A mega-fundraiser and donor to President Barack Obama’s campaign is also a top Texas lawyer who has encountered scandals during his two-decade long law career.
Mikal Watts, a trial lawyer from San Antonio, has made “megamillions suing the likes of Ford Motor Co., various tire companies, and Merck & Co. pharmaceuticals,” the Houston Chronicle wrote. The Texas Blue, a liberal website, puts Watts’s settlements at “over $2 billion.”
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I’m as involved as I can be,” Watts told the Washington Free Beacon.
His involvement includes donating the maximum allowable amounts to Democratic campaigns. Watts has donated $5,000 directly to the president’s campaign, $30,800 to the Obama Victory Fund, and a further $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee in this election cycle, records show.
He also sits on Obama’s national finance committee, a position he also held in 2008, he said. Watts hosted a fundraiser for the president earlier this year at his home in San Antonio, according to the Dallas Morning News. Tickets to the event cost $35,800.
Watts noted that he also has donated to Republicans, but said his contributions to the GOP constitute a “very, very small percentage” of his total donations.
“My grandmother was a labor union activist,” he said. Watts described himself as being “born and raised on grassroots politics.”
David Prichard, who represented Ford against a suit brought by Watts, said about Watts’s trial practices, “I have seen some tactics that, let’s just say, I would not employ.”
Two scandals have haunted Watts’s law career.
Watts wrote a letter to the opposing side in a suit in which he detailed his political donations to justices sitting on the appellate court in Corpus Christi. The letter raised questions over whether he was using his political contributions and influence as leverage.
The Houston Chronicle wrote of the scandal:
Mikal Watts of San Antonio once tried to pressure a legal opponent into a $60 million personal injury lawsuit settlement by claiming he would have an advantage on appeal because of his firm’s ‘heavy’ campaign financial support to an appellate court’s justices, ‘all of whom are good Democrats.’
The Chronicle noted that, while there was no evidence that Watts had any undue influence, the 2001 letter was “intended to make an out-of-state corporation think the donations could sway the court.”
Watts told the Free Beacon that corporations’ defense lawyers often say lower court decisions do not matter because the Republican-dominated superior court will overturn any decision against corporations.
“That letter was a part of a statistical discussion of the likelihood of reversal,” he said, before adding, “I would have been happy to try the case.”
Watts said that his job is to “present the risk assessment.”
Additionally, Watts failed to disclose for five months that his “client, a quadriplegic after an accident, died during settlement talks” with Ford, reported the Caller-Times.
A federal judge censured Watts for the 2005 incident, but allowed Watts to stay on the case over the objections of Ford.
“It was a mistake,” Watts said about the incident.
The lawyer working on the case had a serious medical issue that put him off of the case for several months, he said. “It has not happened again. It will not happen again.”
Watts said that, while “one of my lawyers made a mistake,” ultimately “I’m responsible.”
Watts launched a campaign for the Democratic Senate nomination in Texas in 2007, giving millions of dollars to his campaign. But he pulled out of the race in October of that year, saying he was not willing to sacrifice time with his family to campaign.
When asked about issues of special interest, Watts said, “I’m a fan of universal health care… that’s a really big issue.”
Watts praised former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the president for passing healthcare reform in 2009.
“Talk is cheap,” Watts said. President Obama “got it done.”
Watts said of the healthcare law, “I think it’s a great first start. I think like, any transformative piece of legislation, it will need to be refined along the edges, but for me, it is an absolute, unmitigated success.”
The Supreme Court narrowly upheld Obamacare by characterizing the individual mandate as a tax over the objections of the administration, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare if elected president.
There are also 37 pending lawsuits against the contraception mandate contained within Obamacare, arguing that it undermines religious freedom.
Watts is pro-life, according to the Houston Chronicle.