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These Coast attorneys were allies, but now they’re fighting

Former state Supreme Court justices Oliver Diaz, left, and Chuck McRae, right, flank David Debold, who worked on an appeal of former attorney Biloxi Paul Minor’s judicial bribery conviction. Diaz and McRae, shown here in 2011, were two of Minor’s staunchest supporters, before and after his 2007 conviction.
Former state Supreme Court justices Oliver Diaz, left, and Chuck McRae, right, flank David Debold, who worked on an appeal of former attorney Biloxi Paul Minor’s judicial bribery conviction. Diaz and McRae, shown here in 2011, were two of Minor’s staunchest supporters, before and after his 2007 conviction. AP File

Once allies, three of Mississippi’s legal heavy hitters have turned adversaries over $1.6 million awarded in a Hurricane Katrina insurance case.

Former Supreme Court justices Chuck McRae and Oliver Diaz are suing Paul Minor and his family in U.S. District Court because they say the Minors owe them a total of $273,495, plus interest, from a Jackson County case decided in September 2013.

McRae and Diaz represented the estate of Minor’s late wife, Sylvia Minor, in a lawsuit against USAA insurance company.

They proved at trial in Circuit Court that USAA underpaid for wind damage on the Minors’ East Beach home in Ocean Springs. Katrina destroyed the historic house, which had been designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Minors had agreed to pay McRae and Diaz 35 percent of the gross amount recovered, plus expenses, their lawsuit says. Instead, the two attorneys say, Paul Minor claimed after USAA paid that he owed the two attorneys 30 percent of the net award.

Chuck McRae received $184,198, saying he is still owed $137,739. Diaz says he is owed $135,756 after being paid $152,619.

McRae said Minor owes him an additional $50,000 for legal representation in other cases at $350 an hour. McRae said he reduced the balance in 2015 in an effort to get the fees paid.

McRae and Diaz were two of Paul Minor’s staunchest allies when Minor was convicted of judicial bribery. All three attorneys once practiced law on the Coast. Minor, who had a law office in Biloxi, went to prison in 2007 and lost his law license. McRae and Diaz stood by Minor for more than 10 years — through an investigation, two trials and post-conviction appeals.

In fact, Diaz faced trial with Minor in 2005 but was acquitted of all charges. Diaz later lost his Supreme Court seat and went on to work on a documentary, “Hot Coffee,” about the influence of big business on the judicial system.

Minor was released from prison in August 2013. He lives in New Orleans, where his wife lost her battle with cancer while he was in prison.

As an attorney, Minor earned millions suing corporations on behalf of injured clients, handling asbestos, Goodrich tire, tobacco and other big cases.

Although he had been released from prison, Minor did not attend the USAA trial in Pascagoula. The award went into his wife’s estate. The Minors’ adult children, Kathryn and Stephen Minor, also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says McRae, Diaz and the Minor family agreed to put the disputed amount — $273,495 — into an interest-bearing account administered by the estate of Sylvia Minor. In December, the lawsuit says, McRae wrote Stephen Minor a letter requesting an accounting of the USAA funds. McRae said he has not received a response.

McRae and Diaz accuse the Minors of breaching their contract. They are asking for an accounting of the money, payment, interest and attorneys’ fees.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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