Mike Hull, former outside counsel for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, is now working with Houston mass tort litigator Steve Mostyn on a transvaginal mesh class action.
Hull, partner in Hull Henricks in Austin, was a paid TLR lobbyist for many years who successfully influenced Texas lawmakers to pass some of the strictest tort reform bills in the nation, including 2003′s House Bill 4, which nearly wiped out the medical-malpractice litigation landscape in Texas. TLR, the most successful tort reform group in Texas, often vilifies Mostyn’s litigation tactics.
Mostyn and TLR spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester each didn’t return a call seeking comment. Hull, who resigned from TLR in November 2015, declined to comment for this article.
But Hull told the Austin American-Statesman in early January that he still considers himself a tort reform advocate.
“I am a fan of the work I did,” Hull said. “But that work was never intended to shut the courthouse door to people who have been victimized.”
Hull’s career change has turned heads among lawyers who worked closely with him in the legislature and the courtroom. They all said Hull is a great, intelligent lawyer who will be successful in his new endeavor. But some question Hull’s allegiance to the tort reform movement.
“I think that everyone engaged in that process should take notice that someone who has been at the forefront of tort reform for over a decade has now said, ‘Enough is enough,’” said Bryan Blevins, who was president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and lobbied against Hull’s positions during last year’s legislative session. “I think it says something when your chief legal presenter … when that person finally says, ‘I am not doing this anymore. My intention was never to bar the citizens of Texas access to justice.’ I don’t know how else to take that than to mean they were going too far.”
But not everyone perceives Hull’s move that way.
David Chamberlain, who lobbies voluntarily on behalf of the Texas Chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates, said he thinks that TLR can’t do much else in the tort reform arena, spurring Hull to move on.
“I think that all the changes they set out to change were pretty much accomplished. That’s in large part to his credit,” Chamberlain said. “The other thing is that he was mostly a med-mal defense lawyer and to put it bluntly—he kind of lobbied himself out of a job.”
He explained that HB 4 drastically reduced the number of med-mal cases in Texas, along with Hull’s defense practice.
“If you can make an honest living doing something different—even though it’s drastically different, in terms of kind of philosophy—you’ve got to make a living,” said Chamberlain.
Winckler & Harvey partner Jay Winckler of Austin, who was opposing counsel to Hull in a number of med-mal cases, said, “I don’t think that Mike was philosophically tied to tort reform as much as many of the tort reformers are. I think he accepted a job and did it to the best of his ability. But I never had the feeling Mike thought the civil justice system was the root of all our evils.”
But Chamberlain, senior partner in Chamberlain McHaney in Austin, said he always thought that Hull was “a true believer” in tort reform, and he still does.
“This stuff over at the Capitol—just when you think it would not surprise you, it does surprise you,” he said. “Teaming up with Mostyn is a pretty dramatic shift in the career path is what I would say. It was shocking. It was hard to believe. … TLR has historically characterized Mostyn as the poster boy for why Texas needs continued tort reform.”
However, Blevins said that Hull himself never personally attacked Mostyn.
“This is not uncommon in the legal field, where the defense side and the plaintiffs side—sometimes it’s a take-no-prisoners war—but oftentimes there is mutual respect; there is mutual admiration; there is a recognition of being a worthy adversary. We don’t have to agree, but we can respectfully and civilly disagree. I think Mike falls in that category,” said Blevins, a partner in Provost Umphrey in Beaumont.
Chamberlain said that Hull had a talent for crafting legislation and he was reasonable to work with, although he was a tough opponent in bill negotiations.
“I’m sorry to see him go,” Chamberlain said. “He could make changes in drafts of legislation pretty effortlessly. He was good at it. Of all the lobbyists that TLR has employed over the years, he unquestionably had the most influence for TLR.”
As Hull lobbied for TLR, he simultaneously ran a private practice that focused on defense of mass torts in asbestos, breast implant, medical device and product liability matters, according to his firm’s website. Hull, who is board certified in personal injury and civil trial law, would defend pharmaceutical companies, health insurance carriers and med-mal defendants.
Hull’s new work closely matches that previous experience.
The class action, Stevens v. Boston Scientific Corp., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston, alleges that Boston Scientific Corp. and three other companies conspired together to import secretly from China a key ingredient for transvaginal mesh medical devices. A Texas-based company previously sold Boston Scientific the ingredient, Marlex, but stopped selling it because it wasn’t supposed to be permanently implanted in a person’s body.
Then Boston Scientific “made the fateful decision to smuggle counterfeit Marlex out of China,” alleged the class action. It claimed the company lied to Chinese and U.S. customs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and women who received transvaginal mesh implants.