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As Texas Land Commissioner David Dewhurst touts his candidacy for lieutenant governor, an Austin jury could begin hearing allegations that he fired a Texas General Land Office lawyer who called for more aggressive efforts to collect royalties for oil and gas produced on state lands as a way to boost funding for education. Jury selection in Scott v. Texas General Land Office could begin as early as June 18 in a state district court in Travis County, Texas. The start date for the trial depends on the availability of a judge. Dewhurst, a Houston multimillionaire, announced on June 13 that he would be a Republican candidate in the already crowded race for lieutenant governor. Greg Abbott, who resigned from the Texas Supreme Court on June 6, and state Sen. David Sibley of Waco had earlier announced their bids as Republican candidates. John Sharp, the former state comptroller, announced his candidacy as a Democrat. David Scott, a former GLO associate deputy commissioner who oversaw the auditing and collecting of revenue owed to the state by oil and gas companies, alleges in the suit that his termination by the agency after Dewhurst took office in January 1999 violated the Texas Whistleblower Act. The 44-year-old Scott, now a Georgetown, Texas sole practitioner, alleges that he was fired from his $66,000-a-year job after pointing out to Dewhurst that between $60 million and $100 million had been identified as being owed by companies with mineral leases on state lands. “He [Dewhurst] said, ‘Thank you, your services are no longer needed,’” Scott alleges in an interview. “I was in shock.” In his suit, Scott alleges that Dewhurst, who was involved in the energy business prior to his election, was influenced by his allegiance to oil and gas companies that helped finance his campaign for land commissioner. Texas Ethics Commission records show that Dewhurst received about $63,750 in contributions from oil and gas companies between 1997 and 1999. The records also show that law firms representing oil and gas companies contributed $147,125 during the same period. Scott’s lawyer, Texas Civil Rights Project director James C. Harrington, alleges that the GLO has collected one-half to one-third less money than it should have from the mineral leases. “We’re talking about millions and millions of dollars,” Harrington says. Proceeds from the state lands go to public schools and the Permanent University Fund, which provides funding for the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. Roy Minton, an attorney whose firm represents Dewhurst, denies Scott’s allegations about the reason for his termination. Minton, a partner in Austin, Texas’ Minton, Burton, Foster & Collins, says the land office was reorganized after Dewhurst took office in 1999. “What happened was his [Scott's] job was terminated along with about 100 jobs,” Minton says. The state alleges in its answer to the suit that the job cuts were recommended by Dewhurst’s transition team to make the agency more efficient. Minton says the GLO had 689 employees on Dec. 31, 1998, four days before Dewhurst took office, and had 577 employees as of June 13. The agency also cut the number of associate deputy commissioners from 10 to two, he says. Dewhurst says Scott’s suit is “baseless” and involves issues arising out of the administration of his predecessor, Democrat Garry Mauro. Mauro did not return a call seeking comment. “If there was something he [Scott] wanted to tell commissioner Mauro, he should have told him,” Dewhurst says. “The reported violation of the law happened with Dewhurst,” Scott says, referring to the alleged violations of the whistleblower law. “Anytime there was an issue and I had an opportunity to talk to Garry [Mauro], Garry’s comment was to go collect the money,” he adds. Scott says his team of lawyers and auditors had collected roughly $18 million from about a dozen companies in 1997 and 1998. “But for my team, we wouldn’t have collected that additional money,” he says. Two other lawyers as well as the audit director on his team also lost their jobs when Dewhurst took over, Scott alleges. Clyde Doyal of Georgetown, the former deputy commissioner for the GLO’s Legal Services Division, says he had expected to be terminated when Dewhurst took office because he had been a part of Mauro’s management team. But Doyal says he was “a little bit surprised” when Scott and the other lawyers on his team were fired. “They were doing an outstanding job,” Doyal says. “They were really going after those under-payments.” Scott alleges that the agency is collecting less money under Dewhurst than it did when Mauro was the commissioner. Dewhurst said in a deposition that the GLO is doing well in its collections, but Judge Lora Livingston of the 261st District Court in Texas sealed the exhibits that could show the actual numbers. The state attempted to end Scott’s suit without a trial, but 201st District Judge Suzanne Covington denied the motion for summary judgment in September 2000. The Texas Office of the Attorney General represents the agency in the suit, but spokesman Mike Viesca says the policy is not to comment on matters in litigation.

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