Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider five people nominated for federal judgeships in Texas. One of those people, if approved, will be sitting in the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman division. That person is expected to be Karen Gren Scholer, a former state district judge out of Dallas. She is expected to sit in the Plano office of the Sherman Division and two Grayson County attorneys are working to see that she gets that chance.
Scholer, if approved, will fill a seat left vacant when Judge Richard Schell took senior status, a kind of working retirement, back in March 2015. That seat is one of seven federal judge vacancies in the state of Texas. There are also two seats vacant on the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The seven vacancies have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Sherman attorneys Roger Sanders and Clyde Siebman have been working with U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe to help get those vacancies filled.
Friday, Sanders said filling the vacancies is about returning the opportunity for true justice to the people of Texas. He said with that many judicial vacancies, it is very hard for the people of Texas to get their day in court in both criminal and civil matters and that makes it very hard for the interest of justice to prevail.
Currently, Judge Amos Mazzant sits in the Paul Brown Courthouse in Sherman and Magistrate Judge Christine Nowak sits in the courtroom at the Chase Bank Building just down the street.
Sanders said if approved, which he is confident she will be, Judge Scholer, will sit in the Plano seat in the Eastern District of Texas.
And that is important to the people in Grayson County, Sanders said, because of the cost of federal litigation.
“We have among the highest rates of pretrial incarceration costs,” Sanders said, explaining that if people accused of a crime in the federal system in the Eastern District of Texas are not granted bail or can’t make bail, then the taxpayers have to put those people up in a local jail. “Because of the shortage of judges, that rate per inmate in among the highest in the country because we can’t get them to the courtroom.”
The next reason adding Scholer to the federal bench in Plano is important to the people in Grayson County, Sanders said, is the cost of business litigation in the area. He said business owners with legal disputes count evaluating and disposing of litigation as a kind of big expense item.
“If they know they can get a case to trial in one year as opposed to three years or four years … then they can evaluate their case better,” Sanders said.
He said, the longer that it takes to get to trial the more people are forced into settlements that completely negate having a justice system. He said major employers like Toyota consider costs like that when they look at moving to a location because most big businesses realize they will be in court on intellectual property, patents and other cases.
“It is just a cost of doing business,” Sanders said. “The higher the cost the less likely those big companies will come here.”
Sanders said a third reason it is important to Grayson County is that the fewer judges there are, the more it costs people to bring cases before the courts in terms of attorney fees.
“It is one thing to hire a lawyer to do something for you,” he said. “It is quite another to have to continue to pay that attorney while he sits through continuance after continuance because there are not enough judges to hear the cases.”
Sanders said the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas has become the largest division in that district.
“We now have half of the population of the entire Eastern District located in the Sherman Division,” Sanders said. “When you have (an estimated) 2 million people and we only have two judges, it makes sense to have the location split so that people can get to the courthouse easier.”
Sanders said since Schell took senior status, the Sherman Division has had only one judge for 2 million people while Dallas has had seven judges for 3 million people.
He said the group that has been lobbying to get the federal benches filled in Texas is looking at trying to get a third bench for the Sherman Division “because the population simply justifies it.”
Sanders said he and Siebman have been working on the problem because it “is the right thing to do.”
“It is a very long and tedious process and it can look like the senators are not doing what they should be doing,” Sanders said. “But there are a lot of levers and mechanics being pulled in the background to keep this going.”