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May 7th, 2012:

Interview with Domingo Garcia

Domingo Garcia

My last interview for this primary cycle is with another one of the leading contenders in the crowded CD33 primary, Domingo Garcia. Garcia is an attorney and activist who served for eight years on the Democratic National Committee beginning in 1988. He was elected to Dallas City Council in 1991 after leading the fight to implement single member districts there, and was elected the first Latino Mayor Pro Tem in 1993. In 1996 he was elected to the Legislature and spent three terms there, serving on the Criminal Jurisprudence and Judicial Affairs Committees. He is involved with the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, which was and is one of the plaintiffs in the current litigation. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page. As noted, this is the last interview for the May 29 primary that I have planned. There are a number of campaigns to which I have made contact and been promised a return call, but I never did hear back from them. If one or more of them does eventually get back to me you may yet see some more interviews before the primary, but I wouldn’t count on it. I’ll be at the TDP convention here in Houston and I’ll have my recorder with me, so I’m sure I’ll get a few more interviews done, perhaps some for the runoffs and others for November. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and found it useful. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the interviews.

Complaining about the public defender office

At least one judge doesn’t like the new Harris County Public Defenders office.

“In short there is no evidence that a public defender’s office can be of any benefit to the Harris County Juvenile Justice system,” state District Judge John Phillips said last month in an open letter.

Chief among Phillips’ complaints is that the public defender system in the juvenile courts costs two and half times more than the system of appointments he uses, a number denied by those connected to the office.

Phillips said the average cost per case is $649, compared to $264 for assigned lawyers.

Alex Bunin, who oversees the public defender’s office, said Phillips’ numbers are wrong. He said the judge cited a preliminary feasibility study with estimates that were not accurate.

“Those numbers are not meaningful,” he said.

Bunin said the costs are closer to actual public defender averages across the state. Established public defender offices in Texas average $406 per case against $540 for appointed attorneys.

“The point is that the numbers are fairly comparable,” Bunin said. “There’s no support for ‘two and half times the cost.’ ”

Bunin said a comprehensive review has been commissioned and is expected in about six months.

“We’ll know things about the quality of our work, as well as the cost effectiveness of it,” Bunin said. “When we get ready for midyear budget, we’ll have something on paper.”

I found Judge Phillips’ letter here. The story references an open letter in response to Judge Phillips from Lawrence Finder and George “Mac” Secrest, but I was not able to locate it. (Dear Houston Chronicle: Would it kill you to include links to stuff like this that you reference in the online version of your stories?) Not being familiar with the system, Judge Phillips’ letter and the documents he included as evidence did not make much sense to me. I do agree with Bunin that the costs cited in an initial feasibility study don’t really mean much any more, and that the actual costs that will be reflected in their midyear budget will tell a much more accurate story. Judge Phillips also cites a number of reforms that the juvenile courts have implemented to save money, to which I say Great! Good job! But I don’t see why those reforms and the Public Defender office should be mutually exclusive, and even if they were that doesn’t address the need for the Public Defender office in other courts. And finally, not to be crass, but I’d like to know what if any connections there are between Judge Phillips and Gary Polland. Judge Phillips complained that supporters of the Public Defender office have politicized the issue, but that is quite clearly a two-way street. Let’s see what their budget request looks like and we’ll go from there.

Endorsement watch: Fertitta and Lykos

The Chron makes its endorsements in the two primary races for District Attorney. On the Democratic side, they make the easy and obvious call for Zack Fertitta.

Zack Fertitta

Zack Fertitta represents a new generation at the Harris County courthouse, and deserves to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for District Attorney. Youthful and energetic, Fertitta has an established history within county criminal justice circles, having served as a prosecutor, defense attorney and member of a grand jury. His breadth of experience shows when he talks about his plans for progress if elected district attorney, focusing on the future rather than the fights of the past.

Fertitta has an admirable drive to bring the DA’s office technologically up to date, with ideas for training prosecutors on search-and-seizure issues related to cell phones before that new area of privacy erupts into controversy. “Notions of digital privacy are really going to be the battlefield for the 21st century,” he told the Chronicle. And his plan to move the district attorney’s office from paper to digital files is a much-needed step that will save time and money in the long run.

There was never any question about this one, as the two candidates are worlds apart in terms of qualifications and experience. It was more interesting to see how they’d choose on the Republican side, with two candidates of roughly equal heft. In the end they chose to stay the course with Pat Lykos.

DA Pat Lykos

The two combatants, and we use the term advisedly, are the incumbent, District Attorney Pat Lykos, and her challenger, former prosecutor and criminal court judge Mike Anderson. We recommend a vote for Pat Lykos.

While both wear the Republican label proudly and genuinely, their views about the current state, and future direction, of the DA’s office, the nexus of criminal justice in Harris County, are as far apart as, well, Orange is from El Paso. The tone of a recent joint screening visit with the Houston Chronicle editorial board was testy and confrontational. Worthy of a well-argued courtroom trial, if we may say.


When it comes to qualifications for office, this race is a virtual dead heat. But two factors tip our endorsement call definitively to Pat Lykos. She’s an outsider, and following the Rosenthal debacle, that’s what the DA’s office needs. Over the past three and a half years she’s made good on her promise to begin reforming the culture of an important department that had descended to the level of “Animal House.” We see no good reason to change course. While recognizing Mike Anderson’s strengths, we commend Pat Lykos to voters in the GOP primary.

As I’ve said, I’ve got no dog in that fight. Sometimes you know which candidate you want to be your opponent, but I don’t know who I’d pick in this race. I’m as interested as anyone to see who emerges from that election.

Will SOPA sink Smith?

Probably not, but I sure don’t mind seeing his opponents use it against him.

Republican long-shot candidates are citing high-tech discontent over Rep. Lamar Smith’s proposed government regulation of the Internet in an attempt to knock off the 13-term incumbent in the primary election.

Even two Democrats, seeking to win their party’s nomination, have cited the proposed regulatory bill in their hopes to defeat Smith in the general election this fall.

But Smith, 64, has a campaign war chest of $1.3 million and has represented the Hill Country congressional district that includes North San Antonio since 1987. He will be hard to unseat in the 21st Congressional District on May 29, political experts say.

Smith was author of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was designed to protect U.S. film, recording and intellectual property rights but opposed by Internet providers as censorship.

The bipartisan legislation was pulled after it was attacked by Google and other social media giants.

“Lamar Smith is completely out of touch with Texans. He will hurt Texas business,” said Richard Mack, 59, of Fredericksburg.

Richard Morgan, 24, a former software engineer in Austin, cited Smith’s SOPA bill as a reason he is running in the Republican primary, as well Smith’s long tenure in office.

“He’s been in Congress longer than I’ve been alive,” Morgan said.


In the Democratic primary, two candidates are vying for the nomination: Daniel Boone, a retired Air Force psychologist, and business consultant Candace Duvál.

Boone, 76, of Canyon Lake, a descendent of the Kentucky pioneer, ran unsuccessfully for the State Board of Education and was defeated in the 2008 Democratic primary for Texas House District 73.

He filed last year as a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, but switched to the congressional race because he didn’t have the money to run a statewide campaign.

Both Boone and Duvál have raised less than $5,000 each, according to FEC records.

Both cite Smith’s SOPA bill and their opposition to it in their campaign literature.

None of these people are likely to be sworn into office next January, but this is the sort of issue that could at least be a little annoying for Lamar Smith to have to deal with. It may cost him a few votes, though it would have to be a lot more than that to make a difference in CD21. At least he’s being called out for his authorship of a lousy bill. It’s a start.