Contrary to common belief, there are actually two high courts in the State of Texas. The Texas Supreme Court, which we dealt with yesterday, and the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA). The former court deals with all non-criminal matters, whereas the latter (as its name suggests) is the court of last resort for any criminal cases. Confusingly enough, both courts share the same intermediate Court of Appeals.
The criminal responsibilities of this court are twofold. First, the court is able to use discretionary review to hear secondary appeals in non-Capital criminal cases. In these appeals, as in any other, defendants may raise point of errors that allegedly prevented them from receiving a fair trial. Second, the court is bound by law to look at all Capital cases, looking for similar errors. Further, the Court may hear habeas corpus hearings that focus upon details not necessarily pertinent to the legal issues of the trial. All in all, this Court holds a very valuable role in protecting the integrity of Texas’ criminal justice system. At a time when there is growing skepticism over capital punishment and exoneration after exoneration due to new DNA evidence, we are faced with a watershed election to this high Court. Among the three seats up for election this year, all three Republican incumbents are retiring, setting up lively contests for their replacement in the Republican primary. Democrats only bothered to contest one seat.
Bert Richardson is the candidate in this primary with both the experience and the temperament to be a fair judge on this court. Many organizations, notably the Houston Chronicle, have lambasted Richardson’s opponent, Barbara Walther, for her controversial orders many years ago to remove children from the Yearning For Zion Ranch following accusations of child molestation and endangerment. Contrary to what the Chronicle thinks, any organizations which prides itself upon performing “spiritual unions” between adult men and women as young as 12 is a dangerous and abusive environment for a child. Judge Walther did the right thing at the time, but that is not reason enough for her to receive our vote of confidence in the primary.
Richardson, a former District Judge from San Antonio, is best suited for the pragmatism and level-headedness desperately need from the bench. He is well-respected from individuals on both sides of the aisle, and was even given the honor of presiding over ongoing investigations into a possible abuse of discretion by the Governor. Voters would be wise to give him the chance to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Jani Jo Wood is the type of candidate the Republican Party desperately needs. She is a Public Defender, a former board member of the Texas Innocence Project and an activist for individual rights and indignant defendants. She also has a sterling resume of pro bono legal work. Simply put, she is the type of defendant’s advocate that a Court stacked with former prosecutors so desperately needs.
We also recognize the campaign of Kevin Yeary. Indeed, as both a former defense attorney and prosecutor, Yeary also brings much invaluable experience to the table. However, we cannot help but to have concerns with many of his campaign tactics thus far in the campaign, which have included strategies such as naming yourself a “true Conservative” or deriding the appearance of aforementioned advocates in the race, both obvious gibes against Wood. This board, though, believes that Texas would be well suited to have such an advocate. Furthermore, we believe that perhaps the court would be well-suited to have one fewer “true conservative.” 8 of them with 1 centrist might not be the worst thing.
Wood says we need a Public Defender on the bench. We wholeheartedly agree.
Bud Kirkendall and David Newell are both extremely qualified candidates for this race. We believe votes for either would be a good choice. Kirkendall, a longtime District Judge, holds the experience many find most necessary for such a high stakes job. Newell, an appellate prosecutor with the Harris County DA’s office, is probably more concerned about protecting our criminal justice system from mismanagement and miscarriages of justice. This board believes the latter is ultimately more important, and recommends a vote for Newell.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, Sophia Arena of Houston, George Bailey of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent the majority opinion of the board.