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BCRW hosts Fourth Court of Appeals candidates

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Led by Bandera County taxpayer, Justice Steven Hilbig, five incumbent justices on the Fourth Court of Appeals made collective pleas for their re-election to the bench this November during the September meeting of Bandera County Republican Women.

Administrative Judge District 6 Stephen Ables introduced the judicial quintet, who provided an entertaining and informative program for the Republican faithful on Friday, Sept. 14.

Noting there are six women justices on the Fourth Court of Appeals, Ables said, "In 1972, my graduating class from Baylor Law School had 68 men and two women. The current class from Baylor is 51 percent women."

A 10-year veteran on the appellate bench, Justice Phylis Speedlin offered a light-hearted overview of the court - and tossed candy bars to participants who answered her questions correctly.

"There are seven justices on the court and five of us are up for re-election - and we all have opponents, which is unusual," Speedlin said.

A former Army nurse who served during the Vietnam era, she brings a special expertise to cases before the court that involve healthcare issues.

Speedlin noted that the Fourth Court of Appeals covers 32 counties "Our appellate district is larger than 15 states, including Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Maine and South Carolina," she said.

Loath to waste time, the busy justices offered 850 opinions last fiscal year, with each justice writing 125 opinions for an average of 2.5 per week. Apparently, no slackers need apply to this bench.

A graduate of St. Mary's Law School, Karen Angelini has spent 16 years as an appellate justice.

She noted, "We are a well respected court with an efficient and quick turn-around time on cases. We have no backlog. We truly adhere to the adage, 'Justice delayed is justice denied'."

Additionally, the Texas Supreme Court has rarely reversed decisions rendered by justices on the Fourth Court of Appeals, according to Angelini.

"Among the five justices here, we have 49 years of judicial experience," she noted.

Discussing the importance of judicial decisions for all citizens, Hilbig asked, "Ever hear of something called Miranda? You don't find that in the Constitution, but it's now law and that law came from a Supreme Court decision."

He added, "By our decisions, we create laws for 32 counties," noting the fine line between upholding the law and legislating from the bench.

Rulings that become laws affecting residents have included one that enables a landowner to sue for use of the water beneath his land. "He might not win, but he has the right to sue," Hilbig said.

Another decision by the Fourth Court of Appeals involved significant tort reform in medical cases. "These decisions are not for amateurs," Hilbig said.

Prior to serving at the appellate level, he was Bexar County District Attorney for eight years and holds dual certification in criminal law and criminal appellate law.

A former school teacher and social worker, Justice Marialyn Barnard is the Fourth Court of Appeals' self-described "junior justice." This November she will run for her first full term on the bench.

Barnard made a plea for voters not to skip the judiciary candidates, which are usually included at the end of an extensive ballot. "During the Primary Election, we lost 3,000 votes in Kerr County," Barnard said. "Of the 8,000 votes, only 5,000 marked ballots for the judiciary. So, if you're not voting a straight ticket, please scroll down to the end of the ballot."

Due to the importance of name recognition, she asked those present to "get the word out" to others.

Rebecca Simmons has served on the Fourth Court of Appeals for eight years. Prior to that, she was a trial judge in Bexar County and currently serves an adjunct professor at St. Mary's Law School. Additionally, she was specially commissioned to sit on the Texas Supreme Court for a designated case.

"On the Fourth Court of Appeals, we hear critical cases from 32 counties," she said. "A judge must show fairness and compassion while maintaining the strict standards of the law."

Urging everyone to participate in the upcoming important election, Simmons said, "In 2008, there were 75,000 Republican votes missing in our district. This year, voters were more energized in the Primary Election."

She suggested they remain so this November.

Pictured: Bandera County Judge Richard Evans, left, and Bandera County Republican Women President Kerry Schneider, second from right, recently hosted incumbent Republican candidates for the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals, from left, Justice Karen Angelini, Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Rebecca Simmons, Justice Phylis Speedlin and local taxpayer, Justice Steven Hilbig.