judicial races.” Linda Campbell, An Absurd System Gets Even Worse, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 21, 2002.
Article reports on Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips, who “believes with a passion … that his state, at least, desperately needs to change the way it goes about putting men and women on the bench.” Noting that only four states select judges the way Texas does, with partisan elections, Justice Phillips said, “I think there is a strong consensus in Texas that we are using an outmoded system.” Although the legislature has failed to take action on the issue previously, Justice Phillips and other reform advocates “are hoping 2003 might be different, with leadership of the state House and Senate passing to new hands and memories of particularly vicious election campaigns still fresh in voters’ minds.” Rep. Steven Wolen, a Democrat from Dallas, said, “For 20, 21, 22 years, we’ve been discussing this and nothing ever passes because we’re asking for too much. We need to try taking this one step at a time and see what happens.” David Pasztor, Should Texas Elect Its Judges?, Austin American-Statesman, December 2, 2002.
Column provides analysis into the victory of underdog Steven Wayne Smith, who with no major law firm support and little financial backing, easily won a seat on the Texas Supreme Court in the “most shocking outcome of the Texas 2002 campaign season.” The former Austin solo practitioner defeated Margaret Mirabal, a Democratic candidate who served as a justice for 14 years on Houston’s First Court of Appeals. During the campaign, Mirabal outspent Smith by a margin of 50 to 1. David Rogers, Smith’s campaign manager, believes voters responded to Smith’s conservative message. Smith advertised himself as a “true conservative.” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University believes voters responded to Smith’s GOP ballot label. John Council, Don’t Estimate the Underdog, Texas Lawyer, December 23, 2002.
Columnist supports a change in the way Texas selects judges, citing that
the “ultimate goal is to sever the relationship between contributions from special interests and the state’s system of justice.” For several sessions, legislation to end statewide partisan judicial elections and replace them with merit selection, or an appointment/ retention election system, has failed. Columnist cites several solutions such as public financing of judicial elections, but acknowledges that public funding appears to have no place on the 2003 legislative agenda. One proposal suggests extension of district judge terms from four to six years and appellate terms from six to eight terms. Longer terms would decrease the need for judicial candidates to pander to special interests and lawyers and put a little more distance between campaign contributions and judges. But, Texas Court Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips, a longtime leader of the reform movement, notes “judges would remain politicians.” Columnist predicts that lawmakers will be forced to concentrate on more urgent matters such as the budget crisis, and Texas will continue to suffer from a “bad system under siege by special interest groups.”