This week’s “We’re taking it to the Supreme Court!” case

The Times Record News of Wichita Falls has an article today titled “Sent back: Court reverses employee pay increase plan”.

It reports that the Fort Worth Court of Appeals has reversed a declaratory judgment “that would have forced the county to adopt a six-year/six-step pay increase plan for employees of the Wichita County Sheriff’s Department.” Wichita County v. Bonnin, No. 02-07-00156-CV (Tex. App.—Fort Worth)

What happens next?

“We will obviously seek an opportunity for the Texas Supreme Court to review this,” said Steve Briley, who with Wichita Falls attorney Harold White has represented the WCSDEA pro bono. “County employees aren’t being greedy; they barely make a living wage. Voters made it clear they want them to get this increase.”

It may have just been the exuberance of the moment, but one of the county commissioners also seems to think this is a case that has broader significance.

Commissioner Bill Preston, who said he was “just tickled” with the ruling, said the case is being closely watched by commissioners’ courts all over the state.

“They have a vested interest in what happens here,” he said.

There is of course still plenty of time between now and filing that Response to the Petition for his lawyers to think of the prudential reasons for the Court to deny review.

Dole banana litigation moved back to Harris County

“Appeals Court grants writ forcing Judge Floyd to transfer venue on Dole suit”, from the Southeast Texas Record

It’s not actually toxic tort litigation involving Provost Umphrey — it’s litigation about toxic tort litigation. In this suit, the law firm itself is the named plaintiff suing Dole and its general counsel for tortiously “negotiating directly” with the firm’s clients who had claims against Dole.

The original suit, Provost Umphrey vs. Dole Food et al, alleges Dole and its lawyers of negotiating directly with its clients in Nicaragua to settle pesticide exposure claims, and that Dole general counsel Michael Carter and Dole attorney James Teater of Houston conspired to interfere with client contracts.

Provost Umphrey sued Dole, Carter and Teater two years ago for tortious interference with the business relationship between Provost Umphrey and its Nicaraguan clients. The suit also alleges defamation and business disparagement.

The article reports that the firm previously won a tort suit in Nicaragua on behalf of about 150 workers for approximately $97 million.

Last week, the Beaumont Court granted mandamus relief to Dole to force this lawsuit to move from Jefferson County to Harris County. Dole had previously failed in its efforts to remove the case to federal court, but now will apparently get its second-choice venue.

In Re Dole Food Company, Inc., No. 09-08-056 CV

Coming Sooner or Later

Paul Burka has a piece online this week titled “Stop Bashing the Business Tax”.

He begins his article by noting the simmering dispute among Texas Republicans over how to structure a business tax:

One of the handouts I picked up at the state Republican convention was another attack on the Republican leadership and the “Perry Business Tax” from the “Conservative Republicans of Texas.” The organization’s president is longtime conservative activist Steven Hotze. The handout says:

The Perry Business Tax, which passed with the help of the Texas House and Senate Republican leadership, is a state income tax which violates the Texas Constitution. Its constitutionality will be tested shortly in the courts after the first payments are made.

Now there’s a fun lawsuit. I can’t wait to see what the Texas Supreme Court does with that one. If they bust the tax, the school districts will file a school finance lawsuit the next day. If they uphold the constitutionality of the tax, the Dan Patricks and the Steven Hotzes will go after the court.

I agree with Burka that this would be “a fun lawsuit” — but on its merits. The Texas Constitution has some interesting quirks that still shape the broad outlines of Texas fiscal policy and provide the backdrop for our unique brand of politics.

As for the link to school funding … I think Burka’s post overstates it. It’s true that a court ruling about school finance helped lead to changes in the business tax. But unwinding the one would not unwind the other — a new tax decision, even a sweeping one, would just force the Legislature to divide a smaller pie (or to find other ways to augment it). If recent trends continue, the “winners and losers” from that next round of legislative process would then become plaintiffs in the next round of cases seeking to shape shape state fiscal policy.

Whatever you think about this cycle in terms of your political, economic, or judicial philosophy, I do know this: These cases keep the pundits in business (and the bloggers busy).