Here come the new judges

They’re going to be fine. Seriously, everyone chill out.

[Frank] Aguilar said some of his Democratic colleagues may not have a lot of judicial experience, but most have had long careers as lawyers and have the experience they need to improve the system.

That sentiment has been a constant among the new Democrat judges. In the days after the election, Dedra Davis, who was elected to civil bench, said the new judges would be using a “wheel” to appoint attorneys at random instead of continuing a system of judges appointing a small roster of attorneys they know.

“A little more fairness, a little more impartiality, and a little more equality is coming, and not everybody’s happy about that,” she said. “Lawyers who made $500,000 a year from their relationship with a judge who always gave them appointments aren’t going to see that anymore.”

In the days after the election, attorneys who had been elevated to the bench were busy winding up their practices while judges who lost were looking at their options.

Josh Hill, a newly elected Democrat criminal court judge, said there is a learning curve in any new job. He expects some “hiccups and speedbumps” around the courts, but said he and the other new judges are fair and will work hard to improve the system.

“I don’t have any reason to think that any of the incoming judges will be incapable of handling the task. I think they’ll do fine,” he said. “Ultimately, you’re going to see a more progressive criminal justice system.”

Hill noted that some of the departing judges came to work late and did not seem to be diligent about getting things done with their dockets. He said practical experience and a strong work ethic are more important than the belief that judges are somehow “better” qualified just because they’ve been on the bench longer.

“Some of them did a great job and some did a terrible job and some were just in-between,” he said. “It just comes down to the individual and what they’re willing to put into it and how hard they’re willing to work.”


JoAnne Musick , felony division chief at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said new judges are elected every other year and they all seem to learn the job.

“It takes them four to six weeks to get their feet wet and then they’re off and running,” she said.

Many criminal defense attorneys agreed.

“I’ve seen so many transitions and everybody figures it out. It’s going to be fine,” said Cheryl Irvin, a longtime criminal defense lawyer who has practiced since 1980. “Nobody’s going home who should be going to prison. Nothing like that is happening and anybody who says anything like that is just immature.”

Yeah, pretty much. I know it’s de rigeur to dump on the system we have of partisan judicial elections, and for sure there are some departing judges who would have been fine to keep on the bench. But let’s be honest, appointment systems will pick some duds, too. Every company that has ever hired an employee has hired people who just didn’t work out for one reason or another. Maybe an appointment system, if properly built and maintained, would do a better job of picking winners than the system we have now. But all those good judges whose loss everyone is now lamenting were chosen by this same partisan election system we have. It’s not like nobody good got elected.

And hey, guess what: The Legislature is about to be in session. Everyone who believes the system we have for electing judges is terrible is welcomed and encouraged to lobby their legislators to design and implement something better. Come up with a plan, get a legislator to sponsor it, and go from there. There’s never been a better time to turn complaints into action. And if six months from now we make it to sine die without such a bill appearing on anyone’s radar, I’ll know how serious the complainers were about their grievances.

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7 Responses to Here come the new judges

  1. N.M. Horwitz says:

    I’ll be happy when the Chronicle stops repeating the talking points verbatim that Paul Simpson or the local garden club faxed in to them.

    I’m not holding my breath about Republicans doing anything but acting in bad faith. Greg Abbott will propose making all appellate justices (and perhaps district judges too) appointed by the governor, and one of the Lost Boys like Krause will carry it. It may well get the support of the Republican caucus at large, sort of like last year’s straight ticket bill.

    Sadly for the GOP, the State Constitution ensures the right to elect our jurists. So it will not pass unless it is bipartisan, and because the Republicans are constitutionally incapable of acting in good faith of late, such a scenario will not come to pass.

  2. Its the peoples bench. Its not a party’s bench. The world will not end.

  3. Burt Levine says:

    Noah why not elect judges like city council. Let names without party Id (but party familiarity) pile onto a ballot with a runoff the next month?

  4. Bill Daniels says:


    I really like that idea. The only downside would be a very sizable undervote, which actually wouldn’t be a down side, as people who do vote would have had to do some cursory investigation of the candidates to make a decision.

    Is this a bipartisan idea taking shape? Judges run without a party affiliation declared?

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    In Texas I think they should be appointed by the governor with approval by the Senate with a constitutional mandate of 2/3 of the Senate (i.e. no nuclear option). This will insulate judges from being influenced by reelection politics.

  6. asmith says:

    Paul, then the big law firms who donate to candidates will have even more influence than they do right now.

  7. asmith says:

    Paul, then the big law firms who donate to incumbents will have even more influence than they do right now.

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