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WHAT MAKES A TOUGH DIVORCE LAWYER?

Brains. Guile. Cunning. Pure nastiness. Bill Koons has ’em all.
By George Rodrigue |

BILL KOONS’ LAW office contains two Paul Wylie sculptures; one tar-black bat preserved in resin; one shrunken head, given to Koons by a woman who wanted to thank him for proving that she did not practice voodoo; four stuffed ducks, most of them shot by Koons; five rattlesnake rattles, severed from their owners by Koons himself one afternoon; and one coiled, stuffed cobra, hood flaring, fangs extended, lower coils wrapped around a writhing mongoose. It was given to Koons by a perceptive admirer.

Dallas is full of mean divorce lawyers-men and women with the delicacy of a grizzly bear and the pugnacity of a pit bull. There are plenty of good divorce lawyers in Dallas, too. But when you talk about tough lawyers, the pit bulls with brains, you’re talking mostly about Bill Koons and a few of his friends. Friends like Ken Fuller, who is Koons’ partner. Or Joe Geary, who used to be his partner. Or Mike McCurley, who will be his partner, come October. Or Donald Smith, who used to be his partner and now is suing him over a financial dispute.

As for tough divorce law firms, you’re talking mostly about Koons, Rasor and Fuller-Rasor being Reba Rasor, a former women’s editor at The Austin American-Statesman and law professor at SMU. “Individually, each of them may not be the best lawyer in Dallas, but together, for all the services they provide, they are the best firm,” says one experienced divorce judge. A competing lawyer puts it more succinctly: “Reba Rasor has maybe the best legal mind in the state. Ken Fuller can talk you out of your pants while he’s shaking your hand. Bill Koons may be the best trial lawyer in Texas.”

“I can name on the fingers of two hands the lawyers in town who aren’t afraid of Bill Koons, and I’d have fingers left over,” says McCurley. “He lets you know, ’Once we step into that courtroom, I’m going to try to beat the hell out of you.’ He lets you know it with every fiber in his body.”

And, more often than not, he does it.

He does it with breathtaking nastiness. Cross-examining his client’s wife in one trial, he ran down all the many things she had been given by her husband: money, furs, trips to Acapulco. Then he glared at her and asked, “And isn’t it true that the only thing you gave your husband, ma’am, was [an extremely unpleasant social disease]?” The woman, transfixed, answered “Yes.”

He does it with guile. He takes sworn depositions from all his clients’ spouses, and always tries to begin on a soft note, asking whether his client wasn’t-looking back on it -a good mother? A good cook? Faithful? A good wife (or husband)? Usually, the victim-feeling guilt or sorrow-will answer affirmatively. He’ll change his mind come trial date, but it will be too late. Koons will wave a copy of that deposition in his face and make him eat his words.

He does it with cunning. Ordered by a judge to show opposing attorneys some canceled checks that would prove that his client spent hundreds of dollars a month at a liquor store, Koons turned the checks over. But only after he had spent his lunch hour shuffling the incriminating checks among 10,000 others the couple had written. Then he refused to let the opposing lawyers take the bulging boxes of checks out of the courthouse for inspection, on the grounds that they couldn’t be trusted. Then he made sure that the lawyers would be tied up in court as long as the courthouse was open. They never found the liquor checks.

He does it by bluffing. Questioning the husband in a bitter divorce, Koons asked, “Didn’t you tell your wife over the telephone that she would never get any money because you would sink the business before paying her a dime?” Oh, no, the gentleman was sure he’d never say such a thing. Koons pulled a tape recorder out of his briefcase and banged it on the table. “Do you remember having a telephone conversation with your wife on….” Well, gosh, he might have said it, now that Koons mentioned it. (Had the victim thought to complain of illegal wiretapping, Koons would have had a perfect defense: The tape was blank.)

He does it with brains. He has held virtually every significant family-law post in state and local bar associations, he has lectured on family law and knows it backwards and upside-down. Motions for summary judgment usually are heard as matters of course; in one case, Koons got nine judgments in a row dismissed on technicalities, saving his client (a wealthy doctor) a year of alimony payments.

He does it with bravado. While his case was being pounded by the opposition one afternoon in Judge Linda Thomas’ court, Koons bellowed out an objection. On what grounds? Koons thought for a minute. He couldn’t very well say, “Because they’re kicking hell out of me and 1 need a break.” So he replied, “Because judge, it’s Good Friday!”

He does it with relish. After stomping one husband’s lawyers in a trial, he asked the court to order the husband to pay him extra attorney’s fees. The husband’s lawyer, trying to impugn Koons’ credibility, asked about his bill for air fare. Weren’t those first-class seats? Yes, Koons replied. Why couldn’t Koons fly second-class? “Because,” Koons said, grinning broadly, “1 am not a second-class lawyer.”

Mostly, though, Koons does it with hard work. His family used to consider it unusual for him to be home by 7 p.m. on weekends. During a trial, he will rise at approximately 4 a.m., shower and race downtown to begin preparing for his morning’s presentation. At night, if he sleeps, his wife, Ida, is likely to hear him talking to the judge, raising objections and arguing legal points. It will be the only contact she has with the trial; Koons never allows his family to watch him in court. It might break his concentration.

Koons keeps those Gulag hours because, ever since he was a kid, he has loved getting into fights and has hated losing them.

He was born in New Orleans on October 11, 1931. In 1939, his father, an attorney with the U.S. Alcohol Tax Unit, was transferred to Dallas. Shortly after the move, young Bill met a neighbor named Austin Young: “I was in third grade, 1 guess, and Austin moved into the neighborhood, and he was riding his bicycle, and I ran out and stuck a broomstick in the spokes. Well, it was fist city, right away. We fought for I don’t know how long. And we’ve been friends ever since.”

Back in New Orleans by 1943, in time for junior high school, Koons bought his first motorcycle, a scooter he picked up for $40. He’d saved some of the money. The rest he got by selling a saxophone his parents very much wanted him to play. Fencing the sax gave him his first taste of courtroom-style evasion. When his mother asked him why he wasn’t taking music lessons, he replied, “Cause you need an instrument.” Well, she asked, where is your saxophone? “I don’t know,” he replied, truthfully enough.

His family returned to Dallas in 1947, just in time for Koons to finish Highland Park High School (class of ’48) and enter SMU. Somewhere in there, his nose took its first serious beating. Koons was riding on the back of a truck hauling Sheetrock when a slab of the stuff flew up and slapped him smack in the face.

At SMU, Koons joined Kappa Alpha fraternity; he stole his future wife from a fraternity brother. “I played and had a lot of fun. I was able to get through with reasonably good grades, without attending too many classes.”

He began college as a pre-med student, “but you needed a foreign language to get into medical school, and I didn’t do too good at foreign language, since I didn’t go to class.” So it was off to SMU Law School. Two weeks into his legal education, he volunteered for naval officer’s candidate flight training. That was 1951 – Korea.

In May 1953, two weeks after he was commissioned an ensign, he married Ida. The most violent naval action he saw was in the bars of Norfolk, Virginia, but he got a good dose of fighter-jock chic – drinking and flying and driving and drinking, as Tom Wolfe would say – and his nose got a little more bent and mutilated. “I used to love to fight,” he admits. “I guess I lost a few.”

Mustered out of the Navy in 1955, Koons reentered law school and tried to support his new family. Fortunately, he found school to be positively thrilling. “When I got out, I hadn’t used my mind for four years,” he says. He set out to win academic honors at SMU, doing well enough in his first semester to win a full scholarship. In his second semester, however, his I8-month-old son, Danny, contracted meningitis. Bill and Ida moved into an apartment near the old Bradford Memorial Hospital on Maple. For 15 days Bill did not go to class. The effect on his grades was predictable.

During his last two years of school, Koons would sandwich his time with his family between classes and legal work downtown. His grades were among the best in his class again, and he wanted to keep them healthy. But he also had to feed his family. There was a lot of pressure on him, and sometimes he blew up. “He had a very strong temper,” Ida recalls. “When we were first married, 1 guess I was a little afraid of him.” She overcame that fear by learning to yell back, which more or less put Bill in his place, even if he wouldn’t admit it. Because, his family will tell you, Bill Koons has never lost an argument.

After graduation, Koons started full-time work with Joe Geary’s fledgling four-lawyer firm (Now, it’s a 31-lawyer firm.) “I guess I fit the mold,” he says. Like the other attorneys, he was an SMU graduate and very competitive. Like Geary, who had won a Distinguished Flying Cross as a bomber navigator during World War II, he was an aviator. And like all young, hungry lawyers, he was an expert at whatever sort of case walked through his door.

He handled real estate work, business deals, oil litigation and wills – all of which later would help him unravel the financial situations so crucial to a divorce case. More important, he got to work with Joe Geary. “Joe was like a father to Bill, at first,” says Ida Koons. Her husband enjoyed the strategy, clamor and clash of working with Geary, who believed that one should attack, always attack, wielding not a scalpel but a broadsword.

And Geary enjoyed hunkering down with someone as rough-and-tumble as himself. His favorite Bill Koons story concerns a pretrial office conference, at which Koons was forced to knock an opposing litigant unconscious.

Koons likes that story, too. He was representing the wife of a wealthy man’s son, and his client was desperately afraid of her husband. Despite a court order, the man kept harassing his wife. At a conference called by Koons to discuss the situation, the husband showed up half an hour late and started walking toward his wife, ignoring Koons’ invitation to sit across a desk from her.

“1 saw the look on her face, which was terror, and I said, ’Hold it, boy,’ Koons recalls. “Well, there was a cup of coffee on my desk, and he threw that in my face and said, ’Don’t call me boy.’ And he threw a punch at me, which fortunately missed, because he was a big man.”

Koons put all 6’1″, 215 pounds of himself behind his own right hook, which snapped the husband’s head back and spun him around until his skull cracked into an aluminum window frame. He bounced off the window. Koons hit him again. That shot lifted the husband off the rug and dumped him into an office chair, snapping all four of the chair’s legs.

The husband’s lawyer, who had fled when the first coffee was spilled, returned to Koons’ office; together they found a pistol in the husband’s coat pocket.

Koons speaks fondly of his years with Geary’s firm, but Ida recalls that though her husband was elated at the successful conclusion of many a major trial, during the trials he would seem tense and unhappy at playing second fiddle to his mentor. Eventually, she knew, Geary and Koons would have to split. They were too much alike. Neither enjoyed standing in another’s shadow. The two parted amicably in 1978, when Koons founded his own firm: Koons, (Don) Smith and (Richard) Johnson. It would concentrate on family law.

In the fall of 1978, Reba Rasor signed on, giving the firm perhaps the best family-law academician in the state. Her brief to the state Supreme Court in the watershed Young v. Young case was co-signed by 25 of the best divorce lawyers in Texas, from Dallas to San Antonio.

Johnson left the firm in 1979; Ken Fuller joined it the next summer, as Don Smith was leaving. This October, the brass letters on the 20th floor of One Main Place will read, “Koons, Rasor, Fuller and Mc-Curley,” in honor of Mike McCurley, a young attorney in Irving who has made his reputation as a hard-nosed trial lawyer.

Koons credits Geary and his partners with teaching him to make his cases simple and interesting enough to keep judge and jury awake. And it was at Geary’s side that he learned about the “black hat” doctrine: All else being equal, in any civil suit the jury (or the judge, whom Geary looks upon as “a one-man jury”) is going to be harder on the party wearing the black hat.

Geary’s firm also taught Koons that he loved divorce work. What started as a small part of his practice, due mostly to his colleagues’ reluctance to soil themselves with a divorce case, over the years became his specialty.

“Partly, it may be like in athletics, where you liked the sports you were good at,” Koons says. But partly he liked the fact that divorce law was “people-oriented.” He could take someone, “like a wife who’s maybe been beaten down all of her marriage, and suddenly make her wealthy and independent.” Equally important, however, was the social and economic fact that as Koons’ practice matured, divorce law in Texas grew increasingly respectable.

Thirty years ago, a lawyer like Bill Koons wouldn’t have considered divorce law as his bread-and-butter practice. If he had, he almost certainly would not have been elected a director of the Dallas Bar Association or been able to afford a backyard swimming pool or had enough business to bring in two full-time partners. There was little money in Dallas divorce practices and (not coincidentally) even less prestige.

The sexual revolution, however, brought divorce law out of the closets and into the suites. In Dallas, the divorce rate jumped 14 percent in the last decade. Every year, roughly 14,000 divorce petitions are filed in the Old Red Courthouse. Many of them are filed by extremely wealthy spouses, the sorts of people who probably grew up thinking of divorce lawyers as, well, scum. With a dying marriage and a huge estate at risk, their attitudes changed. Koons and his ilk became more like H-bombs: unthinkable, unpleasant and expensive, but you sure didn’t want to be the side without one.

Money is one way that lawyers, like the rest of the world, assign status to their jobs. The other is by the intricacies of the legal work involved. Until the passage of Texas’ family code in 1970, divorce lawyers tended to fly by the seats of their pants, like barnstorming biplane pilots. Geary was a prime example; so was Guy Carter; so was Jack Johannes.

Nowadays divorce law has become more like piloting a 747. Except for the emotional turmoil and the children, divorces look a lot like the dissolution of any other partnership.

Due to its boom-town decades, Dallas has been host to the dissolution of some very large partnerships. “For a long time,” says Joe Geary, “there weren’t that many [big] cases. But now, you talk about a $1 million lawsuit, and that’s a lot of money. But a $1 million divorce is nothing.”

Thank heaven for small favors. Koons charges $200 an hour, minimum, and asks for a lot more if he wins big – which he often does. “At those rates, it’s difficult to justify using a lawyer like Bill Koons or me, unless you’ve got a substantial estate at issue,” says one of his competitors. “A marginal case,” he adds, “would be someone with $500,000 in assets, $250,000 of it in a house.”

Koons doesn’t take marginal cases. He has more business than he can handle. So do most members of the charmed circle of top-notch divorce lawyers.

The difference between a Koons and a run-of-the-mill lawyer can be astounding. A few years ago, Koons represented a woman who wanted to divorce her very wealthy husband. The marriage had been brief, and the husband had been married four other times, so he was well schooled in his divorce rights. In fact, his last wife had walked away from a five-year marriage with only $40,000.

Koons went through the minute books of the husband’s little oil corporation and found that during the marriage he had incurred a paper debt of $150,000, payment of which would entitle him to $3.2 million worth of corporate assets. It was done mostly for tax purposes, to ease the liquidation of the company. But it was a genuine debt, and, technically, the husband would not get his millions until he paid it. And, Koons argued, that $150,000 debt had to be paid with community funds. He was claiming that what had been the husband’s separate property had been bought, albeit at bargain rates, by the community estate. It was a crucial point. Separate property could not be divided by the court between husband and wife; communal property could be and probably would be split by the judge on a 50-50 basis.

Koons’ argument may not have been airtight, but it scared the husband to death. After 10 days of trial, he paid wife number five well over $1 million to settle out of court.

Not all of Koons’ cases are that rewarding, but he prosecutes most of them along similar lines.

If property is the chief issue (and in most of his cases, it is), he sets out to find every scrap of it owned by husband and wife or either. He looks at income tax returns, bank statements and corporate reports. The work can get incredibly detailed -Don Smith once introduced 40,000 separate bank records into a divorce case, tracing the finances of a 20-year marriage – but it is necessary to know how big a pie Koons is fighting for.

Then Koons tries to figure out how much of that pie he can get for his client. He tries to prove that his client’s property is separate (was owned by his client before the marriage) and that the other side’s property is community. He hunts for black hats because he wants his client to get more than half of the community property.

Judges in Texas can make such unequal divisions, based on things like the needs and future earning potential of husband and wife and the “fault” each may bear for the divorce. To make sure he knows about any possible ammunition, Koons has his client compile a list of all the bad things that occurred during the marriage. He tries not to look at it for at least two months.

A custody case, on the other hand, is likely to hinge on which parent would be “better” for the children, so Koons likes to take as much time as he can before the action is filed to improve the relationship between his client and the kids – everything from trips to the zoo to helping with homework and telling bedtime stories. Charles Robertson goes even further, specifying a reading program and “homework” for his student-parent. “I sometimes think that divorce lawyers have made more good parents than preachers have,” Koons says.

He often hires private investigators, either to uncover more pieces of the property pie or to dig the skeletons out of the opposition’s closet. Earl Lilly, perhaps Houston’s toughest divorce lawyer, once hired a bisexual female private investigator to seduce his client’s wife. Koons says he’s never done anything like that, exactly. But he does believe in surveillance and in revealing pictures.

Koons also wants his detectives to be sure that the other side is not collecting similar evidence on his client. Once, while representing a North Dallas housewife, he had one of his detectives check to make sure there were no bugs on her phone. The detective knew right where to find the wiring; a few years earlier the home had been occupied by another one of Koons’ clients. “No trace of any bugs,” the man reported, “except for the one we installed for your last client.”

Depositions are the next phase of his case. Koons may spend several days taking the testimony of his client’s spouse, trying to uncover useful evidence, to see how far he can push the witness – it’s fine to make a wife spiteful and mad on the stand, but dangerous to make her cry – and to detect the other side’s soft spots. And, of course, he makes the experience as devastating as possible. “Basically, he tries to make them shake in their boots,” in hopes of encouraging a good settlement, says Tom Goranson. “He makes you feel like you’ll be lucky to get out of there without being indicted,” laughs Lilly, approvingly. “Bill Koons treats you like you are the damned enemy. You and your client. Here your client is going through a painful, emotional divorce and doesn’t expect this monster to jump all over them and treat them like a liar. But that is what he does.”

A settlement can be much better for both clients than a trial would be since the lawyers can work out all kinds of interesting tax savings. Alimony payments, for instance, cannot be ordered by a court but

can be agreed to by contract. They are tax deductible to the payer, as child-support payments are not. Or the husband can “buy” the house from his wife, renting it back to her for a guaranteed term of at least 10 years. “Just the savings he gets out of the depreciation are enough for an extra $400 a month in child support,” says Gor-anson. Even the timing of the divorce can save both parties substantial money: By timing one of his clients’ divorce for the last day of the year, Goranson saved husband and wife (each earning roughly in the neighborhood of $100,000) a total of $17,000 in taxes.

Koons is aware of those benefits and tries to make use of them. Sometimes he’ll even let the other side know what skeletons he’s uncovered, the better to encourage a settlement (Now, Mr. Smith, I want you to know that I’m the last person on Earth who’d want to introduce these films into evidence. But I do have a job to do…). It’s a risk because tipping his hand might just give the other side more time to prepare a counterattack. But Koons, like most lawyers, settles about 90 percent of his cases without going to trial. He always tries for a settlement first. On the other hand, while Louise Raggio might be a low-key specialist in negotiations, Koons is a gunslinger. “Some lawyers will come on like used-car salesmen,” says one of Koons’ chief competitors. “Koons will just say, ’Okay, this is what we have and this is what we want, and if you can’t agree to that, then let’s go.’ And then, brother, it’s war.”

Going into trial, he formulates a theory of his case, a hybrid between the plot for a novel and the plan for a battle. Partly, this is to help him organize his case and make it more dramatic; he has spent perhaps three months preparing it and will have to present it in four or five days. Partly it seems to help him convince himself that his client is completely, absolutely, 100 percent right.

“Take a real type-A guy,” Koons says. “He’s worked 12 hours a day for 15 years. He started out with nothine: now he’s made it. Maybe he’s a bit ruthless. Maybe he’s got a girlfriend or two or three. He’s got a wife, Pitiful Pearl. She lives in a $1 million house. Got two maids, a golf course, country club, masseuse. Maybe she’s got a lover – the tennis pro. She tootles around town in a Mercedes, and her charge bills equal the national debt.”

Now imagine Koons in charge of each of their cases:

“If we were representing the husband? I’d say Pitiful Pearl hasn’t done a thing to help him. She’s been no kind of wife to him. In fact, she’s done things that have sabotaged his career. He has worked his butt off in the great American tradition and has made his fortune, and she has just sat and now she’s got the gall to come in here and ask for more than half of his property!

“If we were representing the wife… She put him through school. She’s worked hard to keep his family together with very little help from him. She’s washed and cleaned and cooked his meals, she’s begged for him to let her work, but he wouldn’t let her. He tried to buy her love. And now she’s lost her youth and beauty, and he’s got this chicky-babe and he wants to divorce her so he can marry his chicky!”

All this name-calling is built into the system, so to speak. It comes before the Polaroids, the sex toys, the long-distance telephone bills, the hotel room charge receipts. That black hat can get mighty heavy as the trial goes on. And if Koons has nothing to start with, he’ll probably come up with something. During a custody fight, one husband opined that he should get the children because he was going to be “in a better socioeconomic class” than his ex-wife, whom Koons was representing. “I must have brought that statement up and thrown it at him 50 times,” Koons recalls. Another man made what he thought was an innocuous admission: He had spent up to $25,000 a month on his wine cellar. When Koons got him on cross-examination and the gentleman started itemizing reasons for his niggardly child-support offer, Koons brought the accursed wine back to haunt him. Tuh-wennntee-fyave thousin dollars! For your whannn cellar!

Even if Koons has no black hats and the opposition doesn’t die of self-inflicted wounds, there’s hope:

Koons represented a wife some years back in a bitter divorce case and found nothing substantial with which to tar her husband. So he started out friendly. Did the husband have a friend named Joe?

Being friends and all, did they drink together?

Visit each other’s houses?

Been friends for years and years, right?

Spent some weekends together?

Koons was mixing his curves with his fastballs, asking about money and property and such, but coming back to Joe every now and then, just infrequently enough that the poor schmuck on the stand wouldn’t get alarmed.

Spending weekends together and all, had he and Joe slept together?

Had they taken their clothes off together?

Had they showered together?

Ah, you could see it in the schmuck’s face. Oh my Cod! But it was too late. Every 48 seconds, it seemed like Koons was throwing Joe back at him.

Was Joe at the lake with you that time?

Was that another episode with Joe?

Well, Joe wasn’t with you when you went out with that girl, was he?

After the husband’s remains limped off the witness stand, his attorney whispered to Koons in the hallway, “Jeez, I didn’t know he was queer!”

“I think,” says Koons, laughing, “that everyone in the courtroom thought that guy was queer, except him, my co-counsel, my client and me.”

And when there’s a black hat that, strictly speaking, Koons isn’t allowed to throw in, well, that’s a legal nicety that American ingenuity can get around. Koons was trying a divorce case one afternoon against a not-very-nice man. In fact, the man had a police record. Koons had an unauthorized copy of the arrest report, of course, complete with mug-shot.

As luck would have it, Koons’ chair was about 5 feet from the jury box. Maybe it was just the heat, but pretty soon Koons was leaning back and propping his size 10-D ostrich boots on his desk. And as he lowered his shoulders he raised that mug-shot, as if he were studying it. If there was a juror who didn’t study along with him, it was a juror who was asleep.

Tactics like that can make a man some enemies.

A 60-year-old man once told a client of Koons’, “I’m going to kill you and your lawyer.” He wound up shooting his wife three times with a .45 caliber pistol, then shooting himself. He did not live to learn that doctors saved the life of his wife.

A middle-aged dentist stalked Koons with a deer rifle one morning; the dentist gave up before Koons walked out of his house. He never fired a shot. So far, the only man mean enough to slow down Bill Koons has been Bill Koons.

First there was the motorcycle accident six years ago. He was returning from City Councilman Sid Stahl’s wedding reception (Stahl is a partner of Geary’s) with a friend on the back of the bike when he decided to pop a few wheelies on a rain-slicked street. “He was showing off,” says Ida, who for years asked him to give up his two-wheeled tears through Dallas. Unsuccessfully, of course. After his knee surgery, Koons had to give up tennis and squash. It nearly broke his heart.

And then, about 18 months ago, Koons stuck his arm into one of those airport machines that takes your blood pressure for a quarter. The machine told Koons his pressure was dangerously high. Koons bought a department-store blood pressure measuring kit. Dangerously high. He casually mentioned the readings to a doctor he was representing, who recommended a specialist. The specialist put him on medication and told him: No more serious drinking. No more 16-hour days. No more weekends at the office.

“I’m supposed to cut down if I’m going to hang around much longer,” Koons says, “and I plan to do that.”

Sure enough, he is trying fewer cases. He has built himself a swimming pool so he can exercise to his heart’s content at home. He tries to slay away from the office on weekends, or at least one day out of every weekend.

As for the drinking part of the doctor’s order, results are mixed. Koons and a reporter lubricated their introductory interview with half a cooler of beer. When they decided to try the bottled drinking water for a change, they found themselves unable to open it. ” ’Scuse this,” said Koons, with a sheepish grin. “I guess I haven’t been drinking any water since I’ve been on vacation.” (He had been on vacation for about a week.)

There’s talk around the courthouse that Bill Koons isn’t trying cases like he formerly did, but the lawyers who’ve fought him recently don’t believe he’s mellowed. Koons says that his famous temper probably isn’t what it used to be, but he isn’t broadcasting the news. “People think I have a hotter temper than I do,” he says. “I use it for effect, and sometimes it works.”

He knows he can be the meanest lawyer in seven states, but he doesn’t hold it against himself. And, remarkably enough, neither do most of the lawyers he kicks, gouges and maims, figuratively speaking, in the courtroom. Nor, for that matter, do some of his real victims – the spouses of his clients. For instance, Koons heard about the homicidal dentist years after he was stalked. He heard about it from the dentist’s hygienist, when she retained him. She told Koons that her boss had said, “I don’t like that SOB, but he’ll do a job for you.”

Lawyers – Perry Mason notwithstanding – do not stand up for truth, justice and the American way, except perhaps during pre-game ceremonies at Texas Stadium. Judges worry about justice; lawyers worry only about the best interests of their client, which is to say “winning.” They judge their colleagues by a curious combination of standards: by their charm and cordiality outside the courtroom, and by their dedication and results before the bench. In other words, by how much of themselves they can devote to a case without letting it overwhelm them. In that particular world, Koons is a hero.

“I saw him leaning up against a wall some time back, after he’d finished his closing argument in a custody case,” a colleague recalls. “He said, ’I think my eyes started watering in there.’ “