Supreme Court candidates land on opposite sides of tort reform issue

Marilyn Tennissen May 22, 2012, 7:53am


Three of the nine justices on the all-Republican court are seeking re-election, Justice Don Willett, Place 2; Justice David Medina, Place 4; and Justice Nathan Hecht, Place 6.

Hecht is the court's senior member, but he has no opponents in the Republican primary.

The most hotly contested race is in Place 2 between Willett and former Supreme Court justice and current District Court judge, Steve Smith.

Willett and Smith previously faced off in the 2006 elections, with Willett winning in a very close race -- Willett garnered 50.5 percent of the votes with Smith garnering 49.5 percent.

One of the main differences between the candidates is their stance on tort reform: Willett supports it while Smith voted against the legislation that capped non-economic damages in malpractice cases.

Willett, 45, has been on the Supreme Court of Texas since 2005. From 2003 to 2005, he was deputy attorney general of Texas-Legal Counsel and in 2002-2003 he served as deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Willett was a lawyer for George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas and then became a special assistant to the president for Bush in the White House in 2001-2002.

In 1988, Willett received a business degree with a triple major from Baylor University in Waco. He went on to receive another degree in political science from Duke University and also received his law degree from Duke in 1992.

Willett has received many high profile endorsements, including an endorsement from Texas Gov. Rick Perry,

Perry said Willett has an "impeccable conservative record."

"Justice Willett, one of our Supreme Court's most conservative justices, understands his allegiance is to the Constitution -- period. His conservative legal philosophy has even been hailed nationally as the judicial antidote to Obamacare. Justice Willett's strict-constructionist record on the Court is sterling; he has never legislated from the bench, and he never will. As Justice Willett says, 'We must never forget our Nation is founded on We the People, not We the Judges, We the Politicians, or We the Subjects,'" said Perry.

Other endorsements for Willett have come from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Young Conservatives of Texas, Dr. James Dobson of the Family Research Council, Ann Hettinger the Texas Director of Concerned Women for America, Susan Combs the Texas Comptroller, Texas Right to Life, Texas Municipal Police Association, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, TEXPAC-The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Association of Realtors.

As of April 30, total contributions maintained $ 1,452,725.19

Smith, 50, served on the Texas Supreme Court from November 2002 through December 2004.

He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Smith is running on his record of achievement at the Texas Supreme Court. While on the Court, Smith authored 16 published opinions, including the court's Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services v. Mega Child Care decision, according to Smith's campaign website.

Smith supporters tout his significant judicial and litigation experience, conservative judicial philosophy and well-known work ethic.

He says Willett substitutes his own policy preferences for those of the Texas Legislature.

Smith believes that ordinary Texans who are injured by the wrongful conduct of others should be able to recover their proven damages in court. Smith voted against Proposition 12, the medical malpractice tort reform legislation, and believes that the $250,000 "damage cap" that it imposes is bad public policy.

His campaign mentions a recent decision by Willett and four other Texas Supreme Court justices regarding access to public beaches. Critics say the decision weakens the state Open Beaches Act and led Texas Land Commissioner to urge voters to vote against Willett.

"Willett, appointed by Perry in 2005, falls short not only on 'depth of experience' but also on adherence to the stated judicial standard," says Smith's campaign site.

Smith cites a recent example, Waffle House, Inc. v. Williams, 313 S.W.3d 796 (Tex. 2010). In that case, Willett's majority opinion ignored the relevant legislative history, modified established Texas caselaw, and ruled for the defendant on an issue that it had expressly conceded.

As of April 30, Smith had contributions on hand of $75,649.23.

Place 4

Justice David Medina, 53, was appointed by Perry in November 2004. Medina wrote a persuasive dissent in the court's recent ruling on the Texas Open Beaches Act.

John Devine, 53, of Tomball is a perennial candidate who has lost two bids for Congress and one for the state House.

Joe Pool Jr., 56, of Dripping Springs is general counsel for Trans Texas Holdings Corp. and chairs the board of an oil and gas producing company he founded.

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