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Dallas Morning News - "My Ballot"

Interview

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Location: Dallas, TX


Dallas Morning News - "My Ballot"

DMN: Length of residency in Texas:

Sam Houston: 44 years

Dale Wainwright: 18 years

DMN: Occupation/main source of income:

Sam Houston: Attorney at Law

Dale Wainwright: Justice, Supreme Court of Texas

DMN: Current civic involvement/accomplishment highlights:

Sam Houston: Currently most of my time spent outside of my work and family is the time I spend in my church, The First Congregational Church of Houston, where I have served on the board of trustees.

Dale Wainwright: Co-founder and Advisory Board Member of Aspiring Youth Program (The program operates in 11 states to raise the aspirations of at-risk middle school youth.); Supreme Court liaison to State Bar of Texas (oversee the Bar and its programs)

DMN: Previous civic involvement/accomplishment highlights:

Sam Houston: For many years I had the opportunity to serve with the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation coaching the softball team and special Olympic teams and working with the residents of the center. Before that, I volunteered for the Sheltering Arms visiting a homebound elderly man.

Dale Wainwright: Presiding Judge, 334th District Court of Harris County (appointed by Gov. George W. Bush); Luard Scholar for study abroad at the London School of Economics in Great Britain (1981); President, Houston Young Lawyers Association (1997)(first African American President in its 60 year history); NAACP Legal Excellence Award; American Law Institute member (on the consultative group currently drafting the Restatement of Mass Torts); Director, Texas Young Lawyers Association (1993-1995); Director, Houston Volunter Lawyers Program (providing pro bono legal services to indigent persons); former YMCA volunteer; former Little League Baseball coach

DMN: Previous public offices sought/held:

Sam Houston: None.

Dale Wainwright: Justice, Supreme Court of Texas; Presiding Judge 334th District Court (Harris County)

DMN: How much funding have you raised for your campaign?

Sam Houston: As of today I have raised $111,650.00.

Dale Wainwright: The campaign has raised over $300,000.

DMN: Who are your top three contributors?

Sam Houston: The Law Office of Tommy Fibich; Cruse, Scott, Henderson & Allen; Curt Webb

Dale Wainwright: USAA Corporation; Bracewell & Giuliana; Haynes and Boone. My contributors also include Charles Mangum ($1.00) and Richard Mithoff ($1,000).

DMN: Have you ever been arrested? If so, explain:

Sam Houston: DUI 1997.

Dale Wainwright: No.

DMN: Why should voters choose you over your opponent(s)?

Sam Houston: Foremost, I have more experience working as a trial lawyer. I am board certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (1995) and have been recertified twice (2000 and 2005). I am board certified in civil trial advocacy by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. I am a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Membership to this organization requires not only significant actual experience working as a trial lawyer but also election by your lawyer peers. I am AV rated by the Martindale-Hubbell system (the highest rating for ethics and abilities) again an endorsement by my peers. I have been selected many times as one of the Super Lawyers by Texas Monthly Magazine. Finally, I have been endorsed by a number of the major lawyers in the state both Plaintiff and Defendant (see website samhoustonforjustice.com). I feel that I have the right balance with my experience as a trial lawyer (working mostly on the Defendant's side but also on the Plaintiff's side) to make some real changes in the Supreme Court of Texas. My opponent does not have the same experience or respect as a trial lawyer that I have.

Dale Wainwright: I am the experienced candidate for Place 7 on the Supreme Court having served over five years on the high Court, almost four years as a trial judge, and over a decade in private practice before becoming a judge. In addition, as the incumbent for Texas Supreme Court, Place 7, I have an abiding faith in America's values. I was raised in a working class family in which my dad worked hourly for a chemical company and my mother taught high school English. I believe in Texas and America, I believe we live in the land of opportunity and I believe in the fair and consistent application of the rule of law.

DMN: Would you agree to limit campaign contributions from lawyers to $5,000 per firm?

Sam Houston: As long as campaign contributions were limited to $5,000.00 from all businesses I would consider such a proposal. However, I believe that limiting contributions from lawyers even further than it is now would be unfair to the Democrats and also to the lawyers who wish to contribute to the political process.

Dale Wainwright: I follow the law assiduously and the ethical canons and rules that govern judges. Statutes limit contributions to judges and I ensure that I follow them. Generally, I defer to the legislative decision on setting contribution limits to help ensure a fair and independent judiciary.

DMN: What value do you place on precedents? What would motivate you to deviate from a precedent?

Sam Houston: Legal precedent provides certainty in the law, which is vital to a fair and evenhanded system of justice. I would only deviate from a precedent if there existed extraordinary circumstances in a particular case or, of course, if there had been a legislative change.

Dale Wainwright: The United States and Texas Constitutions, treaties and federal and state statutes primarily govern the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court and the other Texas courts. Prior decisions of our Court, consistent with the previously mentioned authorities, are very important to our decisionmaking. Following precedent provides consistency and predictability in the law, which is important to the people and entities in this State for planning and managing their affairs. The reasons to deviate from precedent are limited. The Court changes precedents when new or amended legislative enactments provide different guidance on interpretation of statutory schemes or we may do so if, before an opinion is widely relied on, the Court recognizes that a materially different decision and rationale is compelled. It is difficult to deviate from precedent that is widely relied on and is part of the fabric of society.

DMN: How important are unanimous Supreme Court opinions? What would prompt you to write a separate opinion?

Sam Houston: I do not believe unanimous opinions are that important. In fact, the desire to obtain unanimous decisions may explain some of the delay in the current court's decisions. I would not hesitate to write a separate opinion if I did not agree with the majority.

Dale Wainwright: Unanimous Supreme Court opinions show a broad agreement on the legal principles addressed and are perceived as weightier than non-unanimous opinions. There are situations in which I consider writing separately. I generally write separately in dissent if respectfully I believe the majority's judgment is not an acccurate application of the law. I write separately to concur if I believe the majority opinion reaches the correct result, but believe a different rationale is more appropriate, or I believe it is important to address an issue raised in the case but not discussed by to the majority opinion.

DMN: What's the most important quality a voter should consider in a jurist? For example, is it a sense of fairness? Is it an ability to reason dispassionately? Is it decisiveness?

Sam Houston: The three qualities I most admire in a jurist are (1) fairness; (2) decisiveness; and (3) balance. I believe a Supreme Court Justice should have absolutely no agenda other than following the law. A justice must be decisive, and be willing to stick with his or her particular opinion once a decision is reached. However since there are nine justices, I believe a justice must be able to seek some compromise on important matters or nothing would get done.

Dale Wainwright: I believe that the most important qualities for voters to seek in justices on the Texas Supreme Court are integrity, experience and scholarship. Integrity includes both personal and professional integrity. Personal integrity speaks for itself. Professional integrity means following a judicial philosophy that interprets the law in a principled fashion without pursuing a personal or political agenda. It's important that jurists have the scholarship to analyze complex and challenging legal issues and have the judicial experience to have handled many of the types of trial and appellate issues that may arise at the Court.

DMN: Writing is an important part of this job. If opinions aren't clear, the public, including lawyers and lower courts, are left confused. What experiences have you had in writing briefs or opinions? Please describe that work.

Sam Houston: I have drafted countless motions and briefs to the trial courts for the past 20 years. I handle the appeals of all my own civil trial cases and have briefed to the Court of Appeals at least 10 to 20 times. I have briefed to the Supreme Court of Texas on many occasions as well.

Dale Wainwright: I have been writing opinions on the Texas Supreme Court for five years. I have authored more than 50 majority opinions, dissents and concurrences. Prior to serving as Presiding Judge of the 334th Judicial District Court, I was in private practice for over a decade and prepared trial and appellate briefs and motions.

DMN: Does the court have the right to intervene if the Texas Legislature fails to fund key constitutional responsibilities such as schools, jails and highways? If so, how does the court enforce that obligation?

Sam Houston: I cannot answer, as the opinion could constitute a position I might take as a Supreme Court Justice.

Dale Wainwright: The question is does the Texas Supreme Court have the right to intervene in important legal and political issues of the day. The answer is the Court only addresses cases and controversies that are properly brought before it. When its jurisdiction is properly invoked in a case or controversy, the Court's authority is limited to addressing the legal issues raised in that case or controversy. Courts have a limited role in society, albeit sometimes an important role. If the people, for whom the government was created and which it serves, have established duties in the Texas Constitution, the courts generally have the authority to enforce them in an appropriate case. In addition to the case or controversy doctrine, there are other jurisprudential limitations on the exercise of the Court's jurisdiction, such as standing, mootness and the political question doctrine.

DMN: The perception is this court is tilted toward business. Why is that?

Sam Houston: According to the excellent paper by Professor David Anderson, (Judicial Tort Reform in Texas, 26 Rev. Litg. 1) from 2004 thru 2005 in tort cases the court has ruled in favor of Defendants some 87% of the time. Further the court's opinions on no evidence points (frequently for Defendants) exceed what is perceived by many to be its jurisdictional role. Businesses and corporations are typically the Defendants in such cases

Dale Wainwright: Because the majority of the Court's cases concern statutory interpretation, the majority of our opinions will tend to track legislative trends, so long as they do not contravene the Constitution. Whether the statutes promote business growth or consumer rights, interpretations of those statutes reflect that trend, within constitutional limits. In cases that do not involve statutory (or constitutional) interpretation, we apply common law precedents. If an injury has occurred and claimant proves that defendant breached a duty in causing that injury, then claimant is entitled to recover reasonable damages proven. I do not bend the law to favor one side or the other. Some people have focused on selected cases to argue that the Court has a pro-business agenda.

DMN: Does this court have a significant backlog? If so, what would you do to reduce it?

Sam Houston: In my opinion the court is backlogged. There should be a time limit of one year after submission for an opinion to be written in any case.

Dale Wainwright: The Court carries over more cases from one term to the next than it would like, and some of the cases have been pending longer than they should. I believe we have begun to bring our docket more current. The last two fiscal years, we issued 131 and 108 opinions respectively. Our opinion output in the most recent fiscal year was the highest this decade. In part, because the composition of the Court has not changed in over two years, as an institution we are more productive.

DMN: What is a reasonable length of time for the court to dispose of a plaintiff's case?

Sam Houston: This would vary entirely on the complexity of the case, but I still believe that a case should be decided within one year from the date submitted.

Dale Wainwright: Petitions for review are filed in our Court by plaintiffs and defendants. When plaintiffs file petitions, it is not uncommon for defendants to file cross-petitions in the same proceeding. The same may occur in proceedings that are filed by defendants as petitioners as plaintiffs may file cross-petitions. Thus, the petitioner in a case may be the plaintiff or the defendant. We should resolve these cases in less than a year from the date of submission (oral argument).

DMN: Name one state judge and one federal judge, living or deceased, whose opinions and work you admire. Why do you admire them?

Sam Houston: I admire former Texas Justice Charles Barrow. He was a centrist, believed strongly in the jury system and was fair. He was the dean of the law school while I was at Baylor and taught our ethics class. I especially admire U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was a pioneer of individual rights.

Dale Wainwright: Chief Justice John Roberts - I admire him for his integrity, scholarship and his respect for the rule of law.

DMN: As a judge (if applicable), have any complaints been filed against you to the Judicial Conduct Committee. If so, please explain the disposition of those complaints.

Sam Houston: N/A.

Dale Wainwright: Two anonymous complaints have been filed against me with the Commission for Judicial Conduct since I became a jurist. Both were some years ago and both were dismissed as without merit or frivolous.

DMN: As a lawyer, have you had any proceedings (complaints) filed against you wit the Grievance Committee. If so, what was the disposition (unfounded, private reprimand, public reprimand, suspension, disbarment)?

Sam Houston: No.

Dale Wainwright: None

DMN: Do you support our system of electing judges in partisan contests? Or do you support moving to a new system, such as one where judges are appointed and then run later in non-partisan retention elections?

Sam Houston: I am not in favor of appointment though I do believe that our system should change. I am more in favor of a non-partisan election of judges without an initial appointment.

Dale Wainwright: The Texas Constitution requires the election of judges in partisan contests. There are concerns with electing judges: fundraising, insufficient information among the electorate on judicial candidates and perceived political pressure. I believe that perceptions about influence in the funding of judicial campaigns is the most pressing concern in our current system. Other methods of selecting judges have pros and cons as well. There is no perfect method for selecting judges.

DMN: Because Texas selects its judges and justices through partisan elections, you chose to run as a Republican or a Democrat. What philosophies of that party led you to choose it for this race?

Sam Houston: I have always been a Democrat and the populist philosophy of the Democratic Party is something I have carried forward in my law practice. (I believe in fairness to all individuals both the powerful and less powerful.) As a lawyer for many years, I am concerned with the potential decline of the civil jury system. In fact, my concern is what prompted me now to enter politics for the first time in my life. I am not a political activist. But I am proud to be a good trial lawyer and a Democrat. The Texas Supreme Courts needs balance, which would best be fulfilled by a respected trial lawyer and a Democrat (me).

Dale Wainwright: In 1999, I was enjoying practicing law in a large law firm in Houston. I was asked to consider submitting my name for an appointment to the bench. That was when I selected a party. My priorities of God, family, country and individual responsibility are the priorities of the Republican Party. And the Republican Party has a track record of achievement, although not perfect, in the appointment and election of racially diverse candidates in Texas. Examples are Chairman Michael Williams, former Commissioner Tony Garza, Commissioner Victor Carillo, appointments to the Harris County district and appellate courts, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, Justice Dale Wainwright, and others. Our friends in the other party cannot point to such a track record.


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