BEAUMONT – For nearly three decades, Judge Donald Floyd has presided over the 172nd District Court – a venue that has been home to thousands of lawsuits throughout the years, from toxic torts brought by some of Texas’ biggest law firms to slip and fall cases filed by attorneys fresh out of law school.
In a failed effort to ensure one of their own continued to rule, Southeast Texas trial lawyers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on two Democrats vying to replace the retiring Floyd.
Their first choice was Tina Bradley, a toxic tort specialist and partner at Hobson & Bradley.
Before being defeated in the May runoff, Bradley received more than $253,000 in donations, most of it supplied by fellow plaintiff’s attorneys.
Before the calendar flipped to 2018, Bradley already had raised $30,000 in donations – a third of which was provided by attorneys for Reaud Morgan & Quinn, a Beaumont law firm specializing in toxic torts.
When 2018 arrived, Bradley secured $48,000 donations in just the first three weeks of January, with a sizable chunk of those donations ($12,500) coming from individuals associated with The Ferguson Law Firm, also in Beaumont.
In the four weeks that followed, Bradley collected $91,707.88, landing sizable contributions from notable attorneys such as Brent Coon, Kurt Arnold, Jason Itkin and Michael Ramsey.
And in the months leading up to the runoff, Bradley received more than $85,000 in donations.
However, the abundance of financial support could not push Bradley past Melody Chappell, who drastically trailed Bradley in funding throughout the race.
As part of her campaign, Chappell, a Wells Peyton Greenberg & Hunt attorney, promised to continue Floyd’s legacy.
With Bradley out, many Jefferson County trial lawyers began to throw their support behind Chappell, especially the Provost Umphrey Law Firm, which pumped $15,000 into the attorney’s coffers only days after the runoff.
The Ferguson Law Firm, which had been backing Bradley, also rushed to Chappell’s side, with firm attorneys donating a total of $15,000.
Going into November, Chappell held a significant financial edge over Republican opponent Mitch Templeton, largely because of the influx of trial lawyer donations.
But despite outraising Templeton by more than $57,000, Chappell lost by 1,801 votes.
“I think I did pretty well for a guy who didn’t get any support from the big firms,” Templeton told The Record. “I’m not reliant on donations from any specific individuals or groups, so I will be able to make correct rulings without fear.”
The Record has reported on many rulings made by Floyd that were rejected by higher courts.
For example, when jurors concluded in 2008 that DuPont De Nemours was not responsible for the death of a former employee who suffered from mesothelioma, plaintiff's attorney Glen Morgan, a partner at Reaud Morgan & Quinn, moved for a new trial and Floyd obliged.
The Texas State Supreme Court stepped in and ordered Floyd to explain his decision, starting a legal battle that would consume the better part of a decade.
Morgan’s firm has been one of the biggest donors to Floyd’s campaign throughout the years and shelled out thousands for Bradley in her bid to succeed him.
While the plaintiff’s bar traditionally backs Democrats, Templeton said he suspects a few area trial lawyers threw some votes his way.
“Jefferson County has been dominated by one party for 150 years, and people want change,” Templeton said. “A viable multi-party system creates accountability.”
The four judges who currently preside over the county’s civil district courts are all Democrats.
With decades of law experience under his belt, Templeton says both plaintiffs and defendants will benefit.
“I ran an anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform, and I intend to live up to that,” Templeton said. “I also intend to run an open courtroom. You don’t gain public confidence by doing things in a backroom.”
Templeton has also promised to ramp up the court’s duties by hearing both civil and criminal cases.