A former Texas Supreme Court justice, a high-profile appellate specialist and the judge overseeing multidistrict litigation stemming from Winter Storm Uri are among candidates who have applied for positions on the new business trial and appeals courts.
Several former justices who served on intermediate courts of appeals and district courts prior to losing elections have submitted applications to the governor’s office. Five high-ranking lawyers working for Attorney General Ken Paxton also applied, including one who testified in Paxton’s defense during his Senate impeachment trial last year.
The applications were released by the governor’s office in response to an open records request from The Texas Lawbook.
Among candidates seeking appointment to the 15th Court of Appeals is Scott Brister, who joined Hunton Andrews Kurth in 2009 after serving six years on the Supreme Court. Brister has 20 years of judicial service, including three years at the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and 11 years as a district court judge.
David M. Gunn, a longtime appellate practitioner at Beck Redden, also is seeking a seat on the 15th COA. In an appeal heard last October by the Texas Supreme Court, Gunn represents Houston personal injury lawyer George Fleming, who is trying to end claims from thousands of fen-phen plaintiffs suing their former attorney for breaches.
Judge Sylvia A. Matthews wants an appointment to the trial-level business court. She served for 10 years as 281st district court judge in Harris County before losing reelection in 2018. She has since served as a visiting judge. Matthews presides over the multidistrict litigation in Harris County for cases alleging that the wrongful conduct of ERCOT and other defendants caused power shortages and electrical outages during Winter Storm Uri. Last year she dismissed more than 60 natural gas company defendants that were named in lawsuits brought by thousands of plaintiffs attempting to hold someone accountable for the damages they suffered.
A current district court judge, George B. Flint of the 401st District Court in Collin County, applied for the business court. He has been on the bench for about three years.
The business courts and 15th Court of Appeals created last year by the Legislature will bring significant changes to the way litigation is practiced in Texas. The business court judges will hear certain high-dollar complex commercial disputes. Unlike most trial judges, they will be appointed for two-year terms and will not have to stand for election but may be reappointed.
The business court law directs Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint 10 district judges, two each to sit in five urban regions. They must have 10 or more years of experience in complex civil business litigation, business transaction law, serving as a judge in a Texas court with civil jurisdiction or any combination of that experience. Appointments are subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate.
The 15th Court of Appeals will hear appeals from the business courts along with cases involving state agencies and entities, including institutions of higher education. It will be structured to have a chief justice and two associate justices with plans to add two more justices in 2027. They will be appointed by the governor and stand for statewide election, a departure from the regional races that decide judicial races on the other 14 intermediate appellate courts.
Of the 20 applications released, 10 are seeking appointment to the appeals court, six want positions on the trial courts and four applied for both. Other applications are expected as Abbott weighs the appointments in advance of the Sept. 1 date for the courts to begin operating.
Candidates with judicial experience seeking appointment to the 15th COA include:
— Jennifer Caughey, a former First COA justice and current chair of Jackson Walker’s appellate section.
— Scott K. Field, a former Third COA justice who was appointed by Abbott in 2022 to the newly created 480th District Court in Williamson County. He also expressed interest in the business court.
— Evelyn V. Keyes, a former First COA justice who retired in 2020 and now teaches a course at Rice University on the intellectual foundations of American law.
— Ernest C. Garcia, who served two years as a district court judge in Travis County and currently heads the administrative law division for Attorney General Ken Paxton. Garcia has worked for U.S. attorneys in the Western and Southern District of Texas. He also applied for the business court.
— Gregory T. Perkes, a former 13th COA justice who now is a mediator and lawyer in Corpus Christi.
— Michael Landrum, former judge of the 113th and 164th District Courts in Harris County and current candidate for the 133rd District Court. He also applied for the business court.
Others who applied for the trial or appellate courts include:
— William L. “Bill” Davis, deputy solicitor general at the attorney general’s office, applied for the 15th COA. He also was an associate at Baker Botts.
— Charles K. Eldred, chief of the legal strategy division for AG Paxton, applied for the 15th COA. He formerly worked for the Texas Youth Commission.
— Lesli R. Fitzpatrick, director of special litigation for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, applied for the 15th COA.
— Austin Kinghorn, associate deputy attorney general for legal counsel and chair of the opinion committee at the AG’s office, applied for the 15th COA. Kinghorn was a witness called by Paxton’s defense during the 2023 Senate impeachment trial at which Paxton was acquitted of allegations he abused his office in support of a donor.
— Natalie D. Thompson, assistant solicitor general for the attorney general, applied for the 15th COA. She successfully defended the state’s six-week abortion ban before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Thompson previously worked as an associate at Greenberg Traurig.
— Malcolm Edwin Whittaker, a Houston lawyer, applied for the 15th COA. He previously worked at Halliburton Energy Services and ran for a district court seat in 2022 and a congressional seat in 2018.
— George Parker Young, a Fort Worth lawyer with 40 years of litigation experience, applied for the business court. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and previously worked at Haynes and Boone.
— Hyattye O. Simmons, a lawyer and municipal judge for the cities of Denton and Combine, applied for the business court. He also has served as general counsel for Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Texas secretary of state.
— Benjamin G. Robertson, a staff attorney at the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio, applied for the business court. He previously worked at Santoyo Wehmeyer, an energy transactional and litigation firm.
— Jeffrey L. Joyce, a veteran Houston lawyer, applied for the business court. He left Joyce & McFarland in January after 15 years and prior to that was at Winstead.
The Texas Supreme Court is working to finalize rules for the new courts, some of which could be located at law schools around the state.