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!

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Civil Affairs: Judges

CIVIL AFFAIRS

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Noah M. Horwitz published a weekly column, “Civil Affairs,” in a Boston newspaper from 2012-2014He has since transferred the column’s home to ‘The Daily Texan’ in Austin.

The first time I voted in a general election (2012), I was shocked at just how long the ballot was. The presidential election had obviously garnered a fair amount of coverage, as did local races for Congress, sheriff and the state Legislature. However, what took up the vast majority of the ballot were the myriad judicial contests. Pages upon pages of district and county benches were to be filled by the voters, in partisan elections. Democratic and Republican nominees had been selected in their respective parties’ primaries to run for the posts: civil, criminal, family, juvenile and probate courts.

Read the whole op-ed in The Daily Texan!

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.

Undervaluing Public Service

As Noah M. Horwitz already reported a few days ago, Governor Rick Perry tapped Associate Justice Nathan Hecht as his pick for Wallace Jefferson’s replacement as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.  Hecht will serve until the next election, at which point he intends to run for a full term.  Chief Justice Jefferson has indicated that he will not run for another elected office, but will rather seek employment in the private sector.

Jefferson pushed hard during his term for an increase in judges’ salaries, an argument met with a moderate amount of approval with lawmakers increasing judicial salaries by 12% this year.  While these salary increases are a great improvement, the low salaries of judges serve as a highly visible indication of how little our society values the vital work our judges perform – much like the pitifully low salaries of teachers.  A judge can make significantly more in the private sector, a factor Jefferson himself said influenced his decision to resign.

It is a sad state of affairs to see that we, as a society, generally do not value public servants.  Teachers, judges, firemen, police officers and other public servants are frequently forced to choose between taking a lower paying job that makes our society a better, safer place and making a living for themselves in the private sector.  Although these individuals still receive some compensation for their invaluable service, it is a shame that they are still underpaid for their service to society.

Chief Justice Hecht

The Dallas Morning News reports that Nathan Hecht, the longest serving Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has been nominated by Governor Rick Perry to become the 27th Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

The vacancy arose exactly one week ago, when incumbent Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced his intent to leave the bench by the end of the month. Jefferson did this so that he may enter private practice and earn a higher income. Although Justices on the Texas Supreme Court are elected to six year terms, if a vacancy arises mid-term, the Governor appoints a replacement–without the advise and consent of the State Legislature.

Hecht will serve until the next regularly scheduled election for Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice, November 2014. Courtesy of Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune, we already know that Hecht intends to go for the longhaul and seek another term at that point.

Only the third-ever Republican Chief Justice, Hecht will be sure to be the most conservative to ever hold the job. Hecht is currently the longest serving current Justice on the court, holding his position as an Associate Justice since 1989. Before Hecht’s election to the court, the Court was controlled by a 9-0 Democratic composition, a sharp contradiction from the 9-0 Republicans composition that has cursed our State since 1999. Hecht is seen as a hyperconservative, in stark contrast to his predecessor, and as such gained the praise of Greg Abbott on the campaign trail.

Perhaps most troubling about Hecht, however, is his ethical problems. Barely 10 days ago, the San Antonio Express-News published a lengthy article detailing some of Hecht’s issues in recent years pertaining to his abuse of office and campaign finance violations.

First, back in 2005, when President Bush nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, Hecht talked her up a lot. It seems the two are former lovers. No seriously. In fact, even though they went their separate ways eventually, neither has ever married, leaving an open question about how close the duo continue to be.

Anyways, the many interviews Hecht gave defending and talking up Miers’ nomination was seen as a big abuse of power for many. The over 120 interviews Hecht gave, raised some red flags.

In 2006, Hecht was admonished for this abuse of office by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct (the admonition was later overturned). Further, the commissioned fined the Justice $29,000 in 2009 after they deemed he improperly fought the admonition with campaign funds.

All of these issues will be sure to come up in the next few days as more and more people are reintroduced to Hecht. For Perry’s part, the Governor now must appoint a second individual to fill Hecht’s old seat on the Supreme Court.

Wallace Jefferson to resign

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.