Thursday, October 20, 2011

Workers' Compensation

I realize the ABA is viewed as liberal in general and plaintiff-oriented in civil matters, so caveat emptor.  I am a member and I read their magazine, as well as the criminal justice section magazine, which, on another topic of interest in my world, has an article in the most recent issue on Eliminating Excessive Public Defender Workloads
The ABA Journal recently ran a pretty scathing article on the Texas Workers' Compensation System; here is a thematic sentence: 
[S]everal decades of tweaking—through legislation, policy and business practices mostly meant to target scams by physicians and medical services providers—have gone beyond simple reform. Critics of the system say it has become so hostile, so skewed toward delay and denial that lawyers, physicians and even legitimate claimants have been driven away.
This is a topic that I have been around, working in the legislature back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and I know several of the people who were intimately involved in the machinations back then, but it has never been an area of actual understanding on my part.  (So I confess my ignorance.) But I found the article troubling and compelling, and if I were a legislator I might be stirred to attempted action.  But in my actual role, what interests me most is the removal of matters of dispute from the system that is contemplated by our three-branch system of government, the courts. Here is a chart from OCA data that succinctly tells that story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Judicial Compensation

The reporting on the Texas Department of Transportation's new director's compensation prompts me to point out the stunning disparity between the numbers under discussion there and the compensation we pay to judges in particular (not to mention other public servants such as yours truly), and the Chief Justice in particular.  The prior director of TxDOT (an engineer) received $192,500 per year and the TxDOT board wants to pay the new gentleman (an MBA) $381,000, but according to today's Statesman, he will have to settle for only $292,500.  I hope that he will feel better knowing that the latter at least puts him one step closer to the top of the comparables list that the Judicial Compensation Commission published (based on the General Appropriations Act) as Table 10 in their most recent (2010) report, which has these figures for "Salaries of State Constitutional, Elected and Other High-Ranking Executive Office Holders":
Executive Director: Employees Retirement System $300,000

Executive Commissioner: Health and Human Services $210,000
Executive Director: Department of Transportation $192,500
Commissioner: Texas Education Agency $186,300
Executive Director: Department of Criminal Justice $186,300
Commissioner: Department of State Health Services $183,750
Executive Director: Department of Information Resources $175,000
Executive Director: Department of Public Safety $162,000
Executive Director: Texas Youth Commission $160,000
Comptroller of Public Accounts $150,000
Attorney General $150,000
Governor $150,000
Executive Director: Commission on Environmental Quality $145,200
Agriculture Commissioner $137,500
Commissioner of the General Land Office $137,500
Railroad Commissioner $137,500
Secretary of State $125,880

Average $169,966
Median $169,000
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, and the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, are paid $152,500.  (The Commission's report recommended increasing that amount to $168,000 but of course there was no serious talk of judicial pay raises during the last session.)  Other Texas judges' salaries go down from there, except for some county court at law judges whose locally-supplemented pay puts them above their arguably higher-ranked district and appellate brethren. 

And for the record, after 26 years of state service as a lawyer, general counsel and now agency director, I make $130,000 and feel privileged to make that kind of money in this economy, get to do what I do, and work for Chief Justice Jefferson.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Capital Punishment

At the request of Senator Carona's staff, a few days ago I was privileged to meet with an international group, including members of parliament from Sri Lanka and Nepal. Inevitably, the conversation turned to capital punishment in Texas, and I told them that imposition of the death penalty has gone down fairly dramatically in recent years.  Later on I wanted to fact check myself and asked our amazing Judicial Information manager, Angela Garcia, to run this graph for me from our data.  
In addition to reassuring me that I told them correctly, one thing I find interesting about this graph is the fact that life without parole was not adopted until 2005 (S.B. 60 by Lucio), but the downward trend was well established well before then.  My other thought was, "how much of this trend is driven by Harris County?"  TDCJ's information shows that 106 of 308 offenders on death row are from Harris County. Here is what OCA data shows over time.
Finally, in direct comparison to the first chart, here is what our data shows for Harris County's choice of the death penalty versus other punishment in capital cases.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Leadership, Collaboration, and Data

In September I had the privilege of addressing the Annual Judicial Conference, on changes facing the judiciary. Two themes were the growing significance of litigants presenting special challenges - children, the unrepresented, the Limited English Proficient, the mentally impaired, the elderly, and so on; and the diminishing significance of tort litigation as part of the state court caseload. I suggested that judges embrace their growing role as gatekeepers to services and sorters of troubled humanity, and that they should expect, and be expected, to operate as problem-solving judges and not only in the traditional, adversarial mold.

A great resource for judges on how to facilitate positive change and achieve better outcomes, is "Building a Better Collaboration - Facilitating Change in the Court and Child Welfare System," an NCJFCJ Technical Assistance Bulletin, which is not available online to my knowledge. In addition to basics of child welfare law, the book goes through learning organizations ala Peter Senge; leadership in general and judicial leadership in particular; creating a collaborative, problem-solving culture; using effective meetings and communication; the importance of data and evaluation; and the strategic achievement of planning, effecting and sustaining change. It is a digestible and yet complete guide to what we know about moving groups of well-meaning humans through a deliberative and synergistic process of improvement.  For the Shared Solutions Summit and in general when pondering this work, I boil down the method into Leadership, [multidisciplinary] Collaboration, and Data.