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Judicial Q&A: Michele Petty

Note: As I have done in years past, I am conducting written Q&As with judicial candidates. This one is a little different in that the questions were originally asked by someone else, but the idea is the same. Further explanation after the post.

Michele Petty

1. Please explain why voters should elect you over your opponent.

Justice Hecht thought it was OK to stick the taxpayers with nearly half a million dollars of his personal legal bills at a time when Texas is closing its parks and laying off its teachers. The cronies who submitted special appropriations bills on his behalf did not get the bills passed, so Justice Hecht sent letters to lawyers and litigants with cases pending asking for donations to pay off his debts. Some got handwritten notes. Those who paid $5000 or more according to Texas Watch won 8 out of 9 times. Those fees arose out of his appeal of the Judicial Conduct Commission Admonishment for “willfully and persistently violating” the judicial canons. The Admonishment was overturned on appeal by a panel comprised of a majority of Republican judges from his home Court of Appeals who were appointed by the Chief Justice who sits next to him on the Court.

Justice Hecht also has an unresolved $29,000 ethics fine from 2008 for accepting an illegal campaign contribution and then failing to report it. His appeal should have been dismissed want of prosecution over two and a half years ago under Travis County local rules, but the attorney general’s office has not filed the motion, and has not set the case for trial. (Attorney General Greg Abbott sat on the court with Justice Hecht.)

I have recent jury trial experience, run my own firm and am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law. Justice Hecht has not tried a case in 30 years and is not Board Certified in anything. I have been nationally recognized for a top ten verdict and have handled cases against multinational corporations. The Court is all Republican with only two women and no contingent fee or plaintiff’s practice attorneys. I would bring much needed perspective and balance to the court.

2. The Texas Supreme Court has been described as a “conservative court” for more than 15 years. Do you think that conservatism is a product of the justices themselves or of laws of the Texas Legislature that the high court must interpret?

Six of the nine Justices currently on the Court were appointed by Governor Perry, and some have advertised themselves as the most conservative on the court. While the Legislature has enacted conservative legislation in the last fifteen years, the court has gone beyond what was enacted and engaged in judicial legislation to further restrict the rights of injured Texans. Laws that did not pass legislatively were adopted by the Court, and the court has interpreted statutes in favor of businesses even though such language is nowhere in the statute nor legislative history.

3. The Texas Supreme Court has a reputation for being pro-business, especially in tort cases. Do you agree or disagree and what can be done to correct that impression?

The Texas Supreme Court deserves its reputation for being pro-business. Wal-Mart has been to the Texas Supreme Court 12 times and has won all 12 times between 1998 and 2005 according to UT law professor David Anderson. ( Wal-Mart prevailed in only 56 percent of the 81 cases in other states.) In a 2007 study of 69 opinions written by the court in 2004 and 2005, Anderson found that defendants won 87% of the time. From 2000-2010, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against consumers 79% of the time according to Texas Watch. Recent cases have eliminated entire causes of action and elements of recovery to insulate businesses from future suits.

The Justices have received so much business related PAC money that realistically Texas must change the way Justices are selected so that campaign contributions are no longer part of the equation. (Justice Don Willett received and spent over $1.4 million for his May primary.) Otherwise, Texas will have to turn blue with voters sweeping out a majority of the incumbents in the next election cycles to restore balance to the court.

4. Some critics of the court believe it goes out its way to disregard jury verdicts. What are some of the reasons the Texas Supreme Court should overturn a jury verdict?

A ten year study by Texas Watch reports that the Texas Supreme Court overturns jury verdicts 74% of the time; however, jury verdicts should be overturned when the trial court has committed reversible error or there has been jury misconduct. Trial judge mistakes in admission and exclusion of evidence, improper jury argument, defects in the jury charge and errors of law can justifiably cause the jury verdict to be reversed.

5. What do you hope to accomplish during a six-year term on the Texas Supreme Court?

I will work to provide better access to justice for the people of Texas. I have direct experience with legal services for indigent and low income clients in contested family law matters. I am sensitive to the needs of the indigent for legal services, but am also respectful of the family bar and those administering legal aid programs and will act to make sure that the solutions implemented are in fact workable and are not riddled with the “80 substantial defects” identified by the Family Law Foundation in the forms proposed by Justice Hecht’s committee. Access to justice also includes the opportunity to redress grievances in a court of law before a jury of peers. I will act to curb the court’s judicial activist trend that inhibits Texans’ ability to meaningfully have their day in court.

I believe that judges should not be career politicians and will work toward the adoption of sensible term limits. I will work to change the way justices are selected.

Note: This Q&A was sent to me by Petty; it was originally slated to run in Texas Lawyer but they edited out her charges against Justice Hecht, and she objected to that. The questions were all asked by Texas Lawyer. Petty added the following bits of information in a followup email:

This is the Texas Ethics Commission order Justice Hecht appealed

This is the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission Public Admonitition:

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