It comes as no surprise that Governor Perry appointed Nathan Hecht to succeed Wallace Jefferson as the state’s chief justice on the Supreme Court.
The former Dallas lawyer and state district and appellate judge, who went to Yale and Southern Methodist Law School has served on the court since 1989, by far the longest term of any current justice. Four have only served since 1999. Justice Hecht is no doubt intellectually capable and has served as the backbone of the court.
But there is a serious problem: Justice Hecht’s political bent has made him extremely anti-plaintiff, pro insurance company and corporation (see cases listed below).
As even the usually conservative Dallas Morning News wrote that
He is seen as the court’s most pro-business, conservative jurist. And he is perceived as having a dogma that guides his decisions
The consumer advocate group Texas Watch added:
“Nathan Hecht’s appointment to the top judicial post in Texas is a blow to the notion of fairness and balance on our state’s highest court.
“Nathan Hecht is the godfather of the pro-defendant judicial movement in Texas. He has led the charge in using the courts to decimate accountability for insurance companies and other corporate defendants who needlessly harm everyday Texans. Far from showing the type of judicial restraint the public expects of the Chief Justice, Hecht is unapologetically pro-defendant and has been activist in his desire to protect insurance companies and other corporate defendants.
“Additionally, Justice Hecht is in the midst of a years long appeal of a state ethics violation that is still pending in state district court.
“With Justice Hecht’s well-known judicial history and the departure of Wallace Jefferson’s moderating voice, it is all the more important that whomever the governor appoints to fill the vacancy created by Hecht’s elevation to Chief Justice balances the Court in terms of diversity of judicial experience and philosophy.
“Here are a few examples of Hecht’s pro-defendant decisions:
1) Diamond Shamrock Refining Co. v. Hall
Impact: Allows negligent industrial plant owners to escape responsibility by ignoring clear evidence of gross negligence.
2) Brookshire Grocery v. TaylorImpact: Creates an incentive for companies to avoid repairing dangerous conditions on their premises.
3) In re Bridgestone/FirestoneImpact: Creates barriers for consumers to obtain critical evidence by creating almost impossible evidentiary standards for plaintiffs.
4) Romero v. KPH”
Impact: Shields hospitals from liability when they negligently credential a doctor known to have a history of careless and negligent behavior.”
5) Republic Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Mex-Tex, Inc.
Impact: Gives insurance companies an unfair advantage in settlement negotiations with policyholders.
6) Henry Schein Inc. v. Shelly E. Stromboe et.al
Impact: Forces plaintiffs with similar legitimate legal claims into costly individual litigation by denying the efficiency of a class action lawsuit.”
— Texas Watch
I hope that Justice Hecht can show the wisdom and independence that every great chief justice possesses. I hope that he will guide the court without bias and allow all parties, plaintiffs and defendants, to share an even playing field. Justice — not a narrow political agenda — must be served.