March 21, 2008
More on the Supreme Slacker Court

Back in January, there was an article about how the State Supreme Court was extremely backlogged, and how that has gotten worse in recent years. How bad is it? Take a look at this report from Texas Watch (PDF) and see:

As has been reported previously by the media, the Court has amassed a record backlog of cases. Our research shows that the backlog of cases left pending each year has increased by more than 300% over the course of this decade. We will discuss the growth of the backlog later in this report, but we believe it is important to determine its root cause. Our research shows that members of the Texas Supreme Court are failing to keep up with the demands of their docket.

Over the last three terms, the average number of cases produced by each justice has decreased by 25% while the average length of time to write opinions has increased 31%. In fact, it is not uncommon for justices to write fewer than four signed opinions in a given year, and it is also not uncommon for justices to average more than 18 months to write an opinion. So, the Court as a whole is doing less while taking more time to do it.

In this report, we discovered several startling trends that demonstrate that justice truly is delayed at the Texas Supreme Court:

  • The Court took an average of 852 days (2.3 years) to dispose of a case in the 2006-2007 term, an increase of 24% from the 2004-2005 term.

  • Justices took an average 416 days to write an opinion after the Court has heard oral arguments. This represents a 31% increase from 04-05 to 06-07.

  • Justices Wainwright and Johnson have fallen behind their colleagues' output by routinely taking longer to write fewer opinions.

  • The Court's backlog has steadily increased from 14 in fiscal year 2000 to 60 in FY2007, an increase of 328%.

  • The Court has left 72 cases pending for more than a year. An additional 31 cases have been pending for more than 2 years.

By the Court's own admission, they are failing to meet the guidelines laid out for them by the Legislature. State budget writers include performance measures by which they gauge the efficient use of taxpayer resources. Lawmakers laid out a 100-day goal for disposing of all matters pending before the Texas Supreme Court. This includes cases, motions, and all other matters. In a report to the Legislature, the Court has admitted it took the Court 209 days to handle pending matters in fiscal year 2007, more than double these budgetary performance measures.

The whole thing is detailed, and pretty devastating. Interestingly enough, two of the bigger slackers in terms of number of opinions written and average length of time to produce them are up for election this year - Justices Dale Wainwright and Phil Johnson. And finally, as noted by Wayne Slater, there's a common thread here:

Remember Bob and Jane Cull and their 10-year battle with Houston homebuilder Bob Perry over their problem-plagued home? Of course you don't. Apparently, the Texas Supreme Court doesn't either.

The retirement-age couple from Mansfield took their case to the Supreme Court a year ago, arguing that Perry Homes has refused to pay for defects -- even though the Culls followed the rules and won an $800,000 arbiter's judgment. Perry wants the high court to reverse a string of rulings and force the Culls to start all over.

The case has focused attention on how construction disputes can last for years without resolution and raised questions about possible influence of big-dollar campaign contributions. Bob Perry is the biggest campaign contributor in Texas. He has given money to every member of the Texas Supreme Court, which now sits in judgment on the Cull case.

Funny how that works, isn't it? Read the report for all the details.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 21, 2008 to Show Business for Ugly People