Taking away right to sue when wrong has been done isn’t helping Texans

Op-Ed in the American Statesman
by Alex Winslow, Local Contributor and Executive Director of Texas Watch Texaswatch.org

While the state is crumbling under a real health care crisis, Gov. Rick Perry and his friends in the special interest lobby continue defending a lobbyist-driven health care battle from a decade ago that has failed Texas patients.

They want you to believe that taking away the legal rights of patients is good medicine. Try as they might, though, there is no disputing the facts:

Texas ranks dead last in the quality of health care, our health care costs are soaring at a rate faster than the national average, we rank near the bottom in the number of doctors who actually see patients, and we have the highest rate of people without health insurance. These are facts, not spin-doctored anecdotes like the ones the governor and his cronies in the insurance lobby like to use.

Back in 2003, politicians and lobbyists made a pack of promises about what they alleged would happen if voters approved a ballot proposition that severely and arbitrarily restricted the legal rights of Texas patients.
Among them was that what you spend on health care would go down. Turns out, they lied. Now, they are trying to cover their tracks.

Insurance industry lobbyist John Opelt recently said, “We did not and have not led voters astray.”

Really? Numerous political mailers paid for by Opelt’s group during the 2003 campaign tell a different story.

One mailer said the ballot initiative would “reduce … health costs.” Another said it would make “health care more affordable and available for all Texans.”

All of this comes from a playbook they’ve been using for decades: Claim there is a crisis of some sort, say that restricting individual legal rights is the solution, promise Texas families and small business owners the moon, and attack anyone who disagrees.

Texans are smart, though. We know when someone is pulling a fast one.

How can it be that eliminating accountability for polluters, careless nursing homes, insurance companies, Wall Street bankers and big drug makers is good for the public? The answer is that it can’t be.

Numerous academic studies by independent organizations and legal scholars prove that it is a fallacy to claim that taking away the legal rights of individuals will benefit the public at-large.

Whether we are talking about patients, policyholders or small business owners, we have seen time and again that when lobbyists succeed in stripping or curtailing individual legal rights, the public is harmed.

The only ones who benefit are a narrow group of special interests.

Yet every time one of these proposals comes to the Texas Legislature, the lobbyists claim this will be good for all Texas citizens.

Texans know better. We believe that accountability is good and necessary. This is a basic value we teach our children.

When a person or corporation causes needless harm, they should be held responsible for it. Plain and simple.

When wrongdoers succeed in getting away with the harm they cause, the rest of us are left to pick up the pieces and pay the tab.

Texas faces a host of real-world problems, including a broken health care system. It has been a decade since the governor signed away the rights of Texas patients under the false promise of better, cheaper, and more accessible care.

Sadly, rather than admitting he was wrong, Perry has chosen to be campaigner-in-chief and head lobbyist for the special interests.

Texans deserve real solutions from leaders who understand the importance of personal and corporate responsibility, and who want to find answers to our state’s problems that improve the lives of everyday Texans — not just a narrow group of powerful interests.



QUESTION: Can’t the judge or the opposing attorney make sure the jurors are of more than one race? I’m not saying they made a mistake, but when you have civil rights involved can’t somebody do something about the racial mix of the jurors? Now we have everybody up in arms over the jury – but it is after the fact.

ANSWER: The simple answer is actually no. The problem is that the process of œpicking or selecting a jury (called voir dire) is in reality œde-selecting a jury. In other words, instead of picking the jurors that each side of the case want on a case, they actually strike or eliminate those that they do not want. Those potential jurors that are stricken have shown or indicated through their responses to questions in the jury selection process that they may have a bias towards or against one side of the case. In a criminal case like this one, the prosecution will strike those potential jurors who are less likely to find the defendant guilty, and the defense will strike those potential jurors who are more likely to find the defendant guilty. No strikes can be made based in whole or in part on the race of the potential juror, period.

The fact that this particular jury had no African Americans on it in no way means it was rigged or fixed, as that simply is not possible and does not happen in Harris County, Texas. It was an all white jury because of the people that showed up for jury duty, the random assignment of them to the court where that case was being tried, the random order given to the potential jurors that were in the group of jurors sent to that court for the jury selection process, and the bias that them may have shown towards one side or the other in this particular case. You see, every person called to jury duty is qualified to be a juror; not every person, however, is qualified to sit on a particular case because of their potential biases.

Lastly, every criminal defendant is entitled to a trial by jury before a jury of his peers. That means peers from his community. It does not mean persons of his same age, race, sex, social status, education, wealth, or religion.

The jury here rendered its verdict yesterday based on the evidence that it heard and saw in the courtroom, including the videotape that we all have seen many times. However, unless we had sat through the entire trial, heard and saw every piece of evidence, and observed the jury’s deliberations, we cannot know or appreciate how the jury reached its verdict. We can talk about it and second guess their verdict, but you can rest assured that nothing was or could have been done in this trial to rig or fix the jury so the officer would be found not guilty.

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