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- Leading Texas law firms pay subsidies worth tens of thousands of dollars to the Texas Supreme Court clerks whom they have recruited to work for them after their clerkship. These clerks exercise significant influence over court proceedings.
- This practice appears to violate the plain language of the “Bribery and Corrupt Influence” chapter of Texas’ penal code, which bars state judicial employees from accepting “any benefit” from interests with business before the court. The practice aggravates persistent concerns that the court’s coziness with wealthy special interests could influence its official actions.
- The Texas Supreme Court says its internal ethics policies constitute a “Chinese Wall” that bars clerks from working on matters involving future employers that have provided them with lucrative perks. Yet the court’s internal ethics policies are often contradictory and lack rigor. The court says it keeps no written records of which clerks have been recused from which cases.
- Using the best available information, this report identifies 76 clerks who faced potential conflicts at the court from 1992 through 2000 because their immediate future employer had one or more cases pending there during their clerkship. These clerks faced 402 potential conflicts posed by 154 different Supreme Court cases.
- Just four major firms (Baker & Botts, Vinson & Elkins, Fulbright & Jaworski and Bracewell and Patterson) accounted for 70 percent of these potential conflicts. These firms and eight others that are known to pay hiring perks to Supreme Court clerks accounted for 84 percent of all identified potential conflicts.
- A Baker & Botts recruit in the 1997-98 clerkship year set a record when his future employer had 21 cases pending before the court during his clerkship.
- Vinson & Elkins was the only firm to recruit four clerks during a single clerkship year (it did this both in the 1998-1999 cycle and again in the current cycle). Court records indicate that both of Justice Deborah Hankinson’s current clerks are Vinson & Elkins recruits, leaving her with no clerk who lacks financial ties to this firm.
- To prevent further wear and tear on its already tarnished reputation, the court should immediately prohibit its employees from taking salaries or other benefits from any interests that bring business before the court. Any court employee recruited for future employment should be recused from all court matters involving that employer. All employment relations and recusals should be made public.
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