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SCOTXblog Q&A About these questions
Why are you running for this office?
Thanks for the chance to address these questions. We’ve reached that point in the campaign where the new has worn off, but it’s still a lot of fun to talk about the issues that really matter. I’m running for the Court to bring needed energy and property law expertise to the Texas Supreme Court. The Energy Industry is vital to our State’s economy; in fact as an industry I understand that it is the State’s largest taxpayer and is one of the largest employers. Property law impacts everyone who owns a home or business, or pays rent for housing. Because the law has become so specialized, and because tort issues have assumed primary importance in recent Supreme Court races, no one has served on the Court in several years with practical energy or property law experience. I am board certified in both oil, gas, and energy law, and in civil trial law. My experience and expertise will fill this critical gap.
What about your background prepares you for this office?
I graduated with honors from University of Texas School of Law in 1985. I handled complex oil and gas and commercial litigation in private practice for 20 years and in that time tried over 100 cases to a verdict in courtrooms all across the State of Texas, New Mexico and even tried one case in Washington DC. Almost all of these were as first chair. I also handled numerous appeals in both State and Federal Court. I’m board certified in oil, gas, and mineral law, and in civil trial law. Finally, I’ve served as a Justice on the 11th Court of Appeals for the last 4 ½ years.
How should a voter think about casting their vote for an individual Justice, who will be one member of a nine-member Court?
Voters should first consider whether a candidate is qualified to serve as a Justice. If so, voters should then ask whether this individual has demonstrated the ability to operate effectively in a collaborative decision-making environment. Finally, voters should consider whether the candidate has expertise that would enhance the Court’s overall reputation and their ability to decide the complex and difficult cases the Court faces.
Please describe your approach to deciding cases.
I am a judicial conservative. I believe that as an appellate justice we should defer to the legislature’s authority to pass laws, the jury’s resolution of fact issues, and the trial court’s discretion to operate its court. In practice, I take all of the briefs and read them from page one of the Appellant’s brief to the last page of the last-filed brief. As I do, I outline the issues. I then work issue by issue, starting with the outcome determinative issues. I will read the major cases cited by the parties, will perform my own research, and will read those portions of the record necessary to resolve the issue. I normally write my opinion as I go. Usually this involves ascertaining the standard of review, defining the issue, and summarizing the relevant evidence and law. My decision making is not dissimilar to solving a math problem. Using the standard of review and law as my formula and the facts as my variable, I then solve the problem.
Is there a specific Texas Supreme Court decision from the past few years that you disagreed with? Why?
Because I am a sitting Justice, I cannot criticize an individual case. I do believe that the Court’s energy and property jurisprudence over the last several years suffers from the Court’s lack of any practical experience in these areas.
The Court has significant discretion over which cases it hears. What factors would be most important to you in deciding which cases the Texas Supreme Court should review?
I would look for cases with unresolved questions of law. I believe that the Court has too often taken cases that it believes are important – which typically means cases with big verdicts, or to correct what it perceives as errors. If we focus on important cases, then cases with small numbers are excluded. Thus, if the party is an individual or small business, their chances of obtaining Supreme Court review is diminished. If we focus on error correction, this can result in the Court taking too many cases.
A common situation in appellate courts is for a party to have a meritorious or even compelling issue but to have lost the case on a procedural ground. How should the public feel about those cases?
Rather than attempt to tell anyone how they should feel, I would suggest that as Judges we continually work hard to educate people on the process so that they do not feel as though someone lost on a technicality. Our goal should be to educate people that our procedural rules exist to promote justice and that if we do not consistently apply them, then we show favoritism and we have the rule of man rather than the rule of law.
The Court has been criticized for the average time that it takes to resolve a petition on the merits. How do you see this situation, and what changes (if any) are needed to the Court’s procedures for handling cases?
I believe that the Court’s backlog is primarily due to the Court taking too many cases. In my opinion the Court has stopped asking itself if an individual case presents an unresolved question of law, but instead asks if a case is sufficiently important to merit Supreme Court review. I believe each of the Justices is working hard but if delays are attributable to one or more chambers, I would support internal deadlines for things such as reviewing another Justice’s draft opinion, or to prepare a separate opinion.
The Texas Supreme Court has oversight over the practice of law in Texas. How do you see the practice of law being different in ten years? Are these changes good or bad?
I think our practices will continue to become more specialized, that the use of technology will continue to become more prevalent, and that the costs of litigation will continue to rise. These changes are both good and bad. Specialization and technology will improve our representation. Increased costs will make impose greater burdens on our clients and will reduce their ability to access the courthouse.
Do you have a policy about which campaign contributions you will refuse or a personal recusal policy that is triggered by having received campaign contributions?
I have always followed the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act. I do not have a personal recusal policy. I have not yet had a recusal request triggered by a campaign contribution. If I receive one, I will give it fair consideration. As a practical matter, we cannot announce a personal policy that will allow litigants to use recusal motions inappropriately. However, I have been pro-active in this area and have recused myself a number of times without a formal motion.
The clock shows you have just one minute left on your argument. What is your closing reason why you should be the voters’ choice?
We need someone with practical energy and property law experience on the Court to improve the Court’s jurisprudence in these vital areas, and to bring some measure of predictability and consistency to the Court’s energy and property decisions. We also need someone who has demonstrated the ability to effectively work in a collaborative environment, and someone who will help the Court address its backlog.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to participate in this process.