Harriet O'Neill was a justice of the Texas Supreme Court. She was elected to the court on November 3, 1998 and took office on January 1, 1999. She was retained by voters in 2004. She is a Republican.
Justice O'Neill earned an undergraduate degree from Conserve College and studied at the University College in Oxford, England. She earned her J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1982.
Justice O'Neill was in private practice for ten years prior to joining the bench. In 1992, she was elected as a trial judge for the Houston 152nd District Court; in 1995, she was a judge on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals; and in 1998, she was elected to the Texas Supreme Court.
Awards and associations
Justice O'Neill has been a First-Prize Winner in the National Law Day Speech Awards, and has been Appellate Justice of the year. She has also been awarded the University of South Carolina Distinguished Alumnae Award.
Justice O'Neill is a member of the American Law Institute, the Robert W. Calvert Inns of Court, a Fellow of the Houston and Texas Bar Foundations, and a member of the Texas Access to Justice Commission. Justice O'Neill was appointed by then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to serve on the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women, and is chairman of the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families.
Notable rulings of Harriet O'Neill
20801, Inc. v. Parker (2008)
Individual Responsibility-Dram Shop Act-Safe Harbor Provision
Issue: Under the safe harbor provision of the Texas Dram Shope Act, does a provider of alcohol have to prove that he did not directly or indirectly encourage his employees to over-serve alcohol in order to receive immunity from the liability associated with employees over-serving patrons.
Factual and Procedural History: In November 1999, Defendant's employees served Plaintiff ten to fifteen free alcoholic beverages at the opening of their pool hall. After Plaintiff became involved in an argument with another patron, Defendant asked Plaintiff to leave. After leaving, Plaintiff was punched by the other patron in the parking lot, which caused Plaintiff to fall and strike his head on the pavement. Plaintiff brought suit for damages, but the trial court granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. In response, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Defendant did not establish that they did not encourage their employees to violate the law. The Supreme Court of Texas granted Defendant's petition of review to explore the contours of the safe harbor provision.
Relevant Rule: The Texas Dram Shop, which imposes liability on alcoholic beverage providers for damages resulting from the provision of alcohol to obviously drunk persons, also contains a section eliminating this liabilitiy if (1)the employer requires its employees to attend certain training classes, (2) the employee in question actually attended these classes, and (3) the provider did not directly or indirectly encourage that employee to violate the law.
Summary: Justice Harriet O'Neill concurred with the unanimous opinion, authored by Wallace Jefferson, which ruled that a provider of alcohol does not have the burden of disproving encouragement to over-serve alcohol in oder to realize the benefits of the safe harbor clause of the Texas Dram Shop Act. The court held: (1) the provider bears the burden of establishing the first two elements of the safe harbor provision (2) the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing direct or indirect encouragement, and (3) encouragement may be shown, at the minimum, by evidence of the provider's negligence.
- "Texas Supreme Court resignations mark 'sad departures,' observers say" Legal Newsline August 19, 2009
- The Texas Tribune, "An Interview with Departing Supreme Court Justice," July 27, 2010
- 1998 election results see 1998 General Election results
- Texas Supreme Court
- 2004 election results see 2004 General Election results
- Texas Supreme Court advisory "STATEMENT BY JUSTICE HARRIET O’NEILL" August 6, 2009
- Supreme Court of Texas Blog "Justice O’Neill decides to leave the bench" August 6, 2009
- chron.com, "Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill to step down," May 7, 2010
- O'Neill Biography
- 249 S.W.3d 392
- TEX. ALCO. BEV. CODE 2.02(b)
- TEX. ALCO.BEV. CODE 106.14(a)