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Legislation Alert: Court "Reorganization" Bill

On Monday, March 26, 2007, the Texas Senate begins hearings on a “court reorganization” bill proposed by Senator Duncan. Instead of a mere reorganization of the Courts, the bill would drastically change the way the Court system in Texas works and removes almost all local authority from the Judicial branch.

Initially, the bill expands Supreme Court jurisdiction. Currently, the Supreme Court is limited as to what types of cases it may hear. Under the new bill, the Supreme Court will have virtually unlimited power to overturn trial court judgments and orders under the guise of “clarifying important issues of law.” This is a solution without a problem. The Supreme Court already has the power to consider all cases involving issues about which there is a conflict among the Courts of Appeals. There is no need to disrupt the current appellate process. Moreover, the Supreme Court hasn’t received any additional staff or funding to handle the onslaught of new business.

The bill also reorganizes many of the current trial courts. On its face, there is nothing offensive about these changes. But these courts were established at the request of local citizens and leaders, and any changes should involve their input.

The bill also eliminates current small claims courts and gives the Supreme Court the authority to make rules to oversee these cases. Again, this is a solution without a problem. The bill assumes that the local authorities are mismanaging small claims courts, but there is no evidence that this is the case.

The most drastic part of the bill is the establishment of a new system to control “complex” cases. The bill authorizes the Supreme Court to impanel a new body that will be charged with removing “complex” cases from local courts and assigning them specially appointed judges. Unfortunately, the definition of “complex” is so broad that it could be read to cover almost all litigation that is tried in the district courts. The result is that most cases could be tried by specially appointed judges instead of locally elected judges. These judges could be appointed without any regard to whether they were elected of simply political appointments. Apparently the legislature doesn’t believe that our local judges have the capacity to handle routine cases.

The provision will also greatly delay litigation. For all cases involving this determination, there is an automatic mandamus (that appears to be an interlocutory appeal) to the Supreme Court to appeal the decision of whether the case is complex. Reportedly, if you look at the Supreme Court’s last 10 mandamuses, the average time from filing of petition to the Court’s issuance of an opinion is 594 days and lasted as long as 771 days. If it’s treated as an interlocutory appeal, the delay is even worse. Reportedly, if you look at the Court’s last 10 interlocutory appeals, the average time from filing to issuance of an opinion is 916 days and lasted as long as 1621 days. These types of delays could occur as a matter of course in most litigation.

The legislature’s bill analyses is here. The bill is also discussed here.

Not surprising, this bill is supported by Texans for Lawsuits Reform.

The bill is also being discussed on at least one other blog.

We urge anyone interested in civil justice issues to urge your Senator and Representatives to vote against this bill.

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