other calls, and waited six hours before seeking permission from the district attorney's office to file charges.

Assistant District Attorney Terese Buess approved an evading arrest charge, a Class A misdemeanor, and the issuance of a warrant to be served later for O'Quinn. (The lawyer voluntarily came to the county jail last Friday, was booked and immediately bonded out.)

Augustine was not available for comment, but Buess says she's puzzled why the officer let O'Quinn go after confronting him in the garage. "Do I know why he didn't arrest him?" asks Buess rhetorically. "I have not got a clue."

Buess's boss, District Attorney Johnny Holmes, says the officer didn't do anything improper, but his failure to arrest or even ticket O'Quinn at the scene "suggests some kind of differential treatment depending on who you are."

O'Quinn did not return an Insider inquiry, but Haynes indicated it won't take a legal genius to spring his client from his latest brush with the law. O'Quinn did not know the officer was following him and did not hear his siren, contends Haynes, because "John is hard of hearing."

Holmes even has a bit of advice for O'Quinn's defense. Concerning the officer's failure to arrest the lawyer, Holmes says he'd have a tough question for the cop: "If you were so sure it was O'Quinn driving that car, why didn't you put him in jail?"

The other question arising from the incident is why a multimillionaire like O'Quinn favors a funky Chevy Impala as his joy ride of choice. "Well," drawls Haynes, who collects vintage Corvette Stingrays himself, "it's a good car. Good warranty, and they don't give them away, y'know?"

Dealing with the Devil
A consultant with ties to conservative Republican kingmaker Dr. Steven Hotze claims he was paid $25,000 by Democrats in 1996 to craft political attacks on a moderate GOP candidate. The charge bolsters accusations by Republican critics of Hotze that the religious-right leader has subordinated his convictions to a pursuit of power and money.

Mark Smith, owner of the Washington, D.C.-based DaVinci Group, says Dan McClung, a Democratic campaign strategist for Congressman Ken Bentsen, paid him the money for a last-minute campaign against Dolly Madison McKenna, a moderate Republican running against Bentsen in the December 1996 District 25 congressional runoff.

McClung admits he forked over the payment from a Bentsen supporter to Smith, but says he had intended it only for issue-related education efforts among conservatives. That claim draws a laugh from Smith, who claims he explained to McClung in detail at the time that he planned to use the money to generate automated phone calls and leaflets targeting McKenna.

Smith claims Hotze asked him to solicit the money, which was funneled to the Texas Family Association and other conservative groups to produce literature accusing McKenna of being pro-abortion and pro-gay.

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