Bill Would Create Separate Unelected Court System for Business Giants, Billionaires

A bill heard yesterday in a House committee would create a separate unelected court system for deep-pocketed businesses, billionaires and others who might be involved in lawsuits involving giant dollars, corporate CEOs and large-scale business matters.

HB 4149 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano (companion is SB 2259 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola) would let the Governor appoint judges selected by an advisory group to hear cases for the wealthy, as opposed to the elected judges most working people would face when navigating the state court system.

Over many decades, the Texas AFL-CIO's consistent theme on civil justice has been to support open courts in our state for those who suffer injuries stemming from the negligence (or worse) of others. The concept of "open courts" has eroded greatly over time, in medical malpractice cases, employment rights and other arenas. If you suffer an injury on the job that is covered by the Workers' Compensation system, good luck trying to get to the courthouse even when the system chews you up and spits you out.

Maybe the one saving grace in this environment is that change is possible and everyone entering our courtrooms walks through the same doors and follows the same rules. 

Enter HB 4149, OPPOSED today by the United Labor Legislative Committee.

Going against all the lessons on "equal justice" we thought we knew from the Constitutions of the U.S. and Texas, HB 4149 would create a "Business Court" and a "Court of Business Appeals" so that the wealthiest business people in Texas would not have to roam among the legal hoi polloi or sully themselves in the courtrooms of elected judges.

Yes, you read this right. The Governor would appoint the Business Court Nominations Advisory Council, which would provide a choice of finalists for the special court system for wealthy Texans. The judges on the court would not have to campaign among the people or win an election, as do other state judges in Texas.

What would these courts decide? Among other things, jurisdiction would include business disputes that exceed $10 million. That almost certainly doesn't include you. Another example of what these courts for plutocrats would decide, and I'm not making this up: Most any claim, including sexual harassment cases. against "an owner, managerial official, or controlling person." If you are unfortunate enough to be harmed by a top boss in your company, even intentionally, you would no longer be able to seek civil justice from an elected judge. Instead, your case would be dragged into a court appointed by the governor outside the rest of our court system. What do you think your chances, already iffy, would become under that system?

It's one thing to have specialty courts in Texas. We have family courts, juvenile courts and probate courts, for example, to develop judges who are able to build expertise in critical areas. But those judges are elected alongside judges who have courts of general jurisdiction. This is different. The consequences, intended and unintended, of creating a separate and unequal court system for the wealthiest sliver of Texans will only grow if this bill picks up any steam.

 HB 4149 was left pending in the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.