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October 18th, 2018:

Judicial Q&A: Donna Roth

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. 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.

Donna Roth

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

I am Donna Roth. I am running for Judge of the 295th Civil District Court, Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 295th is a civil court of general jurisdiction. It is a district court which handles civil cases with amounts in controversy from $500 to any dollar amount. The court also has equity power to impose injunctions, restraining orders and declaratory judgments (a judgment that declares the rights of the parties). The court hears a wide variety of matters including but not limited to breach of contract, commercial disputes, personal injury, employment disputes, medical and legal malpractice, wrongful death, insurance disputes, corporate disputes, partnership/corporate dissolutions, property disputes, debt collection, bank foreclosures, attorney disbarment, attorney discipline and Harris County property tax collection.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 295th is a civil trial bench. I have spent my professional career in the civil trial courts representing the people of Harris County, Texas. This bench is one where I can utilize my education, experience and life lessons to serve all the people of Harris County in a fair and equitable matter. Justice should be served with integrity, accountability and equality. I am running for the 295th to do just that!

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 1987 cum laude graduate from South Texas College of Law. For 31 years I have practiced civil trial law. I have extensive first chair jury trial experience, have litigated almost every type of case that could come before the court, have extensive trials before the bench and have mentored any number of younger lawyers by sitting second chair and assisting and advising. I represent people and families who have been seriously injured or lost a loved one because someone did something they should not have done or failed to do something they should have done. I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and licensed not only in Texas but in Washington and New York. I have had active practices in all 3 states. As the managing partner of Roth & Associates since 1994 each person that has come to us for help has been treated fairly, equally and respectfully. It will be no different as your next judge of the 295th.

I have the patience and poise to listen to everyone who comes to the court seeking justice. Four years ago my daughter joined our firm as its newest associate. Nothing teaches patience and temperament like working six days a week with your only child. I will serve justice with integrity, accountability and equality. In the 31 years I have been practicing I have never had a judge enter an order referring to me as “unprofessional” or exhibiting “needlessly contentious conduct”. My opponent may not say the same.

5. Why is this race important?

Many, if not most people, will someday be required to come before a judge. Whether it be a civil judge, a family judge, a probate judge, a juvenile judge or a criminal judge, most people will find themselves before a court. If you have been fired and have to sue your employer for wrongful discharge or employment discrimination, or if you have been seriously injured or lost a family member because of another’s negligence, or if you have lost a limb or organ because of a medical facilities’ negligence, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court. If you have a property boundary dispute, a dispute with your homeowners’ association, or a disagreement with Harris County Appraisal District over the value of your property, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court.

Presiding over the determination of fair and adequate compensation for the loss of a loved one because of another’s negligence, whether one’s livelihood has been taken away without just cause, the value of one’s home, a contract or business dispute, or whether an insurance company should be required to reimburse you for the loss of a limb or organ are important matters that make this race and the determination of who the next judge in this court will be an important matter.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Experience:
The 295th Civil District Court is a civil trial bench. Because the role of the judge is to fairly and impartially try cases, trial experience is the most important qualification for voters to choose a candidate. As indicated by my qualifications, I can start working the day I am elected. I am also the candidate in this race that has received the endorsement of the three legal organizations who have screened and endorsed to date. In recognition of my experience and temperament these organizations in endorsing my candidacy have said that I am the candidate qualified to sit as the next Judge of this court. I have also been privileged to be acknowledged by my peers in the Houston Bar Association to be the candidate they believe is more qualified and preferred than my opponent.

I am a single mom. Four years ago my daughter, Andrea Roth, joined our firm as the newest associate. For the last four years I have worked full-time every day with my child. Nothing teaches patience and prepares you for the judicial temperament necessary to be a judge like working full-time with your only child.

Community Focused:
I maintain on my docket at least one pro bono case where I represent a woman in need of either a divorce, child support, child custody or a protective order. I volunteered after Hurricane Harvey and provided legal services at the hurricane victim’s assistance centers throughout the city. I volunteered for the Children’s Assessment Center and assisted participants at a skeet shoot. I serve as a “judge” at South Texas College of Law for the mock trial program. This I have done since I graduated law school in 1987. I also volunteered for nearly 10 years at JFK Elementary through Houston Trial Lawyer’s Foundation and mentored several 4th grade classes. I would spend approximately 2 hours each week with the class simply talking with them and encouraging them to be all that they can be. After months of practicing and rehearsing each year we would travel to the Harris County courthouse where the students would present the “Case of the Missing Cookies” to one of our civil judges. I feel that I have been fortunate in life to have obtained the education that I have received and to practice a profession I could only have dreamed about as a child. I want to share that with as many people as I can who cannot otherwise afford an attorney or someone to help them.

Justice for All:
It is important that we elect Judges who are fair and impartial, who do not have a preconceived notion about who should win before they hear any testimony or evidence. I have a passion for justice that has grown through my years of practice. I believe in the rule of law, I believe that each litigant that comes before the court, whether poor or rich, educated or not, whether represented by counsel or not, deserves a fair and impartial judge. Backed by my belief that justice and fair play are the fundamental values of the United States and Texas Constitutions, I am running for Judge of the 295th Civil District Court. My name is Donna Roth and I would consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as your next judge of the 295th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas and I am, therefore, asking for your vote on November 6, 2018.

What are your turnout scenarios?

I keep thinking about this:

County Clerk Stan Stanart predicts up to a million Harris County residents could be casting ballots in a string of hotly-contested races.

As you’ve heard me say many times, the Democrats’ main issue in off year elections in Texas has been that the base vote has not really increased at all since 2002. With the exception of the occasional Bill White or John Sharp, it generally tops out at about 1.8 million, which is what Wendy Davis collected in 2014. This year, there are multiple factors that strongly suggest Dems will blow past that number. The national environment, the plethora of candidates, as well as their terrific success at fundraising, the tremendous level of engagement, and on and on. But right up in there is the increase in voter registration, at the state level as well as here in Harris County. What do the numbers from the past suggest to us about the numbers for this year?

Let’s start with some basics:


Year      Harris      State   Ratio
===================================
2002     656,682  4,553,979  14.42%
2006     601,186  4,399,068  13.67%
2010     798,995  4,979,870  16.04%
2014     688,018  4,727,208  14.55%

Year      Harris   Register      TO
===================================
2002     656,682  1,875,777  35.01%
2006     601,186  1,902,822  31.59%
2010     798,995  1,917,534  41.67%
2014     688,018  2,044,361  33.65%

The first numbers are the turnout figures in Harris County and statewide in each of the last four off year elections. I wanted to see how big the share of the Harris County vote was. YThe second numbers are more familiar, turnout and registered voter totals for Harris County. Let’s use these to get a sense of the range of outcomes for this year. We know that we have about 2,316,000 registered voters in Harris County, based on the news reports we’ve seen. (The exact figure has not been released.)

2,316,000 at 31.59% = 731,624
2,316,000 at 33.65% = 779,334
2,316,000 at 35.01% = 810,831
2,316,000 at 41.67% = 965,077

You can see where Stanart came up with that “up to a million” figure. It’s hardly implausible, based on past performance. Even the fairly modest 35% turnout projection would give us a new record for an off year. Now what might this translate to at the state level?

731,624 at 16.04% = 4,566,941
731,624 at 13.37% = 5,352,040
965,077 at 16.04% = 6,016,689
965,777 at 13.67% = 7,034,967

Six million may well be the over/under total. The Upshot is predicting a range of 6.3 million to 7.2 million, based on the polling data they’ve seen.

Which leads to the next question. If six million is accurate, and Beto O’Rourke is headed to a 45% performance, that’s about 2.7 million votes. Remember when I said that Wendy Davis got 1.8 million in 2014? That’s a 50% improvement over her. Even if you buy into the idea that Lupe Valdez is heading for a 20-point loss, she’d still collect 2.4 million votes out of 6 million. The flip side of this is that Ted Cruz would collect 3.3 million votes, and Greg Abbott would get 3.6 million. That’s a ten percent improvement over the 2010 baseline for Cruz and 20% for Abbott, and it’s about an 18% improvement over 2014 for Cruz and 36% over 2014 for Abbott.

Frankly, all of those numbers seem outrageous to me. Not unrealistic, certainly not impossible, just amazing. A more modest scenario might be the 810K in Harris County, and Harris being about 14.5% of the state total. That gives an estimate of 5.6 million overall, with Beto’s being a bit more than 2.5 million and Lupe Valdez’s 40% translating to 2.24 million. Still a big boost over 2014, no matter how you slice it. You have to contort things to an unrealistic place to not reach historic numbers.

Personally, I do believe Democratic base turnout will be up, quite possibly a lot, over 2010 and 2014. It almost has to be for Beto to be within ten points. Given that Beto is clearly outpolling Lupe Valdez, his vote total will be even higher. You could assume that he’ll still be in the Bill White zone of 2.1 million or so votes, with Valdez doing a Wendy Davis-like 1.8 million. That would imply about 2.5 to 2.6 million votes for Cruz and 2.8 to 2.9 million votes for Abbott. Do you believe that overall turnout will be static from 2014? This scenario leads to a turnout rate of 29.5%, roughly 4.67 million voters out of 15.8 million registered. That seems far more unrealistic to me than the various vote-increasing totals.

I don’t have any conclusions to draw. I’m putting this out here because this is what the numbers we have are saying. What I want to know is, what are the experts saying? What turnout situation do the pollsters expect? The political scientists? The campaigns themselves? I’ll be happy to see a range of possibilities from them as well. It’s easy to say, oh, Quinnipiac has Beto down by 9, it’s all over, but what do you think that means the final score will be? How did you arrive at that? These are the things I think about when I see new polls.

Still obstacles to voting at Prairie View

The previous problems we talked about are resolved, at least for now, but it’s still harder to vote at PVAMU than it needs to be.

Denise Mattox, president of the Waller County Democratic Club, called the new rules a “treatment” but not a full-fledged “fix” for the voting barriers facing many Prairie A&M students. She said the real problem is that students do not have their own mailing addresses on campus.

The university does not have individual mailing addresses for students, so students have traditionally been instructed to register to vote using one of two shared campus addresses – 100 or 700 University Drive – per a 2016 agreement reached between the university and the county. However, the 700 University Drive address is not in the same precinct as the campus. That placed a number of students’ voter registrations in question for the upcoming election.

Mattox said she faults the university for not “telling the students where they live” and county officials for “keeping everyone in confusion” and “basically suppressing the vote.”

[…]

Lisa Seger, a Democrat running against state Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, said she was pleased by the secretary of state’s decision but stressed that there was a larger problem: “We don’t treat the student population like residents.”

Seger said that the students’ access to voting has been “problematic forever.” She echoed Mattox in saying that the use of shared mailing addresses tends to disenfranchise student voters. She also noted that the students are further discouraged from voting because early voting on campus does not last as long as it does other places.

“You would think we’d be able to figure out how to make this easy for the students,” Seger said. “But nobody’s ever wanted to make this easy.”

On Wednesday, Waller County commissioners are expected to consider a recommendation from Eason to add additional early voting locations and times on campus, according to a statement released by the county.

“For those trying to paint Waller County in a certain light, the truth is that we have worked very hard to protect and expand the voting rights of students at PVAMU, and we will always remain committed to that endeavor, regardless of what anyone else tries to portray,” Waller County Judge Trey Duhon wrote in the statement.

The statement also said that all students using the 100 or 700 University mailing addresses will be allowed to vote in either of the precinct locations and that additional poll workers will be available to help students correct their addresses after they cast their ballot. Additionally, Waller County officials plan to hold an “Address Correction Drive” on campus for students to correct their addresses before Election Day if they want, according to the statement.

See here and here for some background. Prairie View posted a statement on Facebook defending its practices. Making early voting hours uniform should be a no-brainer, and should have been that way all along. Having the two accepted PVAMU addresses be in two different precincts is obnoxious, and the kind of routine obstruction we put on a small class of relatively powerless people for no good reason. This isn’t rocket science, and it should not still be an issue forty years after the original voting rights matter was resolved. Let’s get this right once and for all.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 15

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready for voting to begin as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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