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Judicial Q&A: Audrie Lawton

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. 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. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Audrie Lawton

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

Hello, my name is Audrie Lawton and I am running for Harris County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Justice of the Peace Court:

  1. Hears traffic and other Class C misdemeanor cases punishable by fine only.
  2. Hears civil cases with up to $10,000 in controversy.
  3. Hears landlord and tenant disputes.
  4. Hears truancy cases (where school districts file against parent)
  5. Performs magistrate duties.
  6. Conducts inquests.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

First, I am seeking this position because I am qualified. Second, I believe that it is time for new leadership. I am a litigator who has tried over 100 cases to a jury. I have also handled thousands of cases in JP courts on behalf of my clients (plaintiffs and defendants). As a judge, I would seek to improve technology in the courthouse, increase productivity and efficiency of the dockets, and maintain a sense of honor and dignity for all litigants. I believe in transparency of the court and I would work to make sure that all litigants are given their due process under the law.

Below are five ways I want to improve the court:

  1. Enhance courthouse technology by creating a ”Courthouse App” and improving the current online e-filing and document retrieval system.
  2. Establish extended hours to provide alternatives for plaintiffs and defendants who have demanding work schedules or are caregivers to young children and the elderly.
  3. Establish an onsite law library/resource center for all litigants.
  4. Open up the courthouse doors and allow organizations and professionals to host educational seminars.
  5. Work closely with the Constable’s office to identify safety issues in the community, hold town hall meetings, and promote overall safety.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Licensed to practice law for 15 years in the State of Texas.
Licensed to practice law in the Eastern, Southern, Northern, Western Districts of Texas and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Former Assistant Attorney General, State of Texas.
Former Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, State Bar of Texas.
Former Prosecutor, Special Prosecution Unit of Texas.
Assistant General Counsel, O’Connor & Associates.
Speaker – Texas BarCLE on practice in Justice Courts May 2017 and May 2018.

5. Why is this race important?

Change happens on a local level. This phrased is used a lot, but it means a lot! Local races include key positions such as your Major, Chief of Police, and your neighborhood Justice of the Peace. Since this court has exclusive jurisdiction over landlord/tenant cases, and hears cases involving traffic tickets, other Class C misdemeanors and civil disputes up to $10,000.00, it’s more likely that an individual will visit their neighborhood JP court than any other court in the city! Therefore, it is important that the community elects public officials that represent the interest of the community.

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

I want to Bring Back the Peoples’ Court! This means opening up the courthouse to the very community in which it serves! As a forty year-old mother of two, I can understand the demands life places on us all. As a judge, I will work tirelessly to ensure the fair treatment of all in my courtroom. I will also work hard to make sure that no one is wasting due to long waits and other delays. I will ensure that court procedures are administered in an efficient cost-effective manner. A vote for me is a vote for Leadership, Experience and Commitment!

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7 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    “I am a litigator who has tried over 100 cases to a jury.” Do we try cases to a jury, or try cases before a jury? Full disclosure: I did not stay at a Holiday Inn last night.

    “Local races include key positions such as your Major….” I’ve never voted for a Major, upper or lower case.

    “I want to Bring Back the Peoples’ Court!” How much more plural can people be?

    “I will also work hard to make sure that no one is wasting due to long waits and other delays.” Vending machines in the courtroom, then?

    Nitpicking aside, it seems that Audrie is proposing something akin to night court, which I could definitely support. I’d like to know how that will work. Will the court workers be required to work nights? What happens if the bailiff, court clerk, or prosecutors do not want to do that? Will this require overtime for all concerned, or will day sessions be cancelled in favor of night or weekend sessions? Will overtime be required for courthouse screeners and security? I like the idea, but I want to know how much extra this will cost, if anything, on a monthly or annual basis.

    I also want to know how much a new law library will cost. Who will pay for that library? Is there a currently empty room that will be used for this purpose? Will there be a librarian on staff to help pro se litigants look up issues germane to their cases? Will there be a staffer there to make sure law books don’t walk off? If not, I question how useful a law library at a courthouse would be.

    Where will educational seminars be held in the courthouse, and when? What kinds of groups will be invited to give seminars? Will there be any proscriptions on groups that can use these facilities? Will empty courtrooms be used? Why would this be preferable to holding seminars in local community centers, in libraries, and in places where they may already be taking place? Will this cost the taxpayers anything in extra staffing costs?

    Finally, I’d like some details about how Audrie plans to work with the Constable’s office. Will she assess heavier fines for people found guilty of things the Constable’s office finds to be a safety issue? This is a big concern, because I’d imagine most people’s only exposure to a constable is getting a speeding ticket on the tollway.

    Finally, the “courthouse app” sounds interesting. How much will something like that would cost the taxpayers, or will it be produced in house by the county using current resources? Is that something that could be expanded for use in other area courthouses?

  2. Audrie Lawton says:

    Hi Mr. Daniels…whoa! I will take all of your criticism as constructive! The point is that I have the experience necessary to preside over this court. The People’s court was a typo. Please see my website to confirm.

    At any rate, thank you for engaging at all. The taxpayers money is wasted daily in JP courts because litigants do not know and/or have access to the law prior to filing cases. There is room at the courthouse for a center and in fact other courthouses already have them. I would seek business sponsors/donations to set up the room. Computers can be donated and most forms can be printed out and/or copied at a relatively low cost. I will not be creating a full fledged law library, but rather stations that will allow litigants to print out their notices, form pleadings, etc. As far as a librarian, there would be at least an attendant. The court has to be careful not to offer legal advice, rather a central location for information, including legal assistance programs, etc. You are correct as far as night court.

    As far as the app, this would of course require more research as far as the red tape involved in getting such a thing improved. But as far as the cost, to give you an example…I created an app for my campaign and it cost a whopping $349 for the entire year. The great thing about some technology is that it doesn’t always cost as much as one would think. The app would allow people to upload court documents such as drivers safety certificates, reset court dates, pay fines, etc.

    Now as far as programming for the educational seminars, I will give you an example. The JP courts have exclusive jurisdiction over eviction cases. I spoke to the Houston Apartment Association last month about their responsibility to actually educate tenants on their rights as well. I would seek professionals from the Apartment Association, Realtors, advocacy groups like Texas Organizing Project and Banks to host seminars on renters rights as well as seminars on creating a path to home ownership (for those who want to own a home). Basically, I want to go a step further and help the community as well.

    As an attorney Justice of the Peace (this is opposed to someone who does not have their law license), I would be able to issue search warrants for property and items of evidence showing a crime has been committed. I can work with the constable and sheriff on warrants to draw blood for No Refusal weekends and with the Houston Police department on drug cases. I would also be available to sign search warrants for urgent situations in my precinct (24 hour call).

    Hopefully, I have answered most if not all of your questions. Thank you for your remarks and putting me in the hot seat where I belong! lol

    Audrie Lawton

  3. Audrie Lawton says:

    I see a typo…”approved” not improved.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Audrie,

    Kuff needs to add an edit function to his site.

    I like the idea of night court, and enjoyed the TV show. Will this cost the taxpayers more, or will it be revenue neutral? Are you proposing hiring a new employee to staff the “law library,” or are you proposing to reassign someone who works at the courthouse already. It makes sense to have someone at the courthouse who can answer questions with, if you want to do this, you need that form, and here’s where to get it.

    Finally, I had no idea that a JP couldn’t issue a search warrant unless they were a licensed attorney. I learned something today. Thanks.

  5. Audrie Lawton says:

    Hi Bill (I hope I can call you that by now), I actually hope to reassign someone to the position. It all depends on the court’s budget(which I am not privy to at this time). I am a big fan of flex scheduling. I currently practice that with the team I manage. This would help us implement the night court and hopefully staff for the resource center. My intention would never be to waste taxpayer money. I believe where there is a will there is a way. I know I’d much rather see my tax dollars go to find something like this than pay for storage of paper files and shredding. E-filing would eliminate these types of wasteful spending. Thank you Bill Daniels for your questions and insight! People like yourself keep us all honest and help define the pertinent issues facing our community. Plus I am always up for a good debate!

  6. voter_worker says:

    Ms Lawton, at least one of our area’s Community Development Corporations, Avenue CDC, offers seminars/workshops on the path to homeownership. The others probably do as well. There may be an opportunity to partner with one or more of them. Thanks for elaborating on your ideas.

  7. Audrie Lawton says:

    Thank you worker! Yes, that’s a great idea! I always say there is no need to reinvent the wheel. These organizations would be perfect!