Remarks from recently-retired Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson:
The voters have no clue about the experience or background of these candidates for office, and so what happens in Texas is that voters increasingly vote based upon partisan affiliation.
And we have the ability to straight-ticket vote here and so, in 2008, when I was on the ballot, it was McCain versus Obama, and Republicans in Texas by a large margin voted for McCain but they voted straight-ticket. So they voted McCain and every single Republican down the ballot. And in Harris County that year, Obama was extraordinarily popular so they voted for Obama and every Democrat down the ballot. I won [my] election easily, [but] in Houston there was almost a complete sweep of Republican judges — they were replaced by Democrats.
That makes no sense. These votes are not based upon the merits of the judge but on partisan affiliation and if its not party affiliation it’s the sound of your name. I said that almost all the Republican judges in Harris County lost—well, there were three exceptions. And in each of those cases, the Democratic candidate had an ethnic-sounding name. That’s no way to differentiate among candidates. And if it’s not partisan affiliation or the sound of your name, it’s how much money you can raise—which, as I said, undermines confidence in impartial justice.
Tyler Cowen has a front-page story in Time Magazine on why Texas has become a magnet for American population. Here is a sample:
To a lot of Americans, Texas feels like the future. And I would argue that more than any other state, Texas looks like the future as well — offering us a glimpse of what’s to come for the country at large in the decades ahead. America is experiencing ever greater economic inequality and the thinning of its middle class; Texas is already one of our most unequal states. America’s safety net is fraying under the weight of ballooning Social Security and Medicare costs; Texas’ safety net was built frayed. Americans are seeking out a cheaper cost of living and a less regulated climate in which to do business; Texas has that in spades. And did we mention there’s no state income tax?
Alas, Time now has a paywall, and I am not going to pay $5 to read a single article. Did anyone else actually read the article?
The Time Idea blog lists the top ten reasons Cowen identifies:
- 1. Everyone’s moving there
- 2. The middle-class squeeze
- 3. Automation
- 4. The skills gap
- 5. Cheap land, cheap houses
- 6. Cheap living generally
- 7. Jobs
- 8. Low taxes
- 9. The rise of the ‘New Cowboys’
This problem was made for Property class!
The Nasher contends that the developers of the $200 million tower, completed in January, have been intransigent in refusing to modify its reflective glass skin; the Nasher has proposed louvers for the facade.
Museum officials say the garden has had to be resodded twice because of the higher temperatures created by sunlight bouncing off the glass; that some trees have burned; and that light-blocking panels were needed for the roof during a recent Ken Price sculpture retrospective.
This is like the Fountainbleau Hotel, in reverse. The adjacent property doesn’t want the sunlight!
This would seem like a perfect application of the Coase Theorem. The ideal solution would be to add some sort of sun-light dampening device, though no such option seems available, short of redoing the entire exterior. In the alternative, the high-rise should pay for the cost of the burdens suffered by the museum. Though, there seems to be massive amounts of transaction costs–namely, the parties hate each other, and one side has turned to fake social media profiles to bolster his case.
I’ve blogged about other Coasean bargaining in Texas.
Smithsonian Magazine has a lengthy profile about Houston, aimed (I think) at the East-Coasters who see the Bayou City as nothing but a cowboy town. This is certainly how my parents perceived of it before they visited. After visiting, my mom gave it the ultimate compliment (from a Staten Islander at least)–”It’s like Jersey.”
So here’s the good:
A first-time visitor can still be bewildered by Houston’s sprawl: The population density is less than half that of Los Angeles. It’s the only major U.S. city with no formal zoning code—hence the chaotic and often disheveled urban landscape. Skyscrapers sprout between high schools, strip joints, restaurants and parking lots, all tied into the knots of endless concrete highways. And yet Houston has a thriving art scene, with a startling choice of museums and galleries, and its 17-block theater district claims to have the largest concentration of seats outside of Broadway. Last summer, Forbes declared Houston “the coolest city in America,” based on indices such as the number of cultural venues, the amount of designated green space, and, of course, ethnic diversity. It didn’t hurt that the Houston area has largely brushed off the recent recession, reporting 3.8 percent (non-farm) job growth in 2012, or that the city’s median age is only 32.1, compared with 37.2 for the United States as a whole in 2010.
And here’s the bad:
There are, however, some arguably ominous trends. Perhaps the most disturbing is that, according to the Pew Research Center, Houston is the most income-segregated of the ten largest U.S. metropolitan areas, with the greatest percentage of rich people living among the rich and the third-greatest percentage of poor people among the poor. And the new waves of immigrants are split between highly skilled college graduates (especially Asians), who effortlessly join the upper echelons of Houston, and poorly educated manual laborers (especially Latinos), who trim the lawns and wash restaurant dishes. “The great danger for the future of America is not an ethnic divide but class divide,” Klineberg warns. “And Houston is on the front line, where the gulf between rich and poor is widest. We have the Texas Medical Center, the finest medical facility in the world, but we also have the highest percentage of kids without health care. The inequality is so clear here.” All these forces add urgency to how Houston tackles its problems. “This is where America’s future is going to be worked out.”
I’ve now lived in Houston for a year, and I’ve been so pleasantly surprised. There is always so much to do, and so much to see. It’s a great place to live. I also take advantage of the lack of zoning to obtain relatively cheap housing in a great area that is really close to work.
For years, the Texas Supreme Court has been sought to offer do-it-yourself forms for uncontested divorces. To the surprise of no one, the family law section of the Texas Bar has opposed this change vociferously. I was recently talking with a friend who is a judge in Texas. He suggested that a small part of this opposition was based on a realistic concern that these forms may oversimplify things, and elide potential pitfalls couples may fall into. It is impossible to encapsulate all of the possibilites into a single, pre-printed form. However, the judge noted that most of the opposition comes from the simple fact that this change will eliminate business for the family lawyers.
Now, at long last, the forms were approved. Mary Flood reports:
From the it’s-about-time department – the Texas high court has OKd revised forms for folks who want a divorce and have no kids or real property holdings. It’s the quicky, no-lawyers divorce. Some would argue it should be available to even more folks. But this is what we have so far.
From the Texas Supreme Court June 18, 2013:
COURT APPROVES REVISED FORMS FOR UNCONTESTED DIVORCES FOR COUPLES WITHOUT CHILDREN OR REAL PROPERTY
In an order posted Tuesday the Texas Supreme Court issued revised do-it-yourself divorce forms deigned for poor couples without real-property holdings and children and without contested issues in their divorce.
The revised forms establish a section for a divorcing couple to identify retirement accounts each may hold and possibly to divide retirement in the final divorce decree. Any division of a retirement account, the forms note, must be enforced by a qualified domestic-relations order that should be prepared by an attorney.
The Court approved the initial divorce forms in November. They were immediately effective, subject to public comment. The revised forms become effective immediately. Order on revised divorce forms
I really have no speciality in Texas divorce law, other than the small unit I teach on Texas marital property. I blog about this development as an example of how the entrenched bar opposes developments to innovations to promote access to justice, that eliminate the need for lawyers. Some of the concern is valid (a point that technologists all-too-easily overlook), but much of the concern is motivated by self-protectionism. This year-long struggle over something as simple as forms is a preview of things to come as new forms of technology facilitate the practice of law.
Kudos to the Texas Supreme Court for persevering and offering this service to Texans.
My earliest memory of the Astrodome is from the movie Selena (yes, I am from New York). When I arrived in Houston, and went to my first Texas game at the nearby Reliant Stadium, I was stunned at how tiny and dumpy the Astrodome was. It paled in comparison to the nearby mega-stadium, and seemed totally abandoned. The fate of the Astrodome, once dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, has been a controversy in Houston for some time. But with the Superbowl coming to town in 2017, a renewed movement is afoot to do something about it. The NFL wants to turn it into parking lots. There seems to be plenty of parking nearby. Others want to turn it into some kind of green place.
Slattery’s plan, which has gained traction, involves a vision of green space. He would strip the Astrodome to its steel skeleton, evoking the Eiffel Tower of sport, and install a park. It could be used for football tailgating, livestock exhibitions, recreational sports. Other ideas have been floated through the years, some more realistic than others: music pavilion, casino, movie studio, hotel, museum, shopping mall, indoor ski resort, amusement park.
Land use decisions in Houston are always quirky.
Let’s see what happens.
What is it with squatters in Texas? During my first day of class, I introduced the story of Kenneth Robinson, who attempted to adversely possess a $300,000 home in Dallas. He failed, and was evicted by Bank of America.
Now, a squatter in Dallas is on trial for theft, including stealing clothing and furniture from a $400,000 home in Dallas while the owner was in Houston for cancer treatments.
A North Texas couple accused of “squatting” face up to life in prison if convicted of stealing furniture and clothing from a home while the owner was in Houston for cancer treatments.
David Cooper, 26, and Jasmine Williams, 23, both of DeSoto, each are charged with one count of burglary of a habitation, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term, and one count of property theft over $200,000, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Jury selection for their trial started Monday afternoon in Fort Worth.
In October 2011, Cooper paid $16 to file what is known as an affidavit of adverse possession with the county clerk’s office, claiming ownership of the $405,000, 4,320-square-foot home in Arlington. The obscure Texas law allows people to claim rights to otherwise unclaimed land after a period of time, typically 10 years, as long they maintain it and pay taxes on it.
It’s often used to resolve disputes between homeowners over driveways, lawns or other property with shared boundaries — but dozens of people in North Texas have started trying to use the law to file claims on foreclosed or temporarily empty homes.
Defense attorney Deborah Goodall says Cooper performed upkeep on the property and intended to live in the home.
“Our position is that you cannot commit burglary” if you have filed an affidavit of adverse possession, Goodall told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Burglary requires you to enter and the intent is to commit another offense, such as theft.”
During trial, David Cooper argued:
I actually had heard through the media and other sources that abandoned properties could be possessed through a claim called adverse possession.
Cooper also claimed he improved on the land by landscaping, and would have confronted the real owner to file suit against him. In other words, he wanted to make sure he was openly on the land, there was hostility, and he met the requisite period. This guy knows the requirements of AP!
I’d be willing to wager that Cooper heard of Robinson’s shtick.
The claims became popular last year, particularly after one man paid $16 to file a one-page claim to an empty, $340,000 home in the upscale Dallas suburb of Flower Mound. Kenneth Robinson placed a “No Trespassing” sign in the window, invited TV cameras inside for a tour and created a website where he offered an e-book and training sessions for would-be squatters.
Robinson apparently inspired dozens of imitators who moved into Dallas-Fort Worth area homes — some of which were still occupied. After a bank’s attorney went to court to have Robinson kicked out, he left on his own in February — about eight months after he moved in.
Last year, Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon deemed adverse possession affidavits “fraudulent” and directed the county clerk’s office not to accept them. Dozens of people had taken ownership of more than $8 million of Tarrant County property.
It happened. Legal History Blog plucks out a gem from John Frank’s article on judicial disqualification.
With a little ingenuity, a situation of “necessity” can occasionally be avoided. Thus in a case in which all the members of the Teas Supreme Court were Woodmen of the World and hence the entire court vas disqualified in a case involving that group, the Governor appointed a special court of three women. For the resultant three opinions see Johnson v. Darr, 144 Tex. 516, 272 S. W. 1098 (1925).
From The Economist:
Houston, in other words, is going green. Laura Spanjian, the city’s director of sustainability, says that businesses are increasingly likely to get on board if they can see the long-term savings or the competitive advantages that flow from creating a more attractive city. She adds an important clarification: “We’re not mandating that they have to do this.” That would not go down well. Houston is the capital of America’s energy industry, and its leaders have traditionally been wary of environmental regulation, both at home and abroad.
In fact the city has been sceptical of regulations in general, and even more of central planning. Houston famously has no zoning, which helps explain why the city covers some 600 square miles. It is America’s fourth-largest city by population, but less than half as densely populated as sprawling Los Angeles. People are heavily dependent on cars, the air quality is poor and access to green space is haphazard. At the same time, Houston has jobs, a low cost of living and cheap property. Many people have accepted that trade-off. Between 2000 and 2010 the greater metropolitan area added more than 1.2m people, making it America’s fastest-growing city.
Still, the public is taking more interest in sustainability, and for a number of reasons. As the city’s population has swelled, the suburbs have become more crowded. Some of the growth has come from the domestic migration of young professionals with a taste for city life. And despite living in an oil-industry hub, the people of Houston are still aware of the cost of energy; during the summer of 2008, when petrol prices hovered around $4 a gallon, the papers reported a surge of people riding their bicycles to bus stops so that they could take public transport to work.
The two top-winners “cast lots.”
fter Diana Newland and Edward Lapeyre each won 111 votes in arunoff election Saturday and a recount confirmed the result yesterday, Texas election code forced the two to “cast lots.” A nearby pair of dice settled the matter: Newland rolled a five, whileLapeyre came up short with a four.
“It seemed odd, but after discussing it [with Lapeyre], we were just ready to get it over with,” Newland said, adding that her opponent was gracious about his misfortune. “I could not have gone out and campaigned a third time, and we had already gotten people to come out twice, bless their hearts.”
The decisive roll followed two failed attempts. Lapeyre’s first roll skipped off the table, and the city secretary had decreed beforehand that a do-over would be triggered by that outcome. When the second throws yielded a tie, Newland said she became “frayed around the edges.”
But the third roll ended a race that Newland said had the town of 10,000 abuzz with anticipation since Saturday’s inconclusive runoff.
Lapeyre did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
What happens when a Texas farm-owner refuses to let TransCanada build the Keystone XL pipeline across his land? Eminent domain, of course:
But TransCanada did not go away. Their people kept coming back, offering more and more money.
Then on Aug. 26, 2011, Ms. Crawford received a letter from Keystone, TransCanada’s American subsidiary. The letter made a “final offer” of $21,626. Then, it said, “if Keystone is unable to successfully negotiate the voluntary acquisition of the necessary easements, it will have to resort to the exercise of its statutory right of eminent domain.”
“In other words,” Ms. Crawford said, “sign or we’ll take it.”
The deadline on the offer was three days later. When she read the letter, Ms. Crawford said, “I panicked. I didn’t know if that meant they were going to take just the pipeline easement, or the whole pasture, or the whole farm.”
Ms. Crawford, 52, who serves as the farm’s manager, called the rest of the family. They agreed to sign. “We thought that at least if we signed we’d have some say in what happened,” she said.
They called the TransCanada representative. “He told us that if we could come up with a contract that worked for both parties, they wouldn’t condemn the land,” Ms. Crawford said.
So she and her brother spent hours bent over the kitchen table going over the lease agreement, creating a version they could live with. She presented their version to TransCanada.
“I fully expected them to counter,” she said. “There were about five or six things we wanted, and we would have been happy to take one or two.”
Then, she said, TransCanada “went full radio silence.” The Crawfords never heard back from them — until October, when they got a letter saying their land had been condemned and a lease awarded to TransCanada.
The Times has a nice discussion of eminent domain law in the lonestar state:
But as the Crawfords discovered, when voluntary compensation agreements are not reached, Texas law allows certain private pipeline companies to use the right of eminent domain to force landowners to let pipelines through. This was true even for TransCanada, which has yet to get State Department permission to bring the Keystone XL across the Alberta border.
The Crawfords’ condemnation hearing happened in front of a district judge. They were not invited to that hearing — landowners in Texas do not get to go to the actual condemnation hearing. They are invited only to the next step, after the condemnation, when a three-person panel of county landowners decides on a value for the property being condemned.
John Pieratt, Ms. Crawford’s lawyer, told her not to go to that appraisal hearing.
“These landowners only look at value,” Mr. Pieratt said. “By the time you get there, a judge has already decided to condemn. There’s an argument that just by showing up you agree to their right to take the land.
“The only way Texas law allows you access to a judge is if you appeal the condemnation.”
So the Crawfords are appealing. Their hearing is scheduled for July 9.
Update: Ilya Somin points out that in some cases, broad eminent domain powers do not serve the interests of environmentalists (who tend to be very pro-Kelo):
Back in 2006, co-blogger Jonathan Adler and I published an article explaining the environmental dangers of allowing the use of eminent domain for private economic development projects, as the Supreme Court ruled in the Kelo case. At the time, some environmentalists pooh-pooed the article, and one group even declared our article the environmental “outrage of the month” (it must have been a slow month for actual pollution). Ironically, as Jonathan explained here, several environmental groups are now trying to use post-Kelo reform laws restricting economic development takings to block the Keystone takings.
In (my soon-to-be) home state of Texas, there has been a kerfuffle brewing for some time. Some want to offer pro se litigants standard divorce forms, so they can file for divorce without having to pay for a lawyer. As one might suspect, family lawyers oppose these forms. Of course, their rationale is that the forms are defective, and do not protect a pro se litigant’s interests the same way a lawyer could.
In fact, they looked at the form and found over 70 deficiencies!
A coalition of four family law groups — the State Bar’s Family Law Section, the Texas Family Law Foundation, the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists — examined the divorce forms and highlighted “defects” in an April 10 Response to the Report of the Uniform Forms Task Force.
Family Law Foundation lobbyist Steve Bresnen says some of the most important deficiencies involve a failure to require petitioners to state a court’s jurisdiction over a respondent who doesn’t meet jurisdictional requirements; and a misstatement of the law about what constitutes separate property. The response lists over 70 other alleged problems.
Bresnen says the “defects” show the Uniform Forms Task Force has “produced a set of forms that are so thoroughly defective it demonstrates they don’t really have the capacity to do this in a way that will protect the public from the very things we’ve been concerned about.”
The standard (and primary) rationale for occupational licensing–this is what the bar does here: limits filing of divorces to lawyers–is protection of the public interest. I don’t know anything about Texas divorce law, so I really have no opinion about these seventy errors.
But, query. If many litigants use these forms, wouldn’t it be safe to say that fewer lawyers would be hired? I wonder. Just wonder. If that concern, perhaps, animates the opposition to the forms. Especially in light of the fact that there are not enough Pro Bono lawyers to handle these pro se divorces.
In an April 6 report, the TAJC supports the creation of standardized divorce forms for indigent pro se litigants. The TAJC report notes it’s best for litigants to have lawyers and says it works to increase legal-aid funding and pro bono resources. But with six million Texans below the poverty line, those efforts only help 20 percent of indigent litigants.
“[E]ven if every lawyer were required to represent at least one pro bono client, we would still only be able to serve less than 40% of the poor who seek help from legal aid,” says the report.
The report notes other states with standardized forms report they increase access to the courts for the poor, improve judicial efficiency, and benefit lawyers by making pro bono work easier and attracting limited-scope representation business.
“There’s a huge group of poor people who have legal needs, and there’s never going to be enough lawyers to help,” says TAJC Executive Director Trish McAllister, adding that indigents are already filing pro se cases, and standardized forms won’t hurt them or lawyers.
So, I suppose the question is, would we rather have poor litigants who can’t afford lawyers, and do it by themselves with little guidance, or spend money on a lawyer they can’t understand; or poor litigants who use this form, and do it themselves–not as well as an attorney could, but better than they could themselves. I don’t know the answer to that question. Access to justice, and especially technology that enables non-lawyers to access the law, is only good insofar as it actually helps them.
This is something I should probably pay attention to.
J. O. Dawdy, who has been a farmer for 36 years, is so worried about getting enough groundwater that he is considering a lawsuit to protect his right to it.
As sleet pounded his West Texas farmhouse one recent afternoon, Mr. Dawdy and three other farmers said that new regulations — which limit the amount of water they can withdraw from the Ogallala Aquifer and require that new wells have meters to measure use — could have crippling effects on their livelihoods.
“We view it as a real property-rights violation,” said Mr. Dawdy, who grows cotton. If the restrictions had been in place last year during the drought, he said, his land would not have produced a crop.
Water is a contentious issue across Texas, but tensions have been especially high in a 16-county groundwater conservation district stretching from south of Lubbock into the Panhandle, an area considered part of America’s “breadbasket.” There, farmers reliant on the slowly diminishing Ogallala are fighting to maintain their right to pump unrestricted amounts of water. The issue gained urgency last month when a landmark Texas Supreme Court opinion confirmed that landowners own the water beneath their property, in the same way they own the oil and gas.
The ruling opens up water districts like the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, which covers the 16-county West Texas area and is the largest such district, to litigation from landowners, said Amy Hardberger, a water expert with the Environmental Defense Fund and a visiting professor at Texas Tech University’s School of Law. The West Texas clash, she added, is a “micro-sample of what could be happening all across Texas.” . . .
The situation reflects a basic conundrum in Texas groundwater policy, as it has evolved through the courts and the Legislature: groundwater is owned by landowners, but groups like High Plains can regulate it.
Robert Glennon, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Rogers College of Law, said that Texas is virtually the only state that functions by the “rule of capture,” which allows landowners to pump essentially unlimited amounts of water.
“Elsewhere in the U.S., groundwater is a public resource, and the state allows people to use the resource,” he said. A number of other states — including Colorado, Arizona and Idaho — have restricted the amount of water farmers can pump, he said. . . .
Many legal analysts say that the recent Texas Supreme Court ruling could make regulating groundwater tougher, though its full effects will not be known until after further court decisions. Ms. Hardberger said that groundwater districts might delay enacting new rules because of it. At High Plains, “We don’t see the need for a change” because of the ruling, Mr. Conkwright said.
Mr. Dawdy is one of five board members of a group called the Protect Water Rights Coalition. Even before the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, they had prepared a lawsuit challenging the High Plains regulations, but they have not yet filed it.
“We all realize,” Mr. Dawdy said, “that that’s the last resort.”
Beginning in 2012 and continuing through 2013, all persons owning or operating an existing, new, or pre-district well or well system pumping groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer must limit the total amount of production to 1.75 acre-feet (21 inches) per contiguous acre per year.
The production limit drops to 1.5 acre-feet (18 inches) per contiguous acre per year during 2014-2015, and is lowered to 1.25 acre-feet (15 inches) per contiguous acre per year in 2016 and beyond.