Judges Talk Judges

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A third judge is now in place for Tom DeLay's court proceedings, with two previous jurists out as a result of political contributions they'd previously made. As three Brazos County judges will be quick to tell you -- including one from past experience -- the potential for recusal is something that must weigh on their mind.

"We have to be very careful about that," said 272nd District Court Judge Rick Davis, "and often times, a judge has to voluntarily sacrifice that right for the benefit of the judiciary and the perception of the judiciary as a whole."

"Each of those cases have to be decided on a case-by-case basis," said 85th District Court Judge J.D. Langley, "because there are situations where it would not be proper for a judge."

Recusal is not necessarily a politically-driven decision. More often than not, it isn't. But there is a very political side that Texas judges must face: reelection. The Lone Star State is one of the lone states to still elect judges.

"It used to be that nobody cared about this issue," said Brazos County Court #1 Judge Randy Michel. "Nowadays, it seems like there's more discussion about it. It could change."

Since the writing of the state's constitutions in the 1870s, no challenge to the election has forced change, although many judges say the farther the judges move up in the system, the farther they get from the electorate, and the more possibility for appointment rather than election.

"You do get the Gene Kelly, who runs frequently and gets votes because they think they're voting for the person who sang Singing in the Rain," said Michel.

"I like elections for judges," said Davis. "It keeps us accountable to the electorate, to the people. We're closer to the people. We deal with the day-in and day-out disputes."

And as they all would agree, especially the only judge to unseat an incumbent in a Brazos County run-off, an election can enter into the decision-maker's mind.

"The day I start considering a reelection in making a decision is the day I'm going to quit," said Langley.