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April 6th, 2016:

Judicial Q&A: Tanya Makany-Rivera

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I’m now doing this for some candidates in the May runoff who had not done a Q&A in March. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Tanya Makany-Rivera

Tanya Makany-Rivera

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

My name is Tanya Makany-Rivera and I am running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1. I am in a run-off to be the Democratic nominee; the run-off will take place May 24, 2016.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace Court is commonly referred to as the, “People’s Court”. The Justice of the Peace is a presiding officer of the justice court and small claims court. This court hears the following types of cases:

  • Traffic citations
  • Class C misdemeanors, cases punishable by fine only
  • Civil cases under $10,000
  • Small claims, in actions for the recovery of money, which cannot exceed $10,000
  • Landlord and tenant disputes, including evictions
  • Truancy cases
  • Civil processes, as well as arrest and search warrants can be issued by the justice of the peace
  • Performs marriage ceremonies and serves as ex officio notary of the precinct

The court also has administrative and financial duties concerning the keeping of records and fee and expense reports.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Justice of the Peace Courts are often the first place where the community interacts with the justice system. The JP Court is the only court where claimants and defendants are not appointed an attorney, and it is often our most vulnerable — the undocumented, the undereducated and low income families — who come through the doors. Those who cannot afford an attorney are left with no choice but to represent themselves. I am running for this seat because I want to make sure that everyone, regardless of their background, has a fair shot at justice and is treated with dignity and respect.

I also want to implement the latest technology to address and manage cases online and at their convenience rather than coming into the court room. For this, I will ensure that the County’s website is translated into multiple languages so that our customers can navigate online systems. I want to be a visible Justice of the Peace and work with our social service agencies to connect people to additional resources outside of the courtroom.

I have a passion for working with young people because as a mother of two young boys, I want to be proactive in creating opportunities for all of our young people to learn. In that same vein, I would like to create an internship program within the JP courts for those young people who are interested in obtaining work experience as well as learning more about entering a career of public service. I would also work to create a Teen Court that will work with the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and our area high schools, so that youth are civically engaged at a young age.

The vast majority of those who come into the JP courts are African American and Latino. The Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 court has never had a woman or person of color in this seat. It is time that our justice system better reflects the community it serves.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a public servant in the community I am seeking to serve for over 13 years. I started my career in the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office where I worked with youth from the Gulfton Community. I was the Program Manager for United Minds, a youth leadership program funded by Harris County Child Protective Services. It was here that I had an opportunity to engage with the City’s truancy courts as well develop relationships with law enforcement, school administrators and apartment complex owners.

I have also worked in Houston City Council as a Chief of Staff where I managed the office staff, helped create the District priorities and helped manage the City Council budget for our office. I spent time working in the State Legislature for the late Senator Mario Gallegos. I also have experience in the non-profit sector with Children at Risk and Neighborhood Centers. During my time at Children at Risk, I wrote a study on Juvenile Mental Health Courts and the benefits to prevention for juveniles struggling with mental illness as a means of prevention.

I have both my undergraduate and MBA degree from the University of Houston. As part of my current role with the City of Houston I am tasked with developing efficiencies within our department. I am also leading Mayor Turner’s Turnaround Houston initiative, which is focused on helping those who are unemployed, and who often have prior criminal histories, connect to social service agencies and employment. I would like to take this experience and a similar approach at the Justice of the Peace court, if elected. Although it may be unconventional, I believe these innovative solutions can help our community break the cycle of poverty.

In a nutshell, I am a proven leader who has the professional training and skills to ensure that the office is run efficiently, as well as on the- ground experience that informs my work. In my court, all people will be treated with dignity and respect and given a fair shot when entering the court room.

5. Why is this race important?

Local races matter, particularly positions such as the Justice of the Peace Courts which affect our day-to-day lives. The Justice of the Peace handles small claims, traffic tickets, truancy cases and other matters. It is important that we have someone who is an effective administrator, will work hard to ensure quality customer service, will be efficient with our tax dollars and will be visible in the community outside of the courtroom.

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

We need an established Democratic leader with experience managing a team, one who can manage a budget and will provide constituents with quality customer service. I am asking for your support because I understand the needs of the community, I have the management experience that this office needs, and I will work hard every day to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

Once again with “religious freedom” legislation

I have three things to say about this.

RedEquality

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, says he plans to re-file legislation next session that would supplement the state’s existing law to allow business owners to refuse services to people whose lifestyles clash with their religious beliefs.

“Nobody should be forced to go against their conscience or religious beliefs,” he said.

One of the key principles upon which the country and state were founded is the protection of religious beliefs, he said.

But just like in the 2015 legislative session, Krause is expected to face opposition from groups in the state’s business community. Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, said corporations would look to other states when it is time to relocate if Krause’s vision becomes a reality.

“You have to weigh the negative impact on Texas if this were to become the law of the land,” Hammond said. “It’s flustering to see.”

Krause said next legislative session, he again would seek to change the state constitution – which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and voter approval at the ballot box, a much more difficult hurdle to clear than just the simple majority need to pass regular bills – because religious freedom deserves constitutional protection.

“I wanted to put it in the constitution to make it even stronger,” Krause said. “It is still something I think is very important.”

Hammond said the constitutional amendment would be harder to undo if a future legislature decided that the policy is harmful or discriminatory.

1. Of course a constitutional amendment would be harder to undo. That’s the reason why the 2005 Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage amendment was pushed through. We could have gone decades before there was a two thirds majority in both houses to repeal that, and the same would be true for Krause’s anti-equality measure. The good news is that even at current levels, there isn’t a two-thirds majority of Republican legislators in either house (*), so the task of blocking it is eminently doable. Yes, there are a few Democrats out there who can’t be counted on – and yes, I’m looking at you, Sen. Lucio – but we only need to block it in one chamber, and the prospects of picking up at least a seat or two in the House are pretty good. So while the threat of ordinary legislation making it through is very real, the bar for a constitutional amendment is likely too high to clear.

2. Let’s be very clear about this: Despite what Krause and others like him my say, a right to systematically refuse service, housing, employment, or whatever else – the list goes on and on – to a group of people is a right to discriminate, and a right to discriminate against someone is a right to discriminate against anyone. And I’m sorry, but if your sincerely-held beliefs tell you that you must not treat some group of people as fellow human beings, then your sincerely-held beliefs are immoral and wrong.

3. Have I mentioned lately that the business lobby could put its considerable resources towards defeating legislators like Matt Krause and electing ones that better represent their interests? Because they totally could if they really wanted to. Perhaps the North Carolina experience will provide them sufficient incentive to do so.

More on the TCRP voter registration lawsuit

Here’s the first news story I’ve seen about that voter registration lawsuit that was filed two weeks ago.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The lead plaintiff is Jarrod Stringer of San Antonio, who relocated from Arlington in 2014. When he updated his driver license address online, Stringer believed that his voter registration records would be updated as well, the lawsuit said. That November, when he attempted to vote in Bexar County, Stringer was told he wasn’t registered here and was issued a limited ballot with only statewide candidates, the lawsuit stated.

The same thing happened to Benjamin Hernandez in 2014, when he moved from Odessa to Dallas, the lawsuit said. He, too, was issued a provisional ballot, “but later received notice that his vote was not counted.”

The four named plaintiffs each complained that they didn’t realize until it was time to vote that their voter registration wasn’t updated, as they believed.

“Even though the state does not use information from online change-of-address transactions to properly register a voter at his or her new address, these transmissions may be used to cancel a voter’s prior registration record,” the petition added.

[…]

Last year, the state rejected the plaintiffs’ proposals for dealing with transactions where the patron answers both yes and no to the prompt about registering to vote. The plaintiffs recommended automatically using the affirmative response, but the state said that could lead to registration of ineligible noncitizens.

The attorney general’s office also told the plaintiffs that “no state agency is in a position to provide online voter registration absent a legislative directive and appropriation for that purpose — nor does any applicable law so require.”

But plaintiffs’ attorney Mimi Marziani of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin said no legislation is required to remedy the problems.

“Texas is violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution by failing to take common-sense steps to register eligible voters who update their information online,” Marziani said Friday.

“Voters are supposed to be allowed to register to vote at their motor vehicle office at the same time they get a driver license or update their driver license. Under the law, that opportunity to register to vote has to be simultaneous … to the driver license process,” she said.

When applicants respond affirmatively to the statement “I want to register to vote,” Marziani said “nothing happens. You are not actually put on the rolls.”

The plaintiffs “are looking for an injunction that requires the state to simply transfer the information it’s already collecting online (at DPS) to state election officials,” Marziani said.

See here for the background. The plaintiffs aren’t exactly asking for a lot here, and it’s hardly unreasonable to think that when one answers Yes to an “I want to register to vote” prompt that one will in fact be registered. As the story notes, the vast majority of these problems could be avoided with a bit of double-checking. The state just needs to follow the law.

Mayor Turner names new City Attorney

From the inbox:

Ronald Lewis

Mayor Sylvester Turner has announced his selection of Ronald C. Lewis as the new city attorney. Like the mayor, Lewis is Harvard educated and has run his own law firm.

“I wanted a lawyer’s lawyer, someone highly respected who can relate well to me as well as City Council and the general public,” said Mayor Turner. “Ronald certainly fits this description. He is an outstanding lawyer with excellent credentials and the experience necessary to run the law firm that is part of City government.”

Before co-founding Marshall & Lewis LLP in 2006, Lewis was a partner at Baker Botts LLP, which he joined right after graduating from Harvard with honors in 1983. He is a trial lawyer with more than 30 years of experience handling complex cases for businesses and individuals in the energy, real estate, construction, financial and manufacturing industries. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association as well as a Life Fellow at the Houston Bar Foundation, where he was chairman of the board in 2000. His undergraduate degree is from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

“I look forward to serving the people of Houston, their elected officials and city employees,” said Lewis.

Lewis’ professional affiliations include the Best Lawyers in America, the American Law Institute, and The International Association of Defense Lawyers. In addition, he has served as a member of the Houston Bar Association Minority Opportunities in the Legal Profession Committee, as a steering committee member for the State Bar of Texas Minority Counsel Program and on the Commission for Lawyer Discipline. He volunteers for the Center for Public Policy Priorities and has previously served as a member of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, the South Texas College of Law Board of Trustees, Texas Appleseed, Neighborhood Centers Inc., and Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas.

Lewis was selected after a competitive search coordinated by a panel comprised of local lawyers. There were about 30 applicants who went through the selection process. Houston City Council is expected to be asked to confirm Lewis’ appointment in two weeks. He will start work May 2, 2016 and is replacing retiring City Attorney Donna Edmundson, who has agreed to stay through the end of May to help with the transition.

As the Chron story notes, Lewis has maintained a fairly low news profile, with “his selection by Harris County officials to represent disgraced former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal in a 2008 contempt of court case related to Rosenthal’s deletion of emails that were under subpoena in a federal court case” being the only cited exception. Lewis inherits the ReBuild Houston re-litigation and the ongoing term limits ballot language lawsuit as his main action items. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what his priorities are. Welcome aboard, Ronald Lewis.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story.