TWIA chief won't defy Judge Criss' order banning release of settlement information

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 15, 2010, 5:20am


Despite his belief that the information should be available to requesters, the head of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association told Texas lawmakers that he would not defy the order of a Galveston judge prohibiting the release of documents relating to Hurricane Ike settlements.

Testifying Monday before the Joint Committee on Oversight of Windstorm Insurance, TWIA General Manager Jim Oliver said the agency is now in an "awkward position" because Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss issued a court order not to release the information, but the Texas Office of the Attorney General has ruled the information is subject to the Public Information Act.

State Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has been fighting since September to learn how much money "Ike Recovery" lawyers received from TWIA while reaching insurance settlements. Taylor wants specifics on attorney's fees and the amounts claimed for property damage, non-economic loss, living expenses and other related information.

Several other entities, including the Southeast Texas Record and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, have submitted requests for the information from TWIA.

But at the request of Steve Mostyn, the attorney representing the Plaintiffs Steering Committee, Judge Criss granted a motion to stop TWIA from releasing the documents.

"We want to release the information to Taylor, and now six other requesters, and believe they are entitled to the information, but I cannot defy a court order," Oliver said. "There are criminal and civil penalties, not only for me, but for our attorneys, and it's a court where we have hundreds of millions of dollars at risk in terms of litigation. So we have to play this out legally, unfortunately."

After the Attorney General's office made the determination that the information is public, Criss asked Mostyn and attorneys for TWIA and Taylor to come up with an agreement detailing the specific information to be released. When an agreement is reached, Criss said, she will remove the protective order.

"They worked very hard, but they were not able to come up with a final order," Criss said in a Dec. 3 article for Houston Community Newspapers. "What they agreed to do was to come back before me and put on evidence so that I can decide which documents are covered by the AG's ruling and which ones are not."

Taylor said he fears Criss has overstepped her authority.

"This is totally unprecedented," Taylor said. "What is happening with this judicial interference between a legislator and a state agency is harassment."

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