Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.
1. Who are you, and what are you running for?
I am Robert Schaffer and I am running for Judge of the 152nd Civil District Court. I am a native Houstonian who graduated from Bellaire High School in 1970 and then went on to the University of Arizona where I graduated in 1974. After graduating from college I moved to Austin where I got my first taste of public service by working in local and state government in a jobs creation program. In 1982 I returned to Houston to attend the South Texas College of Law where I received my law degree in 1984. I began my legal career as an associate with a small Houston law firm before opening my own law office in 1990 as a sole practitioner and continue in that practice today.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
This court hears cases involving businesses and individuals, landlord and tenants, employers and employees, consumers, insurance companies, motor vehicle collisions, claims involving premises liability, product liability, medical and other professional malpractice, construction claims and real estate transactions. This court hears all types of cases except criminal, family, probate and juvenile law cases and other cases where a statute places jurisdiction in a specific court such as bankruptcy cases.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I am running for this bench because I believe my experience and background make me the better candidate in this race. I have been a trial lawyer for 24 years whereas my opponent had only been practicing law for 8 years before he became a judge in this court. During the past 24 years I have had the opportunity to try cases for my clients when necessary and settle cases for my clients when that was appropriate as well. I have also gone through basic and advanced mediation training to become a mediator. As a mediator for the past 16 years I have helped others resolve and settle their disputes and lawsuits in such a way that most if not all of the time everyone left the mediation satisfied with the result. Many of the mediations I presided over were done at no cost to either party for the Dispute Resolution Center. As a lawyer I work hard to not only represent the interests of my clients but also to ensure that cases only go to trial after every effort is made to ensure that the case can only be resolved by a jury made up of citizens from our community and that the resources of the Harris County taxpayers are only used when absolutely necessary.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I have been a lawyer for the past 24 years and during that time I have represented individuals in many areas of civil disputes. I have been a mediator for the past 16 years and that allows me to bring mediation skills to the forefront in resolving civil disputes. I have maintained several important leadership positions focusing on legal and societal issues. I have served on committees of the State Bar of Texas, including chairing a local grievance committee, and the Houston Bar Association. I was honored by my peers when I was elected to serve as president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association, Houston Trial Lawyers Foundation and the South Texas College of Law Alumni Association. I presently serves on the Southwest Regional Board of the Anti-Defamation League.
I have also been honored to receive an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell which represents the highest possible rating in legal ability and general ethical standards. These ratings are developed for individual lawyers by soliciting confidential opinions from other lawyers and judges in the legal community. I am the only candidate in this race who has received this honor.
I have strong commitment to community service that is reflected, among other ways, by my volunteering at local schools and coaching little league baseball teams. I have lectured on medical-legal issues as well as hosted a radio talk show from 1997 to 1998 here in Houston.
5. Why is this race important?
It is important that judges reflect to a certain extent what the community looks like. Voters in Harris County vote for 118 county-wide, district-wide and state-wide judicial positions and everyone one of them are held by Republicans. That is just not right considering Democrats make up close to 50% of the voters in this county. Why should it matter that a judge is a Democrat or a Republican? It shouldn't but the fact is that this is how the Constitution of the State of Texas states we have to select our judges. Having only Republicans inhabit our judicial positions is a situation that leaves the impression with many in our community that because one political party completely dominates the courthouse that this may give an advantage to one side or the other in a lawsuit. This has an impact on the perception that we are equal in the eyes of the law. This election gives voters the opportunity to elect Democrats to these judicial positions so that the benches reflect the great diversity, political and otherwise, of this community.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
People should vote for me because I am committed to public service. I am also committed to presiding over this court in such a way as to promise that everyone who has business before this court will be treated with courtesy, dignity and respect. Litigants can come to this court without fear that they will be treated differently because of who they are or what they are. Litigants can come to this court and have confidence that there is a level playing field for all parties and without fear or concern that one side or the other might have some advantage because of their status or resources.
As a lawyer and a mediator I believe I am uniquely qualified to be a judge because I have a good knowledge of trial law, I can mediate disputes and I can be an objective referee of the disputes when they have to go to trial.
My commitment to the Houston community is that when I am the judge in this court I will do my best to make the court run fairly and efficiently so that each case can move along to conclusion in the most expeditious and efficient way possible. Each party will be treated the same with an equal playing field for all parties.
Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.
Bert Moser, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 4.
Peter Rene, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1.
Larry Weiman, 80th Civil Judicial District Court.
Mike Engelhart, 151st Civil Judicial District Court.