Even in the justice system, silence can be golden. While the 14th Court of Appeals has been in seemingly continual controversy in recent years -- justices even sued their chief justice at one point in a long-running dispute over administrative authority -- the First Court of Appeals has been a relative sea of calm jurisprudence. The reason is obvious: First Court leader Chief Justice Michael Schneider. He walked into potential pitfalls in early 1996, as a state district civil judge inheriting the appellate administrative duties after Alice Oliver-Parrott unexpectedly resigned midway through her term. But Schneider is a rare breed on the bench. His background -- that all-important life experience so essential to a quality judgeship -- is perhaps the most varied of anybody wearing a black robe in Harris County. He's a former high school teacher, a veteran prosecutor and the first consumer fraud chief ever for the D.A.'s office, a globe-traveling corporate specialist, a suburban muny court judge, and the jurist who oversaw the hectic high-stakes era of breast implant litigation. And don't forget his 12 years as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. Schneider's operation of the appellate court reflects the kind of consensus-building efficiency and common sense that's a no-nonsense model for other officeholders, both inside and outside the justice system.