“San Antonio plaintiffs’ attorney Mikal Watts was acquitted Thursday by a Mississippi federal jury of multiple fraud counts after federal prosecutors charged that he submitted the names of phony clients seeking to recover from the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.” Two others associated with Watts’ firm were also cleared of charges. Watts, who represented himself at the trial, had argued that he was a victim of, rather than collaborator, in the wrongful practices of others who brought potential spill claimants in as clients for his firm. “The jury found several of the defendants Watts hired in Mississippi to gather clients guilty of the fraud allegations.” [Texas Lawyer]
The San Antonio trial lawyer and Democratic donor says he’s realized he’d like to spend more time with his family. Surely it couldn’t have had anything to do with controversies like the ones covered here or here or here. (Peggy Fikac, “Watts ends bid for Democratic Senate nomination”, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 23).
Looks as if the legal tactics of one politically ambitious Texas plaintiff’s lawyer may have blown up in his face:
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mikal Watts of San Antonio once tried to pressure a legal opponent into a $60 million personal injury lawsuit settlement by claiming he would have an advantage on appeal because of his firm’s “heavy” campaign financial support to an appellate court’s justices, “all of whom are good Democrats.”
A “nine-page letter Watts wrote to opposing counsel in 2001 apparently was intended to make an out-of-state corporation think the donations could sway” the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. The letter was sent to a defense lawyer representing American Electric Power in an auto-accident case. “Politely put, south Texas venue by itself makes this a very dangerous lawsuit,” Watts wrote.
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.
(R. G. Ratcliffe, “Senate candidate played up contributions to justices”, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 5; “Watts’ letter shows judicial reform need” (editorial), San Antonio Express-News, Sept. 15; PrairiePundit, Sept. 7 (quoting Houston Chronicle editorial that’s now offline)).
Blog reaction among both Texans and Democrats has been overwhelmingly negative. “This is bad,” writes the eponymous Kos at Daily Kos. Similarly: Burnt Orange Report, Urban Grounds, Eye on Williamson, Doing My Part for the Left, Capitol Annex. For links to some of our coverage of Watts’s colorful courtroom exploits over the years, see Jun. 9. As a matter of fact, Ted covered Watts’ eye-opening demand letter in a Point of Law post of Nov. 2, 2005.
The high-rolling Texas personal injury lawyer (Mar. 7, 2005; Feb. 16, 2006; May 13, 2005; Apr. 12-14, 2002; PoL Nov. 2, 2005 and various other posts) is considering challenging incumbent Republican John Cornyn for his seat in the U.S. Senate (Jaime Castillo, “Cornyn in for a fight in ’08, but Dems don’t have it sewn up”, San Antonio Express-News, Jun. 3).
- It’s against the law to run a puppet show in a window, and other NYC laws that may have outlived their purpose [Dean Balsamini, New York Post]
- L’Etat, c’est Maura Healey: Massachusetts Attorney General unilaterally rewrites state’s laws to ban more guns [Charles Cooke, National Review]
- Appeal to Sen. Grassley: please don’t give up on Flake-Gardner-Lee venue proposal to curtail patent forum shopping [Electronic Frontier Foundation, Elliot Harmon]
- Oil spill claims fraud trial: administrator Ken Feinberg raised eyebrows at news that Mikal Watts “was handling claims from 41,000 fishermen.” [Associated Press, earlier]
- By 70-30 margin, voters in Arizona override court ruling that state constitution forbids reduction in not-yet-earned public-employee pension benefits [Sasha Volokh]
- Google, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood appear to have settled their bitter conflict [ArsTechnica, earlier]
- Mikal Watts trial begins over claims of fraud in BP gulf spill claims [AP, Miriam Rozen/Texas Lawyer, Alison Frankel/Reuters, earlier]
- If someone spilled hot coffee on you, would it take you two years to react? [Southeast Texas Record on filing just before runout of statute of limitations]
- “Woman Sues Construction Company For Allowing Man To Kill Himself By Jumping From Hi-Rise And Landing On Her Car” [CBS Los Angeles]
- “Families: Hamas on Facebook, so firm must pay $1B after terror deaths” [Cyrus Farivar, ArsTechnica]
- Cloud of blame: “W.V. Firm Blames Almost 300 Companies In Each Asbestos Lawsuit” [Jessica Karmasek, Forbes]
- Singer Collette McLafferty, sued over $75 cover-band gig, is poster person for New York bill to curb meritless lawsuits [Michaela Kilgallen, Albany Times-Union]
- Mississippi federal indictments in Mikal Watts BP case include fraud charges (arising from multiple wire transfers) against man who a decade ago, when pastor of a Hammond, La. church, pleaded guilty to fraud charges arising from fen-phen client recruitment [Robin Fitzgerald, Biloxi Sun-Herald]
- Critique of Madison Fund project proposed by Charles Murray in new book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, I get a mention [Philip Wallach, New Rambler Review, earlier on book]
- “So You Had Sex With Charlie Sheen and Want to Sue: 5 Legal Hurdles” [Eric Turkewitz, Hollywood Reporter]
- “[Online form provider] LegalZoom Fought the North Carolina Bar on claims of UPL and Won” [Ben Barton, BNA]
- After prison escape manhunt: “‘Psychic’ Sues Governor Of New York For Reward Money” [Bob Dorigo Jones]
- Suit challenges D.C.’s methods for seizing and disposing of houses over very small tax liens [Christina Martin and Todd Gaziano (Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief), Washington Post, earlier on business of tax liens here and here]
- Change in patent venue rules sought: “EFF asks appeals court to ‘shut down the Eastern District of Texas'” [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica, more on E.D. Tex.]
- “Is Arbitration Awful? The New York Times Thinks So.” [New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, earlier here and here] And speaking of that paper, I’m going to miss Joe Nocera’s incisive coverage of the litigation business in his column, often linked here; he’s off to other duties at the Times [Politico/New York]
- Yet more from the Times, longread on litigation investing and champerty: “Should You Be Allowed To Invest In a Lawsuit?”
- Mikal Watts through the years: “It was part of my strategy to affect the stock price, which I was very successful at.” [Madison County Record, more]
- “No negligence liability for injuries by fellow players in contact sport” [Eugene Volokh, martial arts, Colorado Court of Appeals]
- Defense lawyer claims adversary had advance word about jury deliberations, grabbed $25 million settlement [Chicago Law Bulletin]
- Is data privacy the next source of mass lawsuits? [Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
- Funds needlessly drained: “Asbestos reforms needed to protect first responders and veterans” [Rep. Blake Farenthold, The Hill]
- Mechanics of high-volume injury litigation: “A disgruntled former law firm employee spills secrets on a mass tort factory” [Paul Barrett, Business Week] More on chasing clients: new Chamber Institute for Legal Reform research finds 23 of top 25 Google key words linking ads to user searches are for personal injury law firms; TV advertising by lawyer is projected to reach $892 million in 2015, up 68% from 2008. Yet more: Daniel Fisher/Forbes (“San Antonio car wreck attorney” goes for $670 per click on Google), Tampa Bay Times (“Highly groomed attorney duo …shown moving in slow motion on courthouse steps to a hard rock beat”);
- Flurry of other new papers by U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, many connected with its annual Legal Reform Summit, include one on how the trial bar has been successful at lobbying the Obama administration. Plus a new edition of “101 Ways to Improve State Legal Systems”;
- In speech, Rudolph Giuliani recalls tort-law challenges he faced as NYC mayor [Corpus Christi Caller-Times]
- A quarter century later, trial lawyers’ initiative to take revenge against insurer adversaries continues to harm California insurance customers [Ian Adams, “The troublesome legacy of Prop 103,” R Street Institute, paper in PDF, summary]
- A story we’ve covered before: Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood and the flow of funds from and to private lawyers he hires [Steve Wilson/Mississippi Watchdog, quotes me]
- Most New York counties have passed resolutions calling for reform of the state’s unique scaffold law [Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York]
- You’d think indictment of Mikal Watts, Texas law major-leaguer with friends in high D.C. places, would be playing bigger in the press [Tim Carney]
- NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hangs blame for a retrospectively unpopular position on the *other* Sheldon Silver. Credible? [NY Times via @jpodhoretz]
- Julian Castro, slated as next HUD chief, did well from fee-splitting arrangement with top Texas tort lawyer [Byron York; earlier on Mikal Watts]
- 10th Circuit: maybe Colorado allows too much plebiscitary democracy to qualify as a state with a “republican form of government” [Garrett Epps on a case one suspects will rest on a “this day and trip only” theory pertaining to tax limitations, as opposed to other referendum topics]
- “Mostyn, other trial lawyers spending big on Crist’s campaign in Florida” [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine; background on Crist and Litigation Lobby] “Texas trial lawyers open checkbooks for Braley’s Senate run” [Legal NewsLine; on Braley’s IRS intervention, Watchdog]
- Contributions from plaintiff’s bar, especially Orange County’s Robinson Calcagnie, enable California AG Kamala Harris to crush rivals [Washington Examiner]
- Trial lawyers suing State Farm for $7 billion aim subpoena at member of Illinois Supreme Court [Madison-St. Clair Record, more, yet more]
- Plaintiff-friendly California voting rights bill could mulct municipalities [Steven Greenhut]
- John Edwards: he’s baaaaack… [on the law side; Byron York]
- Also, I’ve started a blog (representing just myself, no institutional affiliation) on Maryland local matters including policy and politics: Free State Notes.