Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8
Dib Waldrip, Michelle Slaughter, Jay Brandon
The Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), along with the Texas Supreme Court, are the two highest courts in the State of Texas. The CCA is the court of last resort for all criminal matters in the State of Texas. All appeals related to death penalties bypass the intermediate Appeals Courts and go directly to the CCA. Accordingly, it is especially important that the nine judges on this court have records that well establish them as devoted to the law and fair administrators of justice.
Judge Waldrip is currently a District Judge in Comal County. He has dedicated his career to criminal law; serving 10 years as a police officer in New Braunfels, working as briefing attorney and staff counsel to two different judges on the Texas Courts of Appeal and serving 10 years as the District Attorney in Comal County before assuming his current position of District Judge where he has served for 11 years. As District Judge, he has conducted more than 100 felony trials. Judge Waldrip has been board-certified in Criminal Law since 1995.
Judge Waldrip has been innovative in his efforts to improve the criminal justice system in Texas. Typically in Texas, counsel for indigent defendants is appointed from a rotating list of lawyers approved to do this kind of work. Indigent defendants are given no choice in who represents them and the quality of the representation depends on the “luck of the draw.” In 2015, Judge Waldrip implemented a free market approach for selecting indigent counsel in Comal County. Rather than having their lawyers appointed just because it is their turn, indigent defendants are allowed to choose their lawyer from a list of approved defense counsel. Since word spreads quickly among defendants about which lawyers are the best, lawyers must earn appointments by developing a reputation for effective representation. This system respects the defendants by giving them more control in who will represent them and provides these defendants more parity with defendants of means. A study by the Justice Management Institute of this program found better case outcomes for indigent clients who chose their own attorneys. Better defense work means fewer mistakes, and fewer wrongful conviction lawsuits that will be borne by taxpayers.
Michelle Slaughter is currently a District Judge in Galveston County. She worked for two large international law firms and in her own practice before running for judge and has been a District Judge for six years. She is not board certified in any area of the law.
Judge Slaughter states that she is running for this position because of her perception that the Court of Criminal Appeals is placing too much reliance on case law versus the plain language of the statute. She cites a reversal of her own as an example of the problem.
Under common law, a court looks to the interpretations of the law made by relevant courts in earlier cases for guidance and direction on how to interpret and apply the law. Unless it is found that the current case is fundamentally different from earlier cases, a court is bound by the way the early courts interpreted the law. Following these earlier cases (called precedents) is what provides consistency, fairness and credibility to judicial decisions. Without case law, the judicial system falls apart since each time a law comes in question, it is interpreted de novo. Legislating from the bench is, in part, doing just that – interpreting the law in a way that ignores precedent case law. Roe v Wade, for example, ignored centuries of case law to establish a mother’s right to murder her baby. The same is true of the same sex marriage ruling. If a judge does not like the case law, the remedy is to change the law through the legislature or a constitutional amendment, not to ignore case law. Judge Slaughter’s real objection may be that the CCA misapplied Samaripas to the facts of Spillers, not that the CCA overly relied on case law. If this is the situation, she may have a valid point, although since the trial court is the finder of facts and the appellate courts rely on those findings in coming to their decisions. It is possible that she, as the trial court, bears some of the blame for the CCA's misapplication of the facts. In any event, a complaint for misapplication of facts is very different from one that the court is over relying on case law.
Judge Slaughter also claims that the CCA is not transparent enough and stated that she will continue her Facebook page to provide information to the public. In 2014, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct rebuked Slaughter, claiming that her Facebook activities "cast reasonable doubt upon her impartiality." While Judge Slaughter was cleared of violating judicial standards as a result of her social media activity, the review panel cautioned that “a judge should never reveal his or her thought processes in making any judgement.” Most judges abstain from posting on social media to eliminate the risk of any potential perception of partiality.
Judge Slaughter has a good reputation as a lawyer and jurist. But her legal career has not been dedicated to criminal law and her criminal experience is significantly less than that of Judge Waldrip.
Jay Brandon did not elect to participate in our vetting process. He has written 18 novels of mostly legal fiction, some of which have achieved critical acclaim. His work as a lawyer has been split between the San Antonio Court of Appeals and the Bexar County District Attorney’s office in the Appeals section, and private practice with a focus on family law. Within the last few weeks, Mr. Brandon became board certified in Criminal Appellate law. He was already board certified in Family law. Mr. Brandon has never served as a judge.
Judge Waldrip has by far the most criminal law experience of the candidates in this race. He is further distinguished by his dedication to improving the administration of criminal law in Texas as shown by his innovative approach to providing indigent counsel has improved outcomes for defendants and lowered costs for taxpayer. Texas Patriots PAC recommends Judge Dib Waldrip for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8.