Yesterday, I wrote about the decline in Texas civil jury trials. One of the key reasons that our founding fathers considered the jury trial so important was that it was a check on runaway judges. Even Thomas Jefferson explained the importance of having juries as a check over judges when he wrote:
[judges] are liable to be tempted by bribery; that they are misled by favor, by relationship, by a spirit of party, by a devotion to the executive or legislative; that it is better to leave a cause to the decision of cross and pile (a flip of a coin) than to that of a judge biased to one side; and that the opinion of twelve honest jurymen gives still a better hope of right than cross and pile does.
These are the types of problems that some see in the Texas Supreme Court, and it came to light recently in two different areas. Unfortunately, one of them involved one of our cases where the Texas Supreme Court took away a jury verdict for our client. On March 26, NPR did a story that looked at how the oil and gas industry is potentially underpaying royalty owners and how Texas Supreme Court decisions (inlcuding our case) make it more difficult for the royalty owners to prevail.
And then the Texas Supreme Court created a firestorm with its decision involving public access to Texas beaches. That decision has led to attacks on the Texas Supreme Court on all fronts. For example, it has been called out by the liberal-leaning Burka blog to calls from Republican Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to vote out the five members of the Supreme Court who supported the decision.
These allegations about the Texas Supreme Court are not new. One of the more popular posts on my blog is a 2007 post detailing a study from law professors finding that in the 2004 and 2005 terms, the Texas Supreme Court ruled for defendants 87% of the time. The study even used Wal-Mart as an example of the alleged problem. From 1998-2005, there were 81 cases around the country (excluding Texas) at their states highest courts. In those cases, Wal-Mart won 56% of the time. During that same time period, Wal-Mart had 12 cases at the Texas Supreme Court and won them all.
I’m not sure where this increased publicity will go, but I do think it’s positive for the people of Texas to be informed about the civil justice system, including the Texas Supreme Court, and the best way to do that is through the popular press.