Top Texas court rejects case, then agrees to hear it after appellant donates $250K to reelection PAC

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In October, the Apache Corp., a Houston oil company, was unable to persuade the Texas Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a paralegal’s retaliation award of about $900,000 in damages and attorney fees.

But the top Texas court agreed to hear the case and ruled for the Apache Corp. last month after the company donated $250,000 to a political action committee that supported the reelection of four Texas justices, including two who ended up siding with the Apache Corp., the Houston Chronicle reports in a story noted by How Appealing.

The other two justices had recused themselves because of previous involvement in the case.

The Apache Corp.’s $250,000 contribution to the Judicial Fairness PAC far surpassed what appears to be its only other contribution in a judicial race—$2,500, donated nearly a decade ago, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Scott Newar, the lawyer for paralegal Cathryn Davis, said he will ask the Texas Supreme Court to withdraw its opinion. The $250,000 contributed by the Apache Corp. “creates the appearance that justice is for sale in Texas and undermines the Texas Supreme Court’s appearance of independence, impartiality and neutrality,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

The Apache Corp. noted in a statement to the Houston Chronicle that it has no control over how the PAC spends its money. The company said it contributed to the PAC “to ensure the Texas Supreme Court continued to be composed of fair, experienced and highly qualified judges.”

The paralegal had contended that she was unlawfully fired after complaining about a hostile work environment, age bias and sex discrimination, according to previous reports by Bloomberg Law and Law360. She was awarded $150,000 in damages and $767,000 in attorney fees. The attorney fees were reduced to about $696,000 on appeal.

The Texas Supreme Court acknowledged that Davis was fired shortly after complaining but said she had shown insubordination by refusing to submit to a company policy requiring approval before working overtime.

The Texas Supreme Court refuses to reconsider its decisions about 98% of the time, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The Houston Chronicle noted that Texas is one of only four states with partisan state supreme court elections. Justices often rely on campaign contributions from law firms and lawyers who appear before them.

According to a losing litigant who took a look at the issue in 2017, 20% of money raised by state supreme court candidates comes from just nine law firms. Big clients of those firms won five times more often than those represented by others.

One of the large firms, Vinson & Elkins, had represented the Apache Corp. It has a PAC that donates widely, according to the Houston Chronicle. A Vinson & Elkins spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle that it abides by spending limits in Texas.

The large firms also said they have winning records because their lawyers have high-quality skills and experience.

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