Jefferson steps down amid praise from governor, reformers

By Marilyn Tennissen | Sep 10, 2013

The state’s first African American chief justice, Wallace Jefferson, has announced he will step down from his seat on the Texas Supreme Court at the end of the month.

According to a Sept. 3 press release from the court, Jefferson has “not determined his plans upon retirement,” but he told The Texas Tribune that he is “not going to run for another office.”

“Under his leadership, the Court drastically reduced the number of cases carried over from one term to another and significantly increased the use of technology to improve efficiency, increase transparency and decrease costs,” the press release stated.

He was an appellate lawyer in San Antonio in 2001 when Gov. Rick Perry appointed him as a justice to the Supreme Court. Perry made Jefferson chief justice in September 2004. He has been reelected three times. His current term was scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2014, but his retirement will now begin Oct. 1.

Jefferson said he owed a “tremendous debt of gratitude” to Perry for entrusting him with “the awesome responsibility of leading the judicial branch in Texas.”

Perry had words of praise for Jefferson as well.

"Wallace Jefferson justly and faithfully guided our state's highest court during a decade of change and prosperity, and he will be remembered for his strong character and unwavering commitment to the rule of law,” the governor said in a press release.

Perry said he was proud to have appointed Jefferson as the state’s first African American justice and chief justice, and said Jefferson “was and shall remain an inspiration to an entire generation of young men and women across our state.”

Under Jefferson’s leadership the court began to allow cameras in 2007, allowing the public to view oral arguments live. The court implemented a new case-management system and required all lawyers to submit appellate briefs electronically for posting on the court’s website.

The court mandated electronic filing of court documents last year, which will decrease the cost of litigation and increase courts’ productivity. The court also fought for increased funding for basic civil legal services and established the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families.

“Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson is a nationally respected jurist whose incisive legal thinking and commitment to conservative principles of law have helped make the Texas Supreme Court one of the most respected appellate courts in the nation,” said Richard Trabulsi Jr., president of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, in a statement.

“Chief Justice Jefferson worked to assure that a fair, balanced and predictable civil justice system is available to every citizen while increasing public transparency and streamlining court processes.”

According to the court’s released statement, Jefferson also served as president of the Conference of Chief Justices, served on the federal Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, the Council of the American Law Institute, the Board of the American Bar Foundation and the Board of Advisors of the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative.

He is a graduate of the James Madison College at Michigan State University and the University of Texas School of Law. He holds honorary degrees from Michigan State University, University of New Hampshire School of Law, Hofstra Law School and Pepperdine University and is the namesake for the Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School in San Antonio.

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