BU Chancellor Heads Commission to Study Texas Courts

Nov. 13, 1995

by Alan Hunt

Baylor University Chancellor Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds has been appointed to chair a commission to advise the Texas Legislature on the state's court system.

The 16-member Texas Commission on Judicial Efficiency has been established by the Texas Supreme Court to study and make recommendations to the legislature on judicial selection, information technology use, court funding, and diversity of court legal staff.

Reynolds served as President of Baylor from 1981 to June of this year, when he was named Chancellor. He is a past chairman of the 850-presidential member National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and currently serves on the State of Texas Select Committee on Higher Education.

He said the creation and funding by the legislature of the Texas Commission on Judicial Efficiency offers a "real possibility to improve the courts in Texas."

Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, who named Reynolds to the post, said, "For the first time in history, the legislature has allocated funds to the Supreme Court to study the court system. The creation of the commission reflects the legislature's growing commitment to addressing the many challenges faced by our state and local courts." Chief Justice Phillips is a 1971 Baylor graduate.

Drayton McLane, Jr. of Temple, a 1958 Baylor graduate, member of the Baylor Board of Regents, and owner of the Houston Astros baseball team, is among the 16 members of the commission, along with former FBI director, William S. Sessions of San Antonio, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from Baylor, and Dallas attorney R. Dary Stone, a 1975 Baylor law graduate.

Because of the small size of the commission and the broad scope of its charge, the commissioners named a task force for each area of study. Each task force will be larger than the commission, permitting contributions from a wide variety of views and experiences. The task force members, totaling more than 130 and including a number of Baylor graduates and supporters, were selected by Chief Justice Phillips and Reynolds with the consent of the Supreme Court and the commission.

"To realize the goals in the charge to even one task force would be a major accomplishment for the people of Texas," Reynolds said. "To have a chance to move forward in all four areas is an unparalleled opportunity."

The Information Technology Task Force is chaired by Dr. Donald L. Hardcastle, professor of physics and director of the Center for Computing and Information Systems at Baylor. The task force's areas of study include the use of information technology to improve case management, public access to the courts, collection of fines and fees, and dissemination of criminal records to law enforcement and judicial officers.

Baylor graduate Justice Jack Hightower of Austin, who retires from the Supreme Court on Jan. 6, 1996, will chair the Funding Parity Task Force. Justice Hightower received a law degree from Baylor in 1951 and a bachelor of arts degree in 1949, and is a former Baylor trustee. The task force will study ways to improve court efficiency and fairness through adequate staffing, equipment, and other resources. It will also suggest methods to enhance court revenue and to more fairly distribute state and local funds to the courts.

Members of the task force include Morris Harrell of Dallas, a 1942 Baylor law graduate and former American Bar Association president; J.D. Hudson, Jr., chairman of the board of Community Bank, Waco, a 1958 Baylor graduate and former Baylor trustee; and Lynn Nabers of Austin, a 1967 Baylor law graduate. Chief Justice Phillips serves as an ex-officio member.

The Judicial Selection Task Force, chaired by Tom Luce of Dallas, partner in the law firm of Hughes & Luce, is charged with finding the best method for choosing judges in Texas, with the goals of reducing the influence of partisan politics and campaign contributions, shortening the judicial campaign season, and improving the diversity and quality of judges.

Task force members include Court of Appeals Justice John T. Boyd of Amarillo, a Baylor regent who holds both undergraduate (1949) and law (1950) degrees from Baylor; Louis O. Satterfield, Jr. of Liberty, also a Baylor regent who received his undergraduate degree from Baylor in 1959 and his law degree in 1960; and Don R. Willett of Austin, who received a bachelor of business administration degree from Baylor in 1988 and a Baylor law degree in 1992.

The Staff Diversity Task Force is chaired by Susana Aleman, assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Texas School of Law. This task force is a cooperative effort among judges, law school deans, former judicial staff and briefing attorneys, law firms, and minority law students to assist and encourage judges in securing more applications for judicial clerkships from minority law graduates.

Members of the task force include Leah W. Jackson, associate professor of law and associate dean of Baylor Law School; Bill Jones of Houston, a 1985 Baylor law graduate and president-elect of the Texas Young Lawyers Association; County Court Judge Sam A. Medina of Lubbock, a member of the Baylor Board of Regents; and Frank Newton, a 1967 Baylor law graduate and dean of Texas Tech University School of Law. Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen of Houston, who received her undergraduate degree (1976) and law degree (1977) from Baylor, serves as an ex-officio member.

The Supreme Court designated Anthony Haley of Austin as executive director and general counsel of the commission.

Reynolds said the commission members hope to complete their report to the legislature by October next year. This is three months ahead of the commission's scheduled deadline of January 1997. "We would like to have the report in the hands of members of the legislature at that time so they can begin drafting bills that would implement some of our recommendations, if, indeed, they see fit to do so," he said. "If we waited until January 1997 to render the report, I don't believe that we could achieve as much impact as if we got it in 90 days earlier. So that is what we are going to strive to do."

He said all meetings of the commission will be open to the public. The next meeting will be held on Feb. 5, 1996, and others are planned for May 10 and Aug. 19-20, 1996. The final meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20, 1996, when commission members should be able to approve their report to the legislature in draft form, he said.

The task forces will begin meeting in the next few weeks and each task force will hold at least one public hearing. Reynolds said the commission will suggest to the task forces that they consider meeting in cities around the state, in addition to Austin. "That will be up to the task force chair and members of each task force to decide," he said. "But we need to get whatever observations and suggestions that the public may have about these matters."

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