October 02, 2004
Incumbents favored in bar poll

The Houston Bar Association poll this year heavily favors incumbent judges.

Harris County lawyers overwhelmingly supported sitting judges over their challengers and tilted decisively toward Republicans in a poll released Friday by the Houston Bar Association.

In one of only two contested judicial races on the Harris County ballot where no incumbent is running, however, poll respondents favored Democratic former Judge Kathy Stone over Republican Sharon McCally for the 334th District Court, a civil bench.

In the other such race, Republican Devon Anderson outpolled Democrat Leslie Ribnik for the 177th District Court, which hears felony criminal cases.

McCally defeated the incumbent in the 334th, Reece Rondon, in the March Republican primary.

Stone was the last Democratic Harris County state district judge to be defeated by a Republican when Sherry Radack beat her in 1998. Since then, the GOP has swept countywide offices.

The whole poll is here (PDF). The result is no big surprise, nor is it particularly relevant to how the vote will go in November. To the best of my recollection, the poll generally favors incumbents. Even in the one-party county we've had since 1994, most people who get elected judge are reasonably qualified and competent, and the devil you know is usually better than the devil you don't.

What will determine these elections is not the HBA poll but partisan turnout. The GOP systematically took over the Harris County judiciary by becoming the majority party. When and if the Democrats regain the edge in voter registrations, they'll do the same. The key is straight ticket voting, which does more to determine the outcome of the down-ballot judicial races than polls, qualifications, or anything else. It's a dumb way to pick judges, but all methods of doing so have their flaws.

As for individual candidates, Kathy Stone, whom I've met and whom I wholeheartedly endorse, may have a small advantage in running against a non-incumbent and winning the HBA poll, though the article I've linked shows the kind of hill she has to climb. Les Ribnik, who is also running against a non-incumbent but who lost the HBA poll, and Bruce Mosier, who came closest to outpolling an incumbent judge, also bear watching. The most interesting candidate the Democrats have running is Zone Nguyen, who is recently back from a stint in the Army JAG Corps (he's a lieutenant in the Reserve), where he helped set up the judicial proceedings at Guantanamo. He gave a talk about that at a lunch I attended a few weeks ago, and it was fascinating.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 02, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

Hey! If the vilified Trial Lawyers wants a slate of judges, then they must be defeated! Right? Everything Trial Lawyers want is bad. I know I've heard that somewhere...

Posted by: Michael on October 2, 2004 11:17 AM

Some of the anti-McCally vote could be attributed to the GOP primary, which was pretty contentious. I understand the bar poll is supposed to be based on qualifications and all, but you know.

Then again, Judges Ted Poe and John Devine got bad bar poll results and were re-elected all the time. So go figure.

I wonder how many people actually pay attention to the bar poll?

Posted by: Rob Booth (Slightly Rough) on October 2, 2004 2:58 PM