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Endorsement watch: Continuing a trend

The Chron makes their criminal district court endorsements, and in doing so they stick to a pattern.

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174th Criminal District Court: Hazel B. Jones

In this race to replace Judge Ruben Guerrero, voters should go with Democratic candidate Hazel B. Jones. The former criminal court judge has the necessary background to step onto the bench and administer justice without a learning curve. A Howard University School of Law graduate, Jones was elected to office in 2008 but lost her seat in 2012. She has also served as a federal and Harris County prosecutor, and now practices criminal defense law. Jones, 50, vows if reelected to be aggressive with respect to the use of personal recognizance bonds.

176th Criminal District Court: Stacey W. Bond

This first-term Republican judge was one of the most impressive judicial candidates that the Houston Chronicle editorial board met during this election cycle. Stacey W. Bond, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, had a crystal clear vision of the problems facing the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, which often does more to punish the poor than the dangerous.

177th Criminal District Court: Ryan Patrick

At age 37, Judge Ryan Patrick says that he’s the youngest district court judge in Texas, and after four years on the bench he’s developed a reputation as a fair and well-respected judge. A graduate of the Houston College of Law (formerly the South Texas College of Law), Patrick, a Republican, told the editorial board that the county needs to give more funding to pre-trial services so that fewer people have to wait behind bars. He’s also a self-described “tech geek” and serves as chairman of the executive committee that oversees the Harris County Criminal Justice Center’s management system.

178th Criminal District Court: Kelli Johnson

As Judge David Mendoza steps down from this bench, voters should back Democratic candidate Kelli Johnson.

Johnson, 44, has been a Harris County assistant district attorney for 17 years, and over the past eight years she has served as felony chief prosecutor in the trial bureau. If elected, the Houston College of Law graduate promises to increase the use of personal recognizance bonds and speed up the appointment process for court-appointed lawyers.

179th Criminal District Court: Kristin M. Guiney

Republican incumbent Kristin M. Guiney, 41, is an able jurist who deserves a second term. The University of Houston Law Center graduate is board certified in criminal law and enjoys overseeing her probation docket because it grants her an opportunity to witness lives transform. Guiney reports a gradual shift in the criminal courts toward rehabilitation, which she believes is appropriate.

337th Criminal District Court: Renee Magee

When she met with the editorial board, first-term Judge Renee Magee, 57, made an argument for herself with two statistics: She said that she has the second-most cases in the courthouse but the lowest number of people in jail. The 21-year prosecutor accomplished this by focusing on drug rehabilitation, getting people off probation who don’t need supervision and refusing to let prosecutors delay their cases. Magee, a Republican, is also one of the four mental health judges.

338th Criminal District Court: Brock Thomas

It sometimes feels like the Houston Bar Association judicial qualification questionnaire tells you more about prosecutors’ opinions than judicial performance.

Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that Brock Thomas received more “well qualified” votes than any other candidate for criminal district court. The University of Houston Law Center graduate, who was first elected in 2002, lost in 2008 and reelected in 2012, has a passion for criminal justice that is evident in his volunteer work.

339th Criminal District Court: Maria T. (Terri) Jackson

In this hotly contested race, we endorse the Democratic sitting judge, Maria T. Jackson, over her court’s former chief prosecutor, Mary McFaden, a Republican.

Both have had an inside seat as to the other’s performance and neither candidate thinks highly of the other’s abilities. After listening to both sides, we believe Jackson, 52, who has been on the bench since 2008, deserves another term.

351st Criminal District Court: Mark Kent Ellis

Although he has served on this bench for 20 years, Mark Kent Ellis has demonstrated a willingness to learn and evolve on the job that should earn him another term. During our screening, the Republican judge heralded the Michael Morton Act for improving the criminal justice system and ensuring that the defendants get needed material from discovery. The Houston College of Law graduate has used his institutional knowledge to compel change by instituting and continuing to improve the Harris County Mental Health Court, which works with people diagnosed with mental illness to assist them in completing probation.

The pattern is that as with all but one of the civil district court races, they either endorsed the incumbent, or the candidate from the same party as the departing judge. Elaine Palmer and the appointed judge on the new County Criminal Court at Law #16 bench are the only exceptions. One way to look at this is that for all of the sometimes justified bitching people do about our system of electing judges, we must be doing a pretty good job of it here in Harris County, since nearly every single one of them was found to be worthy of the Chron’s endorsement for re-election. It seems likely that some of these judges will get booted from the bench anyway, for reasons beyond their control, but the Chron likes the challengers in most of these races, too. So maybe our system doesn’t suck quite as much as some people would have you think. Just saying.

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