In 1981, the State Legislature changed the relevant laws to allow for the the only intermediate judicial body in Texas, then known as the Court of Civil Appeals, to consider criminal cases as well. Until then, instead of reaching mandatory review by one of fourteen separate bodies, the cases all went to the sole, statewide Court of Criminal Appeals. This little tweak in the judicial system greatly transformed and strengthened the checks and balances for the accused. By raising points of error in a significantly more accessible setting, the accused would have more protections; at least, they should have.
Unfortunately, in the last twenty years, as Republicans have maintained their stranglehold on the two Courts of Appeals with jurisdiction over Harris County (as well as the surrounding counties), the 1st Court of Appeals and the 14th Court of Appeals, these protection for the accused have been all but eviscerated. Intent followers of the proceedings will know that the court affirms, with very, very, very few exceptions, every single criminal conviction that comes before them. Go ahead, look online. You’ll have to search back months to find a single reversal. An appellate body should be inquisitive and scrutinizing, not a rubber stamp! County and District Judges are good at ruling on issues of law, but they are not that good.
Of course, the Court of Appeals, like their original name suggests, also deal with civil disputes. Once again, since the Republicans took over this court, they merely transformed it into a bottleneck that combats suits against large entities. Time and time again, the Courts have become a perilously unfriendly setting for plaintiffs and the damages they seek.
In the three contested races, we endorse the Democrats. In two more races, incumbent Republican Justices will ascend to re-election unopposed. We recommend votes for these Justices, Marc Brown and Laura Higley, because of their undisputed experience in the law. They are capable jurists, we just think their political philosophy is misguided.
14th COURT, CHIEF
Chief Justice Kem Frost will be seeking her third six-year term this November. By all accounts, she’s heavily favored for re-election and is unmistakably qualified to hold the position. When it comes to administration, the 14th Court runs like a well-oiled machine. However, as our previous comments would suggest, we sharply disagree with the political philosophy espoused by her and her Court and the unfortunate reality it has caused, both for plaintiffs who have been wronged and those convicted of crimes but with legitimate legal grievances.
Frost’s Democratic opponent, in addition to our sincere hope that he will transform this unfortunate reality, is also a qualified jurist. Judge Kyle Carter has been a Civil District Judge in Harris County since 2009, and was re-elected to the post a couple years ago. If the concern is that the replacement of Frost would need on-the-job-training, so to speak, those fears are remarkably unfounded. Carter would make a great Chief Justice, both in management style and judicial philosophy. He maintains the temperament to be pragmatic but stick to his core principles.
A civil-trial lawyer by trade, Carter is admittedly not quite as well-versed in matters of criminal law. But perhaps familiarity numbs a certain compassion our jurists needs. Certainly, retaining the same 20th century philosophy prevents our region from allowing complex issues to be solved by a new set of eyes, a new generation.
Accordingly, this board endorses Kyle Carter for the 14th Court of Appeals, Chief Justice.
1st COURT, PLACE 3
Justice Jim Sharp was elected in 2008, amid the Democratic landslide that accompanied Barack Obama into the White House. A Democrat, Sharp is the only of his party among the 18 justices on the Houston area’s dual Appellate bodies. On his website, he proudly advertised that fact, and urges the voters of the region to recognize the need for some balance. As off-putting the partisan cliche may be, Sharp sort of has a point. More so than the need of balance for balance’s sake, the Court simply needs others who share Sharp’s judicial philosophy, prioritizing the legal rights of defendants and plaintiffs over expediency. It is a commonsensical approach, but ironically has not been very commonly implemented.
Sharp is not without his skeletons, however. In 2012, he was sharply rebuked for improperly meddling in local criminal matters. The incident, which has been overplayed and generalized all too often, involved him uttering profanity and possibly threatening language to local detention officers after a family friend’s minor daughter was incarcerated. Contrary to some allegations, he never followed through with threats or took any truly ignominious action, and he quickly issued an apology, received a punishment and moved on. We’re doing the same.
And far more important than anything else, just about, is the aforementioned judicial philosophy of a candidate. Russell Lloyd, the Republican candidate, is a good attorney who would make a good judge; we endorsed him in his primary election. But, we fear, he would be another voice against the “little guy,” another concurrence to our all-too-sad status quo.
Accordingly, we endorse Jim Sharp for the 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3.
1st COURT, PLACE 7
Justice Ken Wise was appointed just last year by Governor Rick Perry, followed the elevation of Jeff Brown from this court to the Texas Supreme Court. Wise is now running for a full term. A Republican, he has climbed up the political ladder rather expeditiously and has been an adequate jurist. We still think, however, that — like our previous comments — he ascribes to a bad political philosophy, one that the region would be best advised to steer away therefrom.
Wise’s Democratic opponent is Gordon Goodman, an attorney in Houston. Goodman has never been a Judge before, but he is certainly qualified to be one. He would not require much initial training; we are confident that he would quickly get into the hang of things, to borrow the colloquialism. We believe that Goodman was best illustrate the ideals of capably inspecting all legal challenges brought by those convicted of crimes. We also believe he would never show deference to the bigger side in a lawsuit, inadvertently or not.
Heavily favored in November, we think that Wise has a bright future ahead of him in the judiciary. But this board simply respectfully disagrees with him on much of his philosophy. On that question, the choice to go with his opponent, also qualified, is simply abundantly clear.
Accordingly, we endorse Gordon Goodman for he 1st Court of Appeals, Place 7.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority of the voting board.