The Dallas Morning News reports that Wallace Jefferson, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, will resign effective October 1st. Chief Justice Jefferson, who has served in that position since 2004 and previously served as an Associate Justice from 2001 to 2004, cited financial difficulties that led to his resignation.
Supreme Court Chief Justices in this State earn $152,500.00 per year. Jefferson complained this was too low to maintain his lifestyle, including a child in college. Jefferson, who had been flirting with this idea for a little while, will probably start making seven-figures at a big-time law firm in either Austin, Dallas or Houston.
The Morning News article, which was reprinted from the Texas Lawbook, had a detailed biography on some of Jefferson’s greatest hits as Chief Justice. Despite being a Republican, Wallace had a reputation as more moderate when compared to some of his more extreme colleagues.
Legal experts say that Jefferson’s departure will have minimal impact on how cases are decided by the state’s highest court because he is viewed as a moderate on a bench packed with pro-business conservatives.
But those legal insiders say Jefferson’s resignation is a significant blow to those who advocate for improvements in the administration of justice.
During the past four years, Jefferson has worked with state legislators to increase legal aid assistance for the poor and middle class. He has also advocated innovative juvenile justice reforms designed to keep at-risk children in school and out of jail.
He also dramatically improved transparency of the court system in Texas. He pushed to make most court documents available to the public through the Internet. He also moved to put cameras in the state Supreme Court so that people could watch every oral argument.
“The civil justice system is simply unaffordable for the poor and middle class today,” he said Monday. “We implemented real reforms that have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives. I’m very proud of the court for that.”
Jefferson went on to discuss his pet-project of Judicial election reform, and lamented his failure in implementing that goal.
Jefferson said his biggest disappointment as chief justice was his inability to push through judicial selection reform, especially the elimination of electing judges through the partisan process.
“It is an irrational way of selecting judges,” he said. “Just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ by your name does not mean you are more qualified to be a judge.”
While Jefferson expressed doubt that judicial election reform is politically possible, he said, “Whether it will happen or not, it is still worth the fight.”
Jefferson’s replacement will be an appointee of Governor Perry, and that successor must stand for election in 2014 (when Jefferson’s term is normally up), if he or she chooses to do so. I have absolutely no clue who that appointee may be at this point.
The Austin American-Statesman has more.