Actually, one of the biggest flaws with Texas’ basic judicial selection is that we, the voters, pick ‘em. And, one of the best things about the process is that we voters pick ‘em. Hmm.
What prompted my musings on our state judiciary was a recent article about a state district judge texting/messaging a prosecutor “tips” or “advice.”
Frankly, having been a pretty close observer of this system on a local county-district level for more than 50 years, I feel that Clint Eastwood’s initial spaghetti western title applies: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I’m sure every reader can attach each category to some judge they know.
It is not my intent to “nail anyone’s hide to the wall” in this missive, especially since most of my examples are retired or have gone on to that great gold-embossed law library in the sky or to the book burning by that pointy-tailed gent. Any perceived assessment that follows is purely the interpretation of the reader (my attorney advised that statement). However, Texas leads the nation in wrongful convictions. Double hmmm.
But, back to the judge passing advice to the prosecution — fair and balanced, huh?
I have some knowledge of the judicial district from whence this disturbing story emanated, even the familial history of the texting judge.
The judge is Elizabeth Coker, the third generation of her family to wear those robes in the judicial district that includes her current family home base county and the county in which her miscreant jottings occurred. Montgomery County is where the Coker family came to prominence but their pioneering origins are in San Jacinto County where the misguided written advice was issued.
Her grandfather, Ernest Coker, Sr., was a longtime judge in this same district as was her father, Lynn Coker. Her uncle, Ernest “Bo” Coker, Jr., has practiced law there for years. Their power and influence are unquestionable.
HONESTLY, I don’t know a thing bad about Elizabeth Coker except the errant advice. I never heard a breath of scandal about her. And, I certainly never heard anything really derogatory about her father, Lynn Coker.
Her grandfather had a reputation of being overbearing and was supposedly tied to the longtime political machine that controlled Montgomery County politics for a couple or three generations. But, you could make that assessment of a significant number of Texas district judges.
Okay, Webb, so what’s your gripe or point here?
I don’t know if I have one except that there has to be a better way.
Let the practicing attorneys in a county and/or district pick the judges?
They certainly would know the strengths and weaknesses of any and all lawyers practicing there for any time.
But, that would call for placing some trust in lawyers, right?
I suspect, however, that some system could be devised based on the attorney’s experience and reputation that, if applied properly, using strict guidelines and with public oversight, just might provide us with similar successes as seen at the federal level, where judges are appointed for life. There are drawbacks there, as well, but not of the nature that electoral politics applies to the system.
Would that take the perceived prejudices out of it? Not entirely.
But, it would eliminate this business of having to campaign for election, necessitating donations for such an undertaking and opening all sorts of doors to obligations and favors. It enables a measure of fairness in a judge’s service. And, it takes the choices out of the hands of the least qualified selectors of judges, we the people.
It’s a hard pose to strike. But, maybe a necessary one to ensure the most fair judicial system we can have…and deserve.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.