Galveston Judge Susan Criss is blocking General Abbott’s order for the release of TWIA settlement details. AG Abbott wrote an opinion declaring TWIA a government entity, which makes it subject to the Open Records Request Representative Larry Taylor submitted months ago, only to be blocked twice by Judge Criss via a restraining order. This makes a third time.
Judge Criss has a long history with the controversial TWIA case. She ordered the infamous mediation that resulted in the plaintiffs, led by Democrat mega-donor and President-elect of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association Steve Mostyn, getting 100% of what they were asking for in the law suit – $189 million. Todd Hunter, gulf legislator and member of the House Insurance Committee, mediated the settlement and received campaign donations from two plaintiff attorneys in the weeks preceding the mediation.
Judge Criss granted a restraining order to a request to make settlement details public, then later extended the restraining order. Judge Criss also testified on HB 4097, authored by gulf legislator and House Insurance Committee member Craig Eiland, which would have resulted in the case remaining in local control instead of going to an state MDL judge in Austin. The mediation by Eiland’s gulf legislative and House Insurance Committee colleague Todd Hunter, later accomplished the same objective. Craig Eiland was also a plaintiff lawyer in many of the TWIA law suits.
Judge Criss claims she wants to avoid creating an easy opportunity for a losing party to appeal in the future, but failed to explain how that’s relevant to this situation, wherein settlement details, not an appeal, is at issue. She apparently believes the TWIA settlement details would prompt just such an appeal. Is she providing plaintiff lawyers time to come up with a strategy to release only benign settlement documents under the rubric of ‘good precedent’?
Also, the release of settlement details generally isn’t even on the table. Judge Criss should have a ready answer to everyone interested in settlement details in cases that don’t involve government entities. “Attorney General Abbott opinion didn’t affect rules about disclosure of settlement information. It simply declared TWIA a government entity, which makes it’s settlement details subject to disclosure.” Or is Judge Criss claiming to have gotten “several calls” from people who’ve won law suits in her court against the government? Surely not, and in any event, it’s easy to check how many government defendants Judge Criss has seen in her court in recent years.
One thing that is clear is Judge Criss is shaping Attorney General Greg Abbott’s order to disclose all settlement documents.
Judge Criss, a Democrat, ran for the Texas Supreme Court in 2009 and received her largest campaign contributions from unions, union-like trade associations, and the Texas Democratic Party.