Judging Thyself

The SE Texas Record Aug. 25, 2007, 10:23am

Plaintiffs seeking "jackpot justice" in Texas? Not a chance.

Would you believe that, far from too many lawsuits in our state, there are actually too few? Or that jury verdicts, far from "runaway" and too high, are actually too low?

So sayeth a group of law professors in this summer's edition of the Baylor University Law Review. They derive their assertions from a survey of 303 Texas District Court judges who, when asked, were quick to respond that their courts were doing quite a fine job, mind us.

"Most Texas trial judges do not see significant numbers of frivolous filings by people who have no business suing," the professors concluded. "Victims are much more likely to be undercompensated than they are to receive any windfall."

Their numbers: 83 percent of judges asked had never presided over what they'd call a "disproportionately high" jury verdict. And 44 percent hadn't seen a single frivolous lawsuit in their court during the past four years.

"When one separates fiction from fact, the tort landscape takes on a much different hue," the survey quipped.

As it does when you're monitoring our local courts here in the trenches, as opposed to observing them from up high in a Waco ivory tower.

As Dr. Phil might remark, feelings aren't right or wrong, they're real. But that doesn't mean they're "fact." You'd expect a group of paid university scholars, even ones working at Baylor's asbestos-settlement fueled "Sheila & Walter Umphrey Law Center," to grasp the distinction.

Asking judges whether the branch of government for which they are responsible is out-of-control, tainted by frivolity and injustice, is like asking umpires whether their own blown calls are ruining major league baseball.

The answers you get will, predictably, ring defensive.

And these did. Because critiques of Texas' civil justice system aren't reserved for the lawyers. They're aimed at the judiciary as well.

Lawyers might be the ones filing those frivolous lawsuits, but they cannot do so unless the district court judges-- these district court judges-- are willing to accommodate.

So color us unsurprised they don't think of themselves as part of the problem or ready for reform. Good thing for the rest of us that it isn't up to them.

More News