The Insider

Let's Make a Bet
"This," says lawyer David Berg, "is why the public hates lawyers." Last week, Samsung Electronics and Texas Instruments jointly declared victory. Just before a Texas state jury was to decide a fraud case that Samsung had filed against TI, the two companies settled that claim -- and reached a wide-ranging, $1 billion licensing agreement that pleased officials from both companies.

But that win-win situation apparently didn't satisfy the bloodlust of TI lawyer Steve Susman. After the settlement, the Susman Godfrey firm faxed out a press release styled to resemble a legal filing and revealing that Susman had challenged Berg, Samsung's lawyer, to a personal $100,000 bet: After the jury was polled to see what it would have said, the "winning" lawyer would take all.

"David Berg declined the challenge," noted the release. And, it said, the jurors would have split 10-2 in Samsung's favor.

Naturally, the release irritated Berg. First of all, he maintains, Susman is wrong. According to Robert Gordon, who's analyzing the jurors' opinions for Berg's firm, it's too soon to say what the jurors would've decided. To figure out what would have happened in the jury room, it's not enough just to ask individual jurors whether they favored Samsung or TI; and so far, Gordon's Wilmington Institute has interviewed fewer than half of the jurors.

Besides that, Berg said, Susman's crowing is "real 1960s macho stuff." Berg went on to explain in detail why the deal is good for both sides, and why he thinks that his client really came out ahead. "But that," he added, "doesn't mean I have to stand on the Empire State Building shouting that I've crushed Steve Susman." (Since The Insider is represented by David Berg pro bono in a libel lawsuit against Congressman Steve Stockman, Press associate editor Lisa Gray is wholly to blame for this item.)

Do As We Say
"Our state could become a much better place if all of us did more to recycle the stuff we use every day," declared the program for Texas Recycles Day, which was held November 15 at the reflecting pool next to City Hall. The purpose of the annual event, according to spokesman Don Payne of the city's Solid Waste Management Department, is to raise awareness of recycling efforts around the state and encourage businesses and other organizations to initiate or expand recycling programs. Co-sponsored by, among others, the Houston Corporate Recycling Council, the event featured a number of booths and tables with displays and literature, as well as a giveaway of canned drinks, and a keynote speech by noted environmentalist state Senator Buster Brown. The only thing missing, it seems, were recycling bins for discarded paper and aluminum. Solid Waste's Payne acknowledged the oversight, but says the event was designed with "waste minimization in mind."

"What we have to do is weigh the collection of recyclables with the economic impact: Is it cost efficient for us to spend several hundred dollars to collect the recyclables down there and not get that much for the expense? But we do agree that yeah, there should have been some receptacles down there."

Payne went on to note that most of the waste from the event was non-recyclable, anyway -- Styrofoam cups and food-contaminated paper, etc. As to why Styrofoam was available at a celebration of recycling, Payne replied: "Good question."

Huffin' and Puffin'
According to a press release from his office, Uncle Bob Lanier, apparently taking a page from George Greanias's book, recently visited an HISD elementary to give students a reading of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!, author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith's reverse-spin retelling of the children's classic from the wolf's point of view. Although The Insider missed the event, a wide-eyed seven-year-old repeated the shocking details as he heard them dripping from the lips of Lanier. According to our young source, the mayor began by bemoaning the bad rap he's getting from Kingwoodomites over their annexation by Houston. "I don't know how this 'big bad mayor' thing got started," explained Uncle Bob, "but it's all wrong. Hey, it's not my fault that big-city mayors eat cute little bedroom communities like Kingwood. That's just the way we are."

Then Uncle Bob got down to business, veering slightly from Scieszka's text to tell the true story of the downtown hotel. "Once upon a time, I was making a downtown hotel for my dear old city," he told the youngsters. "I had a terrible sneezing cold. I was out of sugar daddies. So I walked down the street to ask my neighbor Joe B. Allen for sugar. Now my neighbor was a pig. And he wasn't too bright, either. He had built his hotel of straw. Can you believe it? I mean who in his right mind would build a hotel of straw?"

After the mayor sneezed and blew the straw hotel away and scarfed down Joe B., he went looking for another proposal. "I went to the next neighbor's house," Bob related, identifying that neighbor as his other friend, Wayne Duddlesten. "This neighbor was a little smarter, but not much," he explained. "He had built his hotel of sticks. And you're not going to believe it, but when I sneezed, this guy's hotel fell down, too -- just like Joe B's. But I let him live, because he promised to make me a new downtown hotel out of brick."

For an upcoming reading, the Big Bad Mayor plans to tell middle schoolers about how the FBI got involved in the downtown hotel made of sticks, and how the media distorted the whole deal. "You'll hear 'the real story,' " promises Uncle Bob, echoing the ending of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! "I was framed."

Caution: Children's Charities at Play
The duel between the fragments of the former Variety Club children's charity continues, despite a court settlement that apparently split the warring factions into two separate charities. State District Judge John Devine had approved a still-to-be-finalized deal allowing the faction led by PACE Motor Sports CEO Gary Becker to keep the office and most of the assets of the local chapter, dubbed Tent 34, but prohibiting Becker and his allies from using the Variety Club name. No sooner was the deal cut, however, than the Becker group sent out a notice for its annual meeting to members, billing its board as "Variety Club, Tent 34." The notice also claimed that an internal audit of the charity found no evidence of misappropriation or misuse of funds by former executive director Laura Rowe, whose controversial tenure provoked the split in the club ranks.

A volunteer identifying herself as Beverly Burton explained to The Insider that Becker's group had "won in court" and had the right to use the Variety Club moniker until the name change was approved at the December 5 membership meeting.

Not so, insists Bennett Fisher, attorney for Variety Club International, which has authorized the opposing faction of the fractured charity to reconstitute a new local Variety Club chapter. "The only reason we worked out a settlement was that nobody won and nobody lost," says Fisher. The lawyer says the audit did not exonerate Rowe of filing what she has admitted were erroneous expense reports to the charity. Since the group that is meeting at the Hyatt no longer has the approval of Variety Club International, Fisher says he wants to clear up any confusion over which charity is which.

Responds Becker: "If Bennett would get off his butt and sign the court agreement, we wouldn't have to use the name."

Come to the Party
The triumph of Proposition One at the polls last month was reason to celebrate, at least for some people. And what better place to do it than at the swank Huntingdon condo of Bob and Elyse Lanier, where those who worked for passage of the referendum on the new downtown ballpark were feted last Monday night at a holiday soiree hosted by Elyse and Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. In addition to all the usual suspects who toiled on behalf of Proposition One, the guests included a phalanx of nabobs and minions from the Chronicle editorial board, who performed such yeoman work on the pro-Proposition One propaganda effort. Among those in attendance were Chronicle publisher Richard Johnson, president Gene McDavid, editor Jack Loftis, editorial page chief Frank Michel and other assorted personages from McLane's Leading Information Source. Sorry you weren't invited, but then, what have you done for Drayton McLane lately?

Tell your fairy tales to The Insider by dialing 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at

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