William Kilgarlin, a former Texas Supreme Court justice who served from 1982 until 1988 died on Monday in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 79. Services for Kilgarlin in Austin are still pending.
Kilgarlin was active in Democratic politics for decades before voters elected him to the high court, notes a press release from Osler McCarthy, the high court's staff attorney/public information. He served as a state representative in the late 1950s, as Harris County Democratic Party chair from 1962 through 1966, and as a district judge from 1978 to 1982.
While on the Supreme Court, Kilgarlin also become one of the only high court justices to be admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Kilgarlin received a public admonishment in June 1987 for soliciting donations from attorneys, including some who had cases pending before the high court, to finance a suit he filed against the Judicial Affairs Committee of the Texas House of Representatives and a former briefing attorney who testified against Kilgarlin in a 1986 House committee hearing.
No appellate review was available in judicial conduct commission disciplinary cases at that time, says Seana Willing, executive director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Kilgarlin lost re-election to the court to Nathan Hecht in 1988.
Hecht, who still holds the seat, won election that year along with then-Chief Justice Tom Phillips and then-Justice Eugene Cook by campaigning on a reform platform, and they became the first Republicans since Reconstruction to be elected to the Texas Supreme Court, Hecht says.
Despite their differences, Hecht and Kilgarlin became friends, and Hecht took over Kilgarlin’s responsibilities as the high court’s rules liaison.
“And we felt very similarly about the procedural rules — that they ought to be simple and more efficient and effective. He had worked on jury charge rules and discovery rules and made some real improvements,” Hecht says of Kilgarlin.
Hecht became the first high court judge since 1987 to receive a public admonition from the Judicial Conduct Commission in 2006, after he spoke publicly in favor of his friend Harriet Miers’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hecht appealed the public admonition, and it was overturned in 2007 by a Special Court of Review — an possibility not available to Kilgarlin by statute at the time he was admonished.
--- John Council