The Insider

A Love So Devine
Civil District Judge John Devine is a strident right-to-lifer who's decorated his courtroom in religious kitsch, but somehow the conservative Republican jurist has maintained soul connections to the ranks of godless Democratic plaintiff's lawyers -- connections that came in handy when he ran in last month's special election for the 25th Congressional District seat.

Devine raked in a total of $86,000 in contributions for his abortion of a congressional campaign, much of it emanating from lawyers who might wind up with cases in his court. Since state law now provides a limited window of opportunity for lawyers to shower sitting judges with contributions, Devine's congressional race provided another avenue to test the theory that the quickest way to a judge's heart is through his campaign account.

"Very clever," says one Democratic operative of the campaign cash sluiceway to Devine. "No wonder he ran for Congress!"

Devine's connections to the plaintiff's bar are not merely financial: The Christian conservative judge kicked up his heels last week in the company of attorney-under-fire John O'Quinn at a lavish Christmas blowout at the Ritz-Carlton hosted by plaintiff's attorney Richard Mithoff.

O'Quinn didn't personally contribute to Devine, but several lawyers in his firm did. Among the O'Quinn associates making the maximum $1,000 contributions to Devine were Thomas Pirtle, Carl Shaw and Dana Morris. Mary Laminack, the lawyer wife of O'Quinn partner Richard Laminack, also donated a grand to Devine's losing effort.

Erroneously listed as an O'Quinn & Laminack attorney on Devine's Federal Elections Commission disclosure is Dr. Donald Winston, a physician who consults for O'Quinn on medical aspects of the firm's cases. Winston denied that his $1,000 contribution had any connection to the other contributions from O'Quinn's attorneys.

"John Devine appears to be efficient and has the courage of his convictions," deadpanned Winston, who described the judge as "my favorite candidate in the race."

O'Quinn had a business relationship with Devine, having bought out Devine's practice, which included at least one breast-implant case, when Devine took office, at least according to what the judge said when he announced his congressional bid. But one downtown legal source snorts at that explanation, saying Devine was a contract employee for Brown & Root who didn't even have an active legal practice before running for judge. This source also claims Devine actively approached attorneys, some of whom practiced in his court, to solicit campaign contributions during his congressional campaign, a maneuver that is legal but ethically dubious. Devine did not return a call from The Insider concerning his campaign finances.

Another interesting contribution to Devine was a $500 gift from Howard Nations, a longtime Democrat who organized a PAC for Democratic judicial candidates several elections back. Then there was the $1,000 contribution from Windi Akins, a plaintiff's attorney who's married to former Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini. Also chipping in a single $1,000 contribution was Tom McDade, O'Quinn's attorney in his current fight with the State Bar of Texas, and three of McDade's law partners.

Firms defending breast-implant manufacturers also covered their bases with Devine. Liddell, Sapp, Zivley, Hill & LaBoon forked over $1,000, as did the firm of Beirne Maynard & Parsons, which provides opposing counsel in Dow Corning cases involving O'Quinn.

Even with all that legal help, Devine garnered just 7 percent of the November 5 vote, a result that may have left many of his contributors with a feeling of relief. After all, that monetary goodwill would have been wasted had Devine gone to Congress, unless he had some secret plan to launch a national anti-tort reform movement.

Republican Surcharge
The Harris County Council of Organizations is a collection of African-American ministers whose PAC usually can be counted on to line up solidly behind Democratic candidates, black and white -- but for a price.

In the November general election, Democrats such as Congressman Gene Green and judicial candidates George Ellis and Joe Draughn each forked over $500 to HCCO, which seemed to be the group's standard "endorsement fee" this go-round.

But the HCCO, which has gone through a split resulting in litigation by dissident members, was hurting for money until Republican District Judge Dwight Jefferson dropped $2,000 into the group's coffers after receiving its endorsement over his Democratic challenger, Elinor Walters. A Jefferson campaign associate says former port commissioner Howard Middleton appealed to the Jefferson camp to help the cash-strapped organization, and Jefferson came through in style.

Perhaps it's a lesson the ministerial PAC will remember in the next election: Republicans usually have more money to spare.

The Long Arm of Dave B.
Three of the candidates seeking to fill John Peavy Jr.'s at-large City Council seat in the January 18 special election each have some potent resources to draw on.

Lawyer Chris Bell has the endorsement of the downtown power brokers in the Greater Houston Association and the money-raising muscle of Vinson & Elkins's Joe B. Allen as his campaign finance chairman.

At the helm of the Reverend James Dixon's finance committee is Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale, who will presumably not only save you money but also raise some for Dixon.

But neither Bell nor Dixon can match the secret weapons of civic contrarian Dave B. Wilson, whose Ethics Committee complaint against Peavy for retaining part ownership of a city-franchised ice cream stand at Hobby Airport was responsible for Peavy's resignation from Council.

Wilson, who owns a sign company, possesses a "versa-lift" van equipped with a motorized arm and bucket that rises from the center of the vehicle and allows an operator to hang signs on utility poles and other lofty perches at heights of up to 32 feet. Then there's the Godzilla of sign hangers: a Wilson truck outfitted with a 130-foot crane that can place signs into near earth-orbit.

Wilson admits responsibility -- or, more accurately, takes credit -- for the placement of those signs, mostly for conservative judicial candidates, you might have seen hanging at seemingly impossible heights around area thoroughfares before the November election. He's particularly proud of one touting Mike Fleming's bid for county attorney that he placed on a support beam high above the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 59 over Buffalo Bayou.

"You need to see that one," chuckles Wilson, "'cause there will probably be a 'Dave Wilson for City Council' sign up there soon."

Happy Holidays -- You're Fired!
Commissioners Court approved the hiring of incoming county attorney Mike Fleming for on-the-job training prior to his January swearing-in, but Fleming's already mastered one aspect of the position: political housecleaning.

Last week Fleming notified ten veterans of outgoing County Attorney Mike Driscoll's regime that they would not be rehired. Among those directed to the exit by Fleming are attorneys Terry O'Rourke, an unsuccessful candidate in the Democratic primary for county attorney, and Lana Shadwick, who supported Fleming's GOP primary opponent, Mickey Lawrence. Also eliminated were investigator Perry Wooten, a Democrat who ran for constable, and Rose Salas, an executive assistant to Driscoll.

Fleming says he consulted with Marsha Floyd, Driscoll's first assistant, in deciding who would be replaced, and that as county attorney he'll have the right to name his own assistants and staff members.

"They're not being terminated," says Fleming. "Technically, they're just not being hired. Getting into the particulars of each person wouldn't be fair."

Significantly, none of the assistant county attorneys who openly supported Fleming's bid -- including Floyd, Rose Garcia, Rock Owens and Kathy Sisk -- found their names on the to-go list.

Salas, contacted as she was cleaning out Driscoll's office, declined to address the terminations.

"I really haven't had much thought," says Salas, "other than trying to get 16 years worth of stuff packed up into boxes and over to his house."

Getting the Business
Rice University's Jesse H. Jones School of Administration was battered and bruised last spring by a blue-ribbon review committee, which dumped on the performance of dean Ben Bailar, questioned the quality of a degree from the institution and bluntly advised that the business school clean up its act or "close its doors."

In the wake of that confidential report, which was circulated on the Internet but never reported anywhere but in this space, Rice president Malcolm Gillis assembled a steering committee headed by provost David Auston to address the committee's conclusions and exercise some degree of damage control. Predictably, the steering committee's draft report doesn't pick up on the suggestion to padlock the school's doors.

"It's more or less responding to the story you wrote the first time," says Rice spokesman Mike Cinelli, the author of a very positive summary of the steering committee document that appeared recently in Rice News, a house organ of the university's administration. According to Cinelli, the latest report is not a final product and has been put on the Internet to generate comment from interested parties.

The draft does echo some of the criticisms in the blue-ribbon report, including a recommendation that the school "improve the overall quality of the student body, both by raising standards and recruiting more aggressively" -- a suggestion that certainly won't enhance the self-esteem of the current crop of Jones students.

Whereas the blue-ribbon panel found a high turnover of faculty and poor morale among professors, the steering committee's draft suggests that the teaching force be strengthened and expanded by "focusing on outstanding teaching, the capacity for scholarship of international distinction and the ability to develop fruitful partnerships with the business community."

Steering committee member Ben Love, ever the civic booster, is quoted in Cinelli's article spreading good cheer over the otherwise dour recommendations. The evaluations, Love said, give the school "the opportunity to become and be recognized as one of the truly premier business schools in the nation."

Love also chairs the Jones School's council of overseers, which the blue-ribbon committee claimed was largely ignored by dean Bailar, a former postmaster general in the Reagan administration.

Although the steering committee tactfully refrains from mentioning it, Bailar is on his way out. His ten-year contract ends in June, and Cinelli says a search is under way for a new dean to head a revitalized Jones School.

Confess to The Insider by dialing 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.

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