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Time for a Runoff

Texans will soon have the chance to head back to the voting booth for statewide runoff elections on Tuesday, May 24 – and like all elections, it’s important that voters turn out to cast a ballot. But before you head to the polls, be sure to learn where your candidate stands on ongoing efforts to rein in lawsuit abuse.  

Our state was once a poster child for lawsuit abuse, but thanks to the work of Texans across the state and lawmakers in Austin, Texas has enacted important reforms to our legal system and legal practices. Still, we can’t let that progress slip away, and that means ensuring that the candidates we vote for support keeping our civil justice system fair, equitable, and responsible.

Thanks in part to the reforms passed by state lawmakers over the years, the Texas economy is flourishing, jobs have been created, and more doctors are practicing in the state. We can’t afford to allow that to change.

Turnout for this upcoming runoff election has been low during early voting, so we ask that you please take some time to go vote on Tuesday, May 24. And be sure to take some time to research the candidates to find out their positions on lawsuit reform.

TEXANS AGAINST LAWSUIT ABUSE URGE ATTORNEY GENERAL CANDIDATES TO PRIORITIZE TRANSPARENCY,

OPEN ACCOUNTABILITY IN OFFICE

AUSTIN, TEXAS–As voters prepare to return to the polls for the primary election run-off on May 24, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse is calling on all candidates for Attorney General to prioritize transparency and open accountability in office.

“At Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, we’re heartened to see the American Tort Reform Association again calling for attorneys general and candidates for those state offices to embrace a general transparency code,” said Robert Wood, spokesman for Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse. “We’re hopeful that all candidates will step up to sign this pledge and commit to good government.”

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) developed the Transparency Code as a collection of model policies that should govern the use of outside counsel by state attorneys general.

In 1999, Texas passed a law relating to how and when the state government could use outside counsel on litigation. The reason for the change stemmed from then-Attorney General Dan Morales’ decision to contract with five contingency fee lawyers to pursue claims against tobacco companies.

While it was discovered that these five personal injury lawyers did very little work on behalf of Texas taxpayers and the state’s lawsuit, they received $3.3 billion in fees when the cases were resolved as part of a larger national settlement.

In passing that law more than two decades ago, a bipartisan group of state leaders made transparency and accountability a top priority. Learn more about the law and the renewed push for transparency and accountability at tala.com. To see what leaders in Texas and other states have signed the Transparency Code, visit AGsunshine.com

The law requires the state to attempt to handle all litigation through in-house counsel. It outlines how an agency should handle contracting for outside counsel when it’s necessary to use lawyers outside of those employed by the state, requiring a contracting agency to first seek an hourly fee arrangement.

“Attorneys general should, of course, have the discretion and independence to enforce state law. Still, they must do so free from the influence of parties that may have a private interest in the outcome of any litigation their office may take on,” said Wood.

“Transparency and accountability are issues that should transcend partisanship,” added Wood.

Letter To The Editor on SB-6

From the Southeast Texas Record

By Robert Wood

RE: Pandemic Liability Protection Act: Is SB 6 Working?

Recent numbers pulled together by the Texas Civil Justice League from several sources show a new law providing COVID-19 civil liability protections for employers, health care providers, and non-profits following appropriate public health protocols is working.

The Pandemic Liability Protection Act was designed to steer these claims through the state’s Worker’s Compensation System and keep them out of court. That is what is happening, keeping our courts open to considering other issues in a system still backed up because of the pandemic.

Lawmakers did the right thing in passing this legislation that is benefiting the state’s economy and helping our continued recovery from the pandemic.  

Sincerely,

Robert Wood

Spokesman, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse

Guest commentary: All Texas AG candidates should sign transparency pledge

By John Smiley (republished from the Galveston County Daily News)

With Texas voters heading to the polls again in May for primary runoff elections, transparency and open accountability should be top of mind for voters and a top priority for our elected officials.

That’s especially true in the election of the state’s top lawyer and law enforcer, our state attorney general.

In 1999, Texas passed a law relating to how and when the state government could use outside counsel on litigation. The reason for the change stemmed from then-Attorney General Dan Morales’ decision to contract with five contingency fee lawyers to pursue claims against tobacco companies.

While it was discovered that these five personal injury lawyers did very little work on behalf of Texas taxpayers and the state’s lawsuit, they received $3.3 billion in fees when the cases were resolved as part of a larger national settlement.

In passing that law more than two decades ago, a bipartisan group of state leaders made transparency and accountability a top priority.

The law requires the state attempt to handle all litigation through in-house counsel. It outlines how an agency should handle contracting for outside counsel when it’s necessary to use lawyers outside of those employed by the state, requiring a contracting agency to first seek an hourly fee arrangement.

The Legislative Budget Board must approve contingency fee contracts of more than $100,000.

While these are significant steps toward the accountability and transparency Texas voters and taxpayers deserve, more could be done.

At Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, we’re heartened to see the American Tort Reform Association again calling for attorneys general and candidates for those state offices to embrace a general transparency code.

Attorneys general should, of course, have the discretion and independence to enforce state law. Still, they must do so free from the influence of parties that may have a private interest in the outcome of any litigation their office may take on.

It’s also imperative that our state responsibly handle litigation, ensuring the government entity keeps more of the money recovered by state lawyers and any contracted outside counsel.

The association’s transparency code reflects best practices and model policies from across state and federal government that govern state attorneys’ general and their office’s work. The effort is a nationwide movement and can be found online at AGSunshine.org.

As Texas’ chief law enforcement officer, our Texas attorney general and the candidates vying for that office can and should play a role in creating a fairer civil justice system.

To date, Attorney General run-off candidate George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, who finished third in the Republican primary, have returned and signed the transparency pledge.

Transparency and accountability are issues that should transcend partisanship. We urge all of the remaining candidates for attorney general to consider this pledge and a personal and professional commitment to transparency and accountability while in office.

Jon Smiley is a board member of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse and president of iON Constructors LLC.