GONZALEZ, Justice, delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
This original mandamus proceeding concerns the construction of Section 74.053 of the Texas Government Code, which allows parties to a lawsuit to object to the assignment of a "former judge or justice who was not a retired judge." TEX. GOV'T CODE § 74.053(d). The primary issue is whether, for the purpose of this statute, the status of a judge as a "former judge ... who was not a retired judge" is fixed when a judge leaves office or when a judge is assigned. We hold that a judge's status is fixed when a judge leaves office. We conclude that the respondent should have sustained the relator's objection to the assigned judge. We conditionally grant the petition for writ of mandamus.
Arlen H. Nelon and LaQuita Nelon filed the underlying action in the 271st district court in Wise County. The Nelons claim that Mitchell Energy Corporation's natural gas wells contaminated their nearby water wells. Mitchell moved for disqualification or recusal of Judge John H. Fostel, the regular presiding judge of the 271st Judicial District. Judge Fostel declined to recuse himself. Mitchell objected to the first two judges that Judge Clyde R. Ashworth, the presiding judge for the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region, assigned to hear the recusal motion. Judge Ashworth honored the objections.
Judge Ashworth reassigned the recusal motion to a third judge, Judge Steven Herod, who granted Mitchell's motion to recuse Judge Fostel from trying the Nelons' case. Judge Ashworth then assigned the Nelon case to Judge Catherine Adamski Gant. Judge Gant had served as judge of the 360th Judicial District in Tarrant County from 1984 until 1988, when she was defeated for reelection. She then served as judge of the 141st Judicial District in Tarrant County from 1991 until 1994, when she again was defeated for re-election. From 1994 to 1996, she served as a visiting judge. Then in July of 1996, she qualified as a "senior judge" under Section 75.001 of the Government Code. Before the first hearing over which Judge Gant presided, Mitchell objected to Judge Gant under Section 74.053 of the Government Code. Judge Ashworth overruled Mitchell's objection, which Mitchell challenges by this mandamus proceeding.
Mandamus will issue to correct a clear abuse of discretion when there is no adequate remedy by appeal. Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 839-40 (Tex.1992). Interpretation of a statute is a pure question of law over which the judge has no discretion. Id. at 840. Mandamus is available to compel a judge's mandatory disqualification upon proper objection without a showing that the relator lacks an adequate remedy by appeal. Flores v. Banner, 932 S.W.2d 500, 501 (Tex.1996).
Section 74.053 of the Texas Government Code provides in pertinent part:
TEX. GOV'T CODE § 74.053(a),(b),(d) (emphasis added). Subsection(b) allows a party to make one objection to any assigned judge. However, subsection (d) allows unlimited objections "to an assigned judge who was not a retired judge." Flores, 932 S.W.2d at 501. Mitchell concedes that it used up its one objection under Section 74.053(b), but argues that it could still object to Judge Gant under subsection (d) because she is a "former judge who was not a retired judge" when she was voted out of office.
Mitchell contends that Judge Gant's present status as a retiree judge is irrelevant, because of the Legislature's use of the past tense in the phrase "former judge or justice who was not a retired judge." Mitchell argues that the purpose behind Section 74.053(d) was to give parties the right to object to former judges who were not reelected enough times to qualify for judicial retirement when they left elective office— those who had not met "the test of time" with the voters. The Nelons contend that all the Legislature meant was that a former judge must have achieved retired-judge status when assigned to be immune to an objection under Section 74.053(d).
In construing a statute, our primary objective is to give effect to the Legislature's intent. Texas Water Comm'n v. Brushy Creek Mun. Util. Dist., 917 S.W.2d 19, 21 (Tex.1996). We try to give it the meaning the Legislature intended, keeping in mind at all times the "old law, the evil, and the remedy." TEX. GOV'T CODE § 312.005; accord Barshop v. Medina County Underground Water Conservation Dist., 925 S.W.2d 618, 629 (Tex.1996). We consider the object to attain, the circumstances of the statute's enactment, legislative history, former statutory and common law, and the consequences of a particular construction. TEX. GOV'T CODE § 311.023; Union Bankers Ins. Co. v. Shelton, 889 S.W.2d 278, 280 (Tex. 1994).
We endeavor to discover what the Legislature intended from the actual language it employed. The use of "was" in Section 74.053(d) is distinctive, being the only use of the past tense anywhere in Section 74.053. For example, subsection (a) states: "When a judge is assigned" to hear a case the presiding judge must notify the parties if possible. TEX. GOV'T CODE § 74.053(a) (emphasis added). On the other hand, subsection (d) provides: "A former judge or justice who was not a retired judge may not sit in a case if either party objects to the judge or justice." Id. § 74.053(d)(emphasis added). The use of past tense in subsection (d) indicates that the Legislature was contemplating a time before assignment. The Nelons' argument that subsection (d) means only that a judge must have attained retired status at the time of assignment does not comport with the Legislature's choice of words.
We turn next to the statutory development of the system of assigning judges. Before 1957, only currently sitting district judges could be assigned to another court. In 1957, the Legislature allowed judges who participated in the Judicial Retirement System to serve by assignment, being retired judges who were sixty-five years old with at least ten years experience. Act of May 23, 1957, 55th Leg., R.S., ch. 408, § 1, 1955 Tex. Gen. Laws 1236. In 1977, the Legislature added another category of judges who could qualify for assignment—former district judges who had not been defeated for re-election and were below the age of seventy. Act of April 21, 1977, 65th Leg., R.S., ch. 115, § 2, 1977 Tex. Gen. Laws 248. In 1985, the Legislature revised the qualifications to be an assigned former district judge to those who had served four years and certified that they
The major features of the current statutory system for assigning judges has not changed much from 1991. There are three basic categories of judges who may receive an assignment, "regular," "retiree," and "former" judges. A "regular" judge is one who is a current officeholder from another court. Tex Gov't Code § 74.054(a)(1), (a)(5), (b). A "retiree" judge is one who, as discussed earlier, is a judge receiving an annuity under the Judicial Retirement System. The Code does not specifically define the term "former judge," but the Code requires that both former and retiree judges have served as a regular judge for a minimum of forty-eight months. Id. § 74.055(c)(1), (e). Thus, a former judge for purposes of assignment may be defined as one who has served as a regular judge for at least forty-eight months, but who is not a retiree judge.
A former judge who serves by assignment receives the same salary and compensation as a regular judge. Tex Gov't Code § 74.061(d). Former judges are members of the Judicial Retirement System and accumulate service credit. See id. §§ 831.001(3); 832.001(a), (d); 833.101; 836.001(5); 837.001(a), (d); 838.101. Thus, a former judge, although not vested when the judge leaves elective office, may accumulate enough service credit to receive an annuity. If other requirements are met, the judge may become a retired judge who may elect senior judge status. Id. § 75.001.
In 1991, Section 74.053(b) provided that parties were entitled to only one objection to an assigned judge of any kind. Act of February 22, 1989, 71st Leg., R.S., ch. 2 § 8.37, 1989 Tex. Gen. Laws 123, 163. The Legislature added subsection (d) to Section 74.053 as an amendment to House Bill 555 during the regular session of the 72nd Legislature in 1991. As initially proposed, House Bill 555 was intended to clarify the eligibility requirements to be assigned as a visiting judge. See COMMITTEE ON JUDICIAL AFFAIRS, BILL ANALYSIS, Tex. H.B. 555, 71st Leg., R.S. (1989). During a public hearing on the bill the Senate Jurisprudence Committee conducted, several senators expressed dissatisfaction with the extent assigned visiting judges were used, and urged that parties ought to have the right to have a locally elected judge decide their case. The Senators discussed a perceived problem, particularly in Harris County, that judges who had just been turned out of office by an election were returning to the same court as an assigned judge. The committee reported House Bill 555 with an amendment that would allow parties to object to the assignment of any judge other than current holders of elective office. Public Hearing on H.B. 555 Before Senate Jurisprudence Committee, 71st Leg., R.S., (May 14, 1991) (tape available through the Senate Staff Services Office).
When the bill reached the Senate floor, however, Senator Gene Green recommended the current language. The debate over the proposed amendment included the following exchange about its purpose:
Debate on Tex. H.B. 555 on the Floor of the Senate, 71st Leg., R.S. (May 21, 1991) (tape available through the Senate Staff Services Office).
Section 74.053 clearly is intended to give parties the right to veto the assignment of certain former judges. The problem which motivated the legislation was the perceived abuse of the assignment system, in particular the use of judges who had been recently rejected by the electorate.
The solution aimed at mitigating the problem was to allow parties to object to some, but not all, former judges. The line of demarcation is experience. However, the Legislature intended to measure a judge's experience not merely by time put in as a judicial officer, but by service over a period of years with the approval of the electorate. The Legislature intended that a party may object to a former judge under Section 74.053(d), but not if the judge had served as an elected judge long enough to be vested under the retirement system. By promulgating Section 74.053(d), the Legislature distinguished two kinds of former judges: those who had vested when they left office, and those who had not. Although Judge Gant ultimately achieved Senior Judge status, she had not vested when she left her last elected office. Thus, Judge Gant may not sit in a case when a party objects under Section 74.053(d).
In summary, we conclude that the Legislature intended that, for the purpose of objections to visiting judges, the proper inquiry is whether the judge had vested under the State Judicial Retirement system when the judge left office, not any later-acquired status. Because Judge Gant qualified for "senior