Editors Choice

Texas: The First Court of Appeals Justices

The First Court of Appeals serves the Houston, Texas Area. The Court consists of nine justices who hear appeals and original proceedings from ten counties.

Chief Justice Sherry Radack

Sherry Radack was appointed Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals in December 2002 and then elected in 2004. Prior to her tenure on the First Court of Appeals, she was elected in 1998 to serve as a civil district judge in Harris County. Before coming to the bench, Chief Justice Radack practiced with the law firm of Bracewell and Patterson. She received… Read more

Justice Gordon Goodman

Place 2

Justice Gordon Goodman was elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2018. Justice Goodman is a member of the Texas State Bar, Pennsylvania Bar, and Energy Bar Associations. Before serving on the bench, he started his career with the Whittenburg Law Firm in Amarillo, TX, where he focused on civil trials, appellate work, oil & gas law, banking law, and… Read more

Justice Veronica Rivas-Molloy

Place 3

Justice Veronica Rivas-Molloy was elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2020.

Justice April L. Farris

Place 4

April Farris was appointed to the First Court of Appeals by Governor Abbott for a term beginning in January 2021.  Before joining the Court, April was a partner at Yetter Coleman LLP where she handled complex appellate litigation for energy, technology, and government clients. While in private practice, she was recognized in appellate law by Law360, Best Lawyers in America… Read more

Justice Amparo Guerra

Place 5

Justice Amparo Monique Guerra was elected to the Texas First Court of Appeals in 2020, bringing her record of academic and professional excellence, as well as her diverse background, to the bench. She previously served as an Associate Municipal Judge for the City of Houston while practicing law full time. She was the youngest sitting judge on that court when she… Read more

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Justice Sarah Beth Landau

Place 6

Sarah Beth Landau was elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2018.  Before taking the bench, Justice Landau worked in the appeals division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office and for 10 years as an Assistant Federal Public Defender, doing trial and appellate work.  Justice Landau has over 20 years of legal experience and has handled over 600… Read more

Justice Julie Countiss

Place 7

Justice Julie Countiss was elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2018. Her father, Justice Richard Countiss, (retired) swore her into office on January 2, 2019. She has practiced law–primarily civil litigation–for seventeen years and served as an assistant county attorney in Harris County prior to assuming the bench. Justice Countiss received her Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from University of… Read more

Justice Richard Hightower

Place 8

Richard Hightower was honored to be elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2018. He is a fifth-generation lawyer and a fourth-generation Texan whose family has served Texas since 1876 as Justice, Judge, Legislator, District Attorney, Sheriff, Texas Ranger, County Clerk, School Board Member, and Educator. Justice Hightower was born in Livingston, Texas and is a 1974 graduate of Livingston… Read more

Justice Peter Kelly

Place 9

Peter was elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2018. Prior to assuming the bench, he was a founding partner of Kelly, Durham & Pittard, L.L.P., an appellate litigation boutique with offices in Houston, Dallas, and Santa Fe. With twenty-eight years of legal experience, Peter was widely regarded as one of the premier advocates in the Texas Supreme Court… Read more

Appellate Attorneys Shocked at Justice’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis, Resignation

Justice Laura Carter Higley of Houston’s First Court of Appeals (Place 5) resigned two weeks after her sons revealed in a guardianship proceeding that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Houston attorneys who know Higley are shocked at the news, noting they did not notice any decline in the quality of her work. Update; As at June 21, 2020 place 5 remains vacant since her appointment, per the court website.

Justice-Laura-Carter-Higley-Article-201911061740-removebg-preview
Published; Nov. 6th, 2019

The Houston appellate bar is reeling from the news that First Court of Appeals Justice Laura Carter Higley has resigned.

Her resignation came two weeks after her sons, Garrett and Robert Higley, revealed in a court proceeding that the justice was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in early October after suffering from a neurocognitive disorder for the past two years.

Justices and staff on the First Court have lost a good judge, according to Clerk of the Court Chris Prine.

“We’re all sad to see her retire,” he said. “She put in a lot of good years of service.”

Higley’s sons have asked a probate court to appoint them as their mother’s guardian. They claimed in an Oct. 17 application for appointment of a permanent guardian that Laura Higley in 2017 was diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder, which deteriorated rapidly. On Oct. 9, her doctor diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease. The justice’s memory is failing and she can’t recall conversations, nor handle her work duties on the First Court, the sons alleged.

Higley was elected as a Republican to the First Court in 2002, and assumed the bench in 2003. She earned her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center in 1990, and spent her whole legal career before the bench as an attorney with Baker Botts, where she practiced pension law, health care law and executive compensation.

“I have been honored to serve the state of Texas for 17 years as associate justice on the First Court of Appeals,” Higley wrote in an Oct. 31 resignation letter, which Gov. Greg Abbott’s office received and accepted Monday. “I have written more than 70 opinions a year and served with some very fine judges.”

The Alzheimer’s diagnosis is a shock to attorneys who practiced before Higley and the justices who sat beside her on the bench.

Former First Court Justice Terry Jennings, who became close friends with Higley after serving alongside her from 2003 to 2018, said that he had lunch with her two or three months ago and she seemed normal. Although he’d noticed she had memory lapses, they did not seem out of the ordinary, so he attributed it to normal aging.

Higley is 72.

Her work did not decline over the past two years, Jennings added. He recalls sitting with her on an appellate panel during a 2018 oral argument where she asked good questions. She authored an excellent opinion in late 2018 that reached the right result by following the law and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, he said.

“I enjoyed working with her so much and valued her friendship and valued her as a colleague,” Jennings said. “Lawyers viewed her as a judge in the tradition of Sandra Day O’Connor. She was a moderate conservative judge. She was never afraid to rule in favor of a deserving plaintiff or deserving criminal defendant. There are some judges that are very ideological, and she was not one. She was a very reasonable judge.”

Appellate litigator Kent Rutter, who practiced before Higley, said she was the First Court’s “unsung hero” because of the seriousness with which she handled cases, always studying and following the law wherever it led. Rutter said he didn’t notice any changes in the justice over the past two years.

“I do know she was tremendously devoted to her work in the court and she is the kind of person who would want to do her job, regardless of any personal difficulties,” said Rutter, partner in Haynes and Boone in Houston. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that as long as she believed she could continue with her work on the court, that she would want to do so.”

Higley’s attorney in the guardianship case, Russell Hall, shareholder in Russell W. Hall & Associates in Bellaire, didn’t return a call seeking comment before deadline.

JUSTICE LAURA CARTER HIGLEY

Photo of Justice Laura Carter Higley

Place 5

The Honorable Laura Carter Higley was elected as Justice of the First Court of Appeals in November 2002. She ran for an open seat and was unopposed in both the primary and general elections. In 2008, she received a Judge of the Year Award from P.O.L.I.C.E, Inc., an organization devoted to examining and promoting courtroom excellence. Also, in 2008 she was reelected for a second term to the Court. In 2014, she was reelected to a third term on the Court, again running unopposed.

Date and Place of Birth

Justice Higley, a fifth generation Texan, was born on November 27, 1946 in St. Mary’s Hospital, Port Arthur, Texas. She attended public schools in Port Arthur and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1965.

Education

Laura received her undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and her masters’ degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas in Austin. In 1986, Laura returned to the University of Houston Law School receiving her Juris Doctorate in 1989.

Justice Higley graduated among the top of her class, having been selected as an associate editor of the Law Review, a member of the Order of the Barons and the Order of the Coif.

Professional Background

Justice Higley worked at Baker Botts L.L.P. from 1990 until 2002. Justice Higley was selected as Special Counsel in 1999. She practiced in the areas of pension law, health care law and executive compensation. She is a member of the Texas State Bar and a life member of the Houston Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation.

Civic Activities

Justice Higley served as Development Chair and Chairperson of the Nehemiah Center, a faith-based community center initiated by First Presbyterian Church. Justice Higley also served on the Board of the Museum of Natural Science from 1978 through 2002 filling the position of Acting Interim Director of the Museum for a period during 1988 and 1989 and on the Boards of the Junior League of Houston and the Children’s Assessment Center. In 1986, Justice Higley was one of five Houstonians to be awarded the Mayor’s Award for Volunteer Service in recognition of her work in the community. In 1985 and then again in 1989 she was elected as a Council Member and Mayor Protem and then as Mayor of West University Place.

Laura serves as an elder of First Presbyterian Church, a director on the Advisory Board for the Houston Law Review, and a director on the Board of Directors of Presbyterian School and Brazos Presbytery Homes. She is also a member of the West University Rotary Club and in 2008 was made a Paul Harris Fellow in honor of her community service. In 2015, she was awarded the Public Sector Achievement Award by the University of Houston Law Alumni Association.

Publications

Justice Higley was a contributing editor to the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce Annual Employment Law Handbook and the Federal Bar Association Senior Citizen Handbook. In 1971, she authored The Texan: Man of Many Faces which was published for use in Title 7 of NDEA programs in the State of Texas.

Personal Information

Justice Higley was married in 1971 to Robert Allen Higley, an expert in wealth management and structured settlements. They have two sons, Garrett and Carter, and three granddaughters. Garrett, a graduate of South Texas College of Law works as a family law attorney in Austin. Carter, having received his MBA from the Acton MBAE program, is married to Jamil and works in Houston in private wealth management.

Justice Higley’s mother, Laura Lee Hampshire Phillips was the first woman County Judge in the State of Texas, appointed to the judgeship at age 32 in Brazoria County.

Texas: The First Court of Appeals Justices
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