Davis v. Crist Industries, Inc

In Davis v. Crist Industries, Inc., 98 S.W.3d 338, 340 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 2003, pet. denied) the appellant argued that a district judge, the Honorable Bonnie Sudderth, had no authority to preside over the final days of a trial when a visiting judge, the Honorable William Brigham, was assigned to Judge Sudderth's court and began the trial. The appellant contended that Judge Sudderth's actions were "a nullity and resulted in the rendition of a void judgment." Id. at 340-41. The Court overruled the appellant's assertion, explaining: "The presiding judge of an administrative region is authorized to assign judges in the region to "try cases and dispose of accumulated business." Generally, visiting judges are assigned either to a particular case or for a period of time. The terms of the assignment order controls the extent of the visiting judge's authority and when it terminates. Typical assignment orders provide that the visiting judge's authority terminates on a date specified in the assignment order, or upon the occurrence of a specific event such as the signing of a judgment or ruling on a motion for new trial. Here, the assignment order did not assign Judge Brigham to a particular case in the 352nd District Court. Instead, the order authorized Judge Brigham to sit on the court for the period of time between October 1, 2001 and October 5, 2001 and to complete any trial begun during this period. Because the trial of this case began during Judge Brigham's assigned time period, Judge Brigham was authorized by the terms of the order to complete the trial of the case. Contrary to the appellant's contention, however, Judge Brigham did not have "exclusive" authority or "jurisdiction" to try the case. Under the Texas Constitution and the rules of civil procedure, more than one judge may exercise authority over a single case. Absent language in Judge Brigham's assignment order specifically assigning him to the case, Judge Sudderth had the authority to complete the trial of the case in Judge Brigham's absence. The terms of Judge Brigham's order did not preclude Judge Sudderth from exercising authority over the case when expedient." (Id. at 341.)