Texas SC justices get nod from leading tort reform group

Chris Rizo Oct. 21, 2008, 10:00am

Wallace Jefferson (R)

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)-Texans for Lawsuit Reform says the three state Supreme Court justices running for re-election deserve another six-year term.

The Austin-based group, which seeks to "restore fairness and balance to our civil justice system," has endorsed Republicans Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Justices Dale Wainwright and Phil Johnson, spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester told Legal Newsline.

The incumbents have a record of "excellence, balance and honesty," that makes them suitable for election over their respective Democratic challengers, Sylvester said Tuesday, explaining the group's Supreme Court endorsements.

Jefferson, in particular, she said, has an inspiring life story, being the state's first African American justice and a descendant of a slave in Waco, Texas, who was owned by a local judge before the Civil War.

"He is an inspiring figure," she said, adding that the chief justice takes a "quiet and meticulous" approach to the law.

Trying to unseat Jefferson is Democrat Jim Jordan, a state judge from Dallas, and Libertarian Tom Oxford of Beaumont. Wainwright is being challenged by Democrat Sam Houston, a lawyer from Houston, and Libertarian David Smith of Henderson, while Johnson is being opposed by Democrat Linda Reyna Yanez, an appellate judge, and Libertarian Drew Shirley of Austin.

Sylvester said the chief justice and the other justices vying for another term helped to turn the high court from a "national laughingstock" into "one of the most respected courts in the nation."

She noted the court's transparency has emerged as "a national model," marking a dramatic shift from a decade ago when the Supreme Court was beholden to the personal injury trial bar.

"The leadership of Chief Justice Jefferson and Justices Wainwright and Johnson helped turn that around," Sylvester said.

As for calls by Texans for Public Justice for the Lone Star State to eliminate the partisan election of its judges and instead allow for the selection of justices by a nominating panel and the governor, Sylvester said the notion is unpopular.

"Texans feel very strongly about electing their judges," she said. "One of the reasons they do is that they want their courts to be accountable."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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