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.

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