Federal Court Nominees Part 3: Judge Priscilla Owen

Friday, May 20, 2005

Here is a look at the nomination of Priscilla Owen. Judge Owen was first rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002, then successfully filibustered in 2003. She was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1994 and re-elected in 2000. During the 16-year career of Judge Owens, she has argued only one federal appellate case and one state appellate case. She has never faced a criminal issue as a lawyer or judge. Judge Owen listed ten cases on her Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire and represented oil and gas companies (Transco-5 times, Lone Star, IP Petroleum) in eight of the ten cases. The other two cases were mere boundary disputes between neighbors.
Judge Owen's favor of corporations is well documented throughout her career. In the case Hyundai Motor Co. v Alvarado, Judge Owen sided with Hyundai Motor ignoring the National Traffic And Motor Vehicle Saftey Act of 1966. In the case Read v Scott Fetzer Co. , Judge Owen sided with the Kirby Vacuum Company (Scott Fetzer Co.) arguing that Kirby Co. should not be held responsible for a door to door salesmen they hired without a backround check who raped a women while working. In the case Peeler v Hughes & Luce, Judge Owen sided with the law firm Hughes & Luce. Carol Peeler pleaded guilty to tax fraud while being represented by Hughes & Luce and received a fine and probation as the result of her plea. It was later learned that prosecutors told her attorney that she could receive "unconditional" transactional immunity in exchange for her cooperation. Hughes & Luce failed to inform their client of this offer, which no doubt Mrs. Peeler would have taken. Judge Owen ruled on the grounds that convicted criminals cannont bring malpractice suits. In 1994 Judge Owen received $14,000 in campaign contributions from the firm Hughes & Luce. In the case Enron Corp. v Spring Independent School District , Judge Owen ruled in favor of Enron. The ruling allowed Texas companies to choose between two dates to evaluate their inventory for tax purposes. As a result, Enron saved $225,000 at the loss of the school district. In 1994 Judge Owen recieved $8,600 in campaign contributions from Enron Corp.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was declared to be in a state of emergency in 1999 by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. During the eight years of the Clinton presidency, republican senators blocked Enrique Moreno, Jorge Rangel, and Alston Johnson all the while three seats on the Fifth Circuit sat empty.


BP said...

I just read the Peeler v. Hughes & Luce for my legal ethics class. I think the majority was right in this case. It struck me not as a win for Hughes & Luce, but a loss for Peeler. The ruling in this case (that a convicted felon should not be able to sue her attorney for malpractice unless she has been exonerated) followed the rule in a majority of the jurisdictions. Furthermore, Peeler did have some other options, such as suing the firm for inadequate representation, rather than for malpractice, since it was a criminal conviction. It seems simply like the court didn't want her to profit from her crimes.

BTW...I am pretty left-leaning politically, and I agree that financial contributions to judges should be carefully scrutinized. But unless Owen's vote broke a tie and she only voted that way because Hughes & Luce paid her off, I don't see anything wrong with the actual ruling in this case.

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