Members of the Grayson County Bar Association heard this week from an unlikely pair of collaborators about the need for a federal judge to fill the seat left open by former Judge Paul Brown in the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

Members of the Grayson County Bar Association heard this week from an unlikely pair of collaborators about the need for a federal judge to fill the seat left open by former Judge Paul Brown in the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas.


Roger Sanders, a long-time Democrat and Clyde Siebman, a local Republican party leader, said it is time to put partisan politics aside and get a new judge for the federal courthouse in Sherman. The need, the pair said, has to do with far more than the convenience and profitability of the lawyers who practice in federal court. It has to do with the availability of justice for the people who live and work in the area and the economic impact that the Court in Sherman has on the businesses in downtown and on the area hotel industry.


"That building over there that Sam Rayburn was responsible for was kind of a temple of justice and fear," Sanders said speaking about the days when he and other attorneys practiced there in their youths. Judge Brown took senior status in 2001 and retired in 2006. He died in November 2012.


Sanders said when he and others in the room started practicing in the federal system, its center (in Texas) was Beaumont. "Beaumont attorneys were making a ton of money. There was asbestos (cases), plaintive lawyers were everywhere, all of the judges who were any, anything at all sat down there because Beaumont was the Mecca because Beaumont was by gosh, the biggest city in the District."


"And for as long as I knew, up until this last week, I thought that was (still) the case," Sanders added. He said the research into the populations and number of cases in each district that he had been doing while working to get a new judge in the Sherman Division showed him a change he hadn’t really noticed before.


Federal courts in Texas are broken up into four Districts including the Northern District, the Western District, the Southern District and the Eastern District. The Northern District includes Abilene, Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, San Angelo and Witchita Falls. Its website lists 14 judges, eight full-time magistrate judges and one part-time magistrate judge.


The Western Division includes El Paso, Fort Hood, Midland/Odessa, Pecos, San Antonio and Waco. The District’s website shows 12 full-time district judges and five district judges who have taken senior status. It also shows 12 magistrate judges.


The Southern District includes Houston, Brownsville, Corpus Christie, Laredo, Galveston, and McAllen. Its website lists 25 judges, 15 magistrates.


The Eastern District comprises six divisions: Beaumont, Lufkin, Marshall, Sherman, Texarkana and Tyler. The District is made up of 43 counties. The Eastern District website lists seven judges and eight magistrate judges. The Sherman division includes Collin, Grayson, Hopkins, Cooke, Delta, Lamar, Denton and Fannin counties.


"The Sherman Division, the kind of weak sister, the red-headed cousin, has been a secondary division forever – until, of course, it wasn’t." Sanders said.


"If the Sherman Division were a city, it would be the fifth largest in the United States. It would be the second largest city in Texas. There are 1,800,023 more or less (people) in this division. Collin County, and Denton County are the 34th and 36th fastest growing counties in the United States.


"By the year 2040, Collin County is projected to be the largest county in Texas — larger than Houston and Austin and San Antonio. It’s going to be the place where things are," Sanders said.


He said that changes the landscape for the federal court in Texas putting its epicenter much closer to home.


"Can you guess with the Dallas division being so close how we compare … for judicial service? Dallas has something over 3 million people, we have about 60 percent (of that). They have seven full-time and two senior status judges; that’s nine. We have six. We have six for the entire Eastern District. We have one for 1.8 million people and that one (Judge Richard Schell) is poised in about six weeks to announce that he wants to assume senior status," Sanders said. Senior status is a type of semi retirement that federal judges take while continuing to work part-time.


Sanders said there is no doubt that Judge Richard Schell works about 150 percent harder than most of the judges Sanders knows but if Schell slows down any, it will cause a back up in the system.


He said local attorneys have to consider that back up while making decisions with their clients. It impacts the types of cases they take and the kinds of justice local people can seek. Any case coming into the federal system in the Sherman division is going to face an up hill fight against a large number of patent cases and an ever increasing number of criminal cases.


Sanders said the Eastern District should have eight judges but it currently only has six. That is 4.4 fewer judges than it would need to have the same number of judges (per capita) as Dallas.


"We have been categorized for a few years now as (having) a judicial emergency of the first rank." He added that if one looks at the number of case the District has per judge, the Eastern District is easily approaching being the busiest District in the country.


"This is nothing short of a crisis," Sanders said. Then he said some may ask, if the Sherman Division has gotten along for seven years without a judge, why is it such a big deal now?


He said based on the sheer numbers per capita no division within the federal system can make a stronger case for needing a judge. "The second thing is that the Judicial Conference has not only supported the number of judges we have (allotted), they have allocated two more. The Sherman Division is supposed to have four judges, not just one or two."


Siebman then took over the presentation and addressed how senators who represent the area see the problem of filling the judicial vacancies in Texas. He said senators seem to feel that judges should come from the district they will serve.


"I think from reading the tea leaves that they (senators) believe that there are plenty of competent lawyers in the Eastern District to fill the judicial positions in the Eastern District. I think that is good for us," Siebman said. He said the senators also are aware there was a deal made to allow Plano to be an alternate place to hold court in the Sherman Division and they are willing to honor that deal. That deal struck in 2003, Sanders confirmed after the meeting, said that if an alternative court were opened in Plano then half of the Sherman Division’s docket would be tried in Sherman and half of it in Plano. It also said that "If Judge Brown ceases holding court in Sherman, a new resident judge shall be designated to hold court in Sherman as soon as possible, and pending the new judge’s residing in Sherman, 50 percent civil and criminal cases shall be docketed and tried in Sherman, and the clerk’s office in Sherman shall remain staffed sufficiently to support a resident judge."


"As long as we have Congressman Hall as our United States Congressman … we have a lot of strong support there," Siebman said noting that Hall was the person who insiste the deal be written down. As long as Hal is in his position, Siebman said, the deal will be honored.


Siebman said the reason for the push to get things done now is the political fact that political figures come and go.


"The reason we do get our person committed to Sherman is that political figures come and go and at some point the political figures that are here now are not going to be here. We want to make sure that our Court is anchored in a more fundamental way. The only way that I have ever seen a Court anchored is with a resident judge that is committed to a particular area," Siebman said.


He said there were probably only a few people in the room who could remember a time when Sherman had a federal courthouse but did not have a federal practice. "It was just an empty court that a judge came to very randomly. Not only does that affect the Bar, but it affects the community. For example if you have to go to jury service are you going to go to jury service in Sherman or in Plano. That’s bad enough for us, but you can imagine the folks over in Paris. It affects them, it affects the law enforcment community as to where the grand juries are based." Siebman said federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are generally located where the grand juries meet.


Then just from pure economics. I can recall the days, when the bankruptcy court was here and not in Plano. The bankruptcy apparatus was actually much larger than the federal apparatus. It brought in a lot of resources. People came to court, people that had business in the Court spent money here, they used hotel rooms here. They traded here and they hired lawyers here and they had other people here. That bankruptsy Court had a huge impact then it moved to Plano and that impact was gone. Its not something that we want to have happen to the federal court and the only way that we are going to prevent that from happening is to have a resident judge who is committed to remaining here and not moving somewhere else."


Siebman said politics comes into play because the area lacks a Democratic spokesperson.


"We need to get this position filled before we get into the 2016 presidential politics," he said. He explained that once polticians in Washington start talking about who is going to be president, they are not going to have time to talk about who is going to hear cases in the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas.


So what can one do about this situation? Sanders said people need to write their congressmen and the president and ask that this poisition get filled and get filled quickly. Local political entities have drafted resolutions calling for the seat to be filled and more are continuing to do so.


"The impact is huge. It has carried the day as far as the senators remaining focused on it being a local (candidate for judge),"Siebman said.


"There’s forces in Dallas that would like it to be the other way," he added. And those forces, he said, are Democrats who have the ear of the party in charge of the White House.


"It is very important for us to continue to make our righteous stand that it ought to be a local person," Seibman said. He said Republican control of all of the local political offices has not been helpful in this endeavor.


"What I am told is that it is not the brilliance of the letters, but the fact that they send a letter," Sanders said. He said Kathy Williams in his office in Sherman can get people a template for a letter to people who are interested.