March 13, 2008
Craddick's fishing trip

Okay, Postcards and Trail Blazers are blogging about a story that slipped past my attention last year but is back in the news now and which involves Speaker Craddick. Let's go to Postcards for an initial description:

A lawsuit over an Amazon fishing trip, which was canceled in 2006, should be a fish tale and not a political whopper, Speaker Tom Craddick and Bill Messer are arguing in a court document.

The lawsuit by the tour operator, Amazon Tours, alleged that Craddick and Messer were acting "as bullies, using the power of the Speaker's office" to get their deposits returned instead of rescheduling their trip, which had been canceled because of high waters. Each had given a $1,900 deposit.

Lawyers for the two politicos are seeking a protective order to limit the topic and duration of their depositions, which are scheduled for later this month, and to ensure that their videotaped testimony isn't leaked to the news media.

The dispute surfaced in May 2007 as Craddick was fighting for his political life.

So, Craddick and his buddy Messer put down a deposit on an Amazon fishing trip that got cancelled, and they demanded their deposits back. That led to a lawsuit being filed against them, claiming that Craddick made threats to the travel agency. Here's the KVUE story from the time:

The suit, filed by Patrick Marsteller of Amazon Tours, Inc., says Craddick and Austin lobbyist Bill Messer paid the company for a fishing trip that was rescheduled. When high water on the Amazon made fishing conditions difficult, the company says it offered to reschedule the trip as a courtesy.

The suit goes on to say that many months later, Craddick and Messer refused to go on the trip and demanded a refund. Amazon Tours said contract terms wouldn't allow a refund.

Craddick and Messer then sent a letter threatening embarrassment to the travel agent's reputation.

"There are clearly exceptional circumstances, and therefore we demand a full refund to be made to each of us in order to avoid legal action or embarrassment to your reputation," wrote Craddick and Messer.

"The speaker, I guess, he felt the power given to him by the Speaker of the House (position) gave him the right to do this," said Marsteller.

And here's the DMN story:

Lawyer-lobbyist Bill Messer and Mr. Craddick sent a letter to Amazon demanding a refund for a fishing trip they said the company canceled and couldn't reschedule. The letter was on Mr. Messer's legal letterhead and was signed "Speaker Tom Craddick."

State ethics officials said their rules don't govern the use of titles, but Craddick opponents and the travel agent's attorney accused Mr. Craddick of throwing his weight around.

"It's the speaker of the House using the power and prestige of his office to gain an advantage,'" said Dallas lawyer Kevin Buchanan, who filed a lawsuit asking a judge to decide the dispute. "It's not right. It's oppressive."

Mr. Craddick's attorney, Roy Minton, said he saw nothing unusual about the letter or the speaker's use of his title in signing it. Elected officials use their titles all the time in correspondence having nothing to do with state business, he said.

"I've been representing politicians for close to 50 years, and ... they all point out what their title is" in correspondence, he said. "I don't know why, but they all do that."

Normally, this sort of thing would be the kind of minor tiff over a few bucks that no one would much care about. Except that now that depositions are about to be taken, Craddick is asking for his statements to be kept hidden from the public. Here's Karen Brooks, explaining why Craddick's attorney filed this motion:

The reason, he argues, is that the attorney for the Dallas-based Amazon Tours, Kevin Buchanan, filed his case asking to be allowed to keep the deposit "for political reasons" and will probably ask a bunch of questions regarding speaker politics for the sole purpose of making them available to the media for quotes and future filet-ing in the press.

Which, who are we kidding, we'd totally quote from that deposition. That's why they're public. So people can read them. So we can report them. It's what we do.

Politically charged questions coming out in a time when the Speaker is fighting to keep his seat would no doubt be something he'd want to avoid.


The March 7, 2008 filing by Mr. Minton asks the court to seal the deposition and require that the questions be limited to the fishing trip, not the speaker's use of his office in general.

Elise Hu has more on this, including links to all the relevant documents. On the one hand, I can see the rationale for limiting the scope of the questions to Craddick. This is a dispute about a deposit, after all, so politics really isn't a part of it. On the other hand, the tour company says Craddick tried to intimidate them, and it makes sense that they'd want to demonstrate that such behavior is not unusual for Craddick, which means exploring his actions as Speaker. I kind of think Team Craddick has the better argument here, but as I'm not a lawyer and all, don't put too much faith in that judgment. I'll be very interested to see what the judge says.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 13, 2008 to That's our Lege

I dislike Craddick with the heat of a thousand suns, but he's probably got the better argument here. If I were the judge, I'd be pretty likely to grant the protective order and limit the deposition to exclude extraneous political matters.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on March 13, 2008 9:15 AM
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