Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Q&A

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Judicial Q&A: Margaret Poissant

(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.

Margaret Poissant

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

My name is Margaret Poissant and I am running for 14th Court of Appeals Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 14th Court of Appeals hears both civil and criminal appeals of cases tried in 10 counties in Texas, with the exception of death penalty cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because Texas needs independent thinkers with strong experience in several areas of the law to ensure justice for all Texas citizens. Justices should work hard, be fair, and follow the law.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications for this very important position are detailed on my website, poissantforjustice.com, and include my experience in hundreds of cases, both civil and criminal, (primarily civil cases in Harris County), which has given me a strong understanding of various legal issues; Martindale-Hubbell ratings for highest ethical standards by my peers and by judicial rating; trial and mediation experience, as well as the handling of hundreds of cases without resort to litigation; my understanding of community issues and volunteer work, including assisting SN 22 with the drafting of city ordinances to submit to the City of Houston; and bar licenses in both Texas and New York. I have run two businesses successfully.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the rulings by the 14th Court of Appeals affects all citizens in the State of Texas.

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

People should vote for me because I am well grounded, have the necessary experience to perform the job, have a strong ethical background, am respected by my peers, and will follow the law. I have support for my candidacy by individuals in Texas and my peers.

Judicial Q&A: Brennen Dunn

(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.

Brennen Dunn

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

My name is Brennen Dunn and I am running for judge of the 185th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears ciminal felony cases from state jail felonies to 1st degree felonies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This particular bench has seen some biased practices towards defendants. I believe in changing the culture that defendants in this court have been accustomed to for years. Many of the cases in this court have been presided over with a heavily pro-prosection slant.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have worked in private practice since 2010 with a primary focus in criminal law. I have been dedicated to ensuring the equal protections of defendants and ensuring the justice system acts with impartiality. I have served as appointed counsel for the economically disadvantaged for several years.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we have a chance, after the 2016 showing to continue to turn the tide of overly conservative judges that have shown a favoritism to prosecutors instead of impartiality. I want to be representative to a style of justice where victims feel vindicated and defendants feel like they have been given fair proceedings. In today’s racially, religiously, and ethnically divided country, our judiciary needs to be seen as the utmost purveyor of equality.

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

I believe that I will have fairness, above all else as the mantra of my court. I believe in expediting case loads to ensure efficiency in the courtroom and relieving pressure on overly taxed resources. From a fiscal view, my plans will ease the financial burden on county resources. My goals are bipartisan in nature and will create a progressive environment for my court, and the county.

Judicial Q&A: Charles Collins

(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.

Charles Collins

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

My Name is Charles Collins. I am a 39 year-old attorney and native Texan. I am a lifelong Democrat, father, family man, public servant and long-time resident of Houston’s Historic Third Ward. I am a 2001 graduate of Prairie View A&M University and a 2004 graduate of The Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. I am running for Judge of the 246th Judicial District Court in the March 6, 2018, Harris County Democratic Primary. I hope to secure the party nomination and advance to the November 6, 2018, general election against the incumbent.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

It is one of 10 Family District Courts in Harris County. These courts hear a variety of family law matters including divorces, child support and child custody disputes, paternity establishment suits, adoptions, termination of parental rights suits, child protection matters, and name change petitions. These Courts may even perform marriage ceremonies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 246th Judicial District Court is rated among the lowest performing family courts in Harris County based on the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation. Since the time I began practicing in Harris County Courts in 2005, it has traditionally received lower scores in areas such as impartiality, efficiency, and overall performance. I am running because I want to improve the quality of service this court provides to the citizens of Harris County. It is the court where my experience and qualifications will have the most meaningful impact.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 12 years of full-time, exclusive, family law practice experience. I am a member of the Texas and District of Columbia Bars. I am also a member of the Bar of The United States District Court for The Southern District of Texas. I have served as Assistant State’s Attorney General for the Title IV-D Agency since 2005. I am a former Assistant Attorney General of the Year for Region 6 (2007). My employer is the state’s largest law firm and I have served as a Managing Attorney for it since 2010. In this capacity I supervise over 50 agency employees and its busy day-to-day operations to secure financial stability for children and assist absent parents who wish to establish their parental rights. I have handled thousands of family law cases. I have extensive trial experience representing the state’s interest in virtually all subject matter within the court’s jurisdiction. I remain current in my understanding of the law and have presented continuing legal education (CLE) courses within the agency I work for and to the Houston Bar Association.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is monumentally significant because it represents the very foundation of our society: The family. The decisions made in family court have a lasting impact on our lives. They can mean the difference between a family that thrives and one that is fragmented. A family court’s impact can bring new, brighter, beginnings for some; however, if the court fails to act responsibly it can charter a future that is uncertain. The decisions made in our family courts could mean the difference between a troubled life for a child and a future of stability and promise. Harris County deserves the most qualified, and experienced, family court judges to help build strong families and communities. There is a lot at stake here.

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

I am the only candidate in this race whose exclusive area of legal practice is, and has always been, family law. It has been my passion, and my focus, since day one. This experience has made me a very knowledgeable candidate in my area of practice. I am the only candidate for this bench who is a career public servant. I am also the only candidate with proven management and leadership experience in a high-volume legal practice environment. As such, I value the importance of exceptional customer-service and implementing new ideas to improve efficiency. The citizens of Harris County can trust that I will hold this office with integrity, as I have in my current position. I believe in a family-first approach and will treat all people fairly. I am committed to assigning the utmost importance to each matter that it deserves, as I would want for my own family. I will implement a solutions-based approach to each case. I am energetic, dedicated, respectful, humble, kind, and look forward to bringing a fresh new perspective to this court. I am ready to serve the citizens of Harris County in this very meaningful and important role.

Judicial Q&A: Michele Chimene

(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.

Michele Chimene

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

My name is Michele Chimene. I’m a long-time resident of Houston, Katy, and Sugar Land. I am running for Place 8 on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. The Fourteenth Court is the intermediate court, hearing civil, criminal, and family appeals in 10 counties centering around Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears criminal, civil, and family law appeals from the trial court. It also hears special cases called “original proceedings.”

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because, as a 25-yr appeals lawyer, I read the opinions that are issued by the incumbent, and I believe that he sometimes deletes parts of the law, substituting in his own words instead of the law, to make the results of the case different than they would be if the actual law was applied. I believe that the law should be predicable and fair, with a “level playing field” for everyone.

4. What are your qualifications for the job?

I have been an appellate attorney for twenty-five years. While I also have trial experience, I believe that experience as an appellate attorney, researching the law and writing common sense arguments clearly and understandably is the best experience for becoming an appellate justice. I also believe that I am a good listener, and that everyone who comes into my court will get listened to politely and courteously.

5. Why is this race important?

Because the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals do not hear every case that petitions them. For many cases in this large chunk of Texas, the Fourteenth Court will be the highest court that hears them, and their final chance to receive unbiased justice. Voters should not skip voting in this race, because it is a chance to elect someone who is not a professional politician but who has the legal skills to give the thousands, (yes, thousands), of parties who come before her during her term the predictable, law-based justice they seek.

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

Experience and character matter. My twenty-five years of appellate experience are more relevant experience than the incumbent had before he was elected to the bench. Most candidates for the Court of Appeals come to the Court with only civil case experience. My broad experience includes all the types of law the court handles. Additionally, my prior career as a geologist gives me the technical background that will be helpful to the Court as it takes on technically-challenging cases. My character matters. I will follow the law as long as the Constitution allows, and if Texas law differs from the Constitution, I will follow the Constitution. Our country was founded as a nation of laws. We need to get back to that. I will be predictable.

Judicial Q&A: Stanley Santire

(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.

Stanley Santire

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

I am Stanley Santire, former line officer in the U.S Navy, former chief legal counsel for Lockheed Aircraft International, a trial lawyer of three decades, a mediator for two decades, and currently a declared Democratic candidate running for Harris County Civil Court at Law No 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a statutory county court at law court.

The jurisdiction of this court in Harris County is the same type of cases heard by District Courts in Harris County except that the controversy cannot exceed $200,000 excluding interest, statutory or punitive damages and attorney fees. This is not as severe a limit as might appear. For example, in workplace discrimination cases under Texas Chapter 21 which covers situations of harassment and discrimination in race, color, sex, national origin, religion, and age, the economic damages are almost always under $200,000 yet the substantive amounts in such cases are primarily punitive, exemplary, and attorney fees, none of which are excluded from County Courts at Law by the cap.

The statutory County Courts at Law also takes appeals from Justice of the Peace Courts as well as workers’ compensation claims regardless of amounts involved.

These Courts in Harris County also have exclusive jurisdiction in certain eminent domain proceedings.

These courts also have jurisdiction to:

    1. i. Decide issues of title to real or personal property,
    1. ii. Hear suits for enforcement of liens on real property,
    1. iii. Hear suits for forfeiture of a corporate charter,
    1. iv. Hear suits on right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment,
    1. v. Hear a suit for recovery of real property.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Commitment to justice for each and every individual that appears in the court without regard to race, color, gender, orientation, financial status, or any other characteristic other than a sincere striving for fair and equitable treatment under the law.

As an experienced trial lawyer and mediator, I have the qualifications and devotion to justice that will enhance the reputation of this court for having the highest standards of a jurist.

The Civil County Courts at Law need a higher caliber of jurist than have sometimes been the case. Someone of my experience will address that.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have:

    1. i. Over three decades of trial experience in State and Federal District Courts, the vast majority of my cases being tried to a jury. My cases have primarily dealt with civil rights, employment law, construction, trade secrets, non-compete covenants, and business transactions.
    1. ii. I have been lead counsel in appeals in both State and Federal Appellate courts. I have also handled cases in arbitration, including international arbitration
    1. iii. I have two decades of experience as a mediator and recently recognized as a Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association. As a consequence I have a proven record for dealing with lawyers and their clients in an even-handed, respectful manner. This is vital in maintaining a proper environment for justice in a court.
    1. iv. My dedication to the legal profession has gone beyond trying and mediating cases. I have had numerous professional published articles and frequently been honored by the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association as well as other professional organizations to be a presenter at continuing legal education programs.
    1. v. I was been honored by a request from the University of Houston to appear in a University produced video dealing with sexual harassment and affirmative action. That video is in the public domain and can be seen on YouTube under the title “Stanley Santire Public Service Talk on Employment Law.”
    1. vi. I have been, and continue to be, active in various professional organizations such as the Texas Bar College for whom I have been a presenter at Statewide programs, member of the Board of Directors of the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association, Board of Directors and former President of the Houston Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association, and member of the Trade Secrets Committee of the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of Texas.
    1. vii. In addition I have long served the County as a volunteer mediator for the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center and served the State such as when I was Chairman of the State appointed Economic Development Committee that drafted the legislation for the Texas Coastal Zone Management Program which continues to play a vital role in protecting the Texas coastline.

5. Why is this race important?

All judicial positions are important as the bulwark of a democratic republic. At this time, due to the stresses impacting our society, we need a qualified, experienced judiciary at every level that stands for fairness and integrity.

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

I am the most qualified candidate for the position in regard to any other candidate as well as the incumbent in this court. I have tried a wider range of cases in both State and Federal Courts as well as been lead counsel in State and Federal appeals. I have also been lead counsel in arbitrations both in the United States and Geneva, Switzerland. I have also been an arbitrator. In other words I have vastly more experience than the incumbent judge even considering her time on the bench. If I ascend to the bench it will be because of my legal experience and not due to an initial political appointment. Incidentally, in addition to being an experienced trial and appellate lawyer, I was recently designated a Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.

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: Armen Merjanian

(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.

Armen Merjanian

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

I’m Armen “Hammer” Merjanian and I’m running for Judge of County Criminal Court 5

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class A & B Misdemeanor cases (DWI, Theft, Assault, Criminal Mischief, Fail to Stop and give info, etc.) and Class C (ticket) appeals.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Because the current judge, Margaret Harris, is a tyrant who violates the rights of the accused on a daily basis and has for decades. She acts as a prosecutor from the bench as opposed to a neutral magistrate. Instead of complaining about it, I’m doing something about it.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’m a criminal defense lawyer who’s passionate about criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration. I’ve helped thousands of Texans in my career and know how to fix what’s broken in Harris County! I’ve seen both sides of our criminal justice system – I was a prosecutor prior to starting my own practice. I’m a proud graduate of South Texas College of Law Houston. I’m also a graduate of Gideon’s Promise, the country’s most prestigious training program for public defenders. I’ve also tried approximately two dozen misdemeanor and felony cases as first or second chair.

I have real life experiences outside of law. I was a high school math teacher, cross country, and track coach for 4 years prior to law school. I lead by example – I was named “North Suncoast Coach of the Year” in 2007.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because this court impacts the lives of thousands of Texans every year. We can no longer continue to take away the due process rights of the citizen accused and force them to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because these judges systematically deny PR bonds and are more worried about “docket control” than justice prevailing at the end of the day. Being tough on crime only creates more crime. The time for change is NOW!

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

People should vote for me because I will follow the law. I will waive pretrial appearances for all accused once they have hired or been appointed a lawyer. Personal recognizance bonds will be the norm in my court. I will not punish anyone before they are found or plead guilty; the presumption of innocence will be alive and well in my court. I will encourage the DA to offer more diversions rather than to block pretrial diversions like the current judge does.

Judicial Q&A: Gus Saper

(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.

Gus Saper

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

My name is Gus Saper and I am running for Harris County Criminal Court 11.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County Criminal Court 11 handles misdemeanor cases such as simple assault, dwi/dui, possession of some controlled substances, criminal trespass, theft under $1500.00, prostitution and similar types of cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I decided to run for this bench because I was unhappy with the incumbent judge and the way she handled her court. I knew the only way to enact a change was to run for that bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am attaching my resume which explains who I am and my qualifications.

5. Why is this race important?

Every political race is important and judicial races more so. Judges need to treat everyone equally regardless of their own personal view and/or bias. Everyone deserves nothing less.

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

People should vote for me as I have the most legal experience. I began practicing law 43 years ago and that was before the other three candidates were born. I have a diverse education and work history and my years of practice handling different kinds of cases and people make me better prepared to deal with the issues a judge would encounter on and off the bench.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Lillie Schechter

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Lillie Schechter

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I grew up in the Democratic party, whether I was marching with my cousins, chanting, “vote for Annie, she’s our granny,” as part of my grandmother’s successful bid for Tax Assessor-Collector in Hood County; block walking, making signs and working polls when my mom was the State Representative of District 134; working at the HCDP office in High School; attending or working at fundraisers hosted by my family; or working on my dad’s campaign for HCC Trustee.

Since 2009, I have run my own consulting firm, working with non-profits, organizations and helping progressive candidates in all areas of campaigning, from candidate training to fundraising and campaign strategy. I have had the pleasure to work and volunteer on campaigns in Houston, Pasadena and Galena Park, including races for United States Senator, State Senators, County Commissioner, Sheriff, City Council, Constable, School Board, Judicial, State Representative & Mayoral. I have had the fortune of working closely with some of the superstars of Texas and national Democratic politics, including Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood, Wendy Davis, Leticia Van De Putte, and Hillary Clinton.

Regardless of the pleasure I’ve had to work on these efforts, my real passion has always been a solid blue Harris County. Since 2012, I have worked on a team effort to organize a coalition of elected officials, grassroots organizations, local and national donors and labor in order to push the County’s largest get-out-the-vote efforts ever. In 2016, it really paid off. Harris County Democratic voters turned out, electing all county-wide Democrats and giving Hillary Clinton the largest victory in Harris County of any Democratic Presidential candidate since LBJ.

In addition to working with the local party and with Democratic candidates, I gauged the need for a leadership-training program focused on growing, recruiting and training progressive candidates in Texas. After researching organizations across the country, I worked to bring Texas’s first chapter of the New Leader’s Council (NLC) to Houston. I raised money for the program and helped assemble an advisory board that has become a who’s who of local politics. NLC has thrived ever since, with twenty new progressives entering the program each year and chapters forming in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

I am running for HCDP chair because keeping Harris County blue and flipping Texas starts with having a strong local party. We not only need to elect more democrats in Texas, we also need to drive up the Democratic vote share in our largest counties so we can flip Texas as a whole. I don’t want to live in a state that denies people the right to public education, health care, a living wage and who separates families. As a 7th generation Texan, I want to live in and raise kids in a state that respects all its residents and provides every citizen a fair shot, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or citizenship status. My experience will enable me to hit the ground running on Day One and position the Harris County Democratic Party for gains in 2017, 2018 and beyond.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

HCDP has a strong core of dedicated volunteers, clubs, precinct chairs, and activists. HCDP in recent years has been able to dedicate time and resources into running a mail ballot program and we have indeed increased our share of Democratic mail ballot voters. To move forward, though, the Party needs to grow. The size and infrastructure of the Party should reflect the fact that Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the country and larger than 24 states.

In addition to doing mail ballots, the Party needs to expand its infrastructure to support the vast number of strong clubs and dedicated volunteers. This means expanding resources including training materials, and more group and one-on-one VAN trainings, increased number of staff, and making office space available when needed.

The first step toward creating a Party that reflects the size of Harris County is raising money. We need to expand our base of financial supporters. I want to grow the number of small dollar donors and large dollar donors. We can grow our base of small donors by being more active locally by increasing the frequency of in-person events, expanding our social media reach in order to get new people in the doors, and expanding our engagement and appreciation of small dollar donors who sacrifice what they can to make the Party better. We will grow our large dollar donations by creating a strategic plan that investors believe in. Increasing the amount of money raised through the Party can only be done through creating professional, goal-oriented plans with deliverable results.

In addition to building the HCDP infrastructure and raising money, we need to create a Party that works with the larger constellation of organizations that work to make Harris County more progressive, like AFL-CIO. We have no shortage of potential voters to contact in election years and no shortage of voters to register here in Harris County. No one organization can do all the work, but HCDP can collaborate and assist with other organizations to get us to our shared collective goal, not just keeping the county blue, but creating a more progressive county for us to live in.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media to keep my friends, family and followers up to date on my activities and to amplify the work and beliefs of those I support. In this capacity, HCDP’s social media footprint has been fairly well done, but as an organization social media is more than just an outlet to amplify ideas and notify followers of events, social media is a tool.

While likes are not equal to votes, they are a good way to get someone’s foot in the door who then comes to an event and eventually becomes a volunteer, and later a sustaining member. Social media needs to be used as a tool that increases our base and helps us reach our goal of building a bigger Party.

In addition to using social media as a tool to build our volunteer and donor base, social media is an emerging tool in voter contact. When talking to voters we must use the best medium to get our message through. For some that is a knock at their door, a phone call, or a piece of mail. For others, particularly younger voters and first time voters, social media is their chosen line of communication. Targeting voters on social media has come a long way and we no longer use it to cast a wide geographic net, but can use it to target specific individual voters. As Chair I will make sure that we are using social media in the most current, strategic and effective way possible to grow our base of volunteers, donors and voters.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

If there are progressive candidates on the ballot, HCDP should be involved. Organizing doesn’t only happen the months leading up to a November election in even years. From our work in Harris County, we have learned that we need to talk to voters year-round and voters from previous elections are easier to turn out for the next elections. This includes people who turned out for the first time in a Mayoral or odd year election.

That means turning out Democrats to vote in non-partisan races when there is a clear D-R match-up should be an integral part of our overall strategy for keeping Harris county blue and contributing to turning Texas blue.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

Improving Democratic turnout in ’18 starts this year. That means organizing voters in upcoming May and November elections and doing voter registration.

The key to winning in 2018, and 2020, and 2022 is voter registration. HCDP has the most valuable and underused resource when it comes to registration, our volunteers. As chair, I will increase the number of trainings done at HCDP and increase our outreach to our volunteers to let them know about other trainings.

In addition to working to get more HCDP volunteers trained as deputy registrars, I plan to make a calendar available and send emails about all events in the county where VDR’s can go and register voters.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am honored to be a part of a good group of candidates running for chair and am sure that our party will be stronger and in better shape after the election on March 5th. My extensive professional and volunteer experience working on every level of campaigns sets me apart from any other candidate. I know what it takes to create, fundraise, and implement multi-tiered campaign plans focused on door knocks, phones calls, mail and media in Harris county and have been involved in executing these efforts during multiple cycles. I have spent the last ten years building coalitions to support different campaigns and build the local Democratic Party.

This experience will allow me to put HCDP in a better position to organize toward the future from Day 1 and I look forward to being able to work with all allies in the county. I ask for your support to help elect me Chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party so that we can continue working together to keep Harris County Blue and flip the state.

You can also find out more at www.lillieforchair.com.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Eartha Jean Johnson

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Eartha Jean Johnson

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

My name is Eartha Jean Johnson and I am an attorney and President and CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide (formerly, LegalWATCH), an award-winning risk mitigation company that helps executives reduce and prevent compliance sanctions, lawsuits and negative press associated with company policies, processes and employee actions and communications. We also have a family business, LJ5 Real Estate Development Company LLP. I am married to Lonnie Johnson, a former lobbyist and attorney. We have 3 children who are also attorneys, practicing here in Houston.

I have worked in politics in some form or fashion for more than three decades. I have served as a Telephone and Block Walking Canvasser, Election Protection volunteer, Poll Watcher, Deputy Voter Registrar and have traveled out of state to campaign. In addition, I have donated to candidates and worked on numerous Presidential and Judicial campaigns. Most recently, I organized Houston’s Women of Color for Hillary Clinton, which resulted in one of the largest reception turnouts of Women of Color for Hillary across the country. I also started the Turn Texas Blue Movement; an idea that turned into a movement, where we utilized innovative ideas and approaches that significantly increased the number of registered voters, mail in ballots, and voter turnout for the November 2016 election.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

Harris County needs a leader who: 1) is selfless and has strong leadership skills, 2) is inclusive and can work across the aisles and with all personalities; 3) is an independent thinker and fighter; 4) can raise money; and 6) most importantly, has the passion and enthusiasm to motivate people to action and get results.

I am that person and have demonstrated performance to show it. As Chair, I pledge to bring innovative approaches, experience, fundraising skills and most importantly a detailed plan to move the party forward. Not only will we have a well-funded Harris County Democratic Party, we will be a more inclusive and collaborative Party, with an infrastructure that will position us to play more offense than defense. Like Martin had a dream for the world, I have a dream for the Democratic Party.

I offer my hands to work every day to unify our party, raise money and get Democrats elected; I offer my voice to make sure our concerns are heard; and I offer my heart to be a passionate, dedicated and relentless advocate as our Party Chair. Together we will make Harris County Democratic Party a model for our country.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Harris County has a strong Democratic base and awesome community and association leaders dedicated to doing everything in their power to keep Harris County blue. What HCDP needs to move forward is to capitalize on the strengths we have and unite and collaborate with Democratic Clubs, and with Community and Trade Associations across the county to devise a well thought out blueprint to build an inclusive, efficient, self-sustaining infrastructure that produces by far more successful than unsuccessful candidates. The days of uncontested Republican races are over. We will not only have individuals competing for every race on the ballot; we will have individuals who are competitive and understand what it takes to run a campaign and to win the race. We will put our money and support behind each candidate, from School Board to Congress.

In addition, it is essential we get our youth and young adults engaged and actively participating. We must begin by providing them with seats at the table and make every effort to fill vacant Precinct Chair positions with young adults; this way we will begin to build a pipeline of our Democratic leaders of tomorrow. We also need to form a Harris County Democratic Party Young Democrats Division, and allow our youth to set the young adult agenda, and develop programs and events to motivate and excite other youth to get involved and engaged.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media more as an informational tool to keep up with friends and on community issues and use social media as a conduit to voice my opinions on controversial issues in the press.

The use of social media and technology should be one of our organizations’ primary outreach platforms.

We must use social media and other technology to keep our constituents informed and engaged, i.e., solicit thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We should also use it as a vehicle to recruit and train candidates and as a conduit to notify our base of open position on the ballot. We can also use social media to poll our constituents on controversial issues and provide a chat room for open discussions on political issues, as well as to solicit thoughts and opinion on the future direction of our party. Additionally, we can use social media to provide monthly webinars to keep everyone informed and engaged. Finally, if elected, I plan to use social media to implement my 20.18 Plan fundraising initiative (see response to question 6).

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc.)?

We should support candidates who are independent thinkers and best align with our Party’s democratic ideas and values.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

If elected, we will continue the programs we initiated with the Turn Texas Blue Movement and implement the 20.18 Plan.

Turn Texas Blue Movement Internalized Voter Registration Initiative – Our goal was to get barber and beauty shop owners, church members, trade association employees, individuals living in senior living and assisted living facilities deputized so they could register voters on a continuous and ongoing basis. Our vision was get so many people deputized within businesses and organizations that a person couldn’t go within 5 miles of their homes without seeing a sign saying, “You can Register to Vote Here.”

Enhanced Voter Registration – By capturing email addresses, we notified voters when early voting began, provided a link to early voting locations and sent daily countdown reminders to increase the likelihood they would vote.

Mail in Ballot Initiatives

We will continue the Turn Texas Blue Movement, “Out of County College and University Initiative.” As part of this initiative, we reached out to colleges and universities, both in and out of state, with large populations of Texas residents and implemented a coordinated mail in ballot campaign, which resulted in over a 1000 mail in ballots.

We will also continue our Courthouse and Jail Voter Registration Campaigns – We registered voters as they entered and exited courthouses and notified past felons of their right to vote if they were off papers. We also had an initiative to register eligible individuals who were confined in jail.

Our Funding Source – The 2018 Plan

In 2016, Bernie Sanders raised a record $234,000,000 dollars, with an average contribution of $27.00. Bernie could raise the money because he was passionate about the things he fought for and got his base excited. Not only did Bernie’s constituents give, they became active and engaged. For the Harris County Democratic Party to improve our voter turnout, we need a Chair who can motivate our base AND get our young adults excited and involved, while holding onto those who have carried this party for decades. If we do this, we will have no problem raising money. Like Bernie, I have that fire and passion and a proven record of accomplishment starting a movement and getting people excited.

If elected, we will implement the 20.18 Plan to fund the total upgrade of the Harris County Democratic Party. The 20.18 Plan calls for getting 20% of Democrats who voted in the 2016 election to contribute a mere $20.18 per year, which will result in us raising over $5 million dollars by 2018. This will help us fund our mission to take back Democratic control of all local and state races in 2018. We will no longer just survive, but will thrive.

We will not only use the money to recruit and prepare candidates, we will use it to support Democratic candidates in every race, from school board to congress. No longer will we make it cost prohibited for judges to run for office. We will help them shoulder the financial burden and assist with their campaigns. Our goal is to make it easier for great candidates to run.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I have gotten to know most of my opponents and have come to respect and admire them. I believe, if successful, they will do a good job. What sets me apart from my opponents, however, are my innovative ideas and passion, which people tell me is infectious. It is my passion and God given ability to motivate people to act that will make all the difference. Like Bernie taught us, when you excite and motivate your constituents, not only will they get engaged, they will contribute. There is no other candidate in this race with my level of experience, fundraising abilities, leadership skills, and most importantly, passion to motivate others to act. It is the passion that makes the difference between good and great.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Robert Collier

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Rob Collier

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I am Robert Collier. I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and I am one of three siblings of Donnell and Dorothy Ann Collier. I am a product of a long list of staunch Democrats, civil rights activist, and community organizations such as Upward Bound. As a child, I witnessed KKK rallies in Jackson and the oppression of those without the means to fight back. I wanted to fight back, and the Democratic Party became my hammer. Like so many others, I became active in the Democratic Party in college, where I eventually became President. As President, I organized and mobilized students around issues such as police brutality, elections, and protests. I even managed to convince Jane Goodall to come to campus to promote her Roots and Shoots program to highlight the significance of environmental issues. I also wanted to become an attorney to hone my skills as an advocate. After college, I enrolled in law school.

In 2005, while in law school, I founded the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club. I clerked for U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson and the U.S. Homeland Security Committee. I had an opportunity to work there full-time, but declined because I realized D.C. politics was very different than local politics. After law school, I became a member of Meyerland Dems and eventually a Precinct Chair. I also served on the standing committee as Finance and Fundraising Chair for over 2 1⁄2 years. Moreover, in the last five years, I have hosted fundraisers and contributed to support candidates and advance the Democratic agenda. Most recently, I supported my wife, Rabeea Collier, in her campaign to become a judge in Harris County.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

We are the last line of defense for so many working families. If we fail, it will have a direct impact on families. Further, I don’t want to see the Party used to narrowly further the agenda of an individual or group of individuals. I want to see the Party flourish and advance all of our mutual interests; and to serve as a reminder of why we do what we do. Moreover, we have to transform into more than a political party, we have to become a community-service oriented organization. We have to show the community that we not only care about their vote, but we care about them. That’s why I’m running and I need your support.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Operationally, the Party is almost in the same position it has been in for years. We are under-utilizing our supporters’ talents. I believe the membership of most clubs and associations are burnt-out; and the current problems with the Party are accelerating that frustration and fatigue. We have to use technology to assist with a coordinated effort and communication. The Party is understaffed and under-capitalized, and we have to develop a long-term business plan of our goals and how we plan to grow as an organization.

Fragmented Effort. Due to the lack of strategic leadership and communication of our vision, our supporters are involved in so many different groups and grassroots issues. We have to provide a clear focus and road map of how we become successful. Our members are constantly being pulled in several directions, therefore it is imperative we communicate to them in advance when and how the Party will rely on their support. Further, due to limited resources, time, and volunteers, we have to become focused. I believe we can solve that by providing tactical and strategic leadership to our members.

Campaign Strategy. In my opinion, we have relied on two main strategies that I will refer to as the “top-of-the-ticket” and “straight-ticket” strategies, and for good reason. I believe the mid-term elections are a really good gauge of the effectiveness of our campaign strategy. The victory margins for Republicans have been roughly between 2%-10%, with the last election being roughly 2%. We have focused on multi-cultural issues, and that has helped us build strong coalitions, but it has also divided the Party. How do we advance the interest of one demographic of the Party without alienating another? We reclaim our identity as the Party for working families and labor. If I am elected, we will focus our campaigning, branding and messaging around working families and the economic realities that we all face. We have to tackle pocketbook and kitchen table issues.

My grassroots target audience will be the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. My geographic focus will be Kingwood, Spring and Katy areas. If we can penetrate the suburban areas of Harris County with strong messaging regarding the Republicans’ attack on public education and working families, we can win.

Lastly, building on the momentum of the presidential campaigns, I want to heavily focus on the 18-35 generation. We’ve been talking about increasing the involvement of young people for some time, but our membership of this demographic hasn’t changed in a meaningful way. If there was ever a time to have a significant outreach effort to this demographic, it would be right now.

Throughout 2017, we will be planning, recruiting and training candidates and precinct chairs; fundraising; and expanding our community engagement. In 2018, we will begin to focus on our core base and implementing our GOTV strategy. We don’t have a lot of time, and there is a lot of work to do. I have the experience and skill set to hit the ground running.

Fundraising. As a former Finance and Fundraising HCDP Chair, I have coordinated and assisted in organizing small dollar events for the Party across Harris County. That experience has taught me that the strategy cannot be the cornerstone of growing the Party. Additionally, we are severely exhausting the resources of our members when we only target our candidates, elected officials and members to support our fundraising events and campaigns. We have to align our fundraising events with our community engagement; and target an expanded community for fundraising.

I recently served as the national Finance and Fundraising Chair for the National Bar Association, the association of black attorneys that advocates for civil rights. I coordinated and assisted the organization in raising roughly $2.5 million dollars. I highlight this experience because it involved developing a strategy, building a consensus among strong personalities, and effectively executing that strategy. For my efforts, I was awarded the NBA’s highest award, the President’s Award. If elected, I will explore similar fundamental strategies that will lead to our success.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

My plan is to utilize our members and young supporters who are technologically inclined and to start a committee whose sole focus will be to expand our social media and online campaign efforts.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

Our Party is based on our values and ideas. They bind us together. We exists not just to get candidates elected, but to get Democratic candidates elected who will help us advance our values. There are a lot of non-partisan races that directly touch issues we care about such as public education and affordable property taxes. Furthermore, if I’m elected, we will get more involved in policy issues in a systematic and strategic way.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

We have 8-10 months in 2017 to develop a strategy, recruit candidates and precinct chairs, and educate supporters why mid-term elections matter. The branding and messaging that we implement in 2017 will be the branding and messaging for the 2018 elections. We will focus on an issue-oriented campaign and Trump’s policies that attack our core base. I want to focus on the issues that matter to the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. In addition to the “top-of-the-ticket” strategy, I want us to dig deeper and develop a segmented campaign, both geographically and demographically, that will address the issues that matter most to our core base and Democratic leaning supporters. Further, I will work to develop and implement a coordination strategy among our progressive groups that will help us all to utilize our resources effectively. You can learn more at www.robcollier.com.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am product of HCDP. In addition to serving in leadership positions within HCDP, I serve and have served in leadership positions in Houston and nationally. I’m ready to hit the ground running.

Based upon my experience in the HCDP office and working with the coordinated campaign political director, I have an appreciation for the Party dynamics and the Chair’s responsibilities including not only managing a campaign and outreach, but also managing state and federal regulatory compliance, balancing a budget, managing cash flow, fundraising, coordinating primary elections and etc. I think a lot of the candidates have passion, but I think my experience and clear vision sets me apart.

Further, there are candidates that have a skill set, but they have an agenda that I think will ultimately be corrosive to the Party. We are a Party that volunteers and makes change happen from the bottom up, and the election of our Chair should be no different. I think the Chair should be an idealist, skilled, and experienced Party volunteer.

I believe Precinct Chairs should support me because I have the passion, leadership and experience, both professionally and within the Democratic Party, to lead the Party. I have served HCDP as a Precinct Chair, a Fundraising Chair, Recount Committee Chair, pro-bono attorney, donor, senate district delegate and convention organizer, among other capacities. I recently supported my wife in running for judge from beginning to end, so I know how the Party can better serve our candidates. In all my years of being involved with the Party, I have never asked a candidate nor the Party to pay for my professional services or time provided to the Party. Moreover, I have raised thousands of dollars for candidates and I have never asked a single candidate for something in return, other than to serve well. I don’t have an agenda, other than to serve the Party faithfully. If you are looking for such a candidate, I ask for your support. Let’s move forward, not backwards.

Judicial Q&A: Judge RK Sandill

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge RK Sandill

Judge RK Sandill

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

Judge R.K. Sandill. I preside over the 127th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The civil courts preside over matters that include commercial, personal injury, consumer and tax litigation. The matters range in value from $500 and above. The civil courts also deal with issue related to health warrants, medical emergencies, and matters as odd as allowing for the reinternment of human remains.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

Since taking office in January 2009, I have tried over 200 cases and disposed of more than 12,000 matters. I have worked hard to improve docket management, jury relations and to facilitate the litigation needs of counsel and their matters. As one of the first judges in Harris County to adopt e-filing, I have also worked to utilize technology as a tool to improve the litigation process. I believe strongly in respecting all who appear in my court, as well as their time and resources. As such, I was pleased to be rated “well qualified” or “qualified” by over 77% of respondents in the 2016 HBA Judicial Qualifications poll.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I strive continually to improve my courtroom work and make the 127 th work as efficiently and effectively as possible for those who appear there. By allowing FaceTime and Skype to be used to call witnesses, I will continue to leverage technology to alleviate costs and time constraints for litigants. I am also exploring the possibility of having hearings and status conferences in this same manner.

5. Why is this race important?

Our civil courts are a critically important aspect of our judicial system. They offer citizens the chance to have their day in court, with a trial before a jury of their peers. The public forum offered by the courts allows for transparency. In the last ten years, we have seen a shift away from transparency when it comes to resolving disputes. Because of this, we need to elect and re-elect high quality judges to these benches so that the public trust remains in our constitutionally protected judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I believe my experience and record of success as Judge of the 127 th District Court merit my re-election. I have consistently received high ratings from the attorneys who practice in Harris County courts. As the first and only judge of South Asian descent in Harris County, I bring valuable diversity of background and experience to our local judiciary. Further, because of my varied experience (grew up in a military family and a cancer survivor), I bring different perspective to the Harris County judiciary.

Further, because I work hard, understand the issues before me and attempt to make all those that appear in my courtroom feel welcomed and respected, I have the respect of the lawyers that appear before me. This election cycle I have been endorsed by the Houston Lawyers’ Association, the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, and the Association of Women Attorneys, which comprise all the non-partisan legal organizations that endorse in Harris County. For all these reasons, plus because I love what I do, I ask the people of Harris County to vote for me in this election.