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Terry Yates

Endorsement watch: Don’t forget the judges

The Chron got some national buzz for their blanket non-endorsement of judges who support the current bail structure, but overall they’re supported a large number of Republican incumbents on the bench. Not all by any means, but well more than a majority. I want to highlight three races where they endorsed Democratic challengers, as in all three cases the Republicans (two incumbents, one running for an open seat) are truly deserving of defeat.

For Supreme Court, Place 4, the Chron endorsed RK Sandill:

RK Sandill

District Judge R.K. Sandill is running for our state’s highest civil judicial office on a platform of moderation. We don’t usually hear that from judicial candidates, but most don’t run against an incumbent like John Devine.

Devine gained a reputation as an ideologue when he campaigned for district court with the promise to “put Christianity into government.” As a district judge, he cemented his reputation as a hard-right jurist when he fought to keep the Ten Commandments on display in his Houston courtroom. More recently, Devine wrote a bizarre dissent to a decision by his colleagues not to hear a case involving same-sex spousal benefits for city of Houston employees.

Devine wrote that government is justified in treating same-sex couples differently because “opposite-sex marriage is the only marital relationship where children are raised by their biological parents.” He completely ignored that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the case of marriage.

But you don’t have to rely on our assessment of Divine’s bias. Almost half of the attorneys polled in the Houston Bar Association 2017 judicial evaluation questionnaire gave him the lowest possible rating for impartiality. Sandill received more favorable votes on the Houston Bar Association preference poll than the one-term Devine — a rare occurrence of a challenger beating an incumbent. In the State Bar of Texas poll, Sandill received 2,446 votes to Devine’s 1,957.

Add our endorsement to the list.

Devine has been an embarrassment since he knocked off a perfectly fine district court judge in Harris County in 1994. He doesn’t belong anywhere near a bench. The Chron also endorsed Steven Kirkland for Place 2, but at least the incumbent he opposes isn’t a complete travesty.

For Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Chron endorsed Maria T. (Terri) Jackson:

Terri Jackson

The editorial board has faced so many tough decisions in our judicial endorsements that it’s a relief to have an easy choice. Voters should confidently pull the lever for Maria T. Jackson, 54, in this race for presiding judge on Texas’ highest criminal court. Jackson has been the criminal district court judge in Houston for more than a decade, handling thousands of cases ranging from low-level drug offenses to capital murder. She told us she’s only been reversed twice by the court she’s seeking to join.

The former municipal judge is proud of the many people she has helped to rehabilitate, but she first experienced transforming lives in the 1980s as director of a school that helped juvenile offenders and gang members.

Overall, Jackson’s approach reflects a blend of toughness and compassion. After she adopted more stringent probation policies for DWI defendants, the entire county soon followed her example.

The graduate of Texas A&M School of Law, formerly Texas Wesleyan School of Law, noted that people don’t tend to care about judges until they need them. But voters should care about ethics questions concerning the current presiding judge of Texas’ highest criminal court, Sharon Keller.

I trust you are familiar with Sharon Keller and her disgraceful body of work. If we want real criminal justice reform, we need some change at the top of the judicial heap as well as in the district courts and DA offices.

Finally, for First Court of Appeals, Place 7, the Chron endorsed Julie Countiss. They begin with the story of how outgoing Justice Terry Jennings switched to the Democratic Party just before the 2016 election, saying the GOP had left him behind:

Julie Countiss

Candidate Terry Yates, on the other hand, seems to fit in with the party Jennings abandoned.

Yates filed an amicus brief asking the 14th Court of Appeals not to construe the right to same-sex marriage to apply to equal partner benefits for city of Houston employees.

Counsel should have the right to advocate for the positions of their clients, but when we asked him about the legality of same-sex marriage during an editorial board meeting, Yates said he didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the overarching Supreme Court case to weigh in.

Throughout the meeting he dodged and weaved when we asked about his political activities and relationship with Steve Hotze — a political activist who once proclaimed that all the gays needed to be driven out of Houston and whose organization has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The close ties to Hotze is more than enough to disqualify Yates. Countiss only got one paragraph in the Chron endorsement, but it’s enough. Her Q&A with me is here. If you have Republican friends who are willing to split their ticket here and there, these are three races you can pitch to them for that.

It’s a conspiracy!

Oh, noes! Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with the Harris County DA! Run for your lives!

The anti-abortion activist accused of falsifying records to secretly videotape Planned Parenthood officials in Houston is accusing the Harris County district attorney’s office of illegally colluding with the nonprofit.

The allegations were raised in court documents filed Thursday seeking to dismiss the charge against David Robert Daleiden, of Davis, Calif.

[…]

On Thursday, his attorneys filed motions to quash the indictments, saying the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

“The DA’s office has chosen to wage a war on the pro-life movement,” said attorney Jared Woodfill. “We believe there is clear evidence of Planned Parenthood actually colluding with and pushing the District Attorney’s office to move forward with these indictments.”

At a press conference on the courthouse steps that Daleiden did not attend, Woodfill and attorney Terry Yates said the indictments are “fatally flawed.”

The motions filed to quash the felony charge is here, and for the misdemeanor charge is here. I’ve read through the first one, and with the usual reminder that I Am Not A Lawyer, it looks to me like the bulk of the issue being taken is with the grand jury being held over:

The investigation of Planned Parenthood was brought before the 232nd grand jury [in] September [of 2015].

However, at the close of the 2015 term, no action had been taken in the investigation of Planned Parenthood. A grand jury “hold over” order was drafted by the Harris County District Attorney’s office and presented to the 232rd Court for entry on December 16, 2015. (Exhibit “B”). However, in that order, the prosecutor failed to specifically state or articulate any specific individual or case that the grand jury was holding over to investigate. The order recites boilerplate language set forth in Section 19.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure; however, due to the lack of specificity required the order is deficient.

From there, they complain that evidence from the grand jury hearings was provided to lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, including video evidence that was supposed to be covered by a temporary restraining order, and that Daleiden’s lawyers were never notified that he had become a target of the investigation. They cite various mainstream media accounts published after Daleiden and Merritt were indicted as evidence of this.

I’ll leave it to the attorneys in attendance to comment on the claims made by Woodfill and Yates. My layman’s impression is that hold over grand juries are fairly routine – whether they need specific instructions about who or what is being investigated is not something I know – and as for the alleged collusion, I kind of have a hard time believing the lawyers involved, including the assistant DAs, would be that stupid if this was indeed something shady. I would also note that Tamara Tabo, who unlike me is a lawyer and who also unlike me opposes abortion, believes it is clear that Daleiden did indeed break the law. Which doesn’t mean that the indictments weren’t compromised and won’t be tossed, but it is worth keeping in mind. Woodfill and Yates aren’t arguing Daleiden isn’t guilty of anything, they’re arguing the process went bad. I can’t wait to see what the judge makes of this. The Trib, which supplied the defendant’s motions, and the Press have more.