Saturday, February 19, 2005
"Small world" department
I was surprised this week by this report from the Houston Chronicle on February 15th:
Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese billionaire and former prime minister who was killed in a bomb explosion on Monday, owned Houston's tallest office tower and held a stake in another.
Hariri owned the JPMorgan Chase Tower at 600 Travis downtown through his U.S. business subsidiary Prime Asset Management.
I'm realized when I read this that an offshore (Netherlands Antilles) trust that was of the two named plaintiffs in a six-week case I tried in late 1992 was almost certainly controlled by and set up for the benefit of Mr. Hariri and his family. And coincidentally, this was also the same securities fraud trial in which I cross-examined John O'Neill as an expert witnesses who was supporting the plaintiffs' claim for attorneys' fees.
The plaintiffs' purchase of my client's securities had been handled by their investment adviser here in Houston, Prime Asset Management, and I took the deposition of Prime Asset Management's CEO (who also appeared for the trusts during the trial) in his offices in what is now the Chase Tower. One trust's ultimate beneficiaries were never disclosed as anything other than "a prominent and wealthy Lebanese family" during the litigation, nor were they directly involved in pretrial discovery or the trial of this lawsuit. I thus never became directly aware of Mr. Hariri or his indirect involvement at that time. And I seriously doubt that Mr. O'Neill did either, since his role was just to opine on the reasonableness and necessity of the seven-figure legal fees being sought by the trusts' lawyers.
Reading the reports of Mr. Hariri's family fortune and business acumen, however, I'm now less surprised than I was at the time that the trusts had refused their very prominent law firm's repeated requests to take the case on a contingent-fee basis and instead continued to employ them on an hourly-rate basis. As it turned out, that was a bad decision in hindsight, since the plaintiffs lost the case and, despite Mr. O'Neill's testimony (and in part due to his candor during my cross-examination), the jury set the reasonable and necessary value of their lawyers' efforts at zero.
Later during the 1990s, I officed my then-solo law practice on the sixty-third floor of the Texas Commerce Tower (now the Chase Tower), so I suppose that Mr. Hariri was also, indirectly, my landlord during that period. And I also helped represent the building's developer and Prime Asset Management's investment partner, Gerald D. Hines Interests, back when I was at Baker Botts in the 1980s.
It's indeed a small world. But I'm not sure where this would go on the NYT's famous SwiftVets linkage chart.
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