Opinions Released July 7, 2016

In this weekly blog, the Law Offices of Brandy Wingate Voss, PLLC will summarize recent decisions from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and provide links to decisions on the court’s website.

State v. Perez, No. 13-15-00367-CR (Opinion by Justice Benavides; Panel Members: Justices Rodriguez and Perkes)

In this case of first impression for the Thirteenth Court of Appeals, the panel analyzed whether a trial court had jurisdiction to grant a motion for judicial clemency eleven years after the defendant completed community supervision.

Perez pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in 2003, asking the trial court to assess punishment. The court sentenced him to one year of confinement and a $2,000 fine, probating the sentence for one year. Perez successfully completed this probation and was discharged with a conviction on his record on November 2, 2004.

In 2015, Perez filed a motion requesting judicial clemency. Judicial clemency is an alternate to typical probation discharge, and it allows a judge to set aside the guilty plea, release the defendant from probation, and send the defendant away with no conviction on his record. After a hearing, the court granted Perez’s motion for judicial clemency and set aside its 2003 judgment. The State appealed.

Held: The trial court lacked jurisdiction to issue judicial clemency.

Generally, a trial court’s jurisdiction in a criminal case ends 30 days after sentencing. However, it is unclear when the trial court loses jurisdiction over a case involving probation. Trial courts have the jurisdiction to oversee a defendant’s probation and to release the defendant early, but courts must dismiss the defendant from probation upon successful completion of the requirements.
The court of appeals noted that the statute authorizing judicial clemency requires “successful completion of probation,” and that trial courts do not have continuing jurisdiction over cases after probation concludes. Consequently, the court held that a trial court may only order judicial clemency while it still has plenary jurisdiction over the defendant’s probation, i.e., before or at the time of the defendant’s successful completion of the requirements. The court noted that both the Waco and Amarillo Courts of Appeals had interpreted the statute similarly.

Applying this new rule to Perez’s case, the court held that the trial court lacked jurisdiction when it granted Perez judicial clemency in 2015. The trial court’s order was reversed, and the motion for clemency dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Read the Full Opinion Here

Opinions Released July 6, 2016

In this weekly blog, the Law Offices of Brandy Wingate Voss, PLLC will summarize recent decisions from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and provide links to decisions on the court’s website.

In re Navistar, Inc., No. 13-16-00287-CV (Opinion by Justice Longoria; Panel Members: Justices Benavides and Perkes)

In this mandamus proceeding, Navistar sought relief from discovery orders requiring production of material related to the Securities Exchange Commission’s (SEC) investigation of Navistar’s diesel engines.

Navistar was a manufacturer of commercial hauling trucks and related engines, using exhaust-gas-recirculation (EGR) technology to reduce emissions and comply with EPA standards. Americorp purchased Navistar trucks and experienced numerous problems, particularly with the EGR systems. Americorp sued for products liability, breach of contract, and fraud.

The SEC was already investigating Navistar’s parent company for misrepresentation regarding its EGR systems in a different model truck, which was never sold to the public, alleging that Navistar’s over-optimism about the development of new EGR engines misled investors. Navistar Americorp sent discovery requests for all Navistar depositions, sworn statements, and documents produced in its SEC case.

When Navistar resisted, the trial court compelled discovery, issuing an order that encompassed two different SEC cases against Navistar. Navistar sought mandamus relief.

Held: The court denied mandamus relief.

Navistar justified its request for mandamus on three grounds. First, the court’s order was overbroad by requiring discovery regarding products that were never manufactured and which Americorp never used. Additionally, discovery of Navistar’s SEC productions and depositions was not appropriate because the information was developed as part of a confidential government inquiry. Finally, Navistar claimed that the trial court abused its discretion by expanding the scope of Americorp’s request.

First, the court acknowledged the Texas Supreme Court’s rule in In re Graco Children’s Prods., Inc., 210 S.W.3d 598, 600 (Tex. 2006) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam), that discovery of products not used by the plaintiff in a products liability case is erroneous and justifies mandamus. However, the court of appeals cautioned that this rule is not absolute, and discovery of different products is permitted where there is “a connection between the alleged defect and the discovery ordered.” Here, the products encompassed in Americorp’s requests all used EGR technology, which was the core defect at issue. Compelling production of evidence related to EGR engines that the plaintiff had not used was not error.

Regarding the confidentiality of the information from Navistar’s SEC case, the court noted that Navistar had not shown such information to be a trade secret or proprietary business data. Thus—confidential or not—there was no basis to restrict discovery of such information.

Finally, the court disagreed with Navistar on the facts supporting its last contention. Although the trial court’s order enumerated a second SEC case not originally identified by Americorp, such case fell within the existing scope of the request.

Having rejected each of Navistar’s arguments, the court denied mandamus.

Read the Full Opinion Here