TP: I came in at a time when no Republican was supposed to win down-ballot. It's easy now for somebody. You just have to get the party to endorse you and make sure that for some reason the straight-ticket vote doesn't cross over and X your name out, and you're going to win as the Republican nominee. I think that's easy but I don't think it's as good for a judge, because I clearly had to enunciate my message in a way that would build a coalition that was not going to be present at the top of the ticket. So I think my credentials as someone who's against partisan judicial elections are pretty strong... My campaign in '88 allowed me to exercise that nonpartisan feeling to the fullest, because it was necessary to do that to win.TP: Taken together, the [contribution] limits were fairly generous at the time, but they leveled the playing field and it was really a first in the nation in terms of judicial financial reform that was targeted at judges... I think the concept is pretty good. There's differing limits given the size of your jurisdiction at the trial and appellate court level and they may or may not be good. Some of them still seem a little high to me. There have been arguments that the cap also sort of sets a floor, particularly at the district court level. If you don't raise this much, it's somehow perceived that you're not going to win. I don't know that that's really happening. I think most races are run for well under the cap.TP: It's possible I can have more effect outside the system. I can certainly speak more freely when I'm outside the system and I can't do worse than I've done. The Legislature has not undertaken comprehensive judicial redistricting of the trial court since 1883, and of the appellate court since 1927, despite the constitutional requirement to do so at the trial level. The court organization has become more complicated and perverse than ever. We're the only state with overlapping geographical districts of trial courts and appellate courts. Judicial salaries have not kept pace. We've gone from 17th to 38th in the nation. While I have accomplished many things with the Legislature, there are many things left to be done, and my successor may bring new perspectives, new arguments, and new ideas to that facet of this job, which I think would be exciting to watch.
The Chief Reformer Steps Down; the Texas Observer Talks with Retiring State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips
On April 29, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips announced his retirement after 16 years in the position. He was a 38-year-old state district judge in Houston in 1987 when then-Gov. Bill Clements appointed him, transforming Phillips into both the youngest chief justice ever and the first Republican to hold the post in more than a century.A year later, Phillips asked voters to keep him on during a time of scandal for the state Supreme Court. In 1987, an expose by 60 Minutes called "Justice for Sale" highlighted the close relationship between trial lawyers and the Democratic justices, advancing allegations that campaign contributions were buying decisions. Among states that elect judges, Texas is one of only four in the nation that does not put some institutional barrier between judge and contributor.Phillips ran as a reformer and, along with several other colleagues on the court, accepted voluntary caps to limit the amount an individual could give ...