After losing a case at the Texas Supreme Court, listening to anecdotal stories from lawyers, and seeing news stories like the documentary by 60 Minutes, Is Justice For Sale in Texas (1987), and the article by The Texas Tribune, Odor in the Court (2010), it appears that decisions by the Texas Supreme Court might be affected by political donations by companies and attorneys who have cases before that court. Law firms who regularly appear before the Texas Supreme Court are the largest donors to the justices sitting on that same court.
Do political contributions to Texas Supreme Court Justices create preferential treatment for the donor?
Entities represented by a law firm that donates large sums of money to Texas Supreme Court Justices have a greater chance of having their petition for review granted and receiving a favorable ruling than the average Texan.
Terms and Definitions:
Petitioner - A party petitioning the Texas Supreme Court for appellate review of the judgment of a lower court, seeking to overturn or modify that judgment.
Respondent - A party adverse to a petitioner in the Texas Supreme Court or a party against whom relief is sought in a proceeding before the Texas Supreme Court.
Self-Represented Cases - Cases where either the Petitioner or Respondent is not represented by an attorney. These cases were removed from the test data.
Writ of Mandamus - An extraordinary court order mandating that a lower court or other government official take a certain non-discretionary action. A petition for writ of mandamus before the Texas Supreme Court is an extraordinary original proceeding, as opposed to an appeal, because it is made without the benefit of full judicial process, or before a case has concluded. These petitions/cases were removed from the test data.
These are the steps used in the experiment process:
- Identify the law firms responsible for the largest political contributions from The Texas Tribune Article: “Odor in the Court” (2010). After taking a cursory look at the ten law firms listed in the article, we settled on the “Favorite 9” law firms. (McGinnis Lochridge & Kilgore was removed from the list because its combined campaign contributions totaled less than $30,000, which was more than one-third less than the next lowest law firm’s combined contribution total.)
- Search and compile contribution data from Texas Ethics Commission of the “Favorite 9” firms, lawyers, and PACs for the period through and including 2006-2016, an eleven-year period.
- Create a database of lawyers associated with each of the Favorite 9 firms using Texas Ethics Commission data.
- Download all Texas Supreme Court cases for the period through and including 2006-2015, a ten-year period, from txcourts.gov website. A 2015 case may not conclude until 2017. For cases beginning in 2006, donations given in 2006 would be prior to a petition for review being granted. And, for cases beginning in 2015, donations given in 2016 would be prior to decisions of petitions granted for 2015 cases. With these conditions in mind, we believe the donation data overlap is an appropriate data set to test.
- Programmatically remove Writ of Mandamus cases.
- Programmatically build a .csv (resultfirms.csv) file with each line of data representing each individual Petitioner and Respondent including the lawyers representing each.
- Because the .html page of each case does not include the law firm, we programmatically assign law firm(s) to each Respondent or Petitioner by cross referencing the database created in step 3. Note: Lawyers are associated by firm, and firms are subject to change if a lawyer changes firms. Therefore, it is possible that firms could be assigned in error because of a lawyer changing firms, but we made efforts to minimize these errors. If someone attempts to recreate this research, cross-referencing lawyers to law firms is not necessary with the data provided directly from the records office of the Texas Supreme Court provided in the folders: “SC data - 1-1-00 to 12-31-09” and “SC Data - 1-1-10 to 10-31-18”. We received these files after our research was complete.
- Once the “resultfirms.csv” file is programmatically created, the data is opened in Excel and analyzed using formulas and functions within Excel (filename-“Supreme Court Final Website.xlsx”) as follows:
- Remove Self-Represented cases using multiple Excel functions.
- Mark petition for review cases as “Granted” if an opinion exists.
- Mark granted petitions as “Petitioner Reversed” if the word “reverse” is found in the opinion. We treated “Reverse and Remand” and “Reverse and Rendered” equally in our research since both of these grant some type of relief to the petitioner.
- Total results of b and c.
- Sort cases by “Favorite 9” or “Other” and create a worksheet for each.
- Identify Petitioners and Respondents as “Over 1B” (parties with net worth of one billion dollars or more).
- Create list of “Favorite 9” with case results removed (minimizes possible bias).
- Have the Petitioner and Respondent entities researched on Yahoo Finance or Bloomberg to determine estimated value of net worth. If the entity is not a public company, use web search engines to make a best judgement. Mark and sort the Petitioner or Respondent as “Over 1B” or “Under 1B” accordingly.
- Create two worksheets (“Over 1B” and “Under 1B”) from the “Favorite 9”.
Aggregate Results on “results” worksheet on the “Supreme Court Final Website.xlsx” file.
Petitioners represented by a Favorite 9 law firm with a net worth greater than $1 Billion have 5.43 times the probability of having their case granted a review and a favorable ruling compared to regular Texans. Additionally, petitioners represented by a Favorite 9 law firm have 3.75 times the probability of having their petition for review granted and a favorable ruling by the Texas Supreme Court compared to regular Texans. Click HERE to see the full summary.
Our team is uniquely qualified to analyze data and discern conclusions through analysis of the data. As Texans, we can each fulfill our civic duty in different ways by using our unique skills to improve society. We hope that this research is informative and helpful to our fellow Texans.
As data scientists, we painstakingly made every effort to generate an error free analysis and report. There is likely some data that is missing or not properly applied, but we are confident that the results are statistically sound. We researched this issue using the scientific method (outlined above) which should allow others to replicate and scrutinize our research. By providing this transparency with our process and our data, we feel that it holds us accountable.
We know there are other Texans who are proficient with large data sets, and we encourage you to do further research and glean additional information about this important issue.
FOLDERS & FILES
These folders contain .txt files of each case with each file name being the case number. The .txt files are the web scraped .html for each case found on the Texas Supreme Court website. (http://www.txcourts.gov)
This folder contains files of contribution data for attorneys involved with the three cases featured in the documentary – Whirlpool Corporation v. Camacho, U-Haul International Inc. v. Waldrip, and BP America Production Company v. Red Deer Resources, LLC (Salem Abraham owns Red Deer Resources, LLC).
This folder contains the downloaded files from the Texas Ethics Commission website with contribution data used in the analysis. It also includes the excel files used in the aggregation of this data.
This folder contains a file for each “Favorite 9” law firm. Each file lists the attorneys associated with each law firm. These names were cross referenced with the case data to determine the law firm involved in each case. NOTE: We understand that lawyers change firms, and we took corrective measures to account for moves. However, it is possible that we could have missed some.
These files were obtained by issuing an open records request to the Texas Supreme Court. We received these files after our research was complete. If we were to do the research over again, this would be the ideal data source.
Billion Firm List Check.xlsx – This file is a list of the cases involving the “Favorite 9” law firms. The list contains the names of the petitioner(s) and respondent(s) of each case. Each client (petitioner or respondent) was researched using Bloomberg and/or search engines to determine if the client’s net worth was greater than $1B. No case results were included in this file in order to keep the analysis unbiased.
Resultfirms.csv – This file is compiled using the files scraped from the Texas Supreme Court website. This file contains lines of data for each petitioner and each respondent of every Texas Supreme Court Case during the test period excluding Writ of Mandamus cases. Each line of data includes: "CaseNum(ber)", "Petitioner", "Respondent", "PfRdisposed" (Petition for Review Disposed), "Opinion", "Firm” (Favorite 9), and "Atty” (Attorney(s) . The “Firm” field is determined by identifying a “Favorite 9” law firm by cross referencing the files in the folder “Lawyers by Firm” described above. If the attorney is not identified in the “Lawyers by Firm” files, the “Firm” field is left blank.
Supreme Court Final Website.xlsx – This is the main spreadsheet that includes calculations of case results, and the final presentation of results. The final presentation of results is found in the “results” worksheet. This file includes other worksheets that are described below:
resultfirms- This worksheet contains the case data from the “Resultsfirms.csv” file described above.
There are 9 worksheets named for each “Favorite 9” law firm – Each of these 9 worksheets include case data for each individual Favorite 9 law firm and the calculations of these case results.
Favorite 9 – This worksheet includes case data of all the “Favorite 9 law firms combined and the combined calculations of these case results.
Over 1B - This worksheet includes case data for clients with a net worth over $1B represented by at least one of the “Favorite 9” law firm and the calculations of these case results.
Under 1B – This worksheet includes case data for clients with a net worth under $1B represented by at least one of the “Favorite 9” law firm, and the calculations of these case results.
Others - This worksheet includes case data for ordinary Texans not represented by a “Favorite 9” law firm and the calculations of these case results.
The Effects of Money on the Supreme Court of Texas Rulings
by Salem Abraham, Larry Smith, and Colby Waters
published February 24, 2020