Justice, Supreme Court, Place 3
Michael Massengale ✔
TPP recommends Michael Massengale
Justice Massengale’s challenge of incumbent Justice Lehrmann deserves support. Justice Lehrmann is the most liberal justice on the Supreme Court, has too narrow a legal background having exclusively specialized in Family Law until she joined the Supreme Court, and has taken positions undermining tort reform that are disturbing. Justice Massengale has more appellate court judicial experience than Justice Lehrmann, a broad legal background ideally suited for the Supreme Court and is a proven, reliable conservative.
Justice Debra Lehrmann was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Perry in June, 2010 after winning the primary race. She had no appellate judicial experience at the time of her appointment. She was reelected to the Court that same year, so is currently in the last year of her first full term. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Justice Lehrmann served 22 years as the District Judge of the 360th District Court, a Family Court in Tarrant County. Before becoming a judge, Justice Lehrmann was in private practice in Fort Worth specializing in Family Law. Justice Lehrmann started her career working as the Lead Prosecutor and Director of the Enforcement Division of the Tarrant County Domestic Relations Office. Justice Lehrmann has no board certifications.
When Justice Lehrmann ran for election in 2010, she touted her Family Law experience as an argument for support, saying: “The Texas Supreme Court does not have the level of child protective service... and family law experience that is necessary to handle these critically important cases. Having served as a family law judge for over 22 years, my election would fulfill the need for a jurist with this type of experience. No other candidate in this race has this type of expertise.”
Except for her implication that the Supreme Court could not fairly decide Family Law cases without having someone with her level of expertise on the bench, we agree with her statement. Up until the time she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Lehrmann specialized in Family Law. While her 2016 campaign website suggests broader legal experience by describing the 360th District Court as “a general jurisdiction court” (meaning that it handles every kind of civil and criminal case), as a practical matter, courts in large counties like Tarrant are specialized and rarely (if ever) handle cases outside their area of specialization. The Family Court page on the Tarrant County website reveals just how specialized the courts are, stating: “The Tarrant County Court system is comprised of Civil Courts, Criminal Courts, Family Courts, Magistrate's Court, Probate Courts and the Justices of the Peace.” And indeed, when Justice Lehrmann’s impressive resume is reviewed, it becomes very clear that she is a respected expert in Family Law. While this is wonderful experience for a Family Law judge, is a very narrow background for a justice on the Supreme Court, which is truly a general jurisdiction court for all civil and juvenile matters.
Justice Lehrmann has the dubious distinction of being the member of the Supreme Court who dissents the most. In her 5 years on the Supreme Court, she has participated in over 40 dissents. While dissents are an important part of our appellate process, there is no question that Justice Lehrmann is the justice who finds herself at odds with the rest of the court the most. Since the Texas Supreme Court is considered the most conservative in the nation, labeling Justice Lehrmann as the most liberal justice on the Court is justified. Comparisons of her dissents to those of Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court are incorrect since the U.S. Supreme Court is not a conservative court.
Texas’s legal system is widely regarded as the most business-friendly in the United States, at least in part due to the tort reform legislation passed in 2003, the first year that Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature since reconstruction. One of the most disturbing aspects of Justice Lehrmann’s dissents is that many of them challenge this tort-reform legislation, often by finding part of the legislation unconstitutional, the language ambiguous or questioning the legislatures’ policy judgment. Her dissents are almost always in support of the plaintiff, which may explain why she is receiving financial support this election from some of the same personal injury lawyers who ran stealth Democrats in the 2014 Republican Primary to try to unseat three conservative Supreme Court Justices (see the discussion of the Supreme Court Place 9 race below). It also may explain why Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), which supported Justice Lehrmann for election in 2010, is endorsing her opponent this election, Justice Massengale.
Finally, we are troubled by two matters relating to Justice Lehrmann which in our minds raise serious questions about her values and qualifications to continue as a member of the Texas Supreme Court. The first relates to her recusing herself from the recent gay marriage case Texas v Naylor without explanation (see the discussion of the Supreme Court Place 5 race below). Justices are expected to address every case that comes before their court unless they have a valid reason to recuse or absent themselves. Justice Lehrmann owes Texas voters an explanation for her strange behavior with respect to this case.
The second matter relates to her refusal to apologize or at least distance herself from a blatantly false accusation that Justice Massengale “allowed,” “upheld,” or “permitted” Sharia law in a case he participated in while on the Court of Appeals. This charge was first levied by one of Justice Lehrmann’s strongest supporters, Senator Donna Campbell, who should be ashamed of herself for stooping to such a low level. It was based on a case that upheld the Pakistani divorce of a couple who were married in Pakistan under Pakistani law, moved to Texas where they resided for 5 months before returning to Pakistan and subsequently divorced in Pakistan under Pakistani law. The husband, who held Pakistani/US citizenship, later moved back to the US where he remarried. The ex-wife, a Pakistani citizen, then decided to try to extract more compensation from her ex-husband by seeking a second divorce in Texas, which the court denied as she was already divorced under the law by which she was married. To equate these circumstances to allowing, upholding or permitting sharia law is absurd, as the case had nothing to do with sharia law. Senator Campbell’s accusation has been roundly, and deservedly, condemned by the legal community for making this accusation. However, Justice Lehrmann has inexplicably failed to renounce or apologize for her supporter’s outrageous charge, which reflects badly on her values and sense of fairness.
Justice Michael Massengale currently serves as a judge on the First Court of Appeals, a position he was appointed to by Governor Perry in 2009 and has since been re-elected to twice. Prior to joining the Court of Appeals, Justice Massengale was a partner in a major law firm in Houston, specializing in commercial litigation involving corporate mergers and acquisitions, fraudulent transfers, securities fraud, and antitrust. He also tried a number of personal injury and property damage lawsuits. Justice Massengale started his legal career clerking for a judge on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He is board-certified in civil appellate law and served while in private practice as president of the Houston chapter of the Federalist Society, the nation’s preeminent association of conservative lawyers.
In the 7 years he has been on the First Court of Appeal, Justice Massengale has written over 400 majority opinions which not only demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law and a fair-reading textualist approach to statutory interpretation, but also show the respect his colleagues on the Court have for his judicial analysis which reflects his conservative legal philosophy. Both these attributes guarantee that Justice Massengale would make an excellent addition to the Supreme Court.