PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Opinion

October 8, 2012

Lifting the veil on the Texas courts

NEDERLAND — Too many of us, including your's truly, don't pay much attention to our judicial system. Why should we, you may ask. Unless you're accused of being some sort of criminal, or you're gonna sue somebody, or you're being sued, who cares?  Because any one of the above is reason enough to know, and make an effort to understand, how the whole thing works, and who some of the people who comprise the system are.

Where does my interest in judges, and the whole, entire judicial system come from?

Well, my opposition to the US Supreme Court's “Citizens United” decision was the premiere reason. I fear for the future of American democracy because of that decision, which I've made no secret of.

Then, there's this book I just finished which blew me away. It's a novel, written by John Grisham, called “The Appeal”. It's must reading for anyone who cares about the future of our country.

It's  the story of a small town in Mississippi, where a large chemical company dumps poisonous chemicals in the ground and ruins the town's water supply. After years of toxic dumping, the area is called “Cancer County” because scores of people are dead or dying from cancer. It's Mississippi's cancer capital. (I find it ironic because this area — South Jefferson County — is almost that bad.)

Anyway, a woman who's lost her husband and son to cancer sues the company. She wins the case, is awarded the $41 million, and the company appeals the verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Then the company begins to buy the Mississippi Supreme Court with political contributions,

Which, under the fairly recent US Supreme Court ruling on “Citizens United” would be perfectly legal. The book was published in 2008, by the way, before the “Citizens United” decision. And, as a result, I began to think on it, and be mad at my-own-self, for not knowing more about Texas courts. Thus, my research and this essay...

The Texas Supreme Court is the court of last resort for non-criminal matters — only civil decisions. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the court of last resort for criminal cases.

There is a  Chief Justice of of The Texas Supreme Court, and eight Associate Justices, and they meet in downtown Austin, Texas, just behind the state capitol.

The Court has administrative control over the State Bar, and the sole authority to license attorneys. It also appoints the members of the Board of Law Examiners which, under the auspices of the Supremes, administers the Texas Bar examination.

Each member of the Texas Supreme Court must be at least 35 years old, a citizen of Texas, and have practiced law for at least ten years.

They are elected to staggered six year terms, and when a vacancy arises the governor may appoint a Justice, subject to Texas Senate confirmation, to serve out an unexpired term until the next election.

As of 2010, six of the current Justices, obviously a majority, were originally appointed by Governor Rick Perry. Wow!

So, guess what? All nine of the current Justices, and all the judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are Republicans.

The current Justices are; Wallace B. Jefferson, Don R. Willett, Debra Lehrman, Paul W. Green, Nathan Hecht, Dale Wainwrtight, Phil Johnson, and Eva Guzman.

However, unlike the Supreme Court of the United States, the members of the Texas Supreme Court are elected by a statewide vote. And, upon studying the contents of my research, I found it somewhat astounding that all six of those Texas Supreme Court Justices who had retired did so before their terms were up. Their replacements were appointed by Rick Perry. Was it done so Perry could appoint their replacements?

Was that done so Republican Rick could avoid a “messy” statewide election of new Supreme Court Justices? And is it not true that the incumbent office holder in any election — local or statewide — usually has better name recognition than his/her challenger?

Makes you wonder, doesn't it.

There's a $2 million limit for statewide judicial offices. After “Citizens United” who do you think will be the largest contributors to a Texas Supreme Court race?

You think maybe Corporate America?

I find this so fascinating that this will be continued...

More later.

Neal Morgan of Nederland is a retired educator. Contact him at neal.morgan1@yahoo.com.

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