Texas Civil Justice Reform
In July 2016, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) approved a Resolution endorsing 13 recommendations that are designed to transform the civil justice system in our state courts to meet the challenges of contemporary civil caseloads and the needs of those who come to the courts for resolution of their disputes. Following this endorsement, IAALS and NCSC launched a Civil Justice Initiative (CJI) Implementation Plan to support implementation of the recommendations—by developing tools, providing education and technical assistance, evaluating demonstration projects, and hosting regional summits for state action teams. As part of this project, IAALS and NCSC have published Transforming Our Civil Justice System for the 21st Century: A Roadmap for Implementation, which provides a clear step-by-step process for moving from initial assessment and definition of issues to working with stakeholders and implementing reform.
IAALS and NCSC worked with four states—Idaho, Maine, Missouri, and Texas, as they moved through the roadmap process, providing technical assistance and documenting their efforts.
In February 2017, Texas was selected by the CJI Steering Committee to serve as the roadmap state from the Southern CCJ/COSCA region. The Texas Judicial Council created a Civil Justice Committee and issued the following charge: “study the Conference of Chief Justices’ Civil Justice Initiative recommendations and the landscape of Texas civil justice; recommend necessary reforms to improve access to justice to the Texas Courts.”
In June of 2018, the Civil Justice Committee issued its Report and Recommendations. On September 14, 2018, the full Judicial Council approved and published a Resolution on Civil Justice Committee Recommendations, signed by Chief Justice Hecht, requesting the Legislature, the Office of Court Administration (OCA), and the Supreme Court Advisory Committee (SCAC), the rulemaking body of the Texas Judiciary, take specific action based on the Judicial Council’s June 2018 Report. The Committee timed the report— and the Judicial Council timed its review—with the goal of having legislative recommendations developed in time for the beginning of the biennial legislative session in the fall of 2018. The Legislature then enacted multiple laws stemming from the recommendations including streamlining complex jurisdictional requirements for trial courts. The Legislature also created the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection to study and review the methods by which judges and justices are selected for office in Texas, with a report on its findings and recommendations due December 31, 2020. The OCA has taken measures to develop a statewide case management system, improve case management practices, and amend the rules of judicial administration to require trial courts to submit annual plans on how those courts will manage civil cases. The SCAC members have discussed changes to the Texas rules of civil procedure for eviction cases, service of process by publication via internet pursuant to recently enacted laws, and the process for determining default judgments.
In April 2020, IAALS published Transforming Our Civil Justice System for the 21st Century: The Road to Civil Justice Reform, which documented the experiences of Texas and the other roadmap states as they moved through the roadmap process, noting successes and challenges, and identifying lessons learned for future courts implementing reform to provide practical insight into the process of implementing court changes. The study aims to help other jurisdictions understand how they can successfully implement similar changes in their courts, while also inspiring additional jurisdictions to undertake reform.