After our article on the Lafountain TMFPA case and the allegations of Medicaid fraud against 71 dentists and dental entities the relator had never worked for, TDMR received a copy of an invitation to a political fundraising reception that was held back in February in Dallas where the case is being played out. The reception was held at the law offices of Winston & Strawn to raise funds for the re-election campaign of a popular, well-respected judge of the Dallas County District Court, Judge Maricela Moore.
Last year, Judge Moore was awarded Trial Judge of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates and she currently has the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News and many other respected peers for her re-election bid against a strong Republican opponent.
Raising political donations
To promote the evening, the invitation contains a list of 30 lawyers and law firms that had already donated various amounts of money. Platinum sponsors had given $5,000, Gold $2,500, and Silver $1,000. Among the list of Silver sponsors are the names of Andrew Sommerman, Tex Quesada, and Sean McCaffity.
The names struck a bell because all these individuals are lawyers to Joshua Fountain in the TMFPA suit. They are partners in the Dallas law firm of Sommerman, McCaffity, Quesada & Geisler.
And the Lafountain case is currently before Judge Maricela Moore.
Right to donate to candidate of choice
A contribution of $1,000 each is hardly worth mentioning. Others had given the same or more. Individuals have the right to donate to candidates of the political party they support and believe are worthy.
But it did cause us to do a bit more research.
More than meets the eye
Campaign donations can be checked online on the Texas Ethics Commission website. It turns out that the Sommerman partners and their firm have so far donated a total of $14,000 to the judge’s re-election campaign — $5,000 from the firm, $1,500 each from Andrew Sommerman, Tex Quesada and Sean McCaffity, who is now running for a U.S. Congressional seat, and another $1,500 each from their professional corporations.
By contrast, the only other attorney in their firm to give to Judge Moore’s campaign is the well-respected Al Ellis who donated a total of $650, according to TEC filings.
The search of the TEC donation records also disclosed that Jerry Alexander and Kyle Mandeville of the firm Passman & Jones, two more of Lafountain’s attorneys, have so far donated a total of $3,750 individually and from their firm to the judge’s re-election campaign.
At what amount does it start to look improper?
Now $17,000 is significant coin to a sitting judge presiding over their case in court.
We have to ask at what point does the dollar amount of contributions create the appearance of attempting to influence a court?
According to the Texas Ethics Commission Guidelines for Judicial Candidates and Officeholders, the maximum donation level for individuals in Dallas County is $5,000 for candidates for courts of appeals, district courts, statutory county courts, or statutory probate courts. But there is no guideline to take into account contributions given to a judge who is currently presiding over a lawyer’s case.
It’s a hard question.
Questions raised before
It’s not like this type of issue hasn’t been brought up in Texas before. It is even a topic of current media interest in Newsweek and the NY Times – “Campaign Funds for Judges Warp Criminal Justice, Study Finds – Judges in Harris County, Texas, were far more likely to appoint lawyers who had donated to their campaigns to represent poor criminal defendants.”
The Texas Tribune earlier this year published a feature article – “Speaking statistically, this GOP donor wants to convince you that money buys justice in Texas – After losing a case at the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, millionaire Salem Abraham set out to mathematically test the idea that campaign contribution influence the elected justices. Now he wants to change the system.”
TDMR is not the Texas Tribune nor the NY Times but we thought the monetary amount worthy of public mention.