Greg Perkes and Leticia Hinojosa are running for election to a post that can’t raise your taxes, won’t get your street fixed, can’t change the zoning on your block and can’t do anything about your kid’s report card.
Is it any wonder they have trouble getting the attention of voters?
Perkes and Hinojosa are candidates for a state appellate court post. More specifically, they are running for Place 3 on the 13th Court of Appeals. Hinojosa, of McAllen, is the Democratic nominee. Perkes, of Corpus Christi, is the Republican incumbent.
It’s been said before that appellate court judges are the Rodney Dangerfields of Texas electoral politics. Like the late comedian, they don’t get no respect.
Or at least they get along in life without very little recognition. Even at election time. Outside the world of attorneys, they can go around incognito without much effort.
Even the court’s local offices do a good job of hiding in plain sight. They are located on the tenth floor of the Nueces County Courthouse, far above the pulsating world of trials, juries and warring lawyers on the lower floors.
On a slow news day, in my days as a courthouse reporter, the tenth floor was a good place to hide from my editor. This was before cell phones.
(The 13th Court also has offices in Hidalgo County, but more about that later.)
In fact, the 13th Court of Appeals is a key link in the judicial system of the state. It is one of 14 appellate courts in the state that take on practically every civil and criminal case that comes out of the state’s trial courts, with the exception of death penalty cases.
That means multimillion damage cases, cases involving government actions, cases regarding serious and not-so-serious crimes. That includes cases that would bore the tears out of most of us and cases that are on the front page of newspapers and lead stories on TV news broadcasts.
The 13th Court handles cases that come out of the courts in a 20-county district that stretches from Lavaca and Wharton counties in the north to Cameron and Hidalgo counties to the south.
Trial court judges get all the fun. They are in the arena of the public trials. They speak to juries. People rise when they enter the courtroom. They get to order around attorneys and scold criminal defendants, usually for the benefit of the TV cameras.
Some trial judges seem to think they are the stars of the show. But nobody goes to the ball game to watch the referees. But that’s my opinion.
Appellate court justices do their work outside of the view of the public. They do a lot of reading, research work and lots of writing. They produce the rulings that either uphold or reverse the work of trial judges.
“We grade the work of the (trial) judges,” Perkes said. He is running for his second term on the court.
Candidates for appellate judge, like other judicial candidates, can’t promise they will cut your taxes, or save the turtles, or assure you that your Uncle Bert will get lots of money from the insurance company for his accident.
They campaign strictly on their merit, which is a kind of refreshing change. The law requires that candidates be citizens, be between the ages of 35 and 74 and be a practicing attorney or a judge in a court of record for at least 10 years.
Hinojosa has served as a county court and district court judge and Perkes had more than 20 years experience as a practicing attorney before he became a judge.
With no promises to make and judicial ethics prohibiting much campaign blabber, that makes for a short campaign speech.
That might leave voters with not much to hold onto. That’s why political labels, geography and name recognition, all else being equal, seems to govern appellate court races. And that’s why there’s 13th Court offices in the Valley.
Of the six justices on the 13th Court, only two are from Corpus Christi, including Perkes. There was a time when Corpus Christi ruled the court. But now, the majority of the voters in the jurisdiction make the Valley their home.
The beauty of American democracy is that a voter can pick a candidate for any reason at all, both silly and serious. But judges are too serious a pick to relegate to a “eeny meeny miny moe” choice. A bad judge can sit on a bench for a long time; an appellate court judge has a six year term.
Voters can give the 13th Court respect just by casting a thoughtful vote.
Nick Jimenez has worked as a reporter, city editor and editorial page editor for more than 40 years in Corpus Christi. He is currently the editorial page editor emeritus for the Caller-Times. His commentary column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays.
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