Legal troubleshooter rides to the Republican rescueHouston lawyer's list of political clients is both 'prominent and prolific'
By KRISTEN MACK, Houston Chronicle
Friday, March 4, 2005
AUSTIN - Republican legal troubleshooter Andy Taylor has been a fixture in and out of the Travis County courtroom this week, even though his client is not a defendant and appeared on the stand for only an hour.
Taylor has spent more time talking to reporters than the lawyers have in the civil case against Texans for a Republican Majority. Five losing Democratic candidates allege the political action committee tried to hide its fund raising and spending in the 2002 legislative elections.
Taylor grabbed the spotlight again Thursday, upstaging the trial with an announcement that some of the state's top Republican campaign donors have hired him to research the dos and don'ts of campaign-finance law.
Taylor referred to his clients, including Houston home builder Bob Perry, as seven of the most "prominent and prolific" donors in the state. Taylor said he intends to study all aspects of the Election Code and make proposals on what kind of contributions are allowed and prohibited.
"Clarity is the cornerstone of our efforts," he said. "We need to know what the rules of engagement are so we can comply with them."
Taylor said he may suggest the law be relaxed to allow corporate donations to political candidates, now banned under state law.
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group that tracks campaign donations, said Taylor was trying to convince the public that the law is fuzzy.
"The notion that we need clarification is nonsense," McDonald said. "The prohibition has been on the books for 100 years."
Taylor, 43, has built a niche practice representing Republican political interests. Notable recent clients include former state Rep. Talmadge Heflin of Houston and the Texas Association of Business.
Heflin unsuccessfully contested his November election defeat by Democrat Hubert Vo. TAB is the subject of a Travis County investigation into how it used corporate political contributions.
"He's a principled and brilliant courtroom lawyer who has an encyclopedic knowledge of campaign-election laws and an uncanny ability to articulate the heart of any legal matter to judges and juries," said Ken Hoagland, who works for Texans for Lawsuit Reform and has known Taylor for years.
Democrats see it differently.
"Andy Taylor is a political operative who operates as a lawyer," state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said. "I see him as the embodiment of the worst of the Republican Party."
Both sides agree that Taylor is a self-promoter with a big ego ‹ not necessarily bad traits for a courtroom lawyer.
Taylor still brags that he graduated with the "highest GPA ever recorded" from St. Mary's Law School and summa cum laude from Trinity University.
Since then, he has worked in private practice with Houston's Locke Liddell & Sapp and as first assistant to former state Attorney General Jon Cornyn.
While on Cornyn's staff, Taylor argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and was lead counsel for the state in several high-profile cases, including the long-running dispute over lawyers' fees in Texas' tobacco settlement.
When Cornyn was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, he asked Taylor to join him in Washington. But Taylor declined, saying he needed a private sector job to make ends meet. He had five children at the time. He now has six.
He returned to Locke Liddell, then started his own practice and signed a new contract with Attorney General Greg Abbott to defend Texas' Republican-backed congressional redistricting map.
He doesn't come cheap.
Taylor billed $772,399 for work and expenses in the state's so-far successful legal defense of the 2003 redistricting plan, according to the Attorney General's Office. He charged $400 an hour.
Heflin paid Taylor at least $35,000 for the election contest, according to Heflin's campaign-finance report.
Taylor also has represented Texans for a Republican Majority, a political organization founded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. He still represents the Texas Association of Business, which is under criminal investigation for its use of corporate donations to help Republicans take over the state House in 2002. TAB President Bill Hammond was the Taylor client who testified in the TRMPAC case Tuesday.
Taylor uses grandiose terms when talking about his clients, saying he is a champion for their causes and a gladiator for their interest.
"I'm not afraid of a fight," he said. "Clients who need someone who's got backbone and is willing to zealously represent their interest appreciate that a lot in a lawyer."
His critics say Taylor can be overzealous.
"Andy's smart, he's aggressive," said Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer who has represented Democrats in several election contests and went up against Taylor in tobacco litigation. "Sometimes I think he's too aggressive. Andy sometimes says things about his opponents and how good his case is, that he really shouldn't say."
Case in point: He alleged in Heflin's election contest that the longtime lawmaker had lost because of "massive fraud." A Republican legislator who investigated the matter found no fraud, and Heflin conceded.
Roland Garcia, a partner at Locke Liddell who has known Taylor for nearly 20 years, said he is one of the most articulate lawyers he's seen in court.
"If you are in the middle of battle, that's the warrior you want," said Garcia.
Taylor has told people he went into private practice so he could make money and return to the public sector as an elected official. When asked whether he plans to run for office, Taylor laughed and paused uncharacteristically before answering.
"I'm enjoying my law practice and look forward to staying actively involved in the public arena," he said.
Seven top Republican donors have hired lawyer Andy Taylor to research campaign law and possibly recommend changes. The clients and their total donations in the Texas 2004 election cycle:
€ Bob Perry, Houston: home builder, $4.6 million
€ Louis Beecherl Jr., Dallas: energy, $400,335
€ Michael Stevens, Houston: developer, $247,900
€ Vance Miller, Dallas: real estate, $141,866
€ Charles McMahen, Houston: banking, $29,575
€ Walter Mischer, Houston: developer, $22,500
€ Fred Zeidman, Houston: energy, $5,142
Source: Texans for Public Justice