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Two of Dallas' most prominent law firms squared off in federal court Thursday in the high-profile case that has pitted heirs to oilman H.L. Hunt's fortune against each other in a nasty family fight.

But the skirmish was not to decide how the family funds should be divvied up. Instead, it was to decide whether the Bickel & Brewer law firm can represent one of the parties.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees could be at stake, and the courtroom was crowded with distinguished lawyers, including George Bramblett and Don Godwin, who have an interest in the case.

Some may have been looking for fireworks but got gentlemanly jabs instead as Mike Lynn of Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox, representing Al G. Hill Jr., asked the court to disqualify Bickel & Brewer from representing Al G. Hill III in the suit against his father and other family members.

Bickel & Brewer "chose to betray their own client" by filing a lawsuit against him, Mr. Lynn said as "Al Jr." looked on.

He described attorney Bill Brewer as "the most conflicted lawyer in the city of Dallas."

Neither Mr. Brewer or "Al III" attended the hearing. But Bickel & Brewer partner James Renard said despite hundreds of pages of filings in the case, Mr. Lynn failed to prove that Al Jr. was anything other than a witness in unrelated litigation, so there was no conflict of interest.

In a filing last February, Bickel & Brewer called the motion to disqualify its firm "transparently tactical in its effort to delay this litigation and increase the costs to Plaintiff."

The hearing is a byproduct of a suit filed last fall, by Al III against Al Jr. and other relatives, accusing them of conspiring to plunder two family trusts, one set up for his late grandmother, Margaret Hunt Hill and the other set up for his late great-uncle, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Jr., known as Hassie. The trusts were begun in 1935 by oilman H.L. Hunt, once considered the richest man in the country.

The two trusts' major asset was Hunt Petroleum, which was sold to XTO Energy for more than $4 billion in June.


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