St. Mary's Law Journal


Phil Hardberger


Beginning in the late 1980s, the Texas Supreme Court saw a slew of conservative judges elected to the bench. With this new Court, previous expansions of the law were stopped. Jury verdicts became highly suspect and were frequently overturned for a variety of reasons. Damages too did not go unnoticed. Juries’ assessments were wiped out by increasingly harsher standards. The ripple effect of the Court’s conservative philosophy on the judicial process was substantial. Jury verdicts, few as they may be, are not subject to harsh scrutiny by conscientious appellate judges sworn to follow the Texas Supreme Court’s precedent. And the larger the verdict, the greater the chance of reversal. Apologists frequently point out the excesses of the conservative court are no worse than the 1980s court, whose opinions were slanted the other way. While it’s true that no judge is completely objective, it is this imperfection that should require every judge to be as objective as possible. For almost a decade, the Phillips/Hecht Court has ignored, trivialized, or written around jury verdicts. In every area of the law, the Phillips/Hecht Court has overturned or limited potential recovery by injured individuals. In all areas of the law, concepts of duty, causation, no-evidence, and qualifications of experts have been greatly altered. Because stare decisis is so important and virtually a commandment to both an intermediary appellate and trial court, these concepts may stay as the Court has crafted them. Each decision in these various areas of the law chips away at an injured party’s ability to present a case to a jury. Although lip service is given to the importance of the jury, the decisions of the Court demonstrate the jury verdict does not mean much. This erosion of the jury’s significance undercuts a major tenant of democracy.


St. Mary's University School of Law