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Endorsement watch: Getting into the county

The Chron goes all in on county races, where they had not spent much time before. Two editorials, with two endorsements per, starting with Commissioners Court.

Adrian Garcia

County Commissioner, Precinct 2: Adrian Garcia

While we lament that he ever stepped down as Harris County sheriff, Adrian Garcia has our support in this run for Commissioners Court. Garcia, 51, is uniquely qualified in this race. He is the only candidate with experience overseeing a budget and staff on this scale. As former sheriff, he knows the problems of an overcrowded jail and would be a loud voice for bail reform. A child of northside neighborhoods, Garcia understands the challenges facing the people who live in Precinct 2, which covers east Harris County and a sliver of north Houston. That includes income inequality, environmental threats around refineries, chronic flooding and a general lack of leadership.

We were particularly swayed when Garcia concisely explained why he opposes County Judge Ed Emmett’s current proposal for a massive billion-dollar (or more) bond sale to fund flood prevention infrastructure. First, he said, the proposal is too vague and needs public hearings. Second, it should be overseen by an independent review board. Third, any bond vote should to be held on Election Day in November rather than hidden on some obscure date.

“Let’s not have Republicans be afraid of having a tax increase next to their names, on the same ballot that they’re on,” Garcia told the editorial board.

Penny Shaw

County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Penny Shaw

If Precinct 4 were its own city, the sprawling north Harris County metropolis would be the 10th largest in the United States, falling between Dallas and San Jose, Calif. Two Democratic candidates are hoping to replace Republican incumbent Jack Cagle as the politician in charge. Penny Shaw, 51, is an attorney specializing in business litigation making her first run for public office. Jeffrey Stauber, 55, is a 32-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office who previously ran an unsuccessful race for sheriff.

These candidates agree on more than they disagree. They both complain that commissioners do far too much of their work behind closed doors. They both think the county needs to spend more on flood control, but they’re reluctant to raise taxes to pay for it. And they both give low marks to County Judge Ed Emmett for failing to do more to protect the county against flooding before Hurricane Harvey.

“Where was he when the sun was out?” Stauber asks.

Stauber would bring to this job decades of experience with county government. But Shaw makes a convincing case that she’s the candidate more likely to “shake up the system” and that she would give Latinas and women in general a voice that’s been missing on the court since Garcia’s departure. She also had the keen insight that commissioners court is “vendor-driven, not community driven” – a problem she hopes to change.

My interview with Penny Shaw is here and with Jeff Stauber is here. Adrian Garcia was my choice for Precinct 2 all along; I didn’t interview in that race but you can easily find past conversations with Garcia in my archives. Shaw has basically swept the endorsements in Precinct 4, which is pretty impressive given that Stauber is a really good candidate. As the piece notes, Precinct 4 is tough territory for Dems, but a decent showing there would at least help with the countywide efforts.

And on that note, the Chron picks their Clerk candidates.

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess

The Harris County district clerk oversees the data infrastructure of the Harris County legal system, including jury summonses and the courts’ electronic filings. Democrat Marilyn Burgess earns our endorsement for this primary slot based on her focus on improving existing practices and her knowledge of office operations. Burgess, 63, calls for enhancing the hourly wage of clerks to reduce turnover, improving the website, adding diversity to the top level of leadership in the department and increasing outreach to improve minority participation in juries. As former executive director of Texas PTA and former president of North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce, Burgess, who is a certified public accountant, is the only candidate in this race who has managed a large organization.

County Clerk: Diane Trautman

Stanart has been a magnet for criticism over his two terms, and Democrats should put forward a strong candidate if they want to take a real shot at winning this seat in November. That means voting for Diane Trautman in the party primary.

Trautman, 67, is the only candidate with both the political experience and professional resume to win this election and serve as an effective county clerk. She was elected countywide to the Harris County Department of Education in 2012. Her background features a doctorate from Sam Houston State with a dissertation on women’s leadership styles and managerial positions in the public and private sector. That includes serving as a principal in Conroe and Tomball ISDs. Meeting with the editorial board, Trautman emphasized the need to improve election security, such as by bringing in outside auditors and creating a paper trail for electronic voting booths. She also proposed ways to improve Harris County’s low turnout rates, such as by opening “voting centers” across Harris County on Election Day instead of forcing people to specific locations.

“We must do better if we want to call ourselves a democracy,” she said.

They gave Stanart more of a spanking in the piece, so be sure to read and enjoy it. As you know, I agree with both these choices. I await their calls in HCDE and the Treasurer’s race.

Interview season begins tomorrow

We’re a month into primary season, and we’re also six weeks out from the start of early voting. You know what I did over Christmas vacation? I interviewed a bunch of candidates, that’s what. You will begin to see the results of that labor tomorrow, with more to come. Doing a bunch of interviews is always a challenge, but this year I had the additional task of trying to decide which interviews to do, as there just wasn’t the time to get to every race.

I have done interviews for a long time. I do them mostly to give candidates in races where there usually isn’t much media coverage the chance to be heard, and thus to give the voters who may not otherwise be able to know anything about them beyond what they can find on the Internet a chance to hear them speak for themselves. I usually stay neutral in the races where I do interviews (the 2009 Mayor’s race, where I was open about supporting Annise Parker, is an exception) because I want all the candidates to feel like I’m being fair to them, but also because I see my mission in doing these interviews as informative. I have always wanted to be broad and inclusive.

This year, the huge slate paired with the compressed primary timeline makes that goal unattainable. I thought about ways I might try to work around that, but in the end I decided that was neither practical nor desirable. And as I thought about that and considered my options, I realized I could approach things a little differently, and in doing so help me decide which races to prioritize.

What that means is this. For this year, I have decided there are some races where the better use of my platform is to make an endorsement rather than schedule and try to execute multiple interviews. If people come here to learn about candidates, then for this year I think it would be best for me to just say who I’m voting for in certain races. I’ve not done this before, and I may never do it again, but this year this is what feels right.

So with that long-winded preamble out of the way:

I endorse Beto O’Rourke for US Senate. Do I really need to say anything about this one?

I endorse Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. She works hard, she votes the way I want her to vote, I have supported her in previous elections, and I see no reason to do otherwise this year.

I endorse Sen. Sylvia Garcia in CD29. I was redistricted out of SD06 before she was elected there, but she has been an excellent successor to my former Senator, the late Mario Gallegos. She’s the clear choice in CD29.

I endorse Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15. In the hostile environment that is the State Senate under Dan Patrick, Whitmire’s experience and institutional knowledge are vital. Four years ago, I asked his primary opponent Damien LaCroix why we should forsake Whitmire’s seniority and clout for a freshman. He didn’t have a good answer then, and I doubt he has one now. We hope to get a lot of new Democratic blood in every branch of government this year, but we still very much need John Whitmire.

I endorse Allison Lami Sawyer in HD134. I do plan to interview Sawyer – I’m in discussion with her to set a time and place at the time of publication – but I can’t say enough that her primary opponent, Lloyd Oliver, is a clown and an idiot, and we would be doing ourselves a grave disservice if we let him slip through the primary. Not that there’s ever a good year to screw around and nominate a deeply problematic schmuck like Oliver, but this is an especially bad year for that. Vote for Allison Sawyer in HD134.

I dual-endorse Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in HD133. They both look like fine people (I haven’t reached out to them for interviews yet but probably will), but with all due respect to them this isn’t really about them. It’s about the third candidate in the race, who is even more of a problem than Lloyd Oliver. This other candidate, whom I will not name, has a long history of harassing me over a silly thing I said about him back in 2002. You can vote for Marty Schexnayder in HD133, or you can vote for Sandra Moore in HD133, but please do not even think about voting for the other candidate in HD133.

I endorse Diane Trautman for Harris County Clerk. I’ve known Diane for a long time. She’s a hard worker, a great Democrat, and she has served ably as HCDE Trustee. She was also the first Democrat to announce for anything for this cycle, and has been on the ground campaigning for months. Gayle Mitchell is a nice person who ran against Ann Harris Bennett for this nomination on 2014. You can listen to the interview I did with her then here. Ann Harris Bennett was the better candidate that year, and Diane Trautman is the better candidate this year. Nat West is the SDEC Chair for SD13, and is by all accounts I’ve heard a fine person. As far as I can tell, he has no web presence for his candidacy. With all due respect, Diane Trautman is the clear choice.

I endorse Marilyn Burgess for District Clerk. I only met her during this cycle, but like Diane Trautman she’s been out there campaigning for months, and she has great credentials for this office. All three of her opponents entered the race in the last days of the filing period. Two have no web presence – one was a candidate for SBOE in 2016, and had no web presence then, either – and one has a mostly unreadable website. District Clerk is – or at least should be – one of the least political elected offices out there. It’s about doing a straightforward information management job. I have faith Marilyn Burgess can do that job, and I’m voting for her.

I endorse Adrian Garcia for County Commissioner in Precinct 2. I’d been pining for him to run for this office for months, so I may as well be consistent.

So there you have it. Interviews begin tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

Filing roundup: Outside Harris County

A look at who filed for what on the Democratic side in the counties around Harris. These are all predominantly Republican counties, some more than others, so the Democrats are almost all challengers. On the flip side, there are many opportunities for gains.

Lisa Seger

Montgomery County

CD08 – Steven David

HD03 – Lisa Seger
HD15 – Lorena Perez McGill
HD16 – Mike Midler

County Judge – Jay Stittleburg
District Clerk – John-Brandon Pierre
County Treasurer – Mandy Sunderland

First, kudos to Montgomery County, hardly a Democratic bastion, for having so many candidates. They’re a County Clerk candidate away from having a full slate. I’m not tracking judicial candidates, County Commissioners, or Constables, but the MCDP has those, too. Steven David is a business and efficiency expert for the City of Houston. He’s running against Kevin “Cut all the taxes for the rich people!” Brady. Lisa Seger, whose district also covers Waller County, is a fulltime farmer in Field Store Community who has helped feed first responders during the fires of 2011 and is also involved in animal rescue. Her opponent is Cecil Bell, who was possibly the most fanatical pusher of anti-LGBT bills in the State House. She’s also a Facebook friend of my wife, who knows a lot of local farmers through her past work with Central City Co-Op. Jay Stittleburg is a Navy veteran and Project Management Professional who has worked in oil and gas. John-Brandon Pierre is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. A very solid group.

Fort Bend County

CD22 – Letitia Plummer
CD22 – Margarita Ruiz Johnson
CD22 – Mark Gibson
CD22 – Sri Preston Kulkarni
CD22 – Steve Brown

SD17 – Fran Watson
SD17 – Rita Lucido
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

HD26 – Sarah DeMerchant
HD27 – Rep. Ron Reynolds
HD27 – Wilvin Carter
HD28 – Meghan Scoggins
HD85 – Jennifer Cantu

County Judge – KP George
District Clerk – Beverly McGrew Walker

Gotta say, I’m kind of disappointed in Fort Bend. They had a full slate for county offices in 2014, but this year there wasn’t anyone to run for County Clerk or County Treasurer? I don’t understand how that happens. Mark Gibson and Steve Brown list Fort Bend addresses, while Letitia Plummer and Margarita Johnson are from Pearland and Sri Kulkarni is from Houston. The Senate candidates we’ve already discussed. For the State House, Sarah DeMerchant ran in 2016, while Wilvin Carter is the latest to try to take out Rep. Ron Reynolds, who is the only incumbent among all the candidates I’m listing in this post and whose story you know well. Meghan Scoggins has a background in aerospace but works now in the nonprofit sector, while Jennifer Cantu is an Early Childhood Intervention therapist for a Texas nonprofit. KP George is a Fort Bend ISD Trustee and past candidate for CD22.

Brazoria County

CD14 – Adrienne Bell
CD14 – Levy Barnes

SBOE7 – Elizabeth Markowitz

HD29 – Dylan Wilde Forbis
HD29 – James Pressley

County Judge – Robert Pruett
County Clerk – Rose MacAskie

CD22 and SD17 also contain Brazoria County. HD25, held by Dennis Bonnen, is in Brazoria but it is one of the few districts that drew no Democratic candidates. I haven’t focused much on the SBOE races, but as we know longtime Republican member David Bradley is retiring, so that seat is open. It’s not exactly a swing district, but maybe 2018 will be better than we think. Adrienne Bell has been in the CD14 race the longest; she’s a Houston native and educator who was on both the Obama 2012 and Wendy Davis 2014 campaigns. Levy Barnes is an ordained bishop with a bachelor’s in biology, and you’ll need to read his biography for yourself because there’s too much to encapsulate. Dylan Wilde Forbis is one of at least three transgender candidates for State House out there – Jenifer Pool in HD138 and Finnigan Jones in HD94 are the others I am aware of. The only useful bit of information I could find about the other candidates is the Robert Pruett had run for County Judge in 2014, too.

Galveston County

HD23 – Amanda Jamrok
HD24 – John Phelps

CD14 and SBOE7 are also in Galveston. Remember when Galveston was a Democratic county? Those were the days. I don’t have any further information about these candidates.

Hope these posts have been useful. There are more I hope to do, but they’re pretty labor intensive so I’ll get to them as best I can.

The Harris County slates

Let’s talk about the filings for Harris County. The SOS filings page is still the best source of information, but they don’t provide shareable links, so in the name of ease and convenience I copied the Democratic filing information for Harris County to this spreadsheet. I took out the statewide candidates, and I didn’t include Republicans because they have not updated the SOS office with their slate. Their primary filing site is still the best source for that. So review those and then come back so we can discuss.

Ready? Here we go.

– If there was an announcement I missed it, but HCDE Trustee Erica Lee, in Position 6, Precinct 1, did not file for re-election. Three candidates did file, Danyahel Norris, an attorney and associate director at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John F. Miller, who was a candidate for HCDE Chair earlier this year; and Prince Bryant.

– While there are contested races up and down the ballot, there’s one race that is no longer contested. Mike Nichols withdrew his filing for Harris County Judge, leaving Lina Hidalgo as the sole candidate to oppose Judge Ed Emmett next fall.

– The SOS page also shows that Sammy Casados withdrew his filing for County Commissioner. However, his campaign Facebook page makes no such announcement, and there’s no evidence I can find to confirm that. It’s possible this is a mistake on the SOS page. We’ll know soon enough, when the HCDP publishes its official final list. Anyway, the cast for Commissioner in Precinct 2 also includes Adrian Garcia, Daniel Box, Roger Garcia, and Ken Melancon, who was previously a candidate for Constable in Precinct 3 (note that Constable precincts, like Justice of the Peace precincts, do not correspond to Commissioner precincts). Also, there are now two candidates for Commissioner in Precinct 4, Penny Shaw and Jeff Stauber, who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2016.

– All other county races save one are contested. Diane Trautman has two opponents for County Clerk: Gayle Mitchell, who ran for the same office in 2014, losing to Ann Harris Bennett in the primary, and Nat West, who is the SDEC Chair for Senate District 13 and who ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 in that weird precinct chair-run election. Two candidates joined Marilyn Burgess and Kevin Howard for District Clerk, Michael Jordan and former Council candidate Rozzy Shorter. Dylan Osborne, Cosme Garcia, and Nile Copeland, who ran for judge as a Dem in 2010, are in for County Treasurer. HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large has Josh Wallenstein, Elvonte Patton, and Richard Cantu, who may be the same Richard Cantu that ran for HISD Trustee in District I in 2005. Only Andrea Duhon, the candidate for HCDE Trustee for Position 4 in Precinct 3, has a free pass to November.

– I will go through the late filings for legislative offices in a minute, but first you need to know that Lloyd Oliver filed in HD134. Whatever you do, do not vote for Lloyd Oliver. Make sure everyone you know who lives in HD134 knows to vote for Alison Sawyer and not Lloyd Oliver. That is all.

– Now then. SBOE member Lawrence Allen drew an opponent, Steven Chambers, who is a senior manager at HISD. That’s a race worth watching.

– Sen. John Whitmire has two primary opponents, Damien LaCroix, who ran against him in 2014, and Hank Segelke, about whom I know nothing. Rita Lucido, who ran for SD17, threw her hat in the ring to join Fran Watson and Ahmad Hassan.

– Carlos Pena (my google fu fails me on him) joins Gina Calanni for HD132. Ricardo Soliz made HD146 a three-candidate race, against Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owens. There are also three candidates in HD133: Marty Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and someone you should not vote for under any circumstances. He’s another perennial candidate with lousy views, just like Lloyd Oliver. Wh you should also not vote for under any circumstances.

– The Republican side is boring. Stan Stanart has a primary opponent. Rep. Briscoe Cain no longer does. There’s some drama at the JP level, where Precinct 5 incumbent Jeff Williams faces two challengers. Williams continued to perform weddings after the Obergefell decision, meaning he did (or at least was willing to do) same sex weddings as well. You do the math. Unfortunately, there’s no Democrat in this race – it’s one of the few that went unfilled. There was a Dem who filed, but for reasons unknown to me the filing was rejected. Alas.

I’ll have more in subsequent posts. Here’s a Chron story from Monday, and Campos has more.

UPDATE: Two people have confirmed to me that Sammy Casados has withdrawn from the Commissioners Court race.

Filing news: Jeffrey Payne and a whole lot of Congressional candidates

And then there were six Democratic candidates for Governor.

Jeffrey Payne

Signing paperwork and presenting a $3,500 check, [Dallas businessman Jeffrey] Payne became the sixth Democrat to file for the state’s top office. In addition to Payne, the list currently includes Houston electronics businessman Joe Mumbach, Dallas financial analyst Adrian Ocegueda, former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis Sr., retired San Antonio school teacher Grady Yarbrough and San Antonio businessman Tom Wakley.

Two more, Houston entrepreneur Andrew White and [Dallas County Sheriff Lupe] Valdez, are expected to declare their candidacy before the filing period ends in a week, on Dec. 11.

“I have had great response to my campaign and, after touring the state for the past several months, I think we can win — even though it’s going to be uphill,” Payne said at the Texas Democratic Party headquarters, where he filed his candidacy papers. “People want a politician who listens to them.”

Payne said he thinks he will have to raise $8 million to win the March primary. He had earlier pledged to put up to $2.5 million of his own money into his campaign, but said Monday that he hasn’t had to tap his accounts yet.

He also said that if Valdez runs, the campaign will mark a milestone by having two gay candidates running for governor. “That says something about where Texas is now,” he said.

Payne was the first announced candidate to be considered newsworthy. He’s not the last. Going by what I’ve seen on Facebook, White appears poised to announced – at Mark White Elementary School in Austin Houston – his official filing on Thursday the 7th. I don’t know exactly what will happen with Sheriff Valdez, who had that weird “she’s in/not so fast” moment last week, but the consensus seems to be that she will be in. I’ll have more fully formed thoughts later, but for now it is clear we are in for the most interesting and active set of Democratic off year primaries since 2002.

Moving along, in bullet point form…

– Steve Brown filed as promised in CD22. The total number of Democratic candidates in each Congressional district in Harris County:

  • Four in CD02, with at least one more expected
  • Five in CD07, with one more expected
  • One in CD08, and one in CD09, the only two that do not have contested races
  • Two in CD10, with at least two more potential candidates out there
  • Two in CD18, as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee draws a challenger
  • Four in CD22
  • Four in CD29, with Adrian Garcia still in the wind
  • Two in CD36

Looking around the state, the only districts that don’t have at least one Democrat running are CDs 04 and 13, two of the reddest districts in the state.

Gina Calanni filed for HD132, leaving HDs 134 and 135 as the only two competitive State House districts in Harris County that still need candidates. I don’t have a good read on the rest of the state yet.

– District Clerk and County Treasurer are now contested primaries as Kevin Howard and Cosme Garcia (respectively) filed in each. She hasn’t filed yet, but Andrea Duhon appears to be in for HCDE Board of Trustees Position. 4, Precinct 3. That was the last county office that really needed a candidate.

Still more to come. If you know of something I’m missing, leave a comment.

We have a candidate for Treasurer

Dylan Osborne

The Democratic slate for countywide offices in 2018 is now filled out as Dylan Osborne has announced his candidacy for Harris County Treasurer. Osborne has been a City Council staffer and currently works in the Planning & Development Department for the City of Houston. He joins the following on the ticket for next November:

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Diane Trautman, County Clerk
Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Josh Wallenstein, HCDE Trustee, Position 3 At Large

All this presumes there are no other entrants into the primaries. Given how crowded some other races are I wouldn’t bet on that, but this is what we have now. As noted in the previous update, we are still awaiting candidates for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, as well as some State Reps. Filing season opens in about five weeks.

Did you know that the current Treasurer, Orlando Sanchez, is the longest-tenured countywide official? He was elected in 2006, so this is his third term. County Judge Ed Emmett was appointed in 2007 and won his first election in 2008, along with County Attorney Vince Ryan. County Clerk Stan Stanart and District Clerk Chris Daniel were both elected in 2010. Everyone else, including the At Large HCDE Trustees, was elected no earlier than 2012. There are some judges who have been on the bench longer than Sanchez has been in office, there are Constables and JPs who have been around longer, and of course Commissioner Steve Radack was first elected during the Truman administration (I may be slightly exaggerating), but for countywide executive offices, it’s Orlando and then it’s everybody else. If we want to elevate somebody else to the title of most senior countywide elected official, next year will be our chance to do that.

A couple of race updates

Josh Wallenstein

The county slate is one step closer to being filled out for 2018, as Josh Wallenstein has announced his intent to run for the HCDE At Large Position 3 Trustee seat that Diane Trautman is giving up to challenge Stan Stanart. I had a brief chat with Wallenstein via Facebook over the weekend, but as you can see there’s not much on his page yet, so as of today I can’t tell you anything more about him than that he is running. Wallenstein joins Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Trautman (County Clerk), and Marilyn Burgess (District Clerk) on the countywide Democratic slate, which leaves only County Treasurer without a candidate so far. The Treasurer slot pays something like $96K per year, and if we know anything from Orlando Sanchez’s terms in office, there’s plenty of free time to go along with that. If you’re looking for new career opportunities, that may be something to consider. Also needed on the ballot are a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, which is held by appointee Louis Evans. I feel more confident about the first one being filled than the second one, but we’ll see.

Also of interest is Murray Newman’s rundown of the incumbents and candidates for the various Harris County criminal courts. This encompasses the District Courts, which handle felonies, and the County Courts, which are for misdemeanors and the focal point of the ongoing bail practices lawsuit. Several judges are retiring or have already stepped down and been replaced by appointees, and a few others have challengers in the Republican primary. I tend to know the players in the other judicial races, so this was a very useful reference for me.

Finally, as you may have noticed last week, I succeeded in putting together a 2017 Election page for this year’s races. It was a lot less work than it usually is thanks to the lack of city races, but as you know things have been highly out of the ordinary lately. Anyway, if you have any corrections or additions to suggest, please let me know. Thanks.

The courthouse shuffle

Justice rearranged.

Flood waters damaged several buildings in the courthouse complex , which is spread across a dozen city blocks in north downtown. The county’s shiny new underground jury assembly building flooded, but the biggest casualty was probably the destruction that has closed the 20-story criminal justice center for at least six to nine months. The loss is immense because the building housed the entire district attorney’s office, an agency of 330 lawyers and almost 400 staffers, the public defenders office and 40 courtrooms, staffed with clerks, coordinators, court reporters and others.

The reason it is such a hardship to relocate is because each of those courtrooms had holding cells and access to private elevators so inmates could be brought securely from the Harris County Jail across Buffalo Bayou in tunnels and bridges without any contact with the public.

With the loss of that building, the county’s 22 felony courts have doubled up in courtrooms in the civil courthouse, pushing the civil, family and probate courts together.

Since there are few if any holding cells in the relocated courts, the people in jail are expected to have court in jailhouse courtrooms with revolving dockets. The very few holding cells will likely be reserved for trials when jury selection resumes Sept. 25.

Jury service is suspended through the 22nd – see here for more information about that, or call the District Clerk at (832)927-5800 if you have questions about that. That same link has information about the court dockets if you have an appearance coming up, as does this link. Expect things to be a little chaotic and more than a little cramped going forward, but we will get through this.

July campaign finance reports – Harris County candidates

The Harris County situation for candidates and campaign finance reports is a bit complicated. Take a look at my January summary and the reports and data that I’ve found for July, and we’ll discuss what it all means on the other side.

Ed Emmett

Jack Morman
Jack Cagle

Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel

Diane Trautman

David Patronella
George Risner
Don Coffey
Lucia Bates
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir
Daryl Smith
Jeff Williams
Armando Rodriguez
Zinetta Burney
Louie Ditta


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans     On Hand
=================================================
Emmett     472,172   99,684         0     551,875

Morman     635,050   98,611     44,339  2,261,453
Cagle      561,350  197,375          0  1,008,707

Stanart     49,100   10,124     20,000     69,384
Daniel      49,350   51,681     55,000     25,359
Sanchez

Trautman    15,251    2,978          0     18,009
Evans
Lee

Patronella  20,215    5,075          0
Risner       2,550    7,202          0     81,053
Coffey         200    7,214          0     57,694
Bates (*)      850      575          0        567
Korduba (R) 24,870    5,085          0     33,466
Smith (**)       0      300          0          0
Williams (R)     0        0     60,000     13,396
Rodriguez        0        0          0      2,219
Burney           0        0          0        902
Ditta (R)        0    1,907      2,000     17,006

Let’s start with what isn’t there. I don’t see a report as yet for Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, nor do I see one for HCDE Trustees Louis Evans (Position 4, Precinct 3) and Erica Lee (Position 6, Precinct 1). Diane Trautman (Position 3, At Large) has a report, but she is running for County Clerk, so as yet there are no candidates of which I am aware for the position she is vacating. Finding Louis Evans’ name among the list of Trustees was a bit of a surprise, since he had not been elected to that position in 2012. He was appointed to the seat in November of 2015 to replace Kay Smith, who stepped down to run in the Republican primary for HD130. I just missed that announcement, so my bad there. Evans as noted in the linked release, was Smith’s predecessor in that position, serving the six year term from 2007 to 2013. He was not on the ballot for the GOP primary in 2012, so if he runs for another term this would be the first time he has faced voters since 2006.

County Judge Ed Emmett does not have an opponent yet, as far as I can tell. There’s a bit of confusion because three people – Christopher Diaz, Shannon Baldwin, and LaShawn Williams – have filed requests for authorization forms for electronic filing, with County Judge as the office they plan to seek. At least two of these people are not running for County Judge, however. Williams appears to be a candidate for Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3, and has filed a finance report listing that office as the one she seeks. She has also filed a report for the office of County Judge. I presume the latter is an error, but they both have different numbers in them, so who knows? Baldwin’s case appears to be more clear, as she has a Facebook page for her candidacy for County Criminal Court #4, for which she has filed a finance report, again with the correct office listed. As for Diaz, I have no idea. I don’t think he is the Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz. Here’s the Christopher Diaz County Judge RFA, and the Constable Chris Diaz finance report. You tell me.

Jack Morman is clearly aware of his status as biggest electoral target of the year. He’s got plenty of money available to him for his race, whoever he winds up running against. Cagle has only the primary to worry about, as his precinct is highly unlikely to be competitive in November. The other countywide offices generally don’t draw much money to their races. I suppose that may change this year, especially in the County Clerk’s race, but first we’re going to need some candidates.

Constables were elected last year, as were Justices of the Peace in Place 1, so what we have on the ballot this time are the JPs in Place 2. According to the listing of judicial candidates that we got at the June CEC meeting, David Patronella and Zinetta Burney have primary opponents, but neither of them have July finance reports on file. Rodrick Rogers, who is listed as a candidates against Republican Jeff Williams in Precinct 5, also has no report. Lucia Bates is a Democrat running in the primary against Don Coffey, while Daryl Smith is a Democrat running against Repubican incumbent Laryssa Korduba Hrncir, who at last report was the last holdout on performing weddings post-Obergefell. I do not know if there has been any change in that status. Whatever the case, there’s not a lot of fundraising in these races.

So that’s what I know for now. It’s possible some of the non-filers will have reports up later, I do see that sometimes. For sure, we should expect to hear of some candidates in the places where we currently have none. If you’ve got some news on that score, please let us know.

Marilyn Burgess to announce for District Clerk

Marilyn Burgess

In addition to a large slate of judicial offices, there are four countywide executive offices on the ballot next year. Democrats in Harris County have nearly all of the judicial races covered, and Diane Trautman has been in the race for County Clerk since early in the year. We are still awaiting candidates for County Judge and County Treasurer, but as of this weekend we have a contestant for Harris County District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess.

District Clerk is a position that’s all about organization and operations. Its job duties include recording the actions and the judgments of the district courts; transmitting the orders of the district courts to the authorities responsible for their execution; and assuming all other duties assigned by the presiding judge of a court, which includes things like bringing in people for jury duty. It’s not really political in the way that (for example) County Clerk and Tax Assessor are, but it is a constitutional office and it has a lot of important responsibilities.

Burgess is a CPA by profession, and spent four years as the Executive Director of the Texas PTA. She was a candidate for Harris County Department of Education in Precinct 4 in 2016, receiving 45% of the vote in that Republican area. She will have a formal announcement of her candidacy shortly. In the meantime, her campaign webpage is here; her campaign Facebook page is not ready yet. It’s certainly possible someone else may jump into this race – it’s still just August – but for now we at least have one more office covered.

Paxton still pushing for a new judge

Still, he persisted, I guess.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawyers are not giving up in their bid to get a new judge in his securities fraud case.

Earlier this month, Judge George Gallagher ordered Paxton’s trial be moved to Harris County from Collin County, where Paxton lives, after prosecutors argued Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool there. Paxton’s team wrote Friday to Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel requesting that he assign the case to a new judge. Paxton “has not and will not give” his permission for the current judge to follow the case to Harris County, Paxton’s lawyers wrote to Daniel.

The letter, which was filed in court Monday, is the latest development in a standoff between Paxton’s team and Gallagher, whose spokeswoman said last week he will remain on the case. The spokeswoman, Melody McDonald Lanier, also said Gallagher does not need to rule on a motion Paxton’s lawyers made earlier this month that amounted to their initial request for a new judge.

In the letter to Daniel, Paxton’s lawyers continued to cite a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that says a judge ordering a change of venue may only continue to preside over the case with the consent of both sides. Gallagher, who is from Tarrant County, has been presiding over the case since its early days in 2015.

See here and here for the background. I know that the District Clerk assigns district court judges in new cases, but this is a continuation of a previous case, and it’s one where the judge was assigned from another county after the original judge recused himself. Is there anything in existing law to suggest that the District Clerk has the authority to assign a new judge after the venue was changed to the Clerk’s county? I have no idea, and based on the prior reports, this is something no one has asked for before. I’m kind of wondering why Team Paxton hasn’t gone to the 1st or 14th Courts of Appeals with this request; maybe he wants to show that he exhausted all other avenues first. Whatever the case, I have to assume the question will eventually wind up there. And I have to wonder, is this all worth it? Do they really think they’ve been screwed by Judge Gallagher so far, and that the risk of making things really awkward in his court is worth the possibility of getting a different judge, one who may not have any more tolerance for his lawyers’ tactics? Again, I have no idea. But it sure is fun to watch. The Chron has more.

Why shouldn’t court records be made available online?

Seems clear to me that they should. What’s the case against?

Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has noticed a curious trend in the state’s legal system: Folks are increasingly representing themselves in legal disputes, forgoing lawyers altogether.

“They really need legal help, but they don’t feel like they can afford it,” Hecht said.

But ditching a lawyer doesn’t make justice free. Obtaining legal records can be a big hurdle — time away from work, trips to a courthouse that may be far from home and copying fees that can run a dollar per page for documents that often run hundreds of pages.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of people for whom getting a court record is probably impossible, at least practically,” said Hecht, who has long sought to help poor Texans navigate the legal system.

That’s just one reason he’s excited about efforts to deliver court records from all 254 counties to Texans’ fingertips through an online portal. Some urban counties — Dallas, Harris, Travis and Tarrant, for instance — individually put their records online. But scores of other counties rely only on old-fashioned paper, necessitating trips to the courthouse and making statewide research next to impossible.

The Texas Supreme Court, through its Office of Court Administration, has worked for years on a one-stop legal records shop. Called re:SearchTX, the project is coming out in phases, with plans to eventually provide widespread public access.

The Office of Court Administration last September extended a contract with Tyler Technologies, a Plano-based company that already has integrated every Texas county into a filing system allowing attorneys to electronically send documents to the clerks. Under that four-year $72 million extension, Tyler would keep that system running through 2021 and eventually open it to the public.

The public portal would be funded through fees that attorneys pay to use the system. It would function like PACER, a widely used federal portal that charges subscribers small fees for access.

“It’s just crucial,” Hecht said. “It’s important for transparency. The media and the public at large have a very fundamental interest in the public justice system.”

But county and district clerks are fuming. They’re pushing to kill the project in a wonky battle involving local control and privacy concerns, multimillion-dollar contracts and confusion about how the portal would ultimately work.

“Clerks have been doing this forever,” Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said last week at rollicking meeting of the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, which advises the state Supreme Court. “It’s a duplication of effort.”

If the records get breached, he later told a reporter, “it’s our ass.”

At least 168 counties have adopted resolutions opposing re:SearchTX. They’ve found friendly ears in a Legislature that often shrugs off arguments for more local control on other issues, such as oil and gas drilling and penalizing polluters.

Court records are public documents, and they should be available online. That doesn’t mean they need to be unsecured or indexed by Google – it’s fine to require a logon account with a verifiable password to view records – but the days of having to trek to a District Clerk’s office to retrive paper files, for which one needs to pay a per-page printing fee, need to be over. I’m sympathetic to Clerk Wilder’s position, so if a county has already digitized its court records, that should be sufficient. It’s the counties that haven’t taken this basic step that need to be brought into re:SearchTX. Of course, one reason why many of those counties are reluctant to do so, and why HB1258 has been filed to kill the data project, is because these counties make money retrieving and printing those paper files. Sorry, y’all, but that’s not a good enough reason to lag behind the times. Justice Hecht is correct. Court records should be available online. If a county isn’t already doing that and has no plans to do it in the short-term future, they should be made to participate in re:SearchTX.

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

I now pronounce you man and machine

Yeah, no.

Chris Sevier says he’s being denied his right to marry – his computer.

The persistent Tennessee lawyer – who has carried his challenge to same-sex marriage to courthouses across the nation – has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Houston saying he and his 2011 MacBook were rejected for a marriage license in Harris County.

He is suing the Harris County District Clerk, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, saying his 14th Amendment right to marry is being denied. Sevier has filed similar challenges for the right to marry a machine in Tennessee and Utah.

Paxton’s office, however, is asking U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett to hit the delete button on the lawsuit.

His office filed court papers asking that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell decision in June allowing same-sex marriage does not extend to man and machine.

“The right to marry one’s computer is not an interest, objectively, deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition such that it qualifies as a protected interest,” Paxton’s brief argued.

You will, I’m sure, be shocked to learn that the plaintiff is an activist who believes that same-sex marriage has “hijacked the Constitution”, whatever that means. I had thought it would be impossible to make an argument against same-sex marriage that is stupider than the “man on dog” and box turtle claims of the recent past, but clearly I was wrong.

Judicial bypass is already a huge obstacle

Jane’s Due Process highlights just how hard it is for a pregnant teenager to get a judicial bypass for the purpose of obtaining an abortion under existing law.

Never again

Never again

The Survey.
Jane’s Due Process (JDP) is a 501(c)(3) organization that formed shortly after Texas’ parental involvement law went into effect in 2000. Our mission is to ensure free legal representation for every pregnant minor in Texas whether she chooses to obtain an abortion or become a parent. Among a laundry list of services, we guide minors through the judicial bypass process, guaranteeing non-biased and judgment-free legal representation. Every few years, JDP surveys the district clerks offices around Texas to ensure that clerks are in fact providing callers seeking judicial bypass with correct and comprehensive information.

This report is based on a district clerk call-around completed in February-March 2015. The caller posed as a pregnant minor seeking information about how to obtain a judicial bypass in her residing county. We chose to survey all counties in Texas with populations above 50,000 (62) and spot-check the smaller counties (19). In total, we surveyed 81 counties. The caller asked the following questions:

1. How do I apply for a judicial bypass?
2. Where do I go to file my application for a judicial bypass?
3. Whom do I ask to help me fill out my application?
4. Will anyone else find out that I am applying for a judicial bypass?
5. How do I get a lawyer?

The Results.
Our results were overwhelmingly disappointing and highly concerning. A mere 26% of counties provided the caller with factually correct information. Even more frightening, 37% of counties denied entirely their office’s involvement with judicial bypass filings, and a vast 81% of counties had no immediate knowledge of the existence of judicial bypass. A stunning 43% of counties provided the caller with blatant misinformation. Several district clerks went a step further and provided the caller with personal, religious advice, referencing “God’s plan” for the minor. One clerk announced she was an “advocate for Crisis Pregnancy Centers” and wanted to meet with the minor in person after work. Other clerks simply told the caller to “pick up the phone and call a lawyer” with one abruptly hanging up the phone.

While our results depend largely on the clerk who happened to answer the phone under Texas law, clerk’s offices should help any and all minors who seek to file a bypass application. While one clerk may be more knowledgeable than another, the clerk who answers the phone should be able to connect a minor to help immediately. This survey’s methodology replicates precisely what could happen in a real-life situation if a pregnant minor were to simply call her district clerk’s office seeking information. In cases where a clerk does not have any information, he or she should at least be able to transfer the caller immediately to someone who can provide the caller with the correct information, rather than providing the caller with misinformation or no information at all.

We cannot stress enough our concern regarding these findings. The judicial bypass provision is in place as a safety net for pregnant teens who cannot involve a parent or legal guardian in their pregnancy, often times for fear of abuse or abandonment. Judicial bypass absolutely must be accessible to this highly vulnerable population. District clerk’s offices must be trained properly to provide complete and accurate information so that every Texas minor has access to this constitutionally protected provision. Indeed, when the State is not upholding this legal requirement in practice, it creates very serious constitutional problem that may place minors in danger.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for elected officials to know and follow the law, do you? Of course, they may not have to worry about it in the near future if pending legislation makes it through the process and gets signed into law. I’m old enough to remember when the parental consent law that created the judicial bypass process was first enacted. Opponents at the time argued that all it would do was put up obstacles and create danger for a vulnerable population. Apparently, it wasn’t enough of an obstacle for some people. Nonsequiteuse has more.

Targeting straight ticket voting

From Trail Blazers:

Texas is one of only 10 states still doing straight-ticket voting but a North Texas legislator is hoping to change that.

At a hearing today, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) told the Elections Committee that doing away with such an option here would lead to a more informed voter and improve turnout in non-partisan ballot measure.

“The purpose of this bill is to increase the number of Republican elected officials thought out the state of Texas,” he halfway joked. “However I do believe the added benefit will be a more educated voter.”

But Glenn Maxey, of the Texas Democratic Party, said such a move could discourage voters.

“People are going to be standing in line for hours and hours because it’s going to take people not 10 minutes to vote but a half hour to do that kind of marking,” he said.

Bill Fairbrother, of the Texas Republican County Chairman Association, said cost is a concern.

“Think of all the additional machines, clerks, polling places … That instead of being able to click one box to take care of those races, you have to go back and choose on average 25 separate races,” he said.

However, both Maxey and Fairbrother noted that within their parties, there was division as those in more rural areas favored the bill.

Rep. Simmons wrote a TribTalk piece in February about this:

Rep. Ron Simmons

Every campaign season, candidates and interest groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to “inform” voters. I use that word — rather than “educate” — on purpose.

Informing is nothing more than providing information to another party. Educating requires action on the part of the recipient, who must want to understand the information and absorb it. There’s no better example of this than at the ballot box. Anyone who has read our Founding Fathers’ writing would agree that their intent was for voters to be educated on the candidates and issues of the day. Unfortunately, current Texas law provides a way for citizens to skip spending the time and energy needed to become educated voters. It’s called straight-ticket voting.

Straight-ticket voting allows someone to simply select one box to vote for an entire slate of candidates from a particular political party. This often leads voters to elect candidates without any knowledge whatsoever of who they are. This subverts the purpose of our electoral process and puts the citizens of Texas at a severe disadvantage.

Virtually all voters educate themselves on candidates at the top of the ticket (president, governor, etc.). But many voters, partially because of straight-ticket voting, make little or no effort to educate themselves on the candidates at the bottom of the ticket running for offices that have the most direct effect on individual citizens — think county clerk, county commissioner, justice of the peace and state representative. These voters simply check the one box, either Democrat or Republican, and move on without giving it a second thought. This is bad for Texas.

I drafted a post at the time but had not gotten around to publishing it. Now seems like as good a time as any to rectify that, so here’s what I wrote in response to that.

Rep. Simmons has filed HB1288 to eliminate straight ticket voting. A different bill, to exempt judges and county officials from straight-ticket ballots in Texas’ largest counties, has been filed by Rep. Jason Villalba. I’ve nattered on about straight ticket voting in the past, and I’ll neither defend it nor condemn it today. I do, of course, have a couple of thoughts about this.

I agree that many voters are not fully educated about downballot candidates. Hell, a lot of voters are misinformed about the top of the ticket candidates, and of the top issues of the day. That problem is outside my scope here, but as a matter of general principle, eliminating straight ticket voting isn’t going to do anything to solve that problem. What it can and likely will do is reduce the number of people voting in those races. Maybe that means the average voter will be slightly more educated in those races, and maybe one can claim that’s a “better” outcome. I think that’s at best an open question.

Which leads to another question: Just how big an effect would this be? Putting it another way, if straight ticket voting were eliminated, how many more people would wind up skipping downballot races? I don’t have the bandwidth to do a thorough study, but here’s a quick and dirty look at the last four non-Presidential elections in Harris County:

Year Straight% CClerk% DClerk% Treas% ========================================= 2002 54.78% 6.74% 2006 47.67% 6.89% 7.99% 6.68% 2010 66.89% 4.50% 4.71% 3.93% 2014 68.04% 3.90% 4.09% 3.46%

“Straight%” is the total percentage of straight ticket votes, which as you can see has been much greater in the last two elections than the first two above. “CClerk%”, “DClerk%”, and “Treas%” are the undervote percentages for the County Clerk, District Clerk, and County Treasurer races. I picked those because they’re pretty far down on the ballot and they’d be targeted by Rep. Villalba’s bill. The County Clerk and District Clerk races were uncontested in 2002, so I don’t have a complete data set, but this suggests that more straight ticket votes means fewer undervotes, which is not too surprising. I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from this, as the partisan environments are stronger now, with both parties making a priority out of urging their voters to fill in an oval in each race. The total effect isn’t that great – three percentage points in a 700,000 voter turnout context is a 21,000 vote difference – but it’s not nothing.

I don’t know what the numbers might look like if straight ticket voting were eliminated. I’m sure the parties would work that much harder to convince their voters to vote in each race. Not being able to depend on straight ticket voters for a potentially significant chunk of their final tally would likely spur these candidates to do more fundraising to raise their name recognition. Outside groups, for which there’s no shortage of money, might also take a greater interest in these races. There are a lot of factors to consider, but it wouldn’t shock me if 50,000 or even 100,000 voters in Harris County might have dropped off without participating in these past races in the absence of straight ticket voting. That’s a wild guess of up to 15% or so of total turnout. I’d expect something similar in other large counties. How much that might change if the parties, candidates, and outside interests responded as I envision is a question I can’t answer.

(If you’re wondering about Presidential years, the rate of straight ticket voting in the last three Presidential elections has been about the same in each – 64% in 2004, 62% in 2008, 68% in 2012. I don’t feel I have enough data to say anything even marginally useful.)

One point that I’ve made before in the context of proposals to separate judicial elections from the partisan voting process is that partisan labels are sometimes the only reliable piece of information voters have about a candidate. Most candidates who call themselves “Democratic” or “Republican” fall within a reasonably well-defined range of policy positions and cultural identifiers. There are plenty of variations, both mainstream (think Sarah Davis and Eddie Lucio and their respective stances on equality, for example) and extreme (think Kesha Rogers), but if you consider yourself a D or an R and you vote for a candidate with the same label but without knowing anything else about that candidate, the odds are pretty good that you’ve just voted for someone that you’d basically like and approve of. More to the point, you’ve probably just voted for someone you’d basically like and approve of more than any of the other options available to you in that race, and yes that includes races with more than two candidates. Is that enough information to justify one’s vote? Is it enough to justify the convenience of being able to vote quickly, instead of having to make the same choice you’d have made anyway several dozen times in a big county like Harris? If all we’re doing is making it take longer to vote, will we also take steps to mitigate that, like having more voting stations available at busy locations so the lines don’t get too long, or making it easier to vote by mail at one’s convenience? I know there are bills filed to do those things, but I don’t expect them to go anywhere.

These are some of the things I think about when I hear someone make the kind of proposals Reps. Simmona and Villalba are making. If Rep. Simmons’ bill were to pass and we found that the number of people voting in, say, County Clerk races was 20% less than in Governor’s races, would we consider that to be a good thing or a bad thing? You tell me. On the one hand, it would be harder to argue that the results of those elections were determined by uneducated voters. On the other hand, a lot of people spend a lot of time every post-election period bemoaning the low number of people who show up to vote. Bemoaning low turnout, and enabling it for what could be a lot of races by eliminating the one-button vote seems to me to be contradictory. Do we want everyone to vote or not? Do we think having some people vote in some races but not in others is the better way to do it? Killing straight ticket voting is an easy answer, though none of these bills may have an easy path to passage. How to get a better-educated electorate is a much harder question. What is it we really want? I’d say we should answer that first. PDiddie has more.

Interview index

For your convenience, here is a list of all my interviews and judicial Q&As for the November election. This includes ones I did for the primary and runoff.

Interviews

US SenateDavid Alameel

Attorney GeneralSam Houston
ComptrollerMike Collier
Land CommissionerJohn Cook
Railroad CommissionerSteve Brown

State Senate, SD15Sen. John Whitmire
State Senate, SD17Rita Lucido

State House, HD23Susan Criss
State House, HD75Rep. Mary Gonzalez
State House, HD131Rep. Alma Allen
State House, HD133Laura Nicol
State House, HD145Rep. Carol Alvarado

District AttorneyKim Ogg
County ClerkAnn Harris Bennett
District ClerkJudith Snively
TreasurerDavid Rosen
HCDE Trustee At LargeDebra Kerner
HCDE Trustee At LargeMelissa Noriega

Judicial Q&As

14th Court of AppealsKyle Carter

180th Criminal District CourtRandy Roll
185th Criminal District CourtMack McInnis
230th Criminal District CourtGreg Glass
248th Criminal District CourtShawna Reagin
263rd Criminal District CourtHerb Ritchie

55th Civil District CourtKay Morgan
113th Civil District CourtSteven Kirkland
190th Civil District CourtFarrah Martinez
234th Civil District CourtBarbara Gardner
281st Civil District CourtTanner Garth

246th Family District CourtSandra Peake
247th Family District CourtChip Wells
280th Family District CourtBarbara Stalder
308th Family District CourtJim Evans
309th Family District CourtKathy Vossler
311th Family District CourtSherri Cothrun

313th Juvenile District CourtTracy Good

Harris County Probate Court #1Kim Bohannon Hoesl
Harris County Probate Court #2Josefina Rendon
Harris County Probate Court #4James Horwitz

Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 2Harold Landreneau
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 10George Barnstone
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 13Jason Luong

Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2Scot Dollinger

Endorsement watch: The clerks

Two more endorsements from the Chron, one of which may be the least enthusiastic endorsement they’ve ever given.

District Clerk: Chris Daniel

The Harris County district clerk’s office runs behind the scenes in our judicial system. It maintains records for district and county courts at law, accounts for legal fees and deposits and administers the jury summons system. For all the drama and justice that goes down in courtrooms, there is nothing particularly exciting about this managerial position. Over the past four years, Republican Chris Daniel has served as a steady hand and deserves another term.

[…]

Daniel is a common presence at community and political events across the county – from heritage festivals to tea party meetings – yet never brings the nonpartisanship of his office into question. With youth and ambition matched by effective governance (he’s 31 years old) Daniel has served as an impressive administrator in an office that had previously suffered from constant turnover.

His Democratic challenger, Judith Snively, 59, works as a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur. You may have seen her at Spec’s promoting the Kardámili line of olive oils, which she imports. In running for the office, Snively points to problems of high turnover among individual district court clerks. That’s a challenge that Daniel needs to investigate in his next term, all while managing the rollout of electronic filing in criminal courts and electronic subpoenas. There is little doubt, however, that Daniel will do his job well.

Daniel had a rough start four years ago after defeating the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 landslide. I haven’t heard much grumbling about him lately, and the Chron’s assessment of him and his term in office is accurate. Judith Snively made some good points in her interview with me, and she unquestionably has a wealth of experience with the courts. She would certainly make a fine District Clerk, but I’m not surprised the Chron recommended Daniel.

This one, however, was a big ol’ head-scratcher.

County Clerk: Stan Stanart

If you’re an interested voter in Dallas County, then you have the simple pleasure of being able to look at the upcoming November ballot on DallasCountyVotes.org. If you live in Harris County, as of Friday, you get nothing more on HarrisVotes.com than a vague splash page stating that information will be posted “as Soon as it is Available.”

That’s par for the course under Republican County Clerk Stan Stanart.

The county clerk’s office maintains property records, court documents and marriage licenses, but is best known as the office that administers elections. Under Stanart, 58, Harris County elections have been marred by numerous problems and errors. The results of the 2012 primary runoffs were delayed due to technical errors, and the original numbers had to be corrected. His office published an inaccurate manual for election judges during the November 2011 election. And it feels like election information arrives at the last minute in Harris County. Stanart has pointed to human error outside his office as the reasons for delay. There may be truth in that claim, but the buck should stop at the top. After four years of questionable service, Stanart would be a vulnerable target for a strong challenger.

And yet they went ahead and endorsed him anyway, in spite of all that and in spite of the fact that they endorsed Ann Harris Bennett in 2010. This time they decided they didn’t like her, and without seeing a recording of their endorsement interview it’s hard to know exactly why. I will note that despite slapping some Family Court candidates on the wrist for their hostility to same sex couples, the Chron didn’t even mention Stanart’s front and center prominence with the HERO repeal effort. When is this a factor in your endorsements and when is it not, y’all? Some guidance would be appreciated. If they didn’t like Ann Harris Bennett this year for whatever the reason, then they didn’t like her. But that doesn’t mean they needed to endorse Stanart, who has been a mess as County Clerk. They would have been advised to go with “none of the above” instead.

Interview with Judith Snively

Judith Snively

Judith Snively

As I said on Monday, once you get past the District Attorney race, there’s not a lot of high-profile electoral action in Harris County this year, but as we know not being high profile doesn’t make your race any less important. Before I get to today’s interview, I want to note again that I published an interview with Harris County Clerk candidate Ann Harris Bennett for the primary, and I encourage you to listen to it if you haven’t already done so. An office with some of the same types of functions as County Clerk is the Harris County District Clerk, who is responsible for maintaining and providing the records of all activity in the many District Courts in the county. The Democratic candidate for Harris County District Clerk is Judith Snively. A veteran attorney with her own solo general practice law office, Snively was a candidate for County Criminal Court #3 in 2010, where she did us all the favor of defeating Lloyd Oliver in the primary, thus keeping him off the ballot for another year. Snively has done all kinds of law in her career and has spent a lot of time in the county and district courts, and we talked about how she would use her broad experience in the office of Harris County District Clerk:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

July finance reports for Harris County candidates

All of the July finance reports for Harris County candidates are in. You know what that means.

County Judge

Ed Emmett

Ahmad Hassan

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Emmett 312,885 177,017 0 532,257 Hassan 0 0 0 0

Judge Emmett is the big dog, and he has the finance report to show it. Lots of donations in the one to ten thousand dollar range, from lots of PACs and recognizable people. Just over half of what he spent went to Paul Simpson’s successful campaign for Harris County GOP, $90K in total. One of the things I plan to do on each of these reports is search for evidence of any connection to the HERO repeal effort. It’s early enough in the process that the absence of such evidence is not conclusive, but if there’s one Republican in Harris County that I expect to stay away from that, it’s Emmett. I did not see any donations that made me think otherwise in this report.

As for AR Hassan, his report is an adequate summary of his campaign.

District Attorney

Devon Anderson

Kim Ogg

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Anderson 282,834 95,345 0 224,228 Ogg 83,458 99,312 0 61,678

Devon Anderson has been busy, and she has an impressive haul, with a large array of big dollar and not-so-big dollar donors. Former DA Chuck Rosenthal, who wrote a check for $5K, is the most interesting name among her contributors. No surprises or HERO repeal connections among her expenditures. Allen Blakemore gets his usual cut – $30K in consulting fees ($5K per month) plus $8K in fundraising fees.

Kim Ogg’s report isn’t bad, but it’s a definite step down from Anderson’s. One big difference is what while Ogg had a decent number of small dollar contributors, she had far fewer big check-writers. Anderson had multiple donors at the $10K level. Ogg had none, with only three donations at or a bit above $5K, one of which was in kind. She had a number of other in kind donations as well. Her biggest expenditures by far went to Grant Martin, who is also a campaign consultant for Mayor Parker – $39K in fees, plus another $27K for mailers sent during the primary.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

Ann Harris Bennett

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Stanart 15,750 23,619 20,000 38,728 Bennett 15,663 17,397 10,324 2,251

$15K of Stanart’s contributions came from Commissioner Jack Cagle. He spent $20K on two ads – $15K to Conservative Media Properties, and $5K to The What’s UP Program. He’s the first one to show up with a connection to HERO repeal – not surprising since he attended at least one of their events at City Hall – with a $150 donation to the Houston Area Pastors Council.

Bennett’s contributions included $7,933 in in-kind donations – $3,000 to Thomas Thurlow for campaign office space ($500 per month since January) and $4,933 to Allan Jamail for robocalls for the primary. She had one $1,000 contribution from Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, a couple of $500 contributions, and the rest were small-dollar donations. She spent $5,574 from personal funds on signs and $2,400 on sign placement, all before the primary, and another $3,866 on push cards and door hangers since the primary.

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Daniel 11,800 32,081 74,500 500 Snively 9,300 9,730 4,000 1,774

Daniel had three big contributors – Thomas Morin for $5,000, James Sibley for $2,500, and Sarah McConnell for $2,000 – but the most interesting donation he received was for $250 from the Law Offices of Jack “Father of Kim” Ogg. Most of the money he spent was in the primary – $10K to the HCRP for a print ad, $5K to GOP PAC for a “public promotion”, and $10,500 of the $11,625 total he spent on consulting fees to Blakemore & Associates. If he had any financial connections to the HERO repeal effort, I did not see them.

Snively’s contributions were all small-dollar, the biggest being $500 from CM Mike Laster. Several past Democratic candidates for judicial office – Snively was a candidate for one of the county courts in 2010 – were among her contributors as well. Her biggest expenditure was $7K to the HCDP in two equal increments for the coordinated campaign. Both were made after the primary; unlike Daniel, she was unopposed for the nomination.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Sanchez 7,250 52,838 200,000 200,172 Rosen 8,641 3,984 0 798

You’d think a guy willing to loan himself $200K to stay in an office that pays half that much per year might be willing to spring a few bucks for someone capable of downloading the software needed to fill out the forms electronically instead of doing them in pen and paper and illegible handwriting, but then you’re not Orlando Sanchez. Actually, for reasons I can’t understand, his small list of contributions is done electronically, while his much longer list of expenditures is done by hand. Go figure. Anyway, Sanchez spent $11K on advertising in The What’s UP Program, $5K on an ad in The conservative Review, and a bit more than $5K in fees to Dolcefino Communications. Yes, that’s Wayne Dolcefino, who also has Kim Ogg as a client. No HERO repeal connections for him just yet.

To be fair, if I’m going to gripe about Sanchez filing a (poorly) handwritten report, I’ll gripe about David Rosen doing the same. Seriously, people. Adobe Acrobat is your friend. Rosen didn’t raise much money, and more than half of what he did report was $4,500 in kind from the TDP for access to the voter file, but all things considered he had a decent number of small dollar donors. Money won’t make that much difference this far down the ballot, but having dedicated supporters sure is nice.

County Commissioner

Jack Morman, Precinct 2

Jack Cagle, Precinct 4

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Morman 534,770 79,580 0 1,274,471 Cagle 450,683 108,457 0 363,884

Did I say that Ed Emmett was the big dog? Jack Morman would clearly disagree. I’ve referred to several candidates’ success with small dollar contributors. If you want to know what a campaign based on big dollar contributors looks like, these are the reports to examine. Neither one has an opponent this November, but I looked at their reports because we only get so many opportunities to see what our elected officials are really up to. I’m also checking for HERO repeal activity. I didn’t find any on these reports, but as noted it’s still early days. We’ll have to check back in January for these two since as unopposed candidates they don’t have to file 30 day or 8 day reports. The one point of interest I’ll flag from Morman’s reports is $2,500 to Jared Woodfill’s re-election campaign. Easy come, easy go.

I’m not going to go through the Constable or Justice of the Peace reports at this time, so that’ll wrap it up for now. Like I said, I do expect to see some HERO activity in the next set of reports. That’s why it’s important to look, because you never know what you’ll find.

Who stands with Jared?

I noted yesterday that soon-to-be-former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is busy trying to gather petition signatures to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Here’s the beginning of his pitch:

Jared Woodfill

I want to thank all of you who stood against Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act. The battle to repeal this ordinance has begun. I encourage each of you to join me in taking a stand against the ordinance proposed by a Mayor who admits that the ordinance is all about her personal agenda and the campaign promises she made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (“LGBT”) community. The next step in this battle is to promote and circulate a petition that would force a city-wide referendum to repeal Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act.

There should be no special privileges for her special interests. Parker’s Unequal Rights Ordinance is 34 pages long and creates two new “protected classes” in the city charter’s anti-discrimination provisions. This new city ordinance would grant minority status for “sexual orientation” and “gender identification.” Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for transvestites, allowing men who dress as women to enter women’s public bathrooms and locker room areas. For example, if a biological male, who believes he is a female, wants to use the women’s restroom and you do not allow them to use the female restroom, then the leaders of the business, restaurant, church or other establishment could be prosecuted criminally for discrimination under the Mayor’s ordinance. Additionally, it forces these same entities to recognize same sex marriage or be prosecuted for refusing to do so.

The ordinance is really about Mayor Parker’s personal, social, LGBT agenda for the city, state, and country. She must be stopped!

Blah blah blah hurt feelings entitlement rage lots of lies and so forth. You get the idea. What I want to know is simply this: If this is the official position of the Harris County Republican Party, as well as of the statewide Republican slate, where do all of the Republican candidates running for office stand on this? There’s a lot of Republican judges running for re-election this fall. How many of them will stand with Jared and sign his petition? That’s something I think we ought to know. And yes, I’d like to know the same for the Democrats running against those judges; I’m thinking I’ll add a question to my usual judicial Q&A this year to inquire about that.

What about the other Republican officeholders in Harris County? Well, County Clerk Stan Stanart has participated in the anti-HERO rallies at City Hall, so I think we know where he stands. And while I don’t know his personal opinions on the subject, I’d venture to guess that County Judge Ed Emmett will not be involved in this effort. I suspect he sees no reason to meddle in the affairs of the city of Houston, he’s never given any indication that he’s motivated by so-called social issues, and he just spent over $100K to defeat Woodfill in the primary. So yeah, I expect Judge Emmett will take a pass. That leaves County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, whom I expect will stand with Jared, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and District Attorney Devon Anderson. I won’t venture a guess about the latter two. Someone ought to ask them, for the record.

Anyway. Jared’s little petition is here, and it says that petitions with notarized signatures must be received (by them) no later than June 27. Circle that date on your calendar, we’ll know by then if we might have another item on the ballot this fall.

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.

Complaint #3 against Judge Pratt

Greg Enos does not give up, y’all.

Judge Denise Pratt

With just days before early voting begins in the GOP primary, Webster family lawyer Greg Enos has filed a third criminal complaint against embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt with the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

The complaint, which details one of the 631 cases Pratt dismissed on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, accuses the freshman Republican judge — who is seeking a second term this year — of backdating an order in open court. It includes sworn affidavits from a couple who say Pratt informed them that she was “backdating this order” and screenshots indicating Pratt signed the order at an April 25 hearing, but dated it March 5.

Enos’ second criminal complaint, filed last month, alleges that Pratt broke the law by purging hundreds of cases last month without giving prior notice to lawyers or their clients. His first complaint against the district court judge, filed in October, accuses her of backdating orders in two unrelated cases. That complaint led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk and sparked an investigation by the DA’s office and a grand jury, which ultimately no-billed her.

Pratt, through her lawyer, blamed the backdating on her court clerks. Enos says it’s “totally different” this time.

“The last time was circumstantial. She was blaming the clerks,” he said. “If these two witnesses are willing to go into a grand jury and the (Harris County) District Clerk’s records back up what they say … I don’t know how she would not get indicted for this.”

See here for previous blogging on Judge Pratt. Houston Politics has a copy of the complaint and a few more details. This whole thing is just…wow. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Texpatriate has more.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

BagOfMoney

In our previous episode, we looked at the campaign finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates. Today, let’s have a look at the reports for candidates for countywide office in Harris County. I’m not going to get down to the Constable or JP level – I’m not aware of any interesting primaries, those districts tend not to be too competitive, and there are only so many hours in the day. Neither County Commissioner Jack Cagle nor Jack Morman has an opponent, so I’m skipping them as well. The real interest is in the countywide campaigns, so here are those reports.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Ahmad Hassan
David Collins

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Emmett 28,600 119,244 401,209 Hassan 0 1,250 0 Collins 0 0 0

The only thing Judge Emmett has to fear, I’d say, is a 2010-style Democratic wave. Other than that, he should win without too much trouble. In the meantime, he will have plenty of campaign cash to spend on various things, including a $10K contribution to the campaign of Paul Simpson, who is challenging Jared woodfill to be Chair of the Harris County GOP, and $5K to the New Dome PAC. It’ll be interesting to see how much he spends on other campaigns from here on out.

District Attorney

Friends of Mike Anderson
Friends of Devon Anderson
Kim Ogg
Lloyd Oliver

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Anderson 0 29,730 36,739 Ogg 66,643 8,897 40,771 Oliver 0 0 0

The Friends of Mike Anderson PAC gave a contribution of $66,469.58 to the Friends of Devon Anderson PAC, which closed out the books on it. I presume Devon Anderson will commence fundraising at some point, and will have all the resources she needs. Kim Ogg has done a decent job fundraising so far, but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that ultimately matters. Zack Fertitta had $145K on hand as of his 30 day report in 2012, and we know how that movie ended. Early voting starts in three weeks, you know.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Ann Harris Bennett
Gayle Mitchell

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Stanart 16,400 19,398 45,969 Bennett 10,748 7,113 2,442 Mitchell 1,138 2,010 0

Stan Stanart has $20K in outstanding loans, which was the case in July as well. His fundraising came almost entirely from two sources – the campaign of County Commissioner Jack Cagle ($10K), and a Holloway Frost of Texas Memory Systems ($5K).

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Friends of Chris Daniel
Court Koenning
Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Daniel 0 15,871 0 Daniel SPAC 31,843 24,166 20,859 Koenning 38,165 48,974 112,814 Snively 5,300 3,095 2,204

Still a lot of money in this race. Incumbent Chris Daniel’s PAC and challenger Court Koenning both have the same outstanding loan totals that they had in July – $74,500 for Daniel, and $50K for Koenning. Democrat Judith Snively has loaned herself $4K. I suspect we won’t see as much money raised in this race after the primary as we do before it.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Arnold Hinojosa
David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Sanchez 23,500 5,577 220,437 Hinojosa 0 1,250 0 Rosen 2,875 2,122 651

Orlando Sanchez’s eye-popping cash on hand total comes from an equally eye-popping $200K loan to himself. This leaves me wondering where he got that kind of money. Did he do really well for himself from 2002 through 2007, when he was in the private sector, or was he just that well off before he was elected Treasurer in 2006? Maybe someone with a journalism degree and some spare time should look into that. Google tells me that his primary challenger Hinojosa is a constable in Precinct 5. Other than paying the filing fee, he had no activity to report.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner
RW Bray
Michael Wolfe – No report

Melissa Noriega
Don Sumners

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kerner 0 810 329 Bray 135 0 135 Wolfe Noriega 0 8,690 9,335 Sumners 0 750 0

Neither Michael Wolfe nor Melissa Noriega has filed a report with the County Clerk; Noriega’s report is from the Houston finance reporting system, for her City Council account, which will presumably be transferred at some point. Not a whole lot else to say except that everyone on this list has run for office at least once before, and with the exception of RW Bray has held office at least once. Who knew the HCDE Board of Trustees would be so popular?

113th District Civil Court (D)
311th Family District Court (R)

Steve Kirkland
Lori Gray

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kirkland 55,065 6,806 35,963 Gray 35,000 30,209 4,791

Denise Pratt
Donna Detamore
Alecia Franklin
Anthont Magdaleno
Philip Placzek

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Pratt 146,020 78,361 67,659 Detamore 0 2,591 0 Franklin 15,555 13,595 47,317 Magdaleno 7,562 11,519 299 Placzek 6,700 25,012 149

I’m not interested in watching all of the contested judicial primaries, but these two are certainly keeping and eye on. The 113th is shaping up as a rerun of the 215th from 2012, in which the candidate running against Steve Kirkland is being financed by one person. In this case, George Fleming and the Texans for Good Leaders PAC he runs gave all of the money that Lori Gray collected. I don’t know Ms. Gray – she has responded to Texpatriate’s Q&A, but as yet has not sent answers to mine; if she has a campaign webpage or Facebook page I haven’t found it – but I don’t care for lawyers with vendettas like Mr. Fleming.

As for Judge Pratt, she may have a gaggle of challengers this March, but she’s not feeling the financial heat at this time. She’s also doing what she can to stay in the good graces of the establishment, with $10K to Gary Polland’s Conservative Media Properties, LLC for advertising and $10K to the Harris County GOP for various things (I’m not counting the $2500 for the filing fee). We’ll see how much good it does her.

Still more state and county finance reports, plus the city reports, to go through, and the federal reports should start being posted on February 1. January is a very busy month.

Another complaint filed against Judge Pratt

Pretty much needed to be one.

Judge Denise Pratt

Embattled family court Judge Denise Pratt is the subject of another criminal complaint by Webster family lawyer Greg Enos, accusing her of breaking the law by signing orders saying she had given prior notice to lawyers before dismissing hundreds of cases last month.

Judges are required under rules of civil procedure to schedule hearings and warn parties involved in pending litigation of their intent to dismiss cases, but numerous lawyers, including Enos, have told the Houston Chronicle they learned their cases had been dismissed only after the fact. The 311th District Court judge’s surprise docket purge – more than 700 cases since Dec. 19 – has sparked a furor at the Harris County Family Courthouse as lawyers and their clients fret over now-nullified custody arrangements, child support payments and the fate of cases on which Pratt already had ruled and needed to make final that were abruptly dissolved by the mass dismissal.

In addition to Enos’ complaint to the Harris County District Attorney’s office, several Houston family lawyers said they are filing complaints this week with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct amid calls from some for Pratt to resign and withdraw from the March 4 GOP primary.

[…]

In his complaint to the District Attorney’s Office, Enos alleges that by signing orders to dismiss those cases, Pratt violated a section of the state penal code that makes it a crime to knowingly make a false entry in a government record.

“The truth is that none of these parties were given notice that their case would be dismissed on Dec. 30 or 31,” Enos wrote.

A docket for cases set to be dismissed for want of prosecution, he wrote, “takes up at least half a day and usually involves dozens and dozens of attorneys in the courtroom with motions to retain. Pratt knew that no one was in her court for a dismissal docket on those days.”

Attached to Enos’ complaint were dismissal orders that Pratt had signed, stating that “all parties were given notice of the setting date and that failure to appear would be grounds for dismissal.”

See here for the most recent entry in this saga, which has taken a turn for the bizarre. Pratt’s lawyer, who is definitely earning his hourly rate, insists that this ain’t no big thing.

Pratt, through her lawyer, has acknowledged that some notices of pending dismissals were not sent out but has blamed the problem on a new state-run computer system being used by the district clerk’s office.

District clerk’s spokesman Bill Murphy said that system, known as eFileTexas.gov system, has nothing to do with the mailing of notices of dismissal hearings.

Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said it is commonplace for judges to purge their dockets at the end of the year and called Enos’ complaint “wholly and utterly without merit.”

“Greg Enos is like the boy who cried wolf, and he’s become a political alarmist,” Yates said. “The fact that he released this quote, I’ll put it in quotes, ‘criminal complaint’ to the media on the same day he filed it with the DA’s office shows his true motivation.”

Enos’ complaint was the second he has lodged with the District Attorney’s Office in regard to Pratt. Last October, he accused the Republican judge of backdating court orders to make it appear she had performed duties months before she actually had in several cases. That led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk and sparked an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office and a grand jury.

Pratt, through Yates, has blamed the backdating on her clerks, who are employed by the district clerk’s office.

Yates noted Thursday that rules of civil procedure specifically require that the clerk send notice of the court’s intention to dismiss and the date and place of the dismissal hearing, and stipulate what should be done when notice is not given.

Murphy, the district clerk’s spokesman, said in an email that court coordinators – not clerks – are responsible for mailing notices of upcoming dismissal hearings. Coordinators, he noted, are employed by the county Office of Court Administration but “hand-picked by the judges for whom they work.”

If what Yates is saying is true, then it ought to be easily confirmed. How many cases were dismissed at the end of the year by other Harris County Family Court judges? Let’s check the same thing in some other big counties, too – Dallas, Bexar, wherever else District Family Courts exist. Check 2012 and 2011 and 2010, too – surely this data all exists. If Yates is correct, then the number of cases Judge Pratt dismissed will fit right in with those of her peers’ courts. If he’s wrong, they’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Empirical claims like this should always be checked. I’d do it if I knew where to look. Surely someone at the Chron, or someone reading this, has that capability. Houston Politics has more.

UPDATE: Turns out the answer to my question was at the end of the story, but I missed it:

According to records, Pratt dismissed 561 cases for want of prosecution in December. The eight other Harris County family courts dismissed from 28 to 121 cases each.

As they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others. Got another explanation, Mr. Yates?

Judge Pratt gets no-billed

From the inbox:

Judge Denise Pratt

Harris County Grand Jury “No Bills” Judge Denise Pratt

“We are pleased that the grand jury agrees with us that there’s absolutely no evidence that Judge Pratt tampered with court documents or did anything illegal,” says her attorney, Terry W. Yates.

“The office of the District Clerk was created by the Texas Constitution as a backstop for the judges. One of their primary jobs is to keep the court papers in proper order. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the 311th District Court,”says Yates.

“The problems with the court documents emanated from the number of deputy clerks that were assigned to this court; more than 20 in the last three years. Some of these clerks were not properly trained and were otherwise unqualified for the position of deputy clerk,” says Yates.

Yates added, “Judge Pratt is very relieved that this matter is behind her and she is working hard to serve the citizens of Harris County.”

See here for previous blogging. It’s been a rough few weeks for Judge Pratt, and I’m sure she’s happy to get a bit of good news going into the holidays. She’s not out of the woods yet, however. Here’s the Chron story with more details.

Several family court lawyers who have sought to recuse Pratt from their cases in recent weeks have presented documents from her 311th family district court that appear to be backdated. A pair of visiting judges approved nine of those requests earlier this week.

[…]

District Clerk Chris Daniel, who launched his own investigation after receiving a copy of Enos’ complaint, released a statement saying that “our office’s own investigation of these alleged backdating incidents found only one instance of backdating by a court clerk.”

His spokesman, Bill Murphy, said the office found another document that appears to be backdated, but no one initialed it, so it is “unclear who processed” it.

[Greg] Enos said in an e-mail that the backdating of court orders “was always just the tip of the iceberg of problems with her, but that was what happened to arguably be a crime.”

The 53-year-old family lawyer filed a similar complaint last year against a Galveston County judge that preceded an investigation by the state attorney general and multiple indictments that led to the judge’s suspension and eventual resignation.

Enos’ complaint detailed other problems with Pratt. Lawyer Fred Krasny said Pratt regularly shows up to morning and after-lunch hearings an hour late, costing lawyers time and clients money. Others have said she sometimes has not shown up to hearings at all.

[…]

Lawyers who have spoken out against Pratt since Enos filed his complaint expressed frustration on Friday with the grand jury’s decision.

Matthew Waldrop, a lawyer who had eight cases removed from Pratt’s court this week by a visiting judge, said he is considering filing another criminal complaint.

Lawyer Robert Clark, who still has more than a dozen cases in Pratt’s court, said he is readying motions asking her to be removed from some or all of them. Clark argued a case in Pratt’s court in January for which she issued a ruling in May. The official court record now says the ruling was issued on Jan. 30, the day before the two-day trial actually ended.

“I don’t want my clients to suffer any adverse actions as a result of my being a vocal opponent of the judge,” Clark said.

See here and here for stories about those recusals. Even if Judge Pratt survives further complaints, she still has that primary and a November election to get through. I’m thinking she’s got a very tough road ahead of her.

Kim Ogg officially files for DA

This is the marquee matchup in Harris County in November, at least so far.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, the only Democratic yet to announce a bid for Harris County district attorney, said Monday that most voters do not identify with a particular party when it comes to criminal justice races.

“I think the race for Harris County’s criminal district attorney is potentially less partisan than other traditional legislative races,” Ogg said at her official filing at the Harris County Democratic Headquarters.

The former prosecutor who ran Crime Stoppers of Houston from 1999 to 2006 also said recent gains made by Democrats give her confidence.

“I think Harris County poses the greatest opportunity to reflect the change that’s happening in Houston, in Texas and in America,” Ogg said. “So I look forward to representing the Democratic Party as their nominee after the (primary) election in March.”

[…]

[On Monday,] Ogg said she would return the office to the [“trace case”] policy begun by [Pat] Lykos, whose position was that a tiny amount, less than 1/100 of a gram, was not enough to be tested by the prosecution and defense.

See here and here for the background. As you know, I support the Lykos “trace case” policy, so I am glad to see Kim Ogg take that position. I will be very interested to hear what she has to say about reviewing cases under the mandate of SB344 as well.

In related news, I get a daily report from the HCDP about who has filed for what, and I can report that Judith Snively has filed to run for District Clerk. Snively was a candidate for Harris County Criminal Court #3 in 2010 and did us all the favor of defeating Lloyd Oliver for the nomination in that race. Incumbent District Clerk Chris Daniel has a primary challenger, Court Koenning, but I was not aware of any Dem running for this office until just recently. Two candidates for other offices that had previously made their intentions known, David Rosen for Treasurer and Traci Jensen for HCDE Position 7 At Large, have also officially filed, and Ann Harris Bennett, who will run for County Clerk, sent out an email announcing that she will file on December 7. All incumbent Democratic State Reps except for Harold Dutton have filed so far. Finally, we have our first two legislative challengers, as an Alison Ruff has filed for HD134 and a John Gay filed for the open HD129. I had been aware of another person looking at the HD134 race, though she has since decided against it, but Ms. Ruff is a new name to me. Anyone out there know anything about her?

Piling on Judge Pratt

Boy, an awful lot of lawyers have it in for Judge Denise Pratt, and they wrote all about it in a letter sent to other lawyers asking them to call on her to resign.

Judge Denise Pratt

The letter, signed by 32 prominent Houston-area family lawyers was penned by Webster family lawyer Greg Enos, whose criminal complaint sent last month to the district attorney’s office has sparked an investigation, according to county and courthouse sources.

The complaint also led to an internal investigation by the Harris County District Clerk’s office, the keeper of all court records, which led to the resignation late last month of Pratt’s lead clerk.

The Monday letter asks colleagues to support “our effort to get Judge Denise Pratt off the bench for the good of the family bar, the families and children of Harris County and the many excellent family court judges whose re-elections might be endangered with Judge Pratt on the same ballot with them.”

“We are all too familiar with the problems caused by Judge Pratt’s work ethic, her refusal to accept agreements made by parents regarding their children and her rulings which are so frequently delayed or contrary to the law or facts presented in court,” the letter says. “We are ‘sticking our necks out’ to stand up for what is right and asking you to do the same.”

One of the signatories, longtime divorce lawyer Joan Jenkins, said she would have signed the letter just based on all the complaints against Pratt she has heard from reputable lawyers. She said she has, however, experienced problems with Pratt on a case this year that led her to draft a complaint that she sent to Enos for consideration.

“I have never in my entire career experienced a judge that I felt was more corrupt with less actual knowledge of the law and with a poorer work ethic than Judge Pratt,” Jenkins said. “There is really nothing I can say about her that I consider to be representative of a good judge.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a revised and updated criminal complaint against Judge Pratt filed by Enos. I don’t have any insight on this, I’m just watching it all with a wide-eyed sense of amazement. Hair Balls has more.

From the “Judges Behaving Badly” files

We’ll start with now-former Judge Elizabeth Coker:

An East Texas state district judge who had been accused of sending text messages to coach a prosecutor during a trial, being biased against some attorneys and improperly meeting with jurors has resigned as part of an agreement with a state judicial commission.

Elizabeth E. Coker did not admit to guilt or fault as part of her agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission announced Monday that Coker had taken an immediate leave of absence and her resignation will take effect Dec. 6. The agreement also prevents her from ever being a judge again in Texas.

Coker had been a judge since 1998. She oversaw proceedings in Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. Her father and grandfather had also been judges who presided over the same counties.

[…]

The commission said that during an August 2012 child abuse trial Coker presided over, the judge sent text messages to Polk County prosecutor Kaycee Jones, suggesting questions that Jones should relay to the prosecutor handling the case.

Coker was also accused of suggesting that a witness review a videotaped interview he gave to law enforcement to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony and of discussing legal issues pertinent to the case “in an unsuccessful effort to assist the State (to) obtain a guilty verdict in the case.”

The defendant ended up being acquitted of a felony charge of injury to a child.

The commission also alleged Coker might have engaged in other improper communications and meetings with Jones and other prosecutors in Polk and San Jacinto counties and certain defense attorneys regarding pending cases in her courtroom.

“Judge Coker allegedly exhibited a bias in favor or certain attorneys and a prejudice against others in both her judicial rulings and her court appointment; and Judge Coker allegedly met with jurors in an inappropriate manner, outside the presence of counsel, while the jurors were deliberating in one or more criminal trials,” the commission said.

In addition, the commission alleged Coker “may not have been candid and truthful” in testimony before the panel about whether she tried to influence the testimony of a witness who spoke to the commission.

That’s quite the sorry litany of bad judicial behavior. About the only thing I can think of that she could have done to make it worse would have been to bet on the outcome of the cases before her. Personally, I think she got off too lightly – I think disbarment would have been a fitting punishment. But at least she’ll never don the robes again.

The prosecutor Coker texted is now herself a judge, and is facing her own inquiry for her role in that incident.

While the state judicial commission’s investigation into alleged improprieties by State District Judge Elizabeth Coker ended Monday with her resignation, the focus may now shift to any possible complicity by fellow judge and former prosecutor, Kaycee Jones.

Coker’s voluntary agreement to resign alludes to complaints that she “engaged in improper ex parte text communications with Jones,” who served as a Polk County assistant district attorney for 10 years until this year becoming the 411th state district judge.

On Tuesday, Jones could not be reached for comment. But in a previously written letter to the Texas Bar Association’s disciplinary counsel, Jones said that during her tenure as prosecutor she improperly utilized clandestine text messages sent from the bench by Coker.

Jones acknowledged passing along the texts, designed to bolster the prosecution’s case, to the lead prosecutor during a child abuse trial. “It was wrong and I knew better,” she wrote.

Jones’ name was prominently mentioned three times in Coker’s resignation agreement. The signed document refers to the so-called “texting and judging” incident as well as allegations of other improper communiques and meetings between Jones and Coker involving additional cases that were not specified.

Apparently, her boss at the time in the DA’s office made her promise to never do it again, but that ain’t good enough. Jones’ formal hearing is in March, but honestly, unless she has something better to say for herself, she should just save us all the time and trouble and submit her resignation. I don’t see how she can be trusted as a judge given her appallingly bad judgment.

Those two are known to be bad apples. Here in Harris County, we have an accusation of bad behavior against a Family Court judge.

State District Court Judge Denise Pratt is under investigation, accused of backdating court records to make it appear that she issued rulings and filed court documents sooner than she actually did, according to county officials.

Allegations against the 311th family court judge, raised by a Houston-area family lawyer in a criminal complaint filed with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, already have led to the resignation of Pratt’s court clerk.

Webster-based family lawyer Greg Enos, whose criminal complaint last year against a Galveston County court-at-law judge sparked an investigation by the state attorney general and multiple indictments that led to the judge’s suspension and subsequent resignation, said he delivered his complaint against Pratt to First Assistant District Attorney Belinda Hill on Monday. Enos said he believes the office has already launched an investigation.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said he “can’t confirm or deny” whether any investigation is underway, but county and other sources say the office is looking into it and already has contacted attorneys to arrange interviews.

The concerns Enos is raising also have touched off an investigation by the Harris County District Clerk, the official keeper of all court records.

District Clerk Chris Daniel said he looked into two of the six cases Enos included in his complaint, which led to the resignation on Monday of Pratt’s lead clerk, a well-liked, 25-year employee of the District Clerk’s office.

Daniel said he found records were postdated or mis-marked in those two cases, and that he is looking into a seventh one that another family lawyer brought to his attention.

An inaccurate timestamp or missing signature on a court document not only erodes “the integrity of the record,” Daniel said, but can have an impact on appeals and other legal processes.

“If you have the wrong date on a document, then statutorily you can run out of time to appeal a case, and that’s where the most damage is,” he said.

[…]

Several lawyers involved in the cases Enos cites in his complaint said they never have experienced such problems with a judge.

Marcia Zimmerman, a 30-year veteran family lawyer based in Clear Lake, said she resorted to filing a motion after waiting for months on a ruling from Pratt. When the ruling finally came in, she was surprised to see the date listed was months before she had filed her motion.

“I don’t think any of us believed the ruling was actually made before the petition for writ of mandamus because, why would she rule and not tell anybody?” Zimmerman said, noting that Pratt also missed two scheduled hearings.

Family lawyer Robert Clark said he had a similar experience, arguing a case in January and then waiting five months for a ruling from Pratt that the official court record now says was issued on Jan. 30, the day before the two-day trial actually ended.

“The thing is, it’s had a seriously adverse affect on the child in this case and my client,” Clark said. “This is just egregious.”

The DA’s office doesn’t comment on these matters so we don’t know for sure what’s going on with Judge Pratt, but the main charges against her are serious and could lead to a felony arrest if there’s sufficient evidence to bear them out. As things stand now, she would be up for re-election in 2014, though as was the case with our old buddy Chuck Rosenthal, whose name was dropped at the end of the story, she might come under pressure from the local GOP to not file. The filing deadline in December 9, and I daresay that regardless of what is being said officially about her case, we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not she’s in real trouble by then.

Jury duty pay raise

If you get called for jury duty, you’ll get a little extra something for your time.

District Clerk Chris Daniel

For the past two years, jurors in Harris County and elsewhere have been paid $30 a day or less for every day of service after the first, on which everyone must be paid at least $6 for showing up regardless of whether they are selected to serve. That is down from the $40-a-day pay the Legislature approved in 2005, when it gave jurors their first pay raise in half a century, increasing daily compensation from $6.

In 2011, facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, the Legislature slashed that daily amount, to $28 initially and then $30 in October 2012, but also promised to restore it two years later. Starting this month, jurors began making $40 a day again.

Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel, whose office oversees jury duty, is hoping the bump will encourage more people to respond to summonses, particularly low-income, retired and unemployed residents, and lead to more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse juries.

For that population, “every little bit helps to incentivize them to do their constitutional, civic duty,” said Daniel. “And while I believe there’s more that could be done to incentivize the lower economic brackets to ensure that we have a completely diverse jury pool, this is definitely a significant step in the right direction to make sure that the lower economic bracket can afford to come to perform their constitutional, civic duty.”

[…]

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sponsored the 2005 bill that hiked juror pay for the first time since 1954, said he is “pleased that the drastic cut to already-low juror pay has been reversed,” but that $40 still is insufficient to entice low-income residents.

“I still think it’s time for the Legislature to have a serious conversation about increasing it beyond $40,” Ellis wrote in an email. “If our state’s goal is to have a jury of our peers, we have to recognize that far too many hard-working Texans struggling to earn a living wage can’t miss a day of work for just $40.”

This is nice, but it should be noted that the increase from the current $28 to $40 is only for the days after your first day of service. If you go in and don’t get seated, you get the same $6 for your presence as before. The bump to $40 is nice and long overdue, but it’s not close to a real day’s wage for anyone who doesn’t get paid while doing jury duty. That remains a matter for the Legislature to fix, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them. Be that as it may, as a reminder you can donate your more generous jury duty pay to a variety of good causes if you want to, and it’s as easy as going to the Juror General Information page to make it happen.

July finance reports for Harris County officeholders and challengers

Odd-numbered years are primarily about city elections, but primaries are just around the corner, and some hopefuls for county and state offices are already out there lining up support and raising money. Here’s a peek at some of the Harris County incumbents that are on the ballot in 2014 and the people that have filed paperwork to take them on.

County Judge

Ed Emmett

Raised = $436,997
Spent = $86,579
On Hand = $496,580

Judge Emmett has no challengers that I’ve heard of as yet. I believe Harris County will be substantially Democratic in 2014, but even if it is, the last man standing on the Republican side will be Emmett, who has been the top Republican votegetter in each of his two elections. It’s possible he could be challenged by someone from the wingnut end of his party – one hears occasional rumblings of such things, but no names have reached my ears so far. If he decides that he’s had enough, I’m sure the primary to succeed him will be fierce on both sides. Emmett got a lot of money from the kinds of people and PACs you’d expect for someone in his position. Among the more interesting contributions he received were $5,000 from the PAC of CM Stephen Costello’s engineering company. He also got $2,500 from Drayton McLane and $10,000 from Bob McNair, so I guess football is a bigger influence than baseball for him.

Commissioners Court

Jack Morman

Raised = $508,820
Spent = $80,867
On Hand = $834,030

As we know, Morman’s race is likely to be the marquee event next year, and he’s fundraising like he is well aware of that fact. Eighteen of his contributions were for $10,000 each, though unlike Emmett he got only $2,500 from McNair and nothing from McLane. One person I have heard so far that is thinking about a challenge to Morman is term-limited CM James Rodriguez, but he has only $10K on hand as of July. Either he’s not that interested, or he’s taking his time about it.

Jack Cagle

Raised = $338,598
Spent = $83,361
On Hand = $346,087

Unlike Morman, Commissioner Cagle is unlikely to face any serious competition next year. Not really much to say about this one.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

Raised = $37,620
Spent = $7,354
On Hand = $48,764
Loan = $20,000

Stanart will be up for his first re-election after winning in the wave of 2010. He’s an ideological crusader, and his contributions reflect that, with donations from the likes of Norm Adams, Donna Bahorich, and the campaign funds of John Culberson and Paul Bettencourt. He has two opponents:

Ann Harris Bennett – $1,736 on hand after spending $3,194.
Gayle L. Mitchell – Designation of treasurer filing.

Bennett lost to Stanart in 2010, though she was one of the top votegetters among Dems, and lost narrowly to Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor in 2012. I know nothing about Gayle Mitchell beyond the fact that she has filed the designation of treasurer form for the purpose of running for County Clerk next year.

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

Raised = $0
Spent = $7,190
On Hand = $0

Friends of Chris Daniel

Raised = 27,350
Spent = $21,846
On Hand = $19,898
Loan = $74,500

Daniel’s PAC mostly took in money from other PACs, law firms, and bail bond companies. The expenditures on his non-PAC form were from personal funds, with the intent to seek reimbursement. He has an opponent for March:

Court Koenning

Raised = $54,075
Spent = $5,375
On Hand = $101,575
Loan = $50,000

Koenning is a former Chief of Staff for Dan Patrick, among other things. That’s a crazy amount of money for this race, almost entirely from individuals. Among his donors were Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Eversole, who gave $200, and Ashley and Jeremy Radack, who gave $2,500 and may or may not have any relation to Steve Radack. This will be a race to watch. In browsing the filings, I got a brief thrill from seeing Loren Jackson‘s name, but he was basically cleaning out his campaign coffers by making a payment to the TEC to settle a complaint. I’m sure there will be a Dem in this race, but he or she has not stepped forward as yet.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

Raised = $10,241
Spent = $7,044
On Hand = $3,165

Sanchez raised more money than I’m used to seeing him take in. Three thousand dollars of his total came from PACs, law firms, and bail bond companies. The first two have a lot of overlap with city elections, the latter one doesn’t, presumably because the jail is a county function. Sanchez got donations of $100 each from Bruce Hotze, Michael Kubosh, and Toni Lawrence.

David Rosen – Designation of treasurer

Stace noted Rosen’s campaign kickoff a few days ago. Rosen lost a Democratic primary for HCDE Trustee last year to Diane Trautman. He has a website up, with a lot more about what he’d do in office than Sanchez has done in eight years. As he noted in an email to me, if he wins he’d be the youngest elected official in Harris County in over 40 years, which is to say since well before he was born. But not me, because I’m old.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner

Raised = $0
Spent = $35
On Hand = $739

HCDE candidates don’t raise much money. For an At Large race, it would hardly matter anyway. No candidate has filed a designation of treasurer yet to succeed Jim Henley.

I expect we’ll see a lot more activity, or at least hear some more active rumors, after Sen. Wendy Davis makes her announcement. For now, this is how things stand.

Getting all of the courts ready for e-filing

I confess to being a little confused at first when I read this.

District Clerk Chris Daniel

A half-dozen Harris County departments will spend the rest of the year scrambling to fulfill a Texas Supreme Court mandate that all civil courts accept only electronic filings, starting next January.

In a ruling issued last December, the high court said large counties must get the job done by Jan. 1.

As it stands, Harris County is behind schedule and waiting on Commissioners Court to approve $5.4 million in funding so workers can begin the project, which will involve increasing the county’s bandwidth to accommodate up to 10 times the amount of electronic documents, as well as setting up servers to store them.

Officials, however, said they are “fairly confident” they will be able to get the job done in time.

Kevin Mauzy, chief deputy of the district clerk’s office, which is overseeing the project as the primary department affected by the mandate, said it took months to meet with all the affected agencies and figure out what it would take and how much it would cost to fully digitize filing in the civil court system.

[…]

The portion of the project officials are most concerned about getting in done in time, however, is not part of the court order.

The first few steps in the $5.4 million package presented to commissioners last week includes digitizing 16 million active family and juvenile court records, a job estimated to take six months.

[District Clerk Chris] Daniel, however, said that will allow the courts to avoid an inefficient, and more costly, “hybrid” paper-electronic system.

It would take $20 million to scan every court record, both old and active, a task commissioners decided against during budget hearings last fall.

My first thought upon reading this was “Aren’t all of the civil courts already doing e-filing?” I contacted Daniel’s office to ask about this, and was told that while that is true, other courts such as family, juvenile, and probate courts are not as yet. The main focus for the county at this point is getting current cases from family court digitized, since they have a high volume of paper and as noted in the story they want to avoid a “hybrid” system. County courts at law are also subject to this Supreme Court ruling, but that’s the County Clerk’s problem.

On encouraging jury service

District Clerk Chris Daniel notes that many people do not get paid when they take off work to serve on jury duty, and that therefore they generally choose to ignore their summonses.

District Clerk Chris Daniel

During the upcoming session, the state Legislature can address this issue and ensure that jury pools include a true cross-section of county residents by passing a law allowing businesses that pay workers during jury service to receive a discount on the state business margins tax.

State law prohibits companies from firing workers who are absent due to jury service. But it does not require employers to pay workers – only five states impose such a requirement.

But there are ways for government, without being intrusive, to provide businesses with incentives to pay workers absent because of jury service. Lawmakers will consider passing House Bill 433, which would allow employers to claim a 15 percent discount when calculating their state margins taxes if they pay workers who are out for jury service.

This law would have far-reaching benefits:

  • More people, including low-wage employees, would appear for jury service.
  • The public likely would have increased confidence in the judicial system knowing that a more representative cross-section of society was serving on juries.
  • Taxpayers would save money because the District Clerk’s Office would mail tens of thousands fewer jury notices.
  • With more people appearing for jury service, residents would be called to serve less often.

Here’s HB433, authored by Daniel’s co-writer, Rep. Debbie Riddle. If I’m reading the text of the bill correctly, a company can apply for the credit for each day on which an employee served jury duty if the employee was paid for that day. The bill directs the Comptroller to come up with rules for how this will be implemented, so it’s a little hard to fully evaluate this. My first thought is that there ought to be some limitation on what kind of company can apply for this credit, lest big businesses that have routinely paid their salaried employees when they do jury service apply for the credits. It’ll be interesting to see what the fiscal note is for this as well. Beyond that, it seems like a reasonable idea to solve a legitimate problem, but more details are needed before I can say with any confidence whether this is a good and workable solution or not.

January finance reports for Harris County offices

For the most part, it’s way too early to start thinking about the 2014 Harris County elections – we have a legislative session and a city election cycle to get through first – but since January 15 is a reporting deadline for county officeholders, I figure I may as well have a peek at who has what. I’m only looking at offices that are up for election in 2014, so here we go.

County Judge Ed Emmett – $151,586 on hand.

Thanks to his graceful under pressure performance during Hurricane Ike and a generally low-key, get-things-done style, County Judge Ed Emmett has been the top-performing Republican candidate in two diametrically opposite elections, the Democratic wave of 2008 and the Republican tsunami of 2014. Assuming there are no similar forces at work next year, Democrats ought to be in pretty good shape countywide – as I’ve noted before, Democratic turnout was pretty decent in 2010 despite the butt-kicking – but if there’s one person I’d expect to prevail on the R side even if there’s a strong wind behind the Dems’ backs, it’s Judge Emmett. Assuming of course that he hasn’t decided by then that he’s had it up to here with all this stuff and makes a beeline for the private sector, in which case I’d expect a jumble of Dems lining up to run for this spot. I’m sure someone will run regardless, but barring anything unforeseen I’d make Judge Emmett the favorite going in.

County Clerk Stan Stanart – $16,869 on hand

Outside of the big three – County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff – countywide offices don’t draw much fundraising attention, so don’t read much into these numbers. That said, 2012 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for Stan Stanart. I don’t know how much people will remember that by next year, but as with Don Sumners it ought to provide his opponent (or opponents if he gets primaried) with a fair amount of ammunition. Talk of an elections administrator has predictably died down again, but if it pops back up that will just remind everyone of why we began speaking of it in the first place. Stanart has overseen the relocation of voting machines to a new home, and the county campaign finance reform page sucks somewhat less than it used to, but beyond that I can’t think of any major achievements he’s racked up. (If I’m wrong about that, please correct me in the comments.) Assuming we don’t have an elections administrator by this time next year, I expect Dems to make this race a priority.

District Clerk Chris Daniel – $15,184 on hand

Unlike Stanart, Daniel has had a fairly quiet term as District Clerk. There was a fair amount of griping after Daniel defeated the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 sweep – Jackson was easily the top Democratic vote-getter that year – but for what it’s worth I haven’t heard any lately. Daniel has overseen the implementation of a new efiling system for pleadings in criminal cases, FREEfax, so he will have that to point to next year. If Daniel loses in 2014, his successor will be the fifth District Clerk since 2007, when then-District Clerk Charles Bacarisse resigned to challenge Ed Emmett in a primary for County Judge. Theresa Chang, now a County Court judge, was appointed to replace Bacarisse; she was defeated by Jackson in 2008, and Jackson was defeated by Daniel in 2010.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez – $1,141 on hand.

2014 will be another quadrennial opportunity to wonder just what the heck any Treasurer does in Harris County, and in particular just what it is that Orlando Sanchez, who was first elected in 2006, does. All I can tell you is that he has a delightfully minimalist webpage, and that this finance report does not include an expenditure on “Glamour” magazine.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle – $99,990 on hand.

Cagle was appointed in October of 2011 to replace the felonious Jerry Eversole in Precinct 4. He easily won a three-way primary and the ensuing November election to complete Eversole’s unexpired term; this will be his first election for a full four-year term. I expect he’ll build his campaign treasury up considerably over the next year or so, but it almost doesn’t matter. Barring any Eversole-like behavior on his part, Cagle ought to be able to keep this job for the foreseeable future. Demographic change will eventually make Precinct 4 more competitive in general elections, but there’s at least one more redistricting cycle in between now and that point. He’s in for the long haul.

County Commissioner Jack Morman – $410,078 on hand.

This is, or at least it should be, the main event in Harris County in 2014. Morman’s win in 2010 was fueled mostly by the Republican wave of that year, but as currently drawn, Precinct 2 is highly competitive, with a slight lean towards the GOP. We are still awaiting a ruling in the federal lawsuit over the County’s redistricting plan. A full range of outcomes – a bit more Republican, a bit less Republican, exactly as it is under the interim map that was used last year – is possible for Precinct 2. The first question is who might run against Morman. To some extent, that may be determined by the result in the SD06 special election. Council Member James Rodriguez, whose is term-limited, is known to be interested in HD145 in the event Rep. Carol Alvarado wins a promotion to the Senate, but he has also expressed an interest in Precinct 2. I am certain he will not be the only person looking at this, and I for one will be a bit surprised if there isn’t a spirited Democratic primary for the right to oppose Morman. Demography, the lawsuit, Democratic GOTV efforts, the number of first-time off-year Republican voters from 2010 who decide to make it a habit, and of course the candidates themselves will be among the factors in determining the winner here. Buckle your seatbelts.

HCDE Trustee Jim Henley – No report, since he has not had a campaign fund since 2008 and thus is not required to file these reports
HCDE Trustee Debby Kerner – $774 on hand.

Going into the 2008 election, Republicans held all seven seats on the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees. Henley and Kerner’s 2008 wins in At Large seats, coupled with Diane Trautman’s At Large win and Erica Lee’s Precinct 1 win in 2012, transformed the Board into a 4-3 Democratic majority. If nothing else, that should tamp down on any talk about abolishing the agency, as that was something defeated member Michael Wolfe had pushed. HCDE Trustee is a fairly obscure office, with few resources available for candidates, so as with judicial and other low-profile races they are largely determined by partisan preferences. Henley and Kerner’s overperformance in 2008 – both got 52% of the vote – serves as a reminder that downballot dropoff isn’t always uniform. Still, they’ll rise or fall along with the Democratic Party.

Besides Henley and Kerner, there is exactly one more Democratic incumbent slated for the 2014 ballot: First Court of Appeals Judge Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by a sufficient margin to win a seat on that bench in 2014. Since then, he has drawn attention to himself in a number of nonpositive ways, and as such it would not shock me if he were to face a primary challenge. Beyond that, it’s all Republican judges, and the slate is bigger in non-Presidential years than it is in Presidential years. If Democrats manage to sweep or nearly sweep these races, I can only imagine how loud the call will be in certain quarters to change the way judges are selected; if Republicans mostly or entirely hold on, I figure the subject will be dormant until after the 2016 election. As has been the case since 2008, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Appeals Court races. If Democrats can ever get a foothold on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, they’ll be in much better shape to find candidates for the statewide bench in the future.