July 8, 2014
HOUSTON (Legal Newsline) – At the request of Texas plaintiffs attorney Steve Mostyn, a Galveston County judge recently authorized the testimony of a Republican state senator accused of encouraging the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency to fight some of the thousands of lawsuits brought against it by Mostyn.
Mostyn, the No. 1 political donor to Democrats in Texas, has reaped more than $200 million in attorneys fees from his hurricane lawsuits against TWIA, the state’s sole provider of windstorm insurance.
TWIA is currently embattled in a multi-million dollar suit brought by the Brownsville Independent School District. Represented by Mostyn, the district alleges TWIA did not fully compensate it for damages sustained from Hurricane Dolly in 2008, court records show.
In February, Jim Oliver, TWIA’s former department head who instigated his own suit against the association after being fired in 2011, testified in his deposition that state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, complained to him about the money the district’s attorney, Mostyn, was funneling into Democratic campaigns and asked him to fight some of the lawsuits.
In a previous March interview, Taylor said TWIA had paid out $2.65 billion in hurricane claims. Excluding numerous unresolved claims, the agency has dealt with 93,000 claims. Out of that total, 13,000 were litigated, and out the 13,000 litigated, 32.7 percent were handled by Mostyn and his firm.
On Thursday, the suit’s presiding judge, Bret Griffin, ruled the evidence shows Taylor engaged in political efforts to privately and personally influence the conduct of TWIA, granting Mostyn’s motion to drag the senator into court and testify.
Taylor denounced the ruling and said an appeal was on the way.
“Bret Griffin’s ruling is the latest installment of Steve Mostyn’s political harassment and intimidation campaign,” Taylor said.
“I will not stand by and tolerate the trial lawyers’ agenda to trump transparent government and their attempt to misrepresent the truth to the policyholders of TWIA or the constituents of my district. Griffin’s decision to grant Mostyn’s request represents nothing more than political favoritism and a permission slip for an unwarranted fishing expedition.”
Taylor served as co-chairman of the Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Board during his previous tenure as a state representative and continues to reform TWIA through legislative efforts as a state senator to this day.
In fact, Taylor once credited Mostyn as the source behind killing his Senate Bill 1700 – a TWIA reform bill introduced in the 83rd Legislature in 2013 designed to streamline TWIA management and funding.
However, Taylor’s tumultuous relationship with Mostyn pre-dates the civil drama presently unfolding and the slain bill.
Mostyn spent a small fortune funding Taylor’s opponent, Dave Norman, in the 2012 Republican Primary – a series of donations that occurred a year after Taylor’s accuser, Oliver, was fired by the TWIA board of directors.
In a span of 30 days leading up to the May 29, 2012, primary election, Norman raised $879,048.79 — $872,024.79 of which was donated by Mostyn or political action committees to which he donates, according to campaign finance reports.
Campaign finance reports further show the case’s presiding judge is no stranger to receiving large donations from plaintiffs attorneys, as approximately 70 percent of Griffin’s funding this election cycle came from trial lawyers.
A former employee of Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee, Griffin was appointed to the 212thDistrict Court in Galveston County by Gov. Rick Perry in January.
He lost to Patricia Grady in the May 27 Republican runoff by less than 400 votes.
During early voting, Buzbee had called hundreds of his clients to meetings near the polls and boasted on Twitter that 2,690 of his clients voted in the election.
In the final months leading up to the runoff, Griffin raised $57,350 — $12,500 of which came from Buzbee and attorneys employed by his firm, campaign finance reports show.
Griffin received several large donations, ranging from $1,000 to $2,500, from local law firms, including Burwell Nebout, Clint McGuire, the Paul Doyle Law Firm, Laminak & Pirtle, the Law Firm of Alton C. Todd, Monty & Ramirez, the Pinkerton Law Firm and Tad Rice P.C.
Although Taylor is being accused of improperly exerting political influence, trial lawyers such as Mostyn and Buzbee have long been on the radar of legal watchdog groups such as Texans for Lawsuit reform for their push into politics.
“Sen. Larry Taylor courageously stood up to Steve Mostyn and other personal injury trial lawyers whose outsized legal fees have decimated TWIA, leaving little in reserve for the next big storm,” TLR spokesperson Sherry Sylvester said.
“It is troubling that a temporary judge who was defeated for election now has ruled – on his way out the door – that Sen. Taylor must be interrogated by Mostyn about his legislative activity regarding TWIA in a case having nothing to do with Sen. Taylor. Trial lawyers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars unsuccessfully trying to defeat Sen. Taylor. This ruling from a judge – who was a plaintiff lawyer and who was just rejected at the polls by the people of Galveston County – is their latest effort to stack the deck against the senator.”
Reach David Yates at firstname.lastname@example.org
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