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"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"
Edmund Burke

7 Quecreek miners divorce their lawyer

Saturday, September 14, 2002

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

SOMERSET, Pa. -- A new attorney for seven of the nine Quecreek miners says the men came out of the coal mine seven weeks ago, into a disorienting world of celebrity, money and movie offers that they couldn't handle.

According to testimony yesterday in a Somerset County courtroom, their then-attorney wasn't doing such a hot job of handling it himself.

So, in that courtroom the miners finalized the business equivalent of divorce. Their ex-attorney promised to pay the men the last of the $149,000 shares that all agree he owes each of them.

And the seven miners -- all but mining team leader Randy Fogle and Mark Popernack -- are off with a new legal team, including Stephen Reich, the Pittsburgh lawyer behind marketing ventures for Mario Lemieux and other luminaries.

Now, Reich is hunting merchandising and endorsement deals for the Quecreek veterans.

"I'm seeing the interest in these gentlemen to be nationwide," Stephen Reich, owner of Reich Publishing and Marketing Inc. in PPG Place, said yesterday.

Wheaties, Breakfast of Stalwart Coal Miners, maybe?

"I'd rather not go into detail. ... I put no expectations out for any of these guys," Reich said. "Whether I can make them enough money to stay out of the mines remains to be seen. But that's my goal."

Not everybody left yesterday's hearing happy.

Thomas Crawford -- a Wilkinsburg lawyer and an assistant U.S. attorney two decades ago -- heard himself vilified as the lawyer who signed the miners, got them a book and movie deal with Disney for $150,000 a man, then, over the past month, held much of the money in escrow, ignoring his new clients' demands to be paid their cuts.

Pittsburgh lawyer Howard Messer, the new lead attorney for the seven men, told Common Pleas Judge Eugene Fike II that Crawford rebuffed his clients enough that miner Thomas Foy "was thinking of going and sitting on the doorstep of Mr. Crawford's office to personally get the check he felt he was entitled to."

Crawford, a portly man with cherubic face and shock of gray hair, shuffled out of the hearing with the demeanor of a man who'd just taken a set of Ginzu knives in the back. He did nothing wrong, Crawford said.

"It's grandstanding by somebody who's gone behind my back and lied about me," he said. "They told them it's a bad deal when it's the best deal I know of."

During yesterday's hearing Messer said Crawford initially suggested that he would hold the Disney payoff in escrow and parcel it out in bits to let the men avoid a bigger tax sting. When miner John Phillippi consulted with a local banker, though, he was told the maneuver probably wouldn't pass muster with the Internal Revenue Service, Messer said.

When the miners started asking for their money, Crawford began giving them a runaround, Messer said. So the miners hired Messer to represent them and when his law firm interceded, Messer said, he got the runaround, too.

Miner Blaine Mayhugh wound up in "a very contentious conversation" with Crawford, Messer said. Before paying Phillippi $50,000, Crawford offered $1,000, saying "they didn't need any more," Messer said.

With Messer's help, the miners filed a complaint in Somerset County Common Pleas Court, demanding checks and a full accounting of their money for the seven.

All seven will get their checks, up to $149,000 each, with Crawford pocketing $7,000 in legal fees, according to an agreement worked out yesterday.

Crawford said Fogle and Popernack are still signed up with him. But Reich said all nine are expected to be together for any marketing deals.

Unity might be a good thing.

Pittsburgh attorney Jay Reisinger said he's seeking trademark protection for such phrases as Quecreek Nine and Quecreek Nine for Nine.

September 5, 2004