Ethics Explorer A Guide to the Financial Interests of Elected Officials

Supreme Court Justice Don Willett (R)

Industry
Lawyer, State Government
Education
B.B.A., Baylor University; J.D./LL.M Duke University
Spouse
Tiffany
Financial Statements

Sources of Income

  • Willett was previously a deputy attorney general in the Texas attorney general's office and a deputy assistant attorney general for legal policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, helping lead judicial selection and child protection initiatives.

  • He served as special assistant to President George W. Bush, advising him on religious liberty issues.

  • His wife, Tiffany, has worked for the Texas Senate and was education director for the White House Fellows program. She also worked for Texas CASA, a child advocacy group.

  • He holds stock in E*TRADE Financial Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Citigroup Inc. His business interests include When Angels Sing Production LP in Austin. He also reports rental income between from an apartment in Travis County.

Property

  • He owns residential properties in Austin valued at $964,165 and $489,295, respectively.

  • He also owns a 5-acre farm in Kaufman County valued at $77,400.

Analysis

  • The Texas Supreme Court in 2007 issued an opinion in Entergy Gulf States v. John Summers protecting industrial plants and refineries from some types of liability claims by contract workers. The court ruled that a general contractor providing workers' compensation insurance to a subcontractor is protected from negligence claims that may be brought by a subcontractor’s injured employee. Energy and chemical companies, which stood to benefit from the decision, had donated $190,050 to Willett’s campaigns from 2001 to 2006, according to a review by the left-leaning money-in-politics group Texans for Public Justice. Neither Summers nor his attorneys appear to have donated to Willett's campaigns. In 2009, the Entergy decision was revised to be a 6-3 votewith Willett maintaining his opinion in the majority.

  • Willett told The Texas Tribune that it's "a fool's errand to draw cause-and-effect conclusions between donations and decisions," and he added that he has "not flinched to apply the law to rule against companies owned by my biggest campaign supporters."

  • A report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress in September 2016 found that the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of corporate defendants in 69 percent of 26 cases studied from 2011 to 2016. The Center for American Progress reported that Justice Willett voted for corporate defendants more than 70 percent of the time, and was re-elected with the support of financial contributions from corporations, oil and gas companies, and corporate law firms. In response to concerns about corporate influence on the court, Justice Willett has stated that “the laws we interpret are enacted by a very business-friendly Legislature. My court doesn’t put a finger on the scale to ensure that preferred groups or causes win, but the Legislature certainly does.”