Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local Administrative Judges

As you may know, there are nine regional presiding judges in Texas, who are the backbone of judicial administration in the state. In addition, every county in Texas has a local administrative district judge and, if there is a county court at law, a local administrative CCL judge, serving a two-year term in that position. Most duties of LAJs are enumerated in §74.092 Government Code:

1.implement and execute the local rules of administration, including the assignment, docketing, transfer, and hearing of cases;
2.appoint any special or standing committees necessary or desirable for court management and administration;
3.promulgate local rules of administration if the other judges do not act by a majority vote;
4.recommend to the regional presiding judge any needs for assignment from outside the county to dispose of court caseloads;
5.supervise the expeditious movement of court caseloads, subject to local, regional, and state rules of administration;
6.provide the supreme court and the office of court administration requested statistical and management information;
7.set the hours and places for holding court in the county;
8.supervise the employment and performance of nonjudicial personnel;
9.supervise the budget and fiscal matters of the local courts, subject to local rules of administration;
10.coordinate and cooperate with any other local administrative judge in the district in the assignment of cases in the courts' concurrent jurisdiction for the efficient operation of the court system and the effective administration of justice; and
11.perform other duties as may be directed by the chief justice or a regional presiding judge.

See more on the duties of LAJs on Texas Courts Online.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Third National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children

Texas just finished hosting this major national work Summit for state leaders in child welfare, and we are feeling very good about the successful conclusion of the event. The proof will be in the pudding of ensuing work (more on this later) that we and 47 other states perform, carrying out plans developed at the Summit to improve judicial leadership and decisions affecting children in foster care, their families, and a universe of stakeholders.

Congratulations to Justice Harriet O'Neill and the Texas Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth & Families, and many thanks to the National Center for State Courts, Casey Family Programs, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Pew Charitable Trusts, RGK Foundation and a number of other generous sponsors. My personal thanks as well as congratulations go out to Dick Van Duizend, Kay Farley, Lee Suskin, Val Hansford, Myra Miranda and Nora Sydow of NCSC, under the leadership of Mary McQueen; Tina Amberboy, Kristi Taylor, Teri Moran and Bryan Wilson of the Children's Commission; Justice O'Neill and her assisant Sylvia Griego; security detail led by Tawana Henderson of the Department of Public Safety and Terry Cobbs of the Department of Criminal Justice - Office of Inspector General; and the Texas team made up of Judges John Specia, Dean Rucker, Patricia Macias, Darlene Byrne, Robin Sage, Camile DuBose and Karen Bonicoro, Texas Center for the Judiciary staff Anissa Vila and Ginny Woods, Carolyne Rodriguez of Casey, and HHSC/DFPS leadership Anne Heiligenstein, Joyce James, Fairy Rutland and Audrey Deckinga. Finally I wanted to say thanks to Bruce Robison and his band for a great show at the Bob Bullock Museum on Friday night.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

William Wayne Justice

Federal District Judge William Wayne Justice, a Texas hero, died yesterday. He was a great jurist, a supreme gentleman, a caring human, and a good friend to my partner Eden Harrington, who runs the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at UT Law School.

My primary connection to Judge Justice was through the epic Ruiz class action prison conditions lawsuit. [Initial reported decisions at Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F. Supp. 1265(S.D. Tex. 1980) aff'd in part and vacated in part, 679 F.2d 1115, amended in part, 688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1042, 103 S. Ct. 1438, 75 L. Ed. 2d 795 (1983).] In December of 1986, I attended my first meeting as counsel to the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, where Assistant Attorney General F. Scott McCown briefed us on a recent ruling. Judge Justice found the state in contempt for failing to meet terms of the Crowding Stipulation and ordered fines up to $800,000 a day, or $24 million a month, to be levied upon the state beginning April 1, 1987. Judge Justice stipulated the fines could be avoided if the state would hire more medical and security personnel, segregate violent and nonviolent offenders, improve inmate classification system, provide more recreational facilities and care for handicapped offenders, and provide single cells for some classes of inmates. The 70th Legislature enacted SB 215 (by McFarland/Hightower, and my first big bill to staff) which was designed to tighten provisions of the Prison Management Act (PMA) to ease population pressures by expanding the pool of nonviolent offenders eligible for release The bill also required that intensive supervision programs for inmates on parole be expanded, and approved a $12.6 million emergency appropriation to be applied toward bringing TDC into compliance. In March 1987, Judge Justice acknowledged the swift action by the state to move TDC toward compliance and suspended the fines set out in the December 1986 order, which were later vacated.

Thus began my 15 year involvement with what ended up as a 30 year-long lawsuit (beginning in 1972), and my observation of Judge Justice. In October of 2001, Judge Justice issued an order detailing remedial actions in the three remaining areas he had identified in the final (1999) round of litigation, and set a target date for the end of jurisdiction on July 1, 2002. The state appealed the order but did not seek a stay pending the appeal. Another round of site visits by plaintiffs’ counsel and experts ensued, as well as significant document discovery and reports filed with the court. In the weeks before the Plaintiff’s June 1, 2002 deadline to object to termination, Plaintiffs’ counsel Donna Brorby engaged in extensive discussions with TDCJ management and the Office of the Attorney General. The deadline was extended by agreement to June 10th, and on June 7th, the parties met with Judge Justice to convey Plaintiffs’ counsel’s decision not to object to termination. On June 17, 2002, the judge signed a one-page order dismissing the case.

William Wayne Justice cared about all Texans and he cared about the rule of law. He took many courageous stands as a judge, and he and his family suffered the consequences. He left an indelible mark on Texas criminal justice and the law of prisoner rights nationwide, as well as in many other areas of law with which I am much less familiar. He will not be forgotten.