Max B. Baker, Justice on Supreme Court Faces Primary Challenge, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 31, 2003.
Column reports that the 2002 races for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals “don’t have the usual horde of candidates” as a result of a new law that “requires candidates for statewide judicial positions to obtain 50 signatures from registered voters in each of the state’s 14 appeals districts.” Previously, “hungry lawyers [had] been known to write a $3,000 check for the filing fee and do little or no campaigning, hoping to strike pay dirt with an easy-to-pronounce last name.” One justice on the court, Cheryl Johnson, said, “This court used to be a $3,000 lottery.” The columnist concludes that, although the races are “still a lottery” since they attract so little money and attention, “the odds have been improved for those who are truly qualified and willing to work hard to get signatures from around the state.” Bruce Davidson, New Law Cleans Ballot in Judicial Races, San Antonio Express-News, February 15, 2004.
Article reports on the re-election bid of Texas Supreme Court Justice Steven Wayne Smith. Although a conservative Republican, Smith was never “fully welcomed into the party fold” because he “upset Gov. Rick Perry’s [R.] hand-picked favorite for the court in 2002,” Xavier Rodriguez. In that election, “Smith had virtually no money or statewide renown but apparently benefited from having an Anglo name in a down-ballot race.” “Because no Democrat has filed in the election, Republican voters will effectively decide who wins the seat when they pick between Smith and challenger Paul Green in the March 9 primary.” “While Smith has been banking modest sums to finance his re-election campaign, big money has been rolling into Green’s coffers from political committees associated with law firms, business executives and GOP stalwarts.”David Pasztor, Texas GOP Aims to Unseat One of Its Own, Austin American-Statesman, February 16, 2004.
Column argues that the race for a seat on the District Court in Travis
County, Tex. is “exhibit A in what can go wrong in a judicial election.” “After getting knocked around for her involvement in redrawing Texas congressional districts, candidate Jan Soifer launched a counterattack with a mailer that linked rival candidate Gisela Triana to Republicans,” a liability in Travis County. A third candidate, John Hathaway, “is catching hell because of the heavy backing he’s getting from what’s known as the ‘family bar’ lawyers who specialize in domestic cases.” “So, the contest devolves into which candidate is the most politically pure and not a discussion of judicial philosophy or even professional credentials.” While concluding that “it’ll take a major-league scandal to produce real change” in the judicial selection system, the columnist calls “at the very least” for a nonpartisan nominating process that “might remove the temptation for candidates to position themselves to feed primary voters the red meat they crave.”