Buying Influence In Texas
November 21, 2008
Texas Watchdog lifts the rock on the efforts by powerful Texas trial lawyer Mikal Watts to buy influence on state courts and in the state legislature – all with an eye toward fattening his already bulging wallet. In the past eight years, Texas Watchdog reports, Watts and his law firm have funneled $4.5 million to Democratic candidate and left-leaning PACs.
What has all this money bought? Mr. Watts isn’t shy about telling. In a letter to an opposing counsel in a personal injury case, Mr. Watts tried to strong arm the defendant into paying a $60 million settlement because any appeal would surely be overturned by a court bought and paid for by his law firm:
In his correspondence, Watts bragged he would prevail in an appeal because his law firm helped finance the campaigns of judges on the state’s 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi.
“This court is composed of six justices, all of whom are good Democrats,” Watts wrote in the letter. “The Chief Justice, Hon. Rogelio Valdez, was recently elected with our firm’s heavy support, and is a man who believes in the sanctity of jury verdicts.”
… Watts then proceeds to list other judges on the court that his law firm supported, including justices Nelda Rodriguez and Linda Yanez.
The discovery of the letter was enough of an embarrassment that Mr. Watts was forced to abandon his own campaign for the U.S. Senate. But it hasn’t stopped him from using his millions to shape the judicial and legislative environment in Texas.
According to Sherry Sylvester of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas legislators “introduced 394 pieces of legislation [last year] that would have weakened tort reforms or made it easier to sue.” One particular target is Proposition 12 – a constitutional amendment adopted by Texas voters in 2003 that imposed a reasonable limit on “pain and suffering” awards in medical malpractice cases.
In the final days of the 2008 election season, Mr. Watts and his cronies in the Texas trial bar “accounted for an astounding 97 percent of the Democratic Party’s campaign contributions in the critical last weeks….” A $25,000 check from Mr. Watts helped one Democratic state Senate candidate defeat a Republican incumbent in what Texas Watchdog called “one of the biggest upsets in Texas.”
“It’s clear to me that Mr. Watts has gone above and beyond to make certain our elected officials work for the people and not large special interests,” says a state Democratic Party flack.
Well…except for one large special interest.