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Chip Wells

Judicial Q&A: Chip Wells

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. 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.

Chip Wells

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

I am Clinton Chip Wells the Democrat nominee for Judge in the 312 th Family District Court. I have been practicing law for over 41 years in Harris County and across the State. I am married with three children (two of which are from my wife’s prior marriage) and one grandchild. I’ve been practicing law with my law partner John McDowell for more than 28 years.

2. What kind of cases docs this court hear?

The 312th Family District Court hears all cases of which it has jurisdiction in Harris County including but not limited to marriage dissolution, modification of prior orders, support, adoption and cases associated with the Child Protective Services.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 312th Family District Court because of the clear distinction between my experience and that of the current Judge. As I stated above I have practiced law for over 41 years representing individual Texans and Texas families across the State. I have tried jury and non-jury cases in counties from El Paso to Beaumont and Denton to Brownsville. My experience is in the private practice of law resolving issues and obtaining relief for clients involving family law and personal injury claims. The distinction referenced above is that my opponent’s experience is almost exclusively institutional employment either through the County, State or Texas Guard. He has little or no experience representing individuals or families seeking affirmative relief. Thus, his experience lacks the component of compassion that comes with representing clients for over four decades.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications are as stated above including the more than 41 years of experience practicing law in Harris County and across the State of Texas. I have represented families and individuals in both non-jury and jury trials in many counties across the State. I am married for more than 24 years. I have raised my wife’s two children from a prior marriage and one of our own. I have been married and divorced. I have experienced as a lawyer the issues that will be addressed in a family court on a daily basis. I have practiced law with my present law partner for over 28 years thus demonstrating loyalty, commitment and the ability to work well with others. I am a certified mediator in civil law and family law mediation.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important for the same reason that all of the judicial races are important. We elect our judges in Texas. Each Court whether civil, criminal or family is charged with the same obligation, to apply the law to the facts and circumstances of the case before it. Every Judge is required to apply the law. How those facts and circumstances are appreciated by the Judge charged with the obligation of applying the law is often the difference. The Judges that sit in our Courts should reflect the community as a whole and should serve the community with compassion, fairness and equity for all its members.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

At present, the Harris County Family District Courts consist of nine Republicans and one Democratic Judge. As the Democratic nominee for the 312th Family District Court I am committed to maintain a courtroom open to all citizens of Harris County irrespective of race, origin, sexual preference or position. I am not beholden to any platform or litmus test for relief. I will strive to apply the laws of the State of Texas fairly, equitably and compassionately to all who may come before the Court.

I have the experience and background to serve all the citizens of Harris County. The citizens of Harris County should have access to Courts with Judiciary that reflects the community as a whole.

Next up: Judicial nominations

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With the nomination for Commissioners Court settled, all that’s left for me to do as Precinct Chair is participate in the process to select nominees for the two new courts, the 507th Family District Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. As a reminder, here are the new and revisited Q&A’s I published over the last two weeks for the candidates in these races:

507th Family District Court

Jim Evans
Julia Maldonado
Sandra Peake
Chip Wells
Germaine Tanner
Shawn Thierry

County Criminal Court at Law #16

David Singer
Darrell Jordan
Raul Rodriguez

Maldonado, Wells, Thierry, Singer, and Rodriguez were all there on Saturday as candidates. Peake was there as a precinct chair. I don’t know if she voted for a Commissioners Court candidate or not; she had previously sent out an email saying she would abstain from voting, due to her status as a candidate for the 507th. That message led to an email from another chair who called on her to resign from the race in the 507th on the grounds that she had violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by having been listed as one of Rodney Ellis’ supporters prior to the Saturday meeting. Her name is still on that list, so she may have some questions to answer.

There apparently remains some bad blood between Peake and Maldonado stemming from the 2014 primary in which they both competed for the nomination for the 246th Family Court (Peake eventually won the primary by a 51-49 margin). Maldonado filed a complaint against Peake prior to the election alleging that she had an insufficient number of petition signatures. Greg Enos highlighted some of the testimony from the hearing, in which Maldonado ultimately failed to receive injunctive relief. An anonymous (of course) mailer last week brought all of this up, including the same testimony that Enos flagged. I have no idea if this was intended as a hit piece on Maldonado or on Peake because it was anonymous (duh!) and because I barely glanced at it, awash as I was with Precinct 1 mail at the time.

That and the argument about statistics and qualifications have been the main points of contention in this race. Maldonado, Tanner, and Thierry have been the most active in sending email to precinct chairs, with Maldonado and Tanner being the most vocal about qualifications. Chip Wells and Sandra Peake have been much more quiet, and Jim Evans has been basically invisible. I bring this up mostly to note that the lesson everyone should have learned from Saturday is that no one is actually a candidate for any of these positions unless they know for a fact that at least one precinct chair intends to nominate them for the position. My advice to all nine candidates – the 16th Criminal Court at Law race has been far more sedate – is to make sure you have a commitment from a precinct chair for that.

Update on the nomination selection processes

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In six days, Democratic precinct chairs in County Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will select a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. In 11 days, all Democratic precinct chairs will select nominees for the 507th Family Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. This is a brief update on activity related to those races.

About a week ago, I received a letter addressed to precinct chairs concerning the 507th Family Court race. It was sent by fellow precinct chair Natalie Fairbanks and it enumerated the number of Harris County family court cases that each of the six known candidates had been involved in since 2008. I did a scan of the letter, which you can see here. A couple of days later, candidate Germaine Tanner sent an email to precinct chairs arguing that the data in the Fairbanks was inaccurate and incomplete, as all the attorneys in question have been practicing since well before 2008 and the count of cases did not include those “that were filed as post-divorce proceedings between the years 2008-2015, but with a case number that preceded the year 2008”. You can see this email here. Later that same day, candidate Julia Maldonado sent her own email pointing out that there are qualifications beyond number of cases worked, such as board certification, and that some attorneys handle cases outside of Harris County as well. You can see that email here.

As for the County Criminal Court at Law #16 race, the HCDP lists three candidates who have stated an interest in that nomination. Two of them have made themselves known to precinct chairs recently. David Singer, who up till recently was the only candidate I was aware of for this position, sent a letter to precinct chairs outlining his background and qualifications. I thought he had also sent that via email, but if so I can’t find it. This is the back side of his push card from the March primary for the 177th Criminal District Court, which is from an email he did send to precinct chairs in February. It’s a succinct summary of what was in the letter. Last week, I received an email from Darrell Jordan, who was a candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court in 2010. You can see that email here. The third candidate in this race is Raul Rodriguez, who had run for the 174th Criminal District Court this March and like Singer had been a candidate for one of the County Criminal Courts in 2014. I’ve not yet heard anything from him on this race. I do have Q&As from all three from past candidacies – Singer and Rodriguez for 2016, Jordan for 2010 – and will be revisiting those this week.

Finally, on the Commissioners Court race, candidate Georgia Provost made a pair of robocalls to precinct chairs this week. It was the first contact from a candidate not named Ellis, Locke, or Boykins that I received. And I have to say, of all the ways available to reach out to voters, I have no idea why she chose the robocall route. Robocalls have their place in the firmament – they’re a pretty efficient way of reminding people that there is an election in the first place – but given that nobody listens past the first five or ten seconds and you don’t know who actually picked up the phone, why would you do that for a more detailed sales pitch like this race? I mean, there’s 125 voters total for this race. At a very leisurely pace of five contacts per day, you could reach everyone in less than a month, and ensure that you personally get to talk to them. I can’t imagine a less effective strategy for a race like this than robocalls.

Finally, a few days ago I received a letter from Rep. Harold Dutton endorsing Gene Locke for the position. To the best of my admittedly spotty recollection, it’s the only letter I’ve received from an elected official endorsing someone other than Rodney Ellis. At the very least, it’s the only one I’ve received recently from an elected official.

Six days till we pick a Commissioner. Eleven days till we pick two judicial candidates. Hang in there, y’all.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Chip Wells

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies.

Chip Wells was a candidate for the 247th Family District Court in 2014 and 2010. Here are the responses he sent to me for the 2014 primary.

Chip Wells

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

I am Clinton “Chip” Wells and I am the Democratic nominee for Judge in the 247th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court presides over divorces, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, adoptions and enforcement matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Judge in this particular Court because in 2010 this Court had become one of the most inhospitable Court in the Family courthouse. Judge Hellums was seeking re-election in 2010 and I entered the Democratic primary for the opportunity to challenge her on that Bench. I lost that primary. I was approached again in 2014 and asked to consider running for a Family Bench again. I chose to seek election in the 247th District Court because Judge Hellums was retiring from the Bench after many years of service and I believed that I could bring my experience and willingness to serve to that Court for a positive improvement.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law in the State of Texas for more than 37 years. I have handled cases across this State from El Paso to Beaumont and Brownsville to Dallas. I have tried many cases with and without juries in matters involving family law, plaintiff’s personal injury law, civil litigation, criminal law and probate. In addition to my legal experience I am a certified mediator having received training at the AA White Dispute Resolution Center. In addition to my mediation training I am certified in family mediation.

5. Why is this race important?

The race in the 247th Judicial District Court is important for many reasons. You are more likely to find yourself, your friends, family members or neighbors in a family law court than any other court in this State. Because these courts deal with our most precious possessions, our children and our families, these courts require a Judge who has the experience and training to render a fair and impartial judgment. Justice matters. Experience, compassion, and a common sense approach to problem resolution is required for any Judge elected to serve in our Family District Courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the choice for Judge in the 247th Family District Court. I have the training and experience that I have gained over 37 years practicing law representing individuals and families across this State. I have a reputation for compassion, equality and common sense resolution necessary to sit in Judgment of disputed matters. I have the life experiences that assure a compassionate, understanding approach to oversee the resolution of these disputed matters. If justice and experience matter then Clinton “Chip” Wells is the choice to serve as a Judge in the 247th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas.

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.

Judicial Q&A: Chip Wells

(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.)

Chip Wells

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

I am Clinton “Chip” Wells and I am the Democratic nominee for Judge in the 247th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court presides over divorces, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, adoptions and enforcement matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Judge in this particular Court because in 2010 this Court had become one of the most inhospitable Court in the Family courthouse. Judge Hellums was seeking re-election in 2010 and I entered the Democratic primary for the opportunity to challenge her on that Bench. I lost that primary. I was approached again in 2014 and asked to consider running for a Family Bench again. I chose to seek election in the 247th District Court because Judge Hellums was retiring from the Bench after many years of service and I believed that I could bring my experience and willingness to serve to that Court for a positive improvement.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law in the State of Texas for more than 37 years. I have handled cases across this State from El Paso to Beaumont and Brownsville to Dallas. I have tried many cases with and without juries in matters involving family law, plaintiff’s personal injury law, civil litigation, criminal law and probate. In addition to my legal experience I am a certified mediator having received training at the AA White Dispute Resolution Center. In addition to my mediation training I am certified in family mediation.

5. Why is this race important?

The race in the 247th Judicial District Court is important for many reasons. You are more likely to find yourself, your friends, family members or neighbors in a family law court than any other court in this State. Because these courts deal with our most precious possessions, our children and our families, these courts require a Judge who has the experience and training to render a fair and impartial judgment. Justice matters. Experience, compassion, and a common sense approach to problem resolution is required for any Judge elected to serve in our Family District Courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the choice for Judge in the 247th Family District Court. I have the training and experience that I have gained over 37 years practicing law representing individuals and families across this State. I have a reputation for compassion, equality and common sense resolution necessary to sit in Judgment of disputed matters. I have the life experiences that assure a compassionate, understanding approach to oversee the resolution of these disputed matters. If justice and experience matter then Clinton “Chip” Wells is the choice to serve as a Judge in the 247th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas.

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.

Judicial Q&A: Chip Wells

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so 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. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

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

I am Clinton “Chip” Wells and I am running for the position of Judge of the 247th Family District Court in Harris County Texas. I attended school here in Houston graduating from Lamar H.S. in 1970. I attended the University of Texas at Austin and obtained my J.D. from South Texas College of Law. I am married to Lily Barnstone Wells. We have 3 children. I have been practicing law in Harris County for the past 32 years representing Texas families and indivduals in family law matters, personal injury claims and in the past, criminal matters.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 247th hears matters involving marriage dissolution, adoption, and enforcement of previous family court orders.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

After practicing for 32 years I believe that I can make a difference in this courtroom for the individuals that will come before it. I also believe that my experience will be valuable to making changes in the process that will help both lawyers and their clients.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 32 years of trial experience gained in courts around Texas from Cameron County to Tarrant County. During that time I practiced family law exclusively for 15 years. Family Law continues to be a part of my trial practice. I pride myself on my common sense approach to problem resolution. My practice has exposed me to hundreds of judges around the state from which I have learned lessons of what works and does not work from the bench. I want to return courtesy and compassion to the bench. Personally I was raised in a single parent household for the most part and then later had a stepfather in the home. I have been married divorced and remarried. I have raised two children from my wife’s previous marriage and we have one together. I have experience either personally or professionally with every imaginable scenario that might arise in a Family Law case.

5. Why is this race important?

Any one who wants to adopt a child, or has an issue that must be resolved in a family court understands why it is critical to have judges who respect the law and the litigants; and brings understanding and fairness to the courtroom.

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

I am the best candidate for Judge in the 247th Family District Court because of my 32 years of practice as a trial lawyer and my life experience that has taught me humility, compassion and appreciation for challenges that we all face. I believe that sitting in judgment on one of these family benches requires more than a rote knowledge of the law but calls for the experience necessary to fairly apply the law in each circumstance as it is presented.