Yale BA 1971; SMU JD w/ honors 1974; USNR JAGC 1971-1979 (hon. disch); 1976-1981 Locke firm assoc., ptr; 1981-1986 95th Dist. Ct., Dallas; 1986-1988 5th Ct. of App., Dallas; 1989-2013, Tex. Supreme Ct Justice; Chief Justice 2013-present
Voters should decide who their judges are, but in partisan elections, they don’t get to, because there are too may judges on the ballot to know their qualifications. It’s not voters’ fault. Party politics and campaign fundraising are poisonous. Judges must follow the law. Appoint on qualifications, then voters elect to retain based on performance, holding them accountable.
Judges and lawyers should engage with community leaders to ensure the justice system is seen as fair to all, as the Supreme Court and I did in a “Beyond the Bench Summit” in Dallas. Civics education in schools should be stronger and more creative. A great example is the South Texas program for students to enact mock trials in a real courtroom, playing different roles.
Training Texas judges on issues of race and fairness has been required for many years. Implicit bias training is conducted annually for new judges and by the Texas Center for the Judiciary in many other courses and conferences. The Supreme Court’s “Beyond the Bench Summit” featured implicit bias training. The Judicial Council that I chair is preparing other training.
The Court’s work is completely current and has been since I’ve been Chief Justice. Its challenges are to continue to guide Texas courts through the pandemic and equip them with all they need to function. In these tight economic times, the Court must help ensure adequate funding for courts, and also for legal aid for the poor, to ensure equal access to justice for all.
As a district court judge for a decade, I have presided over all types of cases heard by the Supreme Court: civil, family and administrative appeals. I am a guest lecturer for ethics, a member of the Public Law Council and an advocate for legal aid.
The State should help voters by sending an information packet to each voter and providing that information at polling locations. The packet should contain background information, qualifications, and a statement of judicial philosophy for each candidate. That information would assist voters to make an informed selection and would reduce campaign costs for candidates.
Texas should increase public membership and participation on the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda, which recommends proposed changes in legal ethics rules in Texas. Currently, under Texas Gov't Code § 81.0872, just 2 of 9 members are public members. Also, members of the public who file grievances should be allowed to participate in some parts of the process.
We need to require every judge and lawyer in the state to take implicit bias training. This is simple and achievable. When I am elected Chief Justice this fall, we will make this part of the Texas justice system’s mission on Day 1. We need to add a pledge of “Equal Justice under the Law” to the lawyer's and judge's oaths. It is past time to create a more fair system.
All Texans should have access to essential legal services. Access to justice is a top priority of mine, and one of the cornerstones of a fair and just society, especially during COVID. The current Court is considering a $1.2 million cut to legal aid, but rising evictions, layoffs and domestic violence cases are creating a more urgent need for legal services - not less.
I have mostly practiced criminal defense law for the last 27 years. Also, I have represented individuals in civil matters including divorce, property rights and personal injury.
Elections for judges should not be based on political party affiliation. At a minimum, judges should be in good standing with the state bar and have actively practiced law in Texas for a minimum time period of 5 or 10 years. Also, term limits for judges should be seriously considered limiting judges to no more than 2 or 3 terms per court.
The public needs access to more data from the state bar. The public needs to know how many clients the lawyer has represented in the criminal or civil courts. Many times, clients are not aware of the limited experience a civil lawyer may have in criminal court and a criminal lawyer may have in civil court. Also, malpractice insurance information needs to be disclosed.
Judges should be required to attend a minimum number of hours of continuing legal education. Information about the courses/classes that the judges attended need to be available online for the public to view. Also, user friendly access to campaign contributor information needs to be made available to the public.
The Texas Supreme court should continue to make more and more user friendly legal forms available online for simpler legal matters such as for family, probate and real estate. Links should be provided to trusted websites that give up-to-date information for pro se litigants.