January 9, 2015
By Angela Morris
A House committee recommended changing the law to extend appellate court jurists’ terms in office to eight years rather than six.
But the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee in its December 2014 Interim Report, which was released on Jan. 8, did not recommend changing how Texans elect judges, despite some judicial leaders’ desires for reform.
The interim report notes that Texas is one of the few states that elects judges and it has among the “least restrictive set of qualifications” for an appellate bench. The jurists on the 14 intermediate appellate courts and the state’s two high courts must be licensed to practice law, a United States citizen, at least 35 years old, and have been a practicing lawyer or judge for at least 10 years.
Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and current Chief Justice Nathan Hecht both expressed support for changing the method that Texans choose judges during a public hearing on March 17, 2014, noted the report.
The committee’s recommendations don’t mention any judicial selection reform. In addition to recommending eight-year terms, the committee recommended tweaks for qualifications: Judges should be State Bar of Texas members continuously for at least 10 years and must not have been sanctioned, or had a license suspension or disbarment.
The committee also reported on other interim charges, including: civil liability for landlords for interacting with ex-offenders; low-income Texans’ use of wills and the probate process; environmental-contamination litigation by local governments; and more.