Texas SC chief justice to retire next month

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 5, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) -- Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced this week he will leave the bench in October.

According to a news release Tuesday, Jefferson will retire effective Oct. 1. He has not made any plans, post-retirement, the high court said.

Under Jefferson's leadership, the court drastically reduced the number of cases carried over from one term to another and significantly increased the use of technology to improve efficiency, increase transparency and decrease costs.

"I was fortunate to have served under Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, who in his nearly 17 years transformed the court into a leader not only in jurisprudence, but also in the hard work of administering justice fairly," Jefferson said in a statement Tuesday.

"I am most proud to have worked with my colleagues to increase the public's access to the legal system, which guarantees the rights conferred by our Constitutions."

Under his leadership, cameras came to the court in 2007, allowing the public to view oral arguments live in an effort to bolster the public's understanding of the high court's work.

The court implemented a new case-management system and required all lawyers to submit appellate briefs electronically for posting on the court's website so that the arguments are accessible to Texas citizens.

Last year, the court also mandated electronic filing of court documents, which is expected to decrease the cost of litigation and increase courts' productivity.

Appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, Jefferson joined the state's highest court in 2001.

Before his appointment, he practiced appellate law with Crofts Callaway & Jefferson in San Antonio, where he successfully argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Perry elevated him to chief justice in September 2004 after Phillips' retirement. He is Texas' 26th chief justice.

During his tenure on the court, he served with 21 different justices.

"Chief Justice Jefferson has been an extraordinary and effective leader for the Supreme Court and the Texas judiciary," said Nathan Hecht, the court's senior justice. "The people of Texas are greatly indebted to him for his years of exemplary service."

Jefferson served as president of the Conference of Chief Justices, an association of chief justices from the 50 states and U.S. territories. He also served on the federal Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, the Council of the American Law Institute, the Board of the American Bar Foundation and the Board of Advisors of the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Judicial Selection Initiative.

"I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Gov. Perry, who entrusted me with the awesome responsibility of leading the judicial branch in Texas," Jefferson said.

"The courts exist to serve the people. I am profoundly grateful that through three elections they have afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime -- to devote so much of my life to their cause."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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