Jeff Brown, a justice on Houston's 14th Court of Appeals who is running for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court, isn’t getting plaintiffs lawyer Mark Lanier’s vote in the March 2 Republican primary. And Lanier doesn’t want his friends to vote for Brown either. On Feb. 20, Lanier sent an e-mail asking friends to vote for any of the five other Republican candidates seeking the Place 3 seat on the Supreme Court except Brown. “Today, for the first time in my life, I take the exceptional steps of asking each of you to actually vote against a particular candidate – Jeff Brown,” Lanier wrote in the e-mail. Lanier wrote that Brown has exhibited “activism” as an appeals court judge. “I have witnessed his personal activism and gross injustice when he replaced pro-family jury decisions with his own opinion – contrary to the charge and duties we expect – and deserve – from our conservative, elected judges,” Lanier wrote. Todd Olsen, Brown’s general consultant for his campaign, says, “ We have gained the support of so many pro-reform and respected legal and grassroots Republicans that it’s almost a badge of honor to be attacked -- individually singled out -- by somebody like Mark Lanier.” In a telephone interview today, Lanier, of the Lanier Law Firm in Houston, says he’s outraged by how Brown handled the appeal in a Vioxx suit Lanier tried, Carol Ernst v. Merck & Co. Inc. In that May 2005 suit, a jury in Brazoria County awarded Ernst, Lanier’s client, $234.5 million in damages, and the trial judge entered a judgment totaling $26.1 million. But in May 2008, a three-justice panel of the 14th Court that included Brown reversed the judgment and rendered judgment that Ernst, whose 59-year-old husband died in 2001 after taking Vioxx for about nine months, should take nothing. The panel found the evidence to be legally insufficient on the issue of causation. In June 2009, in a decision written by Chief Justice Adele Hedges, the panel withdrew the May 2009 opinion, and issued a new one that Lanier says is “even worse than the first.” In January, Ernst filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Texas Supreme Court. “I’ve had many appeals court judges rule against me and I’ve never complained. . . . What this panel did this time is outrageous. I think it’s totally contrary to the evidence,” Lanier says. Regarding Lanier’s criticism of how the 14th Court panel handled the Ernst appeal, Olsen says other lawyers and judges would disagree. Lanier says he sent the Feb. 20 e-mail to members of his Sunday school class at Champion Forest Baptist Church, lawyers at his firm and friends. Lanier says he’s not endorsing any candidate seeking the Republican nomination in Brown’s race. However, he says, “People need to know that if there is a candidate out there that puts a corporate agenda over a pro-life and a pro-family agenda, then I plan to talk.” In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Brown to the 14th Court, and he was elected to the seat in 2008.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys