Texpatriate endorses for the Court of Appeals

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.

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Texpatriate endorses for the Texas Supreme Court

At a recent judicial panel at the Texas Tribune Festival featuring seven incumbent Justices, many on the court lamented the shifts that have occurred in the high court in the last quarter-century. Ostensibly, the nine justices –all Republican– serve as the court of last resort for all non-criminal cases (including, strange as it may sound, juvenile criminal cases). Nearly in unison, the justices seemingly bemoaned the transition the court has faced from an arbiter of common law to merely an interpreter of statutes and a State Constitution that is absurdly long and still growing.

And while the court’s docket has been steadily shrinking, there are still some high-profile issues that have been left pending; chief among them, the rights of gays and lesbians. Specifically, a pair of cases regarding the ability of same-sex couples to divorce within the State. There is also a case, sure to reach the court one day, regarding the constitutionality of Texas’ amendment against such same-sex marriages and “similar unions.” For those and other cases, this board simply believes that Texas’ highest court should be composed of advocates for equality between the sexual orientations. For these reasons, we have simply felt more comfortable with the Democratic candidates. However, we still have concerns about experience and the like from Justices and prospective Justices on this most important court.

Regarding the four elections up this year on the Texas Supreme Court, we endorsed two Democrats and two Republicans.

PLACE 1 (CHIEF)
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has honorably served on the Court longer than any other justice. About a year ago, Governor Rick Perry elevated him to the Chief Justiceship, the culmination of a long and noble career. Most scholars on the court agree that he is arguably the intellectual leader, especially of the more conservative clique.

But Hecht is not without his weaknesses. In years past, he was admonished and fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for impropriety regarding using his office for personal purposes. He also tacks heavily to the right on many of those aforementioned important social issues.

For these reasons, we cautiously will support the Democratic candidate, Bill Moody. A State District Judge out of El Paso County, Moody has a history seeking high offices, including a seat on the Supreme Court once before. He espouses an inclusive view of the constitution, one that sees the document as a living creature subject to evolving standards of decency, rather than a strict originality view. Such philosophies lend themselves to a more inclusive idea of who should be covered by the equal protection clause of the constitution, such as gays & lesbians. Still, we have some doubts as to Moody’s need for “on the job training,” so to speak, upon assuming the office of Chief Justice. Still, we think he would be a welcome change of pace.

Accordingly, this board endorses Bill Moody for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 1 (Chief).

PLACE 6
Justice Jeff Brown is the newest member of the court. Appointed last year by Governor Rick Perry, he previously served as a member of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. Without a doubt, he is a more than capable jurist who has the experience needed to be an effective member of the court. However, like Hecht, we have some major disagreements with Brown on contentious legal disputes, particularly those involving the expansion of equal protection rights. That being said, we have some hope that Brown is more level-headed on certain disputes than some of his colleagues. He cut his teeth in the law as a clerk for former Justice Jack Hightower, one of the last great Democrats on the court.

Though despite our qualms with Brown, we think he is night-and-day better than his opponent. The Democratic candidate, Larry Meyers, has served on the Court of Criminal Appeals since 1992…as a Republican. In a rather strange turn of events last year, he switched parties right at the filing deadline in order to run for this post. We have absolutely no problem with party-switching; in fact, with good reason, we actively encourage it. But Meyers has been a ghost since his filing. He didn’t make a statement then, nor throughout the primary, nor throughout the general election. He boycotted the State Democratic Convention and has been a no-show at newspaper editorial screenings. And Meyers was no reliable liberal –or even moderate– voice on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Thus, we have no idea why Meyers is running or what he stands for, and –judging by his record– we don’t think he would improve upon Brown’s record. Therefore, we will defer to the incumbent, albeit reluctantly.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jeff Brown for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 6.

PLACE 7
Justice Jeff Boyd was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2012 and now will be seeking his first full term on the court. We think he has been a reasonable jurist but, like the other incumbent justices, we have some similar concerns regarding his opinions on constitutional interpretations. Much like his colleagues, we are naturally skeptical of his ability to extend basic civil rights to gays and lesbians.

Boyd’s Democratic opponent, meanwhile, not only has a much more ideal philosophy, she is tremendously experienced. Gina Benavides, a Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi), has served in an appellate position for more than eight years. Previously, she had a long and illustrious career within private practice. Unlike the other Democratic candidates, Benavides has been very detailed platform and online presence. She has also been a persistent force campaigning throughout the State. Unlike others, we are totally sure that Benavides will not need any “on the job training,” so to speak, if she wins office. She would make a capable, more and qualified Justice, a great addition to the court.

Accordingly, this board endorses Gina Benavides for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 7.

PLACE 8
Justice Phil Johnson, first appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the court about nine years, will be seeking his second full term on the court. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and longtime veteran of the Court of Appeals in Houston. Beyond dispute, he is a very qualified and experienced Judge. Though, and not to sound like a broken record here, we have some of the same qualms with Johnson as we do with the other justices; namely, that he has an originality view of many constitutional issues and opposes extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.

But Johnson’s only opponents, Libertarian RS Koelsch and Green Jim Chisholm, are spectacularly unqualified for this high office. They have little political credentials, and even fewer judicial ones. Simply put, they are unfit for the post they seek. Johnson, despite political disagreements, is indisputably qualified and capable to hold this position. We think he is a much better choice than his competitors.

Accordingly, this board endorses Phil Johnson for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 8.

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 opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses in Supreme Court primary

There will be four seats on the Texas Supreme Court up for election this year. In three of those seats, the Republican nomination will be contested, though all feature a GOP incumbent. Three Democrats will be running as well, though each faces no intra-party opposition in their respective contests. We endorse the incumbents in all three races. Though this board, admittedly, has some major issues with the way the Texas Supreme Court conducts business, we believe each Republican incumbent is a far better choice than the primary opponent.

CHIEF JUSTICE
 Nathan Hecht is a bit of a wild card, and we were definitely not all that thrilled about his ascent into the Chief Justice’s chair. An unabashed conservative, Hecht differs substantially from his predecessor –Wallace B. Jefferson– in style and pragmatism. From being excessively cozy with special interest and Conservative zealots to ongoing ethical quarrels, we have some serious doubts about Hecht’s tenure on the court. But no one could deny he is a remarkable jurist, as he continues to be the leading Justice on this powerful court.

Additionally, we find the choice between Hecht and Robert Talton to be unbelievably easy. Talton, a former State Representative, has graced Texas Monthly’s list of the worst before, and for good reason. He is a homophobic bigot, to say the least. Monthly called his obsessions extreme and said his agenda “makes the Patriot Act look like the Bill of Rights.” Indeed, he has not provided any specifics for this most recent campaign of his, and we are not impressed. Vote for Hecht.

Click here to read more!

Lazy, Lazy, Lazy

When it comes to last minute Statewide filings, there were few big surprises besides Steve Stockman going up against John Cornyn, and Justice Larry Meyers becoming a Democrat, both of which I have previously covered. Indeed, the news I will focus on is the continued laziness and complacency of the Democrats, which in and of itself is not especially surprising. But more on that about two paragraphs down.

For the non-Judicial posts, Democrats were responsible enough this go-around to recruit candidates for all of the openings for the first time in six years (in 2010, we allowed Susan Combs to be re-elected without contest, and in 2012, we allowed Barry Smitherman to do the same). Except for the Agriculture Commissioner, Railroad Commissioner and Governor (Wendy Davis faces token opposition), all the other Democrats stood alone in their primaries. The obvious major exception is for the US Senate seat, which will feature three major candidates, David Alameel, Michael Fjetland and Maxey Scherr.

For the Judicial positions, a few qualified candidates also ran. Bill Moody, an El Paso District Judge who has previously run for the Supreme Court, will seek the Chief Justice’s office. The aforementioned Larry Meyers, who currently serves as a Justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals, will run for a spot on the Supreme Court. Gina Benavides, the Chief Justice of the 13th Court of Appeals (based in Corpus Christi), will run for yet another spot. Additionally, John Granberg, an attorney out of El Paso, will run for the Court of Criminal Appeals. These four candidates will be extraordinarily competent on the campaign trail and would make fine Supreme Court or Court of Criminal Appeals Justices.

But the Dems left three seats without candidates. Click here to read why that is inexcusable!

Justice Meyers switches parties

The Houston Chronicle reports that Justice Larry Meyers of the Court of Criminal Appeals has switched to the Democratic Party and will run on the Democrat slate for the Texas Supreme Court. Meyers, originally a Republican, first served on the 2nd Court of Appeals from 1989 to 1992. That year, he was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals (and was re-elected 1998, 2004 and 2010).

Meyers, who comes from the court’s more moderate wing (4 members), has flirted with this possibility before. As Grits for Breakfast reminds us, he briefly ran against Sharon Keller in the 2012 Republican primary. He was also heavily lobbied to run the race as a Democrat, via The Dallas Morning News. Ultimately, neither of these fantasies for the anti-Keller crowd came to pass.

Today’s bombshell announcement came as Justice Meyers made no formal announcement. Instead, the news broke from a press release of the Texas Democratic Party, which briefly touted Justice Meyer’s record, with quotes from TDP Executive Director Will Hailer and TDP Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa–but not Meyers.

Click here to read more!

Statewide Judicial update

A couple months ago, I noted that all three seats on the Court of Criminal Appeals up for election in 2014 would be open, as every pertinent incumbent would be retiring. Similarly, with the elevation of Justice Nathan Hecht to the role of Chief Justice, his seat will hold a special election in 2014, meaning four of the seats on the Supreme Court will be up for election. However, it appears at press time that they will all include incumbents.

All these Supreme Court slots have no other candidates besides the incumbents. The three Court of Criminal Appeals slots, however, each respectively have two candidates. All aforementioned candidates are Republicans, and all signs suggest that the Democrats will not even contest most of these seats, as they have typically done in the past.

First things first, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who was just recently appointed to the position by Governor Perry, will run for re-election for the Chief slot (Position #1). He is hitherto unopposed. Justices Jeffrey Boyd and Phil Johnson will also run for re-election for Positions 7 and 8, respectively. Justice Jeff Brown, a former Houston Appeals Court Judge who was recently appointed by Governor Perry to replace Hecht’s associate justice seat, will run for re-election to Position 6.

Click here to read about the candidates for the Court of Criminal Appeals!

Brown to replace Hecht on Supreme Court

In an odd piece of news that the Texas Tribune did not seem to cover, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Governor Perry has tapped Jeff Brown, a Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, to the Texas Supreme Court. Brown will replace Justice Nathan Hecht, who Perry recently selected as the new Chief Justice of the court. The shakeup first started a good number of weeks ago, when Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced he would step down effective October 1st. Hecht will replace him at that time, making his seat open then as well. It is unclear when Brown will take the new job.

As this “trickle-down judiciary” continues, all eyes will be upon who Governor Perry chooses to replace Brown on the 14th Court of Appeals. The astute will remember that I did not support Jeff Brown the last time his name came up for election.

This pick solidifies the fact that the Texas Supreme Court will become even more conservative now. While Hecht and Brown are somewhat ideologically similar, one was hoping that a more pragmatic pick would be made by Perry to offset the increased conservatism coming to the Chief Justice’s seat. Jefferson was far more bipartisan and overall reasonable than his successor will be.

Brown did previously run for the Supreme Court in 2010, coming in a distant spot within the Republican primary. Hecht must run again in 2014.