Appellate courts hear appeals in cases which have been previously tried in the trial courts. No new evidence is presented and no witnesses are heard on the appeal of a case. The facts of the case have been determined at the trial, and all testimony and evidence are contained in the record which was made in the trial court and sent to the appellate court when the appeal was made. The appellate court makes its decision on the appeal based on a review of the record and the arguments of the attorneys for both sides. The decision is based solely upon the evidence contained in the record and the law which pertains to the facts of the case.

Each court of appeals has jurisdiction over appeals from the trial courts located in its respective district. The appeals heard in these courts are based upon the “record” (a written transcription of the testimony given, exhibits introduced, and the documents filed in the trial court) and the written and oral arguments of the appellate lawyers. The courts of appeals do not receive testimony or hear witnesses in considering the cases on appeal, but they may hear oral argument on the issues under consideration.

The Legislature has divided the state into 14 court of appeals districts and has established a court of appeals in each. One court of appeals is currently located in each of the following cities:

  • Amarillo • Austin • Beaumont • Corpus Christi/Edinburg • Dallas • Eastland • El Paso • Fort Worth • San Antonio • Texarkana • Tyler • Waco • Houston (2)

Each of the courts of appeals has at least three justices—a chief justice and two associate justices. While 80 justices currently serve on the courts of appeals, the Legislature is empowered to increase this number whenever the workload of an individual court requires additional justices.

The First Court of Appeals serves the Houston, Texas Area. The Court consists of nine justices who hear appeals and original proceedings from ten counties.

The Court of Civil Appeals for the First Supreme Judicial District of Texas opened its first term on Monday, October 3, 1892 with Chief Justice Christopher Columbus Garrett, Associate Justice Frank A. Williams, Associate Justice H. Clay Pleasants, and Clerk S.D. Reeves. Assisting the Court were Charles V. Johnson, deputy clerk, and J.E. Harmon, stenographer. The Court was then located in Galveston and heard appeals from 57 counties.1 The Court issued its first published opinions just nine days later on October 11, 1892: Kansas Gulf Short Line Ry. v. Scott, 1 Tex. Civ. App. 1, 20 S.W. 725 (Galveston 1892, no writ) (cause no. 2); Luckey v. Short, 1 Tex. Civ. App. 5, 20 S.W. 723 (Galveston 1892, no writ) (cause no. 4); Todd v. Roberts, 1 Tex. Civ. App. 8, 20 S.W. 722 (Galveston 1892, no writ) (cause no. 7). The Court’s home from 1892 to 1957 was the renovated 1878 Galveston County Jail (see illustration at right). The jail was designed by architect Eugene T. Heiner and located at 20th and Winnie Streets in Galveston. In 1957, the Court moved from Galveston to Houston.

Throughout its history, the First Court has been the “First” in Texas in many areas. The Court has the honor of having the first African–American appellate judge (Hon. Henry E. Doyle), the first elected female appellate judge (Hon. D. Camille Hutson–Dunn); the first female chief justice (Hon. Alice Oliver–Parrott); the first female African–American appellate judge (Hon. Gaynelle Griffin Jones), the first African–American appellate clerk (Hon. Margie Thompson), and the first all–female panel of regularly sitting judges (Hon. Alice Oliver–Parrott, Hon. Margaret Garner Mirabal, and Hon. Michol O’Connor). Because of these “firsts,” it is often maintained by those close to the Court that the word “First” in the Court’s name is more than a mere number—it is instead a symbol of the Court’s prominent place in the history of the Texas judiciary.