Texas has two supreme courts. There’s the one we know as the Texas Supreme Court, the final arbiter of state civil cases. Then there is the lesser-known, given the absence of the word “supreme” in its name, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The court is the last stop on the appellate road for criminal cases and reviews all death penalty convictions. Three seats on the nine-member court are up for election next month, but only the contest for Place 3 features Republican and Democratic opponents. The presence of major-party candidates doesn’t mean the Place 3 campaign is competitive, however. Without hesitation, voters should elect Republican Bert Richardson.
A former assistant district attorney in Bexar County and a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, Richardson served as a state district judge in San Antonio starting in 1999 until he lost re-election in 2008. He has since been serving the state as a senior judge, taking various court assignments across dozens of counties, from Austin to El Paso.
Judicial candidates often struggle for recognition on the ballot, but if Richardson’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the judge handling the criminal case against Gov. Rick Perry. It was Richardson who appointed Michael McCrum special prosecutor to investigate the criminal complaint filed against Perry. That complaint led in August to a Travis County grand jury indicting Perry on two felony charges related to his June 2013 threat to veto $7.5 million for the Public Integrity Unit if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg didn’t resign following her arrest for drunken driving.
Richardson is exceptionally experienced in all areas of criminal law and is widely respected as a judge for his fairness, patience and thoughtfulness. We have no doubt he will serve the Court of Criminal Appeals well.
The Democrat in the Place 3 race, El Paso lawyer John Granberg, lacks everything Richardson possesses. His experience is limited, and he wants to try to focus more of the court’s attention on immigration law. Granberg might make a fine appellate court candidate someday, but he has a résumé to build first.
Also on the ballot is Libertarian Mark Bennett, a Houston lawyer.
Chief justice, 3rd Court of Appeals
Endorsing Richardson for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was an easy call. In contrast, choosing between Republican Jeff Rose and Democrat Diane Henson for chief justice of the 3rd Court of Appeals was one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make this campaign season.
Rose and Henson are two highly qualified, capable candidates. We’ve endorsed both in separate races in previous elections. Voters can do no wrong choosing either one to preside over the Austin-based, six-member 3rd Court of Appeals, which hears almost all civil and criminal appeals — an exception is death penalty verdicts, which go to the Court of Criminal Appeals — in a 24-county district that stretches from Bastrop County to Tom Green County.
But choose we must, and we tilt toward Rose.
Rose was Attorney General Greg Abbott’s deputy first assistant from 2006 to 2009 and is a former Travis County district court judge. He was appointed to the 3rd Court of Appeals in 2010 by Gov. Rick Perry to fill a vacancy and was elected to a full term in 2012.
Easygoing, personable and productive, Rose considers it vital each member of the court keep a nonpartisan attitude and honor the language of the law. If elected he will replace Woodie Jones as chief justice. The court’s lone Democrat, Jones chose not to seek re-election despite leading the court the past six years through a massive backlog of cases and rebuilding its once stellar reputation, which had been tarnished by personality conflicts and partisanship. Rose appears perfectly suited to setting his own collegial and cooperative tone as chief justice.
Henson was a federal prosecutor from 1979 to 1982 and her experience also includes countless hours in the courtroom trying civil cases. She was elected to a seat on the 3rd Court of Appeals in 2006 and served the court well, playing a key role in helping to reduce the caseload backlog. Thanks to the “D” after her name on the ballot, however, she lost re-election in 2012.
Describing herself as a “moderate pragmatist,” Henson is back on the ballot running as chief justice. She understands that because each member of the 3rd Court of Appeals is elected in his or her own right, a chief justice can lead only by persuasion and example. We don’t doubt Henson’s ability to influence decisions, but when it comes to building consensus on the court, we give the slight edge — and our endorsement — to Rose.
Viewpoints will continue to run editorial board endorsements in state and local Central Texas races through the beginning of early voting on Oct. 20. To view all of our endorsements to date and find other election coverage, please go to statesman.com/elections.