Credit where credit is due

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson calls on the Lege to protect legal aid funding.

The budget crisis threatens to leave the state’s neediest without legal representation, Jefferson said, and even now “the courthouse door is closed to many who have lost their jobs, veterans and women who struggle with physical abuse.” As he asked the Legislature to appropriate $20 million in general revenue dollars for basic civil legal services, he said 6 million Texans currently eligible for legal aid have been turned away because of a lack of funding.

He also emphasized the importance of rehabilitation, psychiatric care and vocational training for juvenile offenders.”Let us endeavor to give these kids a chance at life before sending them into the criminal justice system,” he said.

He said these remarks during his State of the Judiciary address, which you can read here (PDF); he also had praise for Sen. Rodney Ellis’ innocence efforts. I’m glad to hear him say these things, and I hope the Lege listens to him.

Also of interest to me is a subject that has come up before:

Echoing his 2009 address, Jefferson also strongly criticized the state’s system of electing judges on a partisan basis. “A justice system based on Democratic or Republican judging is a system that cannot be trusted,” he said.

Possible solutions? A constitutional amendment for the merit selection of judges or, at the very least, the elimination of straight-ticket voting for judges, which he said results in judges losing elections not for “poor work or poor ethics or controversial or courageous decisions” but because of partisan tides.

I criticized Justice Jefferson about this back in 2009, when it was easy to suspect partisan motives in the wake of widespread Democratic success, so I must give him credit for bringing this up again in the aftermath of 2010. (Far as I can tell, I can’t give the same credit to Big John Cornyn, not that this surprises me.) While I’m happy to note Jefferson’s admirable consistency on this issue, I still think his proposed solutions are inadequate and don’t address the real problem at all, which is the effect of big donors in judicial races. The Supreme Court is basically a wholly owned subsidiary of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which is now a far greater offender in this area than the trial lawyers that TLR was formed to oppose ever was. When Justice Jefferson gets around to that, then we can have a real conversation about how to make the system better. Abby Rapoport has more.

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