Texas: bill to let Attorney General request special 3-judge trial court panels approved by Senate 20-11

Following a national trend, a plan to create special 3-judge trial court panels at the request of the Texas Attorney General, a practice critics have called “forum shopping” and “judge shopping”, cleared the state senate yesterday. SB 455 as introduced allowed for the creation of such panels at the request of the Attorney General to hear any cases

  1. (mandatory) involving school financing cases
  2. (mandatory) involving apportionment of election districts
  3. (at chief justice’s discretion) that “could significantly impact the finances of the State”
  4. (at chief justice’s discretion) that “could significantly alter the operations of important statewide policies or programs”; or
  5. (at chief justice’s discretion) that “is otherwise of exceptional statewide importance such that the case should not be decided by a single district judge”

As approved by the Senate, however, only the first two items (school financing & reapportionment) could serve as the basis for a special three-judge panel. All three judges are to be picked by the state’s Chief Justice as follows

(1) the district judge of the judicial district to which the original case was assigned;
(2) one district judge of a judicial district other than a judicial district in the same county as the judicial district to which the original case was assigned; and
(3) one justice of a court of appeals other than:

(a) the court of appeals in the court of appeals district in which the original case was assigned; or
(b) a court of appeals district in which the district judge appointed under Subdivision (2) sits

Appeals from this special 3-judge panel would go directly to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile the House version (HB 1091) which keeps all 5 items was approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee on April and remain in the House Calendars committee.