by Samantha Ketterer
A justice on the state’s First Court of Appeals has resigned, days after reports that she was sitting on the bench while diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Justice Laura Carter Higley, who lives in West University and served on the Houston-based court, submitted her notice to Gov. Greg Abbott, the appeals court’s clerk confirmed Tuesday. In the letter, she did not offer a reason for stepping down from the bench, he said.
“Her service is appreciated by us and the state of Texas,” clerk Christopher Prine said.
The justice, a Republican, has held Place 5 on the court since 2002. She was re-elected in 2008 and 2014, with her term set to expire December 2020.
Higley has not responded to requests for comment.
The Houston Chronicle reported on Higley’s cognitive condition after her sons launched an effort to become her legal guardians. The justice, who is 72, had been continuing with her daily work routine contrary to her failing health, the sons said.
“Due to the recent (and rapid) progression of her Alzheimer’s disease, Justice Higley’s mental state has deteriorated to the point that she is no longer able to care for her own physical health or manage her own financial affairs,” sons Garrett C. Higley and Robert Carter Higley said in the filing for guardianship.
She had continued driving herself to work downtown, and had not resigned from her job despite “clear indicators and explicit warnings” that she was no longer capable of serving on the court, the brothers said.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressively-natured form, meaning it can begin with mild memory loss and become increasingly severe, possibly causing the person to lose the ability to respond to their environment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can affect the ability to complete daily activities, the agency said, and there is no known cure.
Higley became the subject of the guardianship case in mid-October, just a week after receiving an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, according to documents filed in Probate Court No. 2. Her wellness issues began more than a year earlier with a diagnosis of an unspecified mild neurocognitive disorder, which progressed to a mild neurocognitive disorder stemming from possible Alzheimer’s disease in March, records show.
The sons hope to pull decision-making regarding Higley’s care away from her husband and their father, West University Place Mayor Bob Higley.
They called their mother’s condition “in the moment” only, meaning she can’t engage in substantive conversations. She struggles to remember information relayed to her or people she spoke with just a day before, according to the court filing.
Higley can’t do her job or manage her personal and financial affairs without complete assistance and supervision, meaning she’s a legally “incapacitated” person, the sons said.
She has a long history in law, and was an attorney at Baker Botts, L.L.P. prior to being a judge. Before that, she was the mayor of West University Place.
Higley was one of nine justices on her court, which serves Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller and Washington counties. The judges mostly hear appeals on cases decided in lower district and county courts in their jurisdiction.
It’s unknown whether Justice Higley has been on the receiving end of any official complaints related to her work. Those would be brought to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the oversight group for judges, interim executive director Jacqueline Habersham has said.
The Houston Chronicle has requested comment from the governor’s office regarding Higley’s resignation.
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Appeals court justice with Alzheimer’s disease resigns