The Court of Criminal Appeals should be a showcase of Texas justice. Instead, it has become a national embarrassment. It's time for a change but, unfortunately, voters have a good choice in only one of the court's three seats being contested in the Nov. 4 election.
The nine-member court is the state's highest appeals panel for criminal cases, and it automatically reviews all death penalty convictions.
Not surprisingly in a state as conservative as Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals is stocked heavily with judges with prosecutorial backgrounds and attitudes. Defendants who challenge their convictions face a skeptical group of judges.
But too often too many of the judges on this court are not just skeptical, but indifferent, even hostile, to the appeals they are charged to hear. At times, they appear to go out of their way to uphold a conviction and avoid a new trial.
Place 3. Republican incumbent Tom Price, 63, of Richardson is one of the more moderate members of this court.
But the need for bracing change is so strong that voters would do well to support the Democratic candidate, Susan Strawn, 46, of Houston, a former federal prosecutor.
The court, Strawn says, doesn't do its job of critically reviewing death penalty appeals but leaves that to the federal court system. And, she says, at times the judges on the state court "appear to be at war with the (U.S.) Supreme Court."
Memory hasn't quite faded of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' embarrassment last year when Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wouldn't keep the clerk's office open after 5 p.m. for a last-minute petition from a Death Row inmate who was scheduled to die that night. He was executed even though the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection.
The court has rehabilitated its image somewhat by adopting a better intake system for emergency appeals and forming an integrity unit to recommend changes that will prevent wrongful convictions.
Some changes in personnel could improve the performance of Texas's highest criminal court. But only one of the three contested races presents voters with a challenger who meets or exceeds the incumbent's credentials. Libertarian candidates in each of the races don't appear to have adequate qualifications for a court that hears appeals of everything from drug possession convictions to death sentences.
Judge Tom Price, a Republican who joined the state's highest criminal court in 1996, said that if he won in 2002 it would be his last term. He then challenged Keller in 2006 but lost. Now Price, 63, says that he isn't ready to retire, he's worried about his legacy and this will be his last election.
We believe it's time for a new face in this seat.
Democrat Susan Strawn, a Houston lawyer, has an impressive resume as a former longtime Justice Department lawyer who has prosecuted consumer fraud, money laundering and other white-collar crime. She spent two years helping set up a judicial system in Kosovo and targeting corruption, and she worked on financial crimes enforcement in several West African nations for the Treasury Department.
Strawn, 46, was a University of Texas law school classmate of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. She told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that she wants to advocate for better criminal procedures to improve the integrity of the justice system and for a nonpartisan method for choosing judges.
She would have a lot to learn about the specifics of Texas law, but she seems bright and experienced enough to be a quick study.
The Star-Telegram recommends Susan Strawn for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3.
This year, Democrats have fielded their best challenger in a long time, but unfortunately she is attempting to unseat a solid centrist who has a track record of dissenting from the majority's excesses.
Republican JusticeTom Price is seeking a third term on the court, and is being challenged by Democrat Susan Strawn.
Under other circumstances we would readily recommend Strawn, but Price deserves another term.
Price unsuccessfully challenged Keller in 2000 and 2006 in an attempt to bring better leadership to the court's top job.
He has a track record of working to fairly apply the state's laws and has been critical of the majority's most appalling decisions.
When the majority disregarded the fact that one defendant's lawyer was ineffective, Price wrote that competent counsel "ought to require more than a human being with a law license and a pulse."
Court records show that Price, 63, is carrying a full share of the court's workload. Price should be re-elected to the Place 3 seat.
The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Allen Vaught for re-election as state representative in House District 107, which covers east Dallas surrounding White Rock Lake and parts of Lake Highlands, Garland, and Mesquite.
"Allen Vaught unquestionably supports public education and is proactive in finding solutions that improve and strengthen our neighborhood public schools," said Texas Parent PAC board member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. "At the Capitol, he is viewed as a strong and effective leader, a quick learner, and a gifted negotiator who relates well with both Republicans and Democrats."
"Allen Vaught represents the mainstream views and interests of families in East Dallas," said Dinah Miller of the Texas Parent PAC board of directors. "His opponent, Bill Keffer, is aligned with extremist organizations that push tax-funded home-schooling and private school vouchers." She said Keffer has been a staunch critic of public education for many years, which is why five pro-public education political committees are supporting Vaught.
Keffer served in the legislature for two sessions before being defeated by Vaught. Miller said at the Capitol Keffer voted against funding for pre-kindergarten, advanced placement and gifted and talented programs, and reading, math, and science initiatives. The extreme differences between Vaught and Keffer on public education were one reason the Dallas Morning News again endorsed Vaught and proclaimed him to be the "superior candidate."
"Dallas families deserve to have a legislator who represents the needs of the community, not someone whose votes are based more on ideology than the public interest," Miller added.
The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Joe Moody for election as state representative in House District 78, which includes west and northeast El Paso and Canutillo, Anthony, Westway, and Vinton.
"Joe Moody will hit the ground running at the Capitol and be a very effective legislator," said Texas Parent PAC chair Carolyn Boyle of Austin. "He is extremely bright and articulate, a man of integrity, with a passion for representing the folks from El Paso County in Austin."
"Joe Moody will be viewed as a rising star when he joins the new generation of leaders in the Texas House who are working hard to change Texas for the better," Boyle added.
Boyle said Moody is the only candidate who can be trusted to stand up for schoolchildren and their neighborhood public schools. "His opponent, Dee Margo, is aligned with extremist organizations that push tax-funded home-schooling and private school vouchers." She said Texas taxpayers cannot afford to subsidize private schooling.
"Joe understands the financial challenges faced by public schools today and what is needed to help every child to do his or her best," Boyle said. "He will listen to parents and be their advocate in Austin, because he knows quality education for the next generation is critical for the economic prosperity of individuals, families, and Texas."