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Kris Ougrah

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: 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.