Friday, November 10, 2006

How to research what local Texas judicial races are up in 2008

A reader responding to this Grits post and this Houston Chronicle article (which Kuff also commented on) asks how to find out what judicial seats are available for Democrats to run candidates in his county in 2008.

Good question, with a confusing answer, especially if you're not a lawyer, but here's the run-down:

All Texas judicial races are partisan elections - Democrats vs. Republicans, but in recent years with a consistent sprinkling of Libertarian candidates who maxxed out in 2006 at just under a quarter of the vote (in statewide judicial seats where no Democrat ran). Texas has hundreds of judges, mostly with very full dockets, especially in urban areas. Here is a flow chart of Texas' court system.

You can typically find when a judge's term ends on his or her web profile on the official court site. E.g., at the top of the heap are the Texas Supreme Court (civil) and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals which are the highest statewide appellate courts: Each of them has three judges up for re-election in every even numbered year. Texas' fourteen circuit courts each have a chief justice and at least two associate justices, but often more. They hear both crimnal and civil cases.

Websites for Texas district courts and county courts at law, as well as justices of the peace and municipal courts, can be found through this search engine; searching by county name and court type gets good results. (See also this handy one-pager to figure out which judicial districts cover your county.)

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I should mention that many District and County Attorneys are up for re-election in 2008, including Chuck Rosenthal in Harris County. Check your local prosecutor's website or call the county elections division to find out if your local prosecutor's elecotoral fate is in play next cycle.

Suerte, candidatos!


Anonymous said...

I didnt realise that Judges over there were openly affiliated to political parties. How on earth can that provide unbiased justice?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know - there are problems with appointed judges too. Look at the set Bush put on the bench - the idea that Priscilla Owen has a life appointment to the federal 5th Circuit in New Orleans is an astonishing, terrible, and disgraceful thing. And there's nothing we can do about it. Ever. I prefer a system where, if you can get 51% to agree, you can toss the bums out.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Retired Dallas District Judge Ron Chapman (probably the last D judge in Dallas before the current crop, if memory serves) emailed saying that he tried to post this reply, but the server didn't respond. Here's what he had to say:

"Even though elected on a partisan basis, a Texas Judge, once he takes the bench, hopefully realizes that there is no such thing as Republican Justice or Democratic Justice in the courtroom and rules accordingly. By and large, this has held true in the professional work performed by the hundreds of trial judges in Texas. On the other hand, the "trends" favoring business in Texas Supreme Court rulings and the prosecution in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rulings seem to suggest that political philosophy and/or affiliation may come into play more often than happens in our Texas trial courts.

"BTW, Scott, technically Texas doesn't have "circuit" courts. There are fourteen Courts of Appeal in Texas hearing appeals from both civil and criminal cases in the trial courts. A losing party has an automatic right to appeal to the Courts of Appeal. Any further appeals to the Supreme Court and/or the Court of Criminal Appeals are by "permission" of those higher courts. Thus, 95% of the appealed cases are final with the decision at the Court of Appeals level."

Thanks, judge - I probably shouldn't have used that circuit terminology. I tend to do it because as a writer, the plural - Courts of Appeal - has always sounded awkward to me. best,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding Judge Chapman (rtd). I know that's how it 'should' be, when Judges take the bench that they put asside their political affiliations, but if they stand in the first place as a Republican Judge elect or a Democrat Judge elect, then surely people vote them in on the electorate's preferences and not the abilities of the Judges themselves? It's bums on seats, as we say over here.

I'm not entirely in favour of appointed judges either, but perhaps if Judges were elected by their judicial peers, based on past case histories, things would be a little less biased?

I'm not picking holes, I'm just a bewildered Brit who is desperately trying to understand your system!