Texas Governor Announced Judges for New Statewide Business Courts

Scenic view of Texas State Capitol building in Austin at sunny summer day

On June 9, 2023, Texas Governor Abbot signed House Bill 19 (HB 19) into law, prompting the creation of a new court system in Texas dedicated to resolving business disputes. Now, almost one year to the day later, Governor Abbot announced the appointment of the judges to sit over the Texas Business Courts, as well as the intermediate court of appeals to oversee them.

How Are Texas’ New Business Courts Organized?

Texas’ Business Courts are divided into 11 divisions, mirroring the state’s existing district court system. Five of the divisions are based in major Texas cities:

  1. Houston is the Eleventh Business Court Division, covering Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Matagorda, and Wharton Counties.
  2. San Antonio is the Fourth Business Court Division, composed of Aransas, Atascosa, Bee, Bexar, Calhoun, DeWitt, Dimmit, Frio, Goliad, Jackson, Karnes, LaSalle, Live Oak, Maverick, McMullen, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Webb, Wilson, Zapata, and Zavala Counties.
  3. Fort Worth is the Eighth Business Court Division, covering Archer, Clay, Cooke, Denton, Eastland, Erath, Hood, Jack, Johnson, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell, Stephens, Tarrant, Wichita, Wise, and Young Counties.
  4. Dallas is the First Business Court Division, encompassing Collin, Dallas, Ellis, Fannin, Grayson, Kaufman, and Rockwall Counties.
  5. Austin is the Third Business Court Division, including Austin, Bell, Blanco, Bosque, Burnet, Caldwell, Colorado, Comal, Comanche, Coryell, Falls, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hays, Hill, Lampasas, Lavaca, Llano, McLennan, Milam, Navarro, Robertson, San Saba, Travis, and Williamson Counties.

The remaining six divisions of the business court will cover the more rural counties in Texas and is pending new appropriations and funding expected with the 2025 Texas Legislature.

Who Are the Texas Business Court Judges?

Unlike Texas’ administrative courts where judges are elected, business court judges are appointed by the Governor. In June, Governor Abbott announced his appointments for the five more populous divisions of the business court. His selections include three current judges and one former judge.

  1. The Governor appointed Sofia Adrogué and Grant Dorfman to be judges of the Eleventh Business Court Division in Houston. Adrogué is a partner with Diamond McCarthy LLP and a member of the Houston First Board of Directors. A resident of Bellaire, Texas, Dorfman is a Visiting Judge and former Deputy First Assistant Attorney General for the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
  2. Marialyn Barnard and Stacy Sharp have been appointed judges of the Fourth Business Court Division in San Antonio. Barnard is Judge of the 73rd Judicial District Court in Bexar County. Sharp is an attorney and owner of Sharp Appellate PLLC and an adjunct professor at The University of Texas at Austin.
  3. Jerry Bullard and Brian Stagner will preside over the Eighth Business Court Division in Fort Worth. Bullard is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and a shareholder and attorney with Adams, Lynch & Loftin, P.C. Stagner is of counsel and a former partner at Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP and an adjunct professor at Texas Christian University teaching business law.
  4. Andrea Bouressa and William “Bill” Whitehill will be judges of the First Business Court Division in Dallas. Bouressa is Judge of the 471st Judicial District Court and recently served a two-year term as Local Administrative District Judge for Collin County. Whitehill is a member of Condon Tobin Sladek Thornton Nerenberg PLLC and is a former Justice of the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.
  5. The Governor appointed Melissa Andrews and Patrick Sweeten to be judges of the Third Business Court Division in Austin. Andrews is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an equity partner at Holland & Knight. Sweeten is the Principal Deputy General Counsel for the Office of the Governor.

Each business court judge will serve for a term of two years, beginning on September 1, 2024, and expiring on September 1, 2026.

Per the state law establishing this new court system, a business court judge must:

  • be at least 35 years of age;
  • be a United States citizen;
  • have been a resident of a county within the division of the business court to which the judge is appointed for at least five years before appointment; and
  • be a licensed attorney in this state who has 10 or more years of experience practicing complex civil business litigation; practicing business transaction law; serving as a judge of a court in this state with civil jurisdiction; or any combination of this type of experience.

Governor Also Appoints Judges to Texas’ Fifteenth Court of Appeals

In addition to the business court judges, Governor Abbott also announced his first three appointees to the newly created Fifteenth Court of Appeals: Scott Brister, Chief Justice, Place 1; Scott Field, Place 2; and April Farris, Place 3.

  • Justice Brister is a senior partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP and previously served on the Texas Supreme Court.
  • Justice Field is the judge for the 480th Judicial District Court in Williamson County and previously served as a justice of the Third Court of Appeals.
  • Justice Farris is currently a justice on the First Court of Appeals in Houston, where she has served since 2021.

The Texas Legislature created the Fifteenth Court of Appeals to handle appeals from the business court and cases brought by or against the state of Texas.

What Types of Cases Will Texas Business Courts Hear?

The new Texas business courts will have jurisdiction (concurrent with Texas district courts) over specific legal actions in which the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, such as disputes over the internal affairs of a business organization or an action against a business owner.

Additionally, the business courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts over cases in which the amount in controversy exceeds $10 million, such as a dispute over a business transaction or certain contracts.

The courts were established to streamline the resolution of business disputes in Texas. Texas is the 27th state to adopt a business court system.

Read more about the jurisdiction of the Texas Business Courts at “New Business Courts Coming To Texas”.

When Will Texas Business Courts Be Open For Business?

Texas’ business courts will begin accepting cases on September 1, 2024.
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