Update: now you can see the presentation of this Supreme Court story made on the ABC TV station in Dallas February 27, 2008.
From the consumer group Texas Watch comes this press release about the Texas Supreme Court:
TEXAS SUPREME COURT JUSTICES TAKE YEARS TO HANDLE CASES
Inefficiency of High Court Justices to Blame for Backlog
AUSTIN – The Texas Supreme Court has an ever-growing backlog of cases because the members of the high court are operating at a snail’s pace, leaving individuals, business owners, patients, and families in legal limbo, according to a new report issued today by Texas Watch.
“When Texas businesses and families turn to the courts to help resolve disputes and mete out justice, they rightfully expect an efficient resolution. Sadly efficiency is hard to come by at the Texas Supreme Court,” said Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch, a statewide citizens’ group that has actively monitored the Texas Supreme Court for over a decade. “Indeed, our state’s highest court operates at a snail’s pace, leaving individuals and business owners in limbo while the Court’s backlog continues to expand.”
In its report entitled “Snail’s Pace: An Analysis of the Texas Supreme Court’s Growing Backlog,” Texas Watch examined court records for the past three court terms and discovered that the Court’s backlog is a direct result of the failure of individual justices to do their jobs expeditiously, and of the chief justice in particular to ensure the efficient operation of the Court.
“As the administrator of the Court, the chief justice is responsible for ensuring the efficient operation of the Court,” said Winslow. “It is incumbent upon the chief justice and every member of the Court to ensure that justice is not only fair, but also efficient.”
This report comes on the heels of an ethics controversy involving three members of the Court who are accused of converting political funds to pay for personal travel. Justice Nathan Hecht paid for dozens of in-state airline tickets in the last two years and has refused to explain the nature of the trips, and Justices Paul Green and David Medina used political funds to commute to homes in San Antonio and Houston, according to complaints filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
“With members of the Texas Supreme Court busy traveling all over the state for personal trips paid for by political donors, it begs the question: When do the justices actually do their jobs?” said Winslow.
Texas Watch’s research shows that the backlog of cases left pending each year has increased by more than 300% over the course of this decade. While the backlog has grown, the average number of cases produced by each justice has decreased by 25% and the average length of time to write opinions has increased 31%. So the Court as a whole is doing less while taking more time to do it.
“By failing to keep pace with its docket, the Court makes it more likely that injured patients will go without recompense for lost wages and medical expenses, that individuals will be forced to declare bankruptcy, and that matters involving children and marriage are prevented from closing,” said Winslow. “But the costs exist not simply on the individual level – there are costs to the public’s faith in the Texas Supreme Court.”
KEY RESEARCH FINDINGS:
- The Court took an average of 852 days (2.3 years) to dispose of a case in the 2006-2007 term, an increase of 24% from the 2004-2005 term.
- Justices take an average 416 days to write an opinion after the Court has heard oral arguments. This represents a 31% increase from 04-05 to 06-07.
- Justices Wainwright and Johnson have fallen behind their colleagues’ output by routinely taking longer to write fewer opinions.
- The Court’s backlog has steadily increased from 14 in fiscal year 2000 to 60 in FY2007, an increase of 328%.
- The Court has left 72 cases pending for more than a year without responding to a request for review. An additional 31 cases have been pending for more than 2 years.
View the full report at: www.texaswatch.org/TW/docDownload/12381