First Court of Appeals

About The Court 

The Court of Civil Appeals for the First Supreme Judicial District of Texas opened its first term on Monday, October 3, 1892 with Chief Justice Christopher Columbus Garrett, Associate Justice Frank A. Williams, Associate Justice H. Clay Pleasants, and Clerk S.D. Reeves. Assisting the Court were Charles V. Johnson, deputy clerk, and J.E. Harmon, stenographer. The Court was then located in Galveston and heard appeals from 57 counties.1 The Court issued its first published opinions just nine days later on October 11, 1892: Kansas Gulf Short Line Ry. v. Scott, 1 Tex. Civ. App. 1, 20 S.W. 725 (Galveston 1892, no writ) (cause no. 2); Luckey v. Short, 1 Tex. Civ. App. 5, 20 S.W. 723 (Galveston 1892, no writ) (cause no. 4); Todd v. Roberts, 1 Tex. Civ. App. 8, 20 S.W. 722 (Galveston 1892, no writ) (cause no. 7). The Court's home from 1892 to 1957 was the renovated 1878 Galveston County Jail (see illustration at right). The jail was designed by architect Eugene T. Heiner and located at 20th and Winnie Streets in Galveston. In 1957, the Court moved from Galveston to Houston.

Today the Court's name is the Court of Appeals for the First Court of Appeals District of Texas. The Court's current term of court, the 122nd, began January 1, 2014 and will end on December 31, 2014. The Court has a chief justice, eight justices, and a clerk. The justices are elected for six–year terms. The justices are assisted by career staff attorneys and first–year lawyers who work for one year as law clerks. The justices appoint the clerk of the Court for a four–year term. The clerk is assisted by deputy clerks and administrative personnel. Deputies from the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's Office provide security and serve as bailiffs.

The Court has intermediate appellate jurisdiction of both civil and criminal cases appealed from the district and county courts in the counties that make up the Court's District (Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington). Because the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals automatically reviews all appeals in which the death penalty is assessed, the First Court does not hear death–penalty appeals. The Court also has jurisdiction to issue: (1) all writs necessary to enforce its jurisdiction; (2) writs of habeas corpus in specified civil contempt matters; (3) writs of mandamus (a) directed at the judges of the district and county courts, (b) directed at district judges or the clerk of the First Court related to supplying judicial statistics, (c) in election disputes, and (d) in certain venue disputes; and (4) writs of injunction, mandamus, and prohibition in specified matters related to the Railroad Commission's oil–and–gas conservation rules and orders.

Throughout its history, the First Court has been the "First" in Texas in many areas. The Court has the honor of having the first African–American appellate judge (Hon. Henry E. Doyle), the first elected female appellate judge (Hon. D. Camille Hutson–Dunn); the first female chief justice (Hon. Alice Oliver–Parrott); the first female African–American appellate judge (Hon. Gaynelle Griffin Jones), the first African–American appellate clerk (Hon. Margie Thompson), and the first all–female panel of regularly sitting judges (Hon. Alice Oliver–Parrott, Hon. Margaret Garner Mirabal, and Hon. Michol O'Connor). Because of these "firsts," it is often maintained by those close to the Court that the word "First" in the Court's name is more than a mere number—it is instead a symbol of the Court's prominent place in the history of the Texas judiciary.

Legal Citation

  • Tex. Const. art. V, § 6.
  • Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §§ 22.201(b), 22.202, 22.216(a), 22.217–22.228 (Vernon 2004 & Supp. 2009).

1 Beginning August 15, 1892, the 57 counties in the First Supreme Judicial District of Texas were Anderson, Angelina, Aransas, Austin, Bee, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Cherokee, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gregg, Grimes, Hardin, Harris, Harrison, Hidalgo, Houston, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Lavaca, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Matagorda, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Panola, Polk, Refugio, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Shelby, Smith, Starr, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Wharton, and Washington. Act approved Apr. 13, 1892, 22d Leg., 1st C.S., ch. 18, §§ 5, 9, 1892 Tex. Gen. Laws 45,45–46, reprinted in 10 H.P.N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas 1822–1897, at 409, 409–10 (Austin, Gammel Book Co. 1898).