January 10, 2008
Candidate Q&A: Susan Criss

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

I am Judge Susan Criss, running for Texas Supreme Court, Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Texas Supreme Court is the highest court in the state for civil cases. One of the most important things the Texas Supreme Court does is review cases to determine whether trials were conducted fairly and in accordance with the law.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Over the past 15 years I have seen lawyers and citizens lose faith in the justice system in Texas. Lawyers who represent clients who have sued insurance companies and corporations expect to lose in the Texas Supreme Court regardless of the merits of their cases. The Texas Supreme Court has earned the reputation of being extremely partial to big business. Jury verdicts against big businesses are routinely thrown out.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a district court judge presiding over jury trials for over eight years. I have been elected as district judge three times. I worked in the courtroom for ten years as a prosecutor and three as an attorney in private practice. I have been in the courtroom participating in jury trials for over twenty years. I know what happens in the real world of the courtroom. I have seen the process work up close and personal.

I have also served as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Women Judges where I represented Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. I served as chairman of the Gulf Coast Task Force for Jail Diversion for the Mentally Ill for several years. Texas Democratic Women awarded me their Officeholder of the Year honor in 2004. Gulf Coast NAMI named me as their Honoree in 2003 for my work seeking access to justice for the mentally ill.

More can be found about my qualifications at www.judgecriss.com and www.co.galveston.tx.us/judgecriss.

5. Why is this race important?

The most serious problem in the Texas justice system today is the threat to our right to trial by jury. That right is guaranteed by the Constitution. People are being forced to arbitrate instead of having a jury trial when they never agreed to arbitration. Opinions and laws concerning discovery, evidence, attorney fees and recoveries in lawsuits are written to discourage people from exercising their right to trial by jury. And when a citizen convinces a jury of twelve persons to award punitive damages to discourage a corporation from producing a dangerous product or engaging in dangerous acts this state Supreme Court is certain to throw those verdicts out.

There has not been a Democrat on the Court since 1994. There must be someone in the Texas Supreme Court Conference Room committed to protecting and defending our Constitutional right to trial by jury.

The races for all three positions on the Texas Supreme Court are critical to retain the right to trial by jury in Texas and restore confidence in our civil justice system. The people of Texas deserve to have a justice system that is fair to everyone and not heavily weighted in favor of big business at the expense of the people.

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

There are many similarities between me and my primary opponent and two major differences that are significant at this time in our history. The first concerns the experiences each would bring to the Court.

The Court is made of nine members who ideally should come from different backgrounds to create a balanced view. The court should be made of former trial attorneys, trial judges and appellate judges. The appellate judges bring the scholarly ivory tower approach. The trial lawyers and trial judges bring the real world jury trial experiences.

While there are currently former GOP trial judges on the Court, they have openly made comments expressing disdain for the jury system. We need a former Democratic trial judge on the Court at this time to fight for the right to trial by jury. We need someone who knows what really happens in the courtroom, not just what they have read in transcripts. We need former trial judge who understands what happens in the courtroom.

The second difference is campaign discipline. I believe that when a candidate files for office that candidate has a duty towards the party, the supporters and contributors and to the campaign itself. The duty is one of diligence and commitment to do everything legal and ethical to win the race.

Upon deciding to file for this spot I have hit the ground running. I have been all over this state several times. I put the time and energy in myself to get things done right. I read the Texas Election Code and followed the law to get my application and petitions filed correctly and in accordance with the law in a way that does not subject my party to any risk of GOP attack.

I cannot be outworked in a campaign. Campaigns require personal and professional sacrifice. I believe that there is a very dear price to pay to run for elective office. Too many candidates want to win the election but are only willing to pay a discounted price for the position sought. I believe in paying the full price.

This is our year for the Democratic party to win across the board. But we have to fight for the wins. I am the person who will fight for this position and for our Constitution.

I did not get my bench by appointment. I fought primary opponents and a George Bush appointed incumbent for it. Those campaign battles were hard fought but provided invaluable lesson on what it takes to win elections.


Jim Wrotenbery, candidate for 125th District Court (Civil)

Diane Trautman, candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 10, 2008 to Election 2008

Interesting interview, especially the discussion of the relative value of trial and appellate experience on the Court. I look forward to seeing more in the series.

I did notice one small factual error. The interview says, "There has not been a Democrat on the Court since 1994." It's true that Republicans have won every election for the Court since 1994, but because the Justices' terms are staggered six-year terms, there were still four Democrats on the Court after 1994 --- Bob Gammage (through 1995), Jack Hightower (through 1996), Raul Gonzalez (through 1998), and Rose Spector (through 1998).

Posted by: Don Cruse on January 10, 2008 7:07 PM

It's not true, and an insult to Justice Yanez, for Judge Criss to imply that Justice Yanez does not have "campaign discipline." Yanez has run, and won, many judicial elections (more than Judge Criss) and acquitted herself very well as a hard-working campaigner and appellate judge. She has proven herself, and I hope Judge Criss will find a more accurate message for her campaign.

Posted by: Jeff N. on January 10, 2008 9:39 PM