Criss: No release of Ike settlement information

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Oct. 14, 2010, 5:19am


GALVESTON - A state district judge has recently ruled to continue keeping the lid on information related to a huge Texas Windstorm Insurance Association settlement.

Galveston County 212th District Court Judge Susan Criss granted a temporary injunction on a global level on Oct. 11 to all windstorm association Hurricane Ike slab case settlements, specifically a recent $189 million settlement.

According to the one-page document, TWIA and its associates are required "to desist and refrain from releasing or producing any information related to Ike settlements, settlement offers, and settlement discussions."

Criss also mandates the defendant to provide a representative sample to the state district court and that the sample given to the Texas Attorney General's Office includes "information responsive to all aspects of any pending Public Information Act request."

Lastly, TWIA "must notify all interested third parties and parties that may have an interest in preventing disclosure of any Public Information Act request after this week," the injunction states.

The order complements the temporary restraining order preventing the release of attorneys' fees in the massive slab settlements that Criss issued on Sept. 27.

The litigation involves about 2,500 Galveston County property owners whose structures were destroyed down to the foundation by Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13, 2008. Most of the plaintiffs were offered high settlements, including attorneys' fees, in confidential transactions under a negotiated settlement reached back in July. 

Individual plaintiffs who accepted the offers immediately ended their suits, while those participating in a class-action had to wait a little longer.

The Mostyn Law Firm represented the complainants as liaison counsel to the court.

Meanwhile, a political tug-of-war over the compensation ensued.

State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, a member of the state legislature's TWIA oversight panel, wrote a letter of request to TWIA for the information. Taylor indicated the settlements totaled about $189 million, but that it was not clear what the lawyer's portion of that total is.

Taylor is asking the 101 attorneys who were involved for the amounts of their fees and expenses and a description of the work done. He argued that the release of attorneys' fees was important since the windstorm association is a state agency supported by tax dollars.

Chief plaintiffs' attorney Steve Mostyn countered that Taylor overstepped his authority as a state representative when asking for information about a confidential settlement. He claims the information requested would contain personal information about homeowners and should be protected.

Mostyn's firm is reported to have made around $86 million for representing the homeowners.

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