My Friend Murr

While Attorney General John Cornyn was gaining little traction in his fight with the five attorneys in the state's tobacco case, he scored major points in his investigation of former AG Dan Morales and Morales' friend, Houston lawyer Marc Murr.

During his first few weeks in office, Cornyn began looking at a deal Morales made with Murr, which could have netted the attorney $520 million in legal fees. According to lawyers close to the matter, when Morales first approached the state's outside counsel in 1997 about cutting Murr into the deal, the lawyers refused. In fact, the sources say the five threatened to quit if Murr was allowed to get a cut of the deal. Despite their threats, Morales persevered, and in January of 1997, Morales offered Murr a 3% cut of the award.

By all accounts, Murr did little or nothing in the way of legal work. I never met the guy. I never heard anybody say his name. When he showed up afterward and had that contract, I thought 'Here we go again,' recalls G. Robert Blakey, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and expert on the RICO statute who was part of the legal team. And Murr wasn't bashful about pressing his claim. He initially asked for all $520 million that he believed his contract guaranteed. In September of last year, however, a state arbitration panel reduced that amount to $260 million. Later, the national arbitration panel agreed to give Murr just $1 million. A few months later, Murr forswore any claim to the $1 million.

It didn't take Cornyn long to follow the trail left by Morales and Murr. Within a few weeks of taking office, Cornyn got a copy of Murr's contract, one that forensics experts concluded had been doctored. Armed with that information, Cornyn marched into court and accused Morales of fraudulent manipulation of a court document. For his part, Morales wanly called Cornyn a liar. But the damage was done.

The FBI was soon questioning the various players. Morales and Murr -- who have known each other since 1981, when they both began working at Houston law firm Bracewell & Patterson -- were thrust into the spotlight, and Morales' deputies were put on the defensive.

One of Morales' lawyers told the Chronicle that during his years of working with Morales, there was nothing that had a hint of impropriety. "I have a hard time reconciling what was going on with Murr. It made me sick at the time and still bothers me today."

The Murr incident may have convinced Cornyn that there are other misdeeds to be uncovered. For one thing, Morales allegedly asked the trial lawyers who joined in the tobacco litigation to contribute at least $1 million to a legal defense fund that Morales would control. The fund would have been used to defend Morales if the tobacco companies decided to attack him personally. Those allegations and others are reportedly part of a grand jury investigation into Morales' conduct. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, whose Public Integrity Unit is in charge of investigating any wrongdoing by public officials, refused to comment on the existence of a grand jury or any inquiries into Morales' conduct.

All of which leads to an ironic end to Morales' tenure as AG. Fellow politicos thought Morales was too uptight about ethical issues. And now, despite his role as the main engineer in a deal that could net the state billions of dollars, he could end up being indicted on criminal charges.

  • More of the Story

  • Money to Burn

    John Cornyn tries to keep tobacco case lawyers from reaping all of the financial benefits.
  • Cornyn Responds

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