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Harris County

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.

[…]

Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election


   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

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.

Judicial Q&A: James Horwitz

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

James Horwitz

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

James S. Horwitz, and I am a Democratic candidate on the March 6, 2018 primary ballot for the Judge for Harris County Probate Court #4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Unfortunately as we all learn sometimes too soon, life is finite and will ultimately end in death. Additionally, age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient. Our society, as represented by our legislature, determined that for these reasons, all of us could use assistance in managing some or all of our daily affairs and ultimately our estate after our death. These activities are often managed by the intervention of Probate Courts. The Texas Constitution grants the Texas Legislature the authority to determine which court handles probate matters.

As a result of the efforts of our Texas Legislature, 10 of the 15 largest counties (specifically including Harris County) have Probate Courts. These Probate Courts handle matters of (i) the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), (ii) guardianship issues, (iii) issues regarding trusts; and (iv) in this Harris County Probate Court # 4, the determination of involuntary commitments of individuals to mental health institutions.

In regard to the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), the Court must:

(1) look to the laws of descent and distribution if one has died without a Will such as by granting an Order of Administration; and
(2) give judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate;and
(3) determine the validity of Wills; and
(4) make orders concerning the provisions of a valid Will (by issuing the Order Admitting a Will to Probate); and
(5) rule on issues of breach of fiduciary duties by executors and administrators of estates.

Because Texas utilizes independent administration of a decedent’s estate, once an applicant’s paperwork has been presented to the Court and approved, that person as a representative of the Decedent’s estate can operate free of any further involvement/supervision by the Probate Court. The vast majority of cases (90%) before the Probate Court are of this nature which allows the Court to operate in merely an administrative function.

In contested matters involving probate with a Will, a Probate Court (1) examines the genuineness of a Will; and/or (2) whether the Will was made under duress or that the Will is not the last Will written by the deceased person. It is the job of the Probate Court to decide which Will is authentic. Once that determination is made, the Probate Court appoints an Executor to fulfill the terms of the Will. In many cases, an Executor is named in the Will and the court appoints that person. The Executor then executes the Will according to the deceased person’s wishes as stated in his/her Will.

When age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient, the establishment of a guardianship can occur. A guardianship is a relationship established by a Probate Court between the person who needs help – called a ward – and the person or entity named by the court to help the ward. This person or entity is known as a guardian. In Texas, a person does not have a guardian until an application to appoint one is filed with the court, a hearing is held and a judge then appoints a guardian. When the court appointment is made, the person the guardian cares for becomes the ward. There are different types of guardianships available in Texas. They are:

• Guardian of the person, full or limited
• Guardian of the estate, full or limited.
• Guardian of the person and estate.
• Temporary guardianship.

In addition to individuals, entities and guardianship programs can be appointed guardians. Guardians have legal responsibilities and are required to perform certain tasks and make reports to the Court while providing assistance to their wards.

The Probate Court should look at the individuals and programs willing to be guardians and base the appointment of guardians on several factors including: a preference to appointing a qualifying family member or another loved one such as a partner as guardian rather than guardianship programs or court appointed attorneys. The Probate Court also should establish how much freedom a ward may have to make his/her own decisions. The Probate Court should decide limitations on a guardian’s authority.

Finally this particular probate court has a mental health docket that can determine when folks are incapaciated and need hospitalization to protect themselves from harming themselves or the public from possibly being harmed from such an individual.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Civic engagement and community involvement have been an integral part of my public life since college. I see my job as a judge to be the natural progression of my abilities to continue to help the community. I believe in ensuring the law is equitably and honestly applied. I also believe we should seek ways of reducing costs for parties needing to appear before the Probate Court, such as encouraging more mediation. However, a unique aspect of my platform is working to create more community outreach. A Probate Judge should be impartial but not isolated from the community that elects he or she. As a private attorney for more than 40 years I have assisted individuals develop their estate plans utilizing Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and other ancillary documents necessary for a comprehensive estate plan. My platform as a candidate for the probate bench is to expand that activity to include county wide activities. I believe the Probate Court should interact with the community far more than it currently does, with special emphasis on certain issues such as:

1. According to the legal database Lexis Nexis, nearly two thirds of adults in Texas do not have a will. In Texas, this is called dying intestate. Basically, if you do not have a will, then the State Legislature writes one for you. The “legislature-written will” tries its best to effectuate the person’s most-likely intent, but people are inherently different and unique. A common issue is that a person who has a spouse and two children (born to that spouse)would not, under the “legislature-written will,” give their entire estate to the widowed, even though many would-be testators would seek to do this if given a chance. There cannot be an executor if the person dies without a will. The court must appoint an administrator instead, which often requires approval from the court for a plethora of routine acts. This can spend valuable money and time better served going to the deceased’s loved ones.

I want to help the Harris County community write more wills. I think the county and the court system ought to be more active in the community, encouraging folks to write wills and be familiar with the law.

If I could change the law, I would prefer for folks who cannot afford an attorney to be provided one by the Probate Court in order to do things like write wills. But I am running for the Bench, and not the Legislature, so I want to best inform people, if hiring a lawyer is infeasible for any reason, how to take the most advantage of a law.

Texas embraces an old concept called the Holographic Will. This basically means a handwritten will. In Texas, a will written entirely in one’s own handwriting may be admitted to probate even without the byzantine formalities required of type-written wills. This provides a cheaper option for those who may be economically unable to retain an attorney.

I will help the Harris County community learn how to write holographic wills, or formal wills, whichever individuals may prefer, so that their final wishes may be respected easier and cheaper than intestacy.

2. An obstacle that often prevents folks, including those in our community, from seeking justice or remedies via the judiciary is the persistence of rumors, which are often incorrect. There is sometimes misconceptions about what the law says or what is excludes. In seeking out the community, I specifically want to help disprove persistent myths.

For example, Estates Code §201.060 prevents discrimination against heirs or devisees (basically, anyone who stands to receive something through the probate process) based upon their, to use the word in the statute, “alienage.” Since the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, this state has eschewed the old common law rule that allowed for inheritances only to citizens. So whether or not someone is a citizen is immaterial to whether or not they can inherit.

3. Additionally, there is no legal prohibition against writing a will in a foreign language. Wills need not be written in English in order to be admitted to probate.

4. Another issue in the community is that of Medical Powers of Attorney, Durable Powers of Attorney and Advanced Directives (Living Wills). I wish to better inform the community of what these documents mean, how to create them and why most folks should consider using them.

This is another example where I fear rumors can dissuade folks from executing what are otherwise imperative documents. For example, a Medical Power of Attorney or an Advanced Directive does not necessarily mean you are consenting to someone “pulling the plug,” so to speak.

These documents can be as detailed as the person creating them wants them to be. They can retain whatever powers the creator wishes to be retained.

I often say in my practice that there are few things one can really get their way. A significant activity that a person can have their way is in regard to their estate plan and probate matters. These forms do not box the creator into anything but what they choose, and are invaluable for making decisions after one is unable to do so.

5. Another aspect of the Probate Court system is the guardianship process. In Texas, if a person is deemed unable to care for him or herself, often an elderly or disabled person, then a guardian is appointed to care for that person. Most often it is a family member or other close friend, but sometimes, if none are available or the judge thinks such choices are too risky, a guardian ad litem is provided. Such a guardian ad litem is a professional paid for by the estate assets.

There are sometimes horror stories of abuses by such professionals. Fortunately, Harris County has a fairly robust system to clamp down on abuse, and entities such as the Senior Justice Assessment Center (SJAC) has arisen of late to protect such people from abuses, neglect and exploitation. Like other community projects, I believe that the best way to protect against inequities is to be prepared in planning one’s estate. Designating agents in powers of attorney (including a durable or medical one) is one such opportunity.

But the judge has discretion to determine when friends or family are insufficient guardians. I promise to make that determination holistically, looking at not just economic factors but social ones as well, in recognition of what is in the best interest of the family overall.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for more than forty years in Harris County, Texas. I have represented thousands of clients in regard to their estate planning and their needs in Probate Court as well as at all levels of civil, corporate, criminal, family, juvenile and appellate courts in Harris County, as well as a multitude of other counties in Texas. My extensive background in family law is a definite asset in probate work since the determining the proper characterization of community versus separate property is essential when dealing with intestate estates and the distribution of such assets to relatives of the deceased individual. The probate court also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Civil Courts involving issues such as wrongful death/personal injuries that can affect a person’s estate or well being. For more than four decades I have represented individuals and families of individuals that have been presented with such terrible circumstances. I have handled all types of probate matters repeatedly for more than 40 years. A successful judge should include the qualities of experience, wisdom, compassion and knowledge. I certainly have the experience and knowledge base from the decades of legal practice. The wide variety of my legal practice has provided me with the wisdom to understand all types of people, recently divorced, accused criminals, business owners, disabled children and elderly parents all among them. All of my experiences provide me with the wisdom, and I believe the compassion, to be a successful judge. As I mentioned above in this questionnaire, the vast majority of work handled by the Probate Court is administrative non-contested matters. It is when a matter is contested, needing a trial that my long experience and acquired knowledge as a trial lawyer become so necessary to be a successful judge.

Additionally, being involved in the community helping to service the needs of those individuals that can be impacted by the Probate Court is a unique qualification for a probate judge. Having and showing compassion is in my opinion is a necessary ingredient for this probate bench. I work with families of disabled children helping those families get legally mandated special needs services from the public school. I have continuously worked as a volunteer at the Harris Center for Disabled Individuals. Recently in 2017 because of my history of working with incapaciated individuals, District Attorney Kim Ogg appointed myself and former Sheriff Adrian Garcia as Co-Chairs of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s mental health issues in the criminal justice system transition committee. I authored the report on this subject which was presented to District Attorney Ogg.

5. Why is this race important?

The Judge must be very familiar with the law and able to rule on legal matters including the admissibility of evidence and the procedures required to conduct trials and hearings. Uncontested matters will be heard by a judge. Contested matters will be heard by a trier of fact, either the judge alone or by a jury.

If a matter is solely before a judge, the judge is the ultimate decision maker as to the credibility of the evidence presented. In that case no one else has more power than the judge as to the believability of the facts presented. In those instances, the judge is the Supreme Court of the facts and the law of the case since the judge must decide whether testimony is credible. As a judge, that person is an officer and representative of the government. He or she cannot allow personal or religious views to cloud one’s judgment. He or she must uphold the law and apply them to all citizens equally. Having qualified individuals be on the bench in Harris County, Texas is required in order to protect the rights of all individuals that come before the Court. Ideology has no place in our judicial system.

For far too long in Harris County, Texas , Republican judges have imposed their belief systems upon our community that can impact their decisions when on the bench. One need to look no further than the decision of the Republican judges not to marry anyone. That decision is based upon the fact that if a judge agrees to marry a couple, that couple might be a same sex couple and the republican orthodoxy in Harris County does not support same sex marriage. Imagine a same sex couple that have not been formally married and one of those individuals die without a Will. A probate judge without an ideological bent could weigh the evidence fairly in a determination of whether the couple were common law married.

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

Probate Court, as an administrative court, has an unusually high percentage of routine cases that are merely rubberstamped by the court. It is when there is a contest that trial experience becomes so necessary. When I began my legal practice, my primary opponent hadn’t even been born. Experience counts. For forty years, I have represented thousands of clients in estate planning and probate court as well as at all levels of the civil, criminal, family, and juvenile courts in Harris County, Texas, including also a multitude of other jurisdictions in Texas. According to the district and county clerk records of Harris County, my primary opponent has not appeared in any civil cases. Wisdom counts. My sound judgment has been gleaned from over four decades of work providing assistance to individuals and their families through my dedication to quality, my understanding of the foibles of people, and my understanding of the law. Compassion counts. I have the life experiences that have demonstrated my care for the unfortunate, the disabled, and the grieving.

Fifth Circuit largely upholds bail practices ruling

Good.

The 26-page opinion by Judge Edith Brown Clement affirms the majority of Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s landmark ruling, including her finding that the county’s bail policies violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

However, Clement and fellow judges Edward C. Prado and Catarina Haynes disagreed with Rosenthal’s analysis on three matters and sent the case back for her to reconsider those elements.

They concluded Rosenthal was overly broad in her analysis of the due process violation and in extending no-cash bail to all indigent defendants. They found her demand that qualified defendants be released within 24 hours was “too onerous,” opting instead for a 48-hour window.

They also ordered Rosenthal to fine tune how officials assess a defendant’s ability to pay bond.

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a supporter of the lawsuit who traveled to New Orleans to hear the oral arguments in the case, called it “a significant victory for justice.”

“With this decision, the conservative 5th Circuit is telling Harris County that it’s unconstitutional to have two justice systems: one for the rich and one for the poor,” Ellis said. “Yet Harris County has already spent more than $5 million defending a morally and legally indefensible bail system that violates the Constitution and punishes people simply because they are poor.”

[…]

Attorney Neal Manne, whose firm, Susman Godfrey, joined in filing the lawsuit, praised the decision.

“I am absolutely thrilled by the ruling, which is a huge and historic victory for our clients,” he said.

The appeals judges found that the county had acted mechanically in reviewing bond decisions, failing to take the time to consider economic factors. The ruling summarized Rosenthal’s equal protection findings by imagining the outcomes for two hypothetical misdemeanor defendants, identical in every way — facing the same charge, from the same criminal backgrounds, living in the same circumstances — except that one was wealthy and the other indigent.

While the wealthy arrestee was less likely to plead guilty and get a shorter sentence or be acquitted, and less likely to pay the social costs of incarceration, it found, the poor arrestee, “must bear the brunt of all of these, simply because he has less money than his wealthy counterpart,” they wrote.

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. This was basically how I read it based on the coverage of the arguments. I agree with attorney Manne and Commissioner Ellis that this is a great ruling, and that it’s way past time to settle this effing thing.

The Trib adds on:

But the ruling wasn’t a total win for the plaintiffs. The appellate court still said Rosenthal’s ruling was “overbroad” and asked her to narrow some of the orders against the county.

Perhaps of most significance, the appellate court pushed back on Rosenthal’s order for the sheriff to release at no cost all misdemeanor defendants who claim they can’t afford their bond within 24 hours of arrest, regardless of whether they’ve had their bail reviewed or set at a higher cost. The appellate judges appeared suspicious about Rosenthal’s time limit in their hearing and said Wednesday that it was too strict.

In sending the case back to Rosenthal for a modified ruling, the higher court suggested an injunction that demands that poor defendants who claim they can’t afford their bail be entitled to a hearing within 48 hours of arrest where they can argue for a lower or no-cost bond.

If a judicial officer declines to lower the bond at this hearing, he or she would have to put the reason for their decision in writing, and the arrestee would then get a formal bail review hearing before a judge. If, after those 48 hours, there are no records showing an individualized bail review process took place, the sheriff could release the defendant at no cost.

‘The 48-hour requirement is intended to address the endemic problem of misdemeanor arrestees being detained until case disposition and pleading guilty to secure faster release from pretrial detention,” Clement wrote.

I’m fine with that, and I expect the plaintiffs will be as well. Mark Bennett sums it up.

It’s time for the fourteen criminal court at law judges to declare victory and go home. ((Just between you and me, this opinion is a rout for the judges. The changes are small, and the current injunction remains in place until Judge Rosenthal modifies it.))

Indeed. I really hope this time they listen.

Judicial Q&A: Ray Shackelford

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Ray Shackelford

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

My name is Ray Shackelford, and I am running for Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears civil suits up to $10,000, traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases, and tenant evictions, among others. The court is also responsible for performing weddings, issuing warrants, and other magistrate duties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Justice of the Peace to ensure that the people of Harris County are given a voice. I want to make sure that members of the Houston community are able to achieve fair outcomes regardless of their education, station in life, or their ability to afford legal representation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a native Houstonian who strives to make a difference in the lives of others. As a civic leader in the Third Ward community, I have put in the time to learn the needs of Houston communities and worked to help those communities thrive. I am committed to justice for all communities, serving on the Independent Police Oversight Board for the City of Houston since 2016.

I was previously a leader in the Houston Area Urban League’s Housing Programs department and a certified housing counselor for the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—both positions involved solving housing issues facing disadvantaged communities. I have experience providing direct services to clients facing evictions and foreclosures.

I am the host of the “Agents of Change” radio show on Synergy Radio Network, which focuses on community topics that are important to Houstonians. I am a cum laude graduate of Morehouse College, where I majored in Business. I also earned an MBA from the University of Houston.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is vital because the types of cases that the JP courts administer are critical to people’s everyday lives. For example, the outcome of an eviction case can truly be life-altering, and cases like this must be handled with empathy and compassion while also reaching a fair and just result.

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

You should vote for me in the March primary because I have a track record of service to this community. I am not a serial candidate or someone seeking the trappings of public office–I am simply here to be a stronger voice for the Houston community that I have already been serving and advocating for over the last decade.

So where are we on Harvey response?

Stuff is happening.

Local and state leaders are moving toward a major, lengthy and costly overhaul of the region’s flood defenses that includes regulating developmentmassive buyouts of flood-prone properties and flood-prevention projects that have been discussed for decades but never built.

Few of the initiatives will be complete before hurricane season starts in June, but nearly six months after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas Gulf Coast and devastated the nation’s fourth-largest city, leaders are seeking to address long-ignored shortcomings laid bare by one of the most intense rainstorms in U.S. history.

Gov. Greg Abbott says he can write a check for a third reservoir to better protect areas west of Houston from inundation as well as attempt to avoid the types of releases from Addicks and Barker dams that swamped Houston downstream during Harvey.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to join Harris County in strengthening regulation on the region’s rapid development to protect the city’s population from floodwaters and alleviate the burden on taxpayers to repair and rebuild flood-prone properties.

Harris County leaders want a major bond issue – and a corresponding increase in property taxes – this year to pay for bayou drainage projects and, possibly, broad buyouts in flood-prone areas.

There’s also broad support for legislation that would require buyers of property in reservoir flood pools, which are dry much of the time, to be notified of flooding risks; 30,000 homes have been built in the flood pools of Addicks and Barker, and many owners say they had no idea they were living in an area designed to hold water during times of heavy rain. More than 9,000 of those homes flooded during Harvey.

Some of the local response has been slowed as officials waited to see what Congress will be willing to fund, a logjam that started to break late in the week with the approval of nearly $90 billion for victims of this year’s storms and natural disasters – much of it for recovery, not prevention. But state and local officials tell the Houston Chronicle they remain committed to broader improvements.

That was written before the Congressional budget deal was reached, so that obstacle should be removed, though it’s still not totally clear what that will mean. County Commissioners will need to figure that out for the bond referendum they’re planning. There are now more FEMA funds available for recovery, which is nice but makes you wonder why it took so long.

It’s a little hard for me as someone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey to judge if “enough” progress has been made. My friends who were flooded out are still dealing with it; one family is about to move back into their repaired home, which was damaged by the dam releases, another has made the decision to sell and live elsewhere, others are in similar places. I can’t speak for them, but we will all have the opportunity to listen to them as the elections approach. I have to assume that every elected official is going to have to answer for his or her actions and decisions during and after Harvey. I feel like this could be a point of weakness for Greg Abbott, and I think that Andrew White’s campaign ad touting his actions during Harvey is a smart move. It’s too soon to say how much of an effect Harvey will have on November – I don’t get the sense that it’s a difference maker in the primaries, but at least on the Democratic side that may be because no one disagrees with the notion that more can and should have been done to aid the recovery and mitigate against future floods – but it will be there. The time to take action to shield oneself against charges that one’s response was inadequate is rapidly running out, if it hasn’t already.

Judicial Q&A: Barbara Stalder

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Barbara Stalder

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

County approves Astrodome plan

Like it or not, here it comes.

Take a last look at it

Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with the final design and construction of a $105 million project to transform the cherished piece of Houston’s sporting history into what officials hope will be coveted event space.

“It gives us a huge national story line,” said Holly Clapham, chief marketing officer for Houston First Corp., the city’s main marketing arm. “This, obviously, is a very significant building and we can tell the story of its new life, and serving a new constituency that didn’t know it as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.'”

Construction on the project is expected to begin in October and end in February 2020.

“The first thing we have to do is get it back to where it’s structurally sound,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said after Tuesday’s court meeting. “Nine acres of open space, under cover, in Houston, Texas, is a big deal. We’ve already been contacted by all sorts of groups that want to come use it, so it’s exciting.”

See here and here for some background, though obviously there’s a lot more to this long-lasting story. I like this idea – unlike so many other proposals, this plan makes sense to me, it’s not outrageously expensive, and it keeps the property in the hands of the public. I’m not sure if it will make sense to keep calling it the Astrodome when all is said and done, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.

Not everyone sees this as I do, of course, and we’ll be hearing plenty from them.

State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who co-sponsored legislation last year that would have required a public referendum on the Astrodome project, called Tuesday’s vote by Commissioners Court “tone deaf.”

“We just need to recognize the obvious,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “If the county has money to ignore a public vote and refurbish the Astrodome, then they have the capability to offer flooded-out homeowners disaster reappraisal and to cut their property tax rate.”

Bettencourt and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have called on local taxing jurisdictions to allow residents whose homes were damaged by Harvey to have their properties reappraised to reflect their lower values.

Through a spokesman, Emmett called Bettencourt’s remarks “ill-informed” and said the project would allow the county to generate revenue for upgrades to the NRG Complex that otherwise would fall on taxpayers.

See here and here for more on the failed bill to require a vote on something that we wouldn’t normally require a vote on, since no bonds are being floated. The preview story goes into the funding source for the remodel.

In response to Harvey, the county is poised to call a bond referendum of at least $1 billion to pay for flood control projects, and Commissioners Court has imposed tougher regulations on new development in floodplains, as well as authorized up to $20 million to facilitate buyouts of Harvey-flooded homes.

Of the $105 million cost to renovate the dome into convention and meeting space, about a third would come from the county’s general fund, largely made up of property tax revenue. The other two sources — hotel occupancy taxes and parking revenue — would not be used for flood control Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

“We’re the third largest county in the country. We’re having to renovate a lot of buildings. This is another building,” Emmett said. “We need to renovate it and make it usable.”

He added that $35 million “does not go very far flood control-wise” when billions of dollars in improvements and repairs are needed.

People are going to have feelings about this, that’s for sure. There’s no direct vote on the Dome plan, but there will be that bond referendum, and Ed Emmett will be on the ballot, so the politics of this could work out in a number of ways. I’ve said my piece. We’ll see what develops from here.

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

Poe’s vacancy has attracted nine contenders in the Republican primary, and we encourage voters to look for a candidate who will aspire to embody the party’s values while also striving to represent a vast district.

Two candidates appear to lead the pack in this heated race: one-term state Rep. Kevin Roberts and wealthy activist Kathaleen Wall. However, both have developed a reputation for avoiding panels and other public events where they’ll stand alongside the seven other challengers. That tactic may be politically clever, but we get a sense that it frustrates voters.

Nevertheless, Roberts remains the best choice in this race. He works as executive director for the Lanier Law Firm and has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle. Support from county officials is a sign of faith in Roberts to advocate for Houston’s flood control needs at a federal level – the single most important issue in the 2018 election.

It is worth noting that Roberts, 52, successfully authored and passed a resolution during the last legislative session urging Congress to provide sufficient funding for the construction of a storm surge barrier along the Texas coast – well before Hurricane Harvey. The carrots and sticks of party politics don’t usually encourage that kind of smart advocacy, so it falls on primary voters to reward Roberts’ push for a long-term investment in our region.

[…]

Meanwhile, voters in this primary should avoid Wall, who has spent around $2.7 million of her family’s money on this primary race alone. Writing a check is no substitute for a proven track-record. Wall has little in her resume to show that she’ll be an effective representative in Congress for either the Republican base or for Houston overall.

Republicans are going to face a tougher contest than they’re used to in this changing district, and Wall’s unrelentingly pro-Trump campaign is going make it hard to win over moderate voters in November. Or worse, her antics could energize the deep-blue Montrose-area precincts that already can’t wait to vote against anything that even sounds like Trump.

I don’t think we’ll need any more incentive, but thanks for thinking of us. Frankly, I expect we’ll all still be dealing with the PTSD from Wall’s nonstop barrage of awful TV ads.

Meanwhile, the Chron observes the maxim that it is always a good time to vote against Sid Miller.

“We like to eat, we like to wear clothes and we like to put gas in our cars. All three of those things are affected by the Department of Agriculture.”

That’s how Trey Blocker succinctly describes the importance of the agency he wants to manage. Blocker is unquestionably the best qualified candidate running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news coming out of this corner of Austin during the last couple of years knows it needs new leadership.

Blocker is a conservative ethics lawyer offended by what he calls “corruption and crony capitalism” in state government, but he’s also spent decades working as a lobbyist for the farming and ranching communities. Ask him anything about the myriad duties performed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and he’ll tell you not only how things work, but also how they need to change.

[…]

Texas voters are lucky that Blocker decided to enter this race, because he’s a well-qualified, conservative Republican alternative to Sid Miller. Even if you don’t follow state government very closely, you may have heard about the shenanigans of this embarrassing incumbent.

Miller claims he’s conservative, but he doesn’t act like one. After angering farmers and business owners by raising a host of regulatory fees, he gave employees of his agency more than $400,000 in bonuses. He used taxpayer money for a trip to Oklahoma where he got a so-called “Jesus shot” for chronic pain. He also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime where it so happened he wanted to participate in a rodeo. The Texas Rangers ended up investigating both incidents, and Miller ended up reimbursing the state’s coffers.

The incumbent agriculture commissioner needs to be put out to pasture. Republican primary voters should throw their support to Trey Blocker.

The competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but beyond a doubt Sid Miller is a championship contender. Honestly, to be much worse you’d have to be engineered in a lab.

And to complete the trifecta of terribleness, we meet up with one of the local contenders for “worst elected official” in this Republican Justice of the Peace primary.

November comes early this year. No Democrats have signed up to run for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2, which means that this Republican primary essentially functions as the general election.

Voters should feel comfortable reelecting current Justice of the Peace Jeff Williams to a third term in this sprawling west Harris County precinct.

Williams, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, exudes enthusiastic competence when discussing his job overseeing this low-level court, which handles more than 100,000 cases each year.

[…]

Williams’ challenger, J.R. Harris, said he would encourage landlord groups to go above and beyond the legal minimum to prevent evictions in the first place. Harris, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, currently works at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and has experience with the tax assessor’s office. He has the makings of a fine justice of the peace, but there’s no reason to boot Williams from office.

Both candidates had kind words about the other, and saved their criticism for Mike Wolfe, who declined to meet for an interview.

Both Williams and Harris said that they believe Wolfe had been put forward as a candidate by a reactionary anti-LGBT wing of the Republican Party hoping to fight same-sex marriage.

Yes, that’s the same Michael Wolfe from the HCDE; the editorial covers some of his more egregious recent actions on the Board. We’ll get a shot at ousting him in 2020, assuming he hasn’t been moved into this much safer seat in March. You’ll only be screwing yourselves if you vote him in here, Republicans.

Judicial Q&A: David Fleischer

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

David Fleischer

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

My name is David Fleischer and I am running for Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number 5. I have an amazing wife and three sweet young kids, Jake age 7, Julia age 5, and Rachel age 2. I am a first-generation Hispanic Houstonian whose family hails from Santiago, Chile. I am a lifelong democrat and graduate of University of Houston (go Coogs) and Western Michigan Cooley Law School.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a County Court at Law that deals with criminal cases, Class B and Class A misdemeanors. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by zero to one hundred and eighty days in jail and/or up to a two thousand dollar fine. Offenses that are Class B include assault, driving while intoxicated (first offenses and those with breath/blood alcohol concentration under .15), and driving while license invalid. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by zero to three hundred and sixty-five days in jail and/or up to a four thousand dollar fine. Some Class A misdemeanors include assault (bodily injury), DWI (second offender or.15 or above alcohol concentration), resisting arrest, and possession of a controlled substance.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The current Judge is retiring and this will be an open bench. We need to ensure that the Judge that is elected is qualified and has the proper judicial temperament to deal with the hundreds of cases that pass through the court every week. We have a progressive sheriff, chief of police, and District Attorney; we are the last link to making local government progressive. I strive to change the culture of the judicial system, advance opportunities for all persons, as well as promote programs that aim to reduce mass incarceration and unjust punishment. Even today, minorities continue to suffer from the lack of equal justice in criminal cases. This injustice can take many forms. For example, some issues that must be addressed are the difference set in bail bonds, unequal representation and disparate sentencing. Sentences should reflect the gravity of the offense, not the color of one’s skin, place of birth or gender. As judge, I will make sure that everyone is treated equally. Lack of economic resources will not dictate whether someone is provided a competent defense. I will fight to change the culture of the criminal justice system to prevent innocent people from pleading guilty.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I was licensed to practice law in November of 2004. I have my own law practice and have been helping persons accused with crimes since that time. I only handle criminal cases, and in Harris County have represented over six-thousand, four hundred persons accused with crimes. My clientele consists of people charged with either felonies or misdemeanors, with most of the work focused on the latter. Additionally, my practice is devoted to representing indigent persons. This is via appointment by the current Harris County Judges. Moreover, I am Hispanic and speak fluent Spanish. Therefore, a majority of my cases involve minorities. The volume of cases I have handled has given me considerable experience in dealing with prosecutors, judges, and accused persons. I know the system, people, and procedures to be able to run a court efficiently. I also volunteered on the State Bar Grievance Committee for six years. This is the committee that disciplines lawyers for unethical behavior. This was a very eye-opening experience that enabled me to see the darker side of lawyering and make me strive to improve our profession in every way possible.

5. Why is this race important?

We have the opportunity to advance criminal justice to a more progressive form. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of persons committing crimes. We can achieve this through education and counseling; we can help close the revolving door of the criminal justice system and help people appreciate consequences of certain acts and behaviors. Many accused persons are short-sighted and would rather take an easy way out by pleading guilty than work for a better outcome. With the proper motivation, we can change this. Diversionary programs, that ultimately end in a dismissal of charges, are a great enticement to help someone keep their record clean and more importantly teach them the value of not re-offending. I plan on taking a proactive, progressive approach to tackle these underlying issues.

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

My longevity as a criminal defense lawyer, experience in dealing with criminal cases and negotiating with prosecutors, judges, and accused persons; as well as working for the State Bar of Texas Grievance Committee have given me with the tools to be a resourceful, compassionate, and fair judge. This is valuable knowledge that is only gained through experience. Oftentimes persons who are inexperienced will, invariably, make poor decisions on issues before them which affect every person involved and waste countless resources. Most importantly, bad decisions can make bad law. I will strive to ensure that justice is sought and provided to everyone equally, without regard to economic status, color, gender or orientation.

Cruz’s concerns about November

Take this for what it’s worth.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is preparing Texas Republicans for a turbulent election year amid super-charged Democratic enthusiasm — including in his own re-election campaign.

Traveling the state for GOP events this weekend, Cruz portrayed an uncertain midterm environment that could go down as disastrous for Republicans if they don’t work to counteract Democratic energy throughout the country. Cruz has spent previous election cycles airing similar warnings against GOP complacency in ruby-red Texas, but this time it hits much closer to home for him — he is facing a well-funded re-election challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Addressing the Fort Bend County GOP on Friday night, Cruz warned of an “incredible volatility in politics right now,” calling Democrats “stark-raving nuts” in their opposition to Trump. He pointed to Trump’s recent State of the Union address and Democrats’ reluctance to applaud, saying the scene “underscores the political risk in November.”

“Let me tell you right now: The left is going to show up,” Cruz said, delivering the keynote address at the party’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner. “They will crawl over broken glass in November to vote.”

As a general rule, one should be wary of assigning a truth value to anything Ted Cruz says. Be that as it may, he’s right that Democrats are fired up, and Republicans need to be worried about it. That’s especially true for counties like Fort Bend and Harris, where Republicans don’t have a numerical advantage and need an edge in enthusiasm to make up for it.

What the likes of Cruz say in public to their core supporters, who seek inspiration from their standard-bearers, doesn’t tell us much. I’m much more interested in what they’re saying behind the scenes, with their consultants and pollsters, but for obvious reasons that information is harder to get. We can take inspiration from Cruz’s “we’re under siege” message as well, but we need to work at making that message an accurate one.

Judicial Q&A: Jason Luong

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Jason Luong

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

My name is Jason Luong, and I am running to be the Democratic candidate for Judge of the 185th District Court in Harris County, a felony district court. I have over 17 years of legal experience as a former prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and civil attorney. My wife is a former Marine. Our daughter attends St. Michael Catholic School and trains with the Houston Ballet. I come from a family of public servants. My father worked for the City of Houston for over 20 years. My mother worked for the Houston Police Department for over 20 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles felony criminal charges, where the range of punishment can range from 6 months in the state jail all the way to life in prison or the death penalty. Drug charges, assaults involving a deadly weapon or serious bodily injuries, third time DWI’s, homicide, sex assault cases and crimes against children are just a few examples of the felony offenses that this court hears.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to bring my experience as a former prosecutor and defense attorney to serve and represent the citizens of Harris county. In fact, I was a prosecutor assigned to the 185 th District Court. Our courts need to be more responsive to the people they are intended to serve. This means making our courts accessible to people and running them efficiently.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 17 years of legal experience as a former Harris County prosecutor, civil attorney, and criminal defense attorney. My family and I have strong Texas roots. I am a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, with honors. I started my legal career as a law clerk to a U.S. District Court Judge, where we handled one of the largest criminal dockets in the country. As a Harris County prosecutor, I prosecuted thousands of cases on behalf of Harris County residents, including one of the only prosecutions of members of Aryan Brotherhood under Texas’s Hate Crime Statute. Currently I have my own criminal defense practice where I handle both court-appointed and retained cases. I have tried over 50 cases to a jury verdict. I am passionate about bringing my experience to serve the people of Harris County.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our criminal courts are important. Harris County is one of the most important criminal jurisdictions in the country. The 185th District Court handles the most serious criminal offenses, including crimes against children, serious drug cases, and murder.

This race is a chance for the citizens of Harris County to elect a judge who has the experience necessary for this high office. Furthermore, it is a chance to ensure that our criminal courts reflect the diversity of Harris County. If elected, I would be the only Asian-American judge on any county-wide criminal bench, and I would be the first Vietnamese-American judge elected in Harris County. I believe that our courts, like our juries, should reflect the diversity of our population.

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

The people of Harris County should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate in this race. I have over 17 years of legal experience. I am the only candidate in this race who has experience as a Harris County prosecutor. I have also been endorsed in this race by The Houston Chronicle and the Harris County Tejano Democrats. I am proud to have earned their endorsement. I will bring a balanced perspective and broad experience to this Court. I would ensure that all persons in my court whether a defendant or a victim, would be treated fairly and impartially under the law.

Stanart’s workshop

Our County Clerk has been doing some tinkering.

The Harris County Clerk has spent hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to build, from the ground up, an electronic voter check-in system at the polls, Channel 2 Investigates has learned.

“It’s taken more than two-and-a-half years. There’s been investments of more than $2 million, and we don’t really have anything to show for it yet,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas Director of Public Citizen, a citizen advocacy group.

Based on receipts provided by his office, Stan Stanart, an elected official in his second term, has spent $2.75 million of public funds, so far, inventing what he calls an “electronic poll book.”

It is unclear how much more Stanart plans to spend to bring the project to fruition or how much the system will cost in annual maintenance.

Stanart has said his project could ultimately offer substantial savings to Harris County versus an “off-the-shelf system” which by Stanart’s estimates would cost between $3.99 million and $6.12 million. (View document)

Stanart’s project principally consists of an iPad, custom software and a customized stand to hold the iPad. The finished product will alleviate long lines at voting locations by making the check-in process more efficient, Stanart has said.

The clerk procured hundreds of individual parts for the project, including thousands of dollars of washers, magnets and foam.

The purchase of 2,400 iPads was made in July 2015. The vast majority of those iPads stayed in a warehouse, unopened and unused for more than two years.

Stanart has said he is now in the process of mating the iPads to his custom-built stands. He rolled out less than 100 of them in November for a test run. The county clerk has not publicized the results of that initial foray, but has said he plans the full implementation of his system in March’s primaries.

“I think most reasonable would say you probably shouldn’t have spent $1 million on iPads if you weren’t going to use them sometime soon,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.

Both Ellis and Shelley said the idea of automating the voter check-in process is a worthy pursuit, but questioned why the project has not had more transparency.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say that I agree with Ellis and Shelley. It’s entirely possible that this was a worthwhile project for the County Clerk to take on, but:

1) Are we sure there wasn’t a commercial or open source solution out there? Even if it was more expensive, being able to deploy it in earlier elections would have mitigated the extra cost.

2) What oversight did this project have? I’ve been involved in some big projects in the corporate world. We have timelines, signoffs, approvals, all sorts of things to ensure that the people who need to know about it do know about it and know where it stands. How much has Commissioners Court been looped in on this?

3) Are there any design documents, or other technical descriptions of what this is, what it is intended to do, what the requirements are, etc etc etc? In other words, is it written down anywhere what to expect when this thing finally debuts? And if so, where is that?

4) Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but what was the original budget for this, and how does that compare with what has actually been spent?

Maybe this thing will be great, and maybe it will be a dud. The idea is a good one, but that means nothing if the execution isn’t there. It’s way past time for these questions to be answered.

Endorsement watch: County criminal courts

One last round of judicial endorsements.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 2: Harold J. Landreneau

Harold Landreneau earns our endorsement for this primary slot with a significant caveat. Landreneau, 49, needs to shed the communication style of a chief clerk of a justice of the peace court, a job he held for over a decade, and assume the more deliberate and focused demeanor of a member of the judiciary. It’s not enough to be courteous to litigants: To be an effective manager, a judge needs to be concise.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 5: David M. Fleischer

In this toss-up race to replace Judge Margaret Stewart Harris, our endorsement goes to David M. Fleischer, a graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School over Armen “Hammer” Merjanian.

Both candidates believe in more emphasis on rehabilitation in the county criminal court system. Even though Merjanian’s noble goal of ending mass incarceration needs more refinement, both candidates showed passion for changing a system that’s set in its ways and that needs much improvement. Fleischer, 43, has eight more years of experience as criminal lawyer than Merjanian. The idealistic Merjanian – whose five years of experience barely exceeds the statutory minimum for this bench – has the potential to be a good judge. While we’d strongly urge Merjanian to run again, voters should cast their ballots in this primary contest for Fleischer.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 7: Andrew W. Wright

The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W. Wright is his long rockstar-style hair and beard – not what voters are used to seeing on a judge. The reasons for his copious coiffure? He’s growing out his hair to donate it, and the beard covers up a double chin.

Wright’s experience as a lawyer is significantly more traditional. The South Texas College of Law Houston graduate has been practicing law for over a decade, and has been exclusively practicing criminal defense for eight years. Wright, 35, has endorsed personal recognizance bonds as the norm for misdemeanor court – we agree – and assured us that, hairstyle aside, he plans on staying to the straight and narrow of his judicial responsibilities. That includes helping first offenders, supporting the expansion of diversion courts and sentencing the worst criminals to the highest punishment possible for county criminal courts – one year in jail.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11: Gus Saper

A Jewish lawyer appointed to represent a general in the Aryan Brotherhood? That sounds like it could have been a movie, but it’s only one case in candidate Gus Saper’s 43-year career as a criminal defense attorney. With the Harris County Criminal Justice Center out of action for another two years due to Hurricane Harvey, this bench needs a resourceful judge like Saper.

A graduate of the South Texas School of Law Houston, Saper, 69, has the depth of knowledge and the historical perspective to know how to upgrade the procedures in this court to make them more courteous and efficient even with limited resources.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 12: Juan J. Aguirre

Juan J. Aguirre started his career in law by working alongside his father – a courthouse janitor in Del Rio.

“I got my baptism into the law field by cleaning up the courtroom,” Aguirre told us at his screening.

Since then he has graduated from South Texas School of Law Houston and worked for the past 16 years as a criminal law attorney, first as an assistant district attorney for Harris County and then as a criminal defense attorney. Aguirre, 51, takes pride in his mentorship of young lawyers, advising them to delve deep into their profession by visiting the crime scene and the crime lab and riding with the police to see what law enforcement sees. Before becoming a lawyer, Aguirre worked as a city planner and manager after obtaining a Masters of Urban Planning from Texas A&M University.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 13: Raul Rodriquez

Raul Rodriquez, 58, is our choice for the Democratic primary. With 28 years of experience practicing criminal law, Rodriquez is well-qualified. This naturalized citizen is a clear communicator who also happens to be bilingual. He has judicial experience, having served as city of Houston municipal court judge for 12 years. Finally, he displays the right temperament for the judiciary.

The South Texas Law Center Houston graduate told us, “I believe it’s important for a judge to be involved in a community and to know what goes on there.”

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 15: Kris Ougrah

In this race between two young, passionate lawyers, we encourage Democratic voters to back Kris Ougrah, who told the editorial board he is running to improve the future of Houston’s youth. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Ougrah, 40, promises to take personal interest in setting young offenders on the right path in life. He also wants to run a mentorship program. However, we would recommend that Ougrah, who had a habit of being overly loquacious during his editorial board interview, focus on the judicious practice of a succinct comment.

Ougrah has been practicing law about twice as long as his opponent, Tonya Jones, who was admitted to the bar in 2011.

Relevant Q&As: Harold Landreneau, Armen Merjanian, Gus Saper, Kris Ougrah. One from Davis Fleischer is in the queue.

As noted before, that finishes off the judicial category for the Chron. They still have a lot of other ground to cover. In the meantime, it’s apparent that in some of these races, there are very clear choices, one candidate who got recommended by every group they screened with. In others the decision is tougher, but that’s because both of the options are good. I can’t complain about that.

Will we or won’t we get a county bond election for flood control?

Answer unclear, try again later.

Judge Ed Emmett

In an interview with the Chronicle, [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett described the various factors that are at play as the county grapples with the possible bond referendum, which would be one of the biggest ever proposed by the county.

There isn’t a clear picture yet of what would be part of the bond referendum. At a recent Commissioners Court meeting, officials emphasize the need to keep the language vague enough to give them flexibility in how to spend the money, but specific enough to make sure the voters know what they are buying.

Emmett said the construction of a highly-anticipated third dam and reservoir northwest of the city would not be part of the measure.

County officials previously have described buyouts and improvements to Houston-area bayous as things that could be paid for with the bonds.

What is included depends, in part, on what happens in Congress, and whether the state is willing to pay for any projects.

The timing and content of what will be included in the referendum have, thus far, hinged on knowing what the federal government is willing to pay for. That will not become clear until Congress passes legislation that could fund at least some flood control projects, such as improvements to Brays, White Oak, Hunting bayous or Clear Creek.

[…]

“You have some in Washington who say if the local government calls a bond election before they act, that will send a signal that ‘Well they don’t necessarily need as much money because they’re doing it locally,'” he said. “There’s another group up there that says if a local government calls a bond election, that shows they are real partners.”

See here for the background. This week’s Congressional budget deal includes the long-awaited disaster relief funds, so perhaps that will clarify things a bit for Commissioners Court. I can’t really imagine them not putting something on the ballot, it’s just a matter of what. We’ll see if they can figure it out now.

Interview with John Miller

John Miller

Today we come to the end of HCDE week. As I said, there are three candidates running in Position 6, Precinct 1 – there is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the primary has his ticket stamped – but I only have two interviews, as candidate Prince EW Bryant did not respond to my email. I hope that between these interviews and my efforts to highlight the many programs and services that HCDE offers, you have a better understanding of this important but often overlooked institution. John Miller also has a degree in Chemical Engineering, from the University of Cincinnati, and he has applied that degree at a number of manufacturing jobs. (His campaign Facebook page doesn’t have any biographical information on it, but I got these facts from his LinkedIn profile.) He was a candidate for HCDP Chair last year, and he is one of several dozen LGBT candidates seeking office this year. Please note when you listen to the interview that while I have been asking candidates about their position on sexual harassment policies, I failed to do so with Mr. Miller, for the simple reason that I forgot. Such are the dangers of working without written notes. I apologize for the oversight. Now here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Scot Dollinger

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

I am Scot “dolli” Dollinger. I am running for the 189th Civil District Court in Harris County Texas. In Harris County in 2018, there are 10 Civil District Courts in play.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County divides its courts up into the following categories: criminal, family, probate and civil. The 189th Civil District Court hears every kind of case except those in the criminal, family or probate categories and has no amount in controversy limit. It is a court of general jurisdiction meaning it takes all the cases not otherwise assigned to another case category. The court hears primarily personal injury and commercial litigation disputes but also hears other kinds of cases such as employment, civil rights and defamation cases. The court also has the power to issue injunctions – orders which prevent people from taking certain actions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

For the last year, I have been going all over Harris County telling people I am running for judge of the 189th Civil District Court because I am completely and totally in love with the good people of Harris County in all its diversity. The people deserve a skilled, knowledgeable judge who will give all people fair access to a fair forum regardless of their race, gender, sexual identity, religion – or not, economic status or any other factor. When folks go to court they need to know they will be treated fairly by a skilled knowledgeable judge who will follow the rule of law. I cannot stand injustice. The law is my life. Justice and fair treatment are my passions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have lived and worked in Harris County for over 25 years and been doing the work of the 189th Civil District Court for over 30 years. I have litigated cases in over 60 counties and every Texas U.S. District Court (N, S, E & W). I am well-educated (Northwestern University & Emory Law School), I have clerked with a federal judge, I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, I have run my own firm for over 15 years, I am an equal opportunity employer having hired employees who are African American, Hispanic, Asian and Caucasian, both men and women and from the LGBTQ community, I have the highest rating from Martindale-Hubbell (AV) which is a rating service that rates lawyers based on the anonymous opinions of other lawyers in the community, I have tried 40 trials and prosecute 10 appeals from state and federal trial courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of Texas and the Supreme Court of the United States.

I have demonstrated a heart for the community by not only regularly giving to my church which helps to feed the homeless in Houston, but I also mucked 7 houses after Harvey and made phone calls to people to arrange for mucking services. I worked at the Houston and San Antonio Food Banks. Over the last ten years, I have donated over 1,000 in pro bono legal services. My wife and I have sponsored 3 World Vision Children for over ten years. We are trained as Child Advocates and have completed foster parent training and are close to receiving our license. We were guardians for an 8 year old girl for ten years until she turned 18 – she is 22 and about to graduate from college. We give to many charities such as Star of Hope, Salvation Army, Harbor House, Doctors without Borders, Northwestern University, Emory School of Law, Houston Food Bank, San Antonio Food Bank, Planned Parenthood, St. Jude’s, Sigma Gamma Rho – National Sorority, Susan G. Komen, Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, Equality Texas, Montrose Center, #MeToo, Trevor Project, American Humanist Association, ACLU, American Cancer Society, Friends For Life Animal Rescue, La Union De Pueblo, Kennedy Elementary – Ms. Walker’s 5th Grade Class, Christmas gifts, Homeless Gay Kids, Alzheimer’s Association, Scripture Memory Fellowship International, One Patient – Global Health Initiative, Interfaith Ministries, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Villalobos Rescue in the Hood, Parkinson’s Foundation, Montrose Grace Place, Disabled Vets, CBMC – Christian Business Men, Lolas Lucky Day, Pld Dog Rescue, American Red Cross, Houston Independent School District Foundation, Educate 7 Foundation, JJ Watt Foundation, Central Texas Food Bank, Greater Houston Community Foundation, The Arc of Houston, A Simple Thread, Austin Pets Alive, Dallas DogRRR – Rescue Rehab Reform, Faith in Texas – Pico, Help Us in Mexico, End Homelessness in Houston, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Changing Hearts and Minds, Transgender Women of Color, Equality Texas Foundation, ASPCA and Work Faith Connection.

I believe in separation of church and state, separation of powers and evidence based decision making. I celebrate the strength of a diverse community such as Harris County. I care about people and want to help them as the law allows. I am here to work and serve, not retire.

5. Why is this race important?

We currently have a Republican problem at our court house: Every Republican district judge in Harris County refuses to marry same sex couples. I can appreciate folks may have a private objection to same sex marriage, but those private objections should never be used by a sitting judge in a secular society. Same sex couples have a right to go into our court houses and be married under the law of the land. If Republican judges refuse to follow the rule of law here, in what other areas will they refuse to follow the rule of law? The law is not a Luby’s. Judges are not allowed to walk down the line and pick and choose what rules of law they want to follow. They are obligated in a secular society to follow every rule of law whether they personally agree with that rule of law or not.

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

I am the more qualified candidate with a heart for the people having received endorsements from the Bay Area New Democrats, Area 5 Democrats and Tejano Democrats. These are the only Democratic endorsements released to date where I have gone head to head with my opponent. Any positive my opponent has, I have also but more and better. For example, I believe I have tried more cases, handled more appeals and clerked with a federal judge. I am board certified, I have run my own firm and I have hired more diversely.

I have a very strong work ethic which I bring to every task including campaigning and understanding what is necessary to win in Harris County. I have been campaigning for over a year. In 2014, when I was on the ballot in Harris County running for Civil Court No. 2, I made more phone calls than any other Democratic candidate.

I have represented individuals, not institutions, virtually my entire practice. I worked as a defense lawyer for eight years being hired to defend people who were accused of hurting others. So, I understand the law from a defense lawyer’s perspective. I worked as a plaintiff lawyer for the last 22 years helping people who have been hurt. So, I understand the law from a plaintiff’s lawyer perspective. I clerk for a federal judge. So, I understand the law from a judge’s perspective.

I understand that the courts belong to all the people. Judges are trustees of the judicial power given to our courts. That power must be exercised with the utmost good faith and checked at every turn to battle against the tendency for power to be abused.

I understand the law is here to protect the weak from the strong and powerful. The end of all government is justice for all – equal protection and fairness are corner stones of the house of justice. There are two things difficult for any person to accept:

– Being unjustly harmed/wronged;
– Being unjustly accused.

For every matter at issue, our courts must be respected and known for properly sorting out which is which. If a person has been unjustly wronged, then the courts must give and provide proper remedies. If a person has been unjustly accused, then the courts must release the wrongly accused and deny the accuser the remedy sought.

My work and life experience have prepared me for this job. I am ready, willing and able to service my community well on day one. Please vote for me. Thank you.

Endorsement watch: Judges and more judges

For probate court.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 2: Michael Newman

Candidate Jim Peacock told us that temperament is the key issue in this race, and it’s true that good judges should be courteous, calm and respectful. But whether a candidate’s experience prepares him to don the black robe is easier to ferret out than whether his temperament is suited for it.

While Peacock and his opponent, Michael Newman, 61, have each been practicing law for more than three decades, Newman has handled more cases in the probate courts. The University of Houston Law Center graduate has practiced probate law for 19 years, and he’s running because he is tired of appearing before judges who don’t know the law, don’t know how to apply the law or who have prejudged his case.

[…]

Voters should cast their votes for Newman in this primary contest, and Peacock should run again. The winner in this race will face Republican candidate Ray Black in the general election.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 4: James Horwitz

James Horwitz worked early in his career as a social worker, and he’s running for this bench because it helps with the probate courts’ mental health docket. In his family law, estate planning and probate practice, Horwitz, 68, spent 40 years dealing with the grieving, the divorced and the disabled. The University of Houston Law Center graduate also wants to use the bench as a bully pulpit to help the community.

I’ve got a Q&A from Peacock here and from Galligan, whom the Chron also urged to run again, here. I’ve got one from Horwitz in the queue. These are tough races, with each candidate getting some support along the way.

In the meantime, here are the endorsements in the civil courts.

District Judge, 55th Judicial District: Latosha Lewis Payne

Our nod goes to Latosha Lewis Payne in this coin toss race. Both Payne and her opponent, Paul Simon, have spent 18 years practicing law and each has attained excellence in their respective careers. Both candidates have devoted significant volunteer time to helping indigent people secure needed legal representation. What’s more: Both candidates displayed a clear understanding of the present inefficiencies of this court and suggested thoughtful ways to improve them. Payne was raised in Acres Homes, graduated from the University of Texas Law School and went onto become a partner at a major Houston firm.

District Judge, 113th Judicial District: Rabeea Collier

Voters should cast their ballots for the more seasoned candidate in this primary contest. To put it simply, Rabeea Collier, 35, has the requisite experience to serve on this bench. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Collier has practiced for more than a decade, currently specializing primarily in civil litigation, and has brought a considerable number of jury trials to verdict. She also earns high marks on her ability to communicate courteously and clearly, important skills for an effective civil district court judge.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

The candidates for the Democratic nomination for this seat are among the most affable and personable of any whom we have screened. Both men are qualified, possess the appropriate temperament for the bench and appear to be in the race for reasons of public service. But decide we must, and Scot “dolli” Dollinger stands out for the intangible attributes of focus and advocacy that he exhibited during the screening.

Fred Cook has the advantage of a broader legal background, having tried banking, bankruptcy, construction, contract disputes, insurance, oil and gas, real estate and trust cases, while Dollinger’s practice revolves around personal injury suits in which he has represented both insurance companies and plaintiffs. Although Dollinger’s legal experience is narrower in content, he’s gained the distinction of being board certified in his field.

District Judge, 234th Judicial District: Lauren Reeder

Lauren Reeder, 33, earns our support for her crisp communication style, her impressive academic background and her passion for the job. This Harvard Law School graduate has experience in both civil and criminal matters; she started at a big law firm working on complex civil litigation and is now at the district attorney’s office trying felony cases.

District Judge, 269th Judicial District: Cory Sepolio

How can civil district judges use their position to ensure that everyone, wealthy or poor, receives true justice in their courts? We pose that question to candidates throughout the endorsement process, and Cory Sepolio’s precise answer reveals an admirable jurist in the making.

“The biggest thing to fix the playing field is jury service,” Sepolio said during a meeting with the editorial board. “One of the problems I see all the time is that folks that are flying down here with all the money and defending themselves, they have more representation in the jury box than the mom and pops. We need to get with the clerk’s office and we need to expand the pool of possible jurors.”

District Judge, 281st Judicial District: George Arnold

George Arnold has 26 years of experience in civil litigation, primarily insurance defense. He also appears to have the even temperament exhibited by the best judges. But the Baylor Law School graduate earned our support for his crisp communication style and his thoughtful specificity about ways to improve the existing system. Arnold, who will be 51 on the March 6 primary voting day, promised, if elected, to act on unopposed motions within three business days, to schedule hearings within 14 days of request through the use of contingency settings and to find an online scheduling system that can be implemented.

Whew! Here are all the associated Q&As:

Paul Simon
Scot Dollinger
Shampa Mukerji (269th)

Like I said, there are some tough choices, and there are some where there appears to be a consensus. I’ll definitely be leaning on the endorsements this year.

Interview with Danyahel Norris

Danyahel Norris

The Board of Trustees of the Harris County Department of Education is comprised of seven members, three At Large and one for each County Commissioner precinct. Republicans have generally held a majority of the positions on the Board, with the exception of the period between the 2012 and 2014 elections, as Democrats had won the At Large seats in 2008 and 2012, but then lost two of them back in 2014. The one position that is basically a lock to be Democratic – as long as Democrats run a candidate, which for bizarre reasons didn’t happen in 2006 – is Position 6, Precinct 1, where incumbent Trustee Erica Lee Carter is stepping down after one term. Three candidates are vying to succeed her. Danyahel Norris came to Houston to attend UH, where he got a degree in chemical engineering. After teaching math for a few years, he got a law degree from the Thurgood Marshall school at TSU and practiced in the US Patent and Trademark Office before becoming the Associate Director of the Law Library at TSU. Here’s my interview with him:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Interview with Elvonte Patton

Elvonte Patton

Did you know that the Harris County Department of Education serves as the central operations site of the Texas Virtual School NetworkElvonte Patton is a full-time student working on his Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; he has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Texas Southern University. He started his education at a Head Start program, much like the one the HCDE provides, as a child in Oklahoma. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Kris Ougrah

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Kris Ougrah

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

My name is Kris Ougrah and I am running for County Criminal Court at Law No. 15. I have 13 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney and know criminal law well. I am a first generation American. My father came to the US from Trinidad with a 3rd grade education and worked hard to make ends meet. I am the first in my family to attend college, attain a graduate degree, and become a professional. My wife is Mexican American and I am fortunate to have 3 young Latino children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

County Criminal Court #15 is a misdemeanor court. Misdemeanors seen in this court are typically non-violent, “gateway crimes” and punishable up to one year, such as DWI, theft, possession of marijuana, and criminal trespass etc.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I was inspired to become a judge because of the discrimination I have observed in the courtroom. As a judge, my intention is to treat everyone fairly and with respect, regardless of race, religion, gender, political party, or any other identifying factor. I want to be in a misdemeanor court because I feel we can make an impact on young adults’ lives. These misdemeanors are often “gateway crimes” and through the court there is an opportunity for individuals to learn from their mistakes and avoid recidivism. I chose to run for Court 15 because it’s an open seat; the incumbent republican judge is retiring after 20+ years of service. It’s time for change.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I truly believe I am the more qualified Democratic candidate that can beat the Republican candidate in November. I have 13 years of experience in criminal law defense and have represented over 3,000 people, mostly in Harris County. I know the criminal law field well and my experience and knowledge will help me make informed, just decisions. During my 13 year career, I have been a voice for those that are accused of crimes and fought to make sure they are treated equally, that they return home to their mothers, fathers, spouses, kids, get back to work, and continue their educational goals by fighting accusations that the State of Texas has brought on them.

5. Why is this race important?

The judicial race for Harris County Criminal Court is important because judges have the opportunity to reform the criminal justice system. Judges at the misdemeanor level can help lower the mass

incarceration numbers in our country. Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, created 2nd chance programs for first time offenders of non-violent crimes. These programs can be great options for those who qualify, but the programs themselves mean nothing if judges do not use them as a form of punishment. I will make sure individuals that qualify are aware of these programs and not just plea out to a conviction. Along the same lines, Judge Rosenthal recently gave a federal ruling on Harris County Pre-Trial Bail Reform, which calls for almost all individuals charged with misdemeanors to be released on personal bond within 24 hours after their arrest if they could not afford bail, and if they are not subject to other holds. This would lower the number of people sitting in jail before they have even had their day in court, and it is up to the county criminal court judges to enforce it.

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

I truly believe I am the more qualified Democratic candidate that can beat the Republican candidate in November. I know the criminal law field well and my experience and knowledge will help me make informed, just, impartial decisions. I will uphold the law and make sure everyone is treated fairly.

Interview with Richard Cantu

Richard Cantu

It’s Day Two of HCDE Week here. Did you know that the Harris County Department of Education provides Head Start and Early Head Start services to 1,200 children in Harris County? There’s a big need for programs like that, especially in a county like Harris. Richard Cantu is a public service veteran, having served such roles as the Director of the Mayor’s Citizens’ Assistance Office and as the Deputy Executive Director of the East Aldine Management District. A native Houstonian and graduate of HCC and UH, Richard was a candidate for the HISD Board of Trustees in 2005, and serves on numerous boards. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Cheryl Elliott Thornton

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

I am Cheryl Elliott Thornton, candidate for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2. I am a native Houstonian who was born, raised and still continue to reside in Precinct 7, the precinct in which I am running to serve. I attended Lamar High School in Houston, Texas and received my BA from Trinity University and my MA from St. Mary’s University both in San Antonio, Texas. I then came home and received my JD from Thurgood Marshall School of Law.I am married for 19 years to Peter Thornton, professor at Texas Southern University.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace Court is the people’s court. It handles matters that affect a person’s every day life, such as evictions, tows, small claims, traffic tickets animal cruelty, right of possession and occupational license and truancy.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7 Pl 2 because it is the court closest to “the People” in terms of access. I am running for this particular bench because I believe the people of Precinct 7 deserve a JP who can offer them the same level of service and quality of character and professional qualifications as those in the other precincts. We should no longer feel that all we deserve are the second chancers or those in need of a job or those who feel entitled. We, the constituents of Precinct 7, deserve the most qualified candidate for the job. I am the most qualified candidate, as my qualifications as articulated throughout this questionnaire, will attest.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for over 32 years. Currently I serve as Assistant County Attorney for Harris County. I have served as an administrative law judge for two State of Texas agencies. Further, I have the administrative capabilities necessary to run a court as evidenced by my experience as General Counsel for a university and as as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas. I also have State of Texas certification as a Mediator and Ad Litem and have received legal training at Harvard University through the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

Further, in my community I have served as Precinct Chair, Senate District 13 General Counsel, Executive Board of West MacGregor Homeowner’s Association and General Counsel for the World Youth Foundation. I also serve as Co-Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee and serve on its Judicial Polls Committee. And to name just a few more of my community involvement activities which demonstrate my belief in public service, I am a member of the Texas District and County Attorney Association, Houston Lawyer’s Association, Harris County Democratic Lawyers and Women Professionals in Government. I have also successfully fundraised for United Negro College Fund, The University Museum at Texas Southern University, The Museum of Fine Arts Advisory Association, and the Houston Ebony Opera Guild.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because now the community is at a crossroads. I ran for Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Place 1 in 2016 and am proud to say that out of a race of 8, I was in the runoff with the incumbent. The community at that time defined itself by re-electing the incumbent who has since been suspended from the bench pending removal That has left the community with a sitting JP who is not from the community and of whom the community does not know nor has chosen. In JP Precinct 7, Place 2, we have a JP who is retiring. Now the question becomes what caliber of person do we now choose. Do we choose someone with unyielding experience, who has proven herself to be the right person for the job , Cheryl Elliott Thornton, or choose someone based upon who they know. It is time for this community to hold its head up high and choose the best. That choice for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2 is CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON.

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

The people should vote for me because I not only have the needed legal skills as shown above, but I also have the most practical experience as evidenced by my involvement in community affairs. Unfortunately, the judicial system is overwhelmed with judges who have limited community involvement and limited broad based experience. These types of limitations, are why the courts are perceived as unapproachable and biased toward most of the people it serves. All of my experience is what is necessary to be able to fairly adjudicate the issues and people brought before the people’s court. The people need something more than just a jurist—they need a person involved in their community, a diversified practitioner of the law, and a person experienced with all the types of constituents that come before her (most times representing themselves) in order to properly and equitably serve the people who come before the people’s court. The voters should vote for me, a person with over 32 years of legal and community experience, who has the judicial temperament to be the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2. The voters need the best choice for that position-CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON.

More on Tahir Javed

Raising a lot of money is certainly one way to get noticed in a crowded election field.

Tahir Javed

Twenty-six years ago, a Houston political fixture named Sylvia Garcia ran for Congress. She came up short, placing third in the Democratic primary and missed her shot at the runoff.

Now a state senator, Garcia is running for Congress again and, until recently, some in Houston were predicting she would effectively swamp the other six Democrats in the race, winning the party’s nomination in a clear shot on the March 6 primary and avoiding a runoff.

The wildcard appears to be Tahir Javed, an outspoken healthcare executive who told the Tribune that he will “spend whatever it takes” to win the seat U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, is giving up after 25 years.

“I have invested in people all my life, and I want to do it one more time,” said Javed, CEO of Riceland Healthcare.

In the face of Javed’s promises to spend heavily on direct mail, television and radio advertising, some local Houston political insiders are beginning to wonder if Garcia’s path will be far tougher than anyone anticipated even just a few weeks ago.

She remains confident that the race will end on March 6.

“We take nothing for granted,” Garcia said in an interview. “We keep working like everyone of our opponents are not first-time candidates, but seasoned candidates. We’re ready. We’re confident we are going to win, and we are going to win without a runoff.”

[…]

The historical stakes are high for Garcia’s candidacy: She would be the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress from Texas and the first Hispanic altogether to represent the Houston area of Congress.

But Javed could make history as well. Texas has yet to elect an Asian-American to Congress.

He has national Democratic ties as a donor and fundraiser for party causes and candidates.

He outpaced Garcia in fourth quarter fundraising in individual contributions. She raised $201,000 to his $248,000. But he also loaned his campaign an additional $400,000, while she donated and loaned to her own campaign about $53,000.

The end result is that Javed ended the quarter with $553,000 in cash on hand, compared to Garcia’s $210,000 haul.

[…]

Javed touted that his lowest-paid employees make well above the minimum wage.

“I’m running because this is exactly what I’ve done…I’m a health care professional who has done [a] whole bunch of times bringing the health care to the underserved areas, and I have done it very well with top-notch health care there,” Javed said.

He was quick to rattle off unflattering statistics about the district. Intended or not, his negative assessments – specifically on health care – are implicit criticisms of Green, who is one of the most powerful House Democrats as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Javed also repeatedly ripped the pollution and cancer rates in the district – an attack used against Green in his own primary two years ago.

“Pasadena? They call it Stinkadena,” Javed said, of the need to clean up the refinery-heavy region.

When asked if Green was responsible for the problems in the district, Javed said: “I don’t want to point fingers, honestly speaking, on anyone, but my question to all of the elected officials [is]: How do you justify it?”

He then cited statistics of the district’s poverty and high-school drop out rates.

“It’s either his fault or somebody else before him or some state senators or state reps or school districts.”

See here for some background. Tahir’s Q4 finance report is here, and Garcia’s is here. For some reason I can’t see individual contributors in Javed’s report, so I can’t say how many of his contributions are local. I can say that Garcia also has $204K in her state campaign fund, so the gap between them is less than the story reports. I think this is one of those times where having a lot of money won’t mean much. I’ve seen Javed’s TV ad, and let’s just say he’s not the most compelling speaker I’ve ever heard. I’m also hard pressed to think of a context in which saying “Stinkadena” will be taken positively by the voters, even if it is wrapped in a legitimate criticism of the outgoing Congressman and the status quo as a whole, of which Garcia is a part. The subtlety will be lost, is what I’m saying.

On a side note, I’m tired of stories that mention that a particular candidate in this cycle could be the first person of a category to be elected to something from Texas without acknowledging that said person is not the only candidate who qualifies for that category. Sylvia Garcia could be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas, but so could Veronica Escobar or Lillian Salerno or Judy Canales. Fran Watson could be the first LGBT person elected to the State Senate, but so could Mark Phariss. Tahir Javed could be the first Asian-American elected to Congress from Texas, but so could Gina Ortiz Jones or Sri Kulkarni or Chetan Panda or Silky Malik or Ali Khorasani. You get the idea. Just recognize that there’s more than one way this could happen, that’s all that I ask.

Interview with Josh Wallenstein

Josh Wallenstein

This week’s interviews are all about the Harris County Department of Education, a body that serves as a co-operative and clearinghouse for the thirty-plus school districts in Harris County, providing programs and purchasing power to make their budgets go farther. Among the services the HCDE provides is adult education, including workforce training, GED classes, and English as a second language. The HCDE Board of Trustees consists of seven members, three At Large and one each for the four Commissioners’ precincts. There are two open seats this year, in At Large #3 and Position 6, Precinct 1, as trustees Diane Trautman and Erica Lee Carter are stepping down. There are three Democratic candidates seeking to succeed each of them. Josh Wallenstein was the first candidate to emerge as a contender for the Trautman seat. An attorney who recently opened his own firm, he has also served as a Chief Compliance Officer at a major corporation. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Paul Simon

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Paul Simon

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

I’m Paul Simon, your returning Democratic candidate, and I am asking for your vote to be the next Judge of the 55th Civil District Court in Harris County. I grew up in Northwest Houston, worked my through college at the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law, and have been a practicing attorney for 18 years. I am a member of several merit-based legal organizations, like the Texas Bar Foundation, which only admits the Top 1/3% of the Top 1% of Texas Lawyers, as well as scholarly organization like Phi Delta Phi (legal honor society) and the Order of the Lytae (academic achievement). I currently live in the Heights, where I have lived for many years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Like all civil district courts, the 55th Civil District Court hears virtually every kind of lawsuit you can think of, from personal injury cases, contract and business disputes, consumer cases/DTPA, land disputes, property tax cases and virtually every kind of civil case you can think of. It’s almost easier to say what kinds of cases a civil district court does not hear than to list every kind of case they do. They do not hear family cases, criminal cases, juvenile cases or probate cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I have an unparalleled dedication and passion for the law. Folks who know me know that dedication and passion is deeply-held. They know that I will listen to both sides, and I won’t play favorites. I am hard working and think it’s time for a change.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Over my 18-year career, I have successfully represented plaintiffs and defendants in virtually every kind of case that this court will hear, including one case which was originally filed when I was a Junior at Cypress Creek High School. Some of my clients are “household names,” or multinational companies, and some of their cases had multiple millions of dollars at stake (one even had one billion at stake), but most of my clients were folks just like you. I have helped many people fight injustice.

5. Why is this race important?

Have you ever been sued or thought you might be? Have you ever been forced to file a lawsuit or thought about filing one? Have you ever been called to jury duty or served as a juror? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should care about the people who want to serve as your judges. I cannot promise that I will rule in your favor, but if I am elected, here’s what I do promise:

  • I will give the parties a fair shake at justice.
  • I will work hard and be prepared every day I’m serving you and the people of Harris County.
  • I won’t waste the time of the jurors, the parties, or the attorneys.

In short, I promise to work hard every day so that cases are resolved quickly, and more importantly, fairly, and I promise not to be beholden to special interest lobbying groups.

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

People should vote for me because I have the relevant trial experience, commonsense life experiences, and judgment. That is why I am endorsed by the Honorable Dion Ramos, the last Democrat to serve as Judge of the 55th District Court, and the former Chief of the Houston Police Department, C.O. Bradford.

I would be honored to have your vote, and I promise that you won’t regret that vote.

You can still vote if you have been displaced by Harvey

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ann Harris Bennett

Nikki Thomason, one of hundreds of people displaced when her Thornwood neighborhood filled with water, never thought her right to vote could be swept away too.

“Angry, angry, you know it’s kind of funny the people who are angriest with the government right now, are the people whose votes have been suspended,” she said.

Thomason and other displaced flood victims checking their voter registration online were shocked to see messages their registrations were in suspense. Many were not sure if they would be able to vote in the highly anticipated March primaries.

“What went through my mind is, why am I am suspended and why has nobody told me, surely thousands of people are in the same position,” said Kimberly Truitt-Turner, another flood victim from the west side.

Turns out, state law requires each county’s tax assessor-collector to send a voter registration cards to each voter every two years. If the post office can’t deliver the card for whatever reason and they are returned, the registration is automatically suspended.

[…]

The Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office says suspended voters can still vote, they just have to fill out a form at their polling location.

“You are still eligible to vote in the March primary, you just have to fill out the statement of residency form when you go and vote,” said Mike Lykes with the Assessor-Collector’s office.

Per state law, suspended voters can not update their addresses online. They either have to mail in a change of address or fill out a form when they go vote. Therefore, elections experts are urging worried flood victims to vote early so any confusion can be sorted out. But for those struggling to recover, this is one more hurdle they didn’t expect.

It’s not really a hurdle, in the sense that if you show up to vote you will be able to vote. You will just need to fill out the change of address form. It would be advisable to vote early, because you can vote anywhere and because having a few days before the election to ensure any problems are smoothed out is a good idea, but you could go to your original precinct location on March 6 if you want to. Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but all you really need to know is that you can still vote. Just show up as usual and the rest will be taken care of.

Now if you’re thinking “But why can’t I just update my voter information online?”, well, by all means you should be able to do that. The Lege needs to pass a law to make that happen first, and you know who’s been against such a law in the past? The Republicans, of course. Previous Tax Assessors have testified against online registration bills at the Lege. That obstacle has been cleared, but there’s still the whole Republican-majority-in-the-Legislature thing to deal with. You know what might help? A few thousand displaced-by-Harvey voters making a lot of noise about this, both in the 2018 election and the 2019 session. Channel that anger into something productive, and see what happens.

The next frontier in criminal justice reform

We need to lock up fewer kids for bad reasons.

Hundreds of juveniles are jailed in Harris County often for weeks at a time for infractions as minor as failing drugs tests, violating curfews, running away or failing to attend school classes or rehabilitative programs, according to county records.

The records show a “pattern and practice” of detaining juveniles for technical violations that should instead be handled through the probation system, according to attorneys and juvenile justice advocates.

“You’re not complying with the terms of probation, but you’re not actually a risk to public safety,” said Elizabeth Henneke, an attorney with the Lone Star Justice Alliance, which advocates against incarcerating juvenile offenders.

“You never want to have a technical violation, especially for a kid, result in detention, because we know the negative effects,” she said. “Even a short amount of time can be problematic for kids, but long, protracted, weeks out of school, weeks out of your home environment – that can have really big consequences for them.”

Of the 1,055 juveniles cited for a probation violation in 2016, nearly 73 percent were detained, a proportion Henneke said is alarming, particularly in a county where the 250-capacity juvenile justice center has faced recurrent overcrowding problems for several years.

It is the largest percentage of juveniles ordered detained on probation violations since at least 2003, when 69 percent of 1,502 juveniles were detained, according to data from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department.

The most recent 2017 data, which goes through Oct. 15, shows that 73 percent of juveniles continued to be jailed for probation violations – an average of 55 kids each day.

The average length of time spent behind bars on the violations ranged from nine days for leaving the county without permission to 30 days for violating special probationary terms, which can include specific judge-ordered requirements such as routine drug assessments or compliance with taking medication.

The Trib then went and wrote an even longer story on the same topic.

“Harris County is bucking the trend,” said Michele Deitch, an attorney and senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Texas juvenile justice policy. “All around the country, and certainly all around the state, the numbers are down in detention.

“The need for the beds just isn’t there anymore,” Deitch said. “So the idea that this one county is experiencing an increase … that should raise a lot of questions.”

The overcrowding affects kids and families far beyond the Houston area: It is one reason lawmakers decided not to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 last year. Seventeen-year-olds accused of crimes in Texas are usually sent to an adult county jail; the “raise the age” bill would have made them part of the juvenile justice system instead.

Harris County’s juvenile probation chief, Tom Brooks, said the detention center’s overcrowding is mostly due to “a high number of egregious offenders” — kids accused of crimes like armed robbery and assault — who often stay in detention longer.

Brooks added that the county has worked hard to stop unnecessarily locking up kids. Last year, nearly 2,000 fewer kids were booked into detention compared to 2010, according to county data. The ones that are left “actually are here for a legitimate reason, and their due process takes longer,” Brooks said.

But data obtained by The Texas Tribune — along with interviews with experts, parents and advocates — suggest there’s more to the story. Local officials might blame the overcrowding on bad kids, but experts say it’s more about a bad system in Harris County, where local officials plan to build a new juvenile detention center at an estimated cost of $65-70 million.

The data from Harris County’s juvenile probation department shows:

  • The average number of kids held in the detention center charged with minor offenses such as trespass, theft and violating probation — things that some experts say shouldn’t land kids behind bars at all — increased by 64 percent from 2010 to 2017. Meanwhile, the average number held for violent crimes like armed robbery and rape, called “felonies against persons,” increased by about 46 percent.
  • Minor offenders were locked up in the detention center for an average of nearly three weeks in 2017, twice as long as in 2010.
  • From 2010 to 2017, the average number of African-American youth held in the juvenile detention center more than doubled, and the number detained despite being labeled “low risk” has increased by 75 percent.

Experts say this is an unusual trend when it comes to juvenile justice. It’s becoming widely accepted that imprisoning kids — and even adults — for low-level crimes is probably doing more harm than good. Taking someone away from their home and school for a minor offense like shoplifting, and placing them alongside those accused of far more serious crimes, is bad for the child and for society, they say.

“Anytime you disrupt the kids’ routine, you take them out of the home, away from whatever stable influences they have … It’s not a good situation,” Deitch said. She added that the Harris County data suggests “there’s something very punitive going on.”

Michael Schneider, one of the judges who handles juvenile delinquency cases in Harris County, expressed concern after seeing the data. “Why is the increase in detention greater than the increase in violent crime?” he asked.

Paul Holland, an associate law professor at Seattle University who studies national juvenile justice policy, called what’s happening in Harris County “alarming.” He said the trend in detention there can’t just be blamed on an increase in violent crime; local decisions are probably having an impact, too.

“It really does seem like it’s a system thing and not a kid thing,” Holland said.

There’s a whole lot more, go read it. So just to review:

1) These kids were on probation, meaning they had committed lesser offenses to begin with.
2) They were put in jail for breaking a rule, not a law. Kids do break rules sometimes. It’s what kids do.
3) Putting kids in jail leads to all kinds of bad effects, from missed school to exposing them to real criminals to endangering their safety.
4) It costs money to detain and guard these kids, and detaining them does nothing to further the rehabilitative efforts that probation was supposed to foster.
5) Anyone want to bet that the kids who do get detained for probation violations will turn out to be disproportionately black and Latino?

Let’s do less of this, okay? And if you’re looking for a political solution, remember the names of Juvenile Court Judges Glenn Devlin and John Phillips, both Republicans and both on the ballot this year. Different judges will be our best shot at getting different results.

Endorsement watch: Family courts

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

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

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

Family District Judge, 280th Judicial District: Beth Barron

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

Family District Judge, 309th Judicial District: Kathy Vossler

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Harold Landreneau

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Harold Landreneau

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

My name is Harold J. Landreneau and I am a Democratic Defense Attorney running for Harris County Criminal Court At Law #2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court deals with Class A & B Misdemeanors: misdemeanor drug possession,assault, prostitution, driving while intoxicated cases and Appeals of Class C cases from Municipal and Justice Court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The current incumbent judge is known for siding with the prosecution and having a backlog in court, but most importantly he is known for not being fair and impartial. I will start Court early each day, follow the law and be fair and impartial in Court. I will treat people with dignity and respect and I will not act as another Prosecutor on the bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been licensed to practice Law in the State of Texas for 12 years and I have practiced Criminal Law for 10 years. I earned my B.A. in Political Science from the University of Houston and my J.D. Law Degree from South Texas College of Law Houston. I regularly practice Law in the Harris County Criminal Courts. I have tried more than 400 criminal jury trials and have been elected twice to the Harris County Bail Bond Board by the defense attorneys of Harris County to represent their bonding interests. Before becoming an attorney I served as a Harris County JP Clerk for over 14 years. For 8 of those years I served as the Chief Clerk of one of the largest JP Courts in the State of Texas, supervising 26 staff, submitting and maintaining an annual budget of $1.5 million, supervising the collection of $3.4 million a year in County funds and the filing of 60k+ cases a year; I have the experience necessary to hit the ground running in this Court on day one.

5. Why is this race important?

If you are arrested on a misdemeanor charge, you are more likely to appear before a County Criminal Court Judge than any other. You want a Judge on the bench who can be fair and impartial and follow the law. Their decisions will determine if you go to jail, go free and/or if you qualify to receive free legal help. The Judge will also decide if you lack the financial resources to bond out of jail and if you are able to obtain a PR bond to be released.

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

I will work hard for the people of Harris County each day, return Justice and fairness back to County Criminal Court at Law #2. I will follow the law, eliminate the backlog, allow diversion programs in my Court and work with everyone to settle some of these cases We will go to trial on the rest of them if necessary.

Interview with Penny Shaw

Penny Shaw

I have one more interview for County Commissioner in Precinct 4, where Jack Cagle has been the incumbent since being appointed to replace the scandal-riddled Jerry Eversole. This is the most Republican of the four Commissioner precincts, but as noted this is a cycle about competing everywhere, for if nothing else making gains in the county overall means making gains in each quadrant. Penny Shaw is a longtime attorney and activist who has worked alongside anti-human trafficking organizations to help implement strategies to fight that problem. A mother of four, she has also been a Congressional legislative advocate. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Voter registration deadline is Monday

Check your registration status.

Houston-area voters are registering to vote in record numbers just in time for the March 6 primaries, and the two major political parties are bracing for yet another wave of newcomers over the next few days.

With Monday’s voter registration deadline fast approaching, both major political parties say they are seeing a definite uptick in interest from people wanting to be ready for the nation’s first in the nation political primaries.

“​We are seeing a spike in activity,” said Vlad Davidiuk, communications director for the Harris County Republican Party.

Harris County Democrats say they too are seeing a lot more interest than usual during a midterm election cycle for both the primary races on March 6 and the general election in November.

Already Harris County has nearly 2.3 million registered voters. Four years ago in 2014, the last time Texas had a midterm election cycle with the governor’s race being the top draw, Harris County had less than 2.1 million registered voters.

That last paragraph misstates the comparison. The “less than 2.1 million” figure – actually 2,044,361 – was for the November election. The truly comparable total is from the March primary, and that was 1,992,969. We’re more than 300,000 voters up on that amount. That in and of itself doesn’t mean anything, but I think it’s safe to say that turnout this March will be higher than that March, when 139K Republicans showed up for a bunch of contested statewide races and a paltry 53K Dems did the same for not much of excitement. I feel reasonably comfortable saying Dems will exceed that total. Beyond that, we’ll see.

You can check your status at the Harris County Tax Assessor, but it’s really only an issue if you’ve moved recently. The rest of you should have received your new voter registration card in the mail. I would definitely check if you haven’t received that.

Also, too, a reason to lean on your DVR over the next month:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may act like he’s not worried by his Republican primary challenger, but he is spending more than $1 million on TV ads in the Houston area between now and the March 6 election.

Some 975 ads are booked to run during the Olympics, morning shows, afternoon programming, and prime-time evening news hours, according to television station public inspection records filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Spread among NBC affiliate KPRC-Channel 2, ABC affiliate KTRK-Channel 13, FOX affiliate KIRV-Channel 26 and KHOU-Channel 11, Patrick’s campaign is spending $1,049,640 on the TV ad spots that were scheduled to begin running this week through the election.

In technical terms, that is a metric crap-ton of advertising. You have been warned.

Interview with Jeff Stauber

Jeff Stauber

From the not-so-powerful office of County Treasurer we move on to County Commissioner, easily the most powerful county office anywhere in Texas. Commissioners get a lot of control over their budgets, and at least in Harris County tend to operate without too much pesky oversight from the public. All counties have four Commissioners, and despite Harris County’s Democratic trend, it has been a three-Republican, one-Democrat mix since 2010. There’s a lot of hope to change that this year, and while it is in Precinct 2 that the best odds of a flip lie, the post-2016 cycle has been all about competing everywhere and picking up wins in unexpected places. Jeff Stauber is one of two candidates who are aiming for that in Precinct 4. A resident of Kingwood and 32-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, Stauber serves as a commander in the HCSO, and ran for the Democratic nomination for Sheriff in 2016. You can listen to that interview here, and you can listen to this interview now:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Shampa Mukerji

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Shampa Mukerji

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

My name is Shampa Mukerji and I am running for the 269th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Some of the different case types heard in civil courts include malpractice, damages, breach of contract, personal injury, and multi-district litigation. My duty would be to preside over all civil litigation matters assigned to my court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have always been a true believer that the Constitutions of the United States and Texas create an equal playing field for all individuals and entities. I believe the next step in my journey is to make a difference in my community in the most effective way I am able and bring a unique perspective to the local judiciary. The Harris County Democratic Party slated me for this specific seat and I believe I am the strongest Democratic candidate to challenge the incumbent judge in November 2018.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a civil litigation attorney. I attended Northwestern University for college and University of Houston Law Center for my law degree. I have been practicing law in the Houston area for almost twelve years. I believe in the Seventh Amendment, the right to a trial by jury, and access to the courts for all. I believe my intelligence, integrity, and impartiality will allow me to succeed as Judge of a Civil District Court. As the daughter of immigrants, I have witnessed firsthand the struggles my parents faced moving to the United States and I am grateful for their perseverance. They overcame many obstacles in order to provide their children with tremendous opportunities, including my education at a renowned high school, a top-10 national university, and a top-tier law school where I was an editor for a law journal. As a jurist, my education, experience, and work ethic, as well as my ability to consider all points of view, will allow me to ensure that all litigants have their day in court.

5. Why is this race important?

Every judicial race is significant as the impact of the courts can affect the lives of every citizen. The courts are our last line of defense and it is paramount to have a judge with excellent education, experience, and dedication, but it is also necessary to have someone on the bench who will consider the perspective of every person who enters the courtroom and ensure all are welcome at the courthouse and part of our civil justice system.

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

I will ensure equal access to the court for all. I will run the docket as efficiently as possible, while also moving it as quickly as is reasonable. Finally, I will treat everyone who enters my courtroom with dignity and respect and be impartial to all parties.

I have been a practicing attorney for almost twelve years, and most of that time I have practiced civil litigation representing individuals and families in their lawsuits. As a contingent-fee attorney, I have represented thousands of individuals who never had to pay for legal services until I was able to first recover financial restitution for the wrongs committed against them. I have practiced in the areas of real estate law, employment law, contracts law, wills and trusts, probate law, family law, insurance, and personal injury. I have handled complex civil litigation cases and multimillion-dollar cases. I have handled a docket of a thousand cases and managed different levels and sizes of staff throughout my career. I will make sure to equal the playing field for all parties who appear in my court. As stated previously, I believe the right to a trial by jury is of fundamental importance and I will do everything in my authority to ensure that all parties have their day in court. The depth and breadth of my legal experience, the diversity of my practice areas, and my experience managing dockets and staff make me the best candidate for Judge of the 269th Civil District Court.