You may never see the inside of a courtroom, but the work that goes on there is a concern to all of us.
Judges hold considerable power. Their decisions can set important legal precedents. It’s also their job to ensure all parties are treated fairly under the law. Even if you’re not a plaintiff or a defendant in a lawsuit, the power judges wield can impact you, as they can choose to uphold or overturn laws passed by our Texas Legislature.
Good judges matter, and they should matter to every Texan.
A fair civil justice system should require judges to meet the highest standards of excellence, transparency and accountability. Legislation working its way through the Texas Legislature this spring would move us closer to that higher standard.
What does it mean to be a good judge? What can Texas lawmakers do to strengthen our civil justice system?
For starters, Texas should require a judicial candidate’s ballot application to include the candidate’s bar number and disclosure of any public sanction, censure or disciplinary sanctions in Texas or another state. It’s also reasonable to ensure any judicial candidate clearly states the nature of the candidate’s practice, any legal specialization, the candidate’s professional courtroom experience, and any final conviction for a Class A or Class B misdemeanor in the past 10 years. Candidates for appellate court seats should be required to outline their appellate court briefs and oral arguments for the past five years.
Those proposals are at the heart of House Bill 2384, but the bill goes a step further.
House Bill 2384 would also direct the Texas Supreme Court to adopt rules on judicial training required of judges and set a one-year timeframe for completion.
Under the bill, new judges would be required to complete a minimum of 30 hours of instruction on the administrative duties of the office and substantive, procedural and evidentiary law, with an additional 16 hours of continuing education annually. Should candidates and judges fail to complete the required disclosures and trainings, they would be held accountable for those actions.
An informed voter is a better voter. By providing Texas voters a better understanding of the candidates asking for their votes, we help ensure that the men and women we elect as judges are well trained and well versed in the court system where they will work.
This legislation makes common sense, and it would help shine a light on one of the least understood branches of our government.
Each year, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse shines a light on this issue with our Good Judges Matter educational campaign. We’re pleased to see the Texas Legislature embrace many of the reforms we know will strengthen our civil justice system.
There’s still time for state leaders to act. In the closing weeks of this legislative session, we have a real chance to transform our judicial elections and strengthen that branch of government. As Texans, we can and should all agree, good judges matter.
Smiley is a board member of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse and a small business owner in Austin.