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Judicial Q&A: Nile Copeland

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so 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. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

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

My name is Nile Copeland. I am a Democratic candidate running for Judge of the 234th Civil District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

General civil litigation cases which includes: business disputes, employment disputes, real estate matters, contract disputes, construction, insurance matters, as well as personal injury matters, cases such as auto accidents, dangerous products, work-related accidents, malpractice and more.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench to bring balance, fairness, courtesy and justice back to the courtroom. As part of my campaign, I advocate reforming campaign financing laws to ensure everyone will be treated equally and impartially in the courts regardless of their financial status. Judicial campaign finance laws allow judges and candidates to accept campaign contributions from attorneys or parties with active cases in their respective courts. This practice needs to be changed to avoid the appearance of impropriety and bias. As a judicial candidate, I request that attorneys or parties who have cases presently pending before the court to not make contributions to my campaign while they are an attorney or party of record.

Additionally, I will provide oral hearings on motions when any party wishes to be heard by the court and will make prompt rulings. I will work to ensure that cases go to trial in a timely manner so that both sides can seek justice at the earliest, practical date and minimize costs.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

The Texas Secretary of State sets out the qualifications for Judge in Texas Government Code.

(See http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/candidates/guide/qualifications.shtml#b)

For this district court, as well as other courts, the requirements are:

(1) be at least 25 years of age;

(2) have resided in the county for at least two years before election or appointment; and

(3) be a licensed attorney in this state who has practiced law or served as a judge of a court in this state, or both combined, for the four years preceding election or appointment, unless otherwise provided for by law.

The Harris County Democratic Party Chairman as well as HCDP’s staff and volunteers have done a wonderful job in making sure all candidates are qualified.

Being qualified for judge is merely one factor to consider…but what really makes us judicial? Some candidates like to think that having 10, 20, or even 30 years of experience as a lawyer automatically qualifies them to be a judge. This does not entitle them to be a judge. If the State of Texas wanted their Judiciary to have a lengthy history they would have changed the qualifications. Texas realizes that each candidate vying for a judicial bench is unique and brings with him/her some amazing skills, experiences and a rich personal background.

In my case, I hold a Juris Doctors Degree from South Texas College of Law, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology, from Louisiana State University, a Masters of Education Administration Degree from Louisiana State University and a Mediation Certification from the A.A. White Dispute Resolution Center at the University of Houston. In addition, I am a realtor, an arbitrator, mediator, and by the time of the general election in 2010 I will have practiced law for over 8 years. My practice is a mixed practice handling various matters from real estate and business contracts, corporate, partnerships, employment discrimination, contract disputes, medical malpractice, personal injury, etc. As a mediator, I often volunteer my services with the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center to help parties resolve their conflicts without need of the trauma and stress a trial creates. As a Civil Service Grievance Examiner/Arbitrator, I also handle various hearings for the City of Houston.

Over the years, I have learned to work well with others but, most importantly, I have worked hard to help others maintain working relationships and resolve conflicts. I feel that my experiences in business and law gives me a well-rounded perspective of the bench, but this is only a small glimpse of my background and does not begin to touch on my community and civil involvement.

5. Why is this race important?

The 234th, as all civil courts, is where one comes to recover financially from various civil actions. The 2010 judicial benches represent a piece of political real estate that we need to win in 2010. Republicans know it and we do too. Democrat Judicial candidates are out en masse because we want a change from Republican “justice”. In 2008, 24 out of 27 Judicial benches were won by Democratic candidates. I believe voters have grown weary of hearing about judicial misconduct and scandal. There is more work to do. If everything was satisfactory in the courts we would not see over 100 qualified attorneys working hard to get elected as Democratic judges. This brings me to the key point: voters need to make sure the candidates are indeed Democrats.

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

As a voter, we all need to ask what makes a good Democratic judge? John William Fletcher once wrote: “Deeds, not words, speak to me.” I am proud to say that am the only candidate in my race who does not vote in Republican Primaries. I do not contribute to Republican judges and I do not contribute to Republican candidates. There is no strategy to be gained by supporting the other party’s political machine. Moreover, I have not taken any campaign contributions from anyone who has a pending case in the 234th Civil District Court.

As judge, I will follow the law and treat everyone fairly and with courtesy and respect. I expect all attorneys to do the same. I strive daily for my candidacy to set the standard in dignity, trust and respect that the citizens of Harris County deserve.

With regards to support, I was recently endorsed by Former Judicial Candidate, James Goodwill Pierre who narrowly lost the election in November 2008 by a mere 230 votes and subsequently filed an Election Contest in conjunction with a Federal Lawsuit against Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt. Both actions alleged that various election officers or other person(s) involved in the Harris County election failed to comply with election laws along with other “various irregularities” making it impossible to know who really won the election. Paul Bettencourt resigned from office only days after winning re-election when the Federal Lawsuit that was filed revealed he had held up the processing of over 5,000 Provisional Ballots without cause.

Goodwille Pierre said, “I am endorsing Nile Copeland because he was the first person that stepped up to the challenge of representing not only me, but more importantly the rights of voters in Harris County. Nile, along with other courageous lawyers believed in me and the cause for which I was fighting so much so that they represented me for free and performed exceptionally. I firmly believe, Nile Copeland along with my legal team did a great thing for Democrats and Texans by fighting to uphold their right to choose leaders, and that is why I am supporting Nile Copeland and not the other 234th District Court primary opponents. I encourage every Harris County Democrat to exercise their right to vote and to cast their vote for Nile Copeland in the race for Judge of the 234th Civil District Court.”

Although the suits have settled, I continue to remain active in meetings, committees and discussions regarding voter rights and voter registration issues because this is something that I am very passionate about as these issues continue to plague our elections.

Along with Pierre’s endorsement, I am very proud to announce that I have recently been endorsed by the Houston Professional Firefighter’s Association, Robert Starkey, Precinct 28 Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party – Baytown and Stace Medellin of www.doscentavos.net. I am deeply honored to have received these endorsements and am grateful for the support I have from family, friends, and voters throughout Harris County.

I work hard to make those who support me proud. I was raised by my mom in a small town in Louisiana. She instilled in me a high sense of morals and work ethic along with a sense of charity, compassion and to value education. After law school, I became a certified mediator to become an active listener and improve my skills in resolving conflicts. I also became a realtor because of my interest in real estate, construction and helping others realize the dream of home ownership. With regards to community involvement and charity, I feel the hand of friendship and support is needed more than ever today. I learned from Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children how charity can inspire others to give back. As such, I help with many organizations where I can and work hard to be able to give back to others as much as I am able. As Judge, I will make sure the courtroom is a place for integrity, professionalism and fairness not one of nepotism, cronyism and gamesmanship.

My name is Nile Copeland and I would appreciate your vote and support in the Democratic Primary Election on March 2 and the General Election on November 2, 2010. For more information about my campaign, visit my website: www.copelandforjudge.com, email & call.

Early voting is from February 16-26th.

Primary Election Day is March 2, 2010.

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