Texas Courts of Appeals

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The Texas Courts of Appeals are part of the Texas judicial system. In Texas, all cases appealed from the district level, both criminal and civil, may be heard by one of the fourteen Texas Courts of Appeals. The exception is for cases where the death penalty is a factor; these cases go directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in Texas for criminal cases. The highest court in Texas for civil cases is the Texas Supreme Court. The Texas Supreme Court is also the court of last resort in juvenile cases, which are treated as civil even though they arise from criminal conduct. Texas thus has two courts of last resort that are functionally specialized.

While the intermediate courts of appeals must decide all cases that are properly before them, the Supreme Court selects the cases it finds worthy of attention. Like the U.S. Supreme Court, it exercises discretionary review. The primary vehicles to get a case before the supreme court are a petition for review (rather than a petition for writ of certiorari, as in the SCOTUS) and a petition for writ of mandamus. As a general rule, each type of petition must first be presented to the court of appeals that has jurisdiction over the trial court from which the appeal originates.

The specific number of justices on each court is regulated by statute. The total number of appellate justices in Texas is currently 80, and ranges from three to thirteen for each court. The slots on each courts are designated by number, but the numbers imply no rank except for the Place 1, which is that of the Chief Justice, the administrative head of each court. Cases in appellate courts are usually heard by a panel of three judges. This allows the larger courts of appeals in major metropolitan areas (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and so on) to efficiently handle their much larger caseloads. The exception to this is when a case is heard en banc, when all of the justices hear the case. A motion for en banc review is a mechanism for a party dissatisfied with the decision or opinion of the panel to complain to the other members of the same court, and point out any real or perceived error made by the panel. Occasionally former appellate justices and district court judges serve on appellate panels, and some write opinions.

Some court of appeals justices write concurring and/or dissenting opinions. Relative to the total number of decided cases, dissents are rare. In statewide comparison, some courts of appeals account for a much larger proportion of such opinions than others, even taking size of court and caseload into account. The presence of a dissenting opinion makes it more likely that the Texas supreme court will grant review.

TWO ROUTES ONTO THE TEXAS COURTS OF APPEALS: APPOINTMENT AND ELECTION[edit]

Like the members of the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, justices of the fourteen intermediate courts of appeals are elected in partisan elections to six-year terms. District court judges, by contrast, have four-year terms. Vacancies on both the courts of appeals and on district court benches, however, are filled by gubernatorial appointment. The appointed judge must then stand for election in the next election in order to serve the remainder of the unexpired term. Many recent changes in the membership of the Texas courts of appeals resulted from appointments by (former) Governor Rick Perry, following either the resignation of incumbent Republican justices prior to the expiration of their terms in office, or their appointment to a higher bench or to chief justice. This has also been the pattern for the Texas Supreme Court, whose members are all Republicans. On several occasions, Governor Perry filled a vacancy on the Texas Supreme Court with a sitting justice, thereby creating a second vacancy and an opportunity to appoint a successor to the secondary vacancy.

The Texas judicial selection system is accordingly best characterized as a hybrid system that is not purely elective. Appointed justice are generally thought to have an advantage in the subsequent election (and can put "Keep Justice _[name of incumbent]_" on their campaign signs), but not all of Governor Perry's picks were confirmed by the voting public.

The competitiveness of court of appeals races varies across the state. Republicans control all statewide offices and easily win reelection to the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. Some court of appeals districts, however, are more competitive because of the nature of the geographic constituency they serve. Therefore, some have Democratic members despite the Republican dominance that the state-wide level. The regional variation in appellate court membership (whether called partisan, political, or difference in "judicial philosophy") also holds the potential for creating splits in the resolution of unsettled legal issues among the appellate courts. While the intermediate courts of appeals are bound by prior Texas Supreme Court precedents, they are not obligated to follow their sister courts, and sometimes they expressly refuse to do so while acknowledging the disagreement. The Texas Supreme Court then gets to resolve such inconsistencies in the jurisprudence of different lower courts when a petition for review (PFR) presents that issue and the Supreme Court decides to accept the case in order to resolve the conflict.

Unlike the fourteen intermediate courts of appeals, the Texas Supreme Court has discretionary review. As a result, it only accepts a small number of cases per fiscal year for argument on the merits, and typically issues no more than 100-120 opinions per year. [1]. Occasionally an issue is referred to it by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court whose jurisdiction includes Texas. These referrals (in the form of "certified questions") allow the Texas Supreme Court to decide a disputed issue of Texas law, rather than the federal court making that call itself. A recent example is the Supreme Court's resolution of an insurance-coverage issue related to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster and resulting spill. In re Deepwater Horizon, Cause NO. 13-0670 (Tex. Feb 13. 2105). [2].

PUBLIC ACCESS TO CASE INFORMATION, OPINIONS, AND STATISTICS ABOUT THE WORK OF THE COURTS OF APPEALS[edit]

The Texas Judiciary and Office of Court Administration have made major strides in making information available to the public on the web. The Office of Court Administration publishes Annual Statistical Reports on the Texas Judiciary. [3] and makes the most recent detailed statistical data available online prior to the publication date of the latest annual report as a single pdf document. The annual reporting of case loads, dispositions, opinion production, etc is based on the Fiscal Year, rather than the calendar year. The Annual Report contains many tables, pie charts, time line graphs, in addition to statistical data presented in tabular format.

Each of the 14 courts of appeals has its own website / domain (the URLs and layout recently changed), as does the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal. These websites provide detailed docket information for each case, with hyperlink to released opinions, procedural orders, appellate briefs, motions, notices, and other documents. The clerk's record (from the court below) and the reporter's record are not made available online, and some types of information are subject to mandatory redaction to protect privacy. The websites have their own search engines that allows for queries of various types.

History[edit]

Courts of civil appeals in Texas were established in 1891 by constitutional amendment to help handle the increasing load of the court system. They had jurisdiction to hear appeals and mandamus of any civil case from their region, with the regions decided by the legislature. The amendment provided that three-judge courts of appeals were to be created by legislature, and in 1892, the legislature created 3 courts of appeals: The First Court of Civil Appeals in Galveston, the Second Court of Civil Appeals in Fort Worth, and the Third Court of Civil Appeals in Austin. In 1893, the legislature created the Fourth Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio out of territory taken from the first and third courts, and the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas. In 1907, the legislature created the Sixth Court of Civil Appeals in Texarkana. Then in 1911, the Seventh Court of Civil Appeals in Amarillo and the Eighth Court of Civil Appeals in El Paso were created. Soon after that, the Ninth Court of Civil Appeals was created in Beaumont in 1915, the Tenth was created in Waco in 1923, and the Eleventh was created in Eastland in 1925.[4]

In 1957, after Hurricane Audrey severely damaged the Galveston County Courthouse, the legislature moved the First Court of Appeals to Houston (where it sits today) and required Harris County to provide facilities.[5]

It wasn't until the 1970s that any more courts were created with the Twelfth Court of Civil Appeals in Tyler, the Thirteenth in Corpus Christi, and the Fourteenth in Houston (created with concurrent jurisdiction with the First Court of Civil Appeals)[4]

In 1977, the legislature increased the number of judges of various courts and authorized courts of appeals to sit in "panels" of not fewer than three judges.[5]

On September 1, 1981, all Courts of Civil Appeals were given criminal jurisdiction, and in 1985 a constitutional amendment was passed so that all courts were known as "Courts of Appeals" instead of "Courts of Civil Appeals."[5] Until 1981, all criminal appeals cases went directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and all cases involving capital punishment still do. [6][7]

Jurisdictions[edit]

Texas Courts of Appeals is located in Texas
Houston
Houston
Fort Worth
Fort Worth
Austin
Austin
San Antonio
San Antonio
Dallas
Dallas
Texarkana
Texarkana
Amarillo
Amarillo
El Paso
El Paso
Beaumont
Beaumont
Waco
Waco
Eastland
Eastland
Tyler
Tyler
Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi
Locations of Courts of Appeals
Districts map

There are fourteen districts of the Texas Courts of Appeals (in order):[8]

  1. First Court of Appeals of Texas – Houston (formerly Galveston), covering Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties
  2. Second Court of Appeals of Texas – Fort Worth, covering Archer, Clay, Cooke, Denton, Hood, Jack, Montague, Parker, Tarrant, Wichita, Wise, and Young counties
  3. Third Court of Appeals of Texas – Austin, covering Bastrop, Bell, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Coke, Comal, Concho, Fayette, Hays, Irion, Lampasas, Lee, Llano, McCulloch, Milam, Mills, Runnels, San Saba, Schleicher, Sterling, Tom Green, Travis, and Williamson counties
  4. Fourth Court of Appeals of Texas – San Antonio, covering Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Brooks, Dimmit, Duval, Edwards, Frio, Gillespie, Guadalupe, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Kinney, La Salle, Mason, Maverick, McMullen, Medina, Menard, Real, Starr, Sutton, Uvalde, Val Verde, Webb, Wilson, Zapata, and Zavala counties
  5. Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas – Dallas, covering Collin, Dallas, Grayson, Hunt, Kaufman, and Rockwall counties
  6. Sixth Court of Appeals of Texas – Texarkana, covering Bowie, Camp, Cass, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Gregg, Harrison, Hopkins, Hunt, Lamar, Marion, Morris, Panola, Red River, Rusk, Titus, Upshur, and Wood counties
  7. Seventh Court of Appeals of Texas – Amarillo, covering Armstrong, Bailey, Briscoe, Carson, Castro, Childress, Cochran, Collingsworth, Cottle, Crosby, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Dickens, Donley, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hale, Hall, Hansford, Hardeman, Hartley, Hemphill, Hockley, Hutchinson, Kent, King, Lamb, Lipscomb, Lubbock, Lynn, Moore, Motley, Ochiltree, Oldham, Parmer, Potter, Randall, Roberts, Sherman, Swisher, Terry, Wheeler, Wilbarger, and Yoakum counties.
  8. Eighth Court of Appeals of Texas – El Paso, covering Andrews, Brewster, Crane, Crockett, Culberson, El Paso, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Loving, Pecos, Presidio, Reagan, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Ward, and Winkler counties
  9. Ninth Court of Appeals of Texas – Beaumont, covering Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, Polk, San Jacinto, and Tyler counties
  10. Tenth Court of Appeals of Texas – Waco, covering Bosque, Brazos, Burleson, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Freestone, Hamilton, Hill, Johnson, Leon, Limestone, Madison, McLennan, Navarro, Robertson, Somervell, and Walker counties
  11. Eleventh Court of Appeals of Texas – Eastland, covering Baylor, Borden, Brown, Callahan, Coleman, Comanche, Dawson, Eastland, Ector, Erath, Fisher, Gaines, Glasscock, Haskell, Howard, Jones, Knox, Martin, Midland, Mitchell, Nolan, Palo Pinto, Scurry, Shackelford, Stephens, Stonewall, Taylor, and Throckmorton counties
  12. Twelfth Court of Appeals of Texas – Tyler, covering Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson, Houston, Nacogdoches, Rains, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood counties
  13. Thirteenth Court of Appeals of Texas – Corpus Christi, covering Aransas, Bee, Calhoun, Cameron, De Witt, Goliad, Gonzales, Hidalgo, Jackson, Kenedy, Kleberg, Lavaca, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Wharton, and Willacy counties
  14. Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Texas – Houston, covering Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties

The 1st and 14th Courts share concurrent jurisdiction over the same counties. The cases are assigned on a random selection basis, but may be moved in order to equalize the docket. Also, the counties of Gregg, Rusk, Upshur, and Wood are in the jurisdictions of both the 6th and 12th Courts, while Hunt County is in the jurisdiction of both the 5th and 6th Courts.

References[edit]