TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A trial lawyer won’t have the chance to stack the Florida Supreme Court with picks influenced by other plaintiffs attorneys thanks to voters re-electing GOP Gov. Rick Scott on Nov. 4, the president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce recently said.
Throughout his 2013-2014 campaign, trial lawyers pumped millions into the coffers of Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who turned Democrat. Those lawyers included Houston plaintiffs attorney Steve Mostyn, who contributed $1.2 million to the failed gubernatorial candidate.
During his reign as governor from 2007–2011, Crist, an attorney for the Orlando civil litigation firm Morgan & Morgan, appointed four high court justices - Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and James Perry.
If he had won, Crist could have had an opportunity to appoint four more justices in place of those facing mandatory retiremen - Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Perry.
Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says while the state Supreme Court is “theoretically” non-partisan, it's clear the philosophical beliefs of justices matter, and trial lawyers have had a significant role in selecting judges and justices that are overturning “common sense legal reform” and other major cost drivers.
“It is widely believed that Charlie Crist, due to mandatory retirement and likely voluntary vacancies, would have appointed three or four justices during his first term,” said Wilson. “This means the trial lawyer would have essentially appointed the entire bench as he appointed several justices before he left office.”
With Scott securing a second term, Wilson expects the governor will now have an opportunity to appoint justices and shape the court.
“I'm confident he will do a thorough job interview, rather than ask his trial lawyer partners before making his selections,” Wilson said. “They (trial lawyers) knew that Charlie (Crist), if elected, would appoint several Supreme Court justices.”
Crist’s PAC, Charlie Crist for Florida, raked in $30 million in contributions, an impressive amount largely supplied by Florida attorneys, campaign finance records show.
“Billboard trial lawyers in Florida invested heavily in Charlie Crist because they wanted one of their own in the governor's office,” Wilson said.
“Trial lawyers are entrepreneurs, too … (they) make their money by leveraging unfair laws, restricting evidence, blocking common sense legal reforms, and investing heavily against republicans … and against the prosperity and freedom of Florida's voters.”
To combat Crist and the trial lawyer agenda this election cycle, the Chamber spent a record $7 million, Wilson says.
The Florida Chamber, in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, even aired a TV commercial urging Floridians to contact their senator to support tort reform, warning viewers they pay approximately $3,400 each year in higher "lawsuit abuse taxes" for goods and services.
“The average family of four in Florida pays and the trial lawyers clearly win while families, workers and small business pay the price,” Wilson said.
“Again, trial lawyers believe in more lawsuits. They know that keeping Florida as one of America's worst legal climates is a continual ATM machine for their lawsuit factories. They spent millions against republicans. Elections should have consequences, so hopefully the small business agenda of common sense legal reform will once again advance in Florida.”
Wilson offered a theory on why outside individuals and groups, such as the Mostyn Law Firm in Houston, spent small fortunes funding Democrats, like Crist.
“Trial lawyers outside Florida provided millions in political dollars to Charlie Crist for the same reason George Soros and California activist Tom Steyer invested in Charlie Crist,” Wilson said.
“They, like government unions and other big government supporters, believe in a very different future for America. They all united in their effort to try to establish a massive Florida advantage in the 2016 presidential race. Whether they believed in legalizing drugs, Soros, in more litigation and regulation, trial lawyers, or in significantly raising energy costs, Steyer, they all invested in a very un-American agenda and they came up short.”
Known as “Hurricane Mostyn,” the trial lawyer made hundreds of millions in attorney’s fees in the wake of Hurricane Ike by filing thousands of lawsuits against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association – the lone provider of windstorm insurance for Texas gulf coast residents.
Even contributions from Crist’s firm, Morgan & Morgan, failed to match Mostyn’s total of $1.2 million, as donations from the firm and its founder, John Morgan, combined for $275,000.
“Rick Scott has successfully started and managed business and created hundreds of thousands of jobs so he knows what it takes to stay in business,” Wilson said. “Charlie Crist and his boss (Morgan) sue small businesses and families for a living. In the end, Florida voters saw what we saw and decided a job creator who shrinks government and pushes for common sense legal reform is a much better choice than a personal injury trial lawyer who supports more government.”
Under Scott’s continued leadership, Wilson expects continued Florida job creation.
An Aug. 4 Business Insider article ranked the Florida economy as sixth in the nation, stating the Sunshine State had a 3.1 jump in payroll jobs between June 2013 and June 2014, adding around 237,500 jobs during that span.
“Rick Scott and the Florida Chamber believe that private sector job creation is the key to Florida's future,” Wilson said. “Trial lawyers like Charlie Crist believe more lawsuits, higher taxes, legalizing drugs, adding new regulations, more unionization, less economic freedom and bigger government programs are somehow a credible path forward.”
Crist lost to Scott by a narrow margin, hauling in 2,795,263 votes for 47.95 percent, while Scott captured 2,861,390 votes for 48.16 percent of the total vote.
“Charlie Crist is a nice man who simply lost his way and trial lawyers attempted to take advantage of a broken compass,” Wilson added.
Mostyn’s personal reasons for funding Crist remain a matter of speculation, as the trial lawyer refuses to comment on any article written by media outlets owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, including the Southeast Texas Record and Legal Newsline.
And as of Nov. 13, Crist has not responded to requests for comment.