Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Zachry gives campaign to contributions Supreme Court Justices to win favor in eminent domain cases

Texas court nominee challenges possible TTC builder's campaign contributions

October 03, 2006

By Dan Genz
The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

Democratic Texas Supreme Court nominee Bill Moody said Monday that a construction firm may be using political contributions to win favor from the state’s highest civil court in a potential eminent domain lawsuit about the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“My opponent and other members of the Supreme Court have taken sizable contributions from the Zachry group, well-knowing there is going to be an eminent domain case,” Moody said during a Waco campaign visit with the Tribune-Herald editorial board.

Moody cited contributions from Zachry Construction Corporation’s political action committee and executives to his opponent, Republican Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, and four other sitting justices.

The San Antonio firm is expected to collaborate on the $8.8 billion toll road, railroad and utility network project with the Spanish firm Cintra.

Willett, the only Baylor University graduate on the state’s highest civil court, said his contributors know he will not consider their support while weighing cases.

“Every contributor understands my commitment to decide each and every case on its legal merits, without fear or favor,” Willett said. “My commitment to evenhandedness is unshakable, and I’ll never put a finger on the scale or a finger in the wind.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Willett, a former U.S. and Texas assistant attorney general, in August of 2005 to the seat formerly held by U.S. 5th Circuit Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

Running a statewide campaign requires “tremendous resources,” Willett said, choosing not to address the Zachry contributions separately.

“I’m honored by the tremendous breadth and intensity of the border-to-border support I’ve earned from across Texas,” he said.

Zachry executives and the company’s political action committee have donated at least $8,350 to Willett and also have contributed to the campaign funds of Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Justices Nathan Hecht, Phil Johnson and David Medina. The contributions represent just a small portion of their overall campaigns.

Zachry public affairs director Vicky Waddy said the company is backing Willett based on his sharp legal mind, not on any future cases. She also said Zachry would not be party to an eminent domain case because the Texas Department of Transportation would oversee all land acquisition by eminent domain.

But Moody said any eminent domain decision would influence the Trans-Texas Corridor’s success, thus affecting Zachry.

“I know they have a very strong interest in how the Supreme Court will rule,” he said.

He said that if Zachry had given him money, he would be uncomfortable accepting because, “Maybe you would think I was bought.”

Trans-Texas Corridor critic Rick Wegwerth called the contributions “politics as usual,” and said most people would not give thousands of dollars to candidates if they did not expect something in return.



© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald: www.wacotrib.com