Tag Archives: judicial elections

Take it from this fellow: Texas judicial election system stinks

There can be no diplomatic, or judicious way to say this.

The system we use in Texas to elect our judges stinks to high heaven … and beyond. It is filled with the stench of rotten money.

There. Now that we’ve laid that all out, I now shall offer some evidence. It comes from a marvelous Texas Tribune article about a fellow I don’t know well, but someone about whom I have known for many years.

Salem Abraham lives in Canadian, which I call “the pretty part of the Texas Panhandle.” He earned a fortune trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He knows how to play numerical probabilities.

As the Tribune reports, Abraham knows as well as anyone in Texas that the more you donate to Texas judicial candidates the better your chances of winning a judicial verdict/settlement in their court.

Texas is one of six states that elect judges on partisan ballots. The Tribune notes, too, that many judges owe their campaign donations to “the white-shoe lawyers and law firms who appear before them.”

The Tribune also reports that every living former Texas Supreme Court chief justice has called for reforming the system. To no avail. Their pleas have fallen into the abyss of indifference to — at a bare minimum — the appearance of impropriety.

Abraham notes in the article that the more money that pours in the more likely one will get a favorable ruling from the court.

Pass the collection plate?

This is no way to adjudicate fairly, impartially and without bias.

Might there be a judicial election reform on tap?

Readers of this blog are aware of this fundamental truth: I detest, hate, loathe the way we elect judges in Texas.

We elect them at every level on partisan ballots. The system stinks. It has resulted in good judges being tossed out of office only because they belong to the party that isn’t in power in the moment. Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t matter. The partisan election of judges sucks out loud, man!

There might be a change in the works. A legislative effort is underway to study how to bring a needed change. It is running into a major roadblock in the form of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate.

According to the Texas Tribune, Patrick is “skeptical” of potential changes in the way we choose our judges. He said something about Texans preferring to elect their judges. Well, duh! I get that. I am not totally on board with an appointment system. I want at the very least to see an election system that allows judges to run on non-partisan ballots.

A former state senator, Republican Bob Duncan, has been a longtime champion for reforming the election system. The Legislature has created a commission to study ways to repair the system. Duncan agrees with Patrick that there needs to be total buy-in if there’s going to be a change. If only the lieutenant governor would throw his support behind a judicial reform effort; Gov. Greg Abbott already has done so. We’ll have a new House speaker in the next session and my hope is that he or she will sign on, too.

I keep asking: What is the difference between Republican justice and Democratic justice? I cannot determine a partisan difference. There are differences in judicial philosophy that have nothing to do with partisan consideration. So why not forces judges to run on their judicial philosophy?

I used to argue for a reform that creates a judicial appointment system; it would require judges to run for “retention.” I don’t think that will happen in Texas. I am going to hold out some hope that Texas can find a way to change the judicial election system from a purely partisan effort to a non-partisan system.

It makes sense and in my view is going to deliver a better quality of judges who adjudicate justice on behalf of all of us.

Planning to keep the heat on chief justice for election reform

I am going to insist that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht keep the pressure on the Texas Legislature to move toward a fundamental change in the way we elect our judges.

He wants to make the office a non-partisan one. He dislikes the idea of electing judges as Republicans or Democrats. He says he favors a merit selection system in which judges can stand for “retention” at the ballot box.

It is music to my ears. I’ve been yammering about this kind of reform for as long as I have lived in Texas; that dates back nearly 35 years.

I applaud Chief Justice Hecht for repeating his call for judicial election reform. He has raised this issue before. I hope he keeps the heat turned up.

Hecht, of course, is motivated largely because so many of his fellow Republican judges got drummed out of office in the 2018 midterm election. They lost because of the surge of enthusiasm among Texas Democrats. I am not one bit concerned about his reason for reiterating his demand for change in the electoral system. He and I are on the same page.

I want the Legislature to listen carefully to the state’s chief justice and act on his request.

Judicial turnover: part of the political process

Republicans in Congress aren’t the only politicians fleeing the unflinching glare of public service.

About a half-dozen Texas Republicans have announced they won’t seek re-election. I think the total of GOP lawmakers who won’t seek re-election numbers more than 20. There’s a smattering of national Democrats, too, who are bailing out of Congress.

Much closer to home, we’re seeing a similar exodus from the judicial bench. It’s producing the likelihood of a lively election season right here in Amarillo, Texas — in both Randall and Potter counties.

The outbound lane extends as well to Amarillo’s municipal court, where Judge Sonya Letson — a former Potter County attorney — has announced her intention to enter “quasi-retirement.” There will be no election there, since the City Council appoints the municipal judge.

But look at what’s occurring.

* Randall County Court at Law No.2 Judge Ronnie Walker is bowing out. He attracted three GOP challengers before he announced he wouldn’t seek another term, which makes me wonder: What did the judge do — or not do — to attract such a crowded field of challengers?

* Potter County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Corky Roberts is retiring, too. A Republican primary field of replacement candidates is lining up to succeed him.

* Potter County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Pam Sirmon is bailing out as well. Her office is likely to attract plenty of ballot action when the GOP primary occurs next spring.

Even though I am not a big fan of electing judges — especially on partisan ballots — I am going to be fascinated to see how this field of contenders will seek to say they are the best choices for voters.

The rule of thumb in Texas has been — as I’ve witnessed it for more than 30 years covering these offices — that incumbents rarely draw opposition. When a vacancy occurs, then all bets are off.

Many lawyers I’ve known over the years have aspired to be judges. One of the more interesting answers I ever got from a judicial candidate came from lawyer Ana Estevez, who was running for a district court judgeship in Amarillo. Estevez was born in South America. I mention that because I asked her about her political aspirations. “I can’t become the president of the United States,” she said, ” so I want to be named as a justice on the Supreme Court.”

She is not bashful.

Let the 2018 campaigning begin. I do love Election Season … even when it includes judge races.

Democratic or Republican justice?

Two candidates for Potter County justice of the peace seem to have something in common, even though they represent differing political parties.

They both dislike electing judges on partisan ballots in Texas.

Wisdom crosses party lines, yes? Good deal.

A commentary in the Amarillo Globe-News took note of their shared dislike of partisan judicial elections. Democratic incumbent Nancy Bosquez is being challenged by Republican Richard Herman for the Precinct 2 JP post. Bosquez has been JP for several terms. I don’t know much about Herman.

Here’s the deal, though: I can make a case that no political office needs to be elected on a partisan basis, other than for the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor.

All the rest of them, from attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner … and on down through the county ballots, with the exception of county commissioner and county judge need not be elected on partisan ballots.

Have you ever wondered whether a county tax assessor-collector does his or her job based on her or her party’s political platform? Does a Democratic tax collector do the job differently than a Republican one? Same for treasurer, district attorney, even sheriff. How do you tell the difference between a Democratic law enforcement official and a Republican one?

The judge races drive me the most nuts.

I can understand Bosquez’s discomfort with partisan judicial elections, given that she serves in a heavily Republican county. Yes, her particular precinct leans Democratic, but it leans less in that direction than it did, say, a decade ago.

But the point is valid no matter one’s political affiliation. How does a Democratic JP adjudicate small claims cases differently from a Republican JP?

I’ve noted many times in the past regarding these partisan judicial races: Too many good judges from he “out” party get the boot when the tide favors candidates from the other party. That’s been the case in Texas dating back about three decades, when Republicans ascended to power. Democratic judges have been ousted by inferior Republican opponents — and exactly the same thing happened in reverse when Democrats held every office under the big Texas sky.

I’ll keep harping on the need to reform this goofy election system of ours, even though it’s falling on deaf ears.

Meantime, be sure to vote on Nov. 4.



Why put party labels on judges?

Critics of this blog no doubt are going to blast me for suggesting this a partisan idea.

Too bad. Here goes anyway.

Why in the world do we in Texas have to elect judges on partisan ballots? Believe it nor not, I asked the question when I lived in a heavily Democratic region of the state — in Jefferson County on the Gulf Coast — and I’m asking it yet again.

I’ve given up on the notion of going to an appointment/retention concept used in many other states. It’s when the governor appoints a judge and the judge then stands for what’s called a “retention election.” Voters can keep the judge or toss him or her out.

I’ll stick, therefore, to the notion that Texas eliminates good judges who happen to belong to the “out” party, the one no longer in favor with voters. In Texas — except for some pockets — that means Republicans are “in,” while Democrats are “out.” Dallas County, interestingly, is elected Democratic judges. Big deal. It isn’t any better than it is, say, in the Panhandle. Good GOP judicial candidates are getting bounced out in Dallas County the way good Democratic candidates keep losing.

I’ve asked the question many times of judges and judicial candidates: What is the difference between Republican justice and Democratic justice?

Their answers don’t turn on partisanship. They turn instead on judicial philosophy. They either have a “liberal” view of justice or a “conservative” view. Why, then, can’t voters decide on the merits of a candidate based on his or her judicial philosophy, regardless of party?

All of this would take an amendment to the Texas Constitution. It won’t happen, of course, as long as Republicans control both legislative houses, the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office. Why should it change? The GOP controls everything.

The same thing can be said when Democrats ran the show. They didn’t show any inclination to changing the Constitution, either.

We’re stuck with a lousy judicial election system.