Texas Outlaws: Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s Judicial Review Bill HB 344 is Unspectacular

Zaffirini is a Texas Senator, the highest-ranking woman senator, has passed the most bills. LIT suggests Quality over Quantity.

Zaffirini-sponsored bill on judicial reviews takes effect

SEP 1, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JAN 23, 2023

On Thursday, Sept. 1, a new law is taking effect that will try to make sure all judges in the state are being transparent and effective, or else they will face consequences if they do not use their authority in a prudent manner.

Texas State Sen. Judith Zaffirini sponsored the bill that began in the Texas House of Representatives but has been a policy she had been fighting for the past three legislative sessions, as she wants to make sure judges are doing their jobs effectively and not abusing or using their position at the bench for personal gain.

The Texas Legislature passed HB 4344 in 2021, and it becomes effective as law on Sept. 1, 2022.

“Texans can rest assured that we are making progress in ensuring that those who make life-altering decisions for thousands of litigants and lawyers in the courtroom adhere to the highest standards of excellence,”

Zaffirini said.

“Whether in civil courts — where judges’ decisions can be of monumental emotional and financial significance — or in criminal courts — where these decisions can determine public safety — judges must be ethical, honest and impartial for the good of all Texans.”

Zaffirini said the new policy is not to target or put all judges under the microscope but rather to find out who are those abusing their duties in efforts for them to be taken out if they are not serving justice.

“Texas is blessed with great judges who are fair and honest and who excel in ensuring access to justice for all,”

Zaffirini said.

“Unfortunately, as in every arena, some members of the judiciary reflect poorly on the whole by violating their canon of ethics and should be reprimanded, rehabilitated or removed.”

The state senator said the goal of the new law is to improve transparency, accountability and efficiency in the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC), which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.

The commission’s charge is to hold judges to high standards, promote public confidence in the judiciary and protect the public from miscarriages of justice.

Zaffirini states that she sponsored the bill after she heard many complaints of little being done when it comes to these judicial members being reprimanded for their actions.

“After filing related legislation, I sponsored this bill in the Senate because many complainants and the Texas Sunset Commission consider it not only opaque, bureaucratic, slow, unresponsive and inefficient, but also seemingly more interested in protecting judges than the public,” Zaffirini said.

“I hoped to address those shortcomings in this bill. The sensitive nature of the judicial commission’s work and its confidentiality standards do not excuse it from accountability and transparency. Accordingly, we passed legislation to provide guidelines and deadlines for SCJC’s handling of judicial complaints.”

The state senator asserts that the idea behind this bill came from her work on pushing for judicial reform and access to justice, as she states that they are cornerstones of her legislative agenda that prioritizes equality, fairness, transparency and efficient and effective government.

As a member of the Texas Judicial Council, Zaffirini collaborated with judges, attorneys and advocates who recognized the need for SCJC reform.

Having attempted to pass such legislation in 2017 and 2019, she welcomed the opportunity to sponsor the House bill in 2021 and to add a strengthening committee substitute in the Senate.

By adopting this strategy, the state senator said that she and those who supported her cause succeeded on the third attempt.

“Increasing SCJC’s transparency and effectiveness is important for all who cherish democracy and civil liberties, regardless of party affiliation,”

the Zaffirini said.

“Government policies ensure our government can be trusted, funding is used wisely and our leaders are held accountable.”

One way the state can measure the SCJC’s performance is by conducting performance review surveys. In 2017, when asked about the commission’s effectiveness and transparency, approximately 80% of judges polled said the process worked well. By comparison, eight of 10 complainants surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with the body’s workings and decisions.

“Such findings are consistent with my criticism of the commission’s interest in protecting judges rather than the public,” Zaffirini said. “If HB 4344 is implemented successfully and its impact measured adequately, the next survey should reflect more favorable opinions.”

She states that examples of bad judicial practices are evident all throughout the state, including locally, as well.

Zaffirini recalls a time in 2013 when “several Laredo lawyers alerted her to corruption and cronyism in a local court.” Some addressed the problem by filing complaints, while she concentrated on passing a package of bills that, like HB 4344, strengthen the integrity of the judiciary by enhancing accountability and transparency.

Some other examples she cites as reasons for this new law are those of judicial misconduct include using the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests, endorsing political candidates, making public comment regarding a pending case and behaving inappropriately outside the court, such as by engaging in sexual harassment, bribery or theft.

As a Democrat, she said it can be hard to get policies like these passed, as the governorship and both houses of the legislature are under Republican control. Nevertheless, she said transparency and effectiveness are major grounds where both sides can agree upon.

“It is challenging but doable to pass legislation as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated Texas Legislature,”
Zaffirini said.

“By focusing on legislation that serves the public good and employing bipartisanship, I have been the highest bill-passer for four consecutive sessions and have passed more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas.

This success reflects effective cross-party collaboration.

It’s impossible to pass a bill without Republican support, so prioritizing bipartisanship, compromise and persistence are keys to success.”

By: Jetton (Senate Sponsor – Zaffirini)

H.B. No. 4344

(In the Senate – Received from the House April 27, 2021; May 4, 2021, read first time and referred to Committee on Jurisprudence; May 24, 2021, reported adversely, with favorable Committee Substitute by the following vote:  Yeas 5, Nays 0; May 24, 2021, sent to printer.)

By:  Hinojosa


relating to a complaint filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.



Section 33.0211, Government Code, is amended by

adding Subsection (c) to read as follows:

(c)  For each complaint filed with the commission under this chapter, each member of the commission must be:

(1)  notified of the complaint; and (2)  briefed and provided detailed information about the complaint.


Subchapter B, Chapter 33, Government Code, is amended by adding Sections 33.0212, 33.0213, 33.040, and 33.041 to read as follows:

Sec. 33.0212.


(a) Not later than the 120th day after the date a complaint is filed with the commission, commission staff shall prepare and file with each member of the commission a report detailing the investigation of the complaint and recommendations for commission action regarding the complaint.

(b)  Not later than the 90th day following the date commission staff files with the commission the report required by Subsection (a), the commission shall determine any action to be taken regarding the complaint, including:

(1)  a public sanction;

(2)  a private sanction;

(3)  a suspension;

(4)  an order of education;

(5)  an acceptance of resignation in lieu of discipline;

(6)  a dismissal; or

(7)  an initiation of formal proceedings.

(c)  If, because of extenuating circumstances, commission staff is unable to provide an investigation report and recommendation to the commission before the 120th day following the date the complaint was filed with the commission, the staff shall notify the commission and propose the number of days required for the commission and commission staff to complete the investigation report and recommendations and finalize the complaint.

The staff may request an extension of not more than 270 days from the date the complaint was filed with the commission. The commission shall finalize the complaint not later than the 270th day following the date the complaint was filed with the commission.

(d)  The executive director may request that the chairperson grant an additional 120 days to the time provided under Subsection (c) for the commission and commission staff to complete the investigation report and recommendations and finalize the complaint.

(e)  If the chairperson grants additional time under Subsection (d), the commission must timely inform the legislature of the extension. The commission may not disclose to the legislature any confidential information regarding the complaint.

Sec. 33.0213.


On notice by any law enforcement agency investigating an action for which a complaint has been filed with the commission, the commission may place the commission’s complaint file on hold and decline any further investigation that would jeopardize the law enforcement agency’s investigation. The commission may continue an investigation that would not jeopardize a law enforcement investigation.

Sec. 33.040.


Not later than September 1 of each year, the commission shall prepare and submit to the

legislature a report of: (1)  the total number of complaints the commission failed to finalize not later than the 270th day following the date the complaint was filed with the commission; and (2)  the total number of complaints included in Subdivision (1) that the commission declined to further investigate because of a law enforcement agency investigation.

Sec. 33.041.


(a)  The commission shall prepare a report for the 88th Legislature regarding any statutory changes that would improve the commission’s effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency in filing, investigating, and processing any complaint filed with the commission.

(b)  This section expires September 1, 2023.


Section 33.0212, Government Code, as added by this Act, applies only to a complaint filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on or after the effective date of this Act.


This Act takes effect September 1, 2022.

The Texas Judicial Council is composed of 16 ex-officio and six appointed members. The Council is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals as Vice-Chair. The Chief Justice appoints ten judicial members, two from each level of court.

The Lieutenant Governor appoints two members of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints one member of the House with the chair of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee serving on the Council.

The Governor appoints six citizen members to the Council, three of which are members of the State Bar of Texas and two of which must not be licensed to practice law. Citizen members serve six-year terms.

Chair  Term Expires
Hon. Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas 12/31/26
Hon. Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals 12/31/24
Legislative Members
Hon. Brandon Creighton, Senator, Conroe
Hon. Jeff Leach, Representative, Allen
Hon. Reggie Smith, Representative, Sherman
Hon. Judith Zaffirini, Senator, Laredo
Judicial Members
Hon. Bill Gravell Jr., Constitutional County Judge, Williamson County 02/01/23
Hon. Claudia Laird, Judge, County Court at Law No. 2, Montgomery County 02/01/25
Hon. Emily Miskel, Judge, 470th District Court, McKinney 02/01/23
Hon. Missy Medary, Judge, 347th District Court, Corpus Christi; Presiding Judge – 5th Region 02/01/25
Hon. Valencia Nash, Justice of the Peace Pct. 1, Place 2, Dallas County 02/01/25
Hon. Kathleen Person, Judge, City of Temple Municipal Court, Temple 02/01/23
Hon. Sherry Radack, Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals, Houston 02/01/23
Hon. Maggie Sawyer, Justice of the Peace, McCulloch County, Brady 02/01/23
Hon. Edward J. Spillane, III, Presiding Judge, City of College Station 02/01/25
Hon. Ken Wise, Justice, 14th Court of Appeals, Houston 02/01/25
Citizen Members
Ms. Zina Bash, Keller Lenkner LLC, Austin 06/30/27
Mr. Kevin Bryant, Crow Holdings, Dallas 06/30/23
Ms. Jennifer Caughey, Jackson Walker LLP, Houston 06/30/27
Ms. Sonia Clayton, Virtual Intelligence Providers LLC, Houston 06/30/25
Hon. Jon Gimble, District Clerk, McLennan County, Waco 06/30/25
Ms. Rachel Racz, Vista Proppants & Logistics, Fort Worth 06/30/23
Executive Director
Megan LaVoie


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