Page 4


week before the November election; more than $71,000 to Martha Wong according to Texas Ethics Commission filings. Only one freshman Democrat, TLR funds, a $5,000 nod. \(Garza voted All this is in addition to huge individual contributions by major supporters ofTLR.Tort reformer Bob Perry of the Houston-based construction outfit Perry Homes, for example, gave more than $2.2 million during the past two years alone, including $100,000 to Rick Perry, $10,000 to Craddick and a staggering $945,000 to the Republican Party ofTexas. In the last two years, Bob Perry also chipped in $115,000 to TLR. Harlan Crow, scion of a Dallas-based construction enterprise and a former board member of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has given TLR $300,000 since 2000 and another $85,000 to the Republican Party. TLR co-founder Dick Weekley, in addition to donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to TLR’s PAC, personally has contributed more than $100,000 to Republican candidates since 2001, and gave $25,000 to the conservative Texas Civil Justice League PAC in 2002. Did Crow, Weekley, and Perry put up that kind of money simply for the civic good? Public filings indicate that David Weekley Homes, run by brothers Dick and David Weekley, has been named a defendant in 10 civil suits in Harris County alone since the start of 2002. Two recent cases involved personal injury claims and four others cited violations of Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Not to be outdone, Crow has been named in 16 civil suits since 1986. But Bob Perry’s Perry Homes takes the civil litigation blue ribbon, having been sued more than 60 times in the past 15 years, according to a search of court records. A number of major corporations as well stand to benefit directly from provisions of HB 4 and its constitutional amendment HJR 3. The most blatant example is the so-called “Dick Cheney” amendment, which would make it easier for companies to elude asbestos lawsuits. The amendment, a collaboration seems drafted specifically for Cheney’s former employer, Houston-based Halliburton. One of Halliburton’s main subsidiaries, Dresser Industries, has already paid millions in asbestos liability it absorbed from a company it bought in 1967. The Cheney amendment would limit successor liability so that the maximum Halliburton and Dresser would be forced to pay in asbestos claims would equal the value of the company Dresser bought back in 1967. Dresser has already paid that amount in settlements, effectively ending its asbestos liability. Last November, Halliburton indicated it was ready to settle nearly 300,000 current and future asbestos suits for a payout of $4 billion. But a month later, Halliburton backed away from the settlement offer. Plaintiffs’ attorneys believe the company is awaiting the outcome of tort reform at the Lege. If the Cheney amendment is enacted, Halliburton wouldn’t have to pay the $4 billion settlement, or any other asbestos damages, and victims would be flat out of luck. Honeywell is another company with significant asbestos liability and likely to save billions from HB 4. Many of these companies purchased smaller firms on the cheap, discounted because of liability concerns. Now, if that liability is lifted, the buyers will reap a major windfall. Pharmaceutical and insurance industries, both large backers of TLR, would also gain handsomely from HB 4. The pharmaceutical companies in particular would save substantial sums under an HB 4 provision restricting product liability. Essentially, this section of the bill grants a company immunity from a lawsuit if its product gains government approval. So, for example, patients who suffer unforeseen consequences from a new heart medication would have great difficulty suing the drug company if the had approved the medication. Even the FDA itself recommended against this approach in written comments in 1997, noting that it cannot guarantee the safety of approved devices. “Accordingly, compliance with general FDA requirements should not broadly preempt State common law remedies, which provide mechanism for persons to seek redress for injuries resulting from defective medical devices,” the agency stated. Dick Trabulsi, a TLR co-founder, said this section wouldn’t close the courtroom door to victims of corporate negligence. He argues HB 4 specifically states that if attorneys can prove negligence by a company, the restrictions wouldn’t apply. “A company couldn’t know something was harmful and get away with it,” he said. When asked if TLR’s copious campaign contributions and its equally voluminous court docket meant HB 4 was a bonanza for the lawsuit-prone, Trabulsi said his group is simply following through on the victory TLR won in the fall election. “We’ve been persistent about this for 10 years,” he said. “It’s not a windfall when the candidate you backed openly won. The people ofTexas want this.There’s a huge mandate for it. We openly support protort reform candidates from both parties. We play for big stakes, and we play fair, and we play to win.” And it’s clear exactly who won when this legislation was rammed through the House. Plaintiff Lament BY JAKE BERNSTEIN It’s another of life’s great ironies over which future historians will no doubt puzzle: How can it be that the Texas trial lawyers are among the best in the nation at representing plaintiffs before juries, yet ineffective when it comes to defending themselves 4/25/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7