HOUSTON – Since Hurricane Harvey came ashore 15 months ago, Channel 2 Investigates has been chronicling the challenges faced by Texans in the coastal communities of Rockport and Port Aransas.
Property owners who had their roofs blown off say they've faced challenges in getting properly reimbursed by the insurance provider they trusted, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, also known as TWIA.
TWIA is the insurer of last resort for 14 coastal counties and parts of Harrris County and many of their customers were expecting to be made whole after the storm.
State Rep. Todd Hunter also has been critical of TWIA for nearly a year.
"Am I about to take a look at TWIA? The answer is yes."
This past spring, Hunter sat down with Channel 2 Investigates and confirmed plans to not only examine TWIA, but to present a change through legislation.
Earlier this month, Hunter doubled-down on his plans to make changes to TWIA when the state legislature convenes in January.
"I'm looking at several pieces of legislation,” he said during an interview in Port Aransas.
However, Hunter is working another angle, which has some of his constituents asking who is he really representing.
"From what it looks like, it appears to be that he is working for himself and not us,” said property owner Sam Demarcus.
Not only is Hunter in the uniquely powerful position of an elected official pushing to reform TWIA, but as Channel 2 Investigates has learned, he also is teaming up with big storm attorneys to battle the quasi-governmental entity in court.
That's ironic since only a few years ago, Texans for Lawsuit Reform listed Hunter as a leader in the fight to stop "storm-chasing lawyers." Big storm attorneys have donated tens of thousands to Hunter and those same attorneys make it clear Hunter is on their team, touting his political office.
"What we've done is team up with Todd Hunter, who, you know, the representative that lives in Corpus and another law firm, we are handling the hurricane claims that seem to be pretty predominant in this area."
This was from Rick Daly of the firm Daly and Black, during a July presentation to the City of Ingleside. Daly also told city officials Hunter is politically well connected.
“And that is part of the reason that we got him and Todd Hunter involved. Because we knew that there was going to be a political aspect to all this and in order to get everybody made whole and to get the cities back up and running, you got to have a combination of people who know the law, and people who have political connections and people have money and people who can do the work, and that is why we put this team together.”
Hunter simply said “sure” after viewing the video uncovered by Channel 2 Investigates. When asked how is that not interpreted as someone who is leveraging the office for profit, Hunter quickly responded, "Well, for years I've been a lawyer and I've worked with insurance companies as well. If somebody wants to leverage me, they can. There is nothing I can do about it."
Court records show Hunter making recent court appearances in civil suits against TWIA. However, Hunter informed Channel 2 Investigates, "I would say I'm probably not the one in court, but I'm working with the people that are going to court. Yes.”
Yet, when we began to pull out copies of a reporter's record, Hunter quickly clarified, “No what I'm saying is I'm not the lawyer arguing the court.”
When pressed about being present in court, Hunter confirmed, saying, “Sure I've been to court many times as a lawyer.”
"It sounds a little bit like the fox guarding the hen house,” according to Hugh Brady, director of the Legislative Lawyering Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law. Brady questions the portrayal of Hunter's services in presentations Channel 2 has obtained.
"Lawyers are not supposed to imply that they have an advantage in any litigation because of governmental or other political connections that they may have."
Hunter understands the importance of ethics in politics. He is, after all, a former member of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics.
"I don't think you're supposed to leverage your office. No. You know I'm not, I just don't think it's leveraging (the) office, but I see the point."
However, as he says this, let’s not forget Hunter's response earlier after watching what Channel 2 Investigates uncovered: "If somebody wants to leverage me, they can. There is nothing I can do about it."
As of Nov. 7, out of the 302 lawsuits filed against TWIA since Harvey, 231 are from the firm Daly and Black, according to TWIA. During our interview, Hunter told us, “I haven’t profited much, if I have” on those lawsuits in which he is collaborating with Daly and Black.
As for how many TWIA cases he is involved in? Hunter said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. I can’t tell you.”