Yes, I know the headline is going to get several of the usual suspects to yell at me and say that I’m not a good Republican. It seems to me that even a mention of anything that might be perceived as negative towards Texas Gov. Greg Abbott brings out the ire of Republicans in Texas. I know that most people won’t bother to read this entire post, so let me say now that if he does, I sure couldn’t find any evidence of it. In fact, I found the opposite.
What started this quest was Gov. Abbott’s announcement on September 13, 2017 that he had appointed four people to fill vacant judicial seats.
- Jennifer Vosko Caughey to the First Court of Appeals
- Debra Ibarra Mayfield to the 190th District Court
- Kristen Guiney to the 232nd District Court
- Kenneth S. Cannata to the 458th District Court
One of those four is not like the other three. I personally had never heard of Mrs. Caughey and that was somewhat surprising. So I filed a Public Information Act request for the applications of everyone that sought all four positions and any letters of recommendation for each applicant. You can view the packets provided to me by the State below:
- Applicants for the First Court of Appeals
- Applicants for the 190th District Court
- Applicants for the 232nd District Court
- Applicants for the 458th District Court
Unless you or some enterprising reporter is way better at this than I am (a very high probability), you aren’t going to find any ‘selling’ of these judicial appointments. I’ve tried to go through the campaign finance records not only of the appointees and their spouses, but also their references. And I haven’t found anything of note. Like I said, you might be better at this than I am, so let me know if you are.
The appointment of now Justice Caughey still boggles the mind. If you review that packet, there are some very, very, very qualified people in there. Plus, she filled out an application requesting basically any appointment, be it the First or Fourteenth Appellate Courts or any Civil District Court. I’m not saying that she isn’t qualified, her academics do seem top notch, I’m just saying that others were far more qualified. And not only did I not find anything nefarious in the campaign finance files related to her appointment, it appears that Gov. Abbott went against several high dollar contributors to not only his campaign but to the Republicans in Texas in general.
If you look at the letters of recommendation, you’ll see that former Judge Grant Dorfman is not only extremely qualified for an appellate position, he has rock solid recommendations from rock solid Republicans and Republican leaning organizations. I mean, Texans for Lawsuit Reform recommended the guy. I doubt any single organization has put more money into Texas Republicans than TLR over the last two decades. Or Texas Right to Life. How about sitting Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown? And Caughey has one letter, from a realtor in Austin?
And yet Abbott appointed someone with zero experience as a judge to be on the Court of Appeals. I find that very strange. If you don’t, please, please, pretty please, let me know why?
The only thing I can think of is that Dorfman’s various legal disputes made the Governor turn another direction. You’ll note that he discloses several instances where he has been sued by various people, mostly surrounding his deceased father’s estate. The details in the suits are rather sordid but as best I can tell, he hasn’t lost any of them just yet. And they show that he is extremely wealthy, which would probably be a plus as a candidate. But even if that is why he turned down Dorfman, there were other more qualified candidates he could have appointed. Who knows?
Here’s to newly minted Justice Caughey and wishing her the best of luck.
And unless one of you crack investigators can prove otherwise, no, Gov. Abbott isn’t selling judicial appointments.
UPDATE: Minutes after publishing this, I received this from a concerned reader:
I actually don’t think she’s eligible to serve. The TX constitution requires justices on the courts of appeals to have at least 10 years experience in practice or on the bench. As far as I can tell, she was first licensed to practice law in NY in 2/08 and has been licensed in TX since 2012.
Surely the Governor’s office didn’t miss this. Right?
UPDATE 2: Here is the relevant law:
Sec. 2. SUPREME COURT; JUSTICES; SECTIONS; ELIGIBILITY; ELECTION; VACANCIES. (a) The Supreme Court shall consist of the Chief Justice and eight Justices, any five of whom shall constitute a quorum, and the concurrence of five shall be necessary to a decision of a case; provided, that when the business of the court may require, the court may sit in sections as designated by the court to hear argument of causes and to consider applications for writs of error or other preliminary matters.
(b) No person shall be eligible to serve in the office of Chief Justice or Justice of the Supreme Court unless the person is licensed to practice law in this state and is, at the time of election, a citizen of the United States and of this state, and has attained the age of thirty-five years, and has been a practicing lawyer, or a lawyer and judge of a court of record together at least ten years.
Sec. 6. COURTS OF APPEALS; TERMS OF JUSTICES; CLERKS. (a) The state shall be divided into courts of appeals districts, with each district having a Chief Justice, two or more other Justices, and such other officials as may be provided by law. The Justices shall have the qualifications prescribed for Justices of the Supreme Court.
You will note that the law says ‘at the time of election’. To me that is a weasel way to get this done but it is what it is I guess. Seems to me that the law is pretty clear in its intent – we want experienced judges. And next year she would have been eligible to run for the seat. Why Gov. Abbott let her cut in line is a mystery to me.
I see that Leif Olson has made the same observation in the comments. If you read the file above, you’ll see that he also applied for the job. And he would be damn good at it. Just sayin’.
The astute reader was correct about her bar status, see below: