September 11, 2003
More Prop 12 stuff

The debate over the evil tort reform measure Proposition 12 is still heating up, as seen in this article which covers a debate between State Rep. Joe Nixon, the sponsor of the bill that led to Prop 12, and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Deborah Hankinson, the treasurer of the anti-Prop 12 group Save Texas Courts. Apparently, Nixon is none too happy about being featured in STC's latest mailout.

The pair's rivalry has been exacerbated by a recent mail-out by Hankinson's Save Texas Courts that claims Nixon "got the gold mine" for authoring the bill while "you got the shaft."

The advertisement refers to the more than $300,000 paid to Nixon by Farmers Insurance Group for a mold claim. One former company employee has indicated Nixon got the award because he is a state legislator. Nixon has denied the allegation.

Read this article if you haven't already for some background on Joe "Moldman" Nixon. I love this bit of political theater:

Outside the law center, Proposition 12 protesters held signs attacking Nixon. One man wearing a rubber mask of former President Nixon, no relation, held a sign that read, "Do you trust a Nixon to rewrite the Texas Constitution?"

Meanwhile, in another demonstration of why current campaign finance laws are useless, we have a bunch of telcos who are waiting on a ruling from the Public Utility Commissions lining up to give money to pro-Prop 12 forces.

Three telecommications giants embroiled in a high-stakes battle at the Public Utility Commission over the future of phone service in Texas have another thing in common.

They have chipped in amply to the campaign for a constitutional amendment that Gov. Rick Perry is working hard to pass. Perry also appoints the members of the PUC, whose duties include some phone service regulation.

Perry has been on a statewide tour drumming up support for Proposition 12, a proposed amendment allowing caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Voters will consider the measure in an election Saturday.

Time Warner Cable, SBC Communications Inc. and AT&T Corp. have contributed more than $360,000 to Yes on 12, the political action committee mounting a high-dollar campaign favoring the amendment.

State law says that corporations cannot give to individual candidates, but they can give all they want to "special purpose" campaigns like this one. Naturally, they deny that the gobs of money they've given in support of a referendum that does not directly affect them and for which the Governor has personally advertised has anything whatsoever to do with the case they have pending before a commission whose members the Governor appoints. No quid pro quo implied or expected here, nosirreebob!

Finally, this Chron editorial mentions an article in Business Week (registration required) by Gary S. Becker which advocates a more measured approach to punitive damages. Becker suggests that rather than hard caps, punitive damages should be proportional to economic damages, as is the case in antitrust lawsuits.

[T]o deter harmful behavior, punitive damages should not be capped. They should rise with the size of compensatory damages. It makes little sense to impose similar punitive damages for behavior that causes harm of $50,000 and $20 million.

Strict limits on the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages would elevate the importance of accurate measurement of compensatory harm. For example, loss of life in automobile accidents caused by drunk drivers, or wrong statements by producers of drugs that cause severe harm or death to inappropriate users, damage victims and their heirs in ways that go far beyond the loss of future earnings. Although economists have developed techniques to gauge the monetary value to individuals of the loss of future activities due to wrongful deaths, juries have been reluctant to rely on them.

Becker, in case you've never heard of him, is a Nobel Prize-winning economist from the University of Chicago and is also a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institute. I think he may know a bit more about this than Joe Nixon, don't you?

Saturday is Special Referendum Election Day. Vote No on Prop 12! Here are Byron's endorsements on other measures. Doug at Rightward Reasonings has his choices outlined as well if you want a different perspective.

UPDATE: According to the Quorum Report, a "bipartisan group of House Committee Chairmen" sent a letter to Deborah Hankinson asking her to pull down the ads that attack Joe Nixon. You can read the letter here (PDF file).

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 11, 2003 to Legal matters | TrackBack