The Judiciary of the State of Texas
The judiciary today operates as a dual structure court system, with courts at both the national and state levels where both levels have three basic tiers. One of the primary three tiers is the appellate courts. The implementation of the dual system can be beneficial. Primarily, the dual system provides more than one court system ready to protect their rights through the alternate venues to appeal for assistance. As Rottinghaus (95) notes, the basic framework of the current court system of Texas was established following the constitutional amendment in 1891. The 1891 amendment recognized the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and 14 courts of appeals as appellate courts. The Supreme Court is known as the highest appellate court tasked with handling juvenile and civil cases, most of which the Supreme Court has statewide, final appellate jurisdiction. On the other hand, Court of Appeals is the highest appellate courts handling criminal cases while 14 courts of appeals handle deal with the intermediate appellate courts for civil and criminal appeals ascended by the trial courts except for death penalty cases. Moreover, the Court of Appeals has been legislatively delegated with the power to promulgate three specific categories of litigation, namely, "rules of posttrial, appellate, and mandatory
Surname 2 review procedure in criminal cases." However, unlike courts such as the district court appellate courts do not allow for jury The number of justices on every intermediate court of appeals is set by statute. Rottinghaus (100) notes that currently, there are a cumulative 80 appellate courts seats in Texas where each court accommodates three to thirteen seats each. Therefore, in instances where the justices are more than three, the appellate courts can hear and decide on cases in panels of threeinstead. However, the Texas Supreme Court regularly conducts transfers cases from one court to another to equalize caseloads. Other times, the entire court sits all its judges in what is referred to as an en banc to conduct a mandatory review of the previous panel's decision on a case and to ensure the court's jurisprudence is consistent. Original jurisdiction establishes that the court has the right to hear a case first, in regards to the law about the crime committed. For instance, federal courts have jurisdiction over the cases that involve federal law. However, cases which involve ambassadors, a citizen sues their state, or cases between two states are granted original jurisdiction by the U.S constitution. Unlike federal courts, appellate courts do not have limited jurisdiction. Rottinghaus (162) notes that jurisdiction refers to the authority that the court has on hearing and deciding on a particular type of case, as a felony or misdemeanor, as authorized by the U.S constitution. Rottinghaus (163) adds that for instance, crimes such as a burglary charge is recognized as a felony under state law hence it is typically not governed by federal courts as in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright. Consequently, the defendant, Gideon, was charged and convicted in Florida state court and sentenced to five years in prison. In doing so, state courts help the states maintain their autonomy in judicial matters over their state laws, distinctive from those of the national government.
Surname 3 An additional benefit credited on concentrating cases in Texas courts such as the Court of Criminal Appeals or the Texas Supreme Court is the provision of a uniform decision on a case. Rottinghaus (204) observes an instance by noting that the First and Fourteenth Court of Appeals, located in Houston have appellate districts which overlap occasionally. Consequently, the same legal issue is handed a conflicting ruling. Therefore, by presenting cases in the Court of Criminal Appeals, criminal cases, or the Texas Supreme Court, for civil cases, executes judicial decisions on law questions which are binding on all state courts. Rottinghaus (218) also observes that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and Texan federal districts courts frequently establish case rulings that are founded on assumptions of how the Texas Supreme Court would rule on an issue of state law that is still unsettled due to a conflict amongst the intermediate courts of appeals. As such, by concentrating the cases onto the state courts, less unsettled cases will be accumulated over time. Moreover, the cases will be decided on faster based on state law rather than federal law as defendants or plaintiffs dissatisfied with the federal court rulings will either seek out other federal courts' decisions which is time- consuming, and can be an expensive affair. Rottinghaus (347) notes that another time-saving benefit of concentrating the Texan appellate courts is that the decisions made on the rulings of the cases presented are timely and more dependable. As such, they are based on the accounts of experts rather than the decisions of the juries, which at times make a biased ruling which can violate the plaintiffs' or the defendants' rights. Another benefit that Rottinghaus (351) notes accrues to the concentration of the Texan courts is the ability to measure the performance of the courts, therefore, establishing ways that make them more productive, legitimate, and dependable.
Surname 4 However, despite outstanding benefits, the concentration of Texan courts can be detrimental to the appeal process, despite that appeals have proven to be useful and even life- saving especially in instances where juries or the jurisdiction court is reputable for inefficiency due to cases where biases have been implicated before. Rottinghaus (369) also adds that the dependency of one expert witness can give rise to issues as expert witnesses may be biased, be incompetent in their field, or even deliberately falsify information despite that they are depended on providing accurate information. The Government Code, in Chapter 82, oversees the licensing of lawyers. Also, Rottinghaus (405) adds that Chapter 82 of the Government Code states that only the Court "may issue licenses to practice law in this state", as well as authorizing the Court to "adopt rules on eligibility for examination for a license to practice law and on the manner in which the examination is conducted,", and other rules "necessary to administer its functions". Rottinghaus (410) observes that in some states, they employ the services of non-lawyer judges, an attribute vestigial to an earlier judicial era. One of the benefits of hiring non-lawyer judges is that the state which implements their services saves on money as professional legal services are expensive to run and maintain due to recurrent expenses such as health insurance. Furthermore, if a state approves of non-lawyer judges, it will evoke the need for knowledge of the state laws by the residents. Rottinghaus (417) notes that in doing so, the need for expertise on law may even assure that the verdict delivered is fair and just as non-lawyer judges do not conform to their attributes such as harshness. Also, if a state conforms to seeking non-lawyer judges, vices such as judicial corruption can be easily curbed. Corruption is one of the significant problems that affect the legal system as they affect the verdicts, which cumulates to the infringement of rights of the involved parties. One of the reasons that enable corruption is
Surname 5 familiarity with the assigned judges. The familiarity can lead to not only corruption but also the issuance of threats to the judges into making the unfair verdicts. In Texas, it is imperative for judges to be initially qualified and recognized as practicing lawyers primarily because they are involved in the crucial process of the development of common law. Moreover, employing the services of a non-lawyer can be time-consuming on reaching the final verdict. Rottinghaus (419) notes an instance, where if the services of a non- lawyer judge are sought, the plaintiff or the defendant can be unsatisfied with the ruling hence prompting the involved parties to appeal the case and prefer to present their cases to a lawyer- judge. Also, presenting to a non-lawyer judge violates the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying them access to a trial by a lawyer-judge. Consequently, as the state court will primarily recognize their state laws, of which they will allow trials by non-lawyer judges, involved parties will have their cases dismissed as state laws are guided by their laws thus can be independent of the national laws. Moreover, the experience that lawyers go through in their professions enables them to make decisions more assertively as they are not susceptible to their personal emotions as in non-lawyer judges whom the lack of experience does not prepare them emotionally and mentally which can interfere in their decision-making.
Rottinghaus, Brandon. Inside Texas Politics: Power, Policy, and Personality of the Lone Star State. , 2017. Print.
HISTORY: THE JUDICIARY OF THE STATE OF TEXAS