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Study contends big business dominating state supreme courts, author says Texas’ laws stacked against plaintiffs

By David Yates | Sep 12, 2016

AUSTIN – A report released earlier this month purportedly analyzed the influence of big business on state supreme courts, finding high courts with multimillion-dollar elections favor corporations.

The Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, released an update to a 2012 report on Sept. 1, asserting in the introduction that U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which owns the Record), the Koch brother and businesses have engaged in a decades-long effort to elect pro-corporate judges.

The original report examined hundreds of rulings from six state supreme courts —Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania— that have seen the most campaign cash, concluding the courts that had seen the most money ruled more often for corporate defendants and against injured plaintiffs.

The update, “Big Business is Still Dominating State Supreme Courts,” revisits the same six state supreme courts and breaks down the results by individual justices.

For the Lone Star State, the report found that from 2011 t0 2016 the Texas Supreme Court ruled for corporate defendants over individual plaintiffs in 69 percent of the 26 cases studied.

“The Texas Supreme Court rules much more often for defendants over injured plaintiffs – it’s a very clear trend over many years now,” said Billy Corriher, the reports author.

“The justices have also received millions of dollars in contributions from big business and corporate lawyers. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the money influenced the justices, but the money doesn’t help reassure the public that it did not influence the judges.”

The study contends the Texas Supreme Court especially rules against asbestos plaintiffs, specifically citing the wrongful death case of Joseph Emmite, who worked at the Texas Union Carbide plant in Texas in the early 1940s to 1979.

A lung specialist diagnosed him with pulmonary asbestosis. When Emmite died in 2005, his family initiated an asbestos lawsuit against Union Carbide.

In 2014, the Texas Supreme Court tossed the lawsuit because the plaintiffs’ physician’s report did not include a pulmonary function test – a requirement under Texas civil law.

“Texas’ state laws are already stacked against injured plaintiffs,” Corriher said. “Tort reform laws have made it much harder for plaintiffs to file a suit and be fully compensated for their injuries. The Texas Supreme Court has made it worse for plaintiffs by construing these laws broadly, to cover all kinds of lawsuits.”

Corriher told the Record “other studies” have shown the Texas Supreme Court also overturns a high percentage of jury verdicts.

“I’d hate to be an injured plaintiff in a Texas state court,” he added. “Even if you win the trial, you can guarantee the defendant will appeal.”

According to the study, three Texas justices were elected with millions of dollars in support from corporations and from the law firms representing those corporations.

Three of the four incumbents reelected in 2014, Justice Phil Johnson, Justice Jeff Brown, and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.

The study states the largest donor to the justices seeking re-election was Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that advocates for tort reform.

TLR contributed more than $100,000 to the three justices, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

When asked to comment on the study, TLR spokesperson Lucy Nashed issued the following statement: “TLR is focused on protecting the integrity of Texas' civil justice system, and supports judicial candidates who are honest, impartial and apply the constitution and statutes as written.

“Under the Texas constitution, all Texas judges are elected by a vote of the people. TLR supported the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, which was enacted in 1995, and complies with the Act when supporting judicial candidates.”

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