Harris County will continue to pursue its own lawsuit against VW.
Harris County has responded to Ken Paxton’s request to drop its lawsuit against scandal-plagued Volkswagen. Its answer? A polite no.
In a reply to Paxton dated Oct. 15, [Harris County Attorney Vince] Ryan wrote, “we were pleased to learn that the Office of the Attorney General has joined Harris County” in the claims against Volkswagen. “We look forward to working together once again in connection with this important effort.”
In other words: No, thanks.
By abandoning their lawsuits, the counties would leave millions of dollars in potential damages on the table.
That’s because under state law, when local governments file such suits, the state is required to join as a “necessary and indispensable party.” In these types of cases, the counties and state split any money.
But the counties would not directly get a share of any damages in the suits Texas is leading.
Any civil penalties recovered in Paxton’s environmental lawsuit would flow into the state’s general fund, while penalties from the consumer protection case will go to the Texas Supreme Court’s judicial fund for programs that provide legal services to poor people, said Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for Paxton’s office. Any other “meaningful restitution” she added, would go directly to consumers duped by Volkswagen’s emissions software.
Ryan’s letter to Paxton noted that, in 1998, Harris County, along with other counties, recovered about $2.2 billion from the tobacco industry through litigation — on top of the billions that the state recovered for itself.
See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of Ryan’s letter. I’m not an attorney, but as I said before I don’t see why Harris or any other county that wants to pursue its own lawsuit should bow to Paxton’s request. It doesn’t make good financial sense to do otherwise, if a county has the resources to handle the litigation itself. Many counties don’t, but Harris does, and that should be good enough. Stick to your guns, Vince.