A fight is brewing over leadership of the massive Astroworld lawsuit, with a local Houston attorney now blasting Benjamin Crump as “willfully tone deaf” for suggesting that the city lacks qualified Black trial lawyers to fill top spots in the case.
Days after Crump – a nationally-prominent civil rights attorney – argued that he should appointed to a key role among dozens of attorneys involved in the case, Houston-based lawyer Sean A. Roberts fired back Monday that he was “a better candidate than Mr. Crump.”
Crump, who is Black, pitched himself as the best attorney to represent a group of victims who are “disproportionately” African American. But Roberts, who is also Black, pointedly noted that Crump had no ties to the Houston area.
“Any suggestion by Mr. Crump in his legal papers that Houston lacks qualified African-American trial lawyers who can serve as liaison counsel, such that the Court should appoint a Florida lawyer instead, is willfully tone deaf,” wrote Roberts, who runs the law firm Roberts Markland.
“While Mr. Crump undoubtedly has his finger on the pulse of Florida law and national matters involving police shootings and other civil rights matters, the firm that understands the pulse of the Astroworld community – a Houston Festival – is Roberts Markland,” he added.
Live Nation, Travis Scott and others are facing billions in potential liability over the crowd crush incident during the rapper’s Nov. 5 performance at the Houston festival, which left 10 dead and hundreds more injured. The cases accuse Astroworld’s organizers of being legally negligent in how they planned and conducted the event.
For efficiency, hundreds of individual lawsuits have all been consolidated in a single court. Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins will handle the complex process of coordinating thousands of individual litigants, exchanging evidence and taking depositions, among other pre-trial matters.
Crump and Roberts are wrangling over the role of “liaison counsel,” a sort-of point person for the dozens of attorneys working on the huge combined case. Several victims’ lawyers have already been appointed to that role on an interim basis, but the structure has not yet been finalized. A larger “executive committee,” made up of other lawyers for victims, will also be appointed before the case moves forward.
In his filing last week seeking a co-liaison role, Crump echoed his previous concerns that nearly all of the attorneys representing victims were white. He said he would be able to “help speak for the African American victims” and send a message of “fairness and diversity and inclusion.”
“Ben Crump provides both a strong voice and clear visibility to the community most affected,” Crump wrote at the time. “It cannot be seriously argued that there is anyone better situated or more respected in the eyes of the African American community than Mr. Crump.”
But on Monday, Roberts seriously argued the point. He cited decades of experience working on similar mass tort cases and his deep connections to the city of Houston – and Crump’s lack of the same.
“It is worth noting that, although Mr. Crump is African-American and undoubtedly successful and nationally recognized in the area of civil rights cases, Mr. Crump is not licensed by the State Bar of Texas and mentions no history of being admitted to practice [temporarily] in any Court in Texas or in Harris County,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts stressed that Crump would “also be a good choice” and suggested that the court could appoint both of them to the role. But, he added, if the judge is “inclined to keep the committee small for any reason,” he would be “the best choice.”
It’s unclear when Judge Hawkins will make final rulings on the leadership structure, or whether other victims’ attorneys will throw their hats into the ring. A spokesperson for Crump did not return a request for comment on Roberts’ filing.