State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, mediated a $189 million settlement for homeowners, including plaintiffs represented by Steve Mostyn, in the weeks after the prominent Democratic donor's firm gave $25,000 to Hunter's campaign.
In the weeks before he mediated a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over Hurricane Ike damage, state Rep. Todd Hunter received a $25,000 campaign donation from the leading firm in the case, state records show.
Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican, received the contribution from the firm of Steve Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer and major donor to Texas Democrats. Mostyn's firm led negotiations on behalf of 2,400 Galveston-area homeowners who had sued their insurer, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which they said under-assessed damage their homes suffered from the 2008 storm.
Hunter mediated a $189 million settlement for the plaintiffs, which was announced in July. The Mostyn Law Firm exclaimed in a press release, “Our clients are excited with the results!”
In the release, Mostyn quoted the presiding judge, Susan Criss of the 212th District Court in Galveston: "I appreciate all of the hard work by the plaintiffs' lawyers, the TWIA lawyers and the mediator, Todd Hunter, put into mediating these cases over a period of six full days.”
It is unclear whether Hunter had already been confirmed as mediator at the time of the May 11 donation, but he had been put on the short list of potential mediators by late 2009, Criss said.
Criss, who received $5,000 in separate donations from Mostyn and the Mostyn Law Firm on Sept. 17 of last year, said Hunter was agreed upon as mediator by both parties earlier this year as the cases wound through the system.
Burnett declined to comment on his contribution to Hunter, and Hunter did not return calls or e-mails last week. Mostyn declined to answer questions about his firm's donation or Hunter's role. Criss said she knew nothing of the donations from the litigators to Hunter.
Campaign finance records since 2000 show no previous donation from the Mostyn Law Firm or from Mostyn himself to Hunter.
In the role of mediator, Hunter was dealing with familiar faces at the the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
He had previously served as a lobbyist for TWIA.
As of late last year, he was serving on the legislature's Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Committee. The committee received a Dec. 10 letter from the general manager of TWIA, Jim Oliver, pertaining to the case. Oliver defended his group against a volley of claims from Mostyn and cited the $86 million in legal fees alone demanded by Mostyn's firm.
"We wholly disagree with the pleaded accusations, dispute the basis and contextual accuracy of the 'factual' references, and regret the general hysteric tone of the petition and media coverage. You will no doubt see additional inflammatory allegations from Mr. Mostyn."
Hunter is assured of keeping his House seat this year, with no opponents in the March primary or the November election.
First elected to the legislature in the late '80s, Hunter has been an outspoken advocate for lawsuit reform, and in 2008 received more than $60,000 in campaign donations from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. In October, Hunter was praised by the group for standing up to trial lawyers.
Texans for Lawsuit Reform spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said that the organization was not concerned about the Mostyn donation.
Sylvester said that Hunter had a history -- as a Democrat and later as a Republican -- of being "a leader in the tort reforms first proposed by TLR" as well as "opposing numerous trial lawyer initiatives."
"TLR deeply appreciates Todd Hunter’s leadership on the critical issue of lawsuit reform," Sylvester said. "We believe he will continue his principled commitment to a fair and predictable civil justice system that improves access to health care and contributes to a strong pro-growth business environment in our state."
Hunter's stance has been starkly different from Mostyn's, who has made a career off punishing insurers and other corporations for practices that hurt his clients and is in line to become president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association.
Mostyn told the Austin American-Statesman, which profiled him in July, that his professional motivation is to help individuals go up against powerful interests.
"The reason I'm a trial lawyer is I believe in individual access to courts and that the little guy should get a fair shake against an insurance company or a big corporation," Mostyn told the newspaper.
The Ike settlement has become part of a political tug-of-war between Mostyn and Republican Rep. Larry Taylor, who is seeking information on the individual cases that composed the suit.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or email@example.com. Trent Seibert contributed to this story.
Photo of money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.
Wednesday, 09/15/2010 - 08:55AM
There are more-than-enough dirty Demcorats to fill a landfill here in Texas. The last thing we need is another dirty Republican to add to the pile.
Mr. Hunter had to have known of this obvious conflict of interest. If he didn't, he's too stupid to be a state rep. If he did now, then he's just another dirty politician.
Either way, he should return the $25K and then immediately announce his resignation.
Wednesday, 09/15/2010 - 08:52PM
You may want to consider serving and see how long it would take you to resist the temptations. I do not know of anyone who could stand against all the opportunities of power, wealth, and pleasure.