Darla Lexington settles dispute with John O’Quinn estate, foundation (TX)

This afternoon, Darla Lexington, the longtime companion of prominent Houston plaintiffs lawyer John O’Quinn, settled her dispute with O’Quinn’s estate and the John M. O’Quinn Foundation over assets from his estate. O’Quinn died in an automobile accident in October 2009.

Lawyers spent four hours at the courthouse today negotiating the deal.

The settlement comes just days before a probate court trial on Lexington’s property claim was set to begin. Lexington sought court orders to force the executor of O’Quinn’s estate to return property she alleged belongs to her because of her common-law marriage to O’Quinn and because she received the property as gifts.

The estate and the foundation, which is the sole beneficiary of the estate in O’Quinn’s will, claimed that Lexington was not entitled to the property because O’Quinn specified in his will that he was not married and he left his estate to the foundation.

Lawyers for Lexington and O’Quinn’s estate decline to provide details of the settlement, but Jimmy Williamson, a partner in Williamson & Rusnak in Houston who represents Lexington, says the terms provide for Lexington and her security. Kathy Patrick, a partner in Gibbs & Bruns in Houston who represents the foundation, could not be reached for immediate comment.

“I’m very happy we came to a mutual agreement and the foundation can go on and honor John,” Lexington said this afternoon.

Executor Gerald Treece, an assistant dean and professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, said he is pleased with the settlement. “As the person John selected as the executor, I’m very happy to do what was in John’s best interest and also please Darla and the foundation,” Treece said.

The settlement averted what lawyers expected to be a five-week trial beginning on Jan. 9 in Judge Mike Wood’s Probate Court No. 2 in Houston.


Darla Lexington settles dispute with John O’Quinn estate, foundation
Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
January 4, 2012
Texas Lawyer

Additional coverage:

Settlement reached in O’Quinn estate case
Mike Tolson
January 4, 2012
Houston Chronicle

The much-anticipated and potentially nasty courtroom fight between Darla Lexington and the estate of her longtime significant other, John O’Quinn, will not take place after all. The two sides agreed to a settlement Wednesday during a pretrial hearing.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Lexington had claimed to be the common-law wife of O’Quinn, a nationally known Houston trial lawyer, and as such was entitled to a significant portion of the estate, which had been left in his will to his foundation. O’Quinn and an employee of his law firm died in a car wreck in October 2009.

Lexington and O’Quinn were in an intimate relationship for more than a decade. They lived together in O’Quinn’s River Oaks home but never married. The closeness of their relationship was never disputed – she was the beneficiary of his life-insurance policy – but he had never altered his will before his death to make special provisions for her.

The prospect of a court battle was not appealing to either side. Lexington was friends with the executor of the estate, Gerald Treece, and executives with O’Quinn’s foundation. Although there was evidence that O’Quinn had held himself out as single near the time of his death, a sympathetic jury might have found in Lexington’s favor.

“Darla is exceptionally happy that the O’Quinn Foundation is going to carry on his legacy and good name,” said her attorney, Jimmy Williamson. “We have put our differences behind us. All parties thought it was a fair and reasonable agreement.”

In a probate court hearing in 2010, Lexington tried to stop the sale of some of the vehicles that were part of O’Quinn’s vast vintage car collection, including three classic Corvettes, a rare French Talbot-Lago and a one-of-a-kind 1936 Mercedes-Benz.

The trustee of the estate wanted to liquidate at least part of the collection in order to meet debts and obligations. Lexington claimed that some of the cars were hers, given as gifts, even though they were titled in the legal name of the nonprofit corporation that technically owned them for tax purposes. Courts allowed the sale to proceed.

After O’Quinn’s death, Lexington testified, estate managers kept her out of the loop as they decided what to do with his assets, especially the cars which he often purchased at high-dollar auctions that both of them attended.

“They’ve treated me like I never knew John O’Quinn,” she testified.

She described the lawyer – talented, troubled and controversial in roughly equal measure – as her “husband, partner and lover.”

Williamson said some of the cars have not been sold, though he did not specify which, if any, will go to Lexington.

O’Quinn had announced plans to build one of the world’s best automobile museums and had the variety and quality of cars to do it, classic car experts agreed.

Among the most valuable were 23 rare Duesenbergs.

He died before the museum plans could be finalized.