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Alyssa Lemkuil

Endorsement watch: The one Family Court race

The 507th Family Court is one of the two new courts in operation in Harris County, and thus one of the two spots on the ballot for which Democrats had to choose nominees this summer. In keeping with its Civil Court endorsements, the Chron recommends the incumbent for a full term.

Alyssa Lemkuil

Alyssa Lemkuil

Alyssa Lemkuil is the right person for the 507th Family District Court. The University of Houston Law Center graduate was appointed in January by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the first judge for this bench. So far she is doing an excellent job and deserves to stay in office.

Lemkuil, 54, has a warm demeanor and extensive experience in family law. Before serving as judge, she spent three years as the associate judge of the 308th Family District Court. She also has worked in the Harris County Domestic Relations Office as a child support prosecutor, and as an attorney and mediator in private practice.

During her time on the bench, Lemkuil has worked to improve processes by allowing and encouraging more communication via email to ensure that everyone has the litany of necessary papers ready before setting foot in the courtroom. The Democratic challenger, Julia Maldonado, is board certified in family law and is fluent in Spanish. She would bring some much-needed diversity to Harris County’s strikingly homogenous family courts – a problem that both candidates discussed during their meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. Maldonado is qualified for the position, but Lemkuil is the superior candidate and has earned a full term on this bench.

As we have discussed before, the winner of this race and of the Harris County Criminal Court at Law #16 will have to run again in 2018, so they may as well keep campaigning once this election is over. To go off on a bit of a tangent here, I’ve been observing the proliferation of yard signs in my neighborhood lately. I live in a mostly Democratic area – the two precincts that cover my part of the Heights voted a bit more than 58% for President Obama in 2012 – but there are always a certain number of yard signs for Republican candidates. There were several I observed for various GOP Presidential hopefuls during the primary campaign. Since then, I’ve seen nada, though there are a couple of houses that now sport Gary Johnson signs. What I do see is a couple of houses that have signs for Republican judicial candidates, of whom Alyssa Lemkuil is one. There seem to be fewer of these than I’m used to seeing as well – I don’t have any objective measure of this, just my own observation – so make of that what you will. For what it’s worth, there’s at least one visible supporter of Judge Lemkuil in my neck of the woods.

We precinct chairs will have at least one more nomination to fill

Alyssa Lemkuil

As everyone knows, Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will be selecting a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. If we wind up selecting someone who is also on the November ballot for this slot – Sen. Rodney Ellis being the prime, possibly only, example of this – the precinct chairs in the affected entity (in that case, SD13) will have to then make another selection to fill his abandoned place on the ballot. We’ve been over this before, we know the drill.

What you may not know is that all Democratic precinct chairs will have the job of making a selection for another nomination elsewhere on the ballot. The reason for this is because the 2015 Legislature created a new judicial district, the 507th Family Court, here in Harris County. On December 28, Greg Abbott named Alyssa Lemkuil to be the first Judge of the 507th. Because that happened after the filing deadline was closed (*), there is no Democratic nominee for that bench. As such, by the same laws that give precinct chairs the power to replace El Franco Lee on the ballot, precinct chairs (in this case for the whole county) will pick a nominee for the 507th Family Court as well.

I bring this up because last week I started hearing from people who are interested in being that nominee. So far, Chip Wells (who ran for the 247th Family Court in 2010 and 2014), Sandra Peake (who ran for the 257th Family Court in 2010 and the 246th Family Court in 2014), and Shawn Thierry (who ran for the 157th Civil Court in 2010) have all made their interest known in one way or another. According to The Police News, Julia Maldonado (candidate for the 246th Family Court in 2014 and the 308th Family Court (for which Judge Lemhkuil had been an associate judge) in 2010) had applied to be appointed to the 507th and will presumably seek the nomination now. That site also mentioned Chip Wells and Jim Evans (candidate for the 308th Family Court in 2014) as others who would likely seek the nomination as well.

That’s what I know about this court and the candidates for it at this time. I’m sure that there are other people who have looked at this court, and I’m sure that by publishing this post, anyone who is interested and who isn’t named here will make his or her presence known to me one way or another. One more thing to note is that this court, like all the other Family courts, will be on a non-Presidential year cycle after this election, so whoever wins in November will have to run for re-election in 2018.

(*) Why was the appointment made after the filing deadline? The law that created the 507th Family Court specified that it was to begin operations on January 1, 2016, so Abbott was always going to appoint the first judge. Both the Police News site and a Greg Enos newsletter mentioned that Republican precinct chairs will also get to pick their November nominee, by the same process as us Dems. That doesn’t address the question of the timing of the appointment. Why not make it before the start of filing season in November, so that the eventual nominees could be chosen the normal way? It may be that there is some provision of the Elections code that mandates this, but I have no idea if that is the case or what it might say if so. Perhaps one of the attorneys in attendance could say something about in in the comments. Practically speaking, it doesn’t really make sense to name someone to a job more than six weeks before he or she can take the job, indeed more than six weeks before the job has even been created. Politically speaking, it would be embarrassing for the Abbott appointee to lose in a contested primary. This could still happen at the precinct chair level for Judge Lemkuil, though one would think that Abbott’s appointment would receive a fair amount of deference. Again, none of this directly answers the question, so if someone out there actually knows the answer, please do let us know.