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Barbara Stalder

Judicial Q&A: Barbara Stalder

(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.

Barbara Stalder

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

My name is Barbara J. Stalder and I am running for the 280th Family Violence Court in Harris County Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears divorce, custody and protective orders involving family violence

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe the citizens of Harris County deserve the most qualified and knowledgeable person for this specialized Court. I was the democratic candidate for the 280th in 2014 and my compassion and desire to make this court a model family violence court has been in forefront of my mind since that time. I want to serve the citizens of Harris County in the most meaningful way I can and being judge can serve that function. I believe all citizens have a right to a fair and impartial hearing, to be treated with respect and to have judge make decisions on the merits of the case rather than their socio-economical, cultural, or legal status.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Family violence affects every facet of a family law case from who is appointed the primary custodial parent to a fair and just division of property. This court needs a judge who has extensive family law and family violence trial experience. I am board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an expert in family violence issues. I have tried hundreds of often complex family law cases to both a judge and jury and have several appeals including a case to the Texas Supreme Court. I have also presented at local, state and national conferences on family law and family violence topics. I am former clinical professor at UH Law Center where I taught and mentored law student attorneys in a low income legal aid clinic. I taught semester courses in family violence and marital property. I have been appointed by the family courts as an Amicus for a child in a contested custody matter. As Amicus I investigated the child’s circumstances, interviewed the child(ren), family members, friends and professionals such as counselors and teachers. I was responsible for helping the court decide who would be the primary custody parent, where the child would live, the rights of each parent, and the possession and access of the child by the noncustodial parent. I am an expert in the field of domestic violence and have been a consulting expert for attorneys in cases where domestic violence was alleged.

5. Why is this race important?

1-3 women and 1-4 men will experience family violence during their lifetime. Family violence is multigenerational in one form or another; from taking on the traits of the batterer to becoming a victim themselves. In 2015 Harris County had 23 domestic homicides where an intimate partner murdered the other partner. Most occurred with firearms. This court hears protective orders, divorce and custody matters involving family violence. The lives of men, women and children often hang in the balance and it is up to the judge to hear the evidence and make a decision based on the law. The cases this court hears can often have life and death implications. It is important to have a judge who understands the nuances of the Texas Family Code and the intersection of family violence. It is also critical the judge of this court have experience and expertise regarding the child’s best interest. Children who are exposed to family violence for any significant period of time have difficulty with brain development and without early intervention may not be able to reach their true analytical and emotional potential. It is not enough to have only cursory experience with children to know and understand the long term impact of family violence.

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

I am the only candidate that is board certified in family law. I have also taken additional legal and non-legal courses on family violence and the impact on children. I have not only handled protective but severe family violence where the mother was murdered by the father and the family members were left to pick up the legal pieces and take care of the children. I have handled complex property cases, veterans issues such as those with PTSD, same sex custody and adoption cases, as well as unaccompanied minor who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents. I am the right candidate with the right experience for this court and I can hit the ground running without any additional legal education or refreshers courses. Finally, I am fair, impartial and objective. I want to serve the citizens of Harris County and insure each child’s best interest comes first.

Endorsement watch: Family courts

After nearly a week off, the Chron gets back to endorsing.

Family District Judge, 246th Judicial District: Angela Graves-Harrington

Angela Graves-Harrington earns our nod in this primary contest against a qualified opponent, Charles Collins. These two candidates graduated from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law within two years of each other. Both have more than a decade of experience in family law. Both are running to compel change in a bench that they view as disrespectful. But while Graves-Harrington has represented different clients in custody disputes, divorce litigation, mediations and arbitration, Collins has had only one client for over a decade – the state of Texas. Collins has worked as assistant attorney general and then managing attorney for the state attorney general, child support division. Although he’s handled a high-volume legal practice and has managed a team, his practice lacks the breadth of Harrington’s. Collins displays the steady, even demeanor of a good judge and should run again. But voters should back Graves-Harrington, 41, in this race.

Family District Judge, 280th Judicial District: Beth Barron

Voters have a difficult decision in the race for this domestic violence court. Both candidates are well-qualified and have dedicated their careers to providing protection to persons who face family violence. In this near coin-toss race, our nod goes to Beth Barron, 58, who as an assistant district attorney for over 21 years, has represented more than 10,000 victims of family violence seeking protective orders against abusers. The South Texas College of Law Houston graduate has also published family violence guidelines that are utilized throughout the state for the Texas District and County Attorney Association to assist victims and their legal representatives. Opponent Barbara Stalder is board certified in family law and deeply engaged in this field as a practitioner, a victim, an expert, a teacher and through her work at various worthy non-profits. Stalder even earned our endorsement when she ran for this bench in 2014. However, Barron’s level-headed experience in the matter of protective orders, which are the bread and butter of this court, is extraordinary. Voters can’t go wrong.

Family District Judge, 309th Judicial District: Kathy Vossler

Kathy Vossler, 55, deserves the Democratic nomination for this bench. This experienced family law attorney is a people-person who has developed long-lasting relationships with families she has helped in almost 20 years of practice. The University of Houston Law Center graduate exhibits the appropriate demeanor for this bench and is running to ensure that litigants are treated respectfully. Vossler advanced some promising ideas to improve court efficiency and is also passionate about a mentorship program for young lawyers to train them to help litigants who struggle to handle their own divorces. Democrats should get behind this qualified candidate who has seen flaws in the system and promises to find remedies for them. Also running is Linda Marie Dunson, an attorney who has served on the Children at Risk law advisory board.

Do I have Q&As? Of course I do, from Collins, Vossler, and Dunson, with one from Stalder in the queue. There are a couple of Republican endorsements in there as well. Still a lot of courts to go, and we haven’t gotten to the non-judicial races yet, either. Early voting starts February 20.

Endorsement watch: Family courts

The Chronicle gets in the endorsement game by getting started on the long list of judicial races that will be on your 2014 ballot, and it’s a big helping of good news for the Democratic slate of Family Court nominees, as five of the six Dems running get the Chron nod. Here’s a blurb from each:

246th Family District Court:Sandra Peake

By process of elimination, our choice is Democratic candidate Sandra Peake for this bench. A graduate of University of Houston Law Center, Peake has practiced law for 30 years with a concentration on family law. We believe Peake, 59, would do a better job than her Republican opponent Charley Prine in dealing with the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Harris County.

247th Family District Court:Clinton “Chip” Wells

Wells, 62, has practiced law in Texas for nearly four decades, from El Paso to Beaumont, Dallas to Brownsville. Wells, a Democrat, has a lifetime of legal experience, with specific focus on family law. Voters should put that knowledge to use in our family courts. His Republican opponent in this race, John Schmude, demonstrates an admirable passion for service. However, his legal resume is distinctly thinner than Wells’, and he has run perhaps the most partisan campaign of any judicial candidate. His website is long on endorsements from groups unrelated to family law, such as anti-abortion advocates and the National Rifle Association, but short on the usual tempered judicial rhetoric. Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, Schmude, 40, said that such campaigning was necessary to win the primary. Primary season is over. Texans should expect better from their judges.

280th Family District Court:Barbara J. Stalder

During the Democratic primary, we wrote that Barbara Stalder was one of the few people in our state who is prepared to handle the challenges of this court, which hears protective orders that involve domestic violence. In the general election, Stalder, 54, is still uniquely qualified for this bench.

308th Family District Court: Jim Evans

In this closely matched race, we go with Democratic challenger Jim Evans. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Evans, 47, has a pastor’s compassion that comes from working as a Baptist minister, not to mention a master’s degree in religious studies.

311th Family District Court: Sherri Cothrun

When the race to replace disgraced Judge Denise Pratt was crowded with contenders, Sherri Cothrun was the most qualified candidate. Now that the race is finally down to the general election, Cothrun is still the most qualified candidate. With 30 years’ experience practicing family law, she has a full slate of awards and achievements befitting her extensive career, including board certification in family law and certification as a family law arbitrator.

Couple things here. First, it’s interesting and heartening to see the Chron ding the GOP incumbent in the 246th and the GOP nominee in the 247th for touting on their campaign webpages opposition to same-sex marriage in the former case and a plethora of right-wing shibboleths in the latter. You can believe what you want to believe, but as a judge you’re supposed to be fair and impartial, and you’re supposed to look and sound like someone who is fair and impartial. If you’re going to be loud and proud about these things, you shouldn’t expect the benefit of the doubt.

Also of interest: The Chron did not mention the recent troubles of Judge Alicia Franklin in the 311th Family Court, even though they apparently came up during her joint interview with Sherri Cothrun. I guess they only had so much space for this.

Anyway. You can see the Q&A’s I did for the Democratic primary with Sandra Peake here; with Barbara Stalder here; and with Jim Evans here. I will be publishing a Q&A with Cothrun on Tuesday, and will publish one from Wells in two weeks; I hope to receive one from Kathy Vossler, the Democrat in the 309th Family Court race, in the near future. Those of you that have experience with these courts, what do you think of the Chron’s endorsements?

UPDATE: Texpatriate has an interesting take on this.

Endorsement watch: The remaining judicial races

The Chron finishes off the contested judicial primaries.

246th Family District Court: Julia Maldonado

In a race between two qualified candidates, we encourage voters to go with Julia Maldonado. Her goals of a quicker docket and a more welcoming staff would help relieve the stress of family court. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Maldonado, 52, is board certified in family law and has 15 years experience in the field.

280th Family District Court: Barbara Stalder

Designed primarily to hear protective orders that involve domestic violence, the 280th Family District Court handles some of the most heart-wrenching cases in Harris County. This judge must be able to delve into the depths of human cruelty while maintaining a fair bench. Barbara Stalder, 53, is one of few people in our state who is prepared for this challenge. Board certified in family law, Stadler has spent her entire legal career in service to victims of domestic violence in Houston. Whether establishing a children’s legal services program with Equal Justice Works, representing women and children in the Houston office of Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence or returning to her alma mater to serve as supervising attorney in the civil clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, Stalder embodies the dedication and experience that voters should want in a family court judge. She has worked to protect children who watched their mother killed before their eyes by their own father, and she has smacked down frivolous cases where people falsely alleged violence for their own misguided aims.

308th Family District Court: Bruce Steffler

Bruce Steffler not only has an unmatched breadth and depth of experience in family law, but a calm and focused demeanor befitting a judge. Board certified in family law since 1988, Steffler, 68, candidly recognizes the issues of unprepared judges, long docket waits and expensive litigation, and he will be ready to address those problems. A graduate of South Texas College of Law, Steffler embodies a knowledgeable seriousness that makes him a model candidate for judge.

They also reiterated their endorsement of Steven Kirkland in the 113th. As was the case with Sen. Whitmire, these endorsements were listed on the Chron’s comprehensive list of primary endorsements that ran on Tuesday. Why they were unable to run these endorsements before Tuesday will remain a mystery. The Chron also picked Anthony Magdaleno from the crowded GOP field for the 311th Family District Court as the best alternative to Judge Denise Pratt – Democratic candidate Sherri Cothrun is unopposed in her primary – and in a separate editorial recommended incumbent District Clerk Chris Daniel over challenger Court Koenning. At this point, I think the only race they haven’t covered yet is the Democratic primary for County Clerk. That one wasn’t on their Tuesday list, so I don’t know if they hadn’t done their screening yet or if they’re just not going to bother with it. We’ll see.

Judicial Q&A: Barbara Stalder

(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 all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.)

Barbara Stalder

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

I am Barbara J. Stalder. I am running for the 280th Judicial District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Judicial District Court primarily hears protective orders involving domestic violence. It can also hear (a) original family law cases filed with a protective order, (b) cases involving custody of a minor child if one parent is alleged to have caused the death of another parent and there is a history of domestic violence in the parents’ relationship, (c) divorce and custody cases in which a court has made a finding of family violence involving both parties; or a protective order has been issued, involving both parties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have dedicated my entire adult life to improving the lives of children and victims of domestic violence in the Greater Houston community. All Houstonians deserve a voice in their justice system and I decided early in my career to challenge myself to tirelessly represent clients in need of help, regardless of their ability to pay.

Harris County deserves a judge with the training and experience needed to understand the devastating effects domestic violence can have on victims and their children. I know domestic violence because I’ve seen it and experienced it. As a survivor of both childhood and adult domestic violence, I fled an eleven-year abusive relationship in 1989. Since 1990, I have worked with child victims of domestic violence, abuse, and neglect. My work has includes helping women victims fleeing their homes with nothing but the clothing on their backs. I have represented women who have been stabbed, beaten, stalked, held captive, and threatened with harm to their children and/or fraudulent or coercive legal consequences by their abusers. Although the majority of victims were women I also had several cases in which I represented men. However, men do not usually report the violence and rarely come forward asking for help. My work with these victims and children gives me specialized knowledge and understanding of what effective judicial leadership looks like.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for over 10 years but have worked closely with domestic violence victims for over 25 years. My legal career has been dedicated to working with victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect. Several years ago, I founded a children’s legal service program in Houston to train lawyers representing abused and neglected children. The program also represented children in Child Protective Services (CPS) and contested custody cases.

My experience also includes representing women and children at Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA). Some of the most difficult cases I’ve been involved with are those in which I represented children whose mothers had been murdered by their father. Relatives were left to pick up the pieces.

I am currently a clinical professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center, where I teach, mentor, and supervise second and third-year law students. Students represent real clients, including many involving domestic violence issues. I have been fortunate to have received numerous awards, including the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) President’s Award of Merit for co-authoring the publication, “What To Expect In Family Court.” I have worked with the domestic violence community, have a good working relationship with other legal aid organizations and am respected by my peers for my work as a lawyer and advocate for women and children.

I have been practicing law for over 10 years, I recently became Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and I have dedicated my legal career to helping others. My husband, Fred, and I recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary, love exploring our Houston community, and volunteer our time with Houston animal rescue groups.

5. Why is this race important?

Our daughters, nieces, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends need a judge who understands not only the physical aspects of domestic violence, but the emotional, spiritual and economic aspects. We need a judge who has the knowledge and experience to recognize the subtle ways batterers continue their abuse after the victim has left. We need a judge who is willing to work with our domestic violence community in creating programs to move our victims from helplessness to hopefulness. We need a judge who can can be fair, respectful, and give every person the right to have their voice heard.

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

I am the most experienced lawyer in this race. I have dedicated my entire adult life to advocating for victims of domestic violence. Not only have I represented hundreds of women and children whose lives were forever changed by domestic violence, I also teach my students how to recognize, understand and advocate for victims of violence. I am objective, open-minded and believe every person who comes into court deserves respect and fairness.