AUSTIN – State Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) is at the forefront of an effort to change the way how judges in the state are picked.
Allison filed House Bill 3061 with the intention of addressing “the method by which certain trial and appellate judges are selected” by way of an interim study.
“(Judges) are supposed to be fair and impartial yet we subject them to a very partisan election process,” Allison told the Southeast Texas Record. “And Texas is one of just a handful of states that still subjects … to a partisan election. There’s been increasing scrutiny of that … we need to come up with a better system.”
Allison, whose district includes northeastern Bexar County and part of San Antonio, said HB3061 will create an interim commission “to study the current system and what other options that might be available.” The commission’s recommendations “could cover a myriad of details in the bill,” he said.
According to a post on the Texans for Lawsuit Reform’s website, 34 states use what is called the Missouri Plan. That plan, which was adopted in its namesake state in 1940, consists of five key elements that include the creation of a nominating commission that compiles a list of qualified candidates who are then appointed by the governor or other authority to serve as judges. The appointed judges serve for short terms, after which they would face retention elections.
A business attorney by profession, Allison took issue with a process he says forces judicial candidates to seek campaign contributions. In addition to the likelihood of favoritism, Allison said that the campaigns could become “horribly” expensive to not just the judges but the counties.
Allison recalled Republican and Democratic sweeps in previous years, saying that “good and experienced” judges were lost. However, the so-called “Blue Wave” that placed many Democrats on the bench in Harris and Bexar counties last November did not inspire HB 3061, he said.
“I have been looking at this for a very long time,” Allison said, calling the recent Democratic gains “an unfortunate coincidence.” “It bothered me from early on, since I was a young lawyer.”
Allison expressed hope that the bill will be discussed on the floor and added he is “very confident” it will pass.