HOUSTON, June 16, 2005 -- Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips will join Baker Botts as a partner focusing on all phases of litigation work including appellate, trial and various forms of alternative dispute resolution.
Phillips, 55, will officially move to Baker Botts in September, a year after he stepped down from the Chief Justice post. He will be based in Austin but will also work closely with Baker Botts lawyers in Houston, Dallas and Washington.
Phillips was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas in 1987 by then-Gov. Bill Clements. He was elected and re-elected as the state’s top jurist in 1988, 1990, 1996 and 2002. After leaving the bench last September, he taught constitutional law as the Spurgeon E. Bell Distinguished Visiting Professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston and as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“Justice Phillips’ extensive knowledge of the legal system, developed during his exemplary tenure as Chief Justice of the state’s Supreme Court, will add considerable strength to our appellate and trial practice areas,” said Baker Botts Managing Partner Walt Smith. “Our clients looking for solutions to complex legal problems will be well-served by Chief Justice Phillips’ experience as a lawyer and as a jurist. We are fortunate that he has decided to join Baker Botts at this point in his career.”
Phillips looks forward to his return to private practice.
“Baker Botts is an international firm with an excellent reputation for quality and integrity,” Phillips said. “I am eager to work with so many talented lawyers including four of my former law clerks -- Joe Knight, Macey Reasoner Stokes, David Isaak and Rachel Donnelly -- and Jeff Lamken and his dynamic Washington-based appellate group.
“Practicing at Baker Botts will allow me to develop a sophisticated appellate, trial and dispute resolution practice while remaining involved in other professional and public policy activities,” he said.
Phillips was a 38-year-old state district judge in Houston when Clements named him Chief Justice, the youngest person ever to hold that position and the first Republican Chief Justice in more than 100 years. The court at that time was widely viewed as being mired in scandal with its decisions frequently characterized as turning on political favoritism rather than the rule of law.
Phillips presided over an historic transformation of the court and was widely credited with restoring the court’s reputation for scholarship and balance. During his tenure, the court amended the rules of procedure, evidence and court administration to reduce delay, confusion and abuse in the state’s legal system.
Moreover, the court enhanced judicial and legal ethics through new conduct rules and disciplinary procedures. And in 1999, the Supreme Court of Texas became the only appellate court in America to have all of its sitting justices elected to the prestigious American Law Institute.
“I am proud of the many accomplishments of the court during my tenure as Chief Justice,” Phillips said. “And I am honored to have served with so many outstanding jurists who made significant contributions to strengthening the state’s legal system for future generations.”
Throughout his professional career, Phillips has been an advocate for judicial selection reform and other improvements in the administration of justice. He currently serves as a member of the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform and was recently appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Historical Commission.
“While my primary focus will be on representing clients, I will, like all my predecessor Chief Justices, remain active in public matters,” Phillips said. “And I will speak out if I think I can contribute constructively to the dialogue on important issues.”
A native of Dallas, Phillips earned his undergraduate degree from Baylor University in 1971 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1974. He has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees from St. Edward’s University and Texas Tech University.
Phillips began his legal career as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Texas. He practiced trial law in the Houston office of Baker Botts from 1975 until 1981. From 1981 through 1988, he served as judge of the 280th District Court in Harris County.
Phillips was elected president of the Conference of Chief Justices in 1997-98, of which he is a life member. He has also chaired the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts. He previously served on the Federal-State Relations Committee of the Administrative Conference of the United States, the Institutions of Democracy Judicial Branch Commission of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Lawyers’ Political Contributions and the ABA’s Commission on the 21st Century Judiciary.
Phillips has received numerous awards and honors from professional and civic groups. Last year, for example, he received Baylor University’s Price Daniel Distinguished Public Service Award, the Burton Foundation’s first annual Professionalism in Law Award, Dallas CASA’s Champion of Children Award and the Texas Equal Access to Justice Commission’s Harold F. Kleinman Award.
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