Interview conducted by Andrew Guthrie, Haynes & Boone, Dallas, Texas
Except edited and submitted by JoAnn Storey
The following is an excerpt of an interview of Judge Larry Meyers (LM) conducted on June 25, 2015, by Andrew Guthrie (AG). From 1989 to 1992, Judge Meyers served as an associate justice on the Fort Worth Court of Appeals. At the time of his interview, Judge Meyers was a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, having been elected to that court in 1992.
Judge Meyers’s interview is part of an ongoing effort by the State Bar of Texas Appellate Section to preserve and document matters of historical interest to members of the bar. The video of Justice Meyers’s oral history is available at this link on the Section=s website: https://vimeopro.com/user45474482/oralhistoryproject/video/146340359
AG: Judge, I appreciate you being here with us today.
AG: What was it that made you decide to become a lawyer?
LM: I guess it was about halfway through college [at SMU]. I had taken a lot of science courses, thinking I would go to medical school. But, then I decided I’d rather go to law school, so I took the LSAT and did that.
AG: You went to the University of Kansas for law school?
AG: Came out and worked as a District Attorney for a few years.
LM: I worked for a judge in Kansas City after graduation, and then I was an Assistant District Attorney.
AG: You went into private practice in Fort Worth for a dozen or so years. What was the nature of your practice?
LM: It was kind of general. I did a lot of everything, some civil litigation, lots of criminal defense, and probate.
AG: Talk about the persons who guided you early on in your career.
LM: There were a lot of good lawyers that I looked up to. Some of them were very generous in helping me out in my practice; a lot of them I went up against in my practice. I learned a lot from the way they handled their cases.
AG: Did you do appellate work in your private practice?
AG: You joined the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth in 1989. Can you talk about what that transition was like?
LM: I ran [as a Republican]. No one from that party had ever been elected to that Court. I was elected along with some other very outstanding judges. They were very helpful to me as far as getting me transitioned. I’m very grateful to their hospitality and efforts to help me during the four years I was on the Court. It had been almost a decade since the Court had begun to decide criminal and civil cases, so we were pretty accomplished in handling both. It was quite interesting and I enjoyed that. The staff was also was very good and they were always very helpful to me.
AG: Talk a little bit about the early-learning process on the Court. What was that like?
LM: Unfortunately, you’re elected to these courts and so, there’s always political pressure on you. But I was going to try to avoid all that and the judges that I was served with had that same attitude. So, it was just a matter of trying to get to the bottom of what the case was about, try to be not so expansive, and be as open-minded as you could. There was always new law coming from higher courts, so we always wanted to be aware of that and didn’t necessarily want to rubber stamp an opinion one way or the other.
AG: What was it about that job that attracted you, that made you want to run for that position?
LM: I knew I probably didn’t have the disposition to be as good a trial judge as a lot of other folks had been. I always liked the research and the writing part of it, that’s what interested me more. Plus, you are able to delve into newer aspects [of the law] that you didn’t quite have the freedom to do on the trial bench.
AG: Talk generally about the relationships on the court, learning how to work with other judges and deciding cases together.
LM: The Court was a seven member court. We rotated, with different members all the time. But I was very fortunate, every member I sat with was smart, hard-working, and very generous with their time and their expertise in helping me. I’m still grateful, I keep in touch with some of them still, to this day. They went out of their way to try to be helpful to me and that’s what I’m appreciative of and hopefully I returned that by working hard and being fair.
AG: Can you give a specific example of what a criminal lawyer does well in a civil case and vice versa?
LM: Well, Andrew, you’re a civil lawyer and so, as you know, your pleadings are important, and then you have all the discovery. But, in the criminal cases you don’t have all that. You have your indictment and the Charge and things of that nature. But, I’ve tried to emphasize to some of the criminal lawyers that, even though you’re just dealing with the indictment, you need to be aware of all aspects of what the State is trying to put on. The criminal lawyers are much more active as far as pushing the judge for certain issues and in the way that they handle juries and things of that nature. I always thought that those particular aspects of a criminal practice would help the civil folks, too.
AG: Then in 1992, you joined the Court of Criminal Appeals. Tell us where that desire to run for a higher office came from?
LM: Well, I always liked criminal law. I was the first [Republican] elected to that Court and, once again, I came upon all the rest of the eight judges who were of the other party. But they were all very, very hospitable and very helpful and I’m eternally grateful to them. I just talked to one of my former colleagues from that time yesterday. It was really neat to be able to specialize and to go much deeper into that particular specialty than you are able to do at the Court of Appeals.
AG: What’s the most difficult part of sitting on the Court of Criminal Appeals and having to decide these big criminal cases?
LM: Well, I think sometimes it’s the outside pressures that you have politically and also from the community itself. People aren’t necessarily always as attuned to how constitutional rights are to be implemented. To me, the hardest part is that you really can’t do anything just out of popularity or in order to satisfy certain political wants and needs. You have to be vigilant to the law and the constitution.
AG: You’ve sat on the Court of Criminal Appeals since 1992. What are some of the changes in the practice of law you’ve seen?
LM: This is my 23rd year of being on the court; I went from being the most junior judge on the Court to the senior judge. I’ve been the senior judge now for about 17 or 18 years. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. Some of them have fairly definitive ideas of how the law should be decided. A lot of them are very bright and I hated to see some of them retire and leave. It’s really interesting that you’re under a microscope there as to everything you do.
AG: Now, as the dynamics of the court change, as people come and go, did you find that your personal practice changed? Whether you spent more time going to somebody’s office and arguing with them or spent more time writing memos or writing drafts?
LM: The Court doesn’t necessarily have cliques, but there are certain judges that kind of look at cases in a similar way. I do remember a case involving the arrest of a woman who was a kind of soccer mom. As you may know, reasonable suspicion of a violation of a traffic ordinance or other kind of law is required to stop the car. There was a statute prohibiting the State logo and renewal stickers on a license plate from being covered. The woman was stopped for violating that statute. I dissented in the case. All sorts of news crews and cameras descended on the Capitol filming all the license plates on the Legislators’ vehicles. The Legislature ended up repealing that statute. It was a kind of satisfying moment for me because the statute was very vague and that’s why I thought it was unconstitutional.
AG: Talk about the lawyers that have come before your court, between 1992 and now.
LM: It’s amazing, sometimes you see the same lawyers come argue, and they are very good. Other times, you will see someone for the first time, perhaps a newly elected DA or a lawyer fresh out of law school. And while these kids are fairly new in their practice, they will come in there and be as well-spoken as any well-seasoned attorney. I am amazed at how good some of these young lawyers are. I’ve seen a lot more women than when I first got on the court. There weren’t any women on the court when I was elected, but there have been times since then that women have been in the majority on the court. It also kind of warms my heart when I look out there and see someone I’ve seen for the last 20 years come and argue. I may not necessarily agree with their position, but I find it hard to be real aggressive or try and grill them too hard.
AG: And when it comes to the art of persuading judges, whether written or oral, what do you see the lawyers in your court do really, really well and what do you see them still struggle with, at times?
LM: Well, when someone tries to turn an oral argument into a jury argument, sometimes that is persuasive and sometimes it is not. We try to narrow down the issues pretty tightly, so the lawyers should argue the law. We know it’s their duty to try and get us to change the law. That’s the most interesting part, when the lawyer tries to persuade us to change the law, particularly in death penalty cases involving juvenile defenders in capital murder cases. That’s the best part, having them try to persuade us to expand our horizons on certain issues.
AG: It sounds like oral argument plays a pretty significant part.
LM: I love oral argument. There are times I will go into oral argument thinking the case should go one way. I may be very sympathetic to the first lawyer’s argument, but then when the second lawyer gets up, I’m saying, “I don’t know,” I’m thinking the other way around. So, I love oral argument and I think it’s very helpful. There have been times I was the presiding judge, which was enjoyable, because I like to move along and get them going, instead of us just sitting there just trying to debate, you know, a fairly esoteric point. So, that’s always been interesting.
AG: What would you say to someone who wants excel in appellate advocacy or even become a judge some day?
LM: There are many aspects to being a judge that the practice of law entails. If you want to practice appellate law, I would concentrate as much as I can on those particular aspects. If you want to be a trial judge, get in as much trial work as you can. I’ve always thought that judges should be board certified. That is something that I decided to do years ago; I got board certified both in Criminal and Criminal Appellate Law. So, I would do as much as you can to get certified and then if you want to be a judge, then unfortunately, you still have to be somewhat aligned with some political situations, but that’s kinda shifted. It’s not shifting as much right now, but it will sooner or later.
AG: Judge, I appreciate your time today.
LM: Once again, I’m honored and you couldn’t have been a better host, so I very much appreciate you inviting me to do this.