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The Texas Supreme Court has been unable to achieve racial diversification in its legal staff. Texas voters elected two blacks to the high court on Nov. 5. Republican Wallace Jefferson, who was appointed to the court in 2001 by Gov. Rick Perry, and Republican Dale Wainwright, presiding judge of the 334th District Court in Houston, won election to the court. However, the court has no black staff attorneys. Hispanics have had more success finding jobs at the supreme court. Bill Willis, the court’s executive assistant, says a Hispanic female fills one of the 12 staff attorney positions, and four of the court’s 18 law clerks are Hispanic. The Office of Court Administration’s annual reports on the Texas judicial system show racial diversity has not been the supreme court’s forte over the past three years. The court achieved the greatest degree of diversity in fiscal year 2001, when it had a black and a Native American among its law clerks and had one Hispanic staff attorney, according to the OCA’s reports. The report for fiscal year 2002 shows the court’s law clerk staff included one Hispanic and one Asian-Pacific Islander. The court also had one Hispanic staff attorney last year, but no blacks, the OCA reports. Jefferson, who is the first black person to serve on the supreme court, says it’s important to look among the entire range of people who are qualified to serve on the court. “I do think it’s important to have diversification,” Jefferson says. Willis says each supreme court justice has two law clerks and one staff attorney. The justices do their own interviewing and hiring for those positions, he says. Jefferson says he “inherited” a staff attorney when he came on the court. His procedure for hiring clerks is to review each applicant’s experience and qualifications and select the finalists to be called for interviews, Jefferson says. So far, there haven’t been any black applicants, he says. Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips says minority law students, on the whole, have fewer economic resources and more debt. Phillips says a Hispanic had accepted a clerkship appointment this year but had to resign before coming to the court because of finances. The young man took a higher paying job with a firm, he says. Low pay may be one of the factors that discourage qualified minorities from applying to the supreme court. Willis says the salary for a law clerk is $40,000 a year, while a staff attorney is paid $75,000. Phillips says supreme court clerkships are not as highly regarded as they were three or four years ago. “We have restrictions and procedures other courts don’t have,” he says. In February, the court revised the ethics policy for its legal staff after questions were raised about the legality of bonuses and other benefits that firms were providing to law clerks. The revised Code of Conduct for Law Clerks and Staff Attorneys requires court employees to disclose outside job interviews or acceptance of job offers, and the court will make public where an employee will go to work once an offer has been accepted. The code mandates compliance with Texas Penal Code �36.08. Essentially, that means the court’s employees can’t accept any benefits from firms. Phillips says the court has asked the Legislature to end the clerkship program and to allow the court to hire additional staff attorneys, beginning in fiscal year 2005. “That’s our only budget request,” he says. AT THE CCA At the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, three of the nine law clerks are minorities. Troy Bennett, the court’s clerk, says two blacks — one from Trinidad and one from Ethiopia — and one Hispanic are working as law clerks at the court this year. The CCA has 25 staff attorneys, including one black and one Hispanic, Bennett says. The salary for a CCA law clerk is the same as at the supreme court. However, Bennett says the beginning pay for a staff attorney at the CCA is $47,900, and the top pay is $78,000. CCA Presiding Judge Sharon Keller says she doesn’t know how many minorities apply for law clerk and staff attorney positions at the court because the application forms don’t indicate an applicant’s race. Keller says she attends minority recruitment programs to encourage minorities to submit applications to the court. “That’s a pretty effective way to find minority applicants,” she says. While the supreme court and CCA have had trouble attracting minority applicants, it appears neither court is short on women applicants. Willis says 10 of the supreme court’s 18 law clerks and seven of its 12 staff attorneys are women. At the CCA, women hold eight of the nine law clerkships and 16 of the 25 staff attorney positions, Bennett says.

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