If you weren’t watching the House until the bitter end Thursday night, you missed a, well, bitter end. It was one of those moments when an apparently innocuous bill pulls back the curtain on the enmity and suspicion that lingers behind it. The occasion was HB 2068 by Hartnett, which said that the parties in a civil or family lawsuit that has been assigned to a trial judge could agree to have their case heard by a retired judge, and the trial judge SHALL (a change in the law from “may”) grant the request. What’s the big deal? you may ask. The big deal is that last November the Democrats won every contested judicial race in Dallas County, and Yvonne Davis and other Ds suspected that Hartnett’s bill allowed litigants who didn’t like the Democratic judge assigned to hear their case to make an end run to a retired Republican judge. Hartnett professed total innocence, said the idea wasn’t even on his radar screen, said all he wanted to do was clean up uncontested divorce cases so that the parties could go to a law office rather than sit around court all day waiting for their case to be called, but the assault continued and he postponed the bill to the end of the calendar. In the end, Hartnett tweaked the bill to specify that it applied only to uncontested matters and it passed easily, but not before revealing the partisan tensions that still churn below the surface.
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