Yanez Houston Jordan's Journal
The Austin American Statesman
Texas Supreme Court ... Houston and Yanez get nods
It's time for change on all-Republican court
Three of the nine seats on the Texas Supreme Court are up for election this year, and all three have Republican incumbents facing competent Democratic challengers. Most voters probably have little idea about just who the court's justices are, and that's not only because of the usual obscurity of the court. It's also because these nine, all Republicans, think pretty much alike. It's time for a change.
The principal criticism of the court, which handles only civil cases, has been its uniformity in ruling for business in cases where it is pitted against consumers or workers.
By one measure, a study by University of Texas law professor David Anderson of the court's 2004 and 2005 tort cases in which the court issued an opinion, the defendant — usually a business — won 87 percent of the time. While the court should not be expected to rule 50-50 in such cases, 87 percent suggests that justice isn't blind at the Texas Supreme Court.
A good example of the court's tilt toward business was its 9-0 ruling in the Entergy case, which for the first time protected plant owners from negligence lawsuits when contracts workers were injured on the job. To reach that ruling the court had to ignore years of settled practice on that very point in Texas, as well as legislative intent. Facing a storm of criticism, the court has agreed to reconsider the ruling.
In another case, the court ruled 6-3 in a case that a Colleyville church could not be held liable for harm to a young woman held down for two hours against her will to free her of a demon. Constitutional protection for religious liberty, the majority said, protected the church.
There have been other embarrassments as well, with questions raised about some justices using their political accounts for personal travel expenses, one justice and his wife caught up in a suspicious fire that destroyed their home and yet another who tried to get the Legislature to pay his legal bills for defending himself in an ethics case.
However, the justices up for election this year, while criticized for some of their rulings, have not been caught up in out-of-court problems....
Place 7 – Texans are so used to candidates of dubious qualification but well-known name running for public office that they might automatically dismiss someone named Sam Houston, 45, a Democrat who is challenging the Republican incumbent for this seat, Dale Wainwright, 47.
But voters should take this Houston — no relation to the original — seriously enough to vote for him. From Houston, Houston is a trial lawyer with broad litigation experience and a critic of the Supreme Court, which he says needs more balance.
Wainwright has a terrific résumé and is personally impressive, but his output has been light compared to the other justices.
A Libertarian, David G. Smith, 42, of Henderson, also is running.
Place 8 — Linda Yañez, 60, a Democrat on the state's 13th Court of Appeals, based in Corpus Christi, is challenging the incumbent, Phil Johnson, 63, a former chief justice of the 7th Court of Appeals at Amarillo.
Yañez, too, says the court needs to go more to the middle, and her up-from-the-bootstraps personal story would bring a useful perspective to a court dominated by the products of big law firms.
Drew Shirley, 39, of Round Rock, is the Libertarian candidate.
The Houston Chronicle
Texas Supreme Court
The Chronicle recommends voters choose Linda Yañez ...
The Texas Constitution requires of its Texas Supreme Court justices only a few qualifications: basically, that they be at least 35, citizens of Texas, that they be licensed to practice law in Texas and have practiced for at least 10 years.
Texas voters should require also that their high court justices thoroughly know the law, apply it with integrity and win the respect of their colleagues and the public by making decisions that are sound, fair and impartial. ...
• Linda Yañez, Texas Supreme Court, Place 8: Yañez is the Democratic challenger in this race. She has served 15 years as a justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. Active and well-respected in state and national legal circles, Yañez has an impressive grasp of the law and of the workings of the Supreme Court.
Noting that the high court justices ruled unanimously in almost all their decisions last term, Yañez promises to bring a fresh perspective to their proceedings.
"The challenge I will bring will be intellectual, not antagonistic," Yañez pledges.
The Dallas Morning News
The nine-member Texas Supreme Court is the state's highest civil court. It has been plagued by a backlog in recent years, taking more than four years after oral arguments in some cases to issue an opinion. And what used to be regarded as a lopsidedly "plaintiff's court" has now become regarded as an unbalanced "pro-business" court, a perception fueled by a legal study conducted by University of Texas School of Law professor David Anderson. It found that the court sided with defendants 87 percent of the time in 2004-05....
Sam Houston for Place 7 seat
Democratic challenger Sam Houston has built solid reputation defending clients against lawsuits and would bring some new ideas to the court. He argues that no one likes lawsuits, but sometimes they are necessary to ensure justice, and that justice is good for business. Mr. Houston, 45, would bring some welcome – and not token – philosophical diversity to the court.
The incumbent in this race says all the right things about being fair and balanced, but Republican Dale Wainwright does not adequately answer criticism about his work ethic. In the last full year statistics were available, for example, he wrote just four signed opinions – the second fewest of any justice on the court and the lowest among the three justices seeking re-election this year. Two of his most recent opinions date to cases heard in 2004.
Justice Wainwright, 47, says there are complex reasons for this, but lives are often on hold waiting for these opinions, and such delays are unacceptable. Justice Wainwright, previously a district judge in Harris County, has a sharp résumé, but voters should send a message to the court that long backlogs will not be tolerated by electing the respected and fresh-thinking Mr. Houston.
The Corpus Christi Caller Times
Changes needed on state's highest appellate courts
Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals need more political, philosophic balance
If given an opportunity, voters in Texas should try to bring more ideological balance to the Texas Supreme Court. Well, voters do have that opportunity in the Nov. 4 general election to make changes on the state's highest civil court by electing two new jurists.
There are three races for the Texas Supreme Court. The Caller-Times Editorial Board recommendations are:...
Place 7, Supreme Court
The Editorial Board recommends the election of Sam Houston, Democrat, a respected lawyer in Houston. He is an experienced lawyer and Baylor law school graduate who would bring greater political, legal and philosophic balance to the state's highest civil court.
"It has been my impression and many others (including noted professors of the law schools in the state)," said Houston, "that our Supreme Court frequently disregards jury verdicts and too often sides with defendants and corporations. I believe it is time to balance our court, which will best happen by electing a trial lawyer who is also a Democrat."
Houston's opponents on the ballot include the incumbent, Dale Wainwright, Republican. Wainwright has been on the court five years; it has been pointed out that he wrote only four signed opinions in the last year for which statistics were available. The other opponent in the race is David Smith, Libertarian, a lawyer in Henderson.
Place 8, Supreme Court
For Place 8, the Caller-Times recommends voters elect Linda Yanez, Democrat from Edinburg, who is the senior justice on the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. Yanez is widely respected in the legal community and would also help bring greater political and judicial diversity to the court.
"All nine members of the Supreme Court are from the same political party," Yanez said, "which has translated into a 'groupthink' mentality . . . They are actually of one mindset."
The other candidates in the Place 8 race include incumbent Phil Johnson, Republican, who was appointed to the court in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry. He was chief justice on the 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo. While Johnson has been a dependable, solid member on the high court, Yanez would help to restore some needed balance. Drew Shirley, Libertarian, is a lawyer in Round Rock.
Like the state's Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- the state's highest court for criminal matters -- also needs greater balance. This court was once notorious for leaning toward the rights of defendants, but for the past decade or so, it has become notorious for being a prosecutors' court. Voters in this election have an opportunity to make one significant change.
Place 3, Criminal Appeals
The Caller-Times Editorial Board recommends the election of Susan Strawn, Democrat, a Houston lawyer who served 12 years with the U.S. Department of Justice, from 1990 to 2002. She served as a judicial reform adviser in Kosovo and in West Africa. Recently, she has been an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center.
The incumbent in this race is Tom Price, Republican. He has been on the Court of Criminal Appeals for 11 years and over that period of time he has earned a reputation for his frequent absences and low productivity. The third candidate on the ballot is Matthew Eilers, Libertarian, a lawyer in Universal City.
Place 4, Criminal Appeals
Paul Womack, the incumbent in this race, has been on the court since 1996. He has been fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to file campaign finance reports; his excuse, he said, was that he suffers from attention deficit disorder. The last time he ran for the position, in 2003, he said he would not run again, if elected, but he is back on the ballot seeking another six-year term. He has been criticized for teaching a law-school class which has taken away from his energy and time on the Court of Criminal Appeals....
Texas needs to get politics out of its top appellate courts -- the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals -- by adopting an appointive system for the state's highest courts with a non-partisan judicial screening committee. Meantime, voters have an opportunity in this election to achieve a little more balance on the courts by electing two Democratic challengers to the Supreme Court -- Sam Houston in Place 7 and Linda Yanez in Place 8 -- and by electing Susan Strawn, a Democrat, to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Of course, two out of nine on the Supreme Court and one out of nine on the Court of Criminal Appeals would be a far cry from achieving the balance that is needed. But at least voices from the other side of the political, legal, and philosophic spectrum would be heard on the state's two highest appellate courts.
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