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Kristen Hawkins

Endorsement watch: Civil court incumbents

Keeping up with the weekly endorsement schedule, we have round one of Civil Court endorsements, as there are many Civil Court races this year.

HarrisCounty

11th Civil District Court: Kevin Fulton

The candidates in this race to replace outgoing Judge Mike Miller are both living proof of the American Dream. Republican Kevin Fulton, our choice for the bench, grew up in gritty South Central Los Angeles. The family of his Democratic opponent Kristen Hawkins fled Communist Hungary. Both candidates went on to graduate from law school and start their own firms. Both have the right temperament and work ethic to succeed on the bench.

61st Civil District Court: Erin Elizabeth Lunceford

Gov. Greg Abbott chose well when he appointed Erin Elizabeth Lunceford, 55, to this court in July 2015, and voters should give her a full term. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Lunceford, a Republican, has 27 years of practice, is board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and is also an associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

80th Civil District Court: Larry Weiman

When civil judges want to brag about their number of jury trials, the size of their dockets and their overall productivity, they compare themselves to Judge Larry Weiman.

125th Civil District Court: Kyle Carter

Democrat Kyle Carter – first elected to the bench in 2008 – gets our nod for another term. This graduate of the South Texas College of Law genuinely seems to love his job and to view it as an opportunity not only to administer justice but to help people. Carter, 40, said that he’s started an organization, Judges At Work in Schools, and visits local schools to educate students about the judicial system, career opportunities and the importance of education.

127th Civil District Court: R.K. Sandill

Judge R.K. Sandill, 40, admits that he’s developed a reputation for being curt. He expects lawyers to come prepared and has no patience for counsel who waste his and their client’s time. But over his two terms, this hard-working, qualified judge has learned how to keep the docket moving without being too harsh on the attorneys.

129th Civil District Court: Michael Gomez

Voters should return Democrat Michael Gomez to the bench for four more years. Although his numbers in the Houston Bar Association judicial qualification poll weren’t stellar when he was first elected in 2008, Gomez has grown into the role and last year he was awarded Judge of the Year by the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston. According to Gomez, 42, anyone who “loves his job the way I do is always looking for a way to do things better.”

133rd Civil District Court: Jaclanel McFarland

Judge Jaclanel McFarland brings a lot of personality and small-town common sense to her court. In meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, the two-term Democratic judge explained how she hates it when opposing counsel just rely on email instead of actually talking to each other.

The 11th is an open bench, while the 61st was filled by appointment after Judge Al Bennett was elevated to federal court. The rest are all Democratic incumbents. The next batch contains four Democratic incumbents (Englehart, Schaffer, Smoots-Hogan, Palmer), one Republican incumbent (Halbach), and two Republican appointees (Mayfield Ibarra and Dorfman). There’s one incumbent I don’t expect the Chron to endorse (Palmer); beyond that, we’ll see.

Democratic primary runoff results

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Harris County results

Fort Bend County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Just for the record, we didn’t get any precinct results until 8:34, at which time only 8% of precincts had reported. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of overwhelming turnout this time. We did get a big batch just after 9, but thanks to some close races, Harris County results will be the last ones I write about in this post.

Grady Yarbrough cements his position as this generation’s Gene Kelly by winning the Railroad Commissioner runoff. I’ll say again, you want a decent candidate to win these downballot primaries, especially against a perennial candidate, you’re going to need some investment in those races.

On a more interesting note, first-time candidate Vicente Gonzalez won the runoff in CD15 to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez drew support from a bunch of Congressional incumbents, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Someone at least thinks he has a bright future, so keep an eye on him.

In Bexar County, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins will succeed retiring Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in HD120.

In fairness to Stan Stanart, the Fort Bend County result reporting was even worse. They posted some precinct results a few minutes before Harris did, then bizarrely went back to showing early votes with zero precincts in. That was still the case as of 9:45 PM, then finally at 10 PM all the results came in at once. The deservedly maligned Rep. Ron Reynolds led 59-41 after early voting, then held on for a 53-47 margin. I wonder if voters were changing their minds, or if it was just the nature of Reynolds supporters to vote early. Whatever the case, he won.

And from Harris County:

– Dakota Carter wins in SBOE6.
– Ed Gonzalez will be the nominee for Sheriff.
– Judge Elaine Palmer easily held off JoAnn Storey for the 215th Civil District Court. Kristin Hawkins had an easy win for the 11th. The closest race of the evening was in the 61st, where Fredericka Phillips nosed out Julie Countiss by 210 votes after overcoming a small early lead by Countiss.
– Eric William Carter won in JP Precinct 1, while Hilary Green held on in JP Precinct 7.
– Chris Diaz romped in Constable Precinct 2, while Sherman Eagleton cruised in Constable Precinct 3.

And finally, Jarvis Johnson won in HD139, entirely on the strength of absentee ballots. Kimberly Willis won the early in-person vote as well as the Runoff Day vote, but not by a large enough margin given the modest number of people who turned out. Johnson will have the seniority advantage over his fellow freshmen thanks to his win in the special election, but this is not the kind of result that will scare anyone off for the next cycle.

Roundup of runoff candidate interviews and Q&As

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As we know, early voting for the primary runoffs begins in a week. I did my usual series of interviews and judicial Q&As for the primary, but there were a few candidates I didn’t get to for one reason or another. So, to refresh everyone’s memory and to give another chance to get acquainted with who will be on the Democratic runoff ballot, here are links to all those interviews and Q&As for your convenience. Remember that turnout in this election is likely to be quite low, so your vote really matters.

SBOE 6

Dakota Carter
Jasmine Jenkins

HD27

Rep. Ron Reynolds
Angelique Brtholomew

(Note: Rep. Reynolds declined a request for an interview.)

HD139

Kimberly Willis
Jarvis Johnson

District Judge, 11th Judicial District

Kristen Hawkins
Rabeea Collier

District Judge, 61st Judicial District

Julie Countiss
Fredericka Phillips

District Judge, 215th Judicial District

Judge Elaine Palmer
JoAnn Storey

Sheriff

Ed Gonzalez
Jerome Moore

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1

Eric William Carter
Tanya Makany-Rivera

Endorsement watch: Remember the runoffs

The Chron makes their endorsements for the primary runoffs, which will happen on May 24, with early voting from the 16th to the 20th. Let me sum up:

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Republican

Member, Railroad Commissioner: Gary Gates

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2: Mary Lou Keel

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 5: Scott Walker

Democrats

Member, Railroad Commission: Cody Garrett

Member, State Board of Education, District 6: R. Dakota Carter

State Representative, District 139: Kimberly Willis

Judge, 11th Civil District Court: Kristen Hawkins

Judge, 61st Civil District Court: Fredericka Phillips

Judge, 215th Civil District Court: JoAnn Storey

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez

Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1: Eric William Carter

Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Place 1: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Constable, Precinct 2: Christopher (Chris) Diaz

Constable, Precinct 3: Sherman Eagleton

Some of these are reiterations of primary endorsements, but quite a few are new, with the original endorsed candidate not making it to the finals. I’ll post a roundup of interview and Q&A links for the races where I’ve done them tomorrow.

Runoff watch: Judicial races

There are three District Court race runoffs on the Democratic side, and two Court of Criminal Appeals runoffs for the Republicans. There are also a few Justice of the Peace runoffs, but I’ll deal with them in another post.

11th Civil District Court – Democratic

Kristen Hawkins

Kristen Hawkins

Kristem Hawkins led this three-candidate race by a wide margin, coming within 1000 votes of an outright win. Runnerup Rabeea Collier finished just 170 votes ahead of third-place candidate Jim Lewis. Given the narrowness of that margin, I’m actually a bit surprised there hasn’t been a call for a recount, but as far as I know there hasn’t been one.

Hawkins’ Q&A is here, and Collier’s is here. This race is fascinating because there’s no clear reason why it went the way it did. All three candidates were busy campaigners, and all three won endorsements from various groups, with Lewis getting the nod from the Chron. Hawkins was first on the ballot, but doesn’t appear to have been a major factor overall. Hawkins would seem to be a clear favorite in the runoff based on her near-win in March and commanding lead in vote total, but as we know this runoff is going to be a low-turnout affair. Anything can happen.

61st Civil District Court – Democratic

This three-way race saw a much more even split of the vote than the 11th did. Frontrunner Fredericka Phillips had 38%, with second-place finisher Julie Countiss scoring 35%. In third was Dion Ramos, who won a partial term for the 55th District Court in 2008, but lost it in the 2010 wipeout.

Countiss’ Q&A is here; Phillips did not send me a response. Countiss’ campaign was by far the most visible, at least to me, and she collected most of the group endorsements. Phillips is the Vice Chair of the Texas Democratic Party as well as a past candidate for the 387th District Court in 2012 in Fort Bend, under her maiden name of Petry. The Chron endorsed Ramos for March, so they’ll have to revisit this one; the same is true for the 11th, where Lewis was their initial choice. I see this race as a tossup.

215th Civil District Court – Democratic

Easily the most interesting of the judicial runoffs, and the one with the most backstory. In 2012, District Court Judge Steve Kirkland was the only incumbent judge to face a primary challenge, from attorney Elaine Palmer. Palmer’s campaign was lavishly funded by attorney George Fleming, who bore a grudge against Kirkland, and that animus made this an ugly, divisive race that Palmer ultimately won. Palmer went on to win in November, and now in 2016 she is the only incumbent judge facing a primary challenge. Three candidates filed against her, with JoAnn Storey leading the pack into overtime.

Judge Palmer’s Q&A is here, and Storey’s is here. Palmer led all the way but was never close to a majority, ending up with 43% to Storey’s 27%. If there’s a judicial race that will draw out voters, it will be this one, as Kirkland supporters, in particular the HGLBT Political Caucus, have a shot at avenging that 2012 race. Storey got most of the group endorsements for March, which in itself is remarkable given that she was challenging an incumbent, though the Caucus went with Josh Verde in Round One. I expect that will be handled for the runoff, and that I’ll be hearing from them as attention turns towards the vote. As for Palmer, if Fleming is still financing her it’s not apparent – the only report I can find for her is the January filing, for which she reported no contributions for the period. Again, this one could go either way, but I feel like Storey has a slight edge.

Court of Criminal Appeals – Republican

There are two Republican runoffs for the CCA. I’m just going to quote Grits for Breakfast about them.

Grits suggested before the primary that I’d “be watching the Sid Harle/Steve Smith race on the Court of Criminal Appeals to see if Texas GOP voters have flat-out lost their minds.”

Short answer: They have.

Judge Harle, who arguably was the most qualified and well-respected jurist on the ballot, didn’t even make the runoff to replace Cheryl Johnson on the court. Instead, a lawyer named Scott Walker who according to press accounts had “chosen not to campaign,” led the field with 41%. He’ll face Brent Webster, who ran on an anti-abortion platform unrelated to the activities of the Court of Criminal Appeals and garnered 20.45% of the vote.

Steve Smith ran third with 19.6%, with Harle trailing at 4th with 18.5%

Walker was popular because he shares a name with the Wisconsin governor who at one point appeared to be a presidential frontrunner before the Trump phenomenon erupted. Webster, presumably, benefited from his (irrelevant) pro-life bona fides, though so little is spent on these elections I suspect most people who voted for him knew nothing at all about him.

In the race between Mary Lou Keel, Chris Oldner, and Tea Partier Ray Wheless, Keel and Wheless made the runoff. Keel led, barely, but Wheless’ base is more likely to turn out in the runoff. Keel and Oldner have disparaged Wheless, whose background is mostly in civil law, as unqualified, although Rick Perry appointed him to a district court seat.

Voters in the GOP primary clearly didn’t have a clue about these CCA races. They may as well have drawn lots for Johnson’s seat. These races are so underfunded for a state the size of Texas that candidates can’t meaningfully get their messages out and voters have no way to know anything about them.

The Walker/Webster runoff is the strongest argument in my adult lifetime for appointing judges instead of electing them. What an embarrassment.

So there you have it. As a reminder, there are Democratic candidates in each of these races. I admit, that’s unlikely to matter, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.

Judicial Q&A: Kristen Hawkins

(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 2016 Election page.)

Kristen Hawkins

Kristen Hawkins

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

My name is Kristen Hawkins, and I am running for the 11th Civil District Court of Harris County.

I am a 16-year attorney with five years of judicial experience. I grew up in Houston, attended Alief Hastings High School, the University of Texas at Austin, and South Texas College of Law. During my 16 years practicing as an attorney I have represented individuals, doctors, small-business owners, and corporations.

In 2010 I was appointed as one of the Harris County Tax Masters and presided over Tax Court once a week. I managed a docket of approximately 6,000 cases. I am active in both the Texas and Houston Bar Associations, and I frequently present classes on topics ranging from Social Security Disability, property tax law, courtroom procedures, technology, and establishing a small firm.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 11th Civil District Court hears civil cases ranging from dog bites, car wrecks, and other personal injury cases to contractual disputes, business disputes to property tax issues, name changes to injunctions, nuisance cases to property boundary disputes. The 11th Court does not generally hear family, criminal, juvenile, or probate matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 11th District Court is an open seat and currently held by a Democrat. It should continue to be held by a strong, qualified Democratic judge. Also if elected, I would be the first female judge on this bench, the oldest in Texas.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 5 years judicial experience managing a docket of approximately 6,000 cases that has taught me how to run both an efficient court and a court that allows litigants to have their day in court and to have their voice heard. This experience also gave me insight into some of the administrative changes that judicial candidates and judges may want to consider when deciding how to engage more citizens in the judicial process.

5. Why is this race important?

The public is more likely to interact with a judge than any other elected official, whether through jury service, a civil marriage, a legal dispute that brings them to court, or being a witness in a case, so it is important that the public become familiar with judicial candidates. It is also important to keep a strong, qualified, Democratic judge on this bench, and to elect more women to county-wide offices, such as judicial positions.

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

I am a strong, qualified, female candidate with five years of judicial experience who will bring new ideas on the administration of justice to the bench. I have written an op-ed on diversity in jury service and am committed to finding ways to engage citizens in our judicial system.