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judicial races

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.

Judicial Q&A: Barbara Stalder

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

Barbara Stalder

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: David Fleischer

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

David Fleischer

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Jason Luong

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

Jason Luong

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: County criminal courts

One last round of judicial endorsements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11: Gus Saper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 13: Raul Rodriquez

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

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

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 15: Kris Ougrah

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

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

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

Scot Dollinger

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

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

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Judges and more judges

For probate court.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 2: Michael Newman

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

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

[…]

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

Judge, County Probate Court No. 4: James Horwitz

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

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

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

District Judge, 55th Judicial District: Latosha Lewis Payne

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

District Judge, 113th Judicial District: Rabeea Collier

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

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

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

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

District Judge, 234th Judicial District: Lauren Reeder

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

District Judge, 269th Judicial District: Cory Sepolio

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

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

District Judge, 281st Judicial District: George Arnold

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

Whew! Here are all the associated Q&As:

Paul Simon
Scot Dollinger
Shampa Mukerji (269th)

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

Judicial Q&A: Kris Ougrah

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

Kris Ougrah

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

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

Cheryl Elliott Thornton

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Paul Simon

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

Paul Simon

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Family courts

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

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

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

Family District Judge, 280th Judicial District: Beth Barron

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

Family District Judge, 309th Judicial District: Kathy Vossler

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Harold Landreneau

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

Harold Landreneau

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Shampa Mukerji

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

Shampa Mukerji

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Michael Galligan

(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.

Michael Galligan

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

My name is Michael Galligan and I am a Democrat running to become the next judge of Harris County Probate Court Number 4.

I was born and raised here in Houston. I went to St. Pius X high school before attending college at the University of Pennsylvania. I came back to town to attend South Texas College of Law. Upon graduation I began work as a probate and estate planning attorney with Galligan & Manning. My wife, Eileen Romero Galligan, is the School Director at YES Prep Southeast. We have an amazing six-year-old son Joseph who is in First Grade as Corpus Christi Catholic School.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County has four statutory probate courts. Statutory probate courts exist in the most populous counties to handle very particular types of cases. Probate law is a unique, specialized, and not necessarily intuitive area of law. The rules that apply in other courts often do not in probate court. The expectation is that statutory probate court judges will have expertise in the area of probate and guardianships to better serve these large populations. This is one reason why probate experience is a must for any Harris County probate court judge.
 
Our probate courts have jurisdiction over claims brought by or against an executor, administrator or guardian of an estate, guardianship and will contests, will construction cases and claims related to trusts. Most of the probate courts’ business involves administration matters. The probate courts are responsible for monitoring decedents’ estates and guardianships which can go on for years. They must review and approve inventories and accountings, determine the priority and validity of creditor claims, evaluate evidence to determine who a decedents’ heirs are, and make sure that a prospective ward’s rights have been preserved when a guardianship is instituted. Probate Court Four also assists in the administration of the mental health docket dealing with issues related to court ordered mental health services and administration of psychoactive medications.
 
Most of the public’s contact with the probate courts occurs when a will is probated. This involves a non-adversarial proceeding during which the probate judge must be well acquainted with the rules relating to what is a valid will and what is involved in a valid will execution.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe that Democrats will be very successful in 2018. If there is a wave election sweeping Democrats into judicial positions up and down the ballot, it is imperative that they be experienced and competent. I am running to ensure that the next judge of Harris County Probate Court 4 will be the type of judge I would want to practice before. One who knows the law and is able to apply it efficiently to the facts. One who is career-long probate practitioner. I’d be remiss if I did not mention that election night 2016 made a big impact on me. At that moment, after watching the results in disbelief, I resolved to be part of the solution. To do what I can, when I can. I am running to help carry that blue wave that will send a message to the County, the State, and the entire country, that Democrats, liberals, progressives, and people of good conscience will not give up on our government.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have worked as an estate planning and probate attorney for my entire career. Over the course of my career, I have been involved in various proceedings in probate court, including will contests, will construction suits, petitions demanding accountings of executors and trustees, declaratory judgment actions to determine the heirs of a decedent, and actions involving creditors. I have been appointed by probate courts as an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of unknown heirs in court proceedings. I have handled approximately 200 Cases in Harris County, alone, (twice as many as my opponent) and many more outside the County. A substantial part of my practice also involves consulting with clients and preparing their estate plans including wills, trusts, medial and financial powers of attorneys, appointments of guardians, and business entities. As such I have been involved with the entirety of the process, from planning, to implementation, to resolution of conflicts. 

5. Why is this race important?

Everyone has a loved one who has passed away. Everyone knows of someone struggling with mental illness or incapacity. Probate courts affect the lives of more citizens than just about any other type of court. Those who come into probate court do so at a time real vulnerability. Probate court judges must therefore be equipped with the necessary experience and expertise. This race is important because it will decide whether the Democratic candidate in the general election is someone with that expertise or not. 

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

My primary opponent has been an attorney longer than I have been alive. However, despite his almost 40 year career, I still have more than twice the number of matters filed in Harris County Probate Courts. I have more than six times the number of matters filed in these courts since 2010. Last year, my opponent filed only one matter in a Harris County probate court. The year before, he only filed three. At his pace, it would take my opponent more than 37 years to have gained the experience that I have in probate court right now. While my opponent has merely dabbled in probate law over the course of his career, probate law is what I do when I wake up every morning.  

I am the only candidate in this primary race with the necessary experience and expertise to serve as the next judge of Harris County Probate Court 4.

Judicial Q&A: Natalia Oakes

(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.

Natalia Oakes

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

My name is Natalia Oakes. I’m an attorney and I’m running for Judge of the 313th (Juvenile) Family District Court. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and was raised in a big civic-minded family full of many uncles, aunts, cousins in Beaumont and New Orleans. I’ve lived in Houston since 1980. I graduated from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. in English Literature with a teacher’s Certificate. I was awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of TSU. I taught school in Beaumont, New Orleans, Houston and Athens, Greece. My father worked hard and my parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I have been working in Juvenile Court for 18 years. I joyfully interact daily with lawyers, judges, clients, probation officers, court personnel, assistant district attorneys, county attorneys, detention officers, interpreters and bailiffs.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Court presides over Juvenile delinquency cases from Misdemeanor B to 1st degree Felonies. Juvenile Court also hears CPS (Child Protective Service) cases involving abused and neglected children.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to focus on effective rehabilitative programs so the children do not come back into the adult system. Even with little support at home, juveniles can be guided to see their potential and contemplate a productive future. Juvenile Probation can track which programs work and which programs do not produce results. It is important to give young people tools to effect a positive change in their lives; to find a talent and cultivate it, to be introduced to areas of interest that they are not exposed to in their home environment. Every child has a special talent and must see their potential. We can maximize resources already in place like, community resources, and discard those that don’t produce results.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’ve been working exclusively in Juvenile Family Court for 18 years. I work well with people. A Juvenile Judge deals with many entities (Juvenile Probation, CPS personnel, District Attorneys, County Attorneys, the Juvenile Board, Commissioners Court) and a judge can harm juveniles if a he/she alienates any of the groups. I can accomplish my goals of bringing effective change to the Harris County Juvenile System. I am the most qualified in this race and am ready on day one to implement needed changes.

5. Why is this race important?

When our children benefit, we all benefit. When our communities are safe from teenage crime, communities thrive.

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

  • I am a parent: I understand children
  • I am a former school teacher: I understand the education system
  • I’ve spent 18 years working in Juvenile Court years handling misdemeanors, felonies, adoptions and CPS (Children Protective Services) cases representing abused and neglected children and their parents: I understand the law.

My goals are to promote programs that produce results for the children and families of Harris County. These programs must be tracked to assess if children are being rehabilitated and families are accessing the services that they need in order to help them.

Every young person should be able to see their potential by being exposed to their unique talents/interests, be it academics, trade schools, vocations, mentoring, crafts, arts, animal husbandry, agriculture. This, in turn, helps self-esteem and leads to productivity.

Judicial Q&A: Jim Peacock

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

Jim Peacock

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Two more benches

Bench One:

Judge, 313th Judicial District: Natalia Oakes

Natalia Oakes, 66, earns our support in this primary contest against a qualified opponent, John Stephen Liles. Although Liles has spent nearly twice as long as a member of the bar, Oakes has more experience in juvenile courts. Voters should want a candidate with that specific focus to serve on this specialty bench.

Both candidates favor a rehabilitative approach for juveniles. But while Liles emphasizes vocational training, Oakes displays a deeper knowledge of area rehabilitation and mental health resources. She has dedicated her legal career to helping children and her background as a teacher makes her well-suited to evaluate the most effective programs available to guide young people to a second chance in leading a successful life. Voters should give this Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University graduate the chance she requests “to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

I’ve got a Q&A for Oakes in the queue – it will publish on Monday. A Q&A for Tracy Good, who is also in this race but apparently didn’t screen with the Chron, is here.

Bench Two:

Judge, County Civil Court-at-Law Court No. 2: Jim F. Kovach

Democratic voters have a choice between two qualified candidates with very different backgrounds. Jim F. Kovach is a former board chair of Legacy Community Health who has spent more than 20 years working almost exclusively in Harris County civil courts at law. Stanley Santire is a former military officer with extensive national and international experience, including working as chief legal counsel at Lockheed Aircraft International.

We encourage voters to back Kovach, 52, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center. While Santire has an impressive career, Kovach has the on-the-ground experience in these specific courts that makes for a qualified judge.

I don’t have a Q&A from Kovach, but I do have one from Santire, which is here. That link also contains endorsements for two Republican primaries on these benches.

Judicial Q&A: Linda Dunson

(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.

Linda Dunson

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

My name is Linda Marie Dunson. I grew up in a small town in east Texas. I grew up very poor and disadvantaged. As a child decisions were made about me by others who were not my family, nor did they live in my neighborhood, nor did they look like me. Those who were in “authority” assessed my situations and made judgments and predetermined my sentence without giving me the opportunity to speak for myself nor did they communicate with my family. As an example, since my mother was a maid I was told that I would also be maid because it was a self fulfilling prophecy. They were wrong! They fueled the desire in me, the fire, the passion for advocating on behalf of others, especially children.

I am running the position of Judge for the 309th Family District Court, Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Family District court oversees matters such as divorce, adoption, child support, child protective services, and other related matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 309th because I want to see respect for both lawyers and client, decency and integrity returned to the bench. I want to see all who come before the court be treated justly, fairly and impartially, without being discriminated against because they look different or have a different sexual orientation, while respecting the rule of law . I want to see passion for people in general and compassion for people who are experiencing one of the most emotionally upheaval times in their lives. I want to see each case treated individually and not just rubber stamped. I want to stop seeing so many families broken when they can be mended. I want to stop seeing children treated as puppies in an adoption puppy mill. Strong family equals a strong America. I want to see a stronger America.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am academic. In addition to my law degree, I have an LL.M inTax and I am a licensed U. S. Customs broker. All of which requires a heighten level of reading comprehension and critical thinking. Therefore, I have the capabilities to read, comprehend and interpret the many laws associated with the practice of family law.

I am knowledgeable. My practice of law has been centered on issues involving family matters. I worked several years providing free legal services consisting of mostly family law to indigent individuals. From time to time, I volunteer with different agencies to provide family law legal services to the poor. I attend family law continuing education seminars. I have always surrounded myself with mentors who are certified in a particular practice area of law, i.e.,family.

I have management experience in the fast food industry, haircare industry, and as a legal program director. As well, I have been a small business owner since the 1980s. Additionally, I have an Advanced Family Law Mediation certification. My managerial experiences helped to develop my listening and organizing skills. The aforementioned experiences also allowed me to interact will all types of people. Management and people skills are necessary to maintain the decorum of the court and operate it in an organized an effective manner.

I am compassionate. I understand the human condition. I understand that the are many ethnic groups with many cultural norms living in America. I understand that there are individuals who may believe differently than I in regards to religion and sexuality.

I have the a demeanor that is becoming to a Judge. I am consistent in my dealing with people. I believe that everyone is entitle to a fair, impartial and just decision. I listen and I connect with people. Moreover, I believe the rule of law should be respected.

I believe that lawyers ought to be allowed to represent their client zealously without being disrespected by the bench. Let the lawyers practice law and let the Judge be the judge.

Family is my passion. I believe that family comes in all shapes and sizes. Dynamics in the family are reflected in the dynamics that are seen in society. I believe that everyone deserves to be heard and to be treated with decency and a certain level of respect.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because children and families are important. Families are the backbone of this great country. And, children are the future of our Nation. Both, family and child, deserve fairness, justice, impartiality and equal protection of the law.

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

People should vote for me because I genuinely care. I have advocated for others ever since I can remember. I have been in the trenches. I have given brain, brawn and bucks to improve the human condition, expecting nothing in return. I have been consistent.

I am a Progressive Democrat with traditional democratic values. I believe in Opportunity, Equality, Hard Work (Jobs), Education, Healthcare. I believe in embracing differences. I believe in equality, justice and fairness. And, I truly believe that a person should be judged by their character.

People should vote for me because I want to continue the fight for equality, justice and fairness.

I am the best and most qualified candidate. I bring with me knowledge, skill, an unmatched personal experience and unsurpassed compassion.

Endorsement watch: 14th Court of Appeals

More judicial races. We have a long way to go with these.

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 3: Jerry Zimmerer

This primary race presents voters with a choice between two candidates who each offer different strengths.

Jerry Zimmerer, who earned two Master of Law degrees from University of Houston Law Center in addition to his law degree from South Texas College of Law, considers this judicial bench an academic job. He has spent close to 25 years in private practice, and yet the candidate had trouble touting any cases where he fought for justice or had a lasting impact on jurisprudence in Texas.

His opponent, Joseph R. Willie II, is a retired dentist and Navy veteran in addition to being a lawyer, and he pointed to several significant appellate cases where he successfully advocated for the innocent and underdogs. However, Willie’s law license twice suffered a fully probated suspension imposed by the State Bar of Texas for running afoul of professional codes. At the end of the day, it’s hard to endorse someone with blots on his record even if he evinces the passion for the law that Willie demonstrates.

Our nod goes to Zimmerer, 63, who switched parties decades ago, noting that the Republican Party “has left me as it has left a lot of people.”

[…]

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 8: Michele Barber Chimene

Michele Barber Chimene, our choice for Democratic nominee, has 25 years of experience practicing appellate law and has handled more than 50 civil appeals. It’s preferable that candidates have appellate experience for this bench, as the rules governing appeals are different than the rules of civil procedure that govern trials.

Chimene, 60, is a University of Houston Law Center graduate and started her career as a geologist. She is admitted to practice before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, and told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that she firmly believes the Legislature should make the law, and the judiciary should just apply it.

Chimene’s Q&A is here, and a Q&A for her opponent Meg Poissant is here. They’ve split a couple of group endorsements, while Zimmerer has received all of the ones that have been given out in his race. His opponent doesn’t appear to have any web presence, which would have been a problem for me in any event. There was also a Republican race endorsement at this link, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Judicial Q&A: Tracy Good

(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.

Tracy Good

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

My name is TRACY D. GOOD. I am running for the 313th Juvenile Court.

I’m a native Houstonian. I have been married to my wife for almost 29 years. We have two adorable twin daughters. I am a graduate of the University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. In addition, I obtained my Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston Law School. I am a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor. Despite these credentials and many years of experience in corporate America, my passion and focus has always been defending the defenseless, ensuring that the rights of individuals are upheld to the full extent of the law. I want to carry these traits to the bench so that the powers of the government are equally balanced with the rights of individuals. This balance is especially important when it comes to protecting the rights of children and families.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile and CPS termination cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have a passion for justice. I believe everyone regardless of economic status, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference should all be seen equally in the eyes of the law. This is especially true with respect to the rights of children. I want lawyers in my court to fight zealously for their "children" clients. I want every legal avenue possible to be explored. We are dealing with their future. And, their presence in court presents them with a huge fork in the road. One path leading to a bright future, and other path leading
to a not so bright future. I believe that the laws of the state of Texas with respect to juvenile justice are designed with a goal, in part, to ensure that the children of the state of Texas have a promising future as contributing members of our adult society.

However, bureaucracy, an inefficient governmental administration, and an imperfect ad litem appointment system are negatively impacting THIS goal of the juvenile justice system. These are just some of the problems that I see.

These are the reasons why I am running. In my courtroom, I will efficiently manage juvenile and Child Protective Services (CPS) cases, and I will ensure that ad litem attorney appointment system is transparent, open, and that ad litem attorney caseloads are manageable.

I want to exam the juvenile justice and child protective services issues from a complete perspective
including:

  • teen pregnancy/prenatal care
  • family therapy/unity
  • mental health issues
  • socioeconomic disadvantages
  • teen peer pressure/gang-related pressures
  • law enforcement and community outreach

I want an impactful and critical examination of the “cradle to prison” pipeline, including resolutions to positively address this serious issue.

Harris County Juvenile Probation Department’s 2016 expenditures were over $105,000,000. There were 11,457 juvenile referrals to the department. This represents over $9,000.00 per referral. See: https://hcjpd.harriscountytx.gov/Published%20Reports/Annual%20Report%202016.pdf

It is important that the people elected by Harris County are good stewards of these funds. A primary characteristic of good stewardship is independence. Because of my internal audit background, I am a firm believer in not only the actuality of independence but the appearance of it. Therefore, I will not accept any campaign contributions from attorneys seeking ad litem appointments in my court!

With approximately $105,000,00 million dollar annual 2016 expenditure, the residents of Harris County deserve to be among the nation’s top ranked Juvenile Justice Systems. As your judge, it will be my passion and focus to make the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department a model for the nation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Eleven Years of practicing primarily family law, including juvenile and cps matters. I am a CPA with many years of corporate experience.

5. Why is this race important?

Families and children are important, and the system that judges and/or punishes them should be held to the highest standard of fairness, transparency, accountability and professionalism.

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

I am the better candidate for the job.

I’m a strong Democrat. In the past, I have volunteered for such organization as the NAACP legal redress clinic, and the real men read project. I have marched for causes in support of fairness and freedom for all.

Further, I’m a bit of renegade (perhaps it is the Democrat in me), in that I refuse to be a part of or accept court appointments from any Harris County Juvenile Court, for I personally feel awkward attempting to benefit from or acquiescing to a system that I hope to change one day.

Further I don’t understand how any person can have the fortitude to run against a system while simultaneously benefiting financially from that system. This seems a bit hypocritical to me. I’m not sure, but I hope that my primary opponents feel the same the way.

Judicial Q&A: Audrie Lawton

(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.

Audrie Lawton

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

Hello, my name is Audrie Lawton and I am running for Harris County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Justice of the Peace Court:

  1. Hears traffic and other Class C misdemeanor cases punishable by fine only.
  2. Hears civil cases with up to $10,000 in controversy.
  3. Hears landlord and tenant disputes.
  4. Hears truancy cases (where school districts file against parent)
  5. Performs magistrate duties.
  6. Conducts inquests.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

First, I am seeking this position because I am qualified. Second, I believe that it is time for new leadership. I am a litigator who has tried over 100 cases to a jury. I have also handled thousands of cases in JP courts on behalf of my clients (plaintiffs and defendants). As a judge, I would seek to improve technology in the courthouse, increase productivity and efficiency of the dockets, and maintain a sense of honor and dignity for all litigants. I believe in transparency of the court and I would work to make sure that all litigants are given their due process under the law.

Below are five ways I want to improve the court:

  1. Enhance courthouse technology by creating a ”Courthouse App” and improving the current online e-filing and document retrieval system.
  2. Establish extended hours to provide alternatives for plaintiffs and defendants who have demanding work schedules or are caregivers to young children and the elderly.
  3. Establish an onsite law library/resource center for all litigants.
  4. Open up the courthouse doors and allow organizations and professionals to host educational seminars.
  5. Work closely with the Constable’s office to identify safety issues in the community, hold town hall meetings, and promote overall safety.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Licensed to practice law for 15 years in the State of Texas.
Licensed to practice law in the Eastern, Southern, Northern, Western Districts of Texas and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Former Assistant Attorney General, State of Texas.
Former Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, State Bar of Texas.
Former Prosecutor, Special Prosecution Unit of Texas.
Assistant General Counsel, O’Connor & Associates.
Speaker – Texas BarCLE on practice in Justice Courts May 2017 and May 2018.

5. Why is this race important?

Change happens on a local level. This phrased is used a lot, but it means a lot! Local races include key positions such as your Major, Chief of Police, and your neighborhood Justice of the Peace. Since this court has exclusive jurisdiction over landlord/tenant cases, and hears cases involving traffic tickets, other Class C misdemeanors and civil disputes up to $10,000.00, it’s more likely that an individual will visit their neighborhood JP court than any other court in the city! Therefore, it is important that the community elects public officials that represent the interest of the community.

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

I want to Bring Back the Peoples’ Court! This means opening up the courthouse to the very community in which it serves! As a forty year-old mother of two, I can understand the demands life places on us all. As a judge, I will work tirelessly to ensure the fair treatment of all in my courtroom. I will also work hard to make sure that no one is wasting due to long waits and other delays. I will ensure that court procedures are administered in an efficient cost-effective manner. A vote for me is a vote for Leadership, Experience and Commitment!

Judicial Q&A: Lucia Bates

(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.

Lucia Bates

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

My name is Lucia Bates and I am a candidate for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

  • This Court hears Criminal misdemeanors punishable by fine only (no confinement)
  • Civil actions of not more than $10,000
  • Small Claims
  • Eviction repair and remedy
  • Truancy and Magistrate functions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I love my community and believe that I have the temperament, integrity and experience to make a positive difference.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

According to Texas State Law: In order to be a Justice of the Peace:

Candidates must be Texas residents for one year, residents of the district they will serve in for six months, a U.S. citizen and 18 years old. Justices of the Peace serve four-year terms. JPs do not need to have a law degree, or any degree.

I have been a resident of Precinct 3 for 40 years:

  • Immediate Past Chairman- North Channel Chamber of Commerce – Board Member for 6 years
  • Director- North Shore Rotary – 2 years
  • President – Plantations of Wood Forest – New Forest Subdivision – Board Member 12 years
  • Advisory Committee – San Jacinto College North Business Mgmt./Entrepreneurship – 4 years
  • Advisory Committee – Galena Park ISD / Channelview ISD / Sheldon ISD – 4 years
  • Community Advisory Panel to Lyondell-Equistar – 4 years
  • Board Member – Wendell D Lay – YMCA – 2 years
  • Advisor – Top Teens of America – 5 years
  • Past Board Director – San Jacinto Pilot Club – 2 yrs.
  • MBA – University of Phoenix
  • BBA – University of Houston – Clear Lake

5. Why is this race important?

This race is very important because the Constituents have an opportunity to vote for a candidate who has a vested interest in the community, is willing to collaborate with various organizations and increase confidence in the court system.

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

I love my community and have worked tirelessly for 30 years within various community organizations to make a positive impact. I am accessible and would like the opportunity to leverage my experiences, enhance the services to the community and continue to lead with fairness and integrity.