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Holding a position in the Texas Legislature may seem like a pretty good gig to most lawyers. Lawyers who also are legislators get a free office in Austin, a staff, and a vote on all of the important issues and potential new statutes that will affect every resident of the state — in addition to getting paid in the private sector to interpret those same laws. For their legislative service, legislators are paid $7,200 a year. Conversely, it seems that law firms with lawyer-legislators on staff would reap enormous benefits in the form of scoring new clients and garnering political influence. But this theory doesn’t seem to pan out. Texas Lawyer talked to six lawyer-legislators and representatives at the firms in which they work about their political and legal lives. We chose influential legislators who are members of Texas firms. In fact, the six lawyer-legislators say their positions in politics rarely translate into new clients for their firms. The lawyer-legislators say they never carry legislation that benefits their firms. And some partners refuse to talk about politics and legislation with firm colleagues who are lawmakers. For firms that employ lawyer-legislators, patience is key. In 2003, lawmakers were away from their regular jobs for nine months because of one regular legislative session and three bitter special legislative sessions in which congressional redistricting was on the agenda. Some legislators say they expect Gov. Rick Perry to call yet another special session this spring to consider public school education funding. Some law firms even took some political heat for the controversial bills their members passed. But most law firm partners consider it an honor to have a legislator among their firm’s ranks. It’s one way to give back to the state in which they practice, they say. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock Partner, Crenshaw, Dupree & Milam Crenshaw, Dupree & Milam in Lubbock, where Republican state Sen. Robert Duncan is a partner, considers it part of the firm’s payback to the community when its attorneys serve as public officials, says H. Chris Boyer, the firm’s managing partner. “We view that as an investment in this part of the world, not only in Lubbock but in West Texas,” Boyer says of the decade that Duncan has served in the Legislature. Boyer says Duncan is not “docked” for the time he spends away from the firm working on legislative matters. If the partnership loses revenue because Duncan is away, that is part of the investment, Boyer says. Duncan says public service has been a tradition at the firm since William H. Bledsoe, who also served in the state Senate, founded it as Bledsoe, Crenshaw & Dupree in the 1920s. “The notion is that ensuring good, strong leadership in Austin helps the community. The spin-off is you have a healthy economy and that helps lawyers,” Duncan says. But Duncan says he received some public criticism earlier this year when he announced his intentions to file a bill that could have required developers of the Lubbock Heart Hospital to prove that the community needed such a facility. His proposal would have revived the state’s certificate-of-need system. Duncan says supporters of the heart hospital alleged that he wanted to file the bill because his firm represents Covenant Health System, which opposed plans for the specialty facility. Boyer says some critics spoke out against the bill in letters to the editor published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and on talk radio shows. “Those are the kind of risks the firm takes when it has members in the Legislature. From time to time, things like that happen,” Duncan says. “There was no negative impact [to the firm] that we can see,” Boyer says. “I personally never received any complaint from anybody in the community about what [Duncan] was doing. “ Duncan started as a law clerk at Crenshaw Dupree in 1979 and became a partner in April 1987. He became interested in legislative service while serving as general counsel for the Senate State Affairs Committee in 1989, when the Legislature revamped the workers’ compensation system. Duncan, whose practice deals chiefly with personal injury, business and commercial defense, says that generally, at the beginning of each session, he files for legislative continuances for each pending case in which he serves as lead counsel. Describing the legislative continuance as a “privilege,” Duncan says it angers him when lawyer-legislators abuse the privileges of public office by signing on to cases solely for the purpose of delaying those cases. Typically, he works on cases with other partners in the firm, Duncan says. When he’s involved with legislative matters, Duncan says, whichever partner is working with him on a case tries to postpone major issues until he gets back from Austin. The co-counsel handles any issues that can’t be postponed to keep the case moving, he says. Notes Duncan, “That’s the goal, to keep a case moving toward trial. “ Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford Shareholder, King & King Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, was one of the chief architects of the congressional redistricting plan approved by the Texas Legislature in 2003. Because of his role in the redistricting battle, King’s time away from his law practice didn’t end after the third special session concluded in October 2003. On Dec. 18, 2003, King was called to testify before a three-judge federal panel in Austin during a hearing on Democrats’ challenges of the new congressional map. King’s time away from his practice isn’t a problem, says Ed Huddleston, a member of the management committee of Fort Worth’s Law, Snakard & Gambill, a 32-lawyer firm that formed a limited partnership with Weatherford’s King & King in 1995 — about four years before King became a member of the House of Representatives. The limited partnership is known as Law, Snakard, Gambill & King in Weatherford. “It doesn’t impact us at all,” Huddleston says of King’s legislative service. King, whose practice primarily involves general civil litigation, says the two firms don’t share expenses and usually don’t share fees. King, who is a shareholder in King & King, describes the affiliation with Law Snakard as very loose. “I cover my overhead and eat what I kill,” he jokes. The arrangement enables Law Snakard to expand its business and allows him to keep clients even when he’s busy with legislative work, says King. Huddleston says that from time to time he is called on to help with one of King’s cases when King is in Austin. “When he needs help, I help. That’s part of being partners in a law firm,” Huddleston says. But Huddleston says Law Snakard, which primarily represents banks, is unable to assist King with family law cases. “In divorce matters, if there are corporate issues, obviously we can help with that. The meat and potatoes [of family law matters], we can’t help with that,’ Huddleston says. This isn’t the first time that Law Snakard has had an association with a member of the Legislature. Huddleston says the firm had a similar arrangement with former state Sen. Robert Glasgow, D-Stephenville, who served in the Senate from 1981 through 1993. Glasgow, a shareholder in Glasgow, Dunson, Isham & Glasgow, says the arrangement didn’t work well because of the time it took to check for conflicts of interest. A number of Law Snakard’s clients had bills in which they had an interest before the Legislature, Glasgow says. Huddleston says checks had to be run with the lawyers at both firms to be sure there were no conflicts. The firms ended their association after a few months, Glasgow says. “It just got to be more trouble that it was worth trying to keep the conflicts out,” he says. King says that conflicts of interest are beginning to be a problem for him. “If it continues to be one, I’ll have to step out” of the arrangement with Law Snakard, he says. But King says that conflicts always are a problem for lawyer-legislators. King says he formerly represented an electric cooperative but does not do any work for electric power companies since House Speaker Tom Craddick appointed him chairman of the Committee on Regulated Industries. King says he turned down two cases in the past year because they involved an electric utility or another company in a regulated industry. The state’s ethics laws didn’t require him to refuse to accept those cases, King says. But he notes, “I thought it would look bad.” King also says he seeks legislative continuances if there is real necessity but prefers to avoid doing so. Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi Partner, Watts Law Firm Mikal Watts says he eagerly hired his friend, Democratic state Rep. Vilma Luna, in 2001 to join his growing personal-injury firm, Corpus Christi’s Watts Law Firm. He says he hired her strictly for her litigation ability rather than her status as a respected member of the Texas Legislature. But unfortunately for Watts, Luna has spent almost as much time being a legislator as she has being lawyer since she was hired. “I think Vilma’s and my combined hope was when she joined the firm that we’d be able to try cases together during the interim,” Watts says. “But that’s yet to happen.” Last year Luna found herself away from Corpus Christi and her law firm for nine months — nearly 10 if you count interim committee meetings she attended, she says. “I will tell you it’s very difficult,” Luna says of her attempts to balance her legal and political lives. “I try to work on stuff, but from a practical standpoint, meeting discovery deadlines, I can’t,” Luna says. “This session, there was a period of five weeks straight that I didn’t even make it to Corpus Christi at all. I’d meet my two little boys in San Antonio.” Her partners at the plaintiffs firm stepped in to help Luna with her caseload, she says. Watts says the firm doesn’t push Luna’s cases to trial while the Legislature is in session. As a result, Luna says she does not ask for legislative continuances. But cases are not shifted away from Luna while she’s in session, Watts says. “There’s a number of lawyers that will help her. But typically it’s not a problem because you can schedule around a 140-day period” during regular legislative sessions, Watts says. “This time it’s been a challenge because they’ve been up there constantly.” In the political arena, Luna may be one of the more interesting attorney members of an increasingly partisan Legislature. On May 11, 2003, when 51 of her Democratic colleagues walked out of the session and went to Ardmore, Okla., to protest consideration of a congressional redistricting plan favored by Republicans, Luna was one of a handful of Democrats who stayed behind in Austin. Luna says it was more important to her to work as a conference committee member on the state budget rather than take a stand with other members of her party. Luna spends most of her time as a legislator dealing with budget issues as vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, a coveted assignment in the Texas Legislature. When her co-workers at the Watts Law Firm discuss the Legislature with her, it’s not the normal political conversation you’d expect between trial lawyers. It’s rarely about tort law, they say. “I’d talk to her about the Legislature and she’ll go on and on about an arcane piece of legislation … putting the comma in the right place and 30,000 school kids get fed,” says David Bright, of counsel at the firm whose office is two doors down from Luna’s. And when many of her fellow lawyer-legislators attacked H.B. 4 — the massive tort reform bill that most plaintiffs lawyers vehemently opposed — Luna says she kept her head low and tried to work with Republicans to minimize the impact the bill had on injured people. Bright says he never could have shown the restraint Luna did on the tort reform issue. “I’d have set fire to the building,” Bright says. “They would have been taking turns at the podium denouncing me. “ Bright and Watts say Luna’s politics have not affected the firm. “I’ve gotten clients because Vilma Luna is my partner,” Watts says. “But it has nothing to do with her being a legislator.” If the 25-lawyer firm suffers a bit during Luna’s frequent absences, it’s big enough to handle it, Watts says. “She’s an incredible, diligent legislator and she works her tail off,” Watts says. “If that means that my firm has to sacrifice for that, we’ll do that because it helps the people of Texas. “ Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston Shareholder, Phillips & Akers Being a name partner in Houston’s Phillips & Akers — the civil defense law firm in which Republican state Rep. Joe Nixon is a partner — has made Brock Akers more recognizable recently and not always in a positive way. “Last night, standing in line at a restaurant, a plaintiffs lawyer told me, “I’m worried that we’re not going to have a law practice anymore,’ ” Akers says. “ But I told him, “I’m confident that we will.’ “ The plaintiffs lawyer was referring to H.B. 4, the massive tort reform bill sponsored by Nixon during last year’s 78th Legislative Session that made him a hero to doctors and businesses and a villain to plaintiffs lawyers and their injured clients across Texas. Nixon’s involvement with H.B. 4 hasn’t affected the firm as far as attracting clients, Akers says. But most plaintiffs attorneys know where Nixon works, he says. One plaintiffs firm, which he declines to identify, recently threatened not to settle with Phillips & Akers’ clients in a toxic tort case, Akers says. But that never came to pass, he says. “There was a lot of rumbling and talk about it and it sure made us uncomfortable,” Akers says “Other than just having to endure people just being angry and button-holing us at various places and really ugly e-mails and phone calls, there wasn’t anything much more than that really. “ Akers says he supports Nixon and his political pursuits. “He’s a statesman first and a lawyer second,” Akers says. “What is good and pleasing for the people in law is not necessarily good for Texas. And time and time again he has shown he was looking after his constituents and what people expected him to do. “ Nixon says he received no flak from the partners at Phillips & Akers as he pushed H.B. 4, although Akers did testify against some products liability proposals in the bill that were later changed. “I have to tell you Mike [Phillips] and Brock were nothing short of fabulous,” Nixon says. “They said, ‘Go do your service. You do what you feel is right.’ “ Phillips & Akers, which has 36 lawyers, hired Nixon in 2000 as a commercial litigation partner because of his ability as a lawyer and not because of his status as a politician, he says. Nixon, who has been in the state House for eight years, says the firm has not attracted nor lost any clients because of his political involvement. “Everybody thinks that somehow you have a lot of large stroke,” Nixon says. “But in reality you don’t. We are a part-time Legislature.” Defendants in civil suits sometimes hire lawyers who are legislators to take advantage of the lawmaker’s ability to file a legislative continuance to delay a case. Nixon says he has filed legislative continuances, but only in cases in which he was hired before the start of a legislative session. And just as Nixon put in extra hours as a legislator working to pass H.B. 4, he must do the same thing at Phillips & Akers to make up for the time he missed, he says. “Like everybody else, I am accountable for my share of the load,” Nixon says. “I have to account for it in some way. I have to make up in some fashion the work that we missed. “ That means working extra hours, late nights and weekends, just like he does during the legislative session, Nixon says. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston Of counsel, Locke Liddell & Sapp Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, found himself in the news almost daily after he joined 10 other Texas Senate Democrats who fled to New Mexico on July 28, 2003, to block the Senate from considering a congressional redistricting bill. Whitmire made even bigger headlines when he became the first of the AWOL senators to return to Austin in September, effectively ending the Democrats’ boycott and paving the way for state lawmakers to approve redistricting legislation before a third special session called by Gov. Rick Perry ended in October. Bruce LaBoon, the former managing partner of Locke Liddell & Sapp, says there was “lots of news coverage” on Whitmire, who is of counsel at the firm’s Houston office. LaBoon says Locke Liddell never tried to influence Whitmire on redistricting or any other issue considered by the Legislature. But LaBoon says that Whitmire’s flight from the state to block a vote on redistricting and his decision to break the walkout didn’t affect Locke Liddell. “No one in our firm talks to John Whitmire about any legislative matter,” says LaBoon, who was the managing partner at Liddell, Sapp, Zivley, Hill & LaBoon when Whitmire joined the firm in 1997. Locke Liddell is the result of a merger between Liddell, Sapp and Dallas’ Locke Purnell Rain Harrell, which became official on Jan. 1, 1999. “My firm is just totally separate from my public service and my politics. They just don’t go there,” says Whitmire, who has served in the Legislature for 30 years, the last 20 of which he spent in the Senate. Julie Gilbert, spokeswoman for Locke Liddell, says the firm makes it “very clear” that Whitmire does not lobby at the state level in all written materials provided when the firm makes proposals to prospective clients. Although Locke Liddell engages in lobbying, Gilbert says the issue of a conflict between a client and legislative matters in which Whitmire is involved has never come up. “It hasn’t been a problem,” she says. LaBoon says Locke Liddell knew when Whitmire joined the firm that his duties as a state senator would come first. “If he gets tied up with the Legislature nine months instead of five months, that’s part of the deal,” LaBoon says, adding that the firm’s approximately 400 other lawyers can cover for Whitmire during a session. Whitmire, a transactional lawyer, says he has had to learn to budget his time. Because he was not on the Senate Redistricting Committee, Whitmire says he was able to spend many days working in Houston during the first special session, which began in June 2003. While Whitmire says some of his law practice can be handled by phone or e-mails, he admits that the work stacked up this year. “Quite frankly, some of it didn’t get done; I’m still catching up,” he says. Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas Partner, Baron & Budd State Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, is proud of the fact that over the course of more than 20 years as a lawmaker, he never asked a judge for a legislative continuance and never mixed the interests of Baron & Budd, where he is a partner, with the laws that he passed. But Wolens is also proud of a claim that few legislators who are also litigators can make — he has never missed a trial setting because of his job as a legislator, or what his mother refers to as his “expensive hobby.” “We don’t postpone clients because of the Legislature,” Wolens says. Since most of his toxic-tort cases at Baron & Budd — a plaintiffs firm — are filed by clients out of state, a legislative continuance probably wouldn’t work anyway, he says. To accommodate his law practice, Wolens holds telephone conferences with judges and lawyers while stuck in Austin for months at a time. Wolens says he occasionally takes a week off during legislative sessions when he has an out-of-state trial. “I have never missed a beat at the firm,” Wolens says of 77-lawyer Baron & Budd. “But it’s nerve-racking.” Wolens won’t have that worry for much longer because on Dec. 3, 2003, he decided not to run for another term. “It was just time to do something new,” Wolens says, who declines to say if he has any other political ambitions. “I’m going to practice full time, as I was before.” Fred Baron, a partner in Baron & Budd, is proud of Wolens’ public service. “A lot of people work as a legislator and a lawyer but in terms of doing a good job in both, Steve falls into that category,” says Baron, a former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America who is a Democratic activist of national prominence. Wolens is widely considered by Texas political observers to be one of the most skilled members of the Legislature. The bills he has passed are as numerous as they are important. Between 1987 and 2003, Wolens passed laws that: created limited liability companies in Texas; cracked down on lawyers who committed barratry; tightened the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary system; made political contribution disclosures more accessible; outlawed pyramid investment schemes; and deregulated electric utilities. “And we don’t practice law in any of those areas,” Baron says. That has been Baron’s one requirement of Wolens the Legislator since hiring him in 1986 — that he keep his political life and his legal life separate. “In fact, we have been meticulous about not giving anyone an argument that Steve Wolens uses his position in the Legislature to benefit the firm,” Baron says. “We completely separate all of his activities from his activities in the Legislature.” The same goes for Wolens’ wife, Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, Baron says. “We were actually representing the city of Dallas in a water pollution case and we had to withdraw from that case,” Baron says, because of Miller, who was first elected mayor in 2002. Wolens says clients don’t hire him or his firm because of his position in the Legislature — with one exception. “One person came to me in the early 1980s because I was a legislator and asked me to do a will for him,” Wolens says. “And I declined.” At the end of this year, when his duties as a legislator and his commitment not to mix his public and legal jobs ends, Wolens could start practicing law in areas he became familiar with during his years as a lawmaker, such as utility law. But that’s not likely to happen, Wolens says. “I don’t know how to practice that law,” Wolens says. “But I sure understand the law.”

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