Supreme Court of Texas

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Supreme Court of Texas
Seal of the Supreme Court of Texas.png
Seal of the Supreme Court
Established 1840[1]
Country Texas Texas, United States United States
Location Austin, Texas
Authorized by Texas Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States
Website http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/
Chief Justice
Currently Nathan Hecht
Since October 1, 2013
Texas Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort for civil matters (including juvenile delinquency which the law considers to be a civil matter and not criminal) in the state of Texas. A different court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is the court of last resort for criminal matters in the State of Texas.

The Court is composed of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. The Court meets in Downtown Austin, Texas in a building located on the state Capitol grounds, behind the Texas State Capitol.

Regulation of the legal profession in Texas[edit]

By statute, the Texas Supreme Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas, an agency of the judiciary.[2] The Texas Supreme Court has the sole authority to license attorneys in Texas,[3] and also appoints the members of the Board of Law Examiners[4] which, under instructions of the Supreme Court, administers the Texas bar examination.[5]

Justices of the Court[edit]

The Court has a Chief Justice and eight associate justices. Each member of the Court must be at least 35 years of age, a citizen of Texas, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law (or have been a lawyer and a judge of a court of record together) for at least ten years.[6] The Clerk of the Court is appointed by the Justices and serves a four-year term.

Election of members of the Court[edit]

The Chief Justice and the associate justices are elected to staggered six-year terms in state-wide partisan elections. When a vacancy arises the Governor of Texas may appoint Justices, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election. As of 2010, six of the current Justices, a majority, were originally appointed by Governor Rick Perry. The current Justices, like all the Judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals except for Lawrence E. Meyers, are all Republican.

The place numbers have no special meaning as all justices are elected state-wide, except that the Chief Justice position is considered "Place 1".

Women on the Court[edit]

Hortense Sparks Ward, who became the first woman to pass the Texas Bar Exam in 1910, was appointed Special Chief Justice of an all-female Texas Supreme Court 15 years later. All of the court's male justices recused themselves from Johnson v. Darr, a 1924 case involving the Woodmen of the World, and, since nearly every member of the Texas Bar was a member of that fraternal organization, paying personal insurance premiums that varied with the claims decided against it, no male judges or attorneys could be found to hear the case.[7] After ten months of searching for suitable male replacements to decide the case, Governor Pat Neff decided on January 1, 1925, to appoint a special court composed of three women. This court, consisting of Ward, Hattie Leah Henenberg, and Ruth Virginia Brazzil, met for five months and ultimately ruled in favor of Woodmen of the World.[8]

On July 25, 1982, Ruby Kless Sondock became the court's first regular female justice, when she was appointed to replace the Associate Justice James G. Denton who had died of a heart attack. Sondock served the remainder of Denton's term, which ended on December 31, 1982, but did not seek election to the Supreme Court in her own right.[9] Rose Spector became the first woman elected to the court in 1992 and served until 1998 when she was defeated by Harriet O'Neill.[10]

Current Justices[edit]

Justice Party Affiliation Place Date Service Began Term Ends
Nathan L. Hecht
Republican
Chief Justice
January 1, 1989
2014
Don R. Willett
Republican
2
August 24, 2005
2018
Debra Lehrmann
Republican
3
June 21, 2010
2016
John P. Devine
Republican
4
January 1, 2013
2018
Paul W. Green
Republican
5
January 1, 2005
2016
Jeff Brown
Republican
6
October 3, 2013
2014[a]
Jeffrey S. Boyd
Republican
7
December 3, 2012
2014
Phil Johnson
Republican
8
April 11, 2005
2014
Eva Guzman
Republican
9
October 8, 2009
2016
  1. ^ Term ends in 2018 but must run in 2014 to keep position

History of membership of the Court[edit]

Succession of seats[edit]

Supreme Court Committees[edit]

Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT)

Created in 1997 JCIT was established to set standards and guidelines for the systematic implementation and integration of information technology into the trial and appellate courts in Texas.

JCIT approaches this mission by providing a forum for state-local, inter-branch, and public-private collaboration, and development of policy recommendations for the Supreme Court of Texas. Court technology, and the information it carries, are sprawling topics, and Texas is a diverse state with decentralized funding and decision-making for trial court technology. JCIT provides a forum for discussion of court technology and information projects. With this forum, JCIT reaches out to external partners such as the Conference of Urban Counties, the County Information Resource Agency, Texas.gov, and TIJIS (Texas Integrated Justice Information Systems), and advises or is consulted by the Office of Court Administration on a variety of projects.

Three themes consistently recur in the JCIT conversation: expansion and governance of electronic filing; the evolution and proliferation of court case management systems; and the evolution and governance of technology standards for reporting and sharing information across systems in civil, family, juvenile, and criminal justice.

The Founding Chair of JCIT from 1997-2009 was Peter S. Vogel, a partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP in Dallas, and since 2009 the JCIT Chair has been Justice Rebecca Simmons.

2014 Texas Supreme Court Judicial Election[edit]

Texas is one of seven states that elects Supreme Court justices on partisan ballots. Four justices of the Texas Supreme Court faced re-election in 2014.[11] Three of the four sitting Supreme Court Justices, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Justice Jeff Brown and Justice Phil Johnson, were required to defeat challengers in a March primary before the general election in November. The candidates challenging the incumbent Supreme Court Justices, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, were recruited for the election and funded by a Houston plaintiff lawyer and Ali Davari, owner of two strip clubs: Sexy City and Erotic Zone.[12][13]

Texas for Lawsuit Reform commented on the Texas election by saying, “Plaintiff trial lawyers are making an unprecedented attempt to regain the control of the Supreme Court that they enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s, when Texas was known as 'The Lawsuit Capitol of the World.'" Also, an airing of Sixty Minutes entitled Justice for Sale gave a devastating critique of the Texas Supreme Court.[14]

Houston plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier, along with employees, relatives, and associates of his law firm, funded the bulk of the campaign to remove the Texas Supreme Court and business groups. Funding was disclosed in an article titled, "Plaintiff Trial Lawyers Attempt to Distort Role of Judges and Juries." [15]

In the years preceding the Texas Judicial Election, Lanier had become a vocal critic of the Texas Supreme Court after the Supreme Court reversed his signature trial verdict against Merck & Co. on behalf of a widow whose husband died after taking Vioxx.[16] After Lanier suffered a second high profile loss of a Vioxx case, in which the Court said that Lanier, “failed to show,” that the ingestion of Vioxx caused his client’s death. Chief Justice Adele Hedges wrote that Lanier's client deserved nothing because he had not proven that Vioxx caused heart attack.[17] Lanier's publicly criticized the Texas Supreme Court stating that it employs "a simpleton approach that basically white washes the trial, ignores the evidence, and is very conclusion based."[17]

Lanier’s retaliated against the Supreme Court decision in a press release:

Activist judges are protecting corporate executives and stripping away the rights of widows and every other victim of corporate misconduct…This decision was handed down by a group of judges who regularly accept campaign contributions from law firms representing corporations that appear in their courts. We will appeal this decision to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.[17]

Lanier's ultimately lost all of his Vioxx appeals, and disputed the $315 million awarded in legal fees in the national Vioxx litigation.[18] Ultimately, a federal judge was required to resolve the fierce fee dispute between plaintiff lawyers over attorney fees.[19]

The Texas Supreme Court reversal of the Vioxx cases, along with the historic attorney fee dispute over $315 million in attorney fees in the Vioxx case, led scholars to consider tort reform and a federal judge to order the capping attorney fees.[15] Articles on the subject include "The Vioxx Litigation: A Critical Look at Trial Tactics, the Tort System, and the Roles of Lawyers in Mass Tort Litigation"[20] and "10 Years of Tort Reform in Texas Bring Fewer Suits, Lower Payouts"[21]

All judicial challengers recruited and funded by the Texas plaintiff lawyers lost to the incumbent Texas Supreme Court justices who won the 2014 Texas election.[22]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/advisories/anniversary_011310.htm
  2. ^ Tex. Gov’t Code section 81.011.
  3. ^ Tex. Gov't Code sections 81.061 and 82.021
  4. ^ Tex. Gov't Code section 82.001
  5. ^ Tex. Gov't Code section 82.004.
  6. ^ Tex. Const., Art. 5, Sec. 2.
  7. ^ http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jpa01
  8. ^ "Hortense Sparks Ward (1875-1944)". Justices of Texas 1836-1986. Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin. October 16, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Ruby Kless Sondock (born 1926)". Justices of Texas 1836-1986. Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin. October 16, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  10. ^ Cruse, Don (January 8, 2008). "An Unusual History of Women Serving on the Texas Supreme Court". The Supreme Court of Texas Blog. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Texas Supreme Court Elections 2014". Judgepedia. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Yates, David (Jan 27, 2014). "Lanier Law Firm funding challengers in Texas Supreme Court’s GOP primary". Legal Newsline Legal Journal. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  13. ^ "Lawyer Cash, Racial Profiling Shape Supreme Court Races Plaintiff Lawyers, Strip-Club Mogul Fund GOP’s John Devine". Texans For Public Justice. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Trabulsi Jr., Richard. "Re-Election of Texas Supreme Court Justices in 2014 Is Critically Important". Texans for Lawsuit Reform: Political Action Committee. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "Plaintiff Trial Lawyers Attempt to Distort Role of Judges and Juries". TLR: Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  16. ^ Berenson, Alex (May 30, 2008). "Courts Reject Two Major Vioxx Verdicts". New York Times.com (New York Times). Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c Longstreth, Andrew (May 29, 2008). "Mark Lanier's Faith Tested: He Loses Two Vioxx Appeals in One Day". The AM Law Daily. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  18. ^ Searcey, Dionne. "The Vioxx Endgame: It’s All About the Fees". The Wall Street Journal: Law Blog. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  19. ^ Frankel, Alison (August 11, 2011). "Vioxx judge steps in to split $350 ml plaintiffs lawyer pie". Reuters.com US (Reuters). Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  20. ^ McClellan, Frank. "The Vioxx Litigation: A Critical Look at Trial Tactics, the Tort System, and the Roles of Lawyers in Mass Tort Litigation". SSRN: Social Science Research Network. De Paul Law Review. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "10 Years of Tort Reform in Texas Bring Fewer Suits, Lower Payouts". Insurance Journal. Associated Press. September 3, 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  22. ^ Bachelder, Kate (February 26, 2014). "Stacking the Texas Supreme Court". Parker County Blog. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Haley, James L. The Texas Supreme Court: A Narrative History, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013. xxviii, 322 pp.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°16′33″N 97°44′28″W / 30.275853°N 97.741054°W / 30.275853; -97.741054