1. Who are you and what are you running for?
Sparing you the existential but reciting far more than the essential:
Jim Sharp, nominee of the Texas Democratic Party for a seat on Texas' First Court of Appeals.
I'm 54 (and I've earned every one of them), married 16 years (ditto), no kids. Grew up in Dallas where I attended Catholic schools...and anyone who did so during that era knows that means my entire world was centered around the parish Church - indeed, the school I attended K-8 was physically attached to the Church... the Boy Scout troop was sponsored by the parish; clergy attended all athletic events; from the age of nine I served as altar boy several days a week at Masses, funerals, weddings, etc.; as a member of the boys choir, I was excused from school early three days a week to attend practice in the Church's choir loft (we walked through the doors next to the principal's office and we were in Church behind the sanctuary!); we practiced every Saturday morning and one night a week (or more, depending upon the Liturgical Season, the number of concerts, "appearances", operettas, etc. scheduled) We also cut three records, two of which employed a brand new technology called "stereo"... all-in-all a very dedicated commitment and an extraordinary experience.
So when I claim to have "grown up in the Church", I am not speaking metaphorically...a great percentage of my waking hours as a child were spent within that sacred House of God. I remain a practicing Catholic today and serve 2-3 times a month as a lector at Mass in my current parish on Sunday evenings.
Please do not interpret any of the above as a characterization of myself as some holier-than-thou sinless being. God's forgiveness and mercy is key (and therein lies any slim measure of hope there is for me!!) ;-)
Graduated from Jesuit High School in Dallas where I served in student government two years, the Lone Rangers (a spirit club), had parts in a few drama productions, won a district-wide competition in duet acting (channeling Clarence Darrow, of course) and was a cheerleader my sophomore and junior year (about which I never had second thoughts until I learned both Bush AND Perry were also cheerleaders); then to University of Texas at Austin where I logged sufficient English and Government classes to claim a major in either (I went with English) while working fulltime in the Texas Capitol. During my many years as an undergrad I won a University-wide election for a seat on the Board of the Texas Student Publications...upon which victory it was quickly determined the election was actually no more than a preference poll and the position to which I was rightly entitled by virtue of more votes than any other was given to another…a young man who just so happened to be the Editor of the student paper's pal. Thus, I suffered the bile of corrupt Texas elections early in my life.
Prior to completion of my degree's last six hours, I left Austin for Washington D.C. to work for Matt Reese's consulting firm as a writer/planner/campaign coordinator. (Matt was a legend in his time and one of the founders of the electoral consulting industry). From there I was dispatched to U.S. Senate races in Alaska, Iowa, New Hampshire and gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Louisiana. I also wrote various plans, documents and correspondence for both mayoral and corporate clients' interests in electoral referenda in Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Atlanta.
Following the '80 election season I returned to Texas, completed the last few hours of 17th C. and medieval lit classes while serving as legislative/administrative director for a state rep during the legislative session and was graduated with a BA.
Thereafter I coordinated a campaign for a school board candidate in Dallas and then served as Director of Public Relations for the American Income Life Insurance operations in New Mexico and Massachusetts. I then returned again to Texas (Ft. Worth) and worked for Champion Paper Co., an international paper manufacturer for which both my grandfather and father had each worked for 50 years.
Although the job with Champion was perhaps the easiest and best-paid I'd ever held, I felt my contribution to my fellow sons and daughters of God was best met in an arena other than sales, so after a little more than a year, I quit to move to Houston to attend South Texas College of Law where I earned my degree while clerking fulltime for some of the very best firms in Houston at the time - Reynolds, Allen and Cook; Butler & Binion; Fulbright & Jaworski; Hardy, Milutin & Johns and the Chaffin Law Firm.
Since securing my bar card, I have practiced as a solo attorney in the general practice of law. I have litigated cases everywhere from municipal court to federal court. I have represented small business owners, injured workers, law enforcement officers, single mothers, artists, teachers, truckers, physicians, probation officers, retirees, victims of nursing home neglect, surviving spouses and children in wrongful death cases as well as many other civil and criminal cases before courts throughout Texas.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
The Courts of Appeals hear all civil and non-capital criminal appeals from the trial courts. Capital death penalty cases are appealed directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.
3. What are your qualifications for this job?
The very best!
The Court of Appeals grapples with both statutory and common law and publishes written opinions intended to fully and clearly explain the applicable law, how it applies to the facts of the case under consideration and the reasoning upon which the court bases its decision. Clear written communication is a baseline requirement for this position.
For most of the decade of the 70's and into the early 80's I worked in the Texas Legislature where I served on staff of the House of Representatives; and as a Legislative and Administrative Aide to two State Representatives (one from Corpus, the other from Greenville, TX). Additionally, I served on the staff of the Senate Education Committee, where I analyzed legislation, authored committee reports and performed other research and writing responsibilities. Thereafter, I worked as a writer for a Washington D.C. firm that counseled elected members of and candidates for the U.S. Senate as well as Governors, Mayors, corporations and industry associations.
I do not believe there is a single appellate court justice sitting on the Houston area appeals courts with as an extensive legislative background and coupled with my seventeen years as a practicing attorney spanning a broad spectrum of legal areas, I believe I am the best qualified.
4. Why do you believe you would do a better job than the incumbent?
The breadth of my experience in the arenas of law, legislation and business afford me a far broader...and firmer...perspective on the myriad of issues that manifest themselves as cases before the court. The task is to "do justice" and despite the too-clever claim of one of this Fall's network TV lawyers, it is NOT just "God's business"....Unlike the incumbent Gov. Bush/Perry appointee, my legal experience has not been limited to eight years as a practicing attorney in the comparatively narrow spectrum of criminal prosecution. I've litigated cases from municipal court to federal court; and represented clients in probate, civil, criminal, juvenile and family matters in courts across Texas. And while I will readily concede that the skill set one brings to court as an advocate/litigator does not necessarily transmogrify itself into excellence on an appeals bench, I believe my prior experiences in legislation, writing, providing counsel to elected officials and business entities and officers in addition to my day-to-day practice of law these past seventeen years makes for a particularly valuable ‘training' for an appellate court justice.
5. Why is this race one we should care about?
Texas voters in general and the voters of Harris, Ft. Bend, Galveston, Brazoria, Grimes, Colorado, Washington, Waller, Chambers and Austin counties in particular, are subjected to the jurisprudence, our law...the law of "we the people"...determined daily by these nine justices of Texas' First Court of Appeals. The decisions of this court directly affect your life and the lives of your family and friends.
If you are a firefighter, in law enforcement or otherwise employed by a government entity such as the city, county or state, your status as an employee and rights attendant thereto are governed by statutes, any one of which could become the basis of a case that arrives in the Appeals Courts. If you are a divorced parent and believe your child/children's best interests are not being served by your divorce decree, your dispute may appear in the Appeals Courts. Indeed, in any case in which one party disagrees with the result the trial court, there is a right to appeal that case to the Courts of Appeals seated here in Houston (whether to the 1st or 14th is determined by the district clerk of the county from which the appeal originates…usually by lot). Thereafter, should one of the parties believe justice unmet, the only recourse is to petition one of the two courts of last resort in Austin: the Court of Criminal Appeals (if a criminal matter) or Supreme Court of Texas (if a civil matter), but the grant of your petition is at the complete discretion of the members of these courts and they are under no obligation to accept your petition. (except in Capital Punishment cases…which cases are automatically appealed from the trial court to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin). There are fourteen Courts of Appeals throughout the State of Texas and they serve as the "intermediate" appellate courts.
6. What else do we need to know?
You need to know the score. 118 to 0.
Of the trial and appellate courts before which a Harris County resident may find him/herself, 100% are Republican. Allow me to repeat: every single judge in a court of record for which Harris County voters elect the judge are Republican.At a recent candidates' forum in Sharpstown, my mention of these numbers was met with the applause of a 60-something year old man. I spent the remaining 120 seconds of my allotted time explaining that such a scheme was the very tyranny the genius of the United States' Constitution sought to avoid (quoting Federalist Papers No. 47 - "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." James Madison, 4th President of the United States; principal author of the U.S. Constitution). Upon uttering the word ‘tyranny', there was an audible gasp in the room….as if my quote was original and I was the wildest of wild-eyed radicals. Suffice to say I was the one who departed the gathering in shock….that voting citizens are so dangerously unaware of fundamental principles of democratic governance.
Sadly, Texas voters seem to be applauding the fact that our constitutional government is being hi-jacked by partisan zealots. A recent Zogby International survey reports that more Americans can name the original Three Stooges (Larry, Curly and Moe) than can name the three branches of government. There are three co-equal branches of government: the executive (which entails the administrative); the legislative and the judiciary….with the judiciary being the final arbiters of what passes constitutional muster and what amounts to over-reaching by the other two branches. Presently in Texas the Republicans own the Governor's Mansion, the majority of the Legislature and 86% of the Appellate courts statewide and 100% of all the courts of record which residents of Harris repeat: the Texas Appeals Courts with oversight over the ten counties of are an almost wholly owned subsidiary of the Texas Republican Party.
Voters really need to know the score.