AUSTIN, TEXAS–Three candidates for the Texas Supreme Court backed by left-of-center trial lawyers fell to defeat in their efforts to stack the state’s highest court. Incumbent justices including Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Justice Phil Johnson and newly appointed Justice Jeff Brown all scored solid victories over their opponents.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal, in a post titled “Stacking the Texas Supreme Court,” said “The three challengers have something in common: They are all bankrolled by personal injury mega-lawyer Mark Lanier and members of his firm.” According to the Journal, Chief Justice Hecht’s opponent, Robert Talton (Houston) recently reported he had raised $30,000 in a Texas Ethics Commission financial disclosure – all of it from members of the Lanier Law Firm. Failed candidate Joe Pool, Jr. also raised $33,100 from the Lanier Law Firm members. Nearly 90 percent of appellate Justice Sharon McCally’s fundraising in the January report came from Lanier’s firm including $5,000 from Lanier personally.
Joe Pool entered began the race in true trial-lawyer colors by filing a lawsuit to have Justice Brown removed from the ballot in order to avoid an embarrassing 78-22 loss which occurred last night. The lawsuit was rejected by an Austin Democrat district court judge. Surprisingly, Pool then filed an appeal to the court where Brown currently serves, the Texas Supreme Court, where his appeal was quickly rejected after Brown recused himself from the case.
Chief Justice Hecht won by a solid 60-40 margin against an arguably underqualified Talton–whose judicial experience only includes being a municipal court judge. But even Justice McCally could only garner 36 percent of the vote against Justice Johnson who may have logged more campaign events than just about any other candidate in the primary according to Justice Brown.
The Texas Supreme Court is not the only place where trial lawyers took a beating. Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) Chairman, Jared Woodfill, also a trial lawyer was solidly defeated by challenger Paul Simpson. Woodfill was also backed by Lanier and employed Talton and Justice John Devine, another trial lawyer who defeated Supreme Court Justice David Medina in 2012. The race for HCRP chair was discussed by Breitbart Texas yesterday as being a hotly contested race for the future of the country’s largest GOP county. Woodfill was also linked to a mysterious Asian pro-Stockman mailer that was distributed in Harris County.
The Journal article discussed the strategy for the trial lawyer led effort stating, “Trial lawyers have a simple agenda: Put our guys back on the court. Texas was trial-lawyer nirvana–with 300 lawsuits for every 100 doctors, in some areas–when in 2003 Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed comprehensive tort reform. Doctors have since moved to the state in droves, and malpractice insurance premiums have fallen by more than 60% over the past decade. But the plaintiffs’ bar wants to relive the glory days of the 1970s and 80s when a sympathetic court more often ruled in its favor, such as a 1988 decision to strike down a cap on medical malpractice damages.”
The Journal also states, “Democrats have realized that backing Republicans is their best shot at winning. Democratic donor and trial lawyer John Eddie Williams, for instance, hosted a fundraiser for the three challengers last week.”
The effort to turn Texas blue from within the Republican Party was a common discussion thread on the campaign trail. The effort was soundly rejected by Republican Primary voters.
Follow Bob Price on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX