Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.
1. Who are you and what are you running for?
My name is Justice Linda Reyna Yanez and I am running for Place 8 on the Texas Supreme Court. I am the Senior Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. The 13th Court, which is comprised of 20 counties along the Texas Coastal Bend, is an intermediate appellate court that hears both civil and criminal cases. In addition to the 13th Court's 20 counties, it also sits and hears cases for the appellate courts in Houston, Dallas, Beaumont, San Antonio and Austin.
2. What kind of cases does the court hear?
Texas has two courts of last resort: the Texas Supreme Court addresses civil matters and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addresses criminal matters. The Texas Supreme Court, as opposed to my court, has what is called discretionary jurisdiction, which means that the Supreme Court is allowed to decide what cases it hears among those that are filed. On my court, we must address every case that is filed and issue a disposition. The Supreme Court hears cases deemed important to the jurisprudence of the State (e.g., when two courts of appeals' decisions are inconsistent with each other or when statutory interpretation is at issue), and decides questions of law that are of critical importance to the people of the State.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I believe the Texas Supreme Court, as an institution, was created as a multi-member court because it is charged with the duty of having a true debate on the serious issues that come before it. A true debate takes place when different perspectives are brought to the table. Given the current make-up of the Supreme Court, this debate is not taking place. All nine members of the Supreme Court are from the same political party, which has unfortunately translated into a "groupthink" mentality in their deliberative process. While they may appear to have differing backgrounds, they are actually of one mindset in their approach to legal analysis and seemingly result oriented decision making.
This reality has influenced my decision to answer the call to run for the Texas Supreme Court. I know that in order for the citizens of Texas to have confidence in the decisions of our highest court, they must have confidence in the process that led to those decisions. I will help rejuvenate public confidence in the Supreme Court by spurring true debate among fellow justices. I will spur debate by bringing to the table a legal and judicial perspective that does not exist now, or ever before, on the Supreme Court.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
While a law student, I worked as a legal intern at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago (LAF). During that time, I worked on LAF's Migrant Project, assisting farmworkers with wage and hour claims, in addition to claims for decent working conditions. After finishing law school in 1976, I returned to LAF to begin my legal career. As a lawyer with LAF, I represented clients who did not have the economic resources to acquire legal representation. I subsequently returned to Texas, my home state, to work for Texas Rural Legal Aid (TRLA), where I again assisted economically disadvantaged clients. While at TRLA, I became part of the legal team that took a case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where my team successfully argued that all children have a right to a public school education.
In the 1980's, the federal government cut funds to TRLA and other similar organizations; these cuts made it especially difficult for immigrants to acquire legal representation. This prompted me to enter private practice, where I represented clients in immigration matters, in addition to family and federal criminal matters. My success in private practice eventually led me to become the first woman partner in the highly respected law firm of Weich and Black in Brownsville (now Roerig, Oliveira & Fisher, LLP).
I later returned to Chicago to become Regional Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), where I worked on employment, education, immigration, and voting rights issues. While at MALDEF I concentrated on voting rights issues, which afforded me the privilege of heading the legal team that drew the municipal wards, state legislative districts, and the Congressional district that resulted in the first Latino elected to Congress from the Midwest. I was then appointed as a Clinical Instructor at the Harvard School of Law, where I headed the Immigration Clinic, teaching and supervising students who represented clients from literally every corner of the world. While at Harvard, I was appointed to head newly elected President Bill Clinton's Immigration Transition Team; this led me to Washington, D.C., where I drafted a book that briefed President Clinton on immigration issues.
In 1993, Ann Richards appointed me to the Court of Appeals and I became the first Latina to serve on an appellate court in Texas and the first woman to serve on the 13th Court of Appeals. I have been elected to my position three times and now serve as the Senior Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. During my fourteen year tenure at the court, I have authored more than 800 opinions and have served on panel for over 3,500 opinions.
5. Why is this race important?
The Supreme Court races, if adequately funded, can positively impact the rest of the Democratic ticket. In the past, Democrats, unfortunately, have failed to appreciate the importance of the statewide judiciary in our lives. The Texas Supreme Court decides the most important legal issues in the State. Those decisions affect workers, patients, consumers, small businesses, large corporations, insurance companies--all aspects of our lives are affected. The most insidious conduct of the supreme court in recent history has been in decisions that exhibit a lack of appreciation for the sanctity of jury verdicts. In my opinion, one of the worst decisions is City of Keller, through which the Supreme Court has usurped the fact finding authority of the lower courts and juries. I aim to turn the tide created by opinions like City of Keller after I am elected to the supreme court.
6. Why should people vote for you in the Democratic primary?
In this race, Democratic voters have a real choice. There are fundamental and important differences between me and my opponent, with respect to our life experiences and our legal and judicial records.
As my career has evolved, I have become more convinced that Oliver Wendell Holmes got it right when he stated, "The life of the law is not logic, it is experience." My journey to this day began in the cotton fields of South Texas and the vegetable fields of Northern Illinois. I defied the odds; statistics for my generation would have pegged me as a high school drop-out. I took advantage of my opportunity to get an education and became an elementary school teacher. When I went to law school I had a purpose--that law degree was going to allow me to advocate for members of my community who had a history of being marginalized. As a lawyer, I was the voice of the voiceless; my advocacy skills were put into service for those who were unfamiliar and fearful of the legal system. I thus understand the plight of consumers, patients, and workers--both in their daily lives and when confronted with challenging corporate America in the courts. Furthermore, I have and will continue to represent the rule of law, while fully appreciating that as a judge, I also bring my life experiences to the bench. As one journalist described me, I am "a farmworker, who became a teacher, who became a lawyer, who became a judge." In addition to these roles, I am a mother (of two lawyers) and a grandmother. And it is with great pride that I bring all of these experiences to the table.
I am the only candidate that has a proven appellate record. My judicial resume is contained within several volumes of the South Western Reporter; it is there for anyone to read and digest. Within these volumes are some of my 800 appellate opinions that I authored during my fourteen years as an appellate judge. These fourteen years have prepared me to serve on the Supreme Court. As an appellate judge (as opposed to a trial judge), I make decisions in a collaborative environment. I am intimately aware of the fact that an appellate judge must be able to persuade a majority of the court's members in order to productively contribute to the legal landscape of this state. I have utilized my legal analytical skills to accomplish this task for over a decade and I will continue to use these skills while on the Supreme Court.
I take my place in the legal community very seriously. I was elected to the American Law Institute, I have been appointed to the National Judicial College faculty, and I have a second law degree, a Master of Laws, from the University of Virginia Law School.
I bring a breadth of life and legal experience to the race that my opponent does not. I provide Democratic voters with an opportunity to elect someone with a voice that is sorely needed in the supreme court; it's a voice that, in many respects, has never before been heard at our highest court. I am the Democratic candidate in this race who has the experience necessary to go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with the Republicans. I trust the Democratic voters to make the right choice for balance, experience that counts, and a voice that has and will continue to resonate for ordinary Texans.
PERSONAL PROFILES and AWARDS:
First Latina appellate court judge in the history of the state of Texas, appointed by Governor Ann Richards.
Faculty, National Judicial College: 2006
American Law Institute: 2003
Mexican American Bar Asso. Foundation - Service Award - 2007
Extraordinary Woman Award - Women Together Foundation - 2006
Judicial Pioneer Award - Hispanic Issues Section - State Bar of Texas - 2006
Distinguished Judicial Career - Hispanic Women's Network of Texas - 2001
Reynaldo G. Garza, Lifetime Achievement Award - Hispanic Issues Section, State Bar of Texas - 2001
Lifetime Achievement Award - Hispanic Bar Asso. -1996
Houston Latino Lawyers and Law Students -Outstanding Alumnus - 1994
Lawyer of the Year - 1990 - Mexican American Bar Asso. of Texas
Outstanding Lawyer - 1989 - Mexican American Bar Asso. of Texas
Woman of the Year - Brownsville Professional Women's Asso. - 1988
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