Money for Courts

As the clock ticks down to the start of the 2013 legislative session, money is on the minds of judicial leaders. On Nov. 9, members of the Texas Judicial Council, the policymaking body for the Texas judiciary, unanimously passed resolutions asking the Texas Legislature to fund the courts adequately, pay judges more and require litigants who challenge Texas laws to notify the Texas Attorney General. In one resolution, the council asked the Legislature to fund civil legal services for the poor, court security and technology, personnel training, the creation of new judgeships and more. The resolution says, “a strong judiciary . . . is critical to attracting business growth,” and “effective and efficient courts save taxpayers money.” Courts struggle to fulfill their roles “during this economic downturn due to budget cuts,” says the resolution. “We’ve basically been doing more with less,” David Slayton, executive director of the Texas Judicial Council, said at the meeting. The judicial council also approved a resolution to increase judges’ salaries, per a recommendation by the Judicial Compensation Commission. Texas judges haven’t gotten a pay raise since 2005, notes the resolution, and the salaries of “Texas’ judges are now below compensation levels from 1991 when one factors in the consumer price index increase.” Slayton told judicial council members about a recent article that said $160,000 is the median salary for new associates at law firms — more than the salary of any Texas judge. “We were depressed enough,” Victoria County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Laura Weiser replied jokingly. Another resolution recommends the Legislature amend Government Code §402.010, which requires a court to notify the Texas Attorney General when a litigant files a legal action “challenging the constitutionality of a Texas statute.” The resolution says, “[I]t is difficult for clerks to comply,” and it recommends the Legislature instead require litigants to notify the AG. Among its 10 legislative resolutions, the judicial council also resolved to ask lawmakers to amend a statute about vexatious litigants, simplify the structure of criminal court costs and increase funding for indigent defense.

Donning the Robe

David Horan will take the bench on Nov. 21 as a U.S. magistrate judge for the Northern District of Texas. Horan, who is currently a partner and leader of the issues and appeals practice in the Dallas office of Jones Day, will replace U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan, who left the bench for private practice. “I’ve always wanted to enter public service and to do so by serving on the bench. It was a dream come true that this opportunity came along and it worked out that I will be able to take the bench and serve on the federal bench in the Northern District of Texas,” Horan says. Northern District judges selected Horan Aug. 29, but he says his selection wasn’t announced until Nov. 9, after he cleared an FBI background check, which is standard procedure for new magistrate judges. During the application process, Horan got to list something on his résumé that few lawyers can: He has argued a case pro bono before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, challenging a sentence on behalf of a prisoner in Gould v. United States. [See "Gunning For a Mandatory Minimum," Texas Lawyer, Feb. 1, 2010, page 1.] Horan ultimately lost that case but says “it was certainly a career highlight for me.”

Cowtown Cowgirl in Courtroom

There are a lot of similarities between lawyering and rodeoing, says Katie Woods, an assistant district attorney in Tarrant County. “You’re always sizing up your competition. . . . You want to know what you’re up against to be successful in what you’re doing,” says Woods, who says her rodeo background also helps her in voir dire because she knows how to make a jury like her — “[m]uch like you want a horse to trust you and follow you wherever you want to go,” she says. At the height of her rodeo career, Woods traveled frequently to amateur and professional-level rodeos and won big purses in barrel races — riding a horse in a clover pattern around three barrels in an arena. She became a local rodeo queen. She later was the third runner-up in a statewide rodeo queen competition hosted by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in California, where she grew up.* Then in 2004, Woods became Miss Rodeo USA for the International Professional Rodeo Association by winning a weeklong competition in the areas of etiquette, public speaking and horsemanship, among other things. When her third year of law school at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law rolled around, Woods stopped traveling to rodeos and focused on school. She earned her law degree in 2010 and later that year she joined the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, where she prosecutes misdemeanors in Tarrant County Court-at-Law No. 6. But Woods will never give up rodeoing. She’s on a team that competes in ranch rodeos, which focus on techniques like roping, tying and sorting cattle. In the near future, she hopes to resume barrel racing at smaller rodeos in Texas. “It’s my one getaway from the rest of life. When I’m horseback, I don’t think about anything else going on in my life,” Woods says.

* This sentence has been corrected to show that Woods was third runner-up in the competition.