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TribBlog: O'Neill Signs Off

Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill, who isn't seeking reelection to the court, also isn't finishing her term. She told Gov. Rick Perry and the other members of the court today that she will step down from the bench on June 20.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill

Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill, who isn't seeking reelection to the court, also isn't finishing her term. She told Gov. Rick Perry and the other members of the court today that she will step down from the bench on June 20.

O'Neill, a Republican initially elected to the court in 1998, has been a judge for 18 years. She announced last year she wouldn't seek reelection and there's been wide speculation that she would leave the court before her term ends in January. The governor gets to appoint someone to serve the rest of the term. Among the choices are the three candidates who've been nominated by the major parties: Republican Debra Lehrmann, Democrat Jim Sharp, and Libertarian William Bryan Strange III. Perry isn't bound to choose any of them, but naming, say, Lehrmann, whould give her the fundraising advantages of an incumbent appellate judge. 

Here's the court's announcement:

Justice Harriet O’Neill, who announced last year she would not seek re-election, today sent notice to Texas Governor Rick Perry of her resignation as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas effective June 20. O’Neill became the first woman elected to the Court to preside as Chief Justice, when she was the senior justice on the bench during oral argument. When she leaves, she will be the longest-serving woman justice in the Court’s history.

“I am deeply grateful for the unique opportunity to have served the people of this great state during my nearly 18-year tenure on the district court, the court of appeals and the Supreme Court of Texas,” O’Neill said. “It has been an honor to serve with men and women of the highest integrity. I hope that my service has justified the confidence that the voters have placed in me.”

“To say Justice O’Neill will be missed on this Court would be an understatement,” Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said. “In addition to her tremendous contribution to Texas law, her legacy will be a vastly improved judicial process for abused and neglected children and a determined effort by the Legislature and attorneys across the state to improve the delivery of legal services to people who cannot afford lawyers.”
 
Justice O’Neill joined the Court in January 1999, having been elected the previous November. She had been a justice on Houston’s 14th District Court of Appeals and, before that, a Harris County district judge.

Explaining her decision to leave the court before her term expires in December, O’Neill said: “After careful consideration, I timed my departure to cause the least disruption to the Court’s docket.”

O’Neill spearheaded the Supreme Court’s creation of the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families, a coordinated effort to improve court practice and enhance resources for children under court supervision. She was also a founding member of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, which seeks to improve the administration of justice by ensuring that people with basic civil legal needs have access to the courts, regardless of income.
 
Justice O’Neill will announce her future plans after June 20.

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