The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.
On February 23, Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson delivered his State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the legislature, per HCR 43 adopted earlier in February. As HCR 43 notes, the speech has a statutory basis. Section 21.004 Government Code, provides:
(a) At a convenient time at the commencement of each regular session of the legislature, the chief justice of the supreme court shall deliver a written or oral state of the judiciary message evaluating the accessibility of the courts to the citizens of the state and the future directions and needs of the courts of the state.
(b) It is the intent of the legislature that the state of the judiciary message promote better understanding between the legislative and judicial branches of government and promote more efficient administration of justice in Texas.
Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:
I have the privilege of addressing, in this room, the great leaders of our state, who have a vision for a better Texas; the passion to move public policy toward that end. Today, I am calling for action, on several fronts.
The Supreme Court of Texas hears only civil matters. But by constitution, custom, and statute, we also have jurisdiction over juvenile cases. Those files cross our desks from time to time. We read the record, apply the law, and move on to the next case. I got a call a few months ago from a judge who said: “Chief, I would like you to see the faces behind those files.” And so I sat in on Judge Jeanne Meurer’s court and observed a day in the lives of families dealing with juvenile offenders
So let me announce my first plea for action. This one is easy. Jeanne Meurer is in the trenches, she knows how to reach these kids, she understands the challenges facing our parents and schools. When Jeanne Meurer calls you, and asks for your help, file the bill, appropriate the funds, sign the Act.
Access to Justice
We are a nation and state that believes the law provides protection for those who are most powerful, for those who are most vulnerable. But today, the courthouse door is closed to many who have lost their jobs, to military veterans who are on the streets, to women who suffer physical abuse
Here, then, is my second call to action. Even in the face of a tremendous budget crisis, I ask the Legislature to duplicate what it courageously did last Session and appropriate $20 million from general revenue for basic civil legal services. Advance legislation that would add a small fee to case filings, so that money is available to help Texans secure the legal rights that our constitution and laws give them.
Our commitment to equal justice does not end with civil justice. Recent efforts to find and rectify wrongful convictions in Texas provide a promising example of how our courts are working to free the innocent…We in the judiciary are trying to do our part. The Court of Criminal Appeals’ Criminal Justice Integrity Unit organized a two-day Forensic Science Seminar, educating more than 400 attorneys, judges, police officers, legislators, and lab personnel on evidence standards and specific sciences. The judicial Task Force on Indigent Defense recently helped establish the Harris County Public Defender’s Office
My third call for action is to ask this Legislature to support these efforts to make our criminal justice system fair. I commend Senator Ellis for his work on these issues and I commend those of you in this room who will work to pass the bills, and fund the projects, that will ensure no innocent person languishes in our prisons.
All that I have discussed depends on an impartial system of justice overseen by the judicial branch. We lost one of that branch’s greatest leaders, Joe Greenhill, less than two weeks ago. He told me once that he regretted that Texas has continued to elect judges on a partisan basis. I regret it, too. A justice system built on some notion of Democratic judging or Republican judging is a system that cannot be trusted. I urge the Legislature to send the people a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to be selected on their merit. If we do not reform the process completely, judicial elections can at least be changed. And so my final call to action is that we consider common-sense solutions to the problems that plague partisan election of judges.
First, I would eliminate straight-ticket voting that allows judges to be swept from the bench…Let’s extend terms for state judges, from four years to six for district court judges, and from six years to eight for appellate court judges.. And let’s bring sense to the process to allow a judge appointed to an unexpired term to serve a full term before having to face the voters. That will give her or him experience and – this is important – a record to run on.
The Past, Present, and Future of the Judiciary in Texas
Led by public officials and private citizens, the Task Force has found documents about Sam Houston, litigation surrounding American Indians, immigration records in Galveston County – some of your families first came to Texas through that port – and about other exciting periods in our history. This session, the Legislature will be asked to address whether court clerks should retain such historic records. My recommendation is an emphatic yes. These documents are our living history: the parchment of our past. They prove to us, not only that we rose from the severest of circumstances, but that we forged ahead, and became stronger for it.
I ask you to take action this Session. Give us the assurance that, at this crucial juncture, we did not turn our backs on the neediest among us, but continued to serve them as the Constitution so strongly demands.