TLR responds to "wholly owned subsidiary" charge about the Texas Supreme Court
Fri October 31, 2008 5:46 pm

Texans for Lawsuit Reform, through spokesperson Sherry Sylvester, responded to my post from yesterday, "The Judicial Races." I may make some remarks at the conclusion of TLR's letter, but I am not going to engage in a rebuttal. I had my say, and TLR is entitled to its say. The letter follows:

Paul, this is not the first time you’ve described the Supreme Court as a “wholly owned subsidiary of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.” We hope you will consider the following points before you next make the charge.

Who led the effort that limited campaign contributions to Supreme Court justices in order to diminish the ability of any group or individual to "own" the court? Answer: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, in 1995.

Who has been on the record for years as favoring appointing judges instead of electing them—to diminish the ability of any group or individual to "own" the court? Answer: Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Additionally, our general counsel has been a member of every merit selection committee in Texas since 1988, and in 1996 he wrote the recommendation for a supreme court/state bar committee favoring merit selection. TLR funded in-depth polling in 2007 to measure public opinion concerning merit selection, and our general counsel, jointly with John Hill and Tom Phillips, held meetings in Dallas and Houston seeking support for merit selection. Other than Steve Susman, no Texas trial lawyer would agree to discuss the proposition. So why would a group that wants to "own" the court go to such a great lengths to make sure that no one, including themselves, can do so? Have the trial lawyers or the Democratic Party ever espoused merit selection? Never.

In terms of “court ownership,” how can TLR, which is limited to $25,000 per judge in million dollar plus campaigns, acquire this ownership? The people who want to own courts include personal injury trial lawyers like Mikal Watts, who bragged that he virtually owned the 13th Court of Appeals, (Houston Chronicle, 9.5.2007). That’s the same Mikal Watts who just contributed $270,000 to the Texas Democratic Party, undoubtedly as part of the reportedly $1.4 million television advertising buy to try to elect one of the 13th Court of Appeals judges and two other Democrats to the Texas Supreme Court. Watts was joined by eight other personal injury trial lawyers who contributed over $100,000 for that advertising. Even you admit that the plaintiff bar once owned the Texas Supreme Court. It is surely news that they have just written some very big checks in an effort to buy it back. Here’s the list from the Texas Democratic Party’s 8 Day Report:

Mikal Watts $270K
Provost Humphrey $250K
Nix Patterson $250K
Williams Kherkher $250K
Reaud $200K
O’Quinn $100K
Mithoff $100K
Hagans $100K
Branson $100K
Fisher Boyd $100K

You might want to review whose big bucks are working hard to acquire ownership of the Court: the eight-day reports released on Tuesday show that personal injury trial lawyers provided almost all the campaign contributions to the Texas Democratic Party, the Texas Democratic Trust, Texans for Insurance Reform and First Tuesday, a Houston political action committee that has targeted Harris County. The Texas Democratic Trust reported having raised $1,874,000 including a $1,497,000 contribution from the late asbestos trial lawyer Fred Baron.

The Texas Democratic Party reported raising $3,543,000, almost all from personal injury trial lawyers. Mr. Baron’s Texas Democratic Trust provided $1,502,759 and 17 trial lawyers contributed $1,930,000 bringing the trial lawyer total to $3,432,759 – 97% of all Texas Democratic Party contributions. Nix Patterson & Roach and Provost Umphrey, each of whom took 20 percent the $3.3 billion tobacco fee awarded by Dan Morales, each gave $250,000. Nine other personal injury trial lawyers, including John O’Quinn, another 20 percent beneficiary of the $3.3 billion tobacco fee, gave $100,000 each.

Texans for Insurance Reform reported raising $498,050, almost all--$454,500—from trial lawyers. Tobacco Five lawyers Wayne Reaud and John O’Quinn contributed $100,000. The asbestos mega-firm Baron & Budd also contributed $100,000 to TIR.

First Tuesday PAC, targeting Harris County races, received $860,000 in contributions, almost all from personal injury trial lawyers--$600,000 from Mr. Baron’s Texas Democratic Trust. Plaintiff lawyers Howard Nations and Richard Mithoff donated $50,000, while Steven Mostyn and the personal injury law firm Matthews & Associates donated $25,000 each, contributing to the trial lawyer contribution total of $800,000--93% of all First Tuesday’s contributions.

With this kind of trial lawyer money flowing into judicial races, particularly at the intermediate and trial court level, you should recognize that they wield by far the most potent influence over judicial races in Texas. TLR and business groups participation in district and intermediate appellate court races is totally eclipsed by contributions from elements of the bar who oppose litigation reform—which includes both the TTLA and the TADC.

Sincerely,

Sherry Sylvester

Texans for Lawsuit Reform

My remarks, which will be brief:

I have written very harshly about the corruption of the Texas courts by the plaintiff's bar twenty years ago. I welcomed the arrival of Texans for Lawsuit Reform and supported its initial goals. It is unfortunate that the pendulum has swung in the other direction. I would prefer that it had stopped in the middle.

The proposal for merit selection is probably a wise idea. Neither political party has supported it while they were in power. Neither contemplated that the day might come when they would lose power and perhaps would benefit from a fair selection method. The problem lies in arriving at that method. The objective is a Court where the facts and the law determine the outcome, not the judges' political preconceptions. We didn't have that kind of Court when the Democrats were in power, and we don't have that kind of Court now. I have never come across a selection method that I thought would achieve the desired end. If I did come across such a method, I would support merit selection of judges.

As a lawyer, I have great respect for the law as an institution. It saddens me to see it misapplied by judges for political ends. I want to see balance returned to the Texas court system -- unbiased judges making decisions on the law and on the facts. I would like to see TLR support judges in both parties on the basis of their legal abilities, just as it supports legislators in both parties.

Thanks to Sherry Sylvester for writing. paul burka

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