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EDITORIAL You Be the Judge NOW THAT EVERYBODY knows who’s running for the Texas Railroad Commis sion, how about some respect for the candidates for the state’s judiciary? This year Republicans hope to put a lock on the Texas Supreme Court, while the Democrats are trying to hold two seats and to elect the first woman to the third seat up for grabs this year on the state’s high court of civil appeals. At stake is whether a lawsuit will be tilted in favor of a plaintiff or a defendant. Since big money is involved in many of these lawsuits, you are more likely to hear about races for the Supreme Court than you are to hear about the Court of Criminal Appeals, whose purview of matters of life and death and personal liberty only involves big money occasionally, when a wealthy person is accused of murdering a spouse or a business associate, for example, and has to hire a high-dollar lawyer and retinue. In the most important Supreme Court race, Craig Enoch, the Republican Chief Justice of the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, is bringing up the issue of “justice for sale” once again as he attempts to unseat incumbent Justice Oscar Mauzy; beating dead horses is not against the law in Texas, but one should not expect to ride them, particularly when Enoch has raised $1.5 million, primarily from business, medical and insurance interests, in his attempt to oust Mauzy, who happens to be the most liberal justice on the court and who has raised nearly $1 million, much of which came from personal-injury lawyers; he also is the author of the original Edgewood v. Kirby ruling that established the right of every schoolchild to an equal education opportunity, although the conservative Supremes who joined in that unanimous opinion in 1989 have spent the past few years backing off from it. Justice is supposed to be blind, but the fact is that the Supreme Court has shown itself fully capable of standing the law on its head and making it perform somersaults to protect business interests against consumer interests. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, curious thing happened: Personal-injury attorneys practically the only monied interest allied with consumers and progressives -managed to back enough winners on the Court so that the defendant interests started losing big lawsuits. Alarm bells went off in the insurance-medical-business community as well as the executive offices of the state’s daily newspapers, who usually function as the house organ for the business bloc. Monetary and editorial support started flowing into the campaigns of candidates who were more likely to limit lawsuit rights. Recent elections have brought four Republicans and two conservative Democrats to the Court, all of whom were backed by the insurance-medical-business bloc. Given these considerations, Mauzy at least provides balance to the Court. Mauzy, who as a state Senator from Dallas pushed for single-member legislative districts, has been a vocal advocate of splitting urban counties into smaller judicial districts to allow the election of a more representative judiciary. He is not embarrassed by the fact that the Texas Constitution contains a stronger bill of rights than its federal counterpart and he would like the state courts to uphold those rights. He also is an unabashed advocate of abortion rights, which could become an issue before the court. “And now they’re running around saying I can’t talk about that publicly. Well, the hell I can’t. The SOBs are talking about my record as a Senator and I can’t respond to that? Bullshit.” To paraphrase Gen. George Patton: A man that eloquent must be saved. The business interests rallied to defeat Mauzy in his bid for a promotion to Chief Justice in 1990. They should not be allowed to engage now in an ideological cleansing of the Supreme Court. The other candidates for the Supreme Court include Rose Spector, a Democratic state district judge in San Antonio, generally backed by the plaintiffs’ bar, who hopes to unseat Justice Eugene Cook, a Houston Republican lawyer elected to the court in 1988. Spector is worthy of support from the progressive community. Justice Jack Hightower, a conservative Democrat, faces John Montgomery, a Republican state district judge from Houston. Hightower is no special friend of consumers or progressives but he is a better choice than Montgomery, a family law specialist before his 1986 election to the Harris County court. As Ed Sills of the San Antonio Light noted, “This election could leave the court with as few as two or as many as four justices whose campaigns are financed in large part by personal injury lawyers. It comes against a backdrop in which President Bush has targeted the cost of lawsuits as a national campaign issue, and Texas business interests have begun campaigns to convince ordinary citizens that huge jury verdicts are ruining the republic.” The races for the Court of Criminal Appeals have an even lower profile. Because there is so little financial incentive to support a challenger, traditional Democratic voting patterns have held up in these races and no Republican has been elected to the state’s highest criminal appeals court. Texas People Against Crime, a victims’ rights group, has cited -a study of the voting trends of judges on the Court that found Presiding Judge Mike McCormick and judges Bill White and Chuck Miller were most likely to side with prosecutors in close votes. Judges Sam Houston Clinton, Frank Maloney and Charles Baird were most likely to side with the defendant’s position. Judges Morris Overstreet, Chuck Campbell and Fortunato “Pete” Benavides were placed in the middle as “swing” votes. Overstreet, Baird and Benavides are up for election. Overstreet, 43, whose 1990 election made him the first African American to win election to a statewide office, faces Sue Lagarde, a Republican 5th Court of Appeals Justice in Dallas. Baird, 37, a Houston criminal defense lawyer until his 1990 election, faces Republican Dallas lawyer Joseph Devany, 71, who believes he is exempt from the requirement that he retire at the age of 75 because he was on the 5th Court of Appeals when the age limit was imposed. Benavides, 45, faces Larry Meyers, 44, a Republican Justice on the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. Benavides the Court’s first Mexican-American member and former 13th Court of Appeals Justice from Corpus Christi was appointed to an unexpired term last year by Gov. Richards. Also important are the lower court races. In the Dallas area, where the Democrats are trying to rebuild a judicial base after virtually being swept out of office during the . 1980s, the Texas AFL-CIO has endorsed Ron Chapman, Jeff Kaplan, Barbara Rosenberg and Kevin Wiggins on the 5th Court of Appeals. The list of candidates for state district judges includes the state’s only openly gay District Judge, Jerry Birdwell, a Dallas Democrat who was appointed to the 195th District Court by Gov. Richards. Birdwell and two other Richards appointees to district courts in Dallas County John Cruzeot and Jan Hemphill have received endorsements from the non-partisan Committee for a Qualified Judiciary, indicating their acceptance by the Dallas legal and business establishment. In the Houston area, the labor federation has endorsed Gaynelle Jones on the 1st Court of Appeal and Norman Lee and Henry Burkholder on the 14th Court of Appeals. Jones, a relatively late Richards appointee, is playing catchup against a determined Republican opponent. In district court races, the Governor appointed John Ackerman to the 339th District Court and John Kyle to the 208th District Court. District Judge Eileen O’Neill, a Richards appointee, did not draw an opponent on the ballot, but pro-life Republicans mounted a write Continued on next page 4 OCTOBER 16, 1992