Green vs. Green: State Supreme Court GOP race a study in contrasts

Campaigning as a Christian conservative opposed to abortion and limits on religious liberty, Rick Green has launched a second bid for the Texas Supreme Court — targeting an incumbent who he believes joined the wrong side of a gay-marriage ruling in 2015.

His opponent in the March 1 Republican primary is Justice Paul Green, a 21-year appellate court judge who believes his opponent lacks the experience, temperament and ethics to take a seat on the state’s highest civil court.

“He’s never tried a case, never appealed a case and never served as a judge,” Paul Green said. “There ought to be the best people you can get on the Supreme Court, the best judges. It doesn’t have to be me, but in this case, it sure shouldn’t be him.”

Featuring candidates who have little in common beyond their last names, Green vs. Green is a study in contrasts and an opportunity for Republican voters to define the relevant qualifications for one of nine seats on the important court.

Early voting begins Tuesday.

Rick Green came within 12,380 votes, out of almost 335,700 cast, of joining the Supreme Court in 2010, when business groups, law firms and traditional Republican interests propelled Debra Lehrmann to victory in the primary runoff behind a 4-to-1 fundraising advantage.

Lehrmann also attacked his lack of experience as a judge — a criticism Rick Green shrugs off as misguided.

“I’m the only one with the legislative, business and constitutional experience, and we need to once again have that variety of experience represented on the court,” said Rick Green, adding that two current justices arrived at the Supreme Court with no previous judicial experience.

Although his current opponent faults his lack of time in the courtroom, Rick Green said his legal experience includes 19 years in a law practice that has focused on contracts and transactions while also serving as a mediator and arbitrator.

And, he said, two terms in the Texas House, where he represented Hays and Caldwell counties from 1999 to 2003, provided valuable insight into the intent behind the laws he would interpret as a justice.

But Rick Green is best known as a public speaker who, frequently accompanied by his photogenic family, travels the nation providing lessons on the history of America and the Constitution from a Christian perspective. One recent effort had cameras following them as they toured historic sites for a proposed reality TV show titled “Red, White, Blue & Green.”

If elected to the Supreme Court, Rick Green, 44, promised to help restore the separation of powers and respect the Constitution’s limits on the jurisdiction of courts.

“Our religious liberty and other constitutional rights are being challenged in the state courts like never before,” he said.

Rick Green has been endorsed by action star Chuck Norris, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, influential religious and social conservatives and the lion’s share of tea party groups.

Paul Green is backed by former Gov. Rick Perry, 10 former members of the Texas Supreme Court, several tea party groups and leading business-side interests, including Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Texas Association of Business.

Marriage ruling

Paul Green joined the Texas Supreme Court in 2005 after spending 10 years on the San Antonio-based 4th Court of Appeals and, prior to that, 17 years as a trial lawyer.

He said his background provides the critical experience needed to weigh complex disputes over insurance, business, family law, medical malpractice and other civil issues that arrive at the court.

“I enjoy the work — it’s very challenging — and I enjoy the people. It’s not time to quit just yet,” said Paul Green, 63.

When Perry helped kick off Paul Green’s campaign for a third six-year term, the former governor described him as a constitutionalist with the “intellectual capability and the scholarly capability to serve the people of Texas.”

He’s written more than 100 opinions and participated in thousands of cases, but it was last year’s role in a divorce case involving two Austin women who were married in Massachusetts that inspired a primary challenge from Rick Green.

In that ruling, Green joined a 5-3 majority that declined to overturn a lower-court decision granting the divorce.

The majority opinion by Justice Jeff Brown, a conservative Republican who Rick Green endorsed in 2014 as a “rock-solid constitutional conservative,” said then-Attorney General Greg Abbott did not have standing to oppose the divorce because he did not try to intervene until after the divorce was granted and the case closed. The ruling came one week before the U.S. Supreme Court threw out all state bans on gay marriage.

Paul Green said the ruling, which applied only to that single case, followed a well-established legal doctrine that appeals courts decide cases along the narrowest available grounds.

But Rick Green said the majority ignored the Texas Constitution, which barred any action that recognized a same-sex marriage from out of state.

“The majority used technicalities to decide the jurisdictional question wrong,” he said. “When the people, through the constitution, and the Legislature tell the court they cannot do something, and the court does it anyway, that’s judicial activism.”

Question of ethics

Paul Green said his opponent’s actions have shown him to be unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

In 2006, Rick Green slugged then-Rep. Patrick Rose, a Democrat who had defeated him four years earlier, outside a Hays County polling place.

Then there were the “ethical pratfalls” listed by Texas Monthly when it named Rick Green one of the 10 worst legislators after the 2001 session, such as appearing in an infomercial for a nutritional supplement filmed in his Capitol office, violating rules on the use of state property. And Rick Green, acting as a lawyer, helped secure parole for Melvin Cox, a family friend who’d given the Green family $400,000 in business loans and was convicted of defrauding investors for $30 million.

“You worry about his judgment, his ethics, things of that sort,” Paul Green said. “You want somebody who doesn’t have those kind of issues to be on our state’s highest court.”

Rick Green has apologized for hitting Rose and paid a fine. He said the charge was dismissed and expunged under deferred adjudication, a lighter form of probation.

“I have readily admitted that I made some naive decisions in my 20s that left me open to criticism because I didn’t think through how it could be twisted, but everything other than punching out Rose has been nothing more than mudslinging and trying to paint a picture that was far from reality,” he said.

Rick Green said he provided documents showing he was not paid for his testimonial for the Focus Factor supplement and asked to be edited out of the ad.

He also defended helping Cox, saying he filed parole documents as a favor to Cox’s wife, who was like a grandmother to him. Cox was in his 80s and in poor health when he was granted a special needs parole, Green said, adding that the $400,000 in loans — which helped finance a startup company — has been repaid.

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