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By W. Gardner Selby July 2, 2015

Lawmakers watered down, then killed, proposed ban on lawyer-legislator referrals

It's not right for legislators who are lawyers to make money from lawsuit referrals, the state's chief lawyer said while running for governor.

Attorney General Greg Abbott called for barring legislator-lawyers from earning legal fees or receiving any benefit from legal referrals, he said in his campaign's book of goals.

As things stand, Abbott said, a legislator-attorney "may have opportunities to use the access and prestige of his office to generate revenue via referral fees without doing any legal work for the client. This practice is unethical," Abbott said, "and should be disallowed."

The 2015 legislative session didn't generate any such limit, the governor acknowledged in a June 2015 document spelling out which of his priorities did win legislative favor.

But to our inquiry, Carol Birch,  a lawyer in the Texas office of Public Citizen, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that calls itself the "countervailing force to corporate power," told us by phone that a limit won consideration.

The introduced version of Senate Bill 19, an ethics proposal authored by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, made it a Class B misdemeanor for a lawyer-legislator or a lawyer serving as a statewide elected official to make a legal referral. But legislative records show senators removed the proposed restriction and voted instead to require each lawyer elected to state and statewide office to list in her or his personal financial statement filed with the state the date of each legal referral, the "style of the case referred, if applicable" plus "the percentage of the legal fee paid or received." Later, a House committee made its own tweaks regarding referrals before the session ended without a House-Senate accord on SB 19, records show.

We're marking this an Abbott PROMISE BROKEN.

Promise Broken – The promise has not been fulfilled. This could occur because of inaction by the executive or lack of support from the legislative branch or other group that was critical for the promise to be fulfilled. A Promise Broken rating does not necessarily mean that the executive failed to advocate for the policy.

Our Sources

News story, "Gubernatorial candidate Abbott calls for greater privacy protections, legalizing open carry," the Associated Press, Nov. 14, 2013


Document, "Bicentennial Blueprint, Greg Abbott's Working Texans Plan," Oct. 28, 2013


Legislation, Senate Bill 19, 2015 regular legislative session, Texas Legislature, Texas Legislative Council (accessed June 29, 2015)


Document, "Blueprint Bills," Gov. Greg Abbott, June 2015 (sent by email from Matt Hirsch, communications director, Gov. Abbott's office, to Jonathan Tilove, chief political writer, Austin American-Statesman, June 18, 2015)


Telephone interview, Carol Birch, legislative counsel, Texas office, Public Citizen, Austin, June 29, 2015

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