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February 13, 2009
State of the Judiciary
House Committees
Upcoming CLE Webcast
State Bar Legislative Program
Home Page
Contact Us
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State of the Judiciary

On Wednesday, Feb. 11, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson delivered the biennial State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the House and Senate. Jefferson focused on transparency, access to justice, and judicial selection.

The chief justice pointed to live webcasts of the Supreme Court's oral arguments and new technologies to increase court efficiency as part of the court's efforts to promote transparency in the judiciary.

Jefferson updated the Legislature on several access to justice initiatives:

  • The Permanent Commission on Children, Youth, and Families distributed more than $1.4 million in grants to expand judicial and legal training throughout the state during its first year.
  • The Task Force to Ensure Judicial Readiness in Times of Emergency is developing response plans for adoption by individual courts to ensure that courts can continue to operate in the event of hurricanes, pandemics, violence, terrorism, or computer threats.
  • The Task Force on Indigent Defense and the Access to Justice Commission are working to ensure access to justice for low-income Texans in criminal and civil matters.
  • The chief justice noted significant advancements by the Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Inegrity Unit and reiterated his support for the creation of a commission to study wrongful convictions.

Jefferson spoke at length about the public's perception of bias in the judiciary. He expressed concern about the influence of money in judicial elections and advocated that the current system for electing judges be replaced by a merit selection system. "If the public believes that judges are biased toward contributors, then confidence in the courts will suffer," he said. "The State of the Judiciary will be made stronger if we appoint our judges based on merit and hold them accountable in retention elections."


To read the full text of the State of the Judiciary address, click here.


House Committees

On Thursday, Feb. 12, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) announced the appointment of House committees. There are 34 standing committees, compared with 40 during the previous legislative session. A few statistics about the committees are as follows:

  • Republicans will chair 18 committees; Democrats will chair 16.
  • Fifteen of the 34 committee chairs have not previously chaired a standing committee.
  • Five committee chairs are African American, four are Hispanic, and seven are women.
  • Twenty-three of the 34 chairs represent urban districts; 11 chairs represent rural districts.

In addition, the House created a Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding.


To view a complete list of House committees, click here.


Upcoming CLE Webcast

TexasBarCLE will present a webcast, "The Texas Legislative Process: What Every Lawyer Should Know," on Thursday, Feb. 19, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Topics include a review of the legislative process, Texas ethics law, and a panel discussion on key issues for the 81st Legislature. Participants can earn up to two hours of MCLE credit. To register, click here.


State Bar Legislative Program

As reported in previous issues of the Friday Update, a chart detailing the State Bar's 2009 legislative program is available here. Bill numbers have been added for the proposals that have now been filed as bills.


During its Jan. 30 meeting in Waco, the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors added two proposals. The board passed a resolution in support of increased judicial compensation and voted to support a bill to create an Office of Capital Writs.


Legislation related to all proposals will be monitored and updated throughout the session.


  • The Senate adjourned until 11 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 17.
  • The House adjourned until 10 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 17.
  • Today marks the 32nd day of the 140-day legislative session. To date, roughly 2,500 bills and resolutions have been filed.
The State Bar is prohibited by a U.S. Supreme Court decision from lobbying on most issues. The State Bar will keep its members informed of what is happening at the Capitol and how proposed legislation might affect Texans and the legal profession. For more information, contact the State Bar Governmental Relations Department at govt.relations@texasbar.com or (800)204-2222, Ext. 6826.

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