"O'Quinn Is a Miracle ..."

Eddie Martinez Jr. was riding on a grass mower when a nearby co-worker's mower struck a pipeline carrying liquid natural gas, triggering an explosion that sent flames 20 feet into the air and burned Martinez over 90 percent of his body. Two hundred area firefighters were called to the scene in Friendswood, and more than 100 residents were evacuated. Martinez, who was 25 at the time, initially wasn't expected to live.

As Martinez hovered between life and death in the burn unit of John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, his parents were approached by a number of strangers, some of them claiming to be clergy. Several offered condolences and, eventually, the cards of the attorneys for whom they were actually running cases.

"Lawyers and people working for them flocked to the hospital like ants on sugar," recalls Martinez, who now runs a baseball card shop in Alvin.

Martinez's parents were so distraught by the runners that they used back maintenance elevators to visit their son. Confused, Martinez's father turned for advice to an old schoolmate, a lawyer who recommended that the family hire John O'Quinn and Richard Laminack. Eventually, the lawyers negotiated a pretrial settlement from Phillips Petroleum Company that Martinez was told is one of the largest ever in Texas.

"Miracle after miracle has happened since that day," Martinez says of the 1988 explosion. "It was a miracle that I survived, and unbelievable that I can function to about 85 percent. John O'Quinn was one of those miracles."

These days, Martinez can gaze down from his 13th-row seat in the Summit to where O'Quinn and Laminack take in the Rockets' games from courtside.

Martinez's story of his parents being solicited by runners as he lay in the hospital is not atypical. After Ruben Guerrero, a former state district judge, was injured in a car accident a few months ago, he returned home from a brief hospital visit to find more than a dozen calls on his answering machine from people offering to help him with his case.

"I called a few, and I think they were the runners. The attorneys are too smart to call themselves," says Guerrero. "Of course, most of these attorneys are ones you wouldn't want handling a traffic ticket."

But good lawyers also break the rules against client solicitation -- and they're not all plaintiffs' lawyers. Attorneys at the large defense firms do it, too, sometimes with a piece of fine crystal in their hands, but never, of course, by employing so declasse a tactic as employing "runners."

No less an authority than Mayor Bob Lanier, once a practicing lawyer himself, acknowledges that lawyers often directly solicit work from the city.

"Does anybody think that city business is not asked for?" Lanier says. "Some of that kind of thing goes on at country clubs and some other [places]."

Tom McDade, one of O'Quinn's lawyers in the pending State Bar grievance, speaks on the subject from the perspective of a former partner at Fulbright & Jaworski.

"Face it: Fulbright, Baker & Botts, Andrews & Kurth -- all the biggest defense firms -- we wine and dine corporate heads. If that's not case running, I don't know what is."

-- Mary Flood

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