By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Stone, however, remembers the incident somewhat differently. She says one of her fundraisers inadvertently solicited a contribution from V&E to retire her campaign debt, and V&E's Stallings called the fundraiser to say the firm would be happy to contribute but wanted the judge to be aware there was a case pending in her court involving the firm. Stone says that she then instructed the campaign worker "to thank them, but of course I couldn't take the contribution."
Rabinowitz closely questioned Allen about a sizable series of contributions, totaling $20,000, from V&E to state District Judge Sharolyn Wood between 1990 and 1992. In November 1992, Wood dismissed a lawsuit by former Hermann Hospital executive Harry Neer against the hospital and V&E.
Allen explained the unusually large contributions as an effort by the firm to aid Wood in marshaling opposition to a proposal ramrodded by state Senator Rodney Ellis that would have mandated the election of state judges by districts in Harris County, rather than by the current countywide method. Allen testified in the deposition that V&E's position was that if the district proposal passed, "you would have a very parochial, provincial system of electing judges." (The firm's point of view prevailed, and Ellis' proposal failed).
Getting back to that "Mystic Book," Allen said that the ledger of contributions partners have made independently is now actually more of a Mystic Database that resides in his secretary's computer. Allen says he passes judgment on whether a partner's independent contributions to candidates should be credited against that lawyer's PAC dues. (Such credits cannot be made for contributions to the firm's federal PAC.)
In explaining how the system works, Allen offered the hypothetical case of a partner who came to him and said, " 'I want to give all of [my dues] to Ann Richards, because I love Ann Richards.'
"Well, from an institutional standpoint," Allen dryly added, "that doesn't make any sense."
In an interview with the Press, former V&E managing partner Evans Attwell insisted the firm is not trying to buy judges with political cash, but is forced to give to even the courtroom playing field with its adversaries, the plaintiff's bar.
"It's not that you get influence with judges," said Attwell. "It's something we would do anything to get rid of. We want appointed judges. This is the bane of our existence, so to speak. It's something that started over the years and it's come to be expected and we're almost caught in a trap."
V&E's contributions, sizable as they are, pale by comparison with those of the plaintiff's attorneys, Attwell said. "It is on the order of one to a hundred. Not even close. That's not a firm view, just my personal view. We've gotten into a trap we'd like to get out of, but to stay on a par with all the other firms we continue it."
V&E's state PAC is also an influential player in city of Houston elections, where Allen, who lobbies Mayor Bob Lanier and City Council on behalf of various corporate interests, helped organize an informal slate of pro-Lanier incumbents and aspiring councilmembers this year. All won their races in the November 7 election, save for two who are in runoffs this weekend. They are David Ballard for at-large Position 3 and Saundria Chase Gray in District