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BP’s Deepwater Horizon Continues To Spill In All (Legal) Directions

Two Texas trial attorneys have been sued in connection to identity theft.

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FILE - In this April 2010 file photo, oil can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. Deep-water drilling is set to resume near the site of the catastrophic BP PLC well blowout that killed 11 workers and caused the nation's largest offshore oil spill five years ago off the coast of Louisiana.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Two prominent Texas trial attorneys have been sued as the legal fallout from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to spiral in new directions.

In this case, Houston attorney Tammy Tran alleges that defendants John Cracken of Dallas and Bob Hilliard of Corpus Christi stole the name and identity of plaintiff Thim Nguyen, a Louisiana Vietnamese-American seafood boat owner and captain, and those of 45,500 other Vietnamese fishermen, in order to collect $2 billion in damages from BP.

The suit claims that Cracken and Hilliard used case-runners—street-level lawyers who refer clients to high-powered attorneys—to rustle up the names and identities, which were then handed over to Mikal Watts of San Antonio, a third high-profile lawyer who was working in concert with Cracken and Hilliard. The case-runners were supposedly paid $10.9 million in the alleged scheme. Watts then filed 25 suits against BP in Texas courts, allegedly unbeknownst to his clients.

(Tran has sued Watts separately; he also faces a criminal indictment in a related Mississippi-based federal case.)

The suit against Cracken and Hilliard makes for dramatic reading. Cracken and Hilliard are accused of “an arrogant presumption that this minority group of Vietnamese fishermen would be scared of these lawyers’ power and connections with judges and politicians and would bow their heads. Little did they know,” the suit goes on, “that the Vietnamese are fighters to their very bones. Since their immigration to the United States after the fall of South Vietnam, the Vietnamese fishermen have sued and fought fearlessly against Ku Klux Klan members, various mafias, corrupt government officials, global corporations and Communist governments, and many other villians. And they have won. As Congressman Al Green of Texas has put it in one of his noted speeches, “You do not ever mess with the Vietnamese fishermen.”  (Emphasis original.)

Other pleadings were more of the nuts and bolts variety: emails between Watts, Cracken and Hilliard, allegedly showing that they knew their list of plaintiffs was full of, as one defendant put it, “ghosts in the wind.” And that’s not to mention a ghost in the ground and at least one four-legged critter.

Per Bloomberg:

E-mails between the attorneys, cited in the indictment, describe internal investigations into a client list that uncovered people who were “duped” by the case runners into signing up with Watts, or those whose files contained inaccurate or misappropriated addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers. One client turned out to be a dog; another died long before the spill happened.

“Another fine example of the s–t we paid for; dead 5 years ago,” Watts wrote in a March 8, 2011, e-mail. “Mikal, fraud,” Attorney 2 replied. The complaint identifies Hilliard as the respondent.

The e-mails are being taken out of context and “paint a misleading picture” of what the lawyers were discussing, Robert McDuff, Watts’s criminal defense attorney, said when the charges were unsealed last year. Any fraud involving the workers’ claims was committed by others and will be proven at Watts’s criminal trial in July, he said.

The Daily Post spoke with veteran Texas trial lawyer Dana LeJune about the case. LeJune believes it highlights some more of the problems with Texas tort reform, or “tort deform” as he brands it:

What happens often in these cases is you will have second- and third-tier lawyers who will run around and sign up people, and then they bring them to the big guy, and they get an agreement to get a piece of the contingent fee in exchange for referring them. I am not trying to make an excuse for Watts or any of these other guys, but a lot of times the big guy doesn’t know. I guarantee you that Watts did not know that the referring lawyer had signed up people who didn’t exist.

Again, I am not making excuses for anybody, but I know Mikal Watts and I know he didn’t know or he wouldn’t have done this. But see, the tort deform has made even mass tort cases like this…there’s just not as much money in them as there used to be. And so the big gun doesn’t have the time or the incentive to go and make sure the referring lawyer have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement. Not only that, but a live person who has a claim. That does not get done the way it used to get done.

Two years ago, Tran was sued by Tony Buzbee, one of the biggest of the big dogs in Texas torts. Back then Tran was referring cases to Buzbee, who alleged that Tran refused to repay a loan of almost $1 million he gave her firm in 2010. That suit was settled early last year; terms were undisclosed in court records.

Cracken and Hilliard have denied Nguyen’s accusations through their attorney, Houston’s Richard Mithoff. Speaking for himself, albeit in a statement, Hilliard denounced the claims in stronger terms: “Ms. Tran is addicted to headlines and incapable of proving this case. Her claims are false and, when her threats to sue so as to attempt to extort a multi-million dollar settlement failed, her baseless bluff was called.”

And Tran has fired back in an email to Bloomberg: “I am surprised that a lawyer of his caliber has nothing else to say but to attack me personally.” The pooch/plaintiff was unavailable for comment.

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  • José

    Lawyers suing lawyers for being cheated by lying lawyers in their scheme to defraud a heartless company whose negligence killed 11 people and spoiled hundreds of miles of coastline. Is there anyone in this story to root for?

    • Tammy Tran

      To: Mr. John Nova Lomax

      From: Tammy Tran

      Date: March 26, 2016

      Dear Mr. Lomax:

      I enjoyed reading your article, which was extremely well written, but found a few points that need to be clarified.

      First, the article states: “Two years ago, Tran was sued by Tony Buzbee, one of the biggest of the big dogs in Texas torts. Back then Tran was referring cases to Buzbee, who alleged that Tran refused to repay a loan of almost $1 million he gave her firm in 2010. That suit was settled early last year; terms were undisclosed in court records.”

      Second, in the preceding paragraph, the article quoted veteran Texas trial lawyer Dana LeJune who defined “referring lawyers” as:

      “second- and third-tier lawyers who will run around and sign up people, and then they bring them to the big guy, and they get an agreement to get a piece of the contingent fee in exchange for referring to them.”

      Enclosed please find my response:

      First, since the lawsuit between Mr. Buzbee and me (which was settled amicably) had nothing to do with the Cracken and Hilliard Case, this reference may cause the readers to mistakenly think that I was and am a “referring lawyer” and Mr. Buzbee was a big gun who would not have carefully checked the fee contracts and consents.

      Mr. Buzbee and I had done business in the past, and we had joint prosecution agreements and consents for each and every single joint client. Truly, Mr. Buzbee is a “big gun,” but not only is he a great lawyer, he is also a very ethical lawyer who checked every single point when it comes to representing clients, regardless of the amount of money. Although Mr. Buzbee and I had a misunderstanding/disagreement, we immediately settled amicably. Most importantly, please also note:

      A) In my 18 years of practicing law in my boutique firm, after leaving an international law firm in 1997 to serve my Vietnamese community (see http://www.tammytranlaw.com), in certain cases I joined co-counsel, but I never merely referred cases to them. My firm has always jointly, if not primarily, prosecuted the cases.

      In fact, in the case that you mentioned, I was not and am not a “referring lawyer.”

      I was co-counsel who had jointly prosecuted the Deepwater Horizon cases with Mr. Buzbee since 2010 before the Gulf Coast Claim Facility (“the GCCF”). My firm and the Buzbee’s Firm obtained information from the clients. My firm then communicated with the clients solely because of the language barrier, and my firm with two in-house accountants prepared the claim packages together with our independent nationally recognized CPA Expert Team. Before we submitted any claim packages to the GCCF, we sent the packages to Mr. Buzbee for his review.

      However, since June 4, 2012, the DHECC had a new rule, that there must be only ONE PRIMARY LAW FIRM to communicate with the DHECC. Since then, our Firm became the Primary Counsel and has directly communicated daily with the Administrator’s staff of Mr. Patrick Juneau. At the present time, on the portal of the DHECC, I am still the only primary counsel representing 1063 Vietnamese-American fishermen and businesses before the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claim Center, including the opted-out clients. (My law firm and my team of Vietnamese-American lawyers [with the assistance of a team of CPA and economic experts] have been the Primary Counsel before the DHECC since June 4, 2012, after the May 3, 2012 Settlement Agreement was filed with Federal Judge Carl Barbier and after the DHECC opened its doors on June 4, 2012.)

      I would respectfully invite you to come visit my law firm at 2915 Fannin, Houston Texas 77002; and, with permission of my clients, I will show you that The Tammy Tran Law Firm had been joint counsel representing 1063 BP claimants before the GCCF from 2010 to June 4, 2012 (administered by Mr. Kenneth Fienberg); and we have been the Primary Counsel representing 1063 clients before the DHECC (administered by Patrick Juneau) since June 4, 2012 until the present time. As such, please note my comments and kindly ask Mr. LeJune to correct his inaccurate statement in the article.

      B) You quoted Mr. Dana LeJune as saying:

      “But see, the tort deform (sic) has made even mass tort cases like this…there’s just not as much money in them as there used to be. And so the big gun doesn’t have the time or the incentive to go and make sure the referring lawyer have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement. Not only that, but a live person who has a claim. That does not get done the way it used to get done.” [Emphasis added.]

      I humbly believe that, as a veteran lawyer, Mr. LeJune would or should NEVER have said that. I think that Mr. LeJune was incorrect. Since 2005, every Texas lawyer, even the non-veteran ones, knew or should have known that to share fees, for every contingency fee case, the “big guns” and the “referring lawyers,” must have a contingency agreement (the POA) and a consent signed by the client in their possession before the lawsuit is filed. The consent must specifically spell out the specific terms regarding the percentage of the fees-sharing and the extent of work and responsibility that each firm will undertake.

      Thus, regardless of whether the amount of money is big or small, the “big guns” must “go and make sure the referring lawyers have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement. Furthermore, the “big guns” must obtain consents from the clients. Most importantly the big guns must make sure the referring lawyers are actually working on the cases and sharing the responsibility with him or her. If not, fees cannot be shared, period!

      In fact, many “big guns” who represent BP clients, except Mikal Watts, Cracken and Hilliard, indeed had POA and consents before they filed the lawsuits or claims for the victims, and they jointly worked with co-counsel.

      Under Rule 1.04 (f) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, since 2005, there has been no such thing as a “referring lawyer” anymore. To share fees, this rule requires:

      Rule 1.04 Fees (Amended March 1, 2005)

      (f) A division or arrangement for division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:

      (1) the division is:

      (i) in proportion to the professional services performed by each lawyer; or

      (ii) made, between lawyers who assume joint responsibility for the representation; and

      (2) the client consents in writing to the terms of the arrangement prior to the time of the association or referral proposed, including

      (i) the identity of all lawyers or law firms who will participate in the fee-sharing agreement, and

      (ii) whether fees will be divided based on the proportion of services performed or by lawyers agreeing to assume joint responsibility for the representation, and

      (iii) the share of the fee that each lawyer or law firm will receive or, if the division is based on the proportion of services performed, the basis on which the division will be made; and

      (3) the aggregate fee does not violate paragraph (a).

      (g) Every agreement that allows a lawyer or law firm to associate other counsel in the representation of a person, or to refer the person to other counsel for such representation, and that results in such an association with or referral to a different law firm or a lawyer in such a different firm, shall be confirmed by an arrangement conforming to paragraph (f). Consent by a client or a prospective client without knowledge of the information specified in subparagraph (f)(2) does not constitute a confirmation within the meaning of this rule. [Emphasis added.] (Note that the other 49 state bars have similar rules about sharing fees.)

      Second, I have been a community activist in the Vietnamese community in Houston and the United States since 1986, and I am humbly honored that my fellow Vietnamese Americans have always called upon my firm and me when they face any significant matter of national or international consequence.

      Third, I would respectfully disagree with Mr. LeJune. There are good lawyers who do not need to “run around signing clients” as Mr. LeJune suggested. In fact, there are good minority African, Hispanic, Asian, and Vietnamese lawyers whose community members came to them because of the trust and their reputation of caring and professionalism. Likewise, there are “big guns” who carefully check for every single fee contract and consent when they jointly represent the clients with any co-counsel; and they have always complied with the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

      In Mr. Watts’ situation, when he alleged that he represented my Vietnamese clients, he had no fee contracts and consents signed by any of my alleged clients. For six (6) years, since July 29, 2010 (when he misrepresented to the entire MDL Panel in Boise, Idaho, that he represented tens of thousands BP claimants), I have sent thousands of emails demanding to see those contracts and consents. Mr. Watts has provided none to me.

      To argue that because of the tort reform, Mr. Watts did not have “the time or the incentive to go and make sure the referring lawyer have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement,” is blatantly wrong. Thus, by not having the fee contracts and consents directly from the clients and by obtaining the list of names from the runners (non-lawyers Greg Warren and Kristy Le in Mississippi), at the minimum, Mr. Watts committed conspiracy to steal the identities of 44,510 Vietnamese Americans.

      If Mr. LeJune would like, please carefully review the Indictment, and I also would be glad to provide to him all of the emails between our firm, co-counsel and Mr. Watts since 2010.

      Fourth, I wish I had been contacted directly. Below is my response to Mr. Hilliard’s email, which was sent to the media who had contacted me:

      (1) First, unlike high-profile lawyers such as Mr. Hilliard, I am not “addicted to the headlines.” In fact, I am just a humble country Vietnamese woman/mother/grandmother and an unknown lawyer who is honored to serve my Vietnamese clients who are voiceless and defenseless.

      (2) It is interesting that when Mr. Hilliard and his co-conspirators requested BP pay $2,010,538,000.00 to compensate 40,000 “ghost clients,” his team called it “just demands for justice,” but Mr. Hilliard called it “extorting the money” when I represent real Vietnamese victims and sent a demand provided under Rule 408 of the Texas Rules of Civil Evidence for just claims for real damages.

      (3) We are using the legal system to serve this plaintiff, a boat woman, who is defenseless against lawyers like Mr. Hilliard and his co-conspirators; and Mr. Hilliard called it a “bluff and extortion.” The true fact is: Mr. Hilliard’s Team misappropriated Ms. Thim’s name twice. (Please see Exhibit 1 attached to my petition and my analysis of Texas Misappropriation of One’s Identity contained in the Petition filed with the 55th District Court in Harris County.)

      (4) In terms of Mr. Hilliard’s reference to the clients that I “allege to represent,” with permission of my clients, I have invited, and restate again today, to invite him, his lawyer, Mr. Mithoff, and the reporters to come to my office and examine my client list with every single valid contract. Not surprisingly, he and his co-conspirators – who filed or caused to file 25 federal complaints in Houston, Texas, and 44,510 short-form joinders in the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging that his Team represented these “clients” (including a dog and dead “clients”) – have not agreed to do anything like this. The reason is simple – Mr. Hilliard and his co-conspirators could not believe that there are lawyers who indeed have real, not ghost, clients.

      In fact, my Power of Attorneys, relating to 1063 BP clients, have been uploaded to the GCCF (since 2010) and the DHECC’s portal (since June 4, 2012), and have been submitted to Mr. Patrick Juneau, the administrator of the DHECC.

      (5) Most importantly, how could this case and the San Antonio Case against Mr. Watts have no merits and how could they can disprove the criminal charge as Mr. Watts said?

      Fisherwoman Thim T. Nguyen sued Mr. Hilliard and Mr. Cracken for Misappropriation of Identities or conspiracy to commit Misappropriation of Identities. (See The Original Complaint and the analysis of Texas Law of Misappropriation of Identities.)

      Fisherwoman Thim T. Nguyen’s name, social security number, and address are exactly the same as the ones Mr. Hilliard’s and Mr. Cracken’s co-conspirators used in a complaint filed with the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division and in the Short Form Joinder filed with Judge Carl Barbier in the Eastern District of Louisiana. (See Exhibit 1 attached to Original Petition filed with the 55th District Court in Harris County.)

      It is undisputed that Mr. Crackens and Mr. Hilliard sent Mr. Watts $10,000,000 to be paid to non-lawyers Runners Greg Warren and Kristy Le via an attorney in Mississippi who only helped to send the money. It is undisputed that the office of Mr. Watts, via his staff, dealt directly with Greg Warren and Kristy Le. Mr. Cracken ordered the staff to deploy Kristy Le to “turn the names into real clients” and tried to get affidavits from those purported clients after the fact. Mr. Watts, Mr. Cracken and Mr. Hilliard had dealt with and/or deployed orders to the runners. Defendants’ deep involvement in the misappropriation and fraud together with Watts (as demonstrated via the emails to and from Watts which carefully cited and described in the Indictment) were undeniable. Via Mr. Watts and his staff, Mr. Crackens and Mr. Hilliard had knowledge of the names as “Ghosts” since June and July, 2010. Yet the world only learned about the involvement of Mr. Cracken and Mr. Hilliard since October of 2015, when the Watts Indictment was unsealed.

      Of importance is: Out of over 40,000 alleged Vietnamese- Americans clients of Watts, claim administrator Kenneth Feinberg’s lawyer could only identify ONE POA signed with Watts. (See Exhibit 3 attached to Thim T. Nguyen’s original petition — Mr. Kenneth Feinberg’s lawyer’s April 26, 2011 Letter to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and numerous lawyers. See also Thim T. Nguyen’s affidavit filed in the Federal Lawsuit against Watts testified that she never met Watts or anyone in his team and never signed anything with them. The only lawyer that she and her husband have spoken with is Tammy Tran.)

      To this date, none of the Defendants was able to produce the Power of Attorney as they allegedly had with the Plaintiff. Nor could they produce the consent allegedly signed by Plaintiff (as required by Rule 1.04 (f) of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct).

      (6) The Indictment is the best work of art that I have ever seen. Every word in it is true. This case has implicated and will implicate and expose a number of the highest profile Plaintiffs Lawyers in the country as this case develops. The whole matter is a total cover-up in the MDL litigation industry. In fact – there was a conspiracy of silence among a number of the highest profile plaintiff lawyers. The criminal trial is set for July of 2016. The Vietnamese Community has organized thousands of people who will come to Mississippi by bus. The Government is my people’s hero. I shall not rest until this whole matter is resolved. I lay down my life and dedicate my career to bring Justice for my 44,510 Vietnamese Compatriots!

    • CivicMinded512

      Thank you Jose. I completely agree with you.

  • Tammy Tran

    Re: Thim T. Nguyen v. Cracken and Hilliard et al.

    1) Fisherwoman Thim T. Nguyen, a/k/a Thim Thi Nguyen (“Ms. Nguyen”), the Plaintiff in the Cracken and Hilliard Case, is the only Thim T. Nguyen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She also is a very well-known leader in the Vietnamese-American Fishing Community in Louisiana. Her identities, including name, social security number, and home address, have been used by defendants and their co-conspirators in filings with the federal court. She never met Mr. Watts or any representative from Mr. Watts’ firm or Mr. Watts’ co-conspirators. (See Ms. Thim T. Nguyen’s Affidavit attached as Exhibit 15 to Case 2:14-CV-00039, Document 1 at Page 17 of 62, filed in the Federal Lawsuit in New Orleans on 01/07/14. Ms. Nguyen never signed a contract with Mr. Watts and, thus, did not later “chang[e] her mind” as Mr. Watts has suggested. This case against Mikal Watts and his Firm was dismissed and refiled in San Antonio where Mr. Watts’ headquarters is located. The Court granted an Unopposed Order certifying the class and named Tammy Tran, inter alia, as class counsel.)

    2) Furthermore, the fact that Mr. Watts and his co-conspirators never represented Ms. Nguyen, as Mr. Watts claimed, can be demonstrated by a different method: using her two corporations as an example.

    Ms. Nguyen was the owner of two corporations: Lady More, LLC (EIN: 74-3147922) and Natural Nine, LLC (EIN: 83-0465766). Her corporation Lady More, LLC had owned a boat for 7 years, and the vessel registration number was 1106231. (Id.) Her second corporation Natural Nine, LLC had owned a boat for 6 years, and the vessel registration number is 1042536. Since these two corporations were the rightful claimants as the legal owners of the vessels, any claim(s) made on behalf of Thim T. Nguyen would require these two additional filings for the corporations.

    Ms. Nguyen’s driver’s license number is LA__2352. (Id.) She resided at 9645 El Cajon Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70815. (Id.)

    Had Mr. Watts or the other Defendants truly represented Ms. Nguyen as they claimed they did, they would have listed three claims and three claimants:

    1) Lady More, LLC as the proper boat owner claimant;

    2) Natural Nine, LLC as the proper boat owner claimant; and

    3) Thim T. Nguyen individually as a Captain Claimant. (Id.) Thus the complaint and Short Forms that Watts filed with the federal courts and the claims that Watts filed with the GCCF, the DHECC, or BP Program should have listed the above three claimants. (Id.)

    Obviously, Mr. Watts and the other Defendants, in fact, knew nothing about this Plaintiff, other than her name obtained from a phone book in Baton Rouge. Given the Defendants’ expertise and experience as top attorneys in the nation, they would have never missed something as basic as filing for the corporations as the boat owners. Here, they only filed individually for Thim T. Nguyen.

    Further, this glaring omission demonstrated that Defendants never met with Ms. Nguyen and never reviewed the specifics of her individual claims and her corporations’ claims. Nor had they had any fee contract or consent signed by Lady More, LLC, Natural Nine, LLC, and Thim T. Nguyen individually at the time they sent Ms. Nguyen the “Dear Client” correspondence and filed a complaint under her individual name. (Id.) Thim T. Nguyen has provided an Affidavit filed with the Federal Court.

    To this date, in spite of all of my requests, Defendants have not been able to provide the alleged POA and consent that they claimed they have with Ms. Nguyen.

  • Tammy Tran

    Reuters

    3/7/16 Alison Frankel’s On The Case 22:35:40

    Alison Frankel’s On The Case

    Copyright (c) 2016 Thomson Reuters

    March 7, 2016

    GM lead plaintiffs’ counsel Bob Hilliard accused of funding fake BP claims

    (Reuters) – When I read the federal government’s 95-count indictment against famous Texas plaintiffs’ lawyer Mikal Watts last October, I was struck by the description of the activities of two unnamed lawyers who supposedly invested in Watts’ litigation against BP.

    Watts, as you may recall, stands accused by prosecutors in Gulfport, Mississippi, of allegedly filing fake claims on behalf of more than 40,000 phantom clients who purported to have been injured in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He denies wrongdoing and is planning to defend himself at a trial scheduled to take place in July.

    According to the indictment, two other plaintiffs’ lawyers funded the investigators who provided Watts with names and contact information for the deckhands and seafood industry workers he claimed as clients. The indictment did not name the lawyers, but one of them allegedly invested $3.1 million in Watts’ docket; the other, $7.8 million. The two unidentified lawyers were supposedly included in the damning email chains cited in the indictment, in which Watts and other people in his firm came to realize their purported clients were “ghosts in the wind,” as one of the emails described them. (One of the ghosts was real – but she was a dog, not a person.)

    On Thursday, as Bloomberg was the first to report, a civil complaint in Harris County, Texas, state court identified the anonymous lawyers who allegedly funded Watts. According to the suit, filed by the Tammy Tran Law Firm on behalf of a Vietnamese-American fisherman allegedly defrauded by Watts, Dallas trial lawyer John Cracken invested $3.1 million in Watts’ BP docket. The lawyer who contributed $7.8 million to Watts, according to the Tran firm’s complaint, is Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales in Corpus Christi, Texas.

    If Hilliard’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he is a lead counsel in the GM multidistrict litigation, representing personal injury plaintiffs suing the carmaker over its faulty ignition switch. In January, Hilliard and other GM plaintiffs’ lawyers voluntarily dismissed their first bellwether case after GM poked big holes in the plaintiff’s account of his injuries and damages. Hilliard subsequently faced accusations of a conflict of interest by another lawyer for GM personal injury clients, who sought to have Hilliard removed as a lead lawyer in the MDL. The judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of Manhattan, called the accusations baseless and refused to bounce Hilliard.

    The new Houston state court complaint alleging Hilliard’s involvement with Watts is long on rhetoric and short on evidence that Hilliard and Cracken are, in fact, the unnamed lawyers in the Watts indictment. So I called Tammy Tran to ask how she put names on lawyers the Watts indictment identifies only as Attorney 1 and Attorney 2.

    She told me her source was a “high-profile criminal defense lawyer” with knowledge of the Watts case. (The source, she said, is not Watts himself or his former counsel, Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd.) Tran said she has seen emails cited in the indictment with the lawyers’ names on them. She pointed out that one email quoted in the indictment includes a clue, mentioning Cracken by his initials, JC.

    Tran told me she first raised allegations in letters to Hilliard and Cracken in December. She said neither they nor their counsel, Richard Mithoff of the Mithoff Law Firm, has denied their involvement with Watts. (She shared emails establishing that she has been corresponding with Mithoff about the case since late December.) “Never did Hilliard say, ‘Hey, I’m not Attorney 2,'” Tran said.

    Hilliard and Tran exchanged angry public statements over her filing on Friday and Monday. Hilliard said Tran is “addicted to headlines” and only filed her complaint because “her threats to sue so as to attempt to extort a multi-million-dollar settlement failed.”

    Tran responded, “It is interesting that when you and your co-conspirators requested BP pay $2 billion compensate 40,000 ‘ghost clients,’ your team calls it ‘just demands for justice,’ but you call it ‘extorting the money’ when I represent real Vietnamese victims and make a demand for just claims for real damages.”

    Hilliard’s statement called Tran’s suit “a baseless bluff,” but, as she pointed out in her response, the statement did not actually deny that he is the attorney identified in the Watts indictment as Attorney 2. I emailed Hilliard to ask directly whether he funded Mikal Watts’ BP docket and is Attorney 2 in the Watts indictment.

    I heard back from Hilliard counsel Mithoff, who said Hilliard and Cracken had “carefully reviewed” the Tran complaint and deny its allegations. “Their role in this entire matter is very different from what is alleged here,” he said.

    I asked him several times, in different ways, whether Cracken and Hilliard are, as the Tran complaint alleges, the unnamed attorneys who, according to the government, provided more than $10 million in funding to Watts. he declined to respond directly.

    “I’m not going to comment on information under seal,” Mithoff said. “They have denied the allegations in the lawsuit.”

    (Reporting by Alison Frankel)

  • Tammy Tran

    To: Mr. John Nova Lomax

    From: Tammy Tran

    Date: March 24, 2016

    Dear Mr. Lomax:

    I enjoyed reading your article, which was extremely well written, but found a few points that need to be clarified.

    First, the article states: “Two years ago, Tran was sued by Tony Buzbee, one of the biggest of the big dogs in Texas torts. Back then Tran was referring cases to Buzbee, who alleged that Tran refused to repay a loan of almost $1 million he gave her firm in 2010. That suit was settled early last year; terms were undisclosed in court records.”

    Second, in the preceding paragraph, the article quoted veteran Texas trial lawyer Dana LeJune who defined “referring lawyers” as:

    “second- and third-tier lawyers who will run around and sign up people, and then they bring them to the big guy, and they get an agreement to get a piece of the contingent fee in exchange for referring to them.”

    Enclosed please find my response:

    First, since the lawsuit between Mr. Buzbee and me (which was settled amicably) had nothing to do with the Cracken and Hilliard Case, this reference may cause the readers to mistakenly think that I was and am a “referring lawyer” and Mr. Buzbee was a big gun who would not have carefully checked the fee contracts and consents.

    Mr. Buzbee and I had done business in the past, and we had joint prosecution agreements and consents for each and every single joint client. Truly, Mr. Buzbee is a “big gun,” but not only is he a great lawyer, he is also a very ethical lawyer who checked every single point when it comes to representing clients, regardless of the amount of money. Although Mr. Buzbee and I had a misunderstanding/disagreement, we immediately settled amicably. Most importantly, please also note:

    A) In my 18 years of practicing law in my boutique firm, after leaving an international law firm in 1997 to serve my Vietnamese community (see http://www.tammytranlaw.com), in certain cases I joined co-counsel, but I never merely referred cases to them. My firm has always jointly, if not primarily, prosecuted the cases.

    In fact, in the case that you mentioned, I was not and am not a “referring lawyer.”

    I was co-counsel who had jointly prosecuted the Deepwater Horizon cases with Mr. Buzbee since 2010 before the Gulf Coast Claim Facility (“the GCCF”). My firm and the Buzbee’s Firm obtained information from the clients. My firm then communicated with the clients solely because of the language barrier, and my firm with two in-house accountants prepared the claim packages together with our independent nationally recognized CPA Expert Team. Before we submitted any claim packages to the GCCF, we sent the packages to Mr. Buzbee for his review.

    However, since June 4, 2012, the DHECC had a new rule, that there must be only ONE PRIMARY LAW FIRM to communicate with the DHECC. Since then, our Firm became the Primary Counsel and has directly communicated daily with the Administrator’s staff of Mr. Patrick Juneau. At the present time, on the portal of the DHECC, I am still the only primary counsel representing 1063 Vietnamese-American fishermen and businesses before the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claim Center, including the opted-out clients. (My law firm and my team of Vietnamese-American lawyers [with the assistance of a team of CPA and economic experts] have been the Primary Counsel before the DHECC since June 4, 2012, after the May 3, 2012 Settlement Agreement was filed with Federal Judge Carl Barbier and after the DHECC opened its doors on June 4, 2012.)

    I would respectfully invite you to come visit my law firm at 2915 Fannin, Houston Texas 77002; and, with permission of my clients, I will show you that The Tammy Tran Law Firm had been joint counsel representing 1063 BP claimants before the GCCF from 2010 to June 4, 2012 (administered by Mr. Kenneth Fienberg); and we have been the Primary Counsel representing 1063 clients before the DHECC (administered by Patrick Juneau) since June 4, 2012 until the present time. As such, please note my comments and kindly ask Mr. LeJune to correct his inaccurate statement in the article.

    B) You quoted Mr. Dana LeJune as saying:

    “But see, the tort deform (sic) has made even mass tort cases like this…there’s just not as much money in them as there used to be. And so the big gun doesn’t have the time or the incentive to go and make sure the referring lawyer have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement. Not only that, but a live person who has a claim. That does not get done the way it used to get done.” [Emphasis added.]

    I humbly believe that, as a veteran lawyer, Mr. LeJune would or should NEVER have said that. I think that Mr. LeJune was incorrect. Since 2005, every Texas lawyer, even the non-veteran ones, knew or should have known that to share fees, for every contingency fee case, the “big guns” and the “referring lawyers,” must have a contingency agreement (the POA) and a consent signed by the client in their possession before the lawsuit is filed. The consent must specifically spell out the specific terms regarding the percentage of the fees-sharing and the extent of work and responsibility that each firm will undertake.

    Thus, regardless of whether the amount of money is big or small, the “big guns” must “go and make sure the referring lawyers have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement. Furthermore, the “big guns” must obtain consents from the clients. Most importantly the big guns must make sure the referring lawyers are actually working on the cases and sharing the responsibility with him or her. If not, fees cannot be shared, period!

    In fact, many “big guns” who represent BP clients, except Mikal Watts, Cracken and Hilliard, indeed had POA and consents before they filed the lawsuits or claims for the victims, and they jointly worked with co-counsel.

    Under Rule 1.04 (f) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, since 2005, there has been no such thing as a “referring lawyer” anymore. To share fees, this rule requires:

    Rule 1.04 Fees (Amended March 1, 2005)

    (f) A division or arrangement for division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:

    (1) the division is:

    (i) in proportion to the professional services performed by each lawyer; or

    (ii) made, between lawyers who assume joint responsibility for the representation; and

    (2) the client consents in writing to the terms of the arrangement prior to the time of the association or referral proposed, including

    (i) the identity of all lawyers or law firms who will participate in the fee-sharing agreement, and

    (ii) whether fees will be divided based on the proportion of services performed or by lawyers agreeing to assume joint responsibility for the representation, and

    (iii) the share of the fee that each lawyer or law firm will receive or, if the division is based on the proportion of services performed, the basis on which the division will be made; and

    (3) the aggregate fee does not violate paragraph (a).

    (g) Every agreement that allows a lawyer or law firm to associate other counsel in the representation of a person, or to refer the person to other counsel for such representation, and that results in such an association with or referral to a different law firm or a lawyer in such a different firm, shall be confirmed by an arrangement conforming to paragraph (f). Consent by a client or a prospective client without knowledge of the information specified in subparagraph (f)(2) does not constitute a confirmation within the meaning of this rule. [Emphasis added.] (Note that the other 49 state bars have similar rules about sharing fees.)

    Second, I have been a community activist in the Vietnamese community in Houston and the United States since 1986, and I am humbly honored that my fellow Vietnamese Americans have always called upon my firm and me when they face any significant matter of national or international consequence.

    Third, I would respectfully disagree with Mr. LeJune. There are good lawyers who do not need to “run around signing clients” as Mr. LeJune suggested. In fact, there are good minority African, Hispanic, Asian, and Vietnamese lawyers whose community members came to them because of the trust and their reputation of caring and professionalism. Likewise, there are “big guns” who carefully check for every single fee contract and consent when they jointly represent the clients with any co-counsel; and they have always complied with the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

    In Mr. Watts’ situation, when he alleged that he represented my Vietnamese clients, he had no fee contracts and consents signed by any of my alleged clients. For six (6) years, since July 29, 2010 (when he misrepresented to the entire MDL Panel in Boise, Idaho, that he represented tens of thousands BP claimants), I have sent thousands of emails demanding to see those contracts and consents. Mr. Watts has provided none to me.

    To argue that because of the tort reform, Mr. Watts did not have “the time or the incentive to go and make sure the referring lawyer have done what they were supposed to have done, which is to make sure there is a live person signing the fee agreement,” is blatantly wrong. Thus, by not having the fee contracts and consents directly from the clients and by obtaining the list of names from the runners (non-lawyers Greg Warren and Kristy Le in Mississippi), at the minimum, Mr. Watts committed conspiracy to steal the identities of 44,510 Vietnamese Americans.

    If Mr. LeJune would like, please carefully review the Indictment, and I also would be glad to provide to him all of the emails between our firm, co-counsel and Mr. Watts since 2010.

    Fourth, I wish I had been contacted directly. Below is my response to Mr. Hilliard’s email, which was sent to the media who had contacted me:

    (1) First, unlike high-profile lawyers such as Mr. Hilliard, I am not “addicted to the headlines.” In fact, I am just a humble country Vietnamese woman/mother/grandmother and an unknown lawyer who is honored to serve my Vietnamese clients who are voiceless and defenseless.

    (2) It is interesting that when Mr. Hilliard and his co-conspirators requested BP pay $2,010,538,000.00 to compensate 40,000 “ghost clients,” his team called it “just demands for justice,” but Mr. Hilliard called it “extorting the money” when I represent real Vietnamese victims and sent a demand provided under Rule 408 of the Texas Rules of Civil Evidence for just claims for real damages.

    (3) We are using the legal system to serve this plaintiff, a boat woman, who is defenseless against lawyers like Mr. Hilliard and his co-conspirators; and Mr. Hilliard called it a “bluff and extortion.” The true fact is: Mr. Hilliard’s Team misappropriated Ms. Thim’s name twice. (Please see Exhibit 1 attached to my petition and my analysis of Texas Misappropriation of One’s Identity contained in the Petition filed with the 55th District Court in Harris County.)

    (4) In terms of Mr. Hilliard’s reference to the clients that I “allege to represent,” with permission of my clients, I have invited, and restate again today, to invite him, his lawyer, Mr. Mithoff, and the reporters to come to my office and examine my client list with every single valid contract. Not surprisingly, he and his co-conspirators – who filed or caused to file 25 federal complaints in Houston, Texas, and 44,510 short-form joinders in the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging that his Team represented these “clients” (including a dog and dead “clients”) – have not agreed to do anything like this. The reason is simple – Mr. Hilliard and his co-conspirators could not believe that there are lawyers who indeed have real, not ghost, clients.

    In fact, my Power of Attorneys, relating to 1063 BP clients, have been uploaded to the GCCF (since 2010) and the DHECC’s portal (since June 4, 2012), and have been submitted to Mr. Patrick Juneau, the administrator of the DHECC.

    (5) Most importantly, how could this case and the San Antonio Case against Mr. Watts have no merits and how could they can disprove the criminal charge as Mr. Watts said?

    Fisherwoman Thim T. Nguyen sued Mr. Hilliard and Mr. Cracken for Misappropriation of Identities or conspiracy to commit Misappropriation of Identities. (See The Original Complaint and the analysis of Texas Law of Misappropriation of Identities.)

    Fisherwoman Thim T. Nguyen’s name, social security number, and address are exactly the same as the ones Mr. Hilliard’s and Mr. Cracken’s co-conspirators used in a complaint filed with the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division and in the Short Form Joinder filed with Judge Carl Barbier in the Eastern District of Louisiana. (See Exhibit 1 attached to Original Petition filed with the 55th District Court in Harris County.)

    It is undisputed that Mr. Crackens and Mr. Hilliard sent Mr. Watts $10,000,000 to be paid to non-lawyers Runners Greg Warren and Kristy Le via an attorney in Mississippi who only helped to send the money. It is undisputed that the office of Mr. Watts, via his staff, dealt directly with Greg Warren and Kristy Le. Mr. Cracken ordered the staff to deploy Kristy Le to “turn the names into real clients” and tried to get affidavits from those purported clients after the fact. Mr. Watts, Mr. Cracken and Mr. Hilliard had dealt with and/or deployed orders to the runners. Defendants’ deep involvement in the misappropriation and fraud together with Watts (as demonstrated via the emails to and from Watts which carefully cited and described in the Indictment) were undeniable. Via Mr. Watts and his staff, Mr. Crackens and Mr. Hilliard had knowledge of the names as “Ghosts” since June and July, 2010. Yet the world only learned about the involvement of Mr. Cracken and Mr. Hilliard since October of 2015, when the Watts Indictment was unsealed.

    Of importance is: Out of over 40,000 alleged Vietnamese- Americans clients of Watts, claim administrator Kenneth Feinberg’s lawyer could only identify ONE POA signed with Watts. (See Exhibit 3 attached to Thim T. Nguyen’s original petition — Mr. Kenneth Feinberg’s lawyer’s April 26, 2011 Letter to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and numerous lawyers. See also Thim T. Nguyen’s affidavit filed in the Federal Lawsuit against Watts testified that she never met Watts or anyone in his team and never signed anything with them. The only lawyer that she and her husband have spoken with is Tammy Tran.)

    To this date, none of the Defendants was able to produce the Power of Attorney as they allegedly had with the Plaintiff. Nor could they produce the consent allegedly signed by Plaintiff (as required by Rule 1.04 (f) of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct).

    Specifically, fisherwoman Thim T. Nguyen, a/k/a Thim Thi Nguyen, the Plaintiff in the Cracken and Hilliard Case, is the only Thim T. Nguyen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She also is a very well-known leader in the Vietnamese-American Fishing Community in Louisiana. Her identities, including name, social security number, and home address, have been used by defendants and their co-conspirators in filings with the federal court. She never met Mr. Watts or any representative from Mr. Watts’ firm or Mr. Watts’ co-conspirators. (See Ms. Thim T. Nguyen’s Affidavit attached as Exhibit 15 to Case 2:14-CV-00039, Document 1 at Page 17 of 62, filed in the Federal Lawsuit in New Orleans on 01/07/14. Ms. Nguyen never signed a contract with Mr. Watts and, thus, did not later “chang[e] her mind” as Mr. Watts has suggested. This case against Mikal Watts and his Firm was dismissed and refiled in San Antonio where Mr. Watts’ headquarters is located. The Court granted an Unopposed Order certifying the class and named Tammy Tran, inter alia, as class counsel.)

    Here are links to the exhibits:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/pbhlonbryr35pf0/2014.01.09%20-%20Watts%20-%206%20-%20Exhibits%20to%20Complaint%201.pdf?dl=0

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/edf02ashl3pkfb0/2014.01.09%20-%20Watts%20-%206%20-%20Exhibits%20to%20Complaint%202.pdf?dl=0

    Furthermore, the fact that Mr. Watts and his co-conspirators never represented Ms. Nguyen, as Mr. Watts claimed, can be demonstrated by a different method: using her two corporations as an example.

    Ms. Nguyen was the owner of two corporations: Lady More, LLC (EIN: 74-3147922) and Natural Nine, LLC (EIN: 83-0465766). Her corporation Lady More, LLC had owned a boat for 7 years, and the vessel registration number was 1106231. (Id.) Her second corporation Natural Nine, LLC had owned a boat for 6 years, and the vessel registration number is 1042536. Since these two corporations were the rightful claimants as the legal owners of the vessels, any claim(s) made on behalf of Thim T. Nguyen would require these two additional filings for the corporations.

    Ms. Nguyen’s driver’s license number is LA__2352. (Id.) She resided at 9645 El Cajon Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70815. (Id.)

    Had Mr. Watts or the other Defendants truly represented Ms. Nguyen as they claimed they did, they would have listed three claims and three claimants:

    1) Lady More, LLC as the proper boat owner claimant;

    2) Natural Nine, LLC as the proper boat owner claimant; and

    3) Thim T. Nguyen individually as a Captain Claimant. (Id.)

    Thus the complaint and Short Forms that Watts filed with the federal courts and the claims that Watts filed with the GCCF, the DHECC, or BP Program should have listed the above three claimants. (Id.)

    Obviously, Mr. Watts and the other Defendants, in fact, knew nothing about this Plaintiff, other than her name obtained from a phone book in Baton Rouge. Given the Defendants’ expertise and experience as top attorneys in the nation, they would have never missed something as basic as filing for the corporations as the boat owners. Here, they only filed individually for Thim T. Nguyen.

    Further, this glaring omission demonstrated that Defendants never met with Ms. Nguyen and never reviewed the specifics of her individual claims and her corporations’ claims. Nor had they had any fee contract or consent signed by Lady More, LLC, Natural Nine, LLC, and Thim T. Nguyen individually at the time they sent Ms. Nguyen the “Dear Client” correspondence and filed a complaint under her individual name. (Id.) Thim T. Nguyen has provided an Affidavit filed with the Federal Court.

    To this date, in spite of all of my requests, Defendants have not been able to provide the alleged POA and consent that they claimed they have with Ms. Nguyen.

    6) Please review this excerpt by Reuters

    Hilliard’s statement called Tran’s suit “a baseless bluff,” but, as she pointed out in her response, the statement did not actually deny that he is the attorney identified in the Watts indictment as Attorney 2. I emailed Hilliard to ask directly whether he funded Mikal Watts’ BP docket and is Attorney 2 in the Watts indictment.

    I heard back from Hilliard counsel Mithoff, who said Hilliard and Cracken had “carefully reviewed” the Tran complaint and deny its allegations. “Their role in this entire matter is very different from what is alleged here,” he said.

    I asked him several times, in different ways, whether Cracken and Hilliard are, as the Tran complaint alleges, the unnamed attorneys who, according to the government, provided more than $10 million in funding to Watts. he declined to respond directly.

    “I’m not going to comment on information under seal,” Mithoff said. “They have denied the allegations in the lawsuit.”

    (Reporting by Alison Frankel) (Emphasis added).

    (6) Finally, the Indictment is the best work of art that I have ever seen. Every word in it is true. This case has implicated and will implicate and expose a number of the highest profile Plaintiffs Lawyers in the country as this case develops. The whole matter is a total cover-up in the MDL litigation industry. In fact – there was a conspiracy of silence among a number of the highest profile plaintiff lawyers. The criminal trial is set for July of 2016. The Vietnamese Community has organized thousands of people who will come to Mississippi by bus. The Government is my people’s hero. I shall not rest until this whole matter is resolved. I lay down my life and dedicate my career to bring Justice for my 44,510 Vietnamese Compatriots!

    Respectfully,

  • Jed

    in not unrelated news, lamar smith continues to be wrong about science:

    http://www.factcheck.org/2016/03/smith-still-wrong-about-warming-halt/

    won’t somebody please beat this pig at the trough?