Trial lawyers ready to spend money to oppose Perry

Marilyn Tennissen Aug. 25, 2011, 11:00am

If trial lawyers had their pick, Texas Gov. Rick Perry would not be the next president of the United States.

According to a recent article on the POLITICO website, the trial bar is already forming political action committees to defeat the Republican governor, a champion of tort reform.

Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, a Democrat, said he is in the process of forming some federal PACs to fight Perry's candidacy.

Mostyn and his wife gave almost $9 million to Texas candidates and the Democratic Party during the 2010 mid-term election cycle when Perry was running for re-election against former Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat.

A year ago, Mostyn and his Back to Basics PAC ran full-page ads calling Perry a "coward" for refusing to debate White.

Mostyn told POLITICO, that while the tort reform issues matter to him, he has other reasons not to support Perry.

"The legal issues are near and dear to my heart," Mostyn said. "But more important is the myth that we're doing great down here when we're not. We're falling behind the rest of the country, and the country is falling behind the rest of the world."

As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, in the 2008 elections personal injury trial lawyers provided almost 90 percent of the campaign contributions to the Texas Democratic Party and Texans for Insurance Reform, a trial lawyer front group.

At that time, the Beaumont law firm Provost Umphrey contributed $375,000 to the Democrats and PACs to elect Barack Obama. Another Beaumont firm, Reaud Morgan & Quinn, supported the Democrats with a $250,000 donation.

Mikal Watts is another Texas trial lawyer who has not been afraid to spend money in support of Democratic candidates. In 2008, Watts gave almost $500,000 to the Texas Democratic Party and Texans for Insurance Reform. As the Southeast Texas Record reported, Watts contributed another $444,000 to Vote Texas, a PAC to support opponents of lawsuit reforms.

Perry has been unpopular with the trial bar since he enacted a series of tort reforms – including caps on non-monetary medical malpractice damages – in Texas in 2003.

He grabbed the lawyers' attention again during the last session of the Texas Legislature when he signed a "loser pays" bill into law, which would make a losing plaintiff liable for the other party's attorneys' fees in certain situations.

When announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry came out swinging, crediting tort reforms for Texas' current economic success.

At a campaign stop in South Carolina, Perry said that in the 1980s and 1990s, "Texas was a very litigious state," but "sweeping tort reform" have made it the model for the nation.

"If Perry's the nominee, the trial lawyers will come out of the woodwork to support Obama, where I don't know that they would now," John Coale, a former trial lawyer who has been a big donor to Democrats in the past, told POLITICO.

Coale said many of his colleagues aren't big fans of Obama, believing he is responsible for problems with the economy.

"But when your livelihood, your money's on the line, it concentrates the mind," Coale said.

Mark Miner, a spokesman for Perry, said the governor's campaign is ready for a fight.

"Of course they're going to scream and shout when they feel that someone like Gov. Perry is standing in the way of them lining their pockets," Miner told POLITICO.

Three new national polls released on Wednesday show Perry ahead of Mitt Romney and the rest of the announced candidates as the first choice of Republicans to be their 2012 presidential nominee.

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