Political People and their Moves

Mark Williams, the Republican who lost to Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, last year, is suing his political consultant — Jeff Norwood and Anthem Media — over legal bills that arose from that campaign.Williams' version of the story is that Merritt sued during the campaign and that Norwood told him the costs of the lawsuit "will be covered." Those costs, according to the lawsuit, now total $667,903.41. Bruce Griggs with the Austin office of Ogletree Deakins called the lawsuit frivolous: "Anthem Media is extremely disappointed that Mark Williams has chosen to file this lawsuit. In the previous defamation case, Mr. Williams testified that he was in charge of his own campaign, that he approved the content of all ads that were placed as part of that campaign, and that all of the ads were truthful then and now. Mr. Williams' prior testimony appears to be inconsistent with the allegations he is now making in the lawsuit, which he filed just a short time after continuing to seek political advice from Mr. Norwood." He didn't comment further. In his suit, Williams says Norwood promised him the costs of the campaign would be taken care of, and contends the lawsuit that grew out of the campaign was, in fact, a campaign cost. The campaign bills totaling $710,943.96 were apparently paid, but Williams' lawyer hasn't been paid. That's the reason for the suit. The biggest contributor to Williams's campaign was the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, which was almost entirely funded by Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio. And if you read between the lines of the lawsuit, his are the deep pockets Williams hopes to tap. Williams claims in the suit that Norwood promised his legal expenses "would be taken care of" by Leininger and says the only reason there was a defamation claim was because of the campaign ads fashioned by Norwood and approved by Williams and his campaign manager. Williams contends that he, a novice candidate, was duped by the more experienced consultant. Leininger, according to the suit, never promised to pay for Williams' lawyers; that, Williams contends, is where Norwood led him astray. Williams believed Norwood was the San Antonio millionaire's agent, and figured his legal bills would be covered. One person familiar with the situation says Williams and his attorneys ran up large legal bills without checking to make sure — in detail — what would be covered and who'd be paying. And one defense will be that they assumed Leininger would pay the whole amount without question. They were in contact with his attorneys at various points, but apparently didn't have a written contract with Norwood, Leininger or anyone else in a position to pay them for their work. A copy of the lawsuit is attached.
Brian Flood, the inspector general for the state's Health and Human Services Commission, is leaving after four years in that post.

He was the author of a critical report on the agency's system for qualifying and tracking welfare recipients earlier this year. The agency took issue with parts of his report and is waiting for federal approval before expanding what they call the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS.

Flood's report, issued while the Legislature was in session, was alarming: "... based on an extrapolation of the findings of their audit, if TIERS were deployed statewide today, it could increase the state's questioned costs, as found in the recent audit, covering 1 million to 1.85 million more needy Texans, and ranging between $2.6 and $4.9 billion more taxpayer dollars."

The system is operating in three of the state's 254 counties and HHSC officials hope to expand that, with federal approval, soon.

Flood will be replaced, for now, by Bart Bevers of Round Rock. Gov. Rick Perry, named Bevers, Flood's deputy, as the interim inspector general. It's a one-year term; Perry had reappointed Flood in earlier years, but didn't act when Flood's one-year term expired in February. Flood didn't refer to that in his resignation letter, saying instead that he thinks it's time to do other things. And the governor's comments were complimentary: "The Office of the Inspector General has become a model for states across the nation," he said.

That operation is bigger than most state agencies, with around 500 employees doing inspections and audits and such. Flood was the first inspector general at HHSC when that agency was created.

Freshman Rep. Thomas Latham, R-Mesquite, will have an opponent in HD-101, and freshman Rep. Mike O'Day, R-Pearland, might not seek reelection.Mesquite Mayor Mike Anderson is quitting after ten years to run for the Texas House. He'll challenge Latham in the GOP primary next year. We reported Anderson's interest in the CD-101 race in June, and Latham, a former cop, could be vulnerable. He's only been in office since last year and the Mesquite Police Association already withdrew its support. Latham got to Austin by knocking off Rep. Elvira Reyna in the 2008 Republican primary. He was one of several candidates backed by the Texas Parent PAC. This is Anderson's second run; he lost a squeaker to Democrat Dale Tillery in 1994, finishing 173 votes behind. Anderson has been mayor for ten years and on Mesquite's City Council for 21 years. He'll officially resign on Monday, and is still pulling a campaign staff together. Meanwhile, O'Day, who won a special election and replaced the late Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland, is telling colleagues he won't seek reelection next year. That would open the door for an open race in CD-29. O'Day didn't return calls and hasn't made a formal announcement. The guy he beat in a special election last January isn't waiting: Randy Weber says he'll run in the Republican primary whether or not O'Day seeks reelection.

State Rep. Robert Talton, a key player in the ongoing challenges to House Speaker Tom Craddick, will run for Congress next year instead of seeking reelection to the Texas Legislature.

Talton, a Pasadena Republican, is after the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford. He's the second Republican to jump in; Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who lost to Lampson last year, wants another shot. And Talton says there are four other Republicans who are still deciding. He filed papers this week and will make a formal announcement in a couple of weeks. "I'm trying to make two news stories out of this," he jokes.

Talton was the first Republican last year to say he would challenge Craddick for speaker. He folded his bid and joined the unsuccessful effort to replace Craddick with Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and then joined with members who kept heavy pressure on the speaker for the rest of the session. He's not retreating, but says he always wanted to run for Congress and now's the time. "I've always regarded the Texas Legislature as a training ground, and I think I'm ready [for Congress]," he says.

The CD-22 seat was held by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Sekula Gibbs served the stub term between DeLay's resignation and the general election. She was a write-in candidate in that contest and lost to Lampson.

Ken Legler of Pasadena announced he'll be in the race for Talton's seat and said the incumbent will be his model (Talton hasn't endorsed anybody). Legler is owner and president of Houston Wire Works and a board member at the Texas Association of Business and at the National Federation of Independent Business.

Nathan Hecht's battle over Harriet Miers' appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court is lasting longer than hers did.

President George W. Bush tried to put Miers on the court almost two years ago. That fell flat within a month — Samuel Alito got the gig — but Hecht's public support for his old friend has cost him dearly.

The latest blast from the canons of judicial ethics is over how the senior justice on the Texas Supreme Court funded his successful effort to clear his name before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. 

The judge racked up a reported $350,000 in legal fees to fight the commission's charge that he improperly used his position on the bench to support the Miers nomination. Now, he faces four complaints filed in the last month questioning how he raised money and paid for his defense.

Texas Watch, the government watchdog group that filed the complaints, says in its latest one that the court's most senior member was out of line when he asked lawyers and businesses with cases before the Court for help with his own personal legal fees.

Here's a twist: Texas Watch bases its newest complaint on the Commission's 1987 public admonishment of then-Supreme Court Justice William Kilgarlin for soliciting funds for a legal defense. Hecht, a Republican, unseated Kilgarlin, a Democrat, a year later, thanks in no small part to the

public brouhaha over Kilgarlin's admonishment.

Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer who represented Kilgarlin, says the Kilgarlin and Hecht situations are "indistinguishable." He says the Commission ruled incorrectly in Kilgarlin's case and needs to either admit to that mistake or hoist Hecht with the same petard.

"If they stick to what they did in '87, he's got a problem," Wood says.

Texas Watch's three other complaints against Hecht, filed last month with the CJC, the Texas Ethics Commission, and Travis County District Attorney, center around allegations that Hecht ran afoul of state laws by receiving a hefty discount on legal fees from the law firm representing him, a firm that routinely has business before the Court.

Chip Babcock of Jackson Walker successfully fought the CJC's sanctions against Hecht for his public support of Miers. Texas Watch alleges Hecht paid Jackson Walker about $350,000 of the $450,000 bill for that defense — in effect accepting a large and so-far unreported in-kind campaign contribution. Babcock's lawyer in the matter, Roy Minton of Austin, says his client and Hecht have every right to negotiate fees, a common practice in the legal world.

"This is America... " Minton says. "That just goes on everywhere."

But Texas Watch says that's either a violation of campaign contribution limits of $30,000 per law firm or an illegal personal gift to the judge.

If the complaints are substantiated, Hecht, who was just re-elected last year, could face fines and jail time.

His supporters say Hecht is just a victim of political maneuvering, designed to sully a prominent Republican justice's reputation and to fill the coffers of his political opponents. But so far no one on his side is willing to put public bets on what District Attorney Ronnie Earle, the TEC and the CJC, will do.

Alex Winslow, Texas Watch's executive director, says the group complained to uphold the integrity of the state's judicial system.

"No one, not even Nathan Hecht, is above the law," Winslow says.

Hecht hasn't risen to that bait, at least publicly, and is staying mum on all the complaints filed against him. But he has hired Austin lawyer Wayne Meissner — running up even more legal bills — to represent him in the DA's investigation. —by Alan Suderman

Stuart Jenkins is the latest guy with a new title as a result of the shuffle started at the Texas Youth Commission this year. He'll head the Parole Division at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, replacing Brian Collier. Collier replaced Ed Owens as deputy executive director of that agency when Owens left to become conservator at TYC.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Victor Hugo Gonzalez of McAllen to preside over the Texas Diabetes Council. Gonzalez an eye surgeon and medical director at Valley Retina Institute.

The governor named W. Benjamin Fry of San Benito as presiding officer of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. He's the past owner of two pharmacies: Fry's, in San Benito, and Small Fry's, in Harlingen.

Perry named Corpus Christi homebuilder Gerardo Garcia to the Texas Residential Construction Commission that regulates that industry. He reappointed two current members: Glenda Marriott of College Station, president of GCM Designs, and Mickey Redwine, owner and CEO of Dynamic Cable Holdings in Ben Wheeler.

State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, was elected to the executive council of the National Conference of State Legislators.

Engaged: Jenna Bush, daughter of George and Laura, and Henry Hager, a former campaign op whose father John Hager, is a former lieutenant governor of Virginia and Bush appointee in the Department of Education who now heads the Virginia GOP. No wedding date has been set.