The Development of the Texas Judiciary The first courts in Texas were established in the Austin colony. Stephen F. Austin was appointed a provisional justice of the peace for the province of Texas in As an independent republic, Texas created a judiciary that reflected English tradition primarily. The basic judicial structure came from the 1836 constitution. Every constitution retained popular election of judges. Over time, constitutional amendments and legislative acts have made the system one of the most complicated and confusing in the country.
The Structure of the Texas Judiciary Local Trial Courts Have limited jurisdiction Municipal courts Exercise original jurisdiction over traffic misdemeanors Maximum penalty in these cases—a fine or sanction that does not include confinement to jail or imprisonment Class C misdemeanors such as public intoxication and simple assault 2005: over 8 million new cases filed in Texas municipal courts 83 percent involved traffic violations
The Structure of the Texas Judiciary Justice of the peace courts Local county court for minor crimes and civil suits Exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in civil cases involving less than $200 Concurrent original jurisdiction with district and county courts in civil cases involving less than $5,000 Function as small claims courts The people’s courts
The Structure of the Texas Judiciary County Courts Constitutional county courts Constitutionally mandated court for criminal and civil matters Have concurrent original jurisdiction with civil matters, justice of the peace courts and with district courts Have jurisdiction over probate cases (wills and estates) unless they are contested Also exercise appellate jurisdiction
The Structure of the Texas Judiciary Trial de novo New trial, necessary for an appeal from a court that is not a court of record County court at law Statutory county court to relieve county judge of judicial duties County courts handle many cases 904,000 in percent were criminal cases
The Structure of the Texas Judiciary District Courts Court of general jurisdiction for serious crimes and high-dollar civil cases Intermediate Courts of Appeal Intermediate appellate court for criminal and civil appeals 14 courts of appeal with nearly 80 judges
The Structure of the Texas Judiciary The Supreme Courts Texas Supreme Court Court of last resort in civil and juvenile cases Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Court of last resort in criminal cases Petition for review Request for Texas Supreme Court review, which is granted if four justices agree Applications for discretionary review Request for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals review, which is granted if four judges agree
Judicial Qualifications and Personal Characteristics More than 3,200 judges in Texas Except for municipal judges all are selected in partisan elections Texas Constitution establishes the qualifications for most judges. These vary by judicial office. Variation in terms of education and training Personal characteristics are similar.
Judicial Selection Partisan elections One of only 8 states that elect all or most of their judges this way Two exceptions Municipal judges Filling vacancies in other judicial offices Questions of accountability and the ability to remain fair and impartial when campaign contributions are at stake
Criticisms of the Texas Judicial Branch Reforming the Court Structure Overlapping jurisdiction Allows an attorney to “shop” for justice Various suggestions for reform including merger of the two supreme courts Reforming Judicial Selection Recommendations have been made that Texas adopt a merit system for selecting judges Other reforms suggested but no movement on compromise given the varied interests in judicial selection
Criticisms of the Texas Judicial Branch Reforming Campaign Finance High cost of judicial campaigns Judicial Campaign Fairness Act in 1995 Act limits contributions to judicial candidates, depending on the office Several loopholes in the act Amassing large war chests Conflict of interest (case involves contributor – no requirement to recuse)
Criticisms of the Texas Judicial Branch Increasing Minority Representation on the Bench Why so few minorities on the bench in Texas? High cost of judicial campaigns Racially polarized voting in statewide and countywide elections Small numbers of Hispanics and African Americans who are licensed attorneys
The Judicial Process in Texas The Criminal Justice Process Arrest and Searches Booking Magistrate Appearance Grand Jury Indictment Arraignment Pretrial Motions Jury Selection Voir dire Trial Appeals
The Civil Justice Process Pretrial Procedures Injured party (plaintiff) files petition with the clerk of the court that will hear the case Complaints and indicates remedy sought Written reply by defendant May settle out of court Either party may request a jury trial. Otherwise the judge conducts a bench trial, determining the facts and applying the applicable law.
The Civil Justice Process Trial Presentation of evidence and witnesses to prove the bases of complaint Challenge of defendant’s attorney of the evidence—cross-examination of witnesses Presentation of defendant’s evidence, which may be challenged Appeals