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In re Powell

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

April 5, 2017

In re MATTHEW POWELL, LUBBOCK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, relator
v.
HONORABLE MARK HOCKER, COUNTY COURT AT LAW NUMBER ONE OF LUBBOCK COUNTY, respondent

         ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS FROM LUBBOCK COUNTY

          OPINION

          Yeary, J.

         In Padilla v. McDaniel, 122 S.W.3d 805, 808 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003), we held that, "when a court of appeals and this court have concurrent, original jurisdiction of a petition for a writ of mandamus against the judge of a district or county court, the petition should be presented first to the court of appeals unless there is a compelling reason not to do so." In this original mandamus proceeding, Relator, Matthew Powell, who is the District Attorney of Lubbock County, would have this Court compel Respondent, Judge Hocker, a county court at law judge, to rule in a certain way in a discovery dispute arising from a misdemeanor prosecution for driving while intoxicated (DWI). We filed and set the cause to address, first, whether the court of appeals has concurrent jurisdiction such that Relator should have filed his application for writ of mandamus in that court under Padilla. We hold that the court of appeals does not have concurrent jurisdiction and that Relator therefore properly filed his original mandamus application in this Court. On the merits of the mandamus issue, we hold that Relator has satisfied the criteria for obtaining mandamus relief.

         BACKGROUND

         Ellen Wilson, the real party in interest in this case, was charged with misdemeanor DWI in the County Court at Law Number One of Lubbock County. Her attorney obtained discovery under the recent amendments to Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the so-called "Michael Morton Act." Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 39.14, as amended by Acts 2013, 83rd Leg., ch. 49, § 2, p. 106, eff. Jan. 1, 2014. Subsection (f) of Article 39.14 permits a defense attorney to "allow a defendant . . . to view the [discovery] information provided under this article, " but the defense attorney "may not allow" the defendant "to have copies of the information provided[.]" Id. § (f).[1] Wilson's attorney filed a motion to "release" her client from this prohibition contained in Article 39.14(f); in a brief filed in support of the motion, she prayed that the county court at law would "permit defense counsel to give her client a properly redacted copy of the requested items of the State's evidence." She did not claim that her client had been unable to "view" the discovery materials in her possession, as the statute expressly permits. Instead, she claimed that it was important that her client also be able to obtain her own copies of those materials in order to effectively help counsel prepare her defense. At the conclusion of a non-evidentiary hearing, Judge Hocker granted Wilson's motion, over the State's objection, but stayed the effect of his ruling pending a State's application for writ of mandamus. Judge Hocker commented: "I look forward to hearing what the wise men in Amarillo have to say. And I'll abide by whatever they rule."

         But rather than file its original mandamus action in the Amarillo Court of Appeals, the State filed it directly with this Court. Citing the opinion of another court of appeals in In re Meyer, 482 S.W.3d 706 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2016), the State argued that filing its mandamus application in this Court was appropriate, notwithstanding Padilla, because the courts of appeals lack jurisdiction to issue the writ of mandamus against a judge of a statutorily created county court. We filed and set the cause and ordered additional briefing. We asked the parties to address both the question whether the court of appeals has concurrent mandamus jurisdiction with this Court, such that the State should have filed its original application in that court consistent with Padilla, and, if not, whether the State is entitled to the mandamus relief it seeks.[2]

         MANDAMUS JURISDICTION

         Article 5, Section 6(a), of the Texas Constitution defines the appellate jurisdiction of the courts of appeals. In addition, it provides that "[s]aid courts shall have such other jurisdiction, original and appellate, as may be prescribed by law." Tex. Const. art. V, § 6(a). Thus, the constitution leaves it to the Legislature to "prescribe" the original jurisdiction of the courts of appeals, including jurisdiction over mandamus matters. Section 22.221 of the Government Code defines the writ of mandamus authority for the courts of appeals. Tex. Gov't Code § 22.221. Subsection (a) of Section 22.221 provides that the courts of appeals "may issue a writ of mandamus and all other writs necessary to enforce the jurisdiction of the court." Id. § (a). That provision is not implicated here. Subsection (b) provides that "[e]ach court of appeals for a court of appeals district may issue all writs of mandamus, agreeable to the principles of law regulating those writs, against a . . . judge of a district or county court in the court of appeals district." Id. § (b). The question in this case is whether, to the extent that Section 22.221(b) authorizes courts of appeals to mandamus judges of "county courts, " that includes judges of county courts at law as well.

         The parties agree that, according to the plain language of the applicable statutes, the mandamus jurisdiction of the courts of appeals does not extend to a writ of mandamus against a county court at law judge. We think so too. Section 22.221 of the Government Code appears in Title 2 of the Government Code, which is controlled by the definitions in Section 21.009.[3] Section 21.009 of the Government Code defines "county court" for purposes of Title 2 of that Code ("Judicial Branch") to be "the court created in each county by Article V, Section 15, of the Texas Constitution." Tex. Gov't Code § 21.009(1).[4] By contrast, "'Statutory county court' means a county court created by the legislature by its authority under Article V, Section 1, of the Texas Constitution, including county courts at law[.]" Tex. Gov't Code § 21.009(2).[5] Thus, when Section 22.221(b) confers mandamus authority in the courts of appeals "against a . . . judge of a . . . county court in the court of appeals district[, ]" it plainly means only the county courts created by the Texas Constitution, not those "statutory county courts, " such as county courts at law, created by the Legislature. Relator argues that when the meaning and import of statutory language are as plain as this, we must be governed thereby. Boykin v. State, 818 S.W.2d 782, 785 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991).

         Respondent does not deny that the statutory language is plain.[6] He nevertheless urges us not to follow the plain language because, in his view, legislative history indicates that the plain language of these provisions, when read together, fails to capture the true legislative intent. This argument ignores Boykin's explicit declaration that it is only "constitutionally permissible" to consider extra-textual factors, such as legislative history, when following the plain statutory language would lead to an absurd result. Id. at 785-86. Respondent contends that it was the Legislature's intent, when it passed what is now Section 22.221(b), to expand the mandamus jurisdiction of the intermediate appellate courts of Texas in order to alleviate the burdensome caseload of the higher courts. In 1983, the Legislature amended the predecessor to current Section 22.221(b) to confer broad mandamus authority to the courts of appeals over both district courts and county courts "agreeable to the principles of law regulating such writs[.]" Acts 1983, 68th Leg., ch. 839, § 3, p. 4768, eff. June 19, 1983.[7]Given the legislative intent to lessen the burden on the higher courts, there was no reason to suppose, Respondent contends, that "county courts"-at least as originally envisioned by the Legislature-would be limited to constitutionally created county courts. The definitions now appearing in Section 21.009 were not promulgated until four years later, in 1987. Acts 1987, 70th Leg., ch. 148, § 2.02, p. 542, eff. Sept. 1, 1987. The Legislature did not intend for the 1987 definitions in Section 21.009, Respondent concludes, to restrict the courts of appeals' mandamus jurisdiction that it had expanded just four years earlier in Section 22.221(b).[8]

         We disagree. "[A]ppellate courts are constrained to construe a statute that has been amended as if it had originally been enacted in its amended form, mindful that the Legislature, by amending the statute, may have altered or clarified the meaning of earlier provisions." Mahaffey v. State, 316 S.W.3d 633, 642 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (citing Getts v. State, 155 S.W.3d 153, 158 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005)); Ramos v. State, 303 S.W.3d 302, 306-07 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009). Whatever the Legislature may have had in mind in 1983, when it originally invested the courts of appeals with jurisdiction to mandamus "county courts, " once it promulgated the definitions in Section 21.009, and plainly made those definitions applicable to Section 22.221(b), we "are constrained" to read those provisions, in combination, as if they had originally been enacted in that amended form. If the language of the amendment, though plain, no longer accurately reflects the legislative intent, it is incumbent upon the Legislature to amend the statute again "to conform it to its intent." Getts, 155 S.W.3d at 158 (quoting Lamie v. United States Trustee, 540 U.S. 526, 542 (2004)).

         Respondent contends that this plain-meaning construction of the statute creates absurdities. He does not argue that it is absurd, however, in the sense that it is unworkable or inherently illogical.[9] Instead, he argues that exporting Section 21.009's definitions to other parts of Title 2 creates ancillary absurdities; that to construe Section 22.221(b) to embrace only the definition of "county court" spelled out in Section 21.009(1) would invite the incorporation of that same limited definition in other contexts in which, he contends, it is simply unimaginable that the Legislature could have wanted. For example, Respondent argues that application of Section 21.009(1)'s definition of "county court" to the constitutional provision that endows the courts of appeals with appellate jurisdiction would lead to the conclusion that the courts of appeals lack appellate jurisdiction over judgments of the county courts at law. He points out that Section 22.220 of the Government Code (which is also in Title 2) statutorily confers appellate jurisdiction in the courts of appeals over "civil cases within its district of which the district courts and county courts have jurisdiction when the amount in controversy of the judgment rendered exceeds $250, exclusive of interest or costs." Tex. Gov't Code § 22.220(a). Applying Section 21.009(1)'s definition of "county court" to this statutory provision would limit the courts of appeals' appellate jurisdiction, he claims, to cases emanating from the constitutional county courts, excluding appeal-at least of civil cases-from the statutory county courts.

         This argument is ultimately unpersuasive. Unlike the courts of appeals' mandamus jurisdiction, their jurisdiction over direct appeals is not a purely legislative creation. Article 5, Section 6, of the Texas Constitution provides that the "Courts of Appeals shall have appellate jurisdiction co-extensive with the limits of their respective districts, which shall extend to all cases of which the District Courts or County Courts have original or appellate jurisdiction, under such restrictions and regulations as may be prescribed by law." Tex. Const. art. V, § 6(a). Thus, the courts of appeals have appellate jurisdiction over "County Courts" as that term may be interpreted by the courts, as a matter of Article 5, Section 6(a)-not according to what the Legislature may declare it to mean, as a matter of statutory definition. It is true that Article 5, Section 6, also permits the Legislature to "restrict and regulate" the courts of appeals' appellate jurisdiction. Even if this could reasonably be construed to endow the Legislature with the constitutional authority to altogether eliminate appellate jurisdiction over the judgments of statutory county court, the Government Code provisions do not purport to do that.[10] Nothing about our construction of Section 22.221(b) in light of the statutory definitions contained in Section 21.009(1) would necessarily affect the disposition of this separate and discrete issue of constitutional interpretation-what does Article 5, Section 6(a), mean by "County Courts"?-should it ever arise.

         In short, we agree with the Texarkana Court of Appeals that courts of appeals in Texas do not have jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus against statutory county courts. In re Meyer, 482 S.W.3d at 714. Relator properly filed his application for writ of ...


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