Wright faces fellow Republican, incumbent in quest for appellate chief post

David Yates Jan. 16, 2008, 9:14am

Editor's note: See David Yates' interview with Wright's opponent "Chief Justice McKeithen seeks second term on appeals court" also on The Record Web site.

Immersed in the belief that all judges need to return to the U.S. Constitution when evaluating cases, a hopeful Montgomery County attorney has made it his mission to become the next chief justice of the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals.

But before Jay Wright, 48, can bring his "originalist philosophy" to the bench, he must first square off against incumbent Chief Justice Steve McKeithen in the March 4 Republican primary. The two candidates live near each other in a Montgomery County community situated midway between Conroe and The Woodlands.

"I have no specific complaint about Justice McKeithen … he's a fine man," Wright told the Record in a Jan. 15 telephone interview.

"My complaint is with the system. I'm running to return the courts to the Constitution," Wright said. "(And if elected), I will use the lens used by the founders. When running for a judgeship, people have a right to know your philosophy."

The Ninth District justices hear civil appeals from state district courts in 10 counties: Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, Polk, San Jacinto and Tyler. The chief justice has a six year term. McKeithen was elected as chief justice in 2002.

Wright, a University of Houston law graduate, first started his legal career in 1985 at the Nueces County Attorney's Office, where he gained extensive civil and criminal experience.

During his time in South Texas, Wright says he saw first hand how political climates can dictate judicial rulings.

"The atmosphere in appellate law has been poisoned by raw politics," Wright said. "Judges should not be writing opinions based on political platform."

Considered a "judicial hellhole" by many tort reform groups, Jefferson County sees more lawsuits filed per capita than the other nine counties that make up the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

Wright said he believes the situation in Jefferson County is the result of the county's Democratic political climate.

Wright said that he knows the high volume of cases that come pouring through the lower courts makes the Ninth Court of Appeals one of the busiest courts in Texas. The saturated workload causes local cases to be transferred to other distant appeals courts.

To remedy the situation, Wright promises, if elected, to work harder and petition the Texas Supreme Court to change the transfer rule.

"Cases shouldn't be shipped," Wright said, adding that he will do "whatever it takes" to keep local cases closer to home.

Wright, a Catholic, has practiced law in Montgomery County the last seven years. He and his wife Beverly have been married for 19 years. They have four children -- all girls.

"I live with five Republican women," Wright said. "Well, let's put it this way; they spend like Republican Women."

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