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Judicial Q&A: Scot Dollinger

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Scot Dollinger

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

I am Scot Dollinger. I am running for judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2. (Civil Court No. 2.) (There are four civil county courts at law in Harris County numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4.)

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil Court No. 2 hears the following kinds of cases:

– 60% debt collection/breach of contract

– 17% injuries

– 15% evictions

– 4% occupational licenses

– 3% eminent domain (The government is taking your private property.)

– 1% tax and tow.

Except for eviction and eminent domain cases, this court has a jurisdictional limit of $200,000 which means if the amount in dispute is over $200,000 then the court cannot hear the case. This court will have anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 cases filed every year.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Civil Court No. 2 because I do not think the court is being properly run. To be properly run, the civil county courts at law need judges like me with extensive trial and administrative experience. I want to use my 25 plus years of administrative and trial experience to improve Civil Court No. 2 so that the court is properly run for the benefit of all: equality of law for all. Every person in Harris County regardless of income, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation deserves to have fair access to a fair forum – because justice matters to everyone.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am qualified to be judge of this court because my 25 plus years of administrative and trial experience give me the unique skills necessary to properly run this court. Everybody needs to know when they come to court they will be treated fairly by an experienced knowledgeable judge.

Administrative Experience. I have worked for an insurance company where I managed its in-house state-wide litigation department. There I setup computer databases to manage large caseloads and implemented systems for efficiently processing the Texas-wide docket. I also have run my own law office as a solo practitioner for over 12 years which required me to efficiently manage large caseloads and create and implement computerized management programs.

Trial and Appellate Experience. I have tried over 40 trials and worked on over 10 appeals. I have filed briefs and argued before the First and Fourteenth Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. I have filed petitions for review with the Supreme Court of Texas and a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. I have handled administrative hearings in the workers’ compensation system and matters in our justice of the peace courts. Thus, I have actually worked in virtually every kind of court or tribunal a lawyer can do work in Texas. In doing this work, I have done both plaintiff and defense work and clerked for a judge. I also was divorced years ago. So, I understand the cases from every perspective.

Education. I graduated from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois with a B.S. in Speech in 1984 and Emory University School of Law, Atlanta, Georgia with a Juris Doctor in 1987.

Licenses. I am licensed to practice law in all Texas state courts, all Texas federal courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Awards and Honors. Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Rating of AV® PreeminentTM, Board Certified Personal Injury Trial Law – Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Law Clerk to the Honorable Howell Cobb, U.S. District Judge, Eastern District of Texas, Order of Barristers, Moot Court Society – intra and inter-state teams, Gavel of Honor, Distinguished Service in Moot Court Society, writing instructor, graduated in top 1/3 of law school class. Chief of the Fox Tribe, YMCA Indian Princess Program.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because when a court is not properly run it puts at risk the value of equal justice for all, one of our most sacred values as a community.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

We need an unbiased judge with my administrative and trial background. I have been representing individuals of all incomes, races, genders, religions and sexual orientations in civil matters my entire 25 plus year career. In the last ten years, I have donated over 1,000 hours in free legal services to individuals. My opponent has not had this diverse experience. Instead, she has worked for Harris County or the City of Houston (institutions) her entire legal career giving her a certain level of bias in favor of establishment institutions. This bias is manifested in Judge Chang’s improper practice of allowing legal entities to represent themselves in county court without a lawyer and not following the law when it comes to fairly setting appeal bonds in eviction cases. For example, in Cause No. 1050447 Williams Apartments v. Tiffany Franklin the judge improperly allowed the Plaintiff (a legal entity) to be represented without an attorney which is improper. This practice is ongoing in other cases. By so acting, the court is demonstrating a landlord bias against tenants. No judge should be biased. If the court is biased here, one wonders in what other ways the court is biased.

Civil Court No. 2 handles eminent domain cases involving Harris County and the City of Houston. I do not think this court should have a judge that used to work for Harris County or the City of Houston and was appointed by the Harris County Commissioners’ Court.

Currently, the four civil courts at law work independently of each other in the sense of having different procedures in each court. If elected, I would work with all the other judges to strive to have uniform procedures in all four courts to bring uniformity of procedure to all four courts and to increase predictability of outcomes.

Currently, the civil courts at law are not under the JIMS computer system that manages access to county documents. All the district courts are under JIMS. The civil county courts at law and probate courts have their own computer system for viewing documents. This method is duplication of effort. It should be noted that the criminal county courts at law are under the JIMS system. So, there is no reason not to move the rest of the county courts at law over to JIMS. As well, the civil county court database is not being properly used to establish a set of metrics to study the caseload of these courts. One sets metrics or gathers data in the database to measure levels of productivity. The current computer system either needs to be properly used at the encouragement of the judges or the civil county courts at law need to fall under the JIMS system and authority of the District Clerk in terms of case management. There is no reason for the civil county courts at law to be separately managed unless they are being managed in a much better way which they are not. The judges play a role in helping to cast the vision for management of these courts. Currently, the judges’ vision is lacking in my view.

Finally, the sitting judge tells lawyers via her procedures that she generally gives them 15 to 20 minutes to conduct voir dire (pick a jury). http://www.ccl.hctx.net/civil/2/procedures.htm#motions. Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury to determine if they are biased or prejudiced against the case. It is illegal for lawyers to strike jurors based on race. Lawyers need the time to properly test for this problem under the Batson case law. An experienced trial lawyer like me is more sensitive to Batson violations (illegally striking jurors based on race) and the need to properly question a panel and spend the time necessary to properly pick a jury.

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