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January 30th, 2018:

Interview with Nile Copeland

Nile Copeland

I have one more interview for County Treasurer. There are three candidates, but Cosme Garcia did not return my email asking to schedule something, so two is all I have. As before, if Garcia gets back to me now I will do my best to accommodate him. In the meantime, here is my interview with Nile Copeland, who currently serves as a municipal judge in Houston and who has been a candidate for district court judge in Harris County in past years. Publishing this today reminds me of one of the perils of doing interviews in advance as I do. It’s a rare days when incumbent Treasurer Orlando Sanchez does something newsworthy – honestly, I think it’s a rare day when he does something other than surf Facebook – but there he was getting quoted in that story about Harris County’s recent cybercrime near-miss. Had that story run a few weeks ago, or if I had done these interviews more recently, I’d have brought this up, but alas, it was not to be. So you’ll have to do with what we did talk about:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Michael Galligan

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Michael Galligan

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Michael Galligan and I am a Democrat running to become the next judge of Harris County Probate Court Number 4.

I was born and raised here in Houston. I went to St. Pius X high school before attending college at the University of Pennsylvania. I came back to town to attend South Texas College of Law. Upon graduation I began work as a probate and estate planning attorney with Galligan & Manning. My wife, Eileen Romero Galligan, is the School Director at YES Prep Southeast. We have an amazing six-year-old son Joseph who is in First Grade as Corpus Christi Catholic School.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County has four statutory probate courts. Statutory probate courts exist in the most populous counties to handle very particular types of cases. Probate law is a unique, specialized, and not necessarily intuitive area of law. The rules that apply in other courts often do not in probate court. The expectation is that statutory probate court judges will have expertise in the area of probate and guardianships to better serve these large populations. This is one reason why probate experience is a must for any Harris County probate court judge.
 
Our probate courts have jurisdiction over claims brought by or against an executor, administrator or guardian of an estate, guardianship and will contests, will construction cases and claims related to trusts. Most of the probate courts’ business involves administration matters. The probate courts are responsible for monitoring decedents’ estates and guardianships which can go on for years. They must review and approve inventories and accountings, determine the priority and validity of creditor claims, evaluate evidence to determine who a decedents’ heirs are, and make sure that a prospective ward’s rights have been preserved when a guardianship is instituted. Probate Court Four also assists in the administration of the mental health docket dealing with issues related to court ordered mental health services and administration of psychoactive medications.
 
Most of the public’s contact with the probate courts occurs when a will is probated. This involves a non-adversarial proceeding during which the probate judge must be well acquainted with the rules relating to what is a valid will and what is involved in a valid will execution.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe that Democrats will be very successful in 2018. If there is a wave election sweeping Democrats into judicial positions up and down the ballot, it is imperative that they be experienced and competent. I am running to ensure that the next judge of Harris County Probate Court 4 will be the type of judge I would want to practice before. One who knows the law and is able to apply it efficiently to the facts. One who is career-long probate practitioner. I’d be remiss if I did not mention that election night 2016 made a big impact on me. At that moment, after watching the results in disbelief, I resolved to be part of the solution. To do what I can, when I can. I am running to help carry that blue wave that will send a message to the County, the State, and the entire country, that Democrats, liberals, progressives, and people of good conscience will not give up on our government.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have worked as an estate planning and probate attorney for my entire career. Over the course of my career, I have been involved in various proceedings in probate court, including will contests, will construction suits, petitions demanding accountings of executors and trustees, declaratory judgment actions to determine the heirs of a decedent, and actions involving creditors. I have been appointed by probate courts as an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of unknown heirs in court proceedings. I have handled approximately 200 Cases in Harris County, alone, (twice as many as my opponent) and many more outside the County. A substantial part of my practice also involves consulting with clients and preparing their estate plans including wills, trusts, medial and financial powers of attorneys, appointments of guardians, and business entities. As such I have been involved with the entirety of the process, from planning, to implementation, to resolution of conflicts. 

5. Why is this race important?

Everyone has a loved one who has passed away. Everyone knows of someone struggling with mental illness or incapacity. Probate courts affect the lives of more citizens than just about any other type of court. Those who come into probate court do so at a time real vulnerability. Probate court judges must therefore be equipped with the necessary experience and expertise. This race is important because it will decide whether the Democratic candidate in the general election is someone with that expertise or not. 

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

My primary opponent has been an attorney longer than I have been alive. However, despite his almost 40 year career, I still have more than twice the number of matters filed in Harris County Probate Courts. I have more than six times the number of matters filed in these courts since 2010. Last year, my opponent filed only one matter in a Harris County probate court. The year before, he only filed three. At his pace, it would take my opponent more than 37 years to have gained the experience that I have in probate court right now. While my opponent has merely dabbled in probate law over the course of his career, probate law is what I do when I wake up every morning.  

I am the only candidate in this primary race with the necessary experience and expertise to serve as the next judge of Harris County Probate Court 4.

“Fetal remains” law blocked in court

It’s deja vu all over again.

Texas’ second attempt to require health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains has been temporarily thwarted by a federal judge and another court battle is imminent.

In his Monday afternoon ruling, U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said the Texas Department of State Health Services’ arguments “lack merit.”

“For those eager for a result in this case, it is tempting to read the Court’s decision as a signal on who will win at trial or as a determination of the validity of Plaintiffs’ claims,” Ezra said. “Such guesswork would be premature. The Court only concludes Plaintiffs establish injunctive relief is warranted to preserve the status quo.”

The current fight is over Senate Bill 8, a law passed during the 2017 legislative session that has a provision forcing health care facilities to bury or cremate any fetal remains from abortions, miscarriage or treatment for ectopic pregnancy, regardless of their patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. That provision was supposed to go into effect Feb. 1.

In his temporary ruling, Ezra said attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs, showed evidence that the new rule would infringe on women’s right to an abortion and that medical providers would have a difficult time following through with the rule, causing them to be fined.

Ezra’s ruling echoes a case from 2016 where reproductive rights groups sued to stop the Health and Human Services Commission from implementing a similar fetal burial rule. During the multi-day court hearing at the time, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks struck that rule down in 2017, saying it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

See here for some background on the legislation. This is just an injunction hearing, to decide whether to allow the law to take effect while the litigation is ongoing. The hearings and rulings on the merits come afterward. As noted, the rule that preceded this law was struck down almost exactly a year ago; the state is of course appealing that ruling. From the zealots’ perspective, it almost doesn’t matter if they win or lose. It’s time consuming and expensive for the clinics to fight – and let’s not forget, even as the omnibus HB2 was struck down awhile back, many clinics closed for good in the meantime – and it keeps the rubes whipped up. What’s not to like for them? A statement from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Current has more.

Public meetings for Texas Central draft EIS

You got something you want to say about the proposed high speed rail line and its possible routes, here’s your chance.

Houston residents are being asked to weigh in on a plan to build a $12 billion high-speed train between the city and Dallas.

The meeting is set for Feb. 5 and will be coordinated by the Federal Railroad Administration, which must approve plans for the Texas Bullet Train.

[…]

Texas Central, which has support from Houston and Dallas city officials, said the line would stop south of downtown Dallas and then in Houston, near Loop 610 and U.S. 290, the Houston Chronicle’s Dug Begley reported.

Relevant info about the meetings is here. The schedule for meetings near us in Houston is as follows:

Madison County – Monday, February 5, 2018, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Truman Kimbro Convention Center, 111 W Trinity St, Madisonville, TX 77864

Harris County – Monday, February 5, 2018, 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Woodard Elementary School, 17501 Cypress North Houston Rd, Cypress, TX 77433

Grimes County – Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Navasota Junior High, 9038 Highway 90 South, Navasota, TX 77868

Waller County – Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Waller High School, 20950 Fields Store Rd, Waller, TX 77484

You can also provide feedback or sign up to receive updates on the project from the Federal Railroad Administration here. As a reminder, there are three possible locations for the Houston terminal, and one of the goals of the DEIS project is to pick a winner from those three. So speak now or forever hold your peace.