In October 2019, Jackson Walker partner Chip Babcock was appointed to serve on the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection. Over the course of 2020, the 15-member Commission studied how Texas selects certain trial and appellate judges—including statutory county court judges, district judges, and appellate justices and judges—and reported findings and recommendations to the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the governor by December 31, 2020.
In a recent report regarding the recommendations that were submitted, Texas Lawyer addressed the Commission’s stance on partisan judicial races. As the vice chairman of the Commission, Chip submitted a letter expressing his individual views regarding Texas’ partisan elections of judges. In the letter, he noted that candidates have to raise money from attorneys and litigants to run for office, and that many judges told the Commission that they hate soliciting contributions.
“Common sense tells us that when judges must panhandle for money from lawyers with clients appearing before them, a regrettable perception of unfairness follows,” Chip wrote. “I do not believe that these monies actually influence judicial decisions, but many litigants in and outside of Texas do.”
“I do not believe that these monies actually influence judicial decisions, but many litigants in and outside of Texas do.”
To protect the public’s confidence in the justice system, Chip wrote he would change the system so that judges would be vetted by a commission and given a qualification rating, appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Texas Senate, and after one term, the public would vote whether to retain them in a nonpartisan election.
In an article by The Texas Lawbook, he pointed to the more than $14 million increase in total contributions to judicial candidates from 2016 to 2018—two-thirds of which came from attorneys, law firms, or law firm PACs—as creating the appearance that justice is for sale. While he notes that he does not agree, Chip said that “many, many people do, including a very high percentage of the minority community. They believe justice is not administered in an evenhanded way. That undermines public confidence.”
To read more about the Commission’s recommendations related to partisan elections of judges, view the following articles:
- “Partisanship, Qualifications and Money: Texas Commission Recommends Judicial Election Reforms,” Texas Lawyer (January 4, 2021) (subscription required)
- “TX Chief Justice on Partisan Elections: ‘It just looks horrible’,” The Texas Lawbook (January 13, 2021) (subscription required)
Houston partner Charles L. Babcock is a nationally recognized trial and appellate attorney. Chip’s practice experience includes bet-the-company litigation, First Amendment litigation, commercial litigation, intellectual property litigation, government investigations, media litigation, and appellate litigation. In addition to receiving the Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award from the Texas Bar Foundation, Chip has been named a “25 Greatest Texas Lawyer of the Past Quarter Century” by Texas Lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.