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Texplainer: Can a Judge Still Serve After Losing an Election?

Ever wonder what a defeated judge is doing up on the bench? Texplainer's got your answer.

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Welcome to The Texas Tribune's "Texplainer" series, where we answer questions from readers like you. 

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Hey, Texplainer: Why are some judges allowed to continue on the bench even after they lose an election?

Sometimes even judges need a break. So, in the event that a sitting judge cannot preside over a case, a visiting judge can. Consider them substitute teachers of the judiciary realm, or a relief pitcher. 

Although they're not currently elected by citizens, they can come in if a judge is sick, if a case drags on too long or if a judge is on vacation. The county pays them the same amount for their services, about $550 a day, and they stick around until the case is done. So, they aren't re-enacting the glory days of their judicial tenure; they're meant to provide relief for judges who, for whatever reason, can't continue a case. 

Current law allows either side to strike a judge from a case if the visiting judge was defeated in the same county in the previous election, said Carl Reynolds, executive director of the Texas Judicial Council. But that still means that a judge can preside in a different county if there's a need.

But that could soon change. 

State Rep. John Garza, R-San Antonio, filed a bill this session that would prohibit the use of judges who previously served in the post or who were defeated in the last election. Said Garza, "Not elected equals not accountable." He believes the process currently allows judges who were defeated by popular vote a backdoor into the courtroom again and that voters elect new judges for a reason. 

Bottom line: Even when judges loses an election, they can still get another shot at the gavel in another county — for now. 

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