I’m pleased to present you with our first candidate Q&A of the 2010 election season.
Justice Rebecca Simmons currently serves on the Fourth Court of Appeals based out of San Antonio. She is one of six Republicans vying for the nomination for Place 3, the seat being vacated by the retirement of Justice Harriet O’Neill.
More information about the candidates is available through our Texas Supreme Court “2010 Elections” page
Why are you running for this office?
I am running for the supreme court because I have the experience and skills currently needed by the court. My analytical ability and energy could assist the court with its efficiency and productivity. My twenty year experience as an attorney combined with my judicial experience would provide a practical view point to the court.
What about your background prepares you for this office?
I have the broadest range of experience of any candidate in this race. I am the only candidate with experience on three different courts: district, appellate, and as a specially commissioned justice on the Texas Supreme Court. With twenty years in private practice trying and appealing cases in both federal and state courts, I have the practical knowledge necessary for a supreme court justice. An adjunct professor at St. Mary’s Law School, I have taught pretrial procedure to law students for over 15 years and gained an expertise in the rules of procedure. As a former briefing attorney, I am aware of the dynamics of the supreme court and the ways in which it can become more efficient. Finally, serving on the State Bar of Texas Rules Committee has given me insight into the supreme court’s rule making function and the need for a justice that understands the rules of procedure and their impact on a case.
How should a voter think about casting their vote for an individual Justice, who will be one member of a nine-member Court?
The ability to work well with colleagues is a necessary attribute of a supreme court justice. I work closely and well with my colleagues on the Fourth Court as reflected in our court’s efficiency and productivity. My collegiality is also demonstrated by my positions of leadership with local and state bar organizations. I have served as an officer and chair of the Texas Bar Foundation and have been president of two local organizations: the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association and the William S. Sessions American Inns of Court. I currently serve as treasurer of the San Antonio Bar Association. The voter should also consider a candidate’s ability to work efficiently given the supreme court’s current backlog. I authored over 100 opinions in 2009, more than any candidate in this race, and my court has no backlog.
Please describe your approach to deciding cases.
Philosophically, I believe in exercising judicial restraint. Precedent is important and regardless of how I personally feel about legislation, the basic rules of statutory construction must be applied in most instances to give effect to the plain meaning of the statute. As a justice on an intermediate appellate court, I try to decide cases on a narrow basis. On a practical level, I keep an open mind until I have completed the review of the briefs and if necessary, important portions of the record. I review as much additional case law and commentary necessary to comprehend the area of law at issue and feel comfortable the decision is correct. Finally, discussion with my colleagues helps to refine and clarify the issues and decide the case.
Is there a specific Texas Supreme Court decision from the past few years that you disagreed with? Why?
As a justice on an intermediate appellate court I have to accept Texas Supreme Court decisions as representing the correct interpretation of the law regardless of my personal opinion. Because similar issues could come before my court, I prefer to remain silent regarding any disagreements I might have with the supreme court’s reasoning in a case.
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 at the factors in TRAP 56.1(a) and give strong consideration to the areas of uncertainty in the law as reflected in appellate court conflicts or conflicts between the justices deciding a case. Is there statutory construction that needs clarifying? The bottom line would be the importance of the case to the state’s jurisprudence. Finally, I would take into account the amount of backlog and the ability of the court to issue opinions in a timely manner in deciding on the number of cases to review.
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?
As a trial and appellate judge I have seen cases lost due to procedural errors. It is unfortunate, but the procedures are in place to ensure that all people that come before the court are treated fairly and equally. A judge cannot and should not circumvent the law to produce what she considers a fair result; otherwise, we will not longer be ruled by law – but by an individual judge’s whim. Certainly, if specific rules of procedure create hazards for the unwary practitioner they should be reviewed carefully and modified if necessary so that they facilitate rather than hinder the judicial process.
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?
The supreme court currently takes, on average, over a year to dispose of a case following oral argument. This time period is too long and will result in a continued backlog of carried over cases from term to term. My court has no backlog and issues opinions within three months of submission on average. The supreme court should implement performance measures that can be tracked by chamber to determine the cause of delay and streamline procedures. Once appropriate procedures are in place, the performance measures should be available to the public. Transparency should result in a higher priority placed on the prompt disposition of cases.
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?
The practice of law continues to shift toward a business model focused on increased profits. High billing rates and tough economic times will result in an increasing number of pro se litigants. Lawyers and pro se litigants will seek more efficient ways to access the court, and the judicial process must become more responsive to the public’s needs by providing computer access to judicial records and effective pro se programs.
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 do not have a policy regarding campaign contributions. Currently, there is a $5,000 per family contribution limit with a $25,000 aggregate firm or PAC limit. Large contributions do not appear to be an issue in this race for any candidate. However, there is a perception that judges are influenced by contributions, and I welcome any reforms that would diminish that perception.
The clock shows you have just one minute left on your argument. What is your closing reason why you should be the voters’ choice?
I have a profound respect for the supreme court and believe my experience, energy and vision would benefit the court.