Editorial: Texas needs judicial reformWaco Tribune-Herald
Monday, October 1, 2007
Texas has long needed judicial reform. There ought to be a law against the way Texas judges are selected.
The latest example of the need for judicial reform comes to us thanks to San Antonio Express-News Austin bureau reporter R.G. Ratcliffe.
According to a Sept. 15 Express-News editorial, Ratcliffe reported that Senate candidate Mikal Watts once sent a letter to a legal opponent " claiming he would have an advantage in a lawsuit because his firm had given 'heavy' financial support to justices on the 13th Court of Appeals."
This legal tactic clearly implies that money influences court decisions in Texas. Despite denials from judges, judicial candidates and political donors, it's obvious that the millions of dollars that pour into the coffers of judicial candidates are not merely donations for good government.
Candidates for the Texas Supreme Court, for example, are covered up in campaign donations from trial lawyers and law firms that practice before the court.
Candidates for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are lucky to get the time of day. There's no money at stake in criminal cases, merely justice and good government.
Watts and his law firm, according to Ratclifffe's reporting, gave judges more than $2.6 million in campaign contributions since 2000.
In 2000, the public-interest nonprofit corporations Public Citizen and the Gray Panthers unsuccessfully sued the state in federal court arguing that the state's system of electing judges violates the U.S. Constitution due to the influence of big-money donations.
In 2001, the nonprofit group Texans for Public Justice issued a report titled "Pay to Play" charging that lawyers and law firms that give the biggest campaign contributions to Texas' judicial candidates are rewarded with favorable court rulings.
In 1994, the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock led a group of lawmakers, judges and others in an unsuccessful judicial reform effort.
Bullock proposed removing the money and politics from the judiciary by establishing a merit-selection process for statewide judicial candidates.
Watt's letter is a compelling argument for judicial reform.