Finance report shows BP plaintiffs' lawyers making big donations to Criss campaign

By Marilyn Tennissen | Jan 25, 2008

Susan Criss

Judge Susan Criss, running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Supreme Court Place 8, announced that her latest campaign finance report shows she has raised more than $317,000 for her campaign.

Criss is the Galveston County judge who has been assigned to handle all the litigation resulting from the March 23, 2005, explosion at the Texas City BP refinery. In the past two years, the 15 wrongful death suits and thousands of personal injury complaints have gone through Criss' court and come to settlement. Two cases actually made it to trial, but settled before both sides completed testimony. Around another 750 cases are still pending in the 212th court.

"People from every corner of our state are signing on to my campaign to protect their constitutional rights," Judge Criss said in a statement on her campaign Web site. "They deserve better than what they're getting from the current court, and they are willing to make sure I have the resources to run a winning campaign."

But according to the Jan. 15 finance report, available on the Web site of the Texas Secretary of State, it seems the supporters making donations to Criss' campaign are all from just one corner of the state -- the Southeast corner. The overwhelming majority of her donors are law firms and plaintiffs' attorneys from the Galveston-Houston area, many of which have been involved in the BP cases that are filed through Criss' court.

Ernest Cannon and Craig Eiland are on the list. They are the plaintiffs' lawyers in the BP case that settled on December 19, 2007, mid-way through trial. Cannon donated $5,000 on Aug. 9, and Eiland $2,500 on Aug. 1.

So are Russ Burwell and James Nebout, who each donated $5,000 to Criss' campaign. Burwell, Burwell & Nebout is a Texas City firm that was involved in BP litigation almost from the moment after the blast.

"As legal counsel to over 85 seriously injured men and women, we were there organizing the initial investigation within 48 hours of the tragedy," the firm's Web site boasts.

The site also states James Nebout, was appointed by the Court as "Liaison Counsel" and the firm was appointed to serve with four other firms on the Discovery Committee.

"Burwell, Burwell & Nebout negotiated and settled two cases in catastrophic "Phase–I" of the litigation against BP," the site claims. "And, we were the first law firm to negotiate and fairly settle cases in "Phase-II" … Burwell, Burwell & Nebout favorably settled over 70 cases in less than nine months."

And then there's Brooks Harrison. The Kahn & Harrison firm's Web site includes a photo of Harrison protesting at the BP refinery alongside Jesse Jackson in 2006. Harrison provided the Criss campaign with $3,000, and John and Jennifer Khan provided $2,000 each.

Robert Kwok & Associates, L.L.P., which says it was "honored to file the first wrongful death lawsuit arising from the tragic BP Amoco Texas City Plant explosion," gave the judge's campaign $1,500. Robert Kwok made two donations to Criss in the amount of $2,500 each.

The firm was co-counsel at the first BP case to go to trial, which settled in August 2007 after the jury was seated.

Another of Criss' top donors is F. Kenneth Bailey Jr. The Bailey Perrin Bailey firm also represented BP plaintiffs. Bailey shelled out $5,000 to the campaign in August.

Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas LLP gave Criss $5,000 as a firm, and each partner also gave $5,000 as individuals, bringing total donation to $25,000. The firm bills itself as "Texas Oil Refinery Explosion Lawyers."

And on the Galveson County Web site under the 212th District Court's BP cases section there is the name of Art Gonzalez. The Brent Coon & Associates lawyer is listed as the "Plaintiffs Liaison" for the cases. Gonzalez made a $1,000 donation to Judge Criss.

Other well known plaintiffs' firms, like Beaumont's own Provost Umphrey, have also made substantial contributions to the judge's efforts. The firm provided $5,000, with Walter Umphrey and Joe Fisher each providing $5,000 as individuals.

Gilbert Adams of Beaumont made an individual donation of $2,500 in July. He is the head of the Jefferson County Democratic Party.

Judge Criss' report shows that she has raised $317,083 since entering the race last year, including $260,057 for the period from July 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007. Her report showed $150,549.72 cash on hand as of the end of the year.

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Texas Supreme Court Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas LLP

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