HOUSTON - "If somebody wants to leverage me, they can. There is nothing I can do about it,” said State Rep. Todd Hunter in a Channel 2 Investigates report back on Nov. 27 --- a powerful statement from a powerful figure in Texas politics.
Channel 2 Investigates discovered storm attorneys using Hunter's political office to their advantage.
In one presentation captured on video, attorney Rick Daly tells officials from the city of Ingleside: “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.”
Another similar presentation got the attention of Hugh Brady, the director of the Legislative Lawyering Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law. "There certainly is a strong inference that this law firm hired Rep. Hunter not because of what he knows, but because of who he is," Brady said.
Not only has Hunter received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the attorneys in the video, he's also collaborating with the same attorneys in lawsuits filed against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, a quasi-governmental entity that Hunter says he intends to further regulate in his other role as a lawmaker.
"I'm looking at several pieces of legislation," Hunter said.
"It appears he's playing both sides," said Rene Sigman, a storm attorney based in Houston.
Sigman sued TWIA on behalf of policyholders in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and said she has issues with the records Channel 2 Investigates uncovered.
"Are you fighting because you are making a profit and you're getting a fee off these cases? Would you be fighting just as hard if you didn't get a fee off these cases and make a profit," Sigman said.
However, what also bothers Sigman is the fact that Hunter could profit on TWIA cases after voting for House Bill 3 in 2011, a bill that made it more challenging to sue the agency under certain circumstances.
"I take issue with the fact that he voted for a bill that is in effect that affects the people in his county, and then you are turning around and representing them as their attorney on a bill that you passed, that harmed them," she said.
A few years back, Texans for Lawsuit Reform listed Hunter as a leader in the fight to stop storm-chasing lawyers, but now he is partnering with law firms like Daly & Black.
TWIA tells Channel 2 Investigates that Daly & Black has filed 231 of the 302 lawsuits against the agency post-Hurricane Harvey. Court records Channel 2 Investigates tracked down show Hunter is connected to two of them. We asked Hunter if there were any others.
"I don't know. I really don't. I can't tell you,” he said.
When Channel 2 Investigates asked if the number of cases he was involved in was over a dozen, Hunter said he had absolutely no idea.
The bottom line for Sigman is, "It looks like he's representing himself."
According to the Aransas County District Clerk’s Office, one of the cases Hunter has partnered with Daly & Black and other attorneys on is set to be back in court on Jan. 25, 2019. At that point, Hunter will also be serving as a member of the 86th Texas Legislature, which will be in its third week of session.
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