Disability inspires Abbott

MONICA WOLFSON
Scripps Howard News Service


AUSTIN - Republican attorney general candidate Greg Abbott is a scrappy survivor with a mission, his friends say.

He overcame an accident that has left him in a wheelchair to rise to serve on the Texas Supreme Court.

Now, Abbott wants to be the state's top lawyer. His agenda includes consumer insurance protection; fighting crime and making sure public officials keep conducting business in public.

Born in Wichita Falls, Abbott, 44, grew up in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1981 with a finance degree and studied law at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

Abbott took a job with a Houston law firm after graduating from law school in 1984.

A runner since high school, Abbott went for a jog after taking a break from studying for the bar exam in 1984.

While jogging in a residential area, a 75-foot tree at least 8-feet in diameter fell on him damaging his spine and forcing him to use a wheelchair. Unable to run, Abbott has searched for other ways to exercise.

He used to roll himself up the ramps of a four-story parking garage in Houston, but that only gave his upper body a workout. Recently, he got a bicycle that allows him to sit in a reclining position while he pedals with his hands.

"I was always a competitor," Abbott said. "The accident didn't make me a fierce competitor, but it did dramatically impact my life."

The accident furthered his sense of purpose, he said.

"My focus is my contribution to the world in which we live," Abbott said. "I, through nature and nurture inherited from my mom, have drive and determination to do good. That was accentuated after my accident. When you have a situation in life and you know you could have been dead, and also know you didn't escape unharmed, you learn a single lesson, you never know when a tree is going to fall on you."

In Abbott's law practice, he mostly defended doctors and insurance companies in lawsuits.

After eight years of practicing law, Abbott was elected to the 129th District Court in Houston. Then three years later, Gov. George W. Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court. He was re-elected twice before seeking the attorney general office.

Craig Smyser, a Houston lawyer, met Abbott when he tried a case in his court.

"He is one of those people who truly enjoys other people," Smyser said. "He was a fair and impartial trial judge. He was courteous and always listened to both sides of the argument."

Abbott has received many accolades from legal circles for his performance as a judge and lawyer. He has centered his campaign on his experience as a judge, which has influenced the way he views the job as attorney general.

In contrast to his Democratic opponent, Kirk Watson, who said the attorney general is an advocate, Abbott said the attorney general should be impartial and thoughtful because one of the office's primary jobs is to interpret the law as the Legislature writes it.

While Abbott said the homeowner insurance industry needs an overhaul, he said it was too early to say how. He proposes to take the following steps on behalf of Texans:

• Investigating whether insurance companies violated deceptive trade practices laws concerning water and mold claims.

• Looking into possible fraud by mold re-mediation companies.

• Instructing the anti-trust division to investigate whether insurance companies are requiring consumers to buy car insurance to get homeowner's insurance that lacks mold coverage.

• Checking out whether insurance companies discriminate against consumers by using credit scoring.

Watson says Abbott cannot be trusted on insurance issues because he's spent his career representing insurance companies. Attorney General John Cornyn has sued Farmer's Insurance, alleging deceptive practices in the homeowner's insurance market. Unless there is a settlement by the end of the year, the next attorney general will have to pursue or settle that case.

"What I've done in the past as an elected official is relevant and indicative of the future," Abbott said. "I have held insurance companies accountable. What I did as a judge is apply the law. The attorney general issues more opinions than the Supreme Court. We have to have an attorney general issue opinions on what the law is."

Abbott points to several cases that were before the Supreme Court where he sided with the consumer against the insurance industry. He recently filed an appeal brief in a pending case where his client sued an insurance company.

Abbott currently works for Houston law firm Bracewell and Patterson, which represents Texas' major insurance companies including Farmers, Allstate and State Farm.

Abbott has accused Watson of contributing to the malpractice insurance crisis because Watson handles mostly malpractice cases. But according to published reports, Abbott received a $10 million dollar settlement from the homeowner and tree maintenance company after his accident.

Abbott also wants to tackle crime, domestic violence and sexual assaults. His plan calls for:

• Any law firm doing business with the attorney general's office commit 15 hours of free legal work to organizations that deal with domestic and sexual assault.

• Beefing up the Internet crimes unit to combat sexual exploitation of children.

• Creating a new corporate fraud division in the attorney general's office.

• Getting more money to investigate Medicaid fraud.

• Cracking down on the illegal use of firearms during a crime.

Print this page

Back to top

==============================
"Those who seek to predict the future... might first look to the past. The past is a mirror -- and those who ignore its sometimes dark reflection, are doomed to repeat it... Will it be those seeking redemption who shall decide the future... or will those driven only by greed and envy shape our destiny? Even a hundred years later, the outcome is still very much in doubt. .." Outer Limits(Heart's Desire)