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Julia Maldonado

Endorsement watch: The one Family Court race

The 507th Family Court is one of the two new courts in operation in Harris County, and thus one of the two spots on the ballot for which Democrats had to choose nominees this summer. In keeping with its Civil Court endorsements, the Chron recommends the incumbent for a full term.

Alyssa Lemkuil

Alyssa Lemkuil

Alyssa Lemkuil is the right person for the 507th Family District Court. The University of Houston Law Center graduate was appointed in January by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the first judge for this bench. So far she is doing an excellent job and deserves to stay in office.

Lemkuil, 54, has a warm demeanor and extensive experience in family law. Before serving as judge, she spent three years as the associate judge of the 308th Family District Court. She also has worked in the Harris County Domestic Relations Office as a child support prosecutor, and as an attorney and mediator in private practice.

During her time on the bench, Lemkuil has worked to improve processes by allowing and encouraging more communication via email to ensure that everyone has the litany of necessary papers ready before setting foot in the courtroom. The Democratic challenger, Julia Maldonado, is board certified in family law and is fluent in Spanish. She would bring some much-needed diversity to Harris County’s strikingly homogenous family courts – a problem that both candidates discussed during their meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. Maldonado is qualified for the position, but Lemkuil is the superior candidate and has earned a full term on this bench.

As we have discussed before, the winner of this race and of the Harris County Criminal Court at Law #16 will have to run again in 2018, so they may as well keep campaigning once this election is over. To go off on a bit of a tangent here, I’ve been observing the proliferation of yard signs in my neighborhood lately. I live in a mostly Democratic area – the two precincts that cover my part of the Heights voted a bit more than 58% for President Obama in 2012 – but there are always a certain number of yard signs for Republican candidates. There were several I observed for various GOP Presidential hopefuls during the primary campaign. Since then, I’ve seen nada, though there are a couple of houses that now sport Gary Johnson signs. What I do see is a couple of houses that have signs for Republican judicial candidates, of whom Alyssa Lemkuil is one. There seem to be fewer of these than I’m used to seeing as well – I don’t have any objective measure of this, just my own observation – so make of that what you will. For what it’s worth, there’s at least one visible supporter of Judge Lemkuil in my neck of the woods.

Maldonado and Jordan win court nominations

Last night at the quarterly Harris County Democratic Party County Executive Committee meeting, HCDP precinct chairs selected the nominees for the two newly-created judicial positions. It was a long meeting – it took some time to sign all the precinct chairs in, and there was some normal business to conduct before we got to the voting – but it was a civil process, with no challenges to the way it was conducted.

For the 507th Family District Court, the six candidates that I have been writing about here were all duly nominated and seconded, with no other candidates showing up at the last minute. Each had two minutes to speak, then we voted, using division of the house as we eventually did this past Saturday. This took the longest amount of time, as there were a lot of people moving around and a lot of noses to count, but in the end the top two candidates were Shawn Thierry and Julia Maldonado. After those totals were agreed upon, the voters for the other candidates had the opportunity to join one of those two remaining groups. Maldonado wound up collecting the bulk of the other candidates’ supporters, and won the runoff by the margin of 123 to 115.

The County Criminal Court at Law #16 process was much quicker, as there were only three candidates and it was easier dividing the room into discrete groupings. Darrell Jordan and Raul Rodriguez were the leaders, and after David Singer’s supporters made their second choice, Jordan maintained his lead and won the nomination.

I voted for Maldonado in both rounds for the 507th, and for Singer followed by Rodriguez in the 16th. Both were tough choices, and I didn’t really settle on whom to support until I was there. I was happy with all of the candidates, and they each acquitted themselves well in their brief speeches. Congratulations to Maldonado and Jordan for coming out on top.

There was a lot of energy in the room, and even as we all left, I got the sense that people were still basically happy, whether their candidates had won or not. It’s a good feeling going forward.

Next up: Judicial nominations

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With the nomination for Commissioners Court settled, all that’s left for me to do as Precinct Chair is participate in the process to select nominees for the two new courts, the 507th Family District Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. As a reminder, here are the new and revisited Q&A’s I published over the last two weeks for the candidates in these races:

507th Family District Court

Jim Evans
Julia Maldonado
Sandra Peake
Chip Wells
Germaine Tanner
Shawn Thierry

County Criminal Court at Law #16

David Singer
Darrell Jordan
Raul Rodriguez

Maldonado, Wells, Thierry, Singer, and Rodriguez were all there on Saturday as candidates. Peake was there as a precinct chair. I don’t know if she voted for a Commissioners Court candidate or not; she had previously sent out an email saying she would abstain from voting, due to her status as a candidate for the 507th. That message led to an email from another chair who called on her to resign from the race in the 507th on the grounds that she had violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by having been listed as one of Rodney Ellis’ supporters prior to the Saturday meeting. Her name is still on that list, so she may have some questions to answer.

There apparently remains some bad blood between Peake and Maldonado stemming from the 2014 primary in which they both competed for the nomination for the 246th Family Court (Peake eventually won the primary by a 51-49 margin). Maldonado filed a complaint against Peake prior to the election alleging that she had an insufficient number of petition signatures. Greg Enos highlighted some of the testimony from the hearing, in which Maldonado ultimately failed to receive injunctive relief. An anonymous (of course) mailer last week brought all of this up, including the same testimony that Enos flagged. I have no idea if this was intended as a hit piece on Maldonado or on Peake because it was anonymous (duh!) and because I barely glanced at it, awash as I was with Precinct 1 mail at the time.

That and the argument about statistics and qualifications have been the main points of contention in this race. Maldonado, Tanner, and Thierry have been the most active in sending email to precinct chairs, with Maldonado and Tanner being the most vocal about qualifications. Chip Wells and Sandra Peake have been much more quiet, and Jim Evans has been basically invisible. I bring this up mostly to note that the lesson everyone should have learned from Saturday is that no one is actually a candidate for any of these positions unless they know for a fact that at least one precinct chair intends to nominate them for the position. My advice to all nine candidates – the 16th Criminal Court at Law race has been far more sedate – is to make sure you have a commitment from a precinct chair for that.

Update on the nomination selection processes

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In six days, Democratic precinct chairs in County Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will select a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. In 11 days, all Democratic precinct chairs will select nominees for the 507th Family Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. This is a brief update on activity related to those races.

About a week ago, I received a letter addressed to precinct chairs concerning the 507th Family Court race. It was sent by fellow precinct chair Natalie Fairbanks and it enumerated the number of Harris County family court cases that each of the six known candidates had been involved in since 2008. I did a scan of the letter, which you can see here. A couple of days later, candidate Germaine Tanner sent an email to precinct chairs arguing that the data in the Fairbanks was inaccurate and incomplete, as all the attorneys in question have been practicing since well before 2008 and the count of cases did not include those “that were filed as post-divorce proceedings between the years 2008-2015, but with a case number that preceded the year 2008”. You can see this email here. Later that same day, candidate Julia Maldonado sent her own email pointing out that there are qualifications beyond number of cases worked, such as board certification, and that some attorneys handle cases outside of Harris County as well. You can see that email here.

As for the County Criminal Court at Law #16 race, the HCDP lists three candidates who have stated an interest in that nomination. Two of them have made themselves known to precinct chairs recently. David Singer, who up till recently was the only candidate I was aware of for this position, sent a letter to precinct chairs outlining his background and qualifications. I thought he had also sent that via email, but if so I can’t find it. This is the back side of his push card from the March primary for the 177th Criminal District Court, which is from an email he did send to precinct chairs in February. It’s a succinct summary of what was in the letter. Last week, I received an email from Darrell Jordan, who was a candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court in 2010. You can see that email here. The third candidate in this race is Raul Rodriguez, who had run for the 174th Criminal District Court this March and like Singer had been a candidate for one of the County Criminal Courts in 2014. I’ve not yet heard anything from him on this race. I do have Q&As from all three from past candidacies – Singer and Rodriguez for 2016, Jordan for 2010 – and will be revisiting those this week.

Finally, on the Commissioners Court race, candidate Georgia Provost made a pair of robocalls to precinct chairs this week. It was the first contact from a candidate not named Ellis, Locke, or Boykins that I received. And I have to say, of all the ways available to reach out to voters, I have no idea why she chose the robocall route. Robocalls have their place in the firmament – they’re a pretty efficient way of reminding people that there is an election in the first place – but given that nobody listens past the first five or ten seconds and you don’t know who actually picked up the phone, why would you do that for a more detailed sales pitch like this race? I mean, there’s 125 voters total for this race. At a very leisurely pace of five contacts per day, you could reach everyone in less than a month, and ensure that you personally get to talk to them. I can’t imagine a less effective strategy for a race like this than robocalls.

Finally, a few days ago I received a letter from Rep. Harold Dutton endorsing Gene Locke for the position. To the best of my admittedly spotty recollection, it’s the only letter I’ve received from an elected official endorsing someone other than Rodney Ellis. At the very least, it’s the only one I’ve received recently from an elected official.

Six days till we pick a Commissioner. Eleven days till we pick two judicial candidates. Hang in there, y’all.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Julia Maldonado

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies. I will be publishing them over the next two weeks.

Julia Maldonado was a candidate for the 246th Family District Court in 2014. Here are the responses she sent to me for the primary that March.

Julia Maldonado

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

I am Julia Maldonado and I am a Democrat running for the 246th Family District Court. I’m a family lawyer who has been in private practice since the start of my career over fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve built a successful small business serving families in Harris and surrounding counties.

Although born in Mexico, I have spent my life here in Houston as part of a family who sought and achieved the American Dream. After graduating from Houston public schools, I received a Business degree from the University of Houston-Downtown and a law degree from Texas Southern University. I’m a proud mother to two grown men, and just recently became a grandmother. While my eldest, Vic, graduated from the University of Houston, my youngest, Aaron, is a Freshman at Baylor University. My sons are my best accomplishment to date.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The court primarily hears cases dealing with divorce, custody, visitation, adoptions and other family matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

After building a private practice and serving clients on both sides of a case, I have earned the experience and temperament to serve as District Judge in this family court. This calling is something I do not approach lightly and I look forward to serving the people of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have spent my career practicing family law. During my 2012 campaign for the Court of Appeals, I found a little bit of time to study and pass the state examination to become Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and I’m proud to say that I am the only candidate in either Party with such a designation. I have built a successful practice and I am diligent in all facets of a case. The 246th needs an impartial jurist who will ensure fairness for all parties, and I know that I am able to meet the highest ethical standards.

5. Why is this race important?

The 246th District Court needs a judge who comes to each case with no biases and high standards of jurisprudence. As a family lawyer who has represented clients in these courts, these qualities have sometimes been lacking in some of our judges. As a member of a political party that is open-minded and appreciative of diversity, I will ensure fairness and justice for all.

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

Any candidate for a family court will likely boast about their experience in the field, and I’m no different. Beyond experience, though, voters must seek the best candidates–candidates who are willing to put in the sweat and hard work of earning the vote. I was proud of my campaign in 2012 in which I was among the top vote-getters in Harris County, winning the county by over 12,000 votes. This kind of work is not easy and Democrats deserve candidates who work hard for every vote, rather than just serve as fixtures on the ballot. I am committed to putting in the hard work, raising the campaign cash, and deploying an effective campaign to earn the support of Harris County voters.

We precinct chairs will have at least one more nomination to fill

Alyssa Lemkuil

As everyone knows, Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will be selecting a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. If we wind up selecting someone who is also on the November ballot for this slot – Sen. Rodney Ellis being the prime, possibly only, example of this – the precinct chairs in the affected entity (in that case, SD13) will have to then make another selection to fill his abandoned place on the ballot. We’ve been over this before, we know the drill.

What you may not know is that all Democratic precinct chairs will have the job of making a selection for another nomination elsewhere on the ballot. The reason for this is because the 2015 Legislature created a new judicial district, the 507th Family Court, here in Harris County. On December 28, Greg Abbott named Alyssa Lemkuil to be the first Judge of the 507th. Because that happened after the filing deadline was closed (*), there is no Democratic nominee for that bench. As such, by the same laws that give precinct chairs the power to replace El Franco Lee on the ballot, precinct chairs (in this case for the whole county) will pick a nominee for the 507th Family Court as well.

I bring this up because last week I started hearing from people who are interested in being that nominee. So far, Chip Wells (who ran for the 247th Family Court in 2010 and 2014), Sandra Peake (who ran for the 257th Family Court in 2010 and the 246th Family Court in 2014), and Shawn Thierry (who ran for the 157th Civil Court in 2010) have all made their interest known in one way or another. According to The Police News, Julia Maldonado (candidate for the 246th Family Court in 2014 and the 308th Family Court (for which Judge Lemhkuil had been an associate judge) in 2010) had applied to be appointed to the 507th and will presumably seek the nomination now. That site also mentioned Chip Wells and Jim Evans (candidate for the 308th Family Court in 2014) as others who would likely seek the nomination as well.

That’s what I know about this court and the candidates for it at this time. I’m sure that there are other people who have looked at this court, and I’m sure that by publishing this post, anyone who is interested and who isn’t named here will make his or her presence known to me one way or another. One more thing to note is that this court, like all the other Family courts, will be on a non-Presidential year cycle after this election, so whoever wins in November will have to run for re-election in 2018.

(*) Why was the appointment made after the filing deadline? The law that created the 507th Family Court specified that it was to begin operations on January 1, 2016, so Abbott was always going to appoint the first judge. Both the Police News site and a Greg Enos newsletter mentioned that Republican precinct chairs will also get to pick their November nominee, by the same process as us Dems. That doesn’t address the question of the timing of the appointment. Why not make it before the start of filing season in November, so that the eventual nominees could be chosen the normal way? It may be that there is some provision of the Elections code that mandates this, but I have no idea if that is the case or what it might say if so. Perhaps one of the attorneys in attendance could say something about in in the comments. Practically speaking, it doesn’t really make sense to name someone to a job more than six weeks before he or she can take the job, indeed more than six weeks before the job has even been created. Politically speaking, it would be embarrassing for the Abbott appointee to lose in a contested primary. This could still happen at the precinct chair level for Judge Lemkuil, though one would think that Abbott’s appointment would receive a fair amount of deference. Again, none of this directly answers the question, so if someone out there actually knows the answer, please do let us know.

Endorsement watch: The remaining judicial races

The Chron finishes off the contested judicial primaries.

246th Family District Court: Julia Maldonado

In a race between two qualified candidates, we encourage voters to go with Julia Maldonado. Her goals of a quicker docket and a more welcoming staff would help relieve the stress of family court. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Maldonado, 52, is board certified in family law and has 15 years experience in the field.

280th Family District Court: Barbara Stalder

Designed primarily to hear protective orders that involve domestic violence, the 280th Family District Court handles some of the most heart-wrenching cases in Harris County. This judge must be able to delve into the depths of human cruelty while maintaining a fair bench. Barbara Stalder, 53, is one of few people in our state who is prepared for this challenge. Board certified in family law, Stadler has spent her entire legal career in service to victims of domestic violence in Houston. Whether establishing a children’s legal services program with Equal Justice Works, representing women and children in the Houston office of Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence or returning to her alma mater to serve as supervising attorney in the civil clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, Stalder embodies the dedication and experience that voters should want in a family court judge. She has worked to protect children who watched their mother killed before their eyes by their own father, and she has smacked down frivolous cases where people falsely alleged violence for their own misguided aims.

308th Family District Court: Bruce Steffler

Bruce Steffler not only has an unmatched breadth and depth of experience in family law, but a calm and focused demeanor befitting a judge. Board certified in family law since 1988, Steffler, 68, candidly recognizes the issues of unprepared judges, long docket waits and expensive litigation, and he will be ready to address those problems. A graduate of South Texas College of Law, Steffler embodies a knowledgeable seriousness that makes him a model candidate for judge.

They also reiterated their endorsement of Steven Kirkland in the 113th. As was the case with Sen. Whitmire, these endorsements were listed on the Chron’s comprehensive list of primary endorsements that ran on Tuesday. Why they were unable to run these endorsements before Tuesday will remain a mystery. The Chron also picked Anthony Magdaleno from the crowded GOP field for the 311th Family District Court as the best alternative to Judge Denise Pratt – Democratic candidate Sherri Cothrun is unopposed in her primary – and in a separate editorial recommended incumbent District Clerk Chris Daniel over challenger Court Koenning. At this point, I think the only race they haven’t covered yet is the Democratic primary for County Clerk. That one wasn’t on their Tuesday list, so I don’t know if they hadn’t done their screening yet or if they’re just not going to bother with it. We’ll see.

Judicial Q&A: Julia Maldonado

(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 all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.)

Julia Maldonado

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

I am Julia Maldonado and I am a Democrat running for the 246th Family District Court. I’m a family lawyer who has been in private practice since the start of my career over fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve built a successful small business serving families in Harris and surrounding counties.

Although born in Mexico, I have spent my life here in Houston as part of a family who sought and achieved the American Dream. After graduating from Houston public schools, I received a Business degree from the University of Houston-Downtown and a law degree from Texas Southern University. I’m a proud mother to two grown men, and just recently became a grandmother. While my eldest, Vic, graduated from the University of Houston, my youngest, Aaron, is a Freshman at Baylor University. My sons are my best accomplishment to date.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The court primarily hears cases dealing with divorce, custody, visitation, adoptions and other family matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

After building a private practice and serving clients on both sides of a case, I have earned the experience and temperament to serve as District Judge in this family court. This calling is something I do not approach lightly and I look forward to serving the people of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have spent my career practicing family law. During my 2012 campaign for the Court of Appeals, I found a little bit of time to study and pass the state examination to become Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and I’m proud to say that I am the only candidate in either Party with such a designation. I have built a successful practice and I am diligent in all facets of a case. The 246th needs an impartial jurist who will ensure fairness for all parties, and I know that I am able to meet the highest ethical standards.

5. Why is this race important?

The 246th District Court needs a judge who comes to each case with no biases and high standards of jurisprudence. As a family lawyer who has represented clients in these courts, these qualities have sometimes been lacking in some of our judges. As a member of a political party that is open-minded and appreciative of diversity, I will ensure fairness and justice for all.

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

Any candidate for a family court will likely boast about their experience in the field, and I’m no different. Beyond experience, though, voters must seek the best candidates–candidates who are willing to put in the sweat and hard work of earning the vote. I was proud of my campaign in 2012 in which I was among the top vote-getters in Harris County, winning the county by over 12,000 votes. This kind of work is not easy and Democrats deserve candidates who work hard for every vote, rather than just serve as fixtures on the ballot. I am committed to putting in the hard work, raising the campaign cash, and deploying an effective campaign to earn the support of Harris County voters.