(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)
1. Who are you, and what are you running for?
Al Leal, Candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law #4. I am a native Houstonian, University of Houston graduate (B.S., Psychology/J.D., Law), Vietnam veteran and former criminal court judge.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
This court administers misdemeanor criminal cases punishable by confinement up to 1 year in Harris County Jail and/or fines of up to $4000.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I am running for this position because I believe my educational background, service as a mental health counselor in Vietnam, and prior experience as a county criminal court judge will enable me effectively and positively impact the lives of those that come before me. I also believe our courts should reflect the diversity of our county, of the 15 county criminal court judges in Harris County only one is a minority.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I have over 35 years experience in criminal law, including 12 years serving as judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #9. Many of the cases that come before a county criminal court involve substance abuse and mental health issues and I feel that my service in Vietnam has given me hands on experience in addressing these issues. I am proud to be able to say that I was ranked well-qualified 3 to 1 over my opponent in a 2010 Houston Bar Association poll. I have also been endorsed by diverse groups of fellow attorneys, including the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, the Houston Lawyers Association and the Pasadena Bar Association. Other endorsements include the GLBT Political Caucus and the Harris County AFL-CIO Council.
5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because many offenders coming before a county criminal court are in the criminal justice system for the first time. A county criminal court judge has the unique opportunity to literally turn someone’s life around, particularly our youth. The decisions made on the county criminal court level can prevent individuals from becoming career criminals, financial burdens to taxpayers and a danger to our public safety.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
I ask the voters in Harris County to vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate in the race. I possess over 35 years criminal legal experience, including 15 years of judicial experience. My military service, providing mental health counseling in Vietnam, will allow me to better address the mental health and substance abuse issues that come before me every day in Harris County Criminal Court #4. My professional experience, combined with my military service and commitment to community service, uniquely qualifies me for this position. If I am elected, the residents of Harris County will be getting a judge who will be ready to serve on day one, bringing experience, diversity and a willingness to make a positive impact on those who come before me in Harris County Criminal Court #4.