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Steven Kirkland

Five out of six ain’t bad

Five Democratic candidates for six statewide judicial positions, all from Harris County.

Four state district and county-level judges from Harris County and a Houston civil-litigation lawyer filed for seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals at state Democratic headquarters.

“The only time they open the courts is when it suits their cronies,” said state District Judge Steven Kirkland of Houston, referring to the nine Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court.

[…]

Harris County Civil Court Judge Ravi K. Sandill, who seeks Republican Justice John Devine’s Place 4 seat on the state Supreme Court, said voters would reject the leadership styles of Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We’ve got a bully in the White House. We’ve got a governor who’s a bully,” he said. “Texans stand up to bullies.”

[…]

Kathy Cheng, a native of Taiwan, said she’s been “the voice for people who don’t have a voice” in nearly 20 years of private law practice. She filed for the Place 6 seat of Republican Justice Jeff Brown.

Signing paperwork to run for Court of Criminal Appeals were Maria T. Jackson, presiding judge of the 339th state District Court in Harris County, and Ramona Franklin, who’s judge there in the 338th.

Jackson filed for the presiding judge seat now held by Republican Sharon Keller of Dallas. Franklin is seeking the Place 7 seat of Republican Barbara Hervey of San Antonio.
“No matter where you live or what you look like or who you love, in my courtroom, you’re going to receive justice,” she said.

Kirkland and Sandill you knew about. Jackson was elected in 2008 and has been re-elected twice. Franklin was elected in 2016. Cheng ran for the 1st Court of Appeals in 2012. The Chron story says that a sixth candidate is not expected to come forward, which is too bad. It’s great that Harris County is representing like this, but surely there’s someone somewhere else in the state who can throw a hat in the ring. Be that as it may, best of luck to these five.

Kirkland for Supreme Court

Good.

Steven Kirkland

Houston State District Court Judge Steven Kirkland has announced his candidacy for a seat on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, making him the first openly gay candidate to run for the state’s highest civil court.

Kirkland, a Democrat, is seeking Place 2 on the court, which is currently held by Justice Don Willett. Willett was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Donald Trump in September, setting the stage for an open primary if Willett wins Senate confirmation.

“I’m running because the Texas Supreme Court has entered far too many decisions recently that reek of politics and it’s time to change that,” Kirkland said.

Kirkland points to the court’s recent unanimous decision on June 30 in Pidgeon v. Turner, which ruled that the City of Houston should not have extended its benefits policy to same-sex couples as a primary example of a political decision.

Kirkland notes that since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide that “marriage means marriage.”
“They were thumbing their noses at the law and thumbing their noses at the U.S. Supreme Court, all to protect themselves in the Republican primary,” Kirkland said of the ruling.

He’s dead-on right about that, and with any luck our state Supreme Court will get smacked down by the federal one. Kirkland’s candidacy, whatever happens next November, will provide an opportunity to remind everyone what a crappy and craven ruling that was, and that we the people have a chance to do something about it. Kirkland joins his colleague RK Sandill in mounting a statewide race. (Like Sandill, Kirkland is not on the ballot for district court again until 2020.) We need one more to fill out this slate, plus three for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Much as I love these guys, I do hope we get some candidates from outside Harris County as well. OutSmart has more.

Judicial Q&A: Steven Kirkland

(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.)

Steven Kirkland

Steven Kirkland

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

I am Judge Steven Kirkland and I am the democratic candidate for Judge of the 334th Civil Judicial District Court in Harris County.

I grew up in West Texas. I moved to Houston to attend Rice University where I graduated in 1982. While at school, I got involved in Houston politics and have been involved ever since. I worked my way through law school as a paralegal at Texaco and attended school at night. In 1990, I earned a position litigating environmental cases for the company. In 1998, I left Texaco and represented residents of East Houston and Harris County in their lawsuit against the ship channel industries to clean up our air. I have also worked with Avenue Community Development Corporation to develop affordable housing. In 2001, Mayor Brown appointed me to serve as Municipal Court Judge where I served until elected to the 215th Civil District Court in 2008. I am currently in the City of Houston’s legal department representing Houston taxpayers.

You can learn more at www.judgestevenkirkland.com.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 334th District court is a civil court hearing cases involving personal injury, property damages, contract disputes and other civil complaints.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The incumbent is a Republican appointed by Rick Perry in 2013. While I don’t have a particular beef with him, I know folks who do. I do have a problem with a Courthouse dominated by one party. Without competition for the Courts, the people get lost in the shuffle and justice falls short. Judges forget that they serve the people and rather than use their powers to make sure cases are heard, they use their powers to shut down the process.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 12 years of judicial experience, 26 years of legal experience and over thirty years of community service to the people of Houston and Harris County. I have represented individual homeowners, international oil companies and Houston taxpayers. I have been on all sides of the Courtroom and have the legal and life experiences to serve you fairly, efficiently and with compassion.

In my twelve years as a Judge I have presided over more than 750 jury trials of cases ranging from traffic tickets and car crashes to complex construction and financial disputes. I have adjudicated the rights of neighbors over a fence and cases of citizens exercising their rights to free speech. In every Court that I have served in, I have adopted procedures and programs to improve the process. In Municipal Courts, I created the Homeless Recovery Court that allows folks working their way out of homelessness to clear up old warrants by performing community service at their shelter or program instead of going to jail. In the District Court, I mandated e-filing in all cases filed in my Court. I withdrew reference of tax foreclosure cases to the tax master and instead handled those matters directly. All of these are cost saving measures that increase accessibility to the courts and transparency in the decisions.

In addition to my professional experience, there are many tools from my life experience I have used to be a good judge. I am a recovering alcoholic. Twenty nine years ago I faced addiction, turned my life around, and have not had any alcohol since. While this is a strength, it also means there is a past. Prior to recovery, I was arrested several times for drinking inappropriately. I was fortunate to have survived my drinking years without harming myself or anyone else physically, and have managed to make amends to all who I have harmed emotionally. I speak from experience when I say I believe in the power of people to learn from their mistakes and improve their lives. This experience is a source of humility and compassion that I have used every time I took the bench.

5. Why is this race important?

Our Democratic Campaign for the Courthouse is critical to Justice in Texas. The newspapers are full of stories of Republican judges doing things that just aren’t right. The Court of Criminal Appeals was closed at 5 PM preventing an appeal of the death penalty, a family Court judge signed orders presented by the Chair of the Republican Party that stripped health benefits from families of City employees behind closed doors after hours, a Criminal Court Judge holds a mother in contempt and sends her to jail for shouting “thank you Jesus” when ruling favored her son, or Juvenile Judge takes a child away from a young mother for no reason other than making the child available for adoption. All of these are Republican judges and it shows they just don’t get it.

My candidacy itself is important to folks who value diversity. Currently there are no open LGBT judges in the District Courthouse and only one in the State of Texas.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have a passion for justice. This passion directs my politics, career and community choices and activities. All my life I have stood up for what is right and spoke out against and tried to change what is wrong. From my record, you know where my heart lies. My thirty years experience of activism and accomplishments in the community and the Democratic Party shows its not just talk with me, I walk the walk.

Runoff watch: Judicial races

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

11th Civil District Court – Democratic

Kristen Hawkins

Kristen Hawkins

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

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

61st Civil District Court – Democratic

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

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

215th Civil District Court – Democratic

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

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

Court of Criminal Appeals – Republican

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

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

Short answer: They have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Civil courts, part 1

In the first round of judicial endorsements, Democratic candidates did very well, getting the nod from the Chron in five of six races. In their first review of civil court races, it was the reverse as the Chron stayed with four of the five Republican incumbents. The one exception:

Steven Kirkland

113th Civil District Court: Steve Kirkland

Every two years, Harris County voters go to the polls to decide who will serve on Texas’ judiciary – a job whose highest purpose is to ensure that justice is done. In this year’s election, voters can stand side-by-side with judges in that search for justice by putting Steve Kirkland back on the bench.

In a miscarriage of democracy, Kirkland lost in the 2012 Democratic Party primary to an under-qualified opponent whose campaign was almost exclusively funded by a local attorney who had lost a case in Kirkland’s court. Our courts do not belong to the highest bidder, and it falls on voters to make things right.

A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Kirkland has served four years as a civil court judge and eight years as a municipal judge, where he helped create Houston’s Homeless Recovery Court.

In this race, Kirkland faces Michael Landrum, who was appointed to the 113th Civil District Court by Gov. Rick Perry in May 2013. Landrum has an impressive record and would certainly be a fine judge, but this race is about more than two men running for the same position. It is about the voters of Harris County proving that attempts to manipulate our courts will always end in futility. Re-elect Kirkland.

In each of the other races, the Chron was complimentary towards the Democratic challenger, but thought the Republican incumbent was good enough to merit re-election. We’ll see how it goes with the second batch. My Q&A with Kirkland from the primary is here. I’ve got a Q&A with Farrah Martinez in the 190th Civil Court here, and I’ve got a Q&A with Kay Morgan in the 55th Civil Court in the queue for later. What are your thoughts on these endorsements?

Primary results: Harris County

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

The big news here is that there were no surprises on the Democratic side, in particular no unpleasant surprises. By far the best news was that Kim Ogg easily bested Lloyd Oliver in the primary for DA, with over 70% of the vote. I doubt we’ve seen the last of this particular plague on our house, but I think it’s fair to say that this time, Oliver’s name recognition did not work for him. I hope by now there have been enough negative stories about him – that Observer piece got shared far and wide on Facebook – that now when people see his name, it’s not a good thing for him. In any event, we Dems managed to not make the same mistake we made in 2012, so we can have ourselves a real DA race this fall. Thank goodness for that.

The three incumbent legislators that had primary challengers all won without breaking a sweat. Sen. John Whitmire had 75%, Rep. Carol Alvarado had 85%, and Rep. Alma Allen was right at 90%. The other race of interest was in the 113th District Civil Court, where Steven Kirkland pulled out a close win. The thing I noticed was that while Kirkland won early voting with 51% (he trailed slightly in absentee ballots), he won Election Day with over 54%. I have to think that the late stories about serial sugar daddy George Fleming worked in Kirkland’s favor. If so, that makes me very happy. If Kirkland wins this November, it means it’ll be at least until 2018 before we have to deal with Fleming’s crap again. Maybe by then he’ll have gotten a grip and moved on with his life. I for one certainly hope so.

On the Republican side, Rep. Sarah Davis easily held off teabag challenger Bonnie Parker, clearing 70% with room to spare. Hard to believe now that this was seen as a hot race. Embattled Family Court Judge Denise Pratt led the field of five for her bench, but she had only 30% of the vote. That runoff will be interesting to watch. Most other incumbents won easily – Sen. Joan Huffman, Rep. Debbie Riddle, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez – while former Council member Al Hoang defeated Nghi Ho for the nomination in HD149. One other incumbent wasn’t so lucky, now-former Party Chair Jared Woodfill, who was ousted by Paul Simpson. I don’t know if County Judge Ed Emmett smokes cigars, but if he fired one up after these numbers started coming in, I for one would not blame him.

On turnout, Election Day wound up being roughly equal to early non-absentee voting on both sides. I’d say the weather plus maybe a bit of Mardi Gras had an effect. We got the results we wanted in Harris County, so I’m not too concerned about it.

UPDATE: I have to laugh at this:

Ogg, 54, said she spent $150,000 to get her message out for the primary. Her opponent, Lloyd Oliver, did not raise or spend a penny on his campaign.

“I guess the weather did me in,” Oliver said Tuesday.

Before the election, the 70-year-old said gray skies meant only the “party elite” would make it to the polls.

“They control the establishment side, and for some reason, I don’t see me ever making it on the establishment side,” he said. “You can either be establishment or a loose cannon, but you can’t be in-between.”

Yes, the weather did you in, Lloyd. Which is why Kim Ogg was leading with over 70% in early voting. Please feel free to go away and never come back now, Lloyd.

Kirkland v Fleming goes national

Lisa Falkenberg writes the followup column on George Fleming and his repeat attempt to underwrite a campaign challenge to Steven Kirkland that I figured she’d write.

George Fleming

Fleming’s contributions to a political action committee called Moving Texas Forward – $75,000 from him and $10,000 from another of his PACs, according to records – have helped foot the bill for a new wave of attacks that have filled mailboxes, in-boxes and radio waves in recent days. All focus on Kirkland’s old record.

Gray, who according to records has taken $15,000 from Fleming and $35,000 from one of his PACs, hasn’t engaged in the attacks. She released a statement saying, in part: “If any independent groups are saying anything untrue about Steve Kirkland, they should stop immediately.”

But she hasn’t condemned the deceitful nature of the ads. And that’s a mistake, as was taking Fleming’s money with no questions asked.

Kirkland’s DWIs are shameful, no doubt. But the attack ads never mention the dates of the arrests. On the contrary, they make it seem like they happened yesterday.

[…]

Justin Jordan, who works as Gray’s campaign consultant, and has been paid thousands to do advertising by a Fleming PAC that’s supporting Gray, defended the ads.

Asked why a 30-year-old DWI is relevant in a judicial race, Jordan at first hesitated: “I’m not sure. Judge Kirkland made that an issue.”

“How?” I asked.

“He talked about it,” Jordan said. “I think his record is fair game.”

Jordan denied that the ads were misleading, including one mailer featuring scary drunken driving statistics and court documents detailing Kirkland’s conviction, jail sentence and license suspension. The only date provided is one featured prominently, in big type, near the top right: May 2012.

“Whether it was 30 years ago or 30 days, a DWI is a DWI,” Jordan said. “If you have a public record you should defend it. And the only thing we’ve heard from Judge Kirkland’s campaign is whining and crying.”

Jordan’s explanation for the May 2012 reference? It was the date a photo of Kirkland included in the ad was taken. Apparently, it’s more important we know when a random photo of Kirkland was taken in his chambers than when he actually committed the offenses at the heart of the attack ad.

See here and here for the background. Sure, a DWI is relevant in a campaign. So is lying. Kirkland has been honest about his past history with alcohol. Too bad Fleming and Jordan aren’t being honest about their characterization of it. Hope it was worth it to you if you win, Lori Gray.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post picked up the story and added a little bit more to what we already knew, but didn’t provide a fully accurate picture.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Fleming noted that he is a lifelong Democrat who frequently contributes and supports judicial elections in Texas. Like other lawyers, he said, he is invested in ensuring that the most competent judges ended up on the bench.

“I don’t have a vendetta against anyone,” he said. “Our selection in Texas of judicial candidates is an elective system. Like so many others, I participate in that system and have for many years.”

[…]

But if Fleming’s donations are based on merits, there haven’t been many candidates he’s found meritorious. Campaign finance records show that both he and his PAC got involved in just two other races after [the 2012 primary between Kirkland and now-Judge Elaine Palmer]. The first was a state representative campaign.

The second was to support Lori Gray, a lawyer who is currently running against Kirkland in the Democratic primary for a seat on the 113th District Court.

I was a bit suspicious of that “after the 2012 primary” formulation, so I went and did a search by Contributor for both George Fleming and the Texans For Good Leaders PAC. It’s true that the latter has mostly been active since 2012, and has only contributed to one other candidate – State Rep. Richard Raymond – besides Palmer and Gray, though they did contribute $5,000 to the HCDP in 2009. However, Fleming himself does have an extensive history of contributions to mostly Democratic candidates. I searched from January 1, 2000 onward, and he gave quite a bit to the likes of Ellen Cohen, Kristi Thibaut, Susan Criss, and a few Democratic judicial candidates in 2008. He also gave $20K to Friends Of Carole Keeton Strayhorn in 2005, $1,000 to now-Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown, and ironically enough $250 to Steven Kirkland in 2011. So much for that. Be that as it may, Fleming’s defense of himself has some merit, but by the same token in a year like this there are far better causes to which to contribute. It also doesn’t mitigate the bad acts of his anti-Kirkland crusade. If you want to be known by the body of your work, it’s best not to have one example of your work stand in stark contrast to everything else you’ve done.

And the same old crap begins in Steven Kirkland’s race

Lone Star Q reports that Steven Kirkland received the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, just as the same kind of attacks on his character that he dealt with in 2012 cranked up again.

Steven Kirkland

Kirkland, a close friend of Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s, served as a Harris County state district judge from 2009 until 2013. He was defeated in the 2012 Democratic Primary by Elaine Palmer, who ran an anti-gay campaign funded by a vindictive attorney against whom Kirkland had entered a judgment. Kirkland says that same attorney, George Fleming, is financing his current opponent in the March 4 primary, Lori Gray.

In recent days, Kirkland has been the target of misleading robo calls, radio ads and mailers calling attention to his arrests for drunken driving and public intoxication 30 years ago. The ads, paid for by a PAC tied to Fleming, reportedly suggest the arrests were far more recent. Kirkland, who has been sober for 29 years, details his recovery on his campaign website. He also details Fleming’s vendetta against him.

“How can Lori Gray be a fair judge if she allows her campaign manager to keep spreading lies? How can she be the defender of justice when she is part of Fleming’s effort to buy judges?” Kirkland writes. “Justice in Harris County should not be for sale. Judges should be selected on their qualifications, not lies and deceptions. I’m putting my faith in the people to join me and protect our courts.”

There’s no question that Fleming is financing Lori Gray’s campaign. You just have to look at Gray’s campaign finance reports – her only other donor of any significance is Paul Kubosh, who was also a contributor to Elaine Palmer in 2012 – the finance reports for the Texans For Good Leaders PAC, and the finance reports for the Moving Texas Forward PAC, which appears to be the financier of those calls, ads, and mailers.

Speaking of mailers, I got a copy of that nasty and misleading attack mailer that Texpatriate wrote about. You can see it here and here. Note the lack of any date on the arrest files, plus the 2012 date on the photo of Kirkland; very classy, that. Clearly, Lisa Falkenberg wrote that column too soon. Claiming she had no connection to Fleming was questionable at best to begin with, but now that Fleming has gotten up to his usual tricks means Lori Gray cannot avoid the association at all. As Mark Bennett likes to say, when you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics. If you don’t approve of what someone else is doing on your behalf, it’s your responsibility to get them to stop, and if they refuse it’s your responsibility to publicly distance yourself from what they’re doing. In the absence of any such action on her part, it’s fair to assume that Lori Gray approves of what George Fleming is doing. She deserves as much approbation as Fleming.

Revisiting George Fleming

Lisa Falkenberg catches up with an old friend.

George Fleming

Trial lawyer George Fleming was calm and gracious when he took questions back in 2012, insisting that his bankrolling of a respected judge’s no-name opponent had nothing to do with his own displeasure with that particular jurist.

“No, no,” Fleming assured my colleague Patti Kilday Hart. “The way I show displeasure (with a judge) is I appeal his rulings.”

Fleming did appeal Judge Steven Kirkland’s unfavorable ruling that could have cost his firm as much as $13 million.

Then the wealthy lawyer of Fen-Phen-fighting fame became the only financial backer of the judge’s Democratic primary opponent, contributing individually and through his political action committee $35,000.

The opponent, now state district Judge Elaine H. Palmer, ran an ugly, bruising campaign with plenty of below-the-belt jabs at Kirkland. He was ousted and is now a Houston assistant city attorney and communications law lecturer at the University of Houston.

Kirkland is back campaigning again this year, trying for another bench: the 113th District Court. And Fleming is back as well, as the sole contributor to Kirkland’s new opponent, Lori C. Gray.

This time, when Fleming took my questions on his contributions, he was practically seething at the media criticism his involvement has drawn. And, this time, he acknowledged his motivations, saying the “personal experience” in Kirkland’s court, which led to years of unnecessary appeals, has driven him to keep the judge off the bench.

Elaine Palmer actually had multiple donors in 2012, though Fleming was one of the bigger ones, and was likely the driving force behind the others who donated to her. Kirkland’s 2014 opponent, Lori Gray, reported $35K on her January filing, all of which came from Fleming and his PAC. I’m sorry Fleming has his undies in a twist about the attention he’s getting, but what did he expect would happen?

To Gray’s credit, she hasn’t engaged in the nasty, misleading mudslinging that marked Palmer’s campaign. Gray, a lawyer for 25 years who won her 2010 primary for judge, says she respects Kirkland and wants to focus on the issues, such as cutting down litigation costs.

But she makes no apologies for accepting Fleming’s money, which she says could never sway or influence her. Fleming isn’t her only supporter, she says, noting she’s got plenty of volunteers giving time and energy, if not money.

“I am not for sale,” Gray said. “I am no slave. I am a private attorney who has a contributor, for whatever reason he chose to support my campaign, I didn’t ask him. And it is not my business.”

I don’t know Lori Gray. She does now have a campaign webpage, but any campaign activity she’s been engaged in has been invisible to me. She didn’t return my judicial Q&A, though she did submit one to Texpatriate. I don’t know why she chose to run for this court, but her explanation strikes me as just a wee bit naive. Gray ran for County Criminal Court #10 in 2010 in a contested primary, winning a close race (page 21) in which she overcame being listed second on the ballot, which was a kiss of death for most other candidates that year. Why she chose to run for this particular Civil District court, the only Civil District court that features a contested Democratic primary and the one in which you have to know George Fleming would get involved, when there were several County Criminal courts lacking a Democratic candidate – County Civil Court At Law #4 also has no Dem running – is a question only she can answer. Maybe she thought this court was the best fit for her talents, maybe she thought it was her best shot to win even with the contested primary, maybe she just thought Steve Kirkland is a lousy candidate. All of these would be valid reasons, but to profess ignorance of Fleming and his motives is not believable. Again, what did she think would happen? Whatever the result of this race, it will serve as another example of what people hate about our partisan judicial election system. I’ve yet to be convinced that any of the (mostly half-baked) alternatives to it are any better, but this adds fuel to the idea that anything else would be better.

Endorsement watch: The remaining judicial races

The Chron finishes off the contested judicial primaries.

246th Family District Court: Julia Maldonado

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

280th Family District Court: Barbara Stalder

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

308th Family District Court: Bruce Steffler

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

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

Endorsement watch: Chron for Alameel

The Houston Chronicle makes a nice endorsement of David Alameel for the Democratic nomination for Senate.

David Alameel

David Alameel

David Alameel isn’t your usual political candidate. Most big money political donors don’t start like Alameel: a gas station attendant and farm laborer. But this Lebanese immigrant’s story of working his way up to the top by joining the Army, becoming a dentist and eventually selling his chain of dental offices in Dallas to a venture capital firm stands as an embodiment of the American dream. It is a tale that grows rarer every year, with skyrocketing costs of higher education and a middle class that’s losing the economic potential necessary to fuel our economy. That’s where Alameel puts his focus. “I don’t care what other issues are involved,” Alameel told the Chronicle. “You have to keep pushing education.”

His passion for the issues comes from his experience as an immigrant and as a father who married into an Hispanic family. For him, immigration policy isn’t just a topic for political debate, but something that he’s lived: citizens harassed by border patrol, grandmothers separated from their children, businesses that need hardworking laborers. It is a refreshing perspective in a campaign season filled with hyperbolic claims from folks who live their lives in sanitized suburbs.

While other Democratic candidates will hit the pavement to register and turn out voters in Texas’ big cities, Alameel says he wants to stay along the border and make sure that those folks vote not just in the primary, but in the general election. It is an admirable goal in a state with such low turnout.

They throw in a few nice words for Maxey Scherr at the end but concede that Alameel will be better funded. The Chron’s rather warm embrace stands in contrast to the Star Telegram, who also endorsed Alameel but wasn’t impressed with any of the Democratic candidates and mostly went with Alameel on the grounds that he might be able to have a reasonably well-financed campaign. I was going to say that the Chron endorsement of Alameel was the first major endorsement by someone other than an individual I’d seen, but a scan of his campaign Facebook page shows that he has been receiving a decent number of group endorsements around the state, and it included the link to the FWST editorial that I’d missed. Scerr, for her part, is quick to send out emails touting her endorsements, which recently included the San Antonio Express News and the Austin Chronicle.

Also in the Chron were a handful of judicial primary endorsements, with this one being of the most interest:

113th Civil District Court: Steve Kirkland

Steve Kirkland’s loss in the 2012 Democratic primary for the 215th civil district court stands as a case study in the pitfalls of a partisan elected judiciary. After serving for years as a dedicated and highly praised judge, Kirkland was challenged by an unqualified opponent whose campaign was almost exclusively funded from a single source – local plaintiff’s attorney George Fleming, who coincidentally had lost a major judgment in Kirkland’s court. The election was marred by underhanded attack ads, and the message to Harris County was clear: Justice is for sale.

Democracy should not go to the highest bidder. But history threatens to repeat itself. Fleming is at it again, bankrolling Kirkland’s only challenger in this race, Lori Gray. There is no question in this election. Democratic Party voters should send a message and put Kirkland back on the bench where he belongs.

A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Kirkland served for four years as a civil court judge and eight years as a municipal court judge. He may not have the backing of a big-dollar plaintiff’s attorney, but he does have the endorsement of the Houston Chronicle.

I noted Fleming’s financial involvement in my roundup of 30-day finance reports for county candidates. I hope the dynamics of the primary this time are more favorable to Kirkland, but we’ll see. The Chron made no recommendation in the Democratic primary for County Criminal Court at Law 10, and made endorsements in three Republican judicial primaries. I have to assume there are more of these to come, as there are quite a few other contested primaries, and I can’t believe the Chron won’t take the opportunity to weigh in on the GOP race for the 311th District Family Court, home of Judge Denise Pratt. We’ll see if they have more to say on these and a few other races, like SD15, as early voting gets underway.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

BagOfMoney

In our previous episode, we looked at the campaign finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates. Today, let’s have a look at the reports for candidates for countywide office in Harris County. I’m not going to get down to the Constable or JP level – I’m not aware of any interesting primaries, those districts tend not to be too competitive, and there are only so many hours in the day. Neither County Commissioner Jack Cagle nor Jack Morman has an opponent, so I’m skipping them as well. The real interest is in the countywide campaigns, so here are those reports.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Ahmad Hassan
David Collins

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Emmett 28,600 119,244 401,209 Hassan 0 1,250 0 Collins 0 0 0

The only thing Judge Emmett has to fear, I’d say, is a 2010-style Democratic wave. Other than that, he should win without too much trouble. In the meantime, he will have plenty of campaign cash to spend on various things, including a $10K contribution to the campaign of Paul Simpson, who is challenging Jared woodfill to be Chair of the Harris County GOP, and $5K to the New Dome PAC. It’ll be interesting to see how much he spends on other campaigns from here on out.

District Attorney

Friends of Mike Anderson
Friends of Devon Anderson
Kim Ogg
Lloyd Oliver

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Anderson 0 29,730 36,739 Ogg 66,643 8,897 40,771 Oliver 0 0 0

The Friends of Mike Anderson PAC gave a contribution of $66,469.58 to the Friends of Devon Anderson PAC, which closed out the books on it. I presume Devon Anderson will commence fundraising at some point, and will have all the resources she needs. Kim Ogg has done a decent job fundraising so far, but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that ultimately matters. Zack Fertitta had $145K on hand as of his 30 day report in 2012, and we know how that movie ended. Early voting starts in three weeks, you know.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Ann Harris Bennett
Gayle Mitchell

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Stanart 16,400 19,398 45,969 Bennett 10,748 7,113 2,442 Mitchell 1,138 2,010 0

Stan Stanart has $20K in outstanding loans, which was the case in July as well. His fundraising came almost entirely from two sources – the campaign of County Commissioner Jack Cagle ($10K), and a Holloway Frost of Texas Memory Systems ($5K).

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Friends of Chris Daniel
Court Koenning
Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Daniel 0 15,871 0 Daniel SPAC 31,843 24,166 20,859 Koenning 38,165 48,974 112,814 Snively 5,300 3,095 2,204

Still a lot of money in this race. Incumbent Chris Daniel’s PAC and challenger Court Koenning both have the same outstanding loan totals that they had in July – $74,500 for Daniel, and $50K for Koenning. Democrat Judith Snively has loaned herself $4K. I suspect we won’t see as much money raised in this race after the primary as we do before it.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Arnold Hinojosa
David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Sanchez 23,500 5,577 220,437 Hinojosa 0 1,250 0 Rosen 2,875 2,122 651

Orlando Sanchez’s eye-popping cash on hand total comes from an equally eye-popping $200K loan to himself. This leaves me wondering where he got that kind of money. Did he do really well for himself from 2002 through 2007, when he was in the private sector, or was he just that well off before he was elected Treasurer in 2006? Maybe someone with a journalism degree and some spare time should look into that. Google tells me that his primary challenger Hinojosa is a constable in Precinct 5. Other than paying the filing fee, he had no activity to report.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner
RW Bray
Michael Wolfe – No report

Melissa Noriega
Don Sumners

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kerner 0 810 329 Bray 135 0 135 Wolfe Noriega 0 8,690 9,335 Sumners 0 750 0

Neither Michael Wolfe nor Melissa Noriega has filed a report with the County Clerk; Noriega’s report is from the Houston finance reporting system, for her City Council account, which will presumably be transferred at some point. Not a whole lot else to say except that everyone on this list has run for office at least once before, and with the exception of RW Bray has held office at least once. Who knew the HCDE Board of Trustees would be so popular?

113th District Civil Court (D)
311th Family District Court (R)

Steve Kirkland
Lori Gray

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kirkland 55,065 6,806 35,963 Gray 35,000 30,209 4,791

Denise Pratt
Donna Detamore
Alecia Franklin
Anthont Magdaleno
Philip Placzek

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Pratt 146,020 78,361 67,659 Detamore 0 2,591 0 Franklin 15,555 13,595 47,317 Magdaleno 7,562 11,519 299 Placzek 6,700 25,012 149

I’m not interested in watching all of the contested judicial primaries, but these two are certainly keeping and eye on. The 113th is shaping up as a rerun of the 215th from 2012, in which the candidate running against Steve Kirkland is being financed by one person. In this case, George Fleming and the Texans for Good Leaders PAC he runs gave all of the money that Lori Gray collected. I don’t know Ms. Gray – she has responded to Texpatriate’s Q&A, but as yet has not sent answers to mine; if she has a campaign webpage or Facebook page I haven’t found it – but I don’t care for lawyers with vendettas like Mr. Fleming.

As for Judge Pratt, she may have a gaggle of challengers this March, but she’s not feeling the financial heat at this time. She’s also doing what she can to stay in the good graces of the establishment, with $10K to Gary Polland’s Conservative Media Properties, LLC for advertising and $10K to the Harris County GOP for various things (I’m not counting the $2500 for the filing fee). We’ll see how much good it does her.

Still more state and county finance reports, plus the city reports, to go through, and the federal reports should start being posted on February 1. January is a very busy month.

Judicial Q&A: Steven Kirkland

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.)

Steven Kirkland

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

I am Judge Steven Kirkland and I am a Democratic candidate for Judge of the 113th Civil Judicial District Court in Harris County.

I grew up in West Texas. I moved to Houston to attend Rice University where I graduated in 1982. While at school, I got involved in Houston politics and have been involved ever since. I worked my way through law school as a paralegal at Texaco and attended school at night. In 1990, I earned a position litigating environmental cases for the company. In 1998, I left Texaco and represented residents of East Houston and Harris County in their lawsuit against the ship channel industries to clean up our air. I have also worked with Avenue Community Development Corporation to develop affordable housing. In 2001, Mayor Brown appointed me to serve as Municipal Court Judge where I served until elected to the 215th Civil District Court in 2008. I am currently in the City of Houston’s legal department representing Houston taxpayers.

You can learn more at www.kirklandforjudge.com.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 113th District court is a civil court hearing cases involving personal injury, property damages, contract disputes and other civil complaints.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The incumbent was appointed by Rick Perry after I left the bench in 2012. The other District Courts are held by folks who served with me, while I was on the bench from 2009-2012. We didn’t always agree, but, we did serve as resources to each other and develop personal relationships. Since I have no relationship with the current incumbent, I chose this Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 12 years of judicial experience, 24 years of legal experience and over thirty years of community service to the people of Houston and Harris County. I have represented individual homeowners, international oil companies and Houston taxpayers. I have been on all sides of the Courtroom and have the legal and life experiences to serve you fairly, efficiently and with compassion.

In my twelve years as a Judge I have presided over more than 750 jury trials of cases ranging from traffic tickets and car crashes to complex construction and financial disputes. I have adjudicated the rights of neighbors over a fence and cases of citizens exercising their rights to free speech. In every Court that I have served in, I have adopted procedures and programs to improve the process. In Municipal Courts, I created the Homeless Recovery Court that allows folks working their way out of homelessness to clear up old warrants by performing community service at their shelter or program instead of going to jail. In the District Court, I mandated e-filing in all cases filed in my Court. I withdrew reference of tax foreclosure cases to the tax master and instead handled those matters directly. All of these are cost saving measures that increase accessibility to the courts and transparency in the decisions.

In addition to my professional experience, there are many tools from my life experience I have used to be a good judge. I am a recovering alcoholic. Twenty nine years ago I faced addiction, turned my life around, and have not had any alcohol since. While this is a strength, it also means there is a past. Prior to recovery, I was arrested several times for drinking inappropriately. I was fortunate to have survived my drinking years without harming myself or anyone else physically, and have managed to make amends to all who I have harmed emotionally. I speak from experience when I say I believe in the power of people to learn from their mistakes and improve their lives. This experience is a source of humility and compassion that I have used every time I took the bench.

5. Why is this race important?

Our Democratic Campaign for the Courthouse is critical to Justice in Texas. The newspapers are full of stories of Republican judges doing things that just aren’t right. The Court of Criminal Appeals was closed at 5 PM preventing an appeal of the death penalty, a family Court judge signed orders presented by the Chair of the Republican Party that strip health benefits from families of City employees behind closed doors after hours, a Criminal Court Judge holds a mother in contempt and sends her to jail for shouting “thank you Jesus” when ruling favored her son, a Juvenile Judge takes a child away from a young mother for no reason other than making the child available for adoption. All of these are Republican judges and it shows they just don’t get it.

My candidacy itself is important to folks who value diversity. Currently there are no open LGBT judges in the District Courthouse and only one in the State of Texas.

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

I have a passion for justice. This passion directs my politics, career and community choices and activities. All my life I have stood up for what is right and spoke out against and tried to change what is wrong. From my record, you know where my heart lies. My thirty years experience of activism and accomplishments in the community and the party shows its not just talk with me, I walk the walk.

Precinct analysis: The two races we’re all glad to see the end of

For my last look at precinct data from the Harris County Democratic primary of 2012, let’s see what happened in the two most contentious races on the ballot: Elaine Palmer versus Steven Kirkland, and Keryl Douglass versus Lane Lewis. First up, Palmer-Kirkland:

Dist Palmer Kirkland Palmer % =============================== 126 791 417 65.48% 127 860 466 64.86% 128 815 615 56.99% 129 1155 878 56.81% 130 582 322 64.38% 131 3894 1785 68.57% 132 662 350 65.42% 133 803 884 47.60% 134 1393 2614 34.76% 135 731 401 64.58% 137 816 563 59.17% 138 649 511 55.95% 139 3266 1514 68.33% 140 897 461 66.05% 141 2547 963 72.56% 142 2992 1332 69.20% 143 1859 1122 62.36% 144 944 638 59.67% 145 982 708 58.11% 146 4546 2275 66.65% 147 4224 2710 60.92% 148 1077 1305 45.21% 149 847 514 62.23% 150 647 419 60.69%

Palmer won by a 61.5 to 38.5 margin, so her domination of the districts is not surprising. Never underestimate a large budget and a boundless willingness to go negative. Kirkland did have a base of support, it just wasn’t big enough to withstand the assault. It will be interesting to return to the precinct results in November to see how long the memories of Kirkland’s supporters are. My guess is that Palmer is going to underperform the Democratic baseline overall, and will probably do worse in the districts that Kirkland carried. Good thing for the people who bankrolled Palmer that it wasn’t actually about her winning. They’ve already done what they set out to do.

I don’t know about you, but when the early vote results came in and I first saw the Palmer-Kirkland numbers as I was scrolling through them, I cringed. I was convinced that if Palmer was winning, so too would Keryl Douglass be winning. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Dist Lewis Douglas Douglas % ============================== 126 621 568 47.77% 127 741 574 43.65% 128 891 550 38.17% 129 1224 734 37.49% 130 494 405 45.05% 131 2629 2884 52.31% 132 540 471 46.59% 133 984 576 36.92% 134 2687 962 26.36% 135 627 497 44.22% 137 811 542 40.06% 138 707 422 37.38% 139 2262 2483 52.33% 140 827 564 40.55% 141 1609 1881 53.90% 142 2062 2112 50.60% 143 1815 1213 40.06% 144 1066 584 35.39% 145 1103 596 35.08% 146 3016 3449 53.35% 147 3407 3181 48.28% 148 1609 746 31.68% 149 757 594 43.97% 150 601 455 43.09%

Douglass carried five of the six African-American State Rep districts, but by relatively small margins. She did not win anywhere else. She also didn’t have anywhere near as much money as Palmer had, and I have to believe that in the end, the homophobic campaign email – whether her campaign had something to do with it or not – and push cards did not help her. I can’t say for certain that they hurt her, but I think it is safe to say that this was the wrong year to be on the wrong side of the equality issue, at least in a Democratic primary. If this is the last year that it’s even a question, I’ll consider that to be one of the better things to come out of this primary.

Democratic results, Harris County

The good:

– Lane Lewis won a full term as HCDP Chair by a 55-45 margin. If you heard a whizzing noise this evening, it was the bullet we all dodged in this race.

– Sheriff Adrian Garcia easily won renomination with over 70% of the vote.

– State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles won their races. We may finally have seen the last of Al Edwards.

– Sean Hammerle held off Dave Wilson in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. It was a close race, but the forces of good prevailed.

The bad:

– Jarvis Johnson, who finally held a campaign event during the first week of early voting, nearly won HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 outright. A late surge by Erica Lee pushed him into a runoff. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson, but he didn’t lift a finger during this race and he was up against two much more qualified opponents. There’s nothing like being a familiar name in a race like this.

– Elaine Palmer drubbed Judge Steve Kirkland, winning over 60% of the vote. I’ll be honest, I had thought that Palmer and Keryl Douglas would win or lose together, but Douglas didn’t have much money, and really didn’t do that much campaigning. Palmer had plenty of money and it worked for her. I wonder if her financial backers will be there for her in November.

The ugly:

– Perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver became the heir apparent to Gene Kelly by defeating the vastly better qualified Zack Fertitta for the DA nomination. I just about threw up when I saw the early numbers, and they never got any better. Let this serve as a very painful example of what can happen when a good candidate doesn’t have enough money to raise his name ID up to the level of the barnacle that is running against him. You can assess the blame however you like for this debacle, all I know is that I will be skipping this race in November.

– If that isn’t bad enough, Kesha Rogers will once again be the “Democratic” nominee in CD22. KP George had an early lead based on a strong showing in Fort Bend County, but he lost in Harris and Brazoria, and that was enough. I don’t even know what to say.

The rest:

– Diane Trautman won the HCDE Position 3 At Large race against David Rosen. Traci Jensen scored a clean win in the three-way SBOE 6 primary. Dexter Smith won in SBOE 8.

– Rep. Alma Allen also successfully defended her seat, winning with 59% against Wanda Adams. Mary Ann Perez had a late burst to win the nomination in HD144 outright, while Gene Wu rode a strong early showing to the top spot in HD137. He garnered 44%, and will face Jamaal Smith, who had 23%, in the runoff.

– Lissa Squiers led the three-way race in CD07 with 40%. She will face James Cargas, who was second with 33%. Tawana Cadien will be the nominee in CD10.

– Incumbent JP Mike Parrott won re-election, as did incumbent Constables Ken Jones, Victor Trevino, and May Walker. In Constable Precinct 1, Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will face off in overtime; Grady Castleberry had been running second but Vara-Leija overtook him late. In the Constable Precinct 2 cattle call, Zerick Guinn and Chris Diaz made the cut.

– Turnout was about 73,000, with almost exactly half of it coming on Election Day. Some people just don’t like voting early.

Endorsement watch: Kirkland

Nearly all of the judicial primary action this year is on the Republican side, since nearly all of the incumbents running for re-election are Democrats; there are no contested Democratic primaries for the few Republican-held benches. The one contested Democratic judicial primary is a challenge to a sitting judge, Judge Steven Kirkland on the 215th Civil District Court, and it’s been a high profile race with a lot of money in it as I noted on Sunday. The Chron has given their endorsement for this race to Judge Kirkland.

Elaine H. Palmer’s run against Kirkland is being financed almost exclusively by local plaintiff attorney George Fleming, who not incidentally lost a major judgment in the 215th court that could cost his firm millions of dollars.

Palmer, a 14-year attorney with a blended civil, criminal and traffic/misdemeanor practice, appears to be the chosen instrument of Fleming’s effort to oust Kirkland. Fleming’s law firm and a PAC he funds have contributed $35,000 to Palmer’s primary campaign.

An unintended consequence of Palmer’s candidacy to the county Democratic Party, well explained by Chronicle columnist Patricia Kilday Hart (“A little mystery over primary opposition to judge,” Page B1, April 19), is the clear potential it has brought for creation of a schism between the party’s crucial black and GLBT voting blocs. This would be destructive to Democrats well beyond a single contested primary race for a civil court bench.

Either way, we conclude, Palmer is the apparently unwitting partner to potentially damaging mischief to both Kirkland and the local Democratic Party.

And so we offer our emphatic endorsement of Steven Kirkland in the May 29 Democratic primary. We strongly encourage the party’s voters to support this highly qualified, deserving candidate.

That $35K figure was accurate for the January finance report. It’s up to $47K now with the 30 Day report added in, and I won’t be surprised if there’s more in the 8 Day report. Palmer could certainly turn out to be a decent judge if she gets elected, but this isn’t the way to go about doing that. We can get into the whole debate about electing versus appointing judges again, but to my mind if you’re going to elect judges, or if you’re going to appoint them and then have retention elections, then make them publicly funded and bar all contributions above some token amount, say $250. I cannot think of any valid reason why anyone who might have business to conduct in a given courtroom would contribute five figures or more to the election or defeat of that courtroom’s judge. That’s an issue for the Lege to deal with. In the meantime, I join the Chron in endorsing Judge Kirkland, and I hope you’ll vote for him as well.

Parker to be officially sworn in today

Possibly by the time you read this, we will have a new Mayor.

In private ceremonies at City Hall, state District Judge Steven Kirkland, an old friend and former campaign manager, was scheduled to administer the oath of office [to Mayor-Elect Annise Parker], with only family and close friends in attendance.

The ceremony was a prelude to Monday’s daylong inaugural festivities, with the new mayor taking the oath again in a public ceremony at downtown’s Wortham Theater Center. City Controller-elect Ronald Green and members of the Houston City Council also will be sworn in. The new mayor plans to use her grandparents’ Bible in both ceremonies.

I will be at Monday’s ceremony and will write about it as I get the chance. In the meantime, congratulations to Mayor Annise Parker. I know you will do an outstanding job, and I join with countless other people in wishing you the very best of luck.

UPDATE: The deed is done. Here’s the official statement:

With her hand on her grandparents’ Bible, Annise D. Parker was sworn in as Mayor of Houston in a private ceremony held at Houston City Hall today. State District Judge Steven Kirkland administered the oath to Mayor Parker. City Controller Ronald C. Green also took the oath of office. Green’s wife, Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green, had the honor of administering the oath to her husband. A small gathering of family and friends was present.

The private ceremony was held to meet the legal requirements of the City Charter, which mandate the transfer of power occur on January 2. The official public inauguration of Mayor Parker, City Controller Green and Houston City Council is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Wortham Theater Center.

Mayor Parker chose the private Saturday morning ceremony followed by a formal public inaugural on Monday to avoid the overtime costs the city would have incurred from having to call in police and other city employees for a weekend inauguration. She also did not want to interrupt the holiday weekend for city employees. “At a time when the city is facing budget shortfalls, we will be continually looking for ways to cut expenses,” said Mayor Parker.

The inaugural celebration will end Monday evening with a free concert from 6 to 9 p.m. at Discovery Green.

All hail the new Mayor.