For a quarter of a century, attorney Paul ‘Chip’ Ferguson Jr. spent his days working at the Provost Umphrey law firm in Beaumont, until the current president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association booted him off the premises under threat of armed escort, according to a recent lawsuit.
In the span of four weeks, Ferguson has filed two suits against PU. The first suit, filed Aug. 4, was sealed. The second suit, filed Sept. 1, is not sealed and seeks to enforce a settlement agreement between him and the Beaumont law firm.
As previously reported, on Aug. 21 Ferguson non-suited PU without prejudice. Three days later, PU filed a suit of its own seeking to force its former equity partner into arbitration.
In his second suit, Ferguson names firm attorneys and equity partners Walter Umphrey, Bryan Blevins, Edward Fisher, Joe Fisher, D’Juana Parks, James Payne and David Wilson as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Ferguson’s successes and profile provided a significant positive public relations boost to PU. After 25 years of “faithful service,” he became frustrated with state of the firm and its future.
In December 2014, Ferguson resigned, despite Umphrey pleading with him not to do so. On Feb. 4 the two executed an agreement to settle all disputes.
A week later, none of the other PU equity partners had questioned the validity of the agreement reached between Umphrey and Ferguson, the suit states.
In hopes his frustrations would be resolved, Ferguson agreed to remain an equity partner with the firm until Aug. 1. However, the guarantees made by Umphrey were not met, leading Ferguson to officially resign on Aug. 3 and invoke provisions of the February agreement, the suit states.
“On that date, Umphrey, in an effort to forestall Ferguson’s resignation, offered to resign and name Ferguson as managing partner, telling Ferguson to take ‘two or three weeks to think it over,’” the suit states. “Ferguson ultimately declined that offer.”
That same day, the PU partnership disseminated an unsigned memorandum criticizing the settlement agreement as “unconscionable and unenforceable” and directed Ferguson to immediately vacate the firm premises, the suit states.
“Ferguson called Umphrey at his home and reported this activity,” the suit states. “Umphrey replied that it was ‘a mistake.’”
On Aug. 4, Ferguson attended a meeting at the firm until Blevins, the current president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, banished him.
“At the conclusion of that meeting, Ferguson and his staff, under threat of being removed by armed escort, left the firm’s premises,” the suit states.
“Ferguson now brings this action to enforce the settlement agreement negotiated and executed by Umphrey and the firm.”
The suit says Ferguson and Umphrey had agreed that Ferguson had 90 days to vacate the firm.
Ferguson is accusing the defendants of breach of contract.
Attorney Ricky Raven of the Houston law firm Reed Smith represents him.
The case has been assigned to Judge Kent Walston, 58th District Court (case No. A-197499).
PU’s suit against Ferguson is being handled by an outside judge, Judge Olen Underwood of the Second Judicial Administrative Region of Texas.
PU asserts a Jan. 1, 2012 partnership agreement in place between the parties contains a broad and mandatory arbitration clause.
According to PU’s lawsuit, Ferguson is claiming he is not bound by the partnership agreement and that he is entitled to “much more than a departing partner is entitled to receive” under the agreement.
Ferguson has handled several prized cases for PU, which includes scoring a $32 million jury verdict against Domino’s Pizza in 2013 – a top five verdict in Texas that year, according to the National Law Journal.