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judicial races

Hotze and the judges

From family law attorney Greg Enos, who publishes a legal blog/newsletter called The Mongoose (I’ve referenced him here before):

Real Journalists Should Investigate How Republican Judges Are Funneling Money to Hotze’s Hate Group

I am a full-time lawyer and only a part-time journalist. Real news organizations need to look into the facts and questions uncovered in my story in this issue and tomorrow’s issue about how Harris County Republican judges are giving money to a politically powerful and hateful bigot, Steven Hotze, and his partner in anti-LGBT insanity, Jared Woodfill. Judges are paying money to a mysterious company that Woodfill and Hotze apparently partly own even as Woodfill is appearing in front of those same judges as a lawyer and being appointed by those judges to CPS cases where the county pays Woodfill’s fees. Go ask those judges if they are disclosing to the attorneys who oppose Woodfill in their courts that there is a business relationship between the judges’ campaigns and a company Woodfill apparently co-owns.

There have been news stories and blog posts about Hotze’s oversized and malignant influence on local GOP politics. But, no journalist has so far delved deeply into how money flows between Hotze’s various PAC’s, how his influential slate mailer is paid for, or where payments from judges to Hotze actually go. My two part article published today and tomorrow attempts to unravel and explain the tangled financial web of hate involving Hotze, Woodfill and most of the Republican judges in Harris County.

I started this project by trying to find out if the judges were making illegal contributions to Hotze’s political action committees (PAC). I realized during my investigation that some of the judges did not know exactly where their checks to Hotze ended up. But, I did conclude, based on the limited information I was able to uncover, that the judges’ payments were not illegally made to a PAC.

However, what I did learn poses just as serious questions about judicial ethics and the integrity of our judicial system. I am also now really curious about why these judges are paying money to Hotze’s and Woodfill’s company and what exactly they get for those payments if they are not paying for inclusion in Hotze’s slate mailer. I have spent dozens of hours on this investigation, and I still have more questions than answers.

That’s Part 1. Here’s Part 2. Both are long and detailed, far too in depth for me to usefully excerpt, so go read them. Enos is up front about generally supporting Democrats, but has no problem crossing over to support judges he likes, as well as District Clerk Chris Daniel. Enos documented a bunch of bad behavior by Judges Alicia Franklin and Denise Pratt in 2014; see here for those archives. If he’s coming at you, he’s got the receipts. Lord knows, no one deserves to be thoroughly and humiliatingly defeated more than Steven Hotze, and no judge worthy of the name should want to be associated with him. Go read what Enos has to say on the matter.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 2

The Chron lays down a marker on the county criminal courts.

Each election cycle we determine our judicial endorsements by interviewing the candidates, researching their backgrounds, consulting with experts and coming to a conclusion about who best would be able to run a courtroom and see that justice is done. This year, however, one piece of evidence outweighed every other consideration for the Harris County criminal courts at law: Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s 193-page memorandum declaring the bail system in our misdemeanor courts in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection.

[…]

While some of Judge Rosenthal’s remedies have been altered by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the underlying facts remain undisturbed. Those facts are shocking to the conscience, and should be enough to convince our misdemeanor court judges to work with the plaintiffs suing the county over its unconstitutional practices and reach a settlement. That hasn’t happened. Instead, all the judges except two — one Democrat and one Republican — have spent millions in taxpayer funds fighting the case in court.

In meeting with these judges we heard plenty of reasons why they’re continuing to fight. Some said they believe the plaintiffs’ demands go too far. Others said they want to make sure judges don’t lose discretion in individual cases. A few were worried about the effect on public safety of letting people accused of misdemeanors out of jail without a cash bond. Overall they pointed to the courts’ slow but steady progress and work with the Arnold Foundation in crafting a risk-assessment tool to improve the bail system.

These excuses are not enough to justify the perpetuation of a criminal justice system that Rosenthal says has resulted in “thousands of constitutional violations” of both equal protection and due process.

That is why we recommend that every incumbent judge continuing to fight the bail lawsuit be removed from his or her seat.

We do not make this recommendation lightly. There will be unfortunate consequences that weaken our misdemeanor courts in the short term. Harris County will lose experienced judges. Diversion courts will need new leadership if they are to continue. It’s possible that over the next four years we’ll face different sorts of challenges and scandals in pursuit of a new kind of judiciary. Our star ratings may seem off as we endorse challengers against incumbents with higher scores. But this is about something bigger than individual judges. This is about a criminal justice system in dire need of reform.

The public needs to send a message that we will not tolerate the status quo, one that the judges have been content to live with for too long. The only way to chart a path forward is to remove the current judges — root, branch and all.

A-frickin’-men. There was literally no other moral way for the Chron to handle this, and they did not get it wrong. Good for them. Note that this line in the sand still allowed for them to endorse a decent number of Republicans, as there were multiple incumbent judges who did not run for re-election. Of the 15 misdemeanor races, the Chron picked seven Dems and six Republicans, with one dual endorsement and one non-endorsement. (Yes, even though “the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements”. I’ll let it slide this time, but I won’t let it go unmentioned.) You should click over and read the recommendations, but the main thing to know is, don’t vote for anyone who supports the unconstitutional bail system. We have the power to fix this. Let’s not screw that up.

Judicial Q&A: Tanya Garrison

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

Tanya Garrison

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

I am Tanya Garrison and am running for the 157th Judicial District Court. I am a New Mexico native that moved to Houston in 1997. I am a Mom, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, and Friend to some of the most amazing people in the world.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil cases in which one of the parties is seeking monetary relief in an amount of money in excess of $500, some sort of equitable relief, or declaratory relief.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have the experience necessary to be a great civil court judge. I also have the right perspective. believing that all people truly come into the court as equals regardless of race, national origin, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation or identity, education, wealth, or any other life circumstance. I also have the passion for this job as a true believer in the judicial system and the right to a trial by jury.

I believe that being a great judge in the courtroom is only part of the job. With great power comes great responsibility. I believe that anyone given the privilege of serving the community as a district court judge also has a responsibility to give back, and this comes through work with the bar association, pro bono efforts, and the community in general. I know the importance of mentoring and helping others in the profession. This is especially true when it comes to valuing the voices of women and minorities in the courtroom.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing trial law for 18 years. I am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists. In 2011, I was awarded the Woodrow B. Seals Outstanding Young Lawyer Award. I am a Past President of the Houston Young Lawyers Association and on the Board of Directors of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program.

5. Why is this race important?

A citizen's mostly likely contact with an elected official is in the courtroom. If someone is involved in a civil dispute, an accident in which legal action is required, employment discrimination, or a dispute with the taxing authority the presiding judge of a court like the 157th will be one of the most important people in their case. The judge involved in any case sets a tone for the entire proceeding, and people and advocates should know that they are going to get a fair trial. They should be confident that the judge has the necessary experience and the required empathy to fairly adjudicate the dispute and treat everyone with respect.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I can best summarize the reasons to vote for me in three points: (1) passion for the work; (2) experience; and (3) perspective.

    Passion.

  I truly love being a trial lawyer and working in the courtroom.  I respect all parts of the process and believe that when the law is applied equally, the right result is possible.  Being a Judge is my dream. 

    Experience.

  I have practiced civil trial law since I graduated law school in 2000 and have been a part of trial teams with over 20 commercial cases going to a full jury verdict.  I am Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law, and have almost 45 appeals with my name on them. 

    Perspective.

  I am someone who sincerely believes that the greatest part of our government is its people.  The strength of our judiciary comes from the diversity of our people coming together to participate in our jury system.  I am a lifelong Democrat who values all backgrounds and life experiences.  I want to create a courtroom experience that welcomes everyone despite the fact that courtrooms and the controversies that are resolved there are intimidating and difficult.  Everyone is entitled to a fair and impartial trial, and it is my goal to ensure that they get one.

Judicial Q&A: Donna Roth

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

Donna Roth

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

I am Donna Roth. I am running for Judge of the 295th Civil District Court, Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 295th is a civil court of general jurisdiction. It is a district court which handles civil cases with amounts in controversy from $500 to any dollar amount. The court also has equity power to impose injunctions, restraining orders and declaratory judgments (a judgment that declares the rights of the parties). The court hears a wide variety of matters including but not limited to breach of contract, commercial disputes, personal injury, employment disputes, medical and legal malpractice, wrongful death, insurance disputes, corporate disputes, partnership/corporate dissolutions, property disputes, debt collection, bank foreclosures, attorney disbarment, attorney discipline and Harris County property tax collection.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 295th is a civil trial bench. I have spent my professional career in the civil trial courts representing the people of Harris County, Texas. This bench is one where I can utilize my education, experience and life lessons to serve all the people of Harris County in a fair and equitable matter. Justice should be served with integrity, accountability and equality. I am running for the 295th to do just that!

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 1987 cum laude graduate from South Texas College of Law. For 31 years I have practiced civil trial law. I have extensive first chair jury trial experience, have litigated almost every type of case that could come before the court, have extensive trials before the bench and have mentored any number of younger lawyers by sitting second chair and assisting and advising. I represent people and families who have been seriously injured or lost a loved one because someone did something they should not have done or failed to do something they should have done. I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and licensed not only in Texas but in Washington and New York. I have had active practices in all 3 states. As the managing partner of Roth & Associates since 1994 each person that has come to us for help has been treated fairly, equally and respectfully. It will be no different as your next judge of the 295th.

I have the patience and poise to listen to everyone who comes to the court seeking justice. Four years ago my daughter joined our firm as its newest associate. Nothing teaches patience and temperament like working six days a week with your only child. I will serve justice with integrity, accountability and equality. In the 31 years I have been practicing I have never had a judge enter an order referring to me as “unprofessional” or exhibiting “needlessly contentious conduct”. My opponent may not say the same.

5. Why is this race important?

Many, if not most people, will someday be required to come before a judge. Whether it be a civil judge, a family judge, a probate judge, a juvenile judge or a criminal judge, most people will find themselves before a court. If you have been fired and have to sue your employer for wrongful discharge or employment discrimination, or if you have been seriously injured or lost a family member because of another’s negligence, or if you have lost a limb or organ because of a medical facilities’ negligence, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court. If you have a property boundary dispute, a dispute with your homeowners’ association, or a disagreement with Harris County Appraisal District over the value of your property, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court.

Presiding over the determination of fair and adequate compensation for the loss of a loved one because of another’s negligence, whether one’s livelihood has been taken away without just cause, the value of one’s home, a contract or business dispute, or whether an insurance company should be required to reimburse you for the loss of a limb or organ are important matters that make this race and the determination of who the next judge in this court will be an important matter.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Experience:
The 295th Civil District Court is a civil trial bench. Because the role of the judge is to fairly and impartially try cases, trial experience is the most important qualification for voters to choose a candidate. As indicated by my qualifications, I can start working the day I am elected. I am also the candidate in this race that has received the endorsement of the three legal organizations who have screened and endorsed to date. In recognition of my experience and temperament these organizations in endorsing my candidacy have said that I am the candidate qualified to sit as the next Judge of this court. I have also been privileged to be acknowledged by my peers in the Houston Bar Association to be the candidate they believe is more qualified and preferred than my opponent.

I am a single mom. Four years ago my daughter, Andrea Roth, joined our firm as the newest associate. For the last four years I have worked full-time every day with my child. Nothing teaches patience and prepares you for the judicial temperament necessary to be a judge like working full-time with your only child.

Community Focused:
I maintain on my docket at least one pro bono case where I represent a woman in need of either a divorce, child support, child custody or a protective order. I volunteered after Hurricane Harvey and provided legal services at the hurricane victim’s assistance centers throughout the city. I volunteered for the Children’s Assessment Center and assisted participants at a skeet shoot. I serve as a “judge” at South Texas College of Law for the mock trial program. This I have done since I graduated law school in 1987. I also volunteered for nearly 10 years at JFK Elementary through Houston Trial Lawyer’s Foundation and mentored several 4th grade classes. I would spend approximately 2 hours each week with the class simply talking with them and encouraging them to be all that they can be. After months of practicing and rehearsing each year we would travel to the Harris County courthouse where the students would present the “Case of the Missing Cookies” to one of our civil judges. I feel that I have been fortunate in life to have obtained the education that I have received and to practice a profession I could only have dreamed about as a child. I want to share that with as many people as I can who cannot otherwise afford an attorney or someone to help them.

Justice for All:
It is important that we elect Judges who are fair and impartial, who do not have a preconceived notion about who should win before they hear any testimony or evidence. I have a passion for justice that has grown through my years of practice. I believe in the rule of law, I believe that each litigant that comes before the court, whether poor or rich, educated or not, whether represented by counsel or not, deserves a fair and impartial judge. Backed by my belief that justice and fair play are the fundamental values of the United States and Texas Constitutions, I am running for Judge of the 295th Civil District Court. My name is Donna Roth and I would consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as your next judge of the 295th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas and I am, therefore, asking for your vote on November 6, 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Sarah Beth Landau

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

Sarah Beth Landau

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

I am Sarah Beth Landau. I’m a Harris County Public Defender and an adjunct professor of appellate litigation at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. I am running for the First Court of Appeals, Place 6.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Court of Appeals hears all appeals from all cases ranging from civil to criminal, juvenile to probate, and family law, from a 10-county area.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The short answer is that we need balance, fairness, and diversity of experience on the court. I was a federal public defender for 10 years before I came to work for Harris County. I had appellate culture shock when I began representing indigent criminal defendants in state court because there are many errors at trial that go uncorrected by the Court of Appeals. These are the kinds of errors that would be corrected in federal court. I think we can do better.

In looking at why this was happening, I realized that not one justice on the Court of Appeals has significant criminal defense experience. Nearly all of the justices come from the same large-firm civil background. They are all from the same party. They vote all the same way on cases nearly all of the time. The Court and the law would benefit from justices with different backgrounds, particularly since criminal cases make up a large percentage of the court’s business.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law in a variety of settings for the last 20 years after graduating from Columbia University School of Law. I clerked for a federal judge and have done civil and criminal, public and private, state and federal, trials and appeals. Over the course of over 600 appeals, I have represented everyone from multinational corporations to average folks who could not afford to pay for an attorney. I have also taught and mentored law students for six years and enjoy giving back to my community through volunteer work and the arts.

5. Why is this race important?

The majority of the court is up for election this November so it is not just one or two seats at stake — control of the court is up for grabs. The court has been controlled by one party for over 20 years, so it is a key election for that reason as well. Most of the law is made at this level because the highest courts in Texas only accept a tiny fraction of cases for review. Most cases stop at the Court of Appeals level so the decisions of this court affect many people.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

This position is a logical next step on my path of service to our community. I have been a devoted public servant for 12 years. This season, I have been fortunate enough to receive the endorsement of several non-partisan organizations, including the Association of Women Attorneys and the Mexican American Bar Association. I believe we can do better in extending justice to all who come before the court. It is time for a change.

Judicial Q&A: Chuck Silverman

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

Chuck Silverman

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

I am Chuck Silverman and I am the Democratic Party candidate for the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas.

I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and attended Tulane University where I received my undergraduate, master's and law degrees. I have lived in Houston since 1986. I am married and have three children. In my spare time I enjoy cycling and shooting skeet and sporting clays.

For more information please visit www.Chuck4Judge.com.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd District Court handles felony cases. Felonies are the most serious criminal cases and include murder, aggravated robbery, and sexual assault. The sentences in these cases can range from a period of probation to life imprisonment or in some instances, death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am passionate about the law and how it should be applied equally and fairly to all, regardless of race, religion or financial situation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a broad range of legal experience that will serve me well as a district court judge. I have practiced law for over three decades and have represented hundreds of clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts. In addition to my litigation experience, I have represented clients in administrative hearings and alternative dispute resolution forums throughout Texas. For the last 11 years I have been the General Counsel of a multinational corporation. I believe that a judge must be an effective administrator and a fair-minded decision maker. I am confident that I can be both.

5. Why is this race important?

One of the major issues facing the criminal justice system in Harris County is the fact that for too long Harris County has had two systems of justice. One for those who have money and the other for those who don’t. A significant percentage of those incarcerated in the Harris County Jail are awaiting trial. Consequently, I think there is a need to reform the systemic denial of personal recognizance bonds to nonviolent defendants in felony cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

My hard work ethic, calm demeanor, impartiality, courtroom experience and knowledge of the law make me a superior candidate. I have more than 32 years of legal experience and have many published appellate court decisions. Additionally, I have a good judicial temperament, would be fair to lawyers and litigants and have the extensive depth of legal knowledge required of a district court judge.

Judicial Q&A: Sandra Peake

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

Sandra Peake

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

My name is Sandra Peake, and I am the Democratic nominee for the 257th Family District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears cases affecting the family relationship divorce, parent-child relationship, enforcement of and modification of existing orders, division of marital estates, adoptions and name changes.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

It is an open seat as Judge Judy Warne is retiring and not seeking re-election.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a licensed attorney with 30-plus years experience practicing before this kind of court, handling over 1,493 cases in Harris County Family Court, 193 cases in Fort Bend County Court, along with additional cases in Brazoria, Montgomery, and Chambers counties. I believe that for this reason I am experienced, knowledgeable and know how the court dockets are handled and where there is room for improvement. More importantly, I have represented in my practice the average citizen of Harris County, across racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I have a demeanor that will allow me to make decisions so that litigants and their attorneys believe that the playing field is level and without bias.

5. Why is this race important?

This race and all but one of the other family and juvenile courts in Harris County are on the ballot this year. We have not elected a Democrat to the Harris County Family and Juvenile Courts since the “sweep” of 1994. Family practitioners and litigants are tired of the stranglehold the local Republican Party has over the family courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have diverse community support. I am the candidate who sought and obtained endorsements from groups that are representative of the rich diversity of our county. I have obtained the endorsements of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, AFL-CIO, NE Baptist Ministers Association, Run Sister Run PAC, and have attended a political forum at one of the largest mosques in the city. Just as importantly, I have represented in my practice the average citizen of Harris County, across racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I believe that I have a demeanor that will allow me to make decisions so that litigants and their attorneys will have renewed faith that the playing field is level and without bias.

I will be responsive. Many litigants are self-represented, facing additional challenges navigating the Court system, from filing to relief/conclusion. I have given consideration to starting docket at 8:30 AM. Most dockets are called at 9:00, 9:30, and 10:00. This will provide an additional staggered start time. I have also given some consideration to having a telephone conference option for attorneys if both sides agree, which would provide meaningful resolution during times (in afternoon in particular) where some matters have settled and no hearings are scheduled.

I will call docket on time and will restrict docket time to docket matters. I am cognizant of how much time is spent during docket time in some courts on non-docket matters, which needlessly wastes everyone’s time.

Thank you for your consideration.

Endorsement watch: Criminal court judges

There’s a new slate of endorsements from the Chron up, all for Criminal District Court races. More Republicans, mostly incumbents, were endorsed than Dems, but in many cases it was close. Of interest to me was the first appearance of one-star candidates, reflecting the Chron’s new star rating system. One of the one star candidates is a Republican, and one is a Democratic, who was also the focus of a sidebar editorial about the perils of voting a straight ticket.

There are two ways to look at this. One is as that editorial says, that as long as we elect judges via a partisan political process, we ought to take the time to at least know who the standout candidates are and do our best to elect and retain the best of them, regardless of the party label. The other is that the only way to change the Republican Party as it now stands is to give it an epic, all-encompassing beatdown at the polls, and if a cost of that is the loss of a couple of good judges, well, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I’m not going to suggest a path for you – you’re all a bunch of intelligent and discerning individuals – but this is the real choice as I see it.

Judicial Q&A: Beau Miller

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

Beau Miller

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

I’m Beau Miller and I am running for Judge of the 190th (Civil) District Court in Harris County. I’m a trial lawyer in Houston with 17 years’ experience in the courtroom, representing plaintiffs and defendants, individuals and corporations.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 190th District Court is a Civil Court, and hears cases involving title to land, election contests, civil matters in which the amount of money damages involved is $500 or more, and other matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I strongly believe that everyone should have fair access to our courts and a fair shake when they get there. Too often judges’ political or personal beliefs interfere with the rights of individuals to have their day in court. I know that when judges don’t do their jobs effectively every day, the wheels of justice grind to a halt – and grind down hard-working people with limited resources who are just trying to have their case heard.

My experience in advocating for the rights of vulnerable individuals and in handling complex and challenging litigation, together with my track record of promoting diversity in the legal profession, make me a strong candidate for judicial office. If my campaign is successful, I will use my legal expertise, real world experience, and solid values to ensure that justice is done in every case that comes before me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an experienced trial lawyer and I hope to make a significant and positive contribution to access to justice for the residents of Harris County. In my 17 years in the courtroom, I have represented a broad range of clients. As a civil rights lawyer, I understand discrimination and the critical role our judicial system can play in creating a community in which everyone can seek justice. Finally, as a leader in several community organizations, I have learned the importance of ensuring that everyone who participates in the legal system – parties, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, and courtroom staff – is treated with the dignity and respect that should be accorded to all people.

Through my years of courtroom experience I have had the good fortune to observe and learn from many excellent judges. In my own practice I have made every effort to treat my clients, my opponents, and the court fairly and respectfully. As a result, I believe I have a solid reputation in the legal community as a lawyer who knows his way around the courtroom and will work hard to ensure that justice is done.

5. Why is this race important?

The residents of Harris County are entitled to be served by judicial officers who will follow the law, respect the facts as they are presented, and judge each case fairly. Unfortunately, some judges do not always approach their role in a similar fashion. As a result, some litigants find that extraneous factors, including political considerations, can tilt the scale. It is critically important that every judge be impartial and unencumbered by personal, political, or religious bias. I am committed to bringing that kind of judicial integrity to the bench.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Because I am committed to fairness. We operate in a world that sometimes falls short of our ideals of justice and equal treatment under the law. It is time to ensure that every member of the Harris County judiciary is impartial, and dedicated to the rule of law.

I intend to exercise exactly that kind of fairness in every case I hear. My experience, strong work ethic, common sense, and understanding of how the law actually affects real world situations will all help me to judge cases fairly. Finally – and importantly – I will bring the highest standards of personal and professional ethics to the role and won’t allow any form of bias to cloud my judgment.

Endorsement watch: Star system

The Chron has made a change in how it presents its endorsements.

The quality of candidates on the ballot varies widely from race to race. At times, both candidates are good choices. At times, there are no good choices to be had. Still, the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements. Why? Because in the end voters have to vote. They have to make the hard decision. So should we.

As such, we may end up endorsing a mediocre candidate. We may end up not endorsing an excellent candidate. Not all endorsements are equal. That’s one reason why we’re adding an extra dimension to our endorsements this year by ranking candidates on a five-star system. Star rankings can help voters easily compare candidates across different races.

These ratings are specific to each individual race — a five-star judge might make for a two-star representative. A candidate who impresses one year might fumble in the next election.

They then go on to illustrate what each of the ratings – one star through five stars – means. I always appreciate transparency in process, but I’ll be honest, I never had a hard time telling in the past how the Chron felt about a candidate or a choice in a race. To their credit, they did a good job of making it clear when they really liked a candidate or were just settling on the lesser of two evils. You knew when it was a tough choice or an obvious call. I didn’t always understand why they liked or didn’t like someone, but that’s a much more subjective question. The star system puts a quantitative value on this, but I at least don’t feel like it shone much more light on the system. Your mileage may vary, and again I do applaud the effort even if it feels marginal to me.

One other point – In the endorsements they have done so far, all in judicial races, they have a couple of races where both candidates get the same star rating. They broke the ties in favor of the (Republican) incumbents in these cases, but it’s not totally clear why the scales tipped in that direction. Given that the stated intent was to help make the tough choices, why not make the measurement system more precise? Give everyone a numeric value, say on a one to five scale (Candidate A gets a 4.6, Candidate B a 4.5) or even 1 to 100. Go nuts with it. If the idea is that there are no ties, then calibrate the metric to reflect that.

Anyway. Of the races so far, Jason Cox is the only endorsed Democrat. The races are in the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals plus the County Probate Court races. I strongly suspect we’ll see more Dems getting the nod when we get to the County Criminal Court races.

In other endorsement news, the Texas ParentPAC gets involved in some, but not all, statewide races.

A group of pro-public school parents is doling out political endorsements to dozens of candidates this year but is refusing to back Democrat Lupe Valdez because her campaign for governor is lacking, the group’s co-founder said Thursday.

“She doesn’t meet our criteria for endorsement,” said Dinah Miller, a Texas mom who helped form Texas Parent PAC. “You’ve got to have a really good campaign put together and she just doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure.”

The group won’t endorse Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, either.

[…]

Texas Parent PAC endorsed Democrats Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Justin Nelson for attorney general, saying those candidates are the most critical to improving public education. The group wants to defeat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, two conservative Republicans who support school vouchers, which allow parents to send their students to private school with public education funds. Abbott also supports school vouchers.

Here’s their press release. I wish they had made a call in the Governor’s race, but I understand where they’re coming from. It is what it is.

Last but not least, from the inbox and the campaign of Nathan Johnson for SD16:

Fellow Texans,

With the critical issues of education, health, transportation and other infrastructure so important to the state of Texas, it is important that all thirty-one Texas state senators be focused on solutions and not lobbyists and special interest large donors. It is important that a state senator be focused on the senate district and Texas and not a rating on fabricated conservative scorecards produced to promote a selfish agenda and not the overall well-being of the people of Texas. Don Huffines does not meet any of these criteria.

Huffines is one of the most ineffective members of the Texas Senate. He has passed virtually no bills and nothing of consequence. His demagoguery has prevented him from effectively representing his constituents and the people of Texas. On his first day as a state senator, Huffines was on the front steps of the Capitol supporting a challenger to the speaker of the House of Representatives who already had more than the required number of votes for reelection.

Apparently, Mr. Huffines did not know senate bills have to go through the house. He compromised his office and district by getting involved in something a senator had no business in.

Fortunately, the voters of Senate District 16 have a viable choice in Nathan Johnson. While as a conservative Republican I would rather be supporting a Republican for this election,Mr. Huffines’ lack of leadership and accomplishment leave little choice. Senate District 16 deserves better. Mr. Johnson and I do disagree on ProLife issues as well as some second amendment issues, but he is clearly the better candidate.

I served Dallas and Dallas County for twelve years in the Texas Senate. By listening to my constituents, including their other elected officials, and with their help we accomplished much. Mr. Huffines seems to be tone deaf to all as he pursues an agenda for himself and supporters from Austin, west Texas and Houston. What kind of elected official yells at visiting children when they ask him questions about an issue? The answer is: Don Huffines.

It is sad that low voter turnout in Republican primaries has allowed a small number of voters to give us the likes of Bob Hall, Don Huffines, and Koni Burton to represent the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and surrounding rural areas. This is a viable and growing area. We need more.

I moved to Dallas as a child in 1960. I love this area. Dallas and Senate District 16 need strong and effective leadership in the state senate and not rote scorecard voting. We need an informed and independent senator that will put the district and Texas first. We have that in Nathan Johnson.

Regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, if you care about the important issues facing our community and state you will vote for Nathan Johnson.

Bob Deuell, M.D.
Former Member, Texas Senate
Greenville, Texas

Dang. Deuell was definitely a conservative, at least in the sense of that word ten years or so ago, but he was about as collegial as they came in the Senate. I happened to be in Austin in 2013 for a tenth anniversary celebration of the Aardmore Exodus, which was a very partisan event. The celebration attendees were overwhelmingly Democratic, as one might imagine, with one prominent exception: Bob Deuell, then still in the Senate, sitting in at the drums (he’s quite talented) with the Bad Precedents. You can view this however you like, but based on what I know of Bob Deuell, I take him at his word in this letter.

Judicial Q&A: Kelley Andrews

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

Kelley Andrews

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

My name is Kelley Andrews and I am the Democratic Candidate for Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court 6 is a misdemeanor court. If elected, I will preside over cases in which a person is charged with a criminal offense that carries with it the possibility of being sentenced to up to one year in the Harris County Jail. The types of cases that a misdemeanor court hears include DWI, Possession of Marijuana, Thefts (up to $2500.00), assault, domestic violence, possession of certain controlled substances.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe in judicial equality and in treating people as individuals, not running them through the court system as though it were a manufacturing plant. The cookie cutter model isn’t working in the criminal justice system and we need change. I have long believed that there are two areas in the criminal courts where you have a real chance at helping someone to redirect their life and get out of the criminal justice system. Those two areas are juvenile court and misdemeanor court because most often, these are the places a person first makes contact with the criminal courts. Judges must take the time to look at the individual who has been charged with a crime and determine if there are underlying issues, such as mental health diagnoses or addiction that contributed in whole or in part to their arrest. Those underlying issues must be addressed if there is any chance of helping them to redirect their life.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a criminal defense attorney for the last 11 years. Since passing the bar, I have worked consistently and continuously in the Harris County Courts. I have handled all levels of cases from Class B misdemeanors up to first degree felonies and have worked closely with my clients and their families while doing so. I have learned so much about mental illness and addiction and have a strong understanding of what people with those issues need. Having spent so much time in our courts, I have had the opportunity to observe what is really going on, to see what we are lacking, where we can do better, and what needs to change.

5. Why is this race important?

The criminal justice system needs to change. It isn’t working. Court 6 is an open bench. When I heard that the Judge currently seated there was going to retired, I had high hopes that someone would come along that believes all of the things that I believe regarding the courts and quickly realized that they only way to ensure that would be to run myself. So, here I am.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am motivated to help change the problems that I see with our court system. As a criminal attorney who practices in Harris County, I am an insider. I believe that if a judge treats the people in her court as individuals, takes the time to understand they underlying issues that got them into court, and then takes an interested in helping them get a handle on those issues, she has not only helped that person long after they have left the court system, she has helped the community as a whole.

Judicial Q&A: Jason Cox

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

Jason Cox

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

I’m Jason Cox and I’m the Democratic candidate for Harris County Probate Court #3, which is one of the four statutory probate courts in Harris County. I’m a third generation Houstonian and strong believer in public service. I love this community and want to bring my extensive knowledge and experience to bear for the benefit of the citizens of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is an administrative and trial court that hears matters related to estates, guardianships, trusts, and fiduciary relationships (such as that between a principal and agent under a power of attorney); it also presides over a mental health docket and hears matters involving forced medication, involuntary commitment, and the issuance of mental health warrants.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This court is blessed with a strong staff, but it appears that the presiding judge – a 20 year incumbent – has lost his enthusiasm for public service. He is consistently criticized by those who appear in his court (as reflected in the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluations) for an apparent lack of impartiality; a failure to use attorneys’ and witnesses’ time efficiently; a failure to work hard and be prepared; and a failure to treat those who appear before him with courtesy and respect.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 14 years’ experience in the area of probate and am a frequent writer and speaker on probate issues. I’m also heavily involved in the probate community and participate in a number of formal and informal practitioner groups. I have represented clients ranging from large financial institutions to indigent individuals and have acquired substantial knowledge in this area over my years of practice.

I personally find the area of probate interesting and engaging. In my legal practice, I emphasize the importance of finding solutions over engaging in legal combat for the purpose of combat alone. This approach requires the ability to look at issues from many different angles and positions and to set aside your own bias in order to fully assess the problem or dispute. This ability would an asset on this bench.

I’ve also been a longtime adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where I teach pre-law classes to students who are among the first in their family to attend college and who often did not grow up in a primarily English-speaking home.

My time teaching at St. Thomas has provided me with insight as to how other members of our community feel as if they are on the margins and can be wary and mistrustful of the legal system. It has underscored for me the need to reach out to these communities so that they understand that they do not need to fear coming in to court to take advantage of the services it has to offer.

I also have the unique experience of being a former pediatric and adult cancer survivor who has gone back into this community as a longtime volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I started off working with cancer patients and their families one-on-one and over the course of ten years have helped create and supervise support programs for cancer patients, caregivers, and their families; sat on scholarship committees; spoken at conventions; and now work with a committee made up of doctors, faculty, staff, and administrators to improve healthcare and patient support at the institution for patients, caregivers, and families.

Having this background would be an asset when dealing with those cases involving people with mental health and substance abuse issues and working with the healthcare professionals that treat them. I have the experience collaborating with health care professionals, patients and families to solve problems – this is something this court needs.

5. Why is this race important?

It is more likely Harris County residents will have a reason to seek assistance from the probate courts than the civil, family or criminal courts. Death and incapacity affect most families in one way or another regardless of where you live, your socio-economic status, or your race. If you find yourself in a probate court, you’re probably going through one of the most challenging times in your life – you might be there dealing with the death of a loved one; trying to get help for an elderly family member or friend; or working to get emergency help for someone suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse problems.

Probate court judges need to have substantial knowledge and experience in this area, and compassion for those that appear before them. They need to be fair and respectful and they need to work hard every day for the people of Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

It’s time for a change. My opponent has held this bench for the last 20 years, and the criticisms of how he runs his court and treats those who appear in it have been constant and consistent. I have the deep knowledge and unique experience this job requires, as well as the compassion and enthusiasm for public service that a probate court judge needs.​

Judicial Q&A: Richard Hightower

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

Richard Hightower

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

Richard Hightower, Democratic nominee for Justice, 1st Court of Appeals, Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 1st Court of Appeals hears both criminal and civil appeals from trial courts in ten Texas counties, including Harris County.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Appellate courts in Texas should be balanced with justices elected from both parties. Currently all 36 of the appellate court justices overseeing Harris County (the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) were elected as Republicans. This is not a reflective balance of the diverse communities served. I believe that appellate court justices should serve in a fair and impartial manner, follow the law, and avoid political associations and relationships that place in question their ability to do so.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a practicing attorney for over 37 years, graduating from Baylor Law School in 1980, and a member of the Baylor Law Review. I am currently the owner of Richard F. Hightower P.C. and serve as of-counsel to the Oaks, Hartline & Daly law firm. I have been a trial attorney for over 20 years, have represented both Plaintiffs and Defendants, and throughout my practice have represented the interests of our public school districts and community colleges in both urban and rural counties. I was co-counsel in one case argued before the United States Supreme Court. In addition, I have served as an outside examiner/officer and as a certified mediator in hundreds of disputes.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because voters have an opportunity to provide balance and a diversity of background and experience to the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals. Fairness and justice for all are on the ballot as ten seats on these two courts are up for reelection this November. I am honored to have the opportunity to provide my broad experience and sound judgment to the 1st Court of Appeals.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

With over 37 years experience as a practicing attorney, I have been involved in many of the types of cases that might come before the 1st Court of Appeals. I have experience in large firms and small firms, and I have experience in large counties and small counties. I have been involved in complex multi million dollar litigation and have also represented parties in family law, juvenile, probate, criminal, employment, and breach of contract cases. I was honored by my peers by receiving the AV Preeminent rating from Martindale Hubbell, the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standards, and by being listed as a Super Lawyer by Texas Monthly Magazine. I also received more votes than my opponent in the 2018 State Bar preference poll sent to all lawyers in the ten county district served by the 1st Court of Appeals.

Judicial Q&A: Meg Poissant

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

Meg Poissant

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

My name is Margaret “Meg” Poissant and I am running for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Court of Appeals decides appeals from civil and criminal cases in ten counties, with the exception of death penalty cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Court of Appeals should rule fairly with equal justice for all. I seek to bring my thirty-three years of experience and integrity to ensure justice for all Texans. The opinions of the incumbent are not always consistent or based on sound legal reasoning.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 33 years experience representing clients and trying civil cases, including personal injury, chemical exposure, wrongful death, probate, real estate, and complex business cases, many cases involving expert testimony and complex issues of law, as well as experience representing Defendants in criminal cases. My appellate experience includes appeals involving issues of insurance coverage, property damage, contract, and wrongful death.

I am Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rated as having the highest ethical standards by both my peers and the judiciary. I am licensed in Texas and New York.

My memberships include the Texas Bar Association; Member of the New York Bar Association; Trial Lawyers of America; American Bar Association; Houston Bar Association; Texas Trial Lawyers Association; Houston Trial Lawyers Association; State Bar Committee; Houston Volunteer Lawyers Association; Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association; International Who's Who of Professionals; Notable Women of Texas; President Westwood Grove Civic Association; Committee Chair SN22 Ordinance Committee; Executive Committee Member- Legal and Communications Director for all of North America for a non-profit group; Special commendation from Humble Police Association for pro bono legal services; Board Member Shine Studios Board of Directors, a non-profit dedicated to issues of education for Latin American girls.

As a member of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Association, I recently represented a non-status, indigent client in a case for 2 years, and 3 days in trial with a great result for the client; Volunteered for ARC of Greater Houston; Provided pro bono legal services to senior citizens, undocumented workers, neighbors and artists; pro bono legal counsel, as lead for the legal team, for all of North America for a national nonprofit foundation; Proactive member of the Super Neighborhood 22 Committees, ​devoting numerous hours to neighborhood quality of life issues; Volunteered for Avenue CDC (Community Development Corporation) art benefits to help finance the building of affordable homes and strengthening communities; Volunteer jurist for Fort Bend Contemporary Arts Museum; Charity fundraisers for various arts organizations and artists.

5. Why is this race important?

The Court of Appeals is often the last Court to rule on cases because the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hear very few cases. The Court of Appeals is often the last opportunity for justice in a case. It is important to have a fair justice on the bench with integrity and experience.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am qualified and experienced, and I will bring justice and fairness to the rulings of the Court of Appeals. These rulings affect all Texans.

Judicial Q&A: Chip Wells

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

Chip Wells

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

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

2. What kind of cases docs this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Julie Countiss

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

Julie Countiss

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

I’m Assistant County Attorney Julie Countiss and I’m the Democratic nominee for First Court of Appeals,
Place Seven.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The First Court of Appeals hears criminal and civil cases on appeal from the trial courts in a 10-county district. The district is comprised of the following counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The justice who has served on this bench for 17 years is not seeking re-election so it is an open seat. I saw an opportunity to run in a race without an incumbent. There is rarely ever an open seat on the First Court of Appeals. Usually, the justice who is stepping down leaves before the term expires so that the governor can appoint a like-minded replacement. The concern I have with a system of appointing rather than electing state court judges is the risk of elitism and politics infecting the process. Electing judges has its own pitfalls but it provides an opportunity to people who are willing to put themselves out there and do the hard work of campaigning and getting to know the voters and the precinct chairs and members of the bar. The doors to the courtroom are meant to be wide open for everyone and I am running to keep them open.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 16 years of experience and I was appointed Assistant County Attorney in 2014. I have the honor of serving the people of Harris County every day in complex federal and state court litigation. I am also in the Nuisance Abatement Group working with law enforcement to hold business owners accountable who profit from criminal enterprises like illicit spas where women are often trafficked. For the appellate courts, it’s important to elect candidates with solid trial court experience who understand the civil trial courts in particular. I won the State Bar of Texas Judicial Preference Poll for 1st Court of Appeals, Place 7 in 2018. My campaign has been endorsed by the GLBT Caucus of Houston, the Harris County Tejano Democrats, the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, the Pasadena Bar Association, the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation/AFL-CIO, and several former appellate court justices, including my Dad who served on the 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo.

5. Why is this race important?

In 90% of cases, the First Court of Appeals is the last chance for parties to seek justice in both criminal and civil cases. The nine justices on the First Court of Appeals were all elected or appointed as Republicans. I’m seeking the place currently held by Justice Jennings who is not running for re-election. Justice Jennings switched parties in 2016 and is often the lone dissenter. The dissent rate is approximately 1% on the Court. There should be more diversity of experience and diversity of thinking on the Court of Appeals. I’m more likely to bring those qualities to the court than my opponent who is very vocal about his anti-equality political beliefs and his dedication to Dr. Steven Hotze and the Conservative Republicans of Harris County PAC.

I also believe the quality of justice in the First District could be greatly improved by making equal access to justice a bigger priority. The overwhelming cost, time commitment and complexity of the legal process can be a barrier for so many people. Important decisions are made in our courts every day that impact the lives of working families and those decisions can really hurt their pocketbooks, property rights, civil rights, health, custody and marital property rights and employment. This is especially true for those who can’t afford a quality attorney. I would like to see more funding for legal aid and more incentive for attorneys to provide pro bono representation to low income individuals at the appellate level.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have more experience practicing law in the civil courts than my opponent. For the appellate courts, it’s important to elect candidates with civil litigation experience who understand the civil trial courts. The justices on the First Court of Appeals spend close to 70% of their time on complex civil appeals. I stay up-to-date on important appellate decisions that impact my practice areas. I maintain a robust motions and trial court practice — writing and arguing complicated and contentious legal issues frequently. I have the core values, integrity, experience and dedication to public service necessary to be an excellent justice.

You know, there is a cheaper way to do this

Why are we still outsourcing inmates?

County commissioners next week will consider a proposal to outsource inmates to the Fort Bend County Jail, which would allow Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to slow — but not stop — the flow of inmates to a private prison in Louisiana.

The deal would bring as many as several hundred inmates closer to their families and attorneys, but would cost Harris County more than twice as much as shipping prisoners to Jackson Parish, La. It would also fail to address the root causes of overcrowding at the Harris County Jail, one of the nation’s largest, and prolong an elaborate game of musical chairs as the sheriff searches for jails to take his inmates.

Harris County’s 10,162 inmates are already spread across five facilities in Texas and Louisiana. It currently outsources 724 inmates, more than twice as many as any other Texas county.

[…]

“If there’s a desire to bring inmates closer to Harris County, this is the best deal we’ve been able to find so far,” said Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Spencer. “It doesn’t fully address the outsourcing issue, but it chips away at it.”

Harris County pays $29.33 per inmate, per day at Jackson Parish Correctional Center, with transport included. Fort Bend’s per diem is $55.00, and Harris County would also have to pay for transport. Spencer said the additional costs would push the county’s total monthly inmate outsourcing bill to around $1 million.

The jail had stopped farming out inmates in 2017 but a backlog in the courts following Harvey led to a surplus of people in the jail, and so here we are today. The monthly cost of doing so now is more than $500K, which will go up to about $1 million with the more expensive Fort Bend option. That may not be a choice as defense attorneys in Harris County have asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to bar sending inmates out of state. I know you know but I’m going to say anyway that if we had fewer inmates in the jail – and remember, the lion’s share of these inmates have not been convicted of any crime – we wouldn’t need to spend this money. It’s a choice we’re making, one we’ve been making for way too many years. At least we get to make another choice this November.

Partisan statewide judicial elections upheld

I’d totally forgotten about this lawsuit.

A federal judge has rejected a race-based challenge to the way Texans fill seats on the state’s highest courts.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi handed the state of Texas a win Wednesday, writing that its current method for electing judges to the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals does not violate federal safeguards for voters of color.

The system does dilute the power of Hispanic voters, Ramos wrote. But it’s not clear that “race rather than partisanship” explains why Hispanic voters’ preferred candidates tend to lose at the polls.

Seven Hispanic voters and a community organization sued the state in 2016, arguing that Texas’ statewide judicial election system violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it weakens Hispanic voters’ political clout and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates. Both high courts have been entirely dominated by Republicans for more than two decades, and both courts remain overwhelmingly white.

[…]

The plaintiffs had proposed that Texas adopt a single-member district approach, carving up the state geographically to allow for Hispanic-majority voting districts. In her Wednesday ruling, Ramos conceded it would be possible to remedy the Hispanic voters’ “electoral disadvantage” by switching to single-member elections. But she declined to order that change because the voters had failed to prove that the obstacles they faced to electing their preferred candidates were “on account of race.”

See here, here, and here for the background. It was an interesting argument, though as commenter Mainstream pointed out in that middle update it would have been a challenge to draw districts to try to remedy the problem if the judge had found for the plaintiffs. At some point – maybe this year! – Democrats are going to break through at the statewide level, and that could easily scramble the arguments that would apply now. I don’t know if the plaintiffs intend to appeal, but it seems to me they’ve already faced the court most likely to be amenable to them. It’s not going to get any easier from here.

Judicial Q&A: Gordon Goodman

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

Gordon Goodman

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

Gordon Goodman
Candidate for 1st Court of Appeals, Place 2

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 1st Court of Appeals hears both civil and criminal appeals from trial courts in 10 counties of Southeast Texas including Harris County.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Many appeals only reach the courts of appeals level so this is where a large number of important questions for our region and state are addressed.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Prior Professional experience

  • NRG Energy, Inc.

Director of Governance and Enterprise Risk Management

  • Occidental Petroleum Corporation

Vice President-Planning & Control, Occidental Energy Marketing
Member, Occidental’s Risk Management Committee

  • E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.

President, DuPont Power Marketing, Inc.
Senior Vice President, Conoco Global Power

  • Howell Corporation

President, Howell Power Systems, Inc.

Prior Board Memberships

  • College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Univ. of Houston

Dean’s Advisory Board (Former Chairman and Member)

  • Houston Area Urban League

Board of Directors (Former Member and Chairman of the Audit Committee)

  • Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Texas Southern University

Advisory Council (Former Member)

  • Blaffer Gallery, Univ. of Houston

Advisory Board (Former Chairman and Member)

Prior Professional Advisory Panels

  • Energy Oversight Committee, formed by GARP and API To implement the Energy Risk Professional (ERP) Certificate Program
  • Valuation Resource Group, panel formed by FASB to advise on issues arising under FAS 157 (Fair Value Measurements)
  • The Energy Trading Working Group, an advisory panel formed by the Emerging Issues Task Force at FASB to advise on FAS 133 issues

Professional Associations

  • The American Petroleum Institute’s (API’s) Risk Control Committee (Founding Chairman and Former Member)
  • The American Petroleum Institute’s (API’s) General Committee on Finance (Former Member)
  • Texas State, Pennsylvania, and Energy Bar Associations (Member)
  • The Bachelier Finance Society (Member)

Education

  • University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia, PA (1974-1977): J.D.
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (1971-1974): Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude

5. Why is this race important?

The lack of diversity of opinion on the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals is striking given the wonderful diversity that we see in this region of southeast Texas.  I am eager to provide a different point of view on the most important matters of the day and to insure that fairness and justice is available to all parties when they bring appeals to these courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

In addition to my support for civil rights, voting rights, equal protection, and due process under the law, I also bring extensive knowledge and a deep understanding of finance, commerce, and the important business questions of our day and time.  By having this expertise on the 1st Court of Appeals, we can provide a useful forum for the largest and most significant commercial disputes that arise in southeast Texas.

Woodfill and Hotze take their next shot at same sex employee benefits

Here we go again.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

See here for previous coverage, and here for the last update. It’s hard to know what will happen here because the basic goal of the lawsuit is so ridiculous and harmful, and the immediate reaction of any decent person who hears about it will be “but marriage is marriage and why would anyone want to do that?” The sad and scary fact is that some people are like that, and that includes some judges. Did I mention that the judge in this case, Lisa Millard, is up for re-election in August? Sonya Heath is her opponent. There’s never been a better time to elect some better judges. Think Progress has more.

This will be your last year to vote a straight party ticket

Whether you like it or not. The linked story looks at how this upcoming change, to go into effect in 2020, may affect judicial elections.

Texas elects its judges, leaving the nearly anonymous people in charge of the third branch of state government in the hands of voters who have only the vaguest idea of who they are.

It’s one of the built-in problems of running a big state. Ballots are long. Attention spans are short. Judges are almost as invisible as they are important — a critical part of government located a long way from the noisy and partisan front lines of civics and politics.

The top of the ballot gets the attention. The bottom of the ballot gets leftovers.

When a party’s candidates at the top of the ticket are doing well, it bodes well for that party’s candidates at the bottom — for the time being anyway. For at least one more election, Texans will be able to cast straight-party votes — choosing everybody on their party’s ticket without going race-by-race through sometimes long ballots.

Texas lawmakers decided last year to get rid of the straight-ticket option starting in 2020. It’s a Republican Legislature and governor and straight-ticket Democrats in Dallas and Harris and other big counties have been making early retirees of Republican judges in recent elections.

[…]

When straight-ticket voting comes to an end in Texas, judges will to win by figuring out how to drag their supporters to the bottom of long ballots. For now, they have to worry about how their fellow partisans are doing at the top of the ticket — and whether the big blue counties will spoil their chances.

See here and here for thoughts I have expressed on this subject in the past. No question, turnout for downballot races – not just judicial, but for things like County Clerk and Railroad Commissioner and whatnot – will decrease when the one-button option disappears, though I expect both parties will put a lot of energy into convincing people to vote all the way down. I just want to point out that there’s already more variance than you might think in judicial race vote totals. We’ll see how much that increases in two years, assuming the Lege doesn’t undo itself next year.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

ACLU goes after Judge McSpadden

As well they should.

The ACLU of Texas is asking Harris County’s longest serving felony court judge to resign after making a statement to the Houston Chronicle on his views about black men’s attitudes toward the criminal justice system.

The civil rights group also is asking that the judge be automatically recused from cases involving African-American defendants until an investigation into potential racial bias occurs, according to a news release Tuesday.

[…]

“If there remained any doubt that the deck is stacked against people of color in our criminal justice system, Michael McSpadden just dispelled it,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail black defendants on the assumption they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take action. This kind of flagrant racism has no place in our justice system.”

She said, “The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct needs to take the first step toward rooting it out, and Judge McSpadden should voluntarily step down.”

McSpadden could not be immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. His court staff said he was on the bench hearing cases.

The civil rights organization said McSpadden’s comments violate the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and could merit removal from office.

“Judge McSpadden’s remarks are inexcusable, but not at all surprising for those of us who know the justice system well,” said former death row inmate Anthony Graves, who runs a criminal justice initiative for the ACLU of Texas.

See here for the background. Perhaps there’s some context Judge McSpadden can add to his comments, or perhaps he could just admit that was a dumb and offensive thing to say and offer an apology for it. People may or may not accept either action, but at least it would be something. In the absence of any such followup, one is left to conclude that he has nothing further to say on the matter. Whatever one may have thought of Judge McSpadden before now, that’s not a good look. And as a reminder, Judge McSpadden is up for election this fall. For all the griping some people do about partisan judicial elections, they do at least give the voters the chance to correct errors on the bench.

On a side note, two of Judge McSpadden’s colleagues on the misdemeanor courts are again urging the county to settle the bail lawsuit.

“The most conservative appellate court in this country, strict constitutional conservatives, have said that this practice that we are doing is unconstitutional,” said Judge Darrell Jordan, one of the defendants in the lawsuit.

Jordan told County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners that fighting the suit had already cost Harris County $6 million in legal fees. “I’m asking that you all cut this last check, fire these $6 million lawyers, let the County Attorney’s office come, and we all sit down and work out a settlement.”

Jordan’s co-defendant, Judge Mike Fields, urged Emmett and the commissioners to “use every tool in your arsenal to help us settle this lawsuit.” Fields added, “Our county needs to settle this for financial reasons, and our public needs it settled for reasons of good governance and confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Judge Emmett said he’s willing to settle on the basis of the 5th Circuit’s ruling, but said plaintiffs haven’t responded to offers to talk.

Judge Jordan, the lone Democrat on these benches, and Judge Fields have been the lone voices from those courts for sanity. Unfortunately, their colleagues remain uninterested in such matters as the cost of the litigation and the fact that they’ve lost at every step and looked bad in doing so. And they’re all up for election this November. See my comments above on that.

The Socialists are coming

To a primary ballot near you.

The revolution will be down-ballot. Or such is the implicit promise of Franklin Bynum’s campaign for Harris County misdemeanor court judge. A 35-year-old former public defender, Bynum said he’s seen Houston’s criminal courts routinely railroad the poor into convictions that drive them further into poverty. Now, after nearly 10 years subject to the whims of conservative judges, he’s aiming to take the gavel for himself.

“Who are these courts being operated for? Right now, it’s the police, the bondsmen and the prosecutors, and people are just the raw material to be chewed up,” said Bynum, who’s running as a Democrat for Harris County Criminal Court at Law 8. Bynum’s platform includes expanding the use of personal recognizance bonds, waiving certain fees for the poor and reducing mandatory appearances, which he said are used only to “coerce” guilty pleas from defendants out on bail. “A democratic socialist judge would make the courts work for the people,” he said.

Bynum is one of at least 17 members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) running for office in Texas in 2018, including candidates for the U.S. House and offices ranging from governor to county treasurer. The DSA, which now counts more than 30,000 members nationwide, has grown explosively since Trump’s election and boasts at least 10 chapters in Texas. The group tends to prioritize issues on the left edge of the Democratic Party, like single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage. There’s no official candidate list, but the Observer reached out to DSA groups around the state to compile this running tally. (Not all the candidates have been endorsed by DSA.)

Some of the candidates, like gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wakely — who styles himself the “Berniecrat with a Panama hat” and lost a 2014 congressional bid by 20 points — face the sort of uphill climb usually found in the Himalayas. But others stand a fighting chance, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones pointed to congressional hopefuls Derrick Crowe, in District 21, and Rick Treviño, in the always-competitive District 23, as viable primary challengers.

“With Treviño and Crowe, it’s sort of the mirror image of what we saw with the tea party,” Jones said. “The advantage the establishment candidates have is money, but the tea party’s shown us that sometimes money can lose to these grassroots activist campaigns.”

In District 23, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and is currently represented by moderate Republican Will Hurd, Jones said a left wing platform that plays well with primary voters might fall flat in the general election. Hillary Clinton carried the swingy district by 3.5 percent in 2016, and Hurd’s margin of victory was just over 1 percent. But Treviño, a San Antonio high school teacher, is bullish: “[District] 23 is always described as a conservative district where ideas like Medicare for All or a living wage will turn off voters; that is absolutely false,” he wrote in a Facebook message to the Observer. “Across the district, these ideas are resonating, especially Medicare for All.”

There’s a list of DSA candidates at the bottom of the story and on this Google doc, which includes statements from some of them. As the story notes, some of these folks have a clearer path than others. Bynum has no primary opponent, so he’ll rise or fall with the rest of the countywide slate here in November. Danny Norris in HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, Chito Vela in HD46, the two Travis County judicial candidates – if they win their primaries, they’re in. Derrick Crowe has raised a decent amount of money but lags Joseph Kopser by a wide margin in that primary. A win in March by Crowe would be a big feather for the DSA’s cap. I’m much more skeptical about Rick Trevino, who has two well-funded and establishment-backed primary opponents, and is in a district that isn’t exactly conducive to blockwalking. It’s not just about fundraising, either – if you look at their campaign Facebook pages, Gina Ortiz Jones has more than three times as many followers as Trevino, while Jay Hulings has more than double his total. I don’t know what the best way is to measure “grassroots” support, but the measures I can find don’t corroborate the notion that Trevino has an underestimated level of backing. We’ll know for sure in a week.

On a side note, I’d observe that there’s less difference between the DSA position and the “establishment” position than you might think, at least on some issues. Look at what Bynum says about his priorities for the misdemeanor court he’s running for, then compare the judicial Q&As I ran for Harold Landreneau and Armen Merjanian. Bail reform – which is supported by the likes of DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – and finding alternatives to incarceration are pretty mainstream these days. Sure, there are some differences, and there are different priorities, but to a sizable degree a lot of it is about strategy and rhetoric, much as it is the case with the Tea Party and the “establishment” Republicans.

More judges caught up in the bail scandal

More judges to vote out.

For more than a decade, most of Harris County’s felony court judges directed magistrates to deny no-cash bail to all newly arrested defendants, in apparent violation of state judicial conduct rules, according to internal documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The documents include charts with explicit court-by-court instructions from 31 district judges to reject all requests for no-cash bonds when defendants made initial appearances in court.

Records and testimony show that misdemeanor judges also routinely told magistrates for years to decline personal bonds, which allow a person to gain pre-trial release from jail without posting cash bail.

The previously undisclosed bail and bond instructions, which surfaced during disciplinary hearings against three Harris County magistrates, appear to corroborate longstanding complaints from criminal justice activists that the county’s bail system deprived defendants of a fair chance at pre-trial liberty.

[…]

Among those listed in the documents with no-bond policies are former judges Ryan Patrick, now the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas; former Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, now deceased, and his wife, Devon, who succeeded him in office after his death; and state Sen. Joan Huffman.

State District Judge Michael McSpadden, a long-serving jurist in Harris County, said he also had a no-bond policy for magistrates for at least a dozen years because he didn’t trust the lower-level jurists not to make errors.

“Almost everybody we see here has been tainted in some way before we see them,” he said. “They’re not good risks.”

“The young black men – and it’s primarily young black men rather than young black women – charged with felony offenses, they’re not getting good advice from their parents,” he said. “Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, ‘Resist police,’ which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man … They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system.”

Please, Judge McSpadden, tell us how you really feel. You all know how I feel, so I’m going to outsource this one to Scott Henson, whose continuation after the ellipses is addressed specifically to McSpadden:

The truth about Harris County judges misleading the courts and intentionally violating the constitutional rights of defendants before them is finally coming out.

When Texas state Sen. John Whitmire filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Harris County’s magistrate judges, they defended themselves by saying the elected judges directed them to deny personal bonds, which the judges themselves at first denied. The magistrates were sanctioned anyway, and sources in this must-read Houston Chronicle story by Gabrielle Banks suggested that the Commission is likely now investigating the judges who gave those orders, which is basically all of them.

During the case before Judge Rosenthal, the county claimed they could come up with no evidence that judges directed magistrates. But when the magistrates were accused of misconduct, they produced 600 pages of evidence in that regard that implicated many current and former judges.

Now we know for certain the policies were explicit, widespread, and top-down. This wasn’t a case of rogue magistrates denying bond without the knowledge of the judges. This is a case of magistrates serving as dependent vassals with no capacity for independent decision making whatsoever. And they obviously weren’t too keen on revealing that truth to the federal judge presiding over the case, who justifiably felt blind-sided when representations made in the magistrate’s disciplinary case flat-out contradicted those made in her court.

[…]

Let’s be clear: A) This was happening for DECADES before Black Lives Matter was on the scene, and B) the county NOT letting defendants be advised by lawyers at bail hearings was a big part of the suit! In fact, the county has now begun providing lawyers at bail hearings, so this is the first time they’re being advised by anybody.

It wasn’t Black Lives Matter or defendants’ families causing their dilemma, it was people like Judge McSpadden, who clearly has lost the ability to make individualized judgments in these cases, if he ever possessed it.

Vote ’em out. There’s never been a better time.

Judicial Q&A: John Stephen Liles

(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.

John Stephen Liles

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

My name is John Stephen Liles and I am running to be the Democratic Candidate for Judge of the 313th District Court in Harris County (Juvenile), one of the only three District Courts that handles Juvenile Delinquencies and Child Protective Services (CPS) cases. I am a fifth generation Texan who was born and raised in Houston and educated in Houston’s public schools. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in history in 1977 and obtained my law degree from South Texas College of Law in 1981. Following law school, I started my own practice dealing with criminal law for the first 15 years of my legal career, later broadening my representation to juvenile delinquencies and Child Protective Services cases involving abused and neglected children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th handles Juvenile Delinquencies and Child Protective Services cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have worked hard as a defense attorney for 36 years protecting people’s rights and ensuring that juveniles receive proper substance abuse and mental health treatment, educational and vocational training, and have a chance to be rehabilitated. Mistakes made as a juvenile should not later preclude these youth from becoming contributing members of society. I strongly believe no effort is too great when it comes to the rehabilitation of a child. Our system and courts all too frequently label a child as a criminal, I look at the child and see only a child who has made a criminal mistake.

4. What are you qualifications for this job?

I have over 36 years of legal experience representing clients in criminal, juvenile and CPS matters. I have tried over 50 jury trials and hundreds of court trials. I have handled first degree felony cases in both adult and juvenile court and hundreds of CPS cases. The depth of my legal experience has prepared me well to be a judge.

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

I am not a politician or the perennial judicial candidate, I am running as a progressive new candidate who has never held public office, but who wants to make a positive difference in our society. I will be a judge who will continually endeavor to improve rehabilitative, vocational and mental health therapy programs available to juveniles in order to ensure that no effort in overlooked in striving for the goal of molding juveniles into becoming productive members of society. I am proud to have been endorsed by Our Revolution Harris County and the Clear Lake and Webster Bar Association (CLAW).

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 2

A quick look at the Chron’s endorsements page shows they basically did a massive update on Sunday night/Monday morning. Most of them are in legislative races, but there are a couple of others. I think I’m going to need two more of these multi-race endorsement posts to catch up with them, so today we will (mostly) focus on races in which there is not a Democratic incumbent. Today that means the Democrats challenging State House incumbents, plus two JP races. Let’s get going.

HD126: Natali Hurtado.

Natali Hurtado, 34, told us she is running “because I’m tired of just sitting back and watching our state go backwards” while Undrai F. Fizer, 50, said he wants “to inspire hope and passion” in the people of the 126th district.

[…]

Hurtado earned degrees from the University of Houston and University of St. Thomas, the latter a masters in public policy and administration, and got a taste of the political life working in City Hall and for politicians including longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat.

She wants to close property tax loopholes for big business to ease the tax burden on individuals, get rid of Texas Senate Bill 4 — the “sanctuary cities” law that abrogates the discretion of local law enforcement on immigration issues — and accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Fizer has a lot of charisma but needs to learn more about the issues. Hurtado has a better grasp of them and her time working with Green and others gives her an invaluable head start in the art of politics. We think both her head and heart are in the right place, and endorse her for this race.

My interview with Hurtado is published today, and my interview with Fizer went up yesterday. They’re both good people, and I think the Chron captured their essences pretty well.

HD132: Gina Calanni.

Candidate Gina Calanni told us [incumbent Rep. Mike] Schofield is “very beatable” because people, including her, are angry that he votes in ways that hurt public schools and favor the charter and private schools popular with Republicans.

Flooding is the other big issue, she said, not just because of the massive damage it caused, but also because many people are still suffering from the effects of it and not getting much help.

Calanni, 40 and a writer of novels, is a single mom without much money to spare, while her opponent former corporate lawyer Carlos Pena, 51, is neither seeking money nor spending much of his own.

“I don’t believe in taking campaign contributions because there are people who feel they are owed,” he said.

He’s out blockwalking, but Calanni is doing that and going to political events where she has gotten endorsements from, among others, the Harris County Tejano Democrats, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and the AFL-CIO.

Our view is that Calanni has a fire in the belly to win that Pena may lack and with some money she can make a race of it. For that, she gets our endorsement.

My interview with Calanni is here; Pena never replied to me, and only recently put up a website. I agree with the Chron here. HD132 is a much more competitive district than you might think. It moved in a Democratic direction from 2008 to 2012, and is basically 55-45 going by 2016 numbers. It won’t take much in terms of the overall political climate for this to be a very winnable race, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the Democratic candidate to make an effort to win it. From where I sit, Gina Calanni is the only candidate putting in that effort. She’d get my vote if I were in HD132.

HD133: Marty Schexnayder.

Sandra Moore, 69, and Marty Schexnayder, 51, are both making their first run at political office because of their frustration with [incumbent Rep. Jim] Murphy and state leadership in general.

“I think people in our district are disgusted by the Dan Patrick agenda,” Schexnayder, a lawyer, told us, referring to the state’s lieutenant governor.

[…]

Both candidates also spoke of the need for improved health care and education. Schexnayder said the state share of education costs must increase so property taxes will stop going through the roof.

We liked Moore, but overall we think Schexnayder is the stronger candidate and has a broader grasp of the issues. We endorse him for Democratic nominee in District 133.

My interview with Sandra Moore is here and with Marty Schexnayder is here. Moore received the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, which is the only club or group endorsements that I tracked that was given in this race. The main point here is that both of them are worthy of consideration, while the third candidate in the race is not. I will note again that while this district is pretty red, there was a significant crossover vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As such, it is not at all unreasonable to think that “the Dan Patrick agenda” is not terribly popular as well.

HD134: Alison Lami Sawyer.

Political parties always have their internal disagreements, but Harris County Democrats should nevertheless operate by a single, cardinal rule: Never, under any circumstances, vote for Lloyd Wayne Oliver.

A perennial candidate who runs for office to drum up his law practice — and undermine serious Democrats along the way — Oliver routinely makes a mockery of our electoral system.

Luckily, Democrats in this race have a qualified and impressive alternative in Allison Lami Sawyer.

Sawyer, 33, is a Rice University MBA alumnus who has her own company which uses special optics to detect gas leaks in oil installations in the United States and abroad.

[…]

Assuming Davis defeats Republican primary opponent Susanna Dokupil, who is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, well look forward to an interesting campaign between two compelling candidates.

And remember: Don’t vote for Oliver.

My interview with Sawyer is here. I endorsed her way back when. The Chron is right: Don’t vote for Lloyd Oliver. Friends don’t let friends vote for Lloyd Oliver, either.

HD138: Adam Milasincic.

Democratic voters in District 138 have the luxury of picking between two good candidates to face well-entrenched incumbent Dwayne Bohac in the March 6 primary.

They are attorney and first-time candidate Adam Milasincic, 33, and Jenifer Rene Pool, 69, owner of a construction consulting company who has run unsuccessfully for City Council and County Commissioner and now wants a shot at tea party stalwart Bohac.

[…]

We could see both candidates becoming effective legislators in different ways for the west side district and, frankly, a race between Pool and the socially conservative Bohac could be fun to watch.

But Milasincic is super smart, thoughtful and passionate, all of which is useful when you’re taking on an incumbent. He has also raised an impressive amount of money for a first-time candidate in unfriendly territory. He gets our endorsement in the Democratic primary.

My interview with Milasincic is here and with Pool is here. I cut out a lot of the good stuff in this piece because I’d have had to quote the whole thing otherwise. This is the most competitive of the Harris County legislative districts – it should be the first to flip, if any of them do. I like both of these candidates and am looking forward to supporting whoever wins the nomination.

Over to Fort Bend for HD28: Meghan Scoggins.

Two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face incumbent state Rep. John Zerwas, who has represented district in the Texas Legislature since 2007.

If either of the primary candidates is up to the task, it’s Meghan Scoggins.

Scoggins, 38, has a detailed command of the issues facing this district, an expertise she says she developed observing — and sometimes testifying in — four sessions of the Legislature. (She casually mentioned to the editorial board that she drove to Austin in an RV that became her home away from home.) Although she has a background in business management and she did support work for the International Space Station, Scoggins spent the past few years focused on non-profit and community work. She not only brags about knowing most of the fire chiefs and MUD directors in the district, she also has a grasp of the problems they face. When she talks about infrastructure issues, she cites specific voter concerns like noise abatement problems surrounding the expansion of State Highway 99. She also specifically called for a county-wide flood control district, which would be a smart policy for the next session no matter who wins in November.

I haven’t paid that much attention to the races outside of Harris County – an unfortunate side effect of the cornucopia of candidates is that time and my attention can only go so far. HD26 is the more competitive district, but by all accounts I’ve seen Scoggins is a quality, hard-working candidate. I wish her well.

Last but not least, two for Justice of the Peace.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Place 2: Don Coffey

Our endorsement goes to the only lawyer in this race, incumbent Justice Don Coffey.

Coffey, 65, who was first elected in 2010, has had a positive impact on this precinct which runs from Baytown through communities like Highlands, Channelview and Sheldon — by working to change our state’s onerous truancy laws.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Audrie Lawton

Four people are running for this seat. Out of the pool, three candidates are lawyers, all of whom graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. All of the candidates in this race possess experience dealing with individuals in crisis and would be compassionate jurists.

The non-lawyer in this race, Ray Shackelford, has considerable political charisma, and we would encourage him to consider a run for another position, such as city council. But for this bench we’re endorsing the candidate with the most relevant legal experience, Audrie Lawton. Lawton has handled thousands of cases in justice of the peace courts, and she also has quasi-judicial experience having served for seven years as an examiner for the Texas Education Agency, hearing cases where teachers faced non-renewal or termination. The 40-year-old, who is licensed in all the federal courts and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also articulated the clearest vision for updating this court through expanded use of technology.

Q&As for relevant candidates:

Audrie Lawton
Ray Shackelford
Cheryl Elliott Thornton
Lucia Bates

I don’t have anything to add here, but there are still more endorsements to get through. Kudos to the Chron to getting to them all, but man I would have appreciated it if they could have been spread out a bit more.

Judicial Q&A: Cory Sepolio

(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.

Cory Sepolio

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

My name is Cory Sepolio. I was born and raised in Pasadena, Texas. I’m a lifelong Democrat, proud feminist, husband, and father to a wonderful daughter. I helped my father run as a Democrat in 1998 and 2000 when not many other Democrats wanted to run. I am now running for the 269th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil District Courts have jurisdiction over many matters. The cases include personal injury, breach of contract, property dispute, commercial dispute, election dispute, appeals from administrative decisions and many more. This court is the highest level of trial court in Texas.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I approached members of my Democratic Party over a year ago and asked to help screen candidates for judicial courts. As a party we continue to win countywide races and have a duty to present only the most qualified candidates to ensure we improve our local government. I was flattered when members of my Party asked me to run. Both plaintiff and defense attorneys agree the 269th Civil District Court is in need of improvement. As the only candidate with trial experience I know the best practical methods to ensure justice in the 269th .

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

A District Court Judge must have jury trial experience to effectively promote justice and equality. The backlash against the recent, inexperienced judicial appointees highlights this point. Judges with no prior experience can waste taxpayer money and hinder justice.

I have over 100 jury trials. I have tried everything from misdemeanors to capital murder, negligence cases, breach of contract and property cases. I have handled civil appeal and understand how to follow the rules as a trial judge. I tried cases in 14 Texas counties with exemplary results. No other candidate in this race has the experience in court that I have.

I served our community as an assistant District Attorney where I sought justice for victims and accused alike while fighting discrimination. My focus is on equality and justice. The judge must have a diverse background in their personal life and professional life. Since 2003 I represented over 1000 civil clients in court, including plaintiffs and defendants, where I fought for the rights of working-class people, small-business owners, and corporations. We need judges who have represented both plaintiffs and defendants to ensure impartiality and practical knowledge. I am the only candidate with this experience.

5. Why is this race important?

When I was born my father was a Teamster. When the economy in Houston changed in the late 1970s my family suffered through years of economic difficulties. My mother took a job as a night dispatcher at the Pasadena Police Department and later worked in the local refineries. My father put himself through school in the 1980s and earned his law degree. Coming from an economically disadvantaged background gives me a unique prospective on disputes. Those who live a life of privilege cannot relate to the plight of all litigants as I can. Harris County is over 42% Latino yet only one of the dozens of elected civil judges is Latino. As a Latino I am looking to increase my community’s representation on the bench.

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

The Texas Civil Justice system requires experience to function. Texas Civil District Courts hear cases with the largest amounts in controversy in the entire state. People’s rights, wealth, livelihood, election results, property rights, and even the future of entire industries are determined by these courts. Too much is on the line to allow inexperienced attorneys to make these decisions. As the most experienced candidate I am honored to receive the endorsements from every organization which took the time to evaluate each candidate. My merit-based endorsements include the following: The Houston Chronicle; Houston GLBT Political Caucus; Harris County Tejano Democrats; Houston Black American Democrats; Texas Coalition of Black Democrats; Our Revolution; AFL-CIO, COPE; Area 5 Democrats; Bay Area New Democrats; as well as several elected officials. I am the clear Democratic choice.

Judicial Q&A: Latosha Lewis Payne

(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.

Latosha Lewis Payne

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

My name is Latosha Lewis Payne and I am running for Judge of the 55th Civil District Court. I am a life-long Harris County resident raised in Acres Homes and Cypress as the oldest child of a single mom. I am married to my college sweetheart, Bronze star combat veteran, and I am mom to three amazing kids age 10, 7 and 5.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears all civil cases, including but not limited to personal injuries, wrongful death, product liability, breach of contract, insurance coverage, debt collection, and real estate cases. This court does not hear criminal, family, probate, juvenile, or bankruptcy cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 55th District Court because it is time for change. This Court needs a judge that will be fair to all—no matter their walk of life, individual or corporate status, representation by attorneys at big firms or small, or representing themselves. I am—and will be on the bench—respectful and will treat all people with dignity. I believe that "justice delayed is justice denied" and therefore will ensure that my court is organized, efficient, decisive, and moves cases along so that litigants can have their day in court or resolve their matters in a timely manner.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a University of Texas School of Law graduate and I have the integrity, temperament, knowledge, and ability to do this job, and do it well. I have had a diverse civil trial practice handling most of the types of cases that will appear in the court and. have tried cases as lead counsel/ first chair to jury verdict and final judgment.

I have excelled in law. I was promoted to partner at an International law firm in only seven and a half years. I am the only African – American to receive the Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award, named for Judge Woodrow B. Seals, by the Houston Young Lawyers Association in its over 30-year history, among other awards.

I have a heart dedicated to service and walk the walk in helping our community. In addition to mentoring various secondary students, law students, and young lawyers over the years, I have provided over 1700 hours of pro bono service to the Houston community. I have worked Election Protection efforts every year for the last 13 years. In the last year, my firm received the Houston Bar Foundation and the Harris County Bench Bar awards for outstanding pro bono service by a small law firm in 2017.

I seek justice for all. When I recognize injustice in the world, I mentor a child, I provide free legal services, I protect citizens’ right to vote, I speak up for citizens that may be disenfranchised by our jury selection process and I create a system of reviewing law firms and their effect on the progress of minorities.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the courts are often our society’s last opportunity for justice under the law. As a first-generation college graduate and only lawyer in my family, I understand what it means to be unfamiliar with a system and thus at a disadvantage. I will be fair but also will bring a unique and different perspective, as shaped by my experiences, my love of the law, and my passion for serving the community to the 55th District Court.

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

I am am a person of integrity, progressive values, and I fight for justice for all. I have been promoted and recognized for excellence as a lawyer and that will translate to excellence as a judge. I have a history of investing in making improvements in the civil justice system and community outside of my regular job since day one of my legal career– not just during election time.

I have had diverse legal and life experiences and I am the only candidate in the Democratic primary race that has tried both personal injury and breach of contract cases to final jury verdict in Harris County courts, which represents over 75% of the type of cases pending in this court. A broad range of non-partisan, Democratic, progressive, and lawyer-led organizations have endorsed me over my opponent, including the Houston Chronicle, Houston Black American Democrats, Harris County Tejano Democrats, Our Revolution (progressive), Harris County Chapter of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Texas Progressive Executive Council, Pleasantville Voters League, the Clear Lake and Webster Bar Association (CLAW), and the Houston Association of Women Attorneys (AWA). I have also been endorsed by Harris County Chapter of the Harris County Labor Assembly of the AFL CIO, Area 5 Democrats, and Bay Area New Democrats.

The time is now for a unique and different perspective on the bench than what is being offered. The year 2018 marks twenty years since a woman was judge of this court. No African-American has ever been judge of this court. It is time for a change.

I ask for your vote! If you want to learn more about me and my campaign, please go to www.LatoshaLewisPayne.com.

Judicial Q&A: Beth Barron

(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.

Beth Barron

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

I am Beth Barron. I am running for Judge of the 280th Family District Court. I am 56 years old. As a single woman, I adopted my precious daughter from CPS when she was an infant. She is now 11 years old. Before law school, I was an “Interior Architect” and then a flight attendant for Continental Airlines for 8 years. The last three years of flying, I attended law school. I flew on the weekends and went to law school part-time at night during the week. I studied all 7 days. My last year of law school, I was a full-time paid intern at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and went to school at night. Today I have been an Assistant District Attorney for 21 years. My daughter and I like to travel, read, and cook. Two years ago we were lucky enough to travel to Africa. This past Christmas season, we traveled to Canada with her youth choir to sing.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Family District Court is often known as the “Family Violence Court”. This court has the ability to hear any family case. However, statutorily, it must give preference to those family cases that involve allegations of family violence. Historically it has only heard Protective Order cases which are lawsuits for a court order to prohibit family violence and provide other protections for victims of family violence.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because the people of Harris County deserve to have the very best judge to hear and pass judgement on these most serious cases with serious allegations. The judge of this court must possess extensive training and experience to be able to make a just ruling. No other candidate for this court can come close to my training and experience.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have had the honor of being an Assistant District Attorney for over 21 years. The first 4 ½ years I handled criminal cases. I was the attorney representing the State of Texas and the people of Harris County in various criminal cases of misdemeanor and felonies. These included misdemeanor thefts, drug possession, DWI, prostitution, assaults (including family violence assaults) etc. and felonies of felony theft, burglary, Forgery, Aggravated Assaults (including family violence assaults), Criminally Negligent Homicide and drug cases etc.

I have been the sole attorney on 35 Jury trials and 30 bench trials. In the year 2000, I took a special position at the District Attorney’s Office that I am still at today. It was originally slotted as a one year stint. I changed all that when I found I couldn’t leave it. For the last 17 years, I have had the honor of representing victims of family violence.  I have represented over 10,000 victims of family violence in the various family courts on a civil suit for a Protective order against their abusers. I have handled over 900 contested court trials. The victims in these cases represented over 30 different countries with many different races, religions languages, immigration status and cultures. I have been honored that they have trusted me to help them despite the fact that there were often prejudices against them.

I am partially paid by a federal VAWA grant (Violence Against Women Act). Under that grant, I am also charged with investigating complaints of Parental Kidnapping, Harboring a Runaway, Criminal Non-Support and Bigamy. I have taken complaints from hundreds of individuals in Harris County on these cases. Parental Kidnapping investigations involve intense research into the original family case documents. I have reviewed and assisted in the investigation of over 400 cases of Parental Kidnapping and directed law enforcement in their investigation of these cases. These cases necessarily involved all facets of family cases including divorce, custody, modifications, writs of attachment, writs of habeas corpus etc. I have assisted and advised 6 different states’ officials in their attempts to recover missing children who were located in Texas. I have worked with numerous out of state police agencies in their investigation of these cases including a case in Canada. 

I am published by the Texas District and County Attorney Association (at their request) to provide guidance to District and County Attorneys (and their assistants) all over the state of Texas on the issues of family violence and Protective orders. This booklet was distributed to every District and County Attorney’s Office in Texas. I regularly receive calls from those agencies for my advice and expertise in these cases.

I have trained judges, lawyers, over 30 different police agencies, social workers, court staff, clergy, and advocates on family violence and protective orders all over the state of Texas. I have trained at 12 family violence conferences in Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana and have presented and spoken at 2 international conferences on family violence. 

I have taught law school classes. I am an expert in Family Violence and Protective Orders and have testified in both misdemeanor and felony criminal cases.

5. Why is this race important?

All anyone has to do is read or watch the news to know that family violence is a serious social issue in our county. Not just for the victims but everyone. Family violence affects immediate family members, extended family members, friends, employers, clergy, health care and the criminal justice system. This court hears allegations of family violence and has the arduous task of making the right and just decision in these cases.

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

I am simply the best candidate for this court. I have the training and experience this court demands. I am pragmatic and fair and possess the judicial temperament required of a true judge. I am responsible, thoughtful, and never impulsive. I have had the unique freedom for over 21 years of being charged with only making the right decision in my cases. If I don’t believe in a case, I do not file it. If I file a case and then find out it was not the right thing to do, I dismiss is. Unlike a private/paid attorney, I do not feel pressured to go forward on a case simply because someone has paid me to. I represent the people of Harris County. I am well respected by my peers at the courthouse and elsewhere.

I am endorsed by the Tejano Democrats, the AFL-CIO, the Houston Chronicle and I am waiting on 4 others. I am also endorsed by Sherri Cothrun, and other well respected family lawyers, criminal defense attorneys, police officers and deputies.

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.

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.

Lawsuit over how judges are elected statewide goes to trial

Hey, remember that lawsuit that argued that statewide elections of judges was discriminatory against Latinos? The case is being heard in court this week.

El Paso lawyer Carmen Rodriguez and Juanita Valdez-Cox, a community organizer in the Rio Grande Valley, live hundreds of miles from each other, but they share an electoral grievance that could upend the way Texans fill seats on the state’s highest courts.

For years, Rodriguez and Valdez-Cox have noticed that campaigning for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hardly reaches their corners of the state. And it’s left them feeling so neglected and undermined as voters that they decided to the sue Texas over the statewide election system it uses to fill seats on those courts.

“I think every vote should count and should have equal weight as much as possible,” Rodriguez testified in federal court on Monday on the first day of a week-long trial in a case challenging the state’s current election method for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. But those campaigning for those seats hardly make their case to El Paso voters, Rodriguez added, so “they don’t seem to need our vote.”

That sentiment is a key component to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Rodriguez, six other Hispanic voters and Valdez-Cox’s organization, La Union del Pueblo Entero, that alleges the statewide method of electing judges violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the voting power of Texas Hispanics and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has set aside the rest of the week for the trial during which the plaintiffs’ lawyers will work to convince Ramos that Texas should adopt a single-member approach — similar to those employed by some city councils and school boards — that would carve up districts geographically in a way that could allow for Latino-majority voting districts.

“The courts cannot be the great equalizer of our social fabric when one group — Latinos — are disadvantaged in the election process,” Jose Garza, an attorney representing the voters, said in his opening statement Monday.

Throughout the day, Garza and other attorneys representing the voters suing the state called up individual plaintiffs and election law and history experts to help make their case that the state’s current system for electing Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges “submerges Latino voters” in a manner that violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits an electoral practice or procedure that discriminates against voters.

Lawyers for the Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in court, will offer up their own experts later in the week in hopes of dispelling those claims. The state’s lead attorney, Patrick Sweeten, on Monday provided a preview of their arguments when he described their defense and the plaintiffs’ arguments as “two ships passing in the night” because the state’s evidence will show that the plaintiffs cannot meet their legal burden of proving a Section 2 violation.

The state is also expected to call up an expert witness who will argue that single-member districts would “disempower more Hispanic voters than they could potentially empower” because they would only be able to vote for one seat on each high court instead of casting a ballot for all 18 seats.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers spent a large portion of the day arguing that that point would only hold up if you assumed Latinos had the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to begin with.

See here and here for some background. The plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss a few months ago. This story was from Tuesday, but I haven’t seen anything more recent so I can’t say how the trial is going. Seems like a heavy lift to me, and there’s an argument to be made that districting the courts would put a ceiling on the number of Latinos that could be elected. You have to figure that sooner or later things will be different for statewide races. That said, I very much understand not wanting to wait, though of course taking a court case to completion will take some number of years. We’re at the start of that process, and we’ll see how it goes. Courthouse News and KUT have more.

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.