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Kathy Vossler

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: Kathy Vossler

(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.

Kathy Vossler

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

My name is Kathy Vossler. I am running for the 309th Family District Court. I am a lifelong Houstonian, a 20-year family lawyer, an active member of the community, Super Neighborhood President, Leadership Houston Class XXXIV member and Project Manager, and proud mother of three grown children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears family law cases, which include divorce, custody, child support, adoptions, CPS cases, grandparent rights, interstate and international jurisdiction issues. Family Court is the court where most people are likely to be at one point or another, and it is a court where people can be profoundly impacted, both financially and emotionally. Family court judges decide who will raise children, and under what terms, what kind of visitation will take place, and if any restrictions are needed in order to keep children safe. They decide how assets will be divided, how debts will be paid, whether someone can remain in their home, what will happen to their retirement and savings. Family courts determine if a parent can move away with the child, if a parent’s rights will be terminated, if an adoption is in the child’s best interest, if someone should go to jail for non-payment of child support. Family courts see to it that the constitutional rights of litigants are protected, and that the children it oversees are given their best chance at a safe, stable, happy, healthy childhood.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Because of the seriousness of the issues that the family court handles, it is imperative that we have a Judge in the 309th Family District Court who is qualified and experienced in the various types of cases and issues that the court will hear. It is also important that the people who come into the court are treated with respect and dignity, that they are given the opportunity to be heard in a way that is sensitive to the cost and value of the attorney’s time, and that is respectful of the situation in which the litigants find themselves. Nobody likes going to court. The experience is often rife with anxiety and fear of the unknown. The results of a single court hearing can be life-altering and can impact several generations of the same family, all at the same time and for years. It is the court’s duty to be courteous and professional, to treat people with respect, whether they are lawyers, litigants, witnesses or onlookers, and to ensure that the parties are able to conclude their business in a manner that is fair, efficient, dignified and respectful and that allows people to move on with their lives, knowing that they were treated fairly and impartially. I have spent the past 20 years working in family law, and have earned a reputation for being fair, honest, competent, professional, respectful and efficient, and I will bring those qualities with me to the bench of the 309th Family District Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing family law for over twenty years. I have represented husbands, wives, moms, dads, children, grandparents, aunts and non-relatives. I have handled divorces, child custody cases, enforcement cases, adoption, termination, interstate jurisdictional issues, grandparent rights cases, name changes and CPS cases. I have been actively involved in family law as evolving social and technological issues have altered the way cases are handled – from the use of DNA, to the use of Facebook postings as evidence, from same-sex marriage, to surrogacy. The times we live in are exciting and our world is rapidly changing. Those changes are always at the forefront of family law cases, and it is important to have a Judge in the 309th Family District Court that understands the law, has experience in handling these types of cases and guiding people through the process, which is often one of the most difficult and taxing times of their lives, and can do all this while allowing the parties and attorneys to maintain their dignity and to have respect for the system. I believe that I will be that judge.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because Harris County has over 4 ½ million people and only ten family courts. Nine of those are up for election in 2018. Most people will never find themselves in a criminal court or a civil court. They are more likely to come into family court, because most of us have families, friends, or issues that need to be dealt with in family court. The impact of a family court case can last a generation or longer. A wise custody decision can mean the difference between a safe, happy childhood and successful adulthood, or one filled with danger, limited opportunities and crippling criminal or health woes. A fair, well-considered and respectfully delivered opinion that is consistent with the law can mean the difference between protracted litigation and continued fighting, and the parties moving on with their lives. It is important that we have a judge in the 309th Family District Court who knows the law, understands the issues, relates to the people, and will rule efficiently, fairly and in accordance with the law. That brings closure and certitude, and allows people to move on with their lives and be the best person they can be.

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

I need your vote in the March Primary election so that I can be your Democratic nominee on the ballot in November. The Primary will be held on March 6th, and early voting will commence before that. I am by far the most qualified candidate in the race. I have a proven track record and a wealth of experience in handling all of the kinds of cases that this court will hear. I will come to the bench with a knowledge of the law and experience with the types of cases and issues that will come before me. My opponent is a self-described ‘oil and gas’ lawyer with minimal courtroom experience. This court and the voters of Harris County deserve a Judge in the 309th Family District Court who knows the law, understands the issues, is prepared to run the court professionally and efficiently, will rule fairly, according to the law and will treat the people who come into the court with dignity and respect. I am that person, and I hope to have your support.

Judicial Q&A: Kathy Vossler

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Kathy Vossler

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

I am Kathy Vossler, and I am running for the 309th Family Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears and decides cases involving Divorce, Custody, Child Support, Termination, Adoption, Enforcement, Name Changes and CPS

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Family law cases tend to be very stressful for the parties. For many, it is the most stressful time of their lives. Going through a divorce or custody case is an experience that impacts people both financially and emotionally. It is a big turning point in the lives of the people who come to family court, and one that they remember the rest of their lives. As a family lawyer, I have found that I have the ability to turn down the volume on the drama and rhetoric by focusing on the issues, doing what is in the best interest of the children, and treating everyone in the case with professionalism, dignity and respect. Taking this approach enables the parties to move on with their lives in a positive and productive manner, and helps them to make the best of a difficult situation. It also helps them to focus on what is right for their children, become better parents, and make smarter decisions based on longer term goals.

I am running for this particular bench because I want to bring to the voters of Harris County the same dignity, respect and professionalism that I bring to my cases. I have the experience, the knowledge of the law, the judgment, and the temperament to be a good judge in the 309th, and I hope that the voters of Harris County will entrust me with this very important position.

I will bring a positive change in this court. Some of the changes I will bring include: (1) I will follow the law, including the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court; (2) I will treat people with dignity and respect and exercise judicial temperament that will allow the parties to know that they have been heard, have had a fair trial, and are free to move on with their lives; (3) I will judge each case individually, on its merits, according to the law, without prejudice as to the issues and without regard to the political leanings, power, or contributions of the parties and/or attorneys involved; and (4) I will run the court efficiently, eliminating unnecessary settings and conducting meaningful hearings in a timely manner.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a family lawyer, and have been for seventeen years. I have handled hundreds of family law cases, including all of the kinds of cases that this court hears. I have a good understanding of the law and have always shown good judgment with regard to my cases. The parties that come before a family bench are dealing with all kinds of issues, which may include alcohol or drug addictions, infidelity, the financial woes that are inherent in the abrupt transition from one or two wage earners supporting one household, to stretching that same income to support two households. They may be dealing with Real Estate issues or small business issues. I have experience with all of that as a family lawyer. In addition, before becoming a lawyer, I was in the restaurant business. I worked in having been a small business owner for most of my adult life, in addition to a Business Broker and a Realtor prior to entering into the legal field. All of this experience will help me to be a good Judge in the 309th.

5. Why is this race important?

The 309th Family Court is one of nine family courts in Harris County. The judge of the 309th District Court decides who gets custody of your children, and what kind of visitation the other parent gets. She decides where the children will live, a decision that impacts what school they will likely go to, and what kind of jobs you may accept in the future. She decides how the house, cars and retirement get divided in a divorce, whether a parent’s rights are forever terminated to their children, whether a party or parties are able to adopt children. She decides if one parent will receive financial support from the other parent once a divorce is finalized. There is no other type of court in Harris County that impacts so many parts of your life, in such a personal way. This race is important because of the issues at stake, and the differences between myself and my opponent.

6. Why should people vote for you this November?

I will bring a positive change in this court. Some of the changes I will bring include: (1) I will follow the law, including the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court; (2) I will treat people with dignity and respect and exercise judicial temperament that will allow the parties to know that they have been heard, have had a fair trial, and are free to move on with their lives; (3) I will judge each case individually, on its merits, according to the law, without prejudice as to the issues and without regard to the political leanings, power, or contributions of the parties and/or attorneys involved; and (4) I will run the court efficiently, eliminating unnecessary settings and conducting meaningful hearings in a timely manner.

Endorsement watch: Family courts

The Chronicle gets in the endorsement game by getting started on the long list of judicial races that will be on your 2014 ballot, and it’s a big helping of good news for the Democratic slate of Family Court nominees, as five of the six Dems running get the Chron nod. Here’s a blurb from each:

246th Family District Court:Sandra Peake

By process of elimination, our choice is Democratic candidate Sandra Peake for this bench. A graduate of University of Houston Law Center, Peake has practiced law for 30 years with a concentration on family law. We believe Peake, 59, would do a better job than her Republican opponent Charley Prine in dealing with the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Harris County.

247th Family District Court:Clinton “Chip” Wells

Wells, 62, has practiced law in Texas for nearly four decades, from El Paso to Beaumont, Dallas to Brownsville. Wells, a Democrat, has a lifetime of legal experience, with specific focus on family law. Voters should put that knowledge to use in our family courts. His Republican opponent in this race, John Schmude, demonstrates an admirable passion for service. However, his legal resume is distinctly thinner than Wells’, and he has run perhaps the most partisan campaign of any judicial candidate. His website is long on endorsements from groups unrelated to family law, such as anti-abortion advocates and the National Rifle Association, but short on the usual tempered judicial rhetoric. Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, Schmude, 40, said that such campaigning was necessary to win the primary. Primary season is over. Texans should expect better from their judges.

280th Family District Court:Barbara J. Stalder

During the Democratic primary, we wrote that Barbara Stalder was one of the few people in our state who is prepared to handle the challenges of this court, which hears protective orders that involve domestic violence. In the general election, Stalder, 54, is still uniquely qualified for this bench.

308th Family District Court: Jim Evans

In this closely matched race, we go with Democratic challenger Jim Evans. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Evans, 47, has a pastor’s compassion that comes from working as a Baptist minister, not to mention a master’s degree in religious studies.

311th Family District Court: Sherri Cothrun

When the race to replace disgraced Judge Denise Pratt was crowded with contenders, Sherri Cothrun was the most qualified candidate. Now that the race is finally down to the general election, Cothrun is still the most qualified candidate. With 30 years’ experience practicing family law, she has a full slate of awards and achievements befitting her extensive career, including board certification in family law and certification as a family law arbitrator.

Couple things here. First, it’s interesting and heartening to see the Chron ding the GOP incumbent in the 246th and the GOP nominee in the 247th for touting on their campaign webpages opposition to same-sex marriage in the former case and a plethora of right-wing shibboleths in the latter. You can believe what you want to believe, but as a judge you’re supposed to be fair and impartial, and you’re supposed to look and sound like someone who is fair and impartial. If you’re going to be loud and proud about these things, you shouldn’t expect the benefit of the doubt.

Also of interest: The Chron did not mention the recent troubles of Judge Alicia Franklin in the 311th Family Court, even though they apparently came up during her joint interview with Sherri Cothrun. I guess they only had so much space for this.

Anyway. You can see the Q&A’s I did for the Democratic primary with Sandra Peake here; with Barbara Stalder here; and with Jim Evans here. I will be publishing a Q&A with Cothrun on Tuesday, and will publish one from Wells in two weeks; I hope to receive one from Kathy Vossler, the Democrat in the 309th Family Court race, in the near future. Those of you that have experience with these courts, what do you think of the Chron’s endorsements?

UPDATE: Texpatriate has an interesting take on this.

Endorsement watch: Family Court judges

Ten more benches, ten more endorsements, only this time the score is 8-2 Democrats:

245th Family District Court: Janiece Horn, a Democrat, is our choice for this open bench.

246th Family District Court: Sherri Cothrun, the Democratic challenger, says she would bring a more “contemporary perspective” to this bench than the 16-year incumbent.

280th Family District Court: Kathy Vossler, the Democratic candidate, is our choice for this open bench, which has been designated to handle family violence cases.

308th Family District Court: Bruce Kessler, the Democratic candidate, would bring sensitivity and thorough knowledge of the law to this open bench.

309th Family District Court: Bill Rice, the Democratic candidate, would bring 35 years of family law practice experience to this bench.

310th Family District Court: Judy Dougherty, the Democrat, is our choice for this bench.

311th Family District Court: Deborah Wright, the Democratic candidate for this open bench, has extensive experience in private practice and as an associate judge in the family courts.

312th Family District Court: Robert Hinojosa, the Democratic incumbent on the 312th bench, is a veteran of 36 years of family law practice.

And here are their Q&A responses:

Janiece Horn (note: from the primary)

Sherri Cothrun

Kathy Vossler

Bruce Kessler

Bill Rice

Judy Dougherty

Janiece Horn emailed me last night to say that she will send her updated responses shortly. I have not received responses from Deborah Wright or Judge Robert Hinojosa. Responses from the two Democratic candidates who did not get the Chron endorsement are here:

Mary Kay Green, 247th Family Court (note: from the primary)

Sandra Peake, 257th Family Court

You can see Q&As for the Republican candidates at Big Jolly Politics.

Judicial Q&A: Kathy Vossler

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

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

I am Kathy Vossler and I am running for the 280th Judicial District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th District Court hears every Family Violence Protective Order cases filed in Harris County. It is the only court of its kind, and as such is a very important court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe that I am uniquely qualified for the Domestic Violence bench. I have a lot of experience in handling domestic violence cases as a practicing family attorney. I understand how important these cases are, from every standpoint. I understand the dynamics of relationships that involve domestic violence, and I am familiar with the resources in our community that are available to assist families who are in a domestic violence situation. I feel very strongly that we must elect a Judge to this bench who truly understands, is qualified and has the experience. I am the only candidate who fits that description.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a family lawyer, and have been practicing primarily family law my entire legal career. In the course of my family law practice, I have handled many domestic violence cases. I have represented the victims of domestic abuse, the perpetrators of domestic abuse, the children of domestic abuse, and persons wrongly accused of domestic abuse. I have seen domestic violence cases up close, from all sides, and many, many times. This experience will allow me to hear all sides, decide each on its merits, in a way that is just, fair, and based on the evidence presented.

As a family lawyer, I have a lot of experience in high-stress, high-conflict, emotionally charged and potentially dangerous disputes. These are the types of cases that I will regularly hear, as judge of the 280th District Court. I have a calm demeanor. I am professional. I do not pre-judge, and I am fair. These are very important qualities for the Judge of the domestic violence court.

Before becoming a lawyer, I was a single parent. I raised my three children while working my way through college and law school. I earned a degree in political science from the University of Houston in 1993, graduating magna cum laude. I went on to the University of Houston law school, where I graduated cum laude. I then opened my own family law practice, and have been doing that ever since. I have real life experiences as a business owner, a single parent, someone who has experienced the family court system, someone who has worked hard and struggled to create a life for my family. All of these experiences combine to form a solid foundation. With that foundation, I am the right choice for the 280th.

5. Why is this race important?

The 280th District Court is the only court in our county of 4 million that is specifically designated to hear and decide Family Violence Protective Order cases. There is no other court, no Associate Judge, no jury, to hear and decide these cases. This means that, as the voters of Harris County, we must very carefully choose the right judge for this bench. Domestic violence impacts every segment of our society. It impacts people of every race, religion, income-bracket, gender, gender-preference, education level, ethnicity, country of origin and area of town. In addition to the families involved, domestic violence has an impact on the officers who are called to the scene, the friends, neighbors and co-workers of the parties, the teachers and classmates of the children. Domestic violence can scar a child for life. A domestic violence case can have a direct impact on a person’s divorce case, custody case, criminal case or immigration case. It can end in tragedy on the news that affects us all.

There is a big difference between my opponent and me. I have experience in family law and domestic violence cases. Her last sixteen years have been spent in civil cases – contract disputes, eminent domain and personal injury cases. The cases are different. The experience is different. The candidates are different. Harris County deserves a judge in this unique court who understands the issues she will be hearing.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the only candidate with experience, the qualifications and the demeanor to sit as Judge of Harris County’s only Domestic Violence court. My opponent has spent her law career in civil cases. We need someone in this family violence court who knows family law and understands domestic violence.