This story is actually about the judge who will be presiding over winter storm cases, but it caught my eye for a reason that will be apparent.
Sylvia A. Matthews presided over more than 175 jury trials and 160 bench trials during her decade as a Harris County District Court judge. Lawyers for plaintiffs and defendants say she is smart, fair, well-prepared, hard-working, efficient and decisive.
Matthews will need all those qualities over the next several months as she oversees more than 150 highly complex civil lawsuits filed by victims seeking billions of dollars in damages as the result of last February’s winter storm, which was one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in Texas history.
The lawsuits filed across Texas include individuals suing for wrongful death, personal injury and property damages and companies complaining about breach of contracts, interruption of business and price-gouging.
Some of the largest power companies, such as the Houston utility CenterPoint Energy, the Chicago company Exelon and Vistra Energy of Irving, one of the state’s biggest generators and retail electricity providers.
While the lawsuits have been filed in more than a dozen Texas courts, the Texas Supreme Court has consolidated them into one docket, called multidistrict litigation.
The cases are consolidated for efficiency, allowing pretrial issues, such as production of evidence and admissibility of testimony, to be decided in a uniform matter. Once the pretrial issues are decided, the cases are usually sent back to the courts where the lawsuits were filed for trial.
For example, lawyers predict that the 200 lawsuits already filed in the Astroworld tragedy will also be consolidated into a single proceeding for pre-trial purposes.
The winter storm litigation is likely to take years to resolve, according to legal experts. In fact, the statute of limitations for more lawsuits does not expire for another year, meaning more cases may still be filed.
The stuff in between is about Judge Matthews, a Republican now serving as a visiting jurist following her electoral defeat in 2018. It’s fine, I’m glad she’s good at her job, but it was the stuff about the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel that I noticed. Here’s this thing I’d never heard of before October of this year, and now it’s turning up all over the place, including and not surprisingly in the AstroWorld cases. I feel like someone owes me a nice in-depth explainer about this body. How long has it been in existence, what are the rules that govern it, who serves and how do they get there, and is it just one of those things that it’s been a key player in such high profile and hot button matters as these cases plus SB8 or is it somehow a sign of the times? Oh, to be an assignment editor. Seriously, someone write me that story, I’d read the hell out of it.
Anyway. Litigation over the freeze and blackout and responsibility for the latter will no doubt go on for years, but hopefully it will help provide some answers. Lord knows, we’re not getting any from our state leaders. I’ll be keeping an eye out for further news.
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