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Jim Peacock

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.

Judicial Q&A: Jim Peacock

(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.

Jim Peacock

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

Jim L. Peacock, candidate for Judge, Harris County Probate Court #2

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

A probate judge must supervise the administration of the estates of deceased persons whether created by will or intestacy while considering what is the intent of the testator and in the best interests of the beneficiaries and estates. Additionally, probate courts administer guardianships and are responsible for the appointment and supervision of guardians and ad litems appointed by the court and insuring the proper care and treatment of the wards. A probate court is also a trial court with the same jurisdictional limits as a Civil District Court and with the ability to have a 12 member jury rather than just 6 members. Virtually any subject matter that could be tried in a civil court can be heard by a statutory probate court if the issue touches on the matters pertinent to the deceased, the estate or the probate.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Although the prior Judge of this Court was a decent jurist, this is now an open bench. Some of the probate courts have been the subject of ridicule and there has been the appearance of corruption and impropriety. The appointment, supervision and payment of guardians and ad litems creates an environment where true integrity and objectivity must be unquestionable. The payment to the lawyers that frequently perform those duties must be fair to the persons doing the work while always focusing on the requirement that the assets of the wards must be protected and preserved for the benefit of the wards. That means that the court cannot appear to favor any lawyer or group of lawyers in the appointment to those positions and the amount of payments and distributions must always put the wards’ interests first. I am not part of any probate clique and can make certain that the priorities are followed and that all participants are treated fairly and honestly. Also, the probate courts are trial courts; unfortunately, many times the judges in those courts are not necessarily good trial lawyers. Therefore, it has been difficult for parties that need a trial to get one in the probate courts. I can remedy that problem since I believe in the jury system and have the extensive trial experience to give the litigants a truly fair trial. We need greater diversity of opinion on the courts in Texas. Some courts have been dominated for several years by Republicans of a mindset that some perceive as not completely unbiased. Diversity of opinion can be derived from having different backgrounds and life experiences. The extent of my exposure to more diverse legal experience has enabled me to have a more open and objective approach to matters that will come before the court. I am not beholden to any group or limited by a closed political philosophy. My professional and life’s experiences make me well suited to be a probate Judge.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Over 36 years of litigation experience representing thousands of clients. I have tried approximately 200 trials and numerous appeals. I have drafted wills and trust agreements and advised guardians, executors and beneficiaries of estates. I have represented Executors, Guardians, Beneficiaries, the Government, Individual Plaintiffs and Defendants, Partnerships, and Corporations in complex civil litigation. Some of the issues tried include: civil rights violations, disability discrimination, racial discrimination, slander, libel, legal malpractice, invasion of privacy, fraud, usury, breach of contract, car wrecks, medical malpractice, sexual harassment, guarantor breach, premises liability, and more. The diversity of my experience and the variety of judges I have appeared before has given me a clear understanding of what it takes to be a good judge. I have become adept at understanding the unique nature of each person and each case. I have experienced injustice and unfairness from courts that were indifferent to the rights of individuals. I have also experienced the pleasure of appearing before well-qualified and compassionate jurists, one of which I aspire to be.

5. Why is this race important?

There are only four statutory probate courts in Harris County. These courts have very broad jurisdiction with diverse responsibilities and extremely heavy dockets. The potential effects of this court extend to parties far beyond the potential beneficiaries of a deceased’s estate. In addition to managing probate estates the court also manages guardianships, which must be carefully supervised to insure the proper care of the wards and preservation of their rights and assets. The third leg of responsibility of a statutory probate court is trial. The court has the same jurisdictional limits as a state district court. As such this court needs a lawyer that has the right temperament to be a judge and the experience to rule properly and fairly. Presently the judges of these courts are all Republicans. The method of appointment and amount of payment to lawyers practicing as ad litems and guardians before the courts has reduced the publics’ belief in the objectivity and fairness of the court. It is crucial that the integrity of the courts be preserved and beyond reproach. We need balance to be returned to the courts in Texas including the probate courts. We also need judges with sufficient diverse experience to expand the capabilities of the courts to their statutorily authorized capabilities. Ensuring an efficiently run court and issuing timely fair rulings is important to obtaining justice and I can bring that result to this court.

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

I am the candidate with the best judicial temperament and broadest experience to qualify me to perform the multifaceted duties of a probate judge. I have more actual jury trial days than almost any candidate running this year for any bench. My trial experience has covered diverse areas of law more than most lawyers ever experience. My experience has been on both the plaintiffs and defense side of civil matters. I have learned by practical, real life, experience the importance of having a judge that is unbiased, fair and knowledgeable. I believe in protecting access to the courts of all persons and I oppose the recent trend to restrict access to the courts for parties who cannot resolve their problems in other ways. I have seen how arrogance from the bench can create a hostile environment in the courtroom and I hope to show a more humble, patient, tolerant, servant oriented, demeanor as a judge. I offer the voter the opportunity to select a candidate that has years of dedicated support and active participation in Democratic Party politics combined with over 36 years of relevant legal experience to qualify me for the position sought.

Judicial Q&A: Jim Peacock

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Jim Peacock

Jim Peacock

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

I am Jim Peacock running for Chief Justice, First Court of Appeals.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil and non-capital criminal cases appealed from lower Courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

We need greater diversity of opinion on the courts of appeals in Texas. The courts have been dominated for several years by people of a particular mindset that I believe is not completely unbiased. Diversity of opinion can be derived from having different backgrounds and life experiences. The extent of my exposure to more diverse legal experience has enabled me to have a more open and objective approach to matters that will come before the court.

As the titular head of the court it is vital to have someone that is not beholden to any one group or limited by a closed political philosophy. I can offer that capability. Although most of the duties of the Chief Justice are the same as any other justice on the court, there are some differences. As the Chief of the court you can set an example for the entire court of openness and objectivity. I believe in leading by example.

Also the Chief Justice has some duties that bring him in contact with other political entities and subdivisions of government wherein the Chief Justice must represent the interests of the court and of the people that come before the court. I believe that my professional and life’s experience makes me well suited to that purpose. I offer an opportunity to bring change to the court without sacrificing ability or integrity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have tried nearly 200 jury trials to verdict covering extremely diverse areas of law. Some of the issues tried include: civil rights violations, disability discrimination, racial discrimination, slander, libel, invasion of privacy, fraud, usury, breach of contract, car wrecks, medical malpractice, sexual harassment, guarantor breach, premises liability, capital murder, murder, sexual assault, DWI, etc. The diversity of my experience and the variety of judges I have appeared before has given me a clear understanding of what it takes to be a good judge. I have represented thousands of individuals in my practice and have become adept at understanding the unique nature of each person and each case. I have experienced injustice and unfairness from courts that were indifferent to the rights of individuals. I have also experienced the pleasure of appearing before well qualified and compassionate jurists, one of which I aspire to be. My practice has placed me before dozens of trial courts in Texas, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, Federal District Courts, Federal Bankruptcy Court, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

In addition to my trial experience I have taught numerous areas of law, to other attorneys, on many occasions. I have taught voir dire, opening and closing statements, direct and cross examination of witnesses, trial as theater, and the nexus between criminal and civil law.

5. Why is this race important?

The First Court of Appeals has nine justices. Presently they are all elected or appointed Republicans. The justices have generally come from large civil defense firms or from experience as criminal prosecutors. Virtually none of the members of the court have experience on the plaintiff’s side of civil ligation or the defense side of criminal litigation. The current Chief Justice has held the position for many years after working for a large civil defense firm and serving initially as an appointed then elected judge and later an appointed and then elected justice. Over the years the court’s rulings have consistently favored the defense side of civil cases and the state’s side in criminal matters. The frequency and consistency of the rulings favoring those sides is, in my opinion, not indicative of unbiased review of the cases.

When the rulings of the court overwhelmingly favor one side of litigation it can reduce the public’s belief in the objectivity and fairness of the court. It is crucial that the integrity of the courts be preserved and beyond reproach. We need balance to be returned to the courts in Texas and the Courts of Appeals are essential to that goal. The vast majority of opinions that establish the precedents to be followed by the courts of Texas are from the intermediate courts of appeals. Therefore, the jurisprudence of this state is disproportionately affected by those courts. Few cases are actually ruled on by the Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals. Thus, the intermediate appellate courts can have a pronounced effect by the sheer volume of their opinions. Ensuring an efficiently run court and pressing for timely rulings is important to obtaining justice.

The Chief Justice is also involved in lobbying various issues relevant to the conduct of the court and has additional administrative duties that pertain to the operation of the court. This race is to determine who will be the Chief Justice of this extremely important appellate court.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have more practical litigation experience than anyone presently on the court. My trial practice has been diverse and has included extensive experience in both criminal and civil matters. I have served as a criminal prosecutor and defense attorney in hundreds of cases and truly understand both sides. I have also handled hundreds of civil cases and have experienced both sides of that docket as well. No one on the court has the multifarious background that I do. This court has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters and society would benefit from a justice that truly understands what it means to try cases in all areas of law that come before the court.

I also bring the ability to return balance to the court. I am not beholden to any one side or group. I can make rulings that are legitimately unbiased and based only on the evidence and the law. Since I have handled so many different sides of litigation, and represented such diverse groups and people, I can be truly fair and open to all. Because I have over 35 years of trial and appellate experience, I can be productive on the bench immediately and bring a pragmatic perspective that lawyers from a more limited background could not. I represent a change from the status quo by bringing a new and different set of opinions to a court that has been dominated by only one philosophy for far too long.

Endorsement watch: More courts

The Chron has a bunch of judicial race endorsements to make, beginning with the First and 14th Courts of Appeals.

1st Court of Appeals, Chief Justice: Sherry Radack

Both Republican incumbent Sherry Radack and challenger Jim Peacock strongly agree that service on this bench constitutes a great honor. That honor should go to Radack, 65, for another term, although Peacock came as close any challenger has to convincing us that the breadth of his experience as a litigator and the need for more philosophical diversity on the court would justify a switch. But ultimately, it’s hard for us to vote to unseat a sitting justice who is doing a good job, which Radack is.

Justice, 1st Court of Appeals,Place 4: Barbara Gardner

Plato imaged a world run by philosopher-kings, but Republican judge Evelyn Keyes is the closest that Houston gets. Our resident philosopher-judge, Keyes is a member of the prestigious American Law Institute, which helps write the influential model penal code. A graduate of University of Houston Law Center, Keyes also has a doctorate in philosophy from Rice University and a doctorate in English from the University of Texas. She’s penned numerous papers on legal philosophy, exploring the foundational underpinnings of our entire judicial system and arguing about the concept of justice itself.

Now Keyes is running for her third term – a “last hurrah,” she told the editorial board, before she is aged out under state law. If elected, Keyes will be forced to retire after four years of her six-year term and will be replaced by a gubernatorial appointment.

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2: Kevin Jewell

This race for an open seat offers voters two very different candidates who would each bring great strengths in their own ways.

Republican Kevin Jewell, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, is board certified in civil appellate law and heads up the appellate practice at the Chamberlain Hrdlicka law firm. Jewell, 48, has spent his career practicing in appellate courts and his resume is practically tailor-made for this position.

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals,Place 9: Tracy Elizabeth Christopher

Justice Tracy Christopher is one of the “smartest, most reasonable judges” on this court. That’s not us talking – that’s her Democratic opponent, Peter M. Kelly, during a meeting with the editorial board. It is the kind of praise that should encourage voters to keep Christopher, a Republican, on the bench. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Christopher, 60, is board certified in civil trial law and personal injury trial law, and served for 15 years on the 295th Civil District Court before her appointment to this bench in 2009. She’s received stellar bar poll ratings, and we were particularly impressed by her insight as to how the state Legislature has overridden common law in Texas, especially in medical malpractice and other torts.

And for the State Supreme Court.

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 3: Debra Lehrmann

Justice Debra Lehrmann, 59, has spent six years serving on the Texas Supreme Court and before that she was a Tarrant County family court judge for 22 years. In that time she has acquired a reputation as a hardworking and respected jurist with a record of success dating back to her days at University of Texas School of Law.

Her Democratic opponent and former judge of the 214th District Court in Nueces County, Mike Westergren, says that there needs to be more balance on the all-Republican court. Lehrmann agrees but they differ as to the nature of the deficit. Westergren argues for more ideological balance, while Lehrmann maintains the justices need to continue to challenge each other.

Justice Dori Garza

Justice Dori Garza

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5: Dori Contreras Garza

What is Republican incumbent, Justice Paul Green, doing wrong on the Texas Supreme Court? According to his Democratic challenger, Justice Dori Garza, not much.

She told the editorial board that she’s not running against Green personally, but instead to provide greater diversity on the court.

The first in her family to receive a college degree, Garza, 58, attended night school at the University of Houston Law Center and in 2002 was elected to the 13th Court of Appeals, which stretches from Matagorda County south to the U.S.-Mexico border. She’s been re-elected twice and in 2010 was one of three candidates recommended by the Texas congressional delegation to serve as a federal judge in Corpus Christi.

If elected, she’ll bring different personal and ideological perspectives to a court that’s been critiqued as leaning in favor of corporations and state authority at the expense of everyday Texans.

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 9: Eva Guzman

It took 100 pages for the Texas Supreme Court to explain that our state’s school funding system was constitutional, if imperfect. But Justice Eva Guzman’s passionate concurrence should light a fire under Texas politicians who may think that winning at the Texas Supreme Court absolves them of any duty to improve our public schools.

They endorsed challenger Barbara Gardner over incumbent Evelyn Keyes because Judge Keyes will have to resign after four years due to the mandatory retirement age of 75. The main thing about both of these endorsement posts is that they basically like all of the candidates. They have a couple of clear preferences, but no races in which they consider only one candidate qualified. Consider that another piece of evidence to suggest that our oft-maligned system of partisan elections for judges maybe isn’t as bad as its frequently made out to be. My Q&A for Dori Garza is here, and I’ve got Q&As lined up for Jim Peacock and Candance White, so look for them soon.