Mass resignations at the once storied firm of legendary litigator Wendell Gauthier? The answer my friend is blowin’ on the Slab, the answer is blowing on the Slab….

John Houghtaling and friends sporting their Sheriff's badges. Image courtesy of Magnum's facebook page.

As I’ve gotten to know elements of the greater NOLA legal community I’ve come to appreciate the legacy on the plaintiff’s side of the bar of the late Wendell Gauthier, who was a litigator’s litigator. Simply put the man had a special talent in reading and reaching juries. In fairness,  I’ve also heard the stories of the impact the man’s accumulated wealth had on elements of the local judiciary, especially at the zenith of his career with the tobacco litigation.  As Gauthier died relatively young many of his contemporaries and former partners are still around as are an entire generation of younger lawyers that learned the art of the arguing a case from Gauthier in the years before he died.

Enter Gauthier’s successor, John Houghtaling aka Magnum J.D., who dealt with Gauthier at the very end of his career before his untimely passing.  According to Magnum’s many detractors in the local legal community Houghtaling parlayed that brief association with the dying Gauthier to becoming his very young and aggressive successor.  Lawyers that knew Wendell Gauthier for decades were then chopped en mass in favor of expensive sports cars and young women.

There is no such thing as a free lunch and making powerful enemies means one must make equally powerful friends so Magnum and his office became the defacto campaign manager for virtually every judge in Jefferson Parish (which is the reason we backed Ray Steib so vigorously earlier this year as he was Magnum free).

 Just as with those party invites to the big money soirees for Bobby Jindal and Billy Nungesser I’ve received several party invites from readers for similar events for 24th Judicial district miscreants like wrinkled robe’s Ross LaDart, for example, with Magnum’s office and fax listed as the contact info.  I imagine this gave GHW quite the leg up in certain local magic jurisdictions like the NOLA CDC where Magnum’s partner James Williams doubles as an ad hoc judge.

Throw in the fact that Magnum has most likely never argued a case himself before a jury and I think everyone then understands why I never had a shortage of tips regarding Magnum’s and his doings, even his epic August backyard bacchanal on the Avenue, which had been kept closely under wraps by both the authorities and witnesses.

Now if any of this is reminiscent of L’affaire Dickie Scruggs rest assured it is in how litigators and the legal community view those they see as poseurs comes into focus. Throw in the propensity for the ol’ Magnum fix and the toxic soup is complete.

So how could a large segment of the lawyers at Gauthier Houghtaling and Williams become so cross with their fearless leader, Magnum JD? Let us count the ways as they have been laid on the Slab for all to see:

  1. Magnum hung with Kevin Costner back during the spill, lining his own pockets forcing those useless oil water separators on BP costing the firm a chance to represent plaintiffs in the ensuing spill litigation.  I think that is a biggie. Slabbed bonus coverage can be found here as we were seemingly the only media outlet not to be snookered back when out of the gate. As an aisde Val Bracy received word her contract would not be renewed not long after her reporting on that conflict of interest at GHW.
  2. Poor reputation of firm in the legal community destroyed morale of firm employees.  This is especially true because by all accounts there is talent on staff at GHW.  These folks knew how their firm was viewed by their peers.
  3. And what I think is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the late summer backyard bacchanal, which earned Magnum the ire of his sleep hungry neighbors on the Avenue.  Once we broke that story I think he could no longer hide the self-destructive behavior.  Ironically we’ve been sitting on past litigation involving Magnum’s former neighbors, one of whom was evidently moved to throw a hammer at Magnum’s speeding sports car as he evidently likes to rip thru the city streets doing warp 11.

Of course it will be those moved to comment that will better tell this tale than us at Slabbed.  I have it on good authority the upcoming court date on November 16th related to the disturbing the peace charges may just have some shocking twists and revelations.  By all accounts Magnum’s behavior is described as self-destructive and we wish him no ill will, but his perverted influence on the local court system must end if the people of greater New Orleans are to have any expectation of justice instead of just us.

sop

36 thoughts on “Mass resignations at the once storied firm of legendary litigator Wendell Gauthier? The answer my friend is blowin’ on the Slab, the answer is blowing on the Slab….”

  1. Sop, I feel like I need to respond to a few mischaracterizations about John Haughtaling. The relationship between John and Wendell went on for almost seven years so to characterize the relationship as “brief” is pure B.S.. Wendell look at John as his son and John earned Wendell’s trust both in business and their personal affairs. John stood by Wendell when most of the other partners in Wendell’s law firm were busy trying to find a way to screw Ann Gauthier and Celeste from their father’s company. John, contrary to popular opinion. Wendell made John promise to take care of Celeste and Ann because no one else in the firm gave two seconds thought about them. John was good to his word to the Gauthier family which is why the family gave John control. They also ousted those in the firm before John took over who wanted to screw Wendell’s wife and kids over.

    The second mischaracterization that John never argued a case before a jury is false as well. I worked with John on two cases one of which did go to a jury. He was very well prepared and did an admirable job before the jury. This was a case in another state but to diminish his legal abilities is unfair and untrue.

    I actually know John and the story of how he gained control over the firm. John has his faults and needs a woman to settle him down so he can get his priorities straight these days but he is not a pariah. He is better suited to his native Florida for his flashiness and needs to learn how to be a bit more low key in his personal presentation but then again that flashy reputation works for him getting clients.

    He needs to step back away from the political arena in the worst way because when you lie with dogs you get fleas and he is getting them.

    The point of this post is that he is a very capable attorney who did not steal the law firm while Wendell was on his last breath as some people claim.

    1. I feel like the guy who started the bar fight that snuck out after the fisticuffs began.

      I appreciate SupaSleuth’s perspective.

      I also think the Gauthier name now hangs around John Houghtaling’s neck like an albatross.

      sop

  2. Sleuth:

    Please identify the case in which Magnum made an opening statement or closing argument to a jury.

    Looks like SupaSleuth has been drinking too much champagne-flavored kool aid at Magnum’s fundraisers on St. Charles Avenue. Or is Magnum REALLY telling people that Wendell Gauthier considered him to be a son, and asked him to protect Gauthier’s family from Gauthier’s partners–the same ones Gauthier asked to continue the firm? Either way, we know for sure that Gauthier didn’t ask Magnum to carry on the firm after his death, so Supa’s post makes about as much sense as the myth that Magnum was originally hired to move boxes at Gauthier’s firm.

    At the time of his death, the firm was Gauthier, Downing, Labarre, Dean and Sulzer. These are the people Gauthier selected to continue his firm. Magnum was not involved because he had no close relationship with Gauthier, and clearly, Gauthier did not even consider Magnum to be a partner in the successor firm . When Gauthier’s real partners (mentioned above) elected not to carry on the firm because of their collective unwillingness to be involved in the many ongoing class-actions which only Gauthier could handle, Magnum offered his services as a last resort.

    Please identify the lawyers who tried to screw Anne and Celeste Gauthier out of money.

  3. Wow, you guys make scandals in Tampa, FL look like Sesamee Street stuff!

    Sop, regarding this assertion:

    “…Poor reputation of firm in the legal community destroyed morale of firm employees. This is especially true because by all accounts there is talent on staff at GHW. These folks knew how their firm was viewed by their peers…”

    Any good Attorney knows the worth of a good Legal Secretary – ever see one try to make it through the day w/o one? I have and it isn’t pretty….it’s funny though.

    SHIRLEY HEFLIN

  4. It is troubling to me that the Magnum machine has prostituted so many judicial campaigns. Not many people know this, and although judicial campaigns are supposed to essentially keep the judicial candidate “in the dark” about who is contributing and who is actively helping them, this is simply a farce. The Magnum machine has cornered the market on acting as the head of almost all judicial campaigns. So, when he appears in that now-elected judge’s courtroom, do you really think that justice is blind. I think not.

    Magnum just had a big fundraiser at his house for Mitch Landrieu and, believe it or not, the trial lawyer himself, had a big fundraiser at the palace on St. Charles Avenue for Bobby Jindal. My how money makes strange bedfellows of trial lawyers and supposed Republicans. The whole thing just disgusts me.

    People are tired of corruption in politics and this kind of funding of campaigns. I, for one, am glad to see this happen. Hope that it means the demise of the Magnum machine.

  5. Morale is low at the firm? DUH.

    Print up some tee shirts with the Jefferson Parish management slogan for the ‘big boys ‘ at Magnum LLC to wear:

    ” The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

    Working well in JP, should be great at the law firm too.

  6. I worked with Wendell for several years right up to his last few months at home. I think SS has Houghtaling mixed up with James Dugan who was REALLY close to Wendell.

  7. NAAS, you’re absolutely right about Jamie Dugan. Dugan and Wendell were close; Wendell and Magnum were not. If Magnum ever tried a case with Gauthier, someone should let us all in on the secret. There was no close business or professional relationship there.

    Sop, you’re definitely not the guy who started the brawl and slipped out the barroom door. But there are many slabbers who know reality from propaganda when it comes to Magnum. His shameless self-promotion and his shrine of vanity press are a fraudulent joke among those of us who know the reality, as opposed to “the story of how he gained control over the firm,” as SupaSleuth describes it. Because that’s exactly what it is, a story.

  8. OK the firm may have split up over the BP crude greed, but what if it was by design so that John H. could maintain his oil sucker deal and keep his

  9. Hey Sleuth:

    Your moniker really betrays you. You cannot imagine how many people “in the know” laughed in disbelief at your assertion that Gauthier loved Magnum like a son. Here are the cold, hard facts as supported by the La. Secretary of State website (now keep in mind Wendell Gauthier left this world in November of 2001):

    Nearly 2 years after Gauthier’s death, the firm of “Houghtaling and Williams” was registered (7-9-03);

    When it became clear that the original successor Gauthier firm would not work, Deborah Sulzer jumped ship to Magnum & Co. making it “Houghtaling, Williams and Sulzer (1-4-05);

    Shortly thereafter, and well over 3 years after Gauthier’s death, Magnum’s firm became “Gauthier, Houghtaling, Williams & Sulzer.” Oddly enough, on the exact same date, “Gauthier, Houghtaling & Williams” was born. (2-3-05);

    This begs the question sleuth: if Wendell Gauthier loved Magnum like a son and intended to leave him the law firm so that Magnum could protect the financial interests of Anne and the Gauthier girls, why did it take nearly 4 years for Magnum even to associate himself with a long-dead lawyer?

    As you will learn (and Magnum is no doubt learning these days), facts are stubborn things.

  10. WHO CARES?!
    Let the greedy basturds beat each other to a pulp. Might keep them from disturbing the peaceful slumber of the working folk. As in any divorce the ‘friends’ get divided up: brings up a question of which judges each side gets to keep. Gonna be interesting to see the rulings coming down.

    And to the Houghtaling boys: Happy Holidays!

  11. I care. Magnum has prostituted the judiciary with his campaign fundraising for judicial candidates. So, it is nice to see this dog have his day! In fact, unslabbed, I think we all care about rooting out corruption.

  12. IAM: Of course we do. I just don’t care how it is done or who does it and when the bad guys ( both sides in this scenario as far as I am concerned since Bro et al were okay with the whole deal until Magnum went off the reservation) start feeding on each other I don’t care… sorry for the less than elegantly stated blog. Now if Lettenemgo and friends would only care a little.

  13. Sock Puppet – question: even as the monikers and firm names were changing…. weren’t they all under the same roof and in the same building at the same time throughout?

    Dugan was there in that building too, wasn’t he?

    Was it always clear who was with whom and which law firm was which? Did anyone really understand the firm structure there?

    Weren’t there a variety of entities and letterheads? Anyone remember “The Khan Law Group”? What was that? It was all at 3500 North Hullen.

  14. Tele:

    Let me see if I can do this in order.

    Yes, they all were at 3500 N. Hullen for quite some time and it was quite an uncomfortable situation for a while. Dugan did remain, but he has hopped around since then. I think he is currently fighting over money with The Murray Law Firm, for whom he worked.

    For a while, Ed Downing, Scott Labarre, Bruce Dean (all excellent lawyers and good guys) tried to keep it together. In the meantime Magnum hooked up with Williams and was not even part of the “Gauthier Firm.” And no, as it pertained to the “Gauthier Firm,” there was no structure. It was like the Carnival Cruise ship that is just floating with no power.

    The Kahn Law Group was Lewis Kahn, who was some marital relation to Gauthier. I think it was through Wendell’s brother-in-law, Phil King, who ran the mock trial setup(Jurisystems). Lew Kahn also had an incarnation called the Kahn-Gauthier Group, or something to that effect. Lew was never with the Gauthier firm, but was always lurking and trying to invent new class actions.

    Shortly before Gauthier’s death (and for years thereafter), there were so many derivative firms, it was hard to keep track.

  15. These are facts I personally know, and truths I believe, without necessity of having to divulge all.

    I have written about the early Gauthier days on posts I have commented on Slabbed previously, beginning in January 2010. By coincidence, I happened to have had lunch this last week, and before Sop broke this story, with an old colleague who was Judge Tom Wicker’s court clerk. The very same Court where Wendell tried his first “gas explosion” case. This case, and that of Steve Little which occurred subsequently, were the result of injuries these individuals suffered from gas explosions that erupted underneath their homes. Pockets of gas had accumulated where there had been an erosion of dirt from the concrete slab foundation. The original plaintiff happened to be a relative of Wendell’s, a cousin if I remember correctly. Wiederman and Fransen, (the firm that Tom Wicker had been the lead partner before getting anointed to the bench of the 24th JDC) was the defendant insurer’s lawyers. I had the occasion to observe the ongoing trial when I could afford the time away from my office and courthouse obligations. It is my opinion that this was the first “serious” plaintiff injury trial presented in the 24th up to that date; and this would be the case that would seperate Gauthier from the ambulance chasers. The jury award in this case resulted in his ascendance as a “made man” in the newly evolving world of mega money plaintiff lawyers.

    It was Gauthier’s belief in his ability, and having the confidence of a Riverboat gambler, that he mortgaged everything he owned and borrowed what he could to finance the prosecution of his first ‘big’ case. And so, he represented his client as best he or anyone else could have afforded to at that time, with all the necessary expert witnesses etc. The jury was convinced, and his client was awarded new levels of damages for that time. Gauthier trumped…he WON and the word was out…you want to recover lots of money ?… get Gauthier as your lawyer or have your lawyer associate Gauthier.

    Wendell, along with Murphy, had a law office at the corner of Jefferson Davis Parkway and Palmyra on the northwest corner on the Carrollton side. Murphy was always and is now a ‘big headed’ (literally and figuratively) pompous ass. I will dispell the rumour that he was intelligent in terms of formulating any legal strategy that would be a hallmark of Gauthier’s legacy. Yes Murphy was competent, just as others who learn how to memorize and spit back the expected information. He was a quick study who was manipulative in his demeanor to project an air of having superior legal acumen which he does not possess. In fact, it was Wendell, a South Louisiana Frenchman possessing a brilliant intellect and the sensibilities of an Oscar winning Hollywood director, combined with his drive to be both a respected lawyer and a wealthy man, who managed to fit the individual cogs, meaning other lawyers, to achieve that very goal, to become a ‘legendary litigator’.

    With the plane crash cases soon to eclipse the gas explosion triumphs, Gauthier was to become an elite member, along with the likes of St. Martin et al, of an emerging super class of national and international plaintiff lawyers.

    And if anyone ever wonders why D.J.Mumphrey was given a free ride as one of Aaron Broussard’s Assistants well consider this: Mumphrey was the Fire Chief in Kenner at the time of the plane crash. Get it now !

    The rest is history after the big bucks started rolling in. The office compound on Florida Ave. in Kenner, where along with the Gauthier firm, Stoulig and Buckley, and Aaron Broussard had offices was to be a transition move; new, big and well appointed. Then there was the hosting of parties where Judges would be afforded tickets and transportation to premier boxing matches at the Dome; private booths for football games; and the RV chauffeured hush-hush gambling junkets; you name it, for Judges Gauthier made it happen.

    Then there were the lawyers like McCabe and Burns who were funneled through the Gauthier firm to become Judges. And it was Judges that Wendell began to concentrate his political $$$ contributions for; along with having his political allies like Broussard and Chehardy putting their support behind the ‘chosen one’.

    There is also the story of Danny Abel and Gauthier’s relationship with New Orleans plaintiff lawyer John Cummings… on which I’ll write more on later.

    FAST FORWARD:

    My point is, Gauthier is dead, and has been for almost 10 years. And no “wannabe Wendell” can be him for no amount of money paid to retain the Gauthier name. Period !

    A Ghost haunts, he doesn’t try cases !

  16. Were any of the commenter here ever part of the New Orleans Tank Car Fire Litigation case that was run by Wendell and Fayard?

  17. In response to SupaSleuth’s posting, you are absolutely, completely wrong. I worked at the Gauthier firm for well over 10 years and I know the facts. You, my friend, do not. Sock Puppet is spot on.

  18. Ok, soooooo….

    Can anyone:

    – Identify which parish’s sheriff’s office those badges in the pic belong to?

    – Who the gentlemen with Magnum are?

    – How they would have gotten said badges? Who would have authorized and tyransferred them?

    – What purposes they might be used to?

  19. Just for comparison’s sake:

    “Valteau’s office faxed The Times-Picayune a letter it sent in May 2007 to Arnold and the 20 or so others who hold honorary credentials from his office, making clear that their credentials are not official law enforcement badges.”

    “Valteau’s 2007 letter was written in response to a newspaper report about City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell’s use of flashing blue lights on her city SUV while speeding on Interstate 10. Hedge-Morrell publicly apologized for her reckless driving but emphasized she received a badge from Valteau’s office when asked to explain her use of the blue lights.”

    http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/03/algiers_assessor_tom_arnold_us.html

    Man, someone who loves to speed sure could use this kind of thing.

    Yeah.

    Am I jumping ahead?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVvUQqDVWi4&feature=related

  20. So let me see if I can understand this. We now have a Jefferson Parish wide elected official, Sheriff Newell Normand having a fundraiser in New Orleans for Normand to have enough money to lobby the present Council members to vote on a 5 year contract appointing him to become the Director of East Jefferson Medical Center at a salary of $500,000 (1/2 MILLION DOLLARS). And this of course has to happen before a new Council is voted in, right ?

    And Byron Lee, the asshole du jour, will have a vote on this matter too, right ?

    Shameless, absolutely shameless.

  21. So Supasleuth: WhatTF WhereTH are you getting your ‘information’? You cannot be from here or from around here and be spouting that much foolishness. Anyone who has eyes and ears knows about the Gauthier magic and his background. You are either very gullible or too close to the subjects of these inquiries. Or you are being used to misdirect or choosing to assist in rewriting history. WHATEVER.

  22. I was wondering, why did all the partners leave this firm? Our firm used to use Wendell’s mock court room. The people there were very hospitable. If Wendell successor John paid for the firm as was mentioned in City Business at the time, whats the beef? It must have cost him a lot of money so he obviously has to hustle to pay off his debt to Miss Gauthier and also to keep the firm running. As far as having fundraisers – well, lawyers having fundraisers for politicians is very common and is almost expected – no problem there. As far as his house on the avenue – those are the rewards of hard work. Many class action/high profile lawyers have homes on St. Charles Avenue – Bart, Fayard, Carville, and even Miss Gauthier I believe.

    Happy New Year

  23. Sam:

    The problem with Magnum having fundraisers for judicial candidates is that he is THE ONLY ONE ORGANIZING THEM! Monopolies are not a good thing, especially in this arena.

  24. I believe I know who you are and I believe that your concerted campain to liable this person is transparently evil and self serving.
    to anyone with a brain , it’s obvious your jealous. Go find something productive to do and stop salvating over another persons life.

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