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Selection and Discipline of State Judges in Texas

NCJ Number
Houston Law Rewiew Volume: 14 Issue: 3 Dated: (March 1977) Pages: 672-699
S G Douglass
Date Published
28 pages
Practices relating to judicial selection and discipline in Texas are discussed; current methods of selection and processes of judicial quality control are emphasized, and suggested reform methods are highlighted.
The Texas constitution provides that district and appellate judges will be chosen by popular election. Only a judicial candidate who has been designated a winner of a party primary is allowed to run on the official ballot in the general election unless the candidate meets a rigorous independent campaign requirement. The popular election method was introduced in 1845 by constitutional amendment. However, it is deceptive to term the choosing to Texas judges an elective system, because a majority of judges initially reach the bench through appointment by the Governor, who may fill vacancies between elections without obtaining recommendations or approval from others. It is suggested that an effective system of judicial selection must be visible and representative of the community, must have a broad base of candidates for selection, and must utilize criteria relating directly to judicial performance. The present system fails with regard to meeting these standards. A good system of judicial discipline is essential to complement even the best selection system. In Texas, the constitutional methods for disciplining judges include impeachment and address. The legislature must initiate these procedures, and removal is the only penalty allowed. A third disciplinary method allows for petition by 10 or more lawyers who practice within the judicial district to the State supreme court for a judge's removal. These three methods have proven insufficient. The creation of the State Judicial Qualifications Commission in 1965 has provided a more effective method of receiving and resolving complaints of judicial misconduct. It is suggested that Texas currently possesses a combination of an antiquated, inadequate judicial selection system and a modern, workable, disciplinary system. Elimination of partisan election and unrestricted gubernatorial appointment of judges is crucial. Voters should be given an opportunity to consider a merit plan combination of committee screening, executive appointment, and retention election. The State commission should be retained and added power should be given to the State supreme court to temporarily suspend judges. Footnotes are included in the article.