Courts of appeals have intermediate appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases appealed from district or county courts in a specific geographical region of the state. The 8th Court of Appeals covers El Paso County and 16 other West Texas counties. Court of appeals justices are paid approximately $193,000, depending on years on the bench.
Who’s running for this seat?
Candidates were asked to limit their responses to 100 words. Responses have been lightly edited for grammar.
How will you help build trust in the judicial system?
Jeff Alley: Most important is to do a good job at being a justice. Every case we decide must come with an opinion that explains our reasoning. When those published opinions are clear, well-written and reasoned, litigants who digest those opinions will understand their case was decided on a fair application of the law to the facts. Second, I have tried to take to heart Chief Justice John Roberts’ urging for all judges to educate the public on the third branch of government.
Lisa Soto: My plan is to commit my full time and attention, including the time I currently spend in my community service activities, to the court. Especially as a new justice, I will endeavor to build trust by working hard for the community; making decisions with the utmost care and integrity; and to the extent permissible, I would like to share my productivity levels with the community. This court is unique in that while voters elect individual justices, this court of appeals district can only operate well and build trust with the collaboration and efforts of all three justices.
How many cases have you represented on appeal, and what types of cases?
Jeff Alley: My resume listed over 30 published opinions in cases that I worked on while in my 29 years of private practice. I worked on more appeals, because not every case results in a final opinion. As a staff attorney at the court, I worked up over 170 cases for my chamber. As a justice, I have authored opinions in more than 250 cases. I have sat on panels of over 750 appeals. The cases span the waterfront of both civil and criminal law.
Lisa Soto: I have not maintained a count of the appeals I’ve been involved in over the course of my 25-year career. Areas of appeals I have covered include civil rights law, constitutional law, labor and employment law, child protection law, and school law.
The 8th Court of Appeals is frequently criticized because of a large case backlog. What is the reason for the backlog, and how would you reduce it?
Jeff Alley: The court has historically suffered when one justice, for whatever reason, cannot function at 100%. It has also struggled when its staff, which is already lean, suffers turnover. In the 2021 term, the court was fully staffed, and all three experienced justices were fully productive. As a result, the court had the highest clearance rate of any of the 14 courts of appeals. So the answer is simple: experienced justices working with a fully staffed court will keep the docket current.
Lisa Soto: The backlog, simply stated, exists because opinions have not been issued quickly enough over time (due to various legitimate factors, some of which likely won’t change). If elected, I will urge our other justices on this court to agree to and commit to self-imposed timelines for reviewing cases upon submission, circulating draft opinions, and coming to decisions on each other’s cases to avoid bottlenecks in the process. I cannot reduce the backlog alone. The further behind we are as a three-member court, the higher over a 100% clearance rate we need to catch up (unless cases are removed from us).
A proposal surfaced in the 87th Texas Legislature (2021) to reduce the number of state appeals courts. Do you support or oppose such proposals? Please explain.
Jeff Alley: The plan that was previously circulated was not properly vetted by all the stakeholders and failed. But I would support a plan that gives our court additional justices and that better balances the number of voters in rural versus metropolitan areas. Because at least three justices must decide an appeal, a three-justice court is at risk of not timely completing its tasks if one of the justices takes ill or cannot perform their duties. This Court would be stronger with 4 or 5 justices.
Lisa Soto: I am gravely concerned about proposals to consolidate the courts of appeal in a manner that would threaten our regional court seat. For many years at the State Bar of Texas level, I worked hard to ensure that El Paso and West Texas were well-represented. I have spent a career fighting for equal access to justice in many regards, and I will do my part to advance the work of this court so that the appeals court remains accessible by retaining its El Paso/West Texas seat.
What does your party affiliation tell voters about how you’ll rule as an appellate judge?
Jeff Alley: Very little, other than to say that my personal philosophy more closely aligns with the stated positions of the Republican Party on fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, and equality of opportunity (acknowledging that the party does not always live up to its goals). But our cases are decided on an application of law (which is usually well-settled) to the facts of a particular case. Politics has nothing to do with it.
Lisa Soto: My party affiliation as a Democrat, along with everything else I have done in and for the community throughout my career, shows voters who I am as a person. How I will rule as an appellate judge will depend on the record of each case before me, the state of the law at that time, and the standards my oath requires me to uphold as a member of the judiciary. When administered with integrity and according to strict professional standards, the public can rely on and have confidence in our judicial system.
read more about this race
Republican Justice Jeffrey Alley, a Gov. Greg Abbott appointee, faces first-time challenger Lisa Soto for the Place 2 seat on the El Paso-based 8th Court of Appeals.