The PJ Tatler

'Conservative' Challenger in Texas Supreme Court Race Forges a Curious Alliance

Earlier this month, a Travis County, TX district court heard a lawsuit constructed to toss an incumbent Texas Supreme Court justice off the primary ballot. In Texas, supreme court justices are among the 29 offices elected by voters in statewide elections. In this case, challenger Joe Pool sued the Texas Republican Party to get incumbent Justice Jeff Brown ruled off the ballot.

Brown, a member of the Federalist Society, was appointed to Texas’ top court in September 2013 by Gov. Rick Perry to fill out an unexpired term, and is now running for a full term on the court. Brown is also one of two Texas Supreme Court Justices to have had conservative U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia travel to Texas to administer their oaths of office last year.

Pool’s case hinged on the validity of some signatures in Brown’s application to be on the ballot in the GOP primary. Pool’s attorney, more about him in a moment, challenged the validity of enough signatures on Browns application that, according to Pool’s campaign, if those signatures were invalid, Brown should be ruled ineligible and tossed off the ballot. Had Pool’s lawsuit succeeded, he would have enjoyed an unopposed run in the GOP primary for Supreme Court Place 6.

Pool was originally running for Texas Railroad Commission last year, but switched to Supreme Court race. He also lost a bid for the Texas Supreme Court in 2012.

Shortly before Christmas 2013, Pool demanded that the Texas GOP remove Brown from the ballot. He met with party leadership, who explained to Pool that his request was wrong and would be denied. He proceeded with the lawsuit anyway, and last week, after arguments from both sides in court, he lost in Travis County district court.

Ballot challenges like Pool’s aren’t all that unusual. There tend to be a handful in party primaries around the state in any given decade. Most of the time these challenges fail, but not before distracting the party as a litigant and forcing it to expend staff time and financial resources to deal with it.

Pool’s challenge had one unusual feature. He hired as his legal representative, attorney Buck Wood. There are a lot of lawyers in Texas, but Pool’s attorney, Buck Wood, is known for being a long-time lawyer for Democrat interests. Wood was deputy state comptroller when the Democrats held the state, and was general counsel to Democrat Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. He has represented the Texas Democratic Party, and Democrats such as state Rep. Donna Howard, in election lawsuits.

Buck Wood was an eyebrow-raising choice to represent a candidate claiming to be a “conservative Republican.”