|Guest Speaker Judge Mark Davidson Shares Historic Texas Lawsuits
LIBERTY October 8, 2019 - Judge Mark Davidson served as Judge of the 11th District Court for twenty years before his retirement in 2009. He is now serving as the Multi-District Litigation Judge for all asbestos cases in the State of Texas, being named to that position by Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and the Multi-District Litigation Panel of the Texas Supreme Court. In that role, he has judicial duties over the 85,000 asbestos cases pending throughout the state.
Judge Davidson is married to Sarah Duckers, and has two sons, William age 20 and Thomas age 18. In his spare time, Judge Davidson was the founder and first Cubmaster of a Cub Scout Pack dedicated to the needs of Autistic boys and volunteered as Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout Troop with the same mission. In 2003, he was awarded the Arbor Day award by Trees for Houston for his role in saving a 93-year-old tree on the Harris County Courthouse lawn. He was honored by the Texas Society Daughters of the American Revolution during their 2017 state conference for his work and stewardship in the field of historic preservation. These are only a few of the many civic and professional awards Judge Davidson has received.
Judge Davidson loves history, especially Texas history and began poking around in a Harris County warehouse, where much to his dismay, lay years of early Texas history in litigation records. We have always known that Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar despised each other and had quite a rivalry. What many don’t know is that these two historic figures tangled in court in 1843 over used furniture in the president’s log cabin “mansion” in downtown Houston. The Republic of Texas’ first president left his personal furniture behind when he moved out of the presidential cabin. Lamar claimed Houston had “trashed” the place before he moved in. There were many repairs to be made including a big hole in the floor. Lamar sold the furniture and used the proceeds to patch the floor, whereupon Houston sued his successor for conversion of personal property! Houston won and Lamar appealed. On the last day of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas met before becoming the state Supreme Court, the justices affirmed the lower court ruling in favor of Houston.
Judge Davidson, an amateur history sleuth who discovered the unknown court case, pointed out the rat holes in the fragile paper, the holes caused by the fading acidic ink and the folds that would eventually be tears had the document not been rescued a few years ago. The judge loves tracking down nuggets of historical information hidden away in old county records and is determined to preserve these records for posterity.
The judge’s sense of urgency about preserving these records was fueled back in 1994 when the president of the Houston Bar Association asked him to write six stories about Harris County legal history. Deciding to dig into county records from the 1800s, he was directed to an un-air-conditioned warehouse where the records were vulnerable to rats, bugs, weather and the ravages of time.
Davidson found a file containing the records of a collection of lawsuits brought in 1853 by William Marsh Rice, the New Englander who came to Houston in 1838 at age 21, amassed a huge fortune and later endowed the university that bears his name. Davidson saw the makings of a good story, but when he took the paper our of its envelope, it crumbled into confetti in his hand. He took the scraps to then District Clerk Charles Bacarisse, who had been in office only a few weeks. He dumped the confetti on his desk and asked him if he knew what it was. The puzzled Bacarisse was surprised and puzzled. “This is one of your files and there are 30,000 like it,” Davidson said. The judge found an ally in Bacarisse and along with volunteers, many from the Eagle Scouts and the Daughters of the American Revolution, moved the materials into an air-conditioned building. All the records could not be saved but many were preserved and bound.
Judge Davidson has continued to mine records with great enthusiasm from a 1924 document filed by a 19-year-old Houstonian who wanted to be declared an adult so he could take over his father’s company. The name on the document is Howard Hughes, Jr. One of Davidson’s most spectacular finds was a stack of papers containing an 1847 court case involving a freed slave named Emeline. According to court documents, Emeline (last name unknown) was the product of a union between a white man named Nunnally and one of his slaves, a woman named Rhoda. Nunnally’s sister was the wife of President Andrew Jackson, making Emeline the niece of the first lady of the United States of America.
The judge is very aware that similar hidden treasures in courthouses throughout the state are in danger of disappearing, not only because the records are deteriorating but also because they are easy prey for thieves and vandals. Davidson has found historic items on eBay and other Internet auction sites. “I once bought for $125, John Wesley Hardin’s conviction records from Tyler County, a murder trial,” he said. “I sent it back to the Tyler County district judge, saying, “You might tell your clerk to keep better watch on this stuff!”
Please join the Liberty County Historical Commission at our quarterly meeting Monday, October 21st at 6:00 p.m. to hear more intriguing stories from Judge Mark Davidson and his sleuthing expeditions around Texas! Our meetings are open to the public and we encourage you to attend. Our meetings are in the A.J. “Jack” Hartel Building, 318 San Jacinto Street, Liberty. For more information, please contact Linda Jamison, County Chair at 936-334-5813 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.