Texas Court of Appeals (14th):
An Inventory of Case Files at the Texas State Archives, 1967-1975
Three characteristics of the judicial system in Texas distinguish it from the national norm: it has two appellate courts of last resort, its trial courts do not have uniform jurisdiction of subject matter, and its judges are chosen in partisan elections. The state has three levels of trial courts-district, county, and inferior-and there is no uniformity of jurisdiction among the courts at each level. To be sure of a trial court's jurisdiction, one must examine the statute that established it. There are two levels of appellate courts: the courts of appeals and the two courts of last resort, which are the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court. The appellate level courts are the courts of appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Supreme Court.
Following Reconstruction, the Texas Supreme Court became overwhelmed with cases on appeal. To help relieve the burden, the Texas Court of Appeals (later known as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) was created by constitutional amendment in 1876 and an intermediate level of appeals courts for civil cases was established by constitutional amendment in 1891 (Texas Constitution, Article V, Section 1). At an 1892 special session called to implement the 1891 constitutional amendment , the 22nd Texas Legislature, through Senate Bill 18, divided the state into three supreme judicial districts. These new courts of civil appeals (later renamed courts of appeals) were given jurisdiction over most civil appeals from the district and county courts; further review by the Supreme Court was discretionary with that court. The courts of civil appeals were also given original jurisdiction of appeals in non-capital criminal cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals was given jurisdiction for discretionary review of the decisions. The system of intermediate appellate courts made it possible for the Supreme Court to regulate its docket by exercising its discretion to deny review of most appeals. Another advantage of the new courts was that the capacity of the civil appellate system could be expanded by the formation of more courts of civil appeals.
In 1967 the state was divided into fourteen court of appeals districts by an amendment to the Texas Constitution (Article V, Section 1); in each is a court of appeals that has a chief justice and at least two other justices, who serve four-year terms. Courts of appeals hear most appeals from the county and district trial courts (the biggest exception being death-penalty cases, which go directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals). An appeal to these courts is based on the written record of a trial. The appellate courts do not hear witnesses. The decisions of the courts of appeals may be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals (in criminal law matters) or the Supreme Court (in other kinds of cases), except that the decisions of the courts of appeals on questions of fact are conclusive.
The Fourteenth Court of Appeals is composed of a Chief Justice and eight justices. It has intermediate appellate jurisdiction of both civil and criminal cases appealed from lower courts in thirteen Texas counties; in civil cases where judgment rendered exceeds $100, exclusive of costs, and other civil proceedings as provided by law; and in criminal cases except in post -conviction writs of habeas corpus and where the death penalty has been imposed (Texas Government Code Annotated, Section 22.201). The Fourteenth Court serves the Houston, Texas area, hearing cases from the following counties: Austin, Brazoria, Burleson, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Trinity, Walker, Waller, and Washington. The Court disposed of a total of 1,430 cases in fiscal year 2002.
Records consist of appeal briefs, opinions, transcripts, decisions, exhibits, motions, and correspondence that comprise the 1967-1975 case files of the Texas Court of Appeals (14th). Researchers should note that the exhibits included in the cases can date back to, at least, the 1950s. The documents provide evidence of the activities of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in the adjudication of Texas civil court cases. All case files bear numbers assigned by the initial trial court and the appeal case number, but the cases can only be accessed by the vault number assigned by the Fourteenth Court.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
Restrictions on Access
The Case files are in off-site storage. Records requested before 10:00 a.m. will usually be available for review by an archivist by 4:00 p.m. the same day. Records requested after 10:00 a.m. and before 3:00 p.m will usually be available for review by an archivist by noon the next day.
Case files may possibly contain documents sealed by the court, and therefore excepted from public disclosure by the Texas Public Information Act, Section 552.107(2). When a researcher requests a case, the file will be reviewed by an archivist in order to remove sealed documents. The researcher will be informed that sealed documents have been removed from the file and it will then be up to the researcher to obtain permission from the 14th Court of Appeals to access the documents.
Case files may possibly also contain personal information of jurors and prospective jurors. According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 35.29, information collected by the court or by a prosecuting attorney during the jury selection process about a person who serves as a juror, including the juror's home address, home telephone number, social security number, driver's license number, and other personal information, is confidential and may not be disclosed by the court, the prosecuting attorney, the defense counsel, or any court personnel except on application by a party in the trial or on application by a bona fide member of the news media acting in such capacity to the court in which the person is serving or did serve as a juror. On a showing of good cause, the court shall permit disclosure of the information sought. (Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 371, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993) The Court of Criminal Appeals has verified that juror information is to be withheld from the public according to the statute cited above. Therefore, when a case is requested, an archivist will review the case to ascertain whether or not juror information is present. If such information is found, the researcher will be informed and the documents will be removed from the file. If an individual wishes to access juror information, they will have to obtain permission from the 14th Court of Appeals. Because the judiciary is not covered by the Texas Public Information Act, the Archives cannot estimate how long it will take the Court to respond to a request.
Case files may possibly also contain non-court documents. Before a researcher is granted access to a case, an archivist will review the files and remove all such materials. The researcher will be informed if materials are removed. If the researcher wishes to access the documents, the Archives will contact the 14th Court of Appeals to determine the appropriate course of action on a case-by-case basis. Because the judiciary is not covered by the Texas Public Information Act, the Archives cannot estimate how long it will take the Court to respond to a request.
Restrictions on Use
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted and may be freely used in any way. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
(Identify the item), Case files, Texas Court of Appeals (14th). Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: 1980/307, 1982/116, 1985/216
These records were transferred to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, a Regional Historical Resource Depository [RHRD] of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, by the Fourteenth District Court of Civil Appeals on July 1, 1980; October 6, 1981; and August 29, 1985. In 2003, the Houston Metropolitan Research Center chose to drop its RHRD status and the records of the Fourteenth Court were shipped to the Texas State Archives in Austin during December 2003.
Nancy Enneking, April 2004
Detailed Description of the Records