A 3rd Court of Appeals justice is accusing Chief Justice Ken Law of refusing to file her dissent in a politically charged case involving two associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Justice Jan Patterson, a Democrat, is asking the Texas Supreme Court to intervene. She claims that Law, a Republican who's up for re-election, blocked the filing of her dissent to last week's ruling on whether fellow Justice Alan Waldrop, also a Republican, should step aside in the money-laundering case involving DeLay's associates.
Patterson's filing with the Texas Supreme Court late Friday afternoon revealed a few more details about the infighting among justices at the 3rd Court, which has four Republicans and two Democrats.
On Sept. 25, three days after [Travis DA Ronnie] Earle filed his allegations, Waldrop told his colleagues he would not step aside.
According to her filing, Patterson said she twice requested responses from the defendants regarding the recusal motion and Law refused to obtain a response and instructed the clerk not to seek one.
Patterson then informed her colleagues that she would file a dissent to the ruling on Waldrop's staying in the case. She wrote that Law instructed the court clerk not to file her dissent.
Keith Hampton, a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association vice president and longtime observer of the Texas appellate courts, said he knows of nowhere in Texas law or court rules where the right to file a dissent is discussed.
However, Hampton said that dissenting opinions are important to developing a full record and registering all ideas and thoughts on legal issues. He said it is rare for appeals judges to be denied a chance to dissent.
"I cannot see how the other judges can prevent an elected judge from dissenting," he said. "Dissent in the appellate courts is extremely valuable to the development of jurisprudence."