Getting to Bottom of Perry-Patterson Pickle
Questions go unanswered in district court appointment process
When we asked Gov. Rick Perry's press office earlier this month whether or not the governor had asked Austin Sen. Kirk Watson to consider 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Jan Patterson for possible appointment to Travis County's 353rd Civil District Court bench, we were told by spokesman Chris Cutrone on Oct. 9 that the Chronicle would have to file an open records request for that information; he could not answer the question, he said, but filing a request for records would provide a "clearer picture" about what transpired.
So we did. That same evening. And on Oct. 21, we got our answer in an e-mail: "After reviewing our records," Mark Adams, of Perry's general counsel office, wrote, "we have determined that the Office of the Governor has no documents responsive to your request."
Instead of the clearer picture Cutrone promised, the situation is as opaque as it was when we first inquired about Perry's handling of the appointment process for the court seat made vacant by the untimely death of Democratic Judge Scott Ozmun.
On Oct. 26, we again called Perry's office, asking Cutrone why he said we should file a public information request for information that doesn't exist and restated our original question: Did Perry bring Patterson's name to Watson for consideration as an appointee to the 353rd Court? Cutrone said he'd have to call back with the answer; on Oct. 27 he e-mailed to say that Perry's office does not "comment on any conversations between our office and Senator Watson's." However, he continued, "we did give Justice Patterson serious and thorough consideration for this appointment."
As we reported on Oct. 16, Patterson wrote a letter to Perry in July saying she would like to be considered for the district court job. Patterson said Perry had pursued her for the appointment and that after turning him down several times she finally relented – deciding a "short cut" to election wasn't an unappealing idea, she said. Ultimately she said that she's glad she didn't get the job (which went to Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Rose), and she's happy to run next year for the 201st District Court seat now held by Judge Suzanne Covington, who will retire next year.
Given Patterson's explanation of what happened, Cutrone's response prompted another question: Did Perry's office actually pursue Patterson for the district court job, or was it Patterson who pursued the appointment? According to Cutrone, Patterson's account is not accurate: Patterson sent a letter stating her interest in the job, he wrote in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon. "Justice Patterson had previously submitted an application to our appointments office for another appointment, and later submitted a letter stating her interest in the 353rd Judicial District Civil Court," he wrote. When asked for clarification, he reiterated the same: "I've already answered that question – that she submitted a letter stating her interest" in the job. At press time, Patterson had not responded to a request for a response.
The news that Patterson would even consider jumping in midterm from the 3rd Court to an open district court seat set off alarm bells in Democratic party circles: The 3rd Court is an important one and has become increasingly partisan in recent years. For Patterson to leave her post there a year early would be as good as ceding that seat to the Republicans, a circumstance Perry would welcome and one that would give any Republican appointee the chance to run next year as a quasi-incumbent.
In the race to fill the 201st on Travis County's all-blue bench, Patterson has yet to draw an opponent.