Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Watts Sways Appeals Court With Campaign Contributions (Or So He Claims)...

Millionaire Mikal Watts' and his law firm have contributed over $2.6M to candidates and political action committees since 2000. That's not a problem, but $82,500 of that amount was spent in 2001 for the election of several justices on the 13th Court of Appeals.

Why is this important? Because the same justices that Watts is making contributions to are also the same justices that Watts and his law firm stand before with appeals cases. It's buying influence and tilting the scales of justice in the favor of Watts Law Firm.

In fact, during 2001, Watts used the contribution issue to pressure a legal opponent during a $60M case, claiming that his firm would have advantage on appeal because of his firm's "heavy" financial support to the court's justices. He even wrote a letter to that effect.

The Houston Chronicle

What made the letter unusual was the linking of campaign contributions to sitting justices and the potential of an appeal. The letter then noted that if the case went to appeal, it would go to the 13th Court of Appeals.

"This court is comprised of six justices, all of whom are good Democrats," Watts wrote. "The Chief Justice, Hon. Rogelio Valdez, was recently elected with our firm's heavy support, and is a man who believes in the sanctity of jury verdicts."

The letter goes on to name Justices Errlinda Castillo, Nelda Rodriguez, J. Bonner Dorsey, Federico Hinojosa and Linda Yanez, and says his firm also has financially supported them. Hinojosa, Castillo and Dorsey are no longer on the court.

"Justice Bonner Dorsey, is more conservative than the others, but has been a friend of mine and the sanctity of jury verdicts for many years," Watts wrote.

Watts and his law firm in 1999 donated $5,000 to Valdez and $2,500 to Rodriguez; in 2000, $15,000 to Hinojosa; and in January 2001, $10,000 to Castillo. The firm donated $50,000 to Yanez in 2002.

Watts sent the letter to a lawyer representing American Electric Power in an automobile accident case, and it seemed to work, as the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

That is exactly the sort of shady business that the Democrats are working against. We're backing legislation that makes the back-scratching in Washington more transparent. Watts represents just more of the same. More influence-buying, more cronieism, and more murkiness in how political dealings are made.

We want accountability. We want experience. We want Rick Noriega for US Senate.

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