Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 13th, 2016:

Judicial Q&A: Eric William Carter

(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.)

Eric Carter

Eric Carter

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

I am Eric William Carter, and I aim to be your Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1, Place 1 in Harris County. I am a native Houstonian, born and raised in Sharpstown. As a trial and appellate lawyer for nearly 10 years, I have worked in a variety of areas, primarily in business and commercial litigation. I am also a husband, a small business owner, and a committed community supporter.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice Court hears a wide variety of cases, but primarily hears civil claims involving an amount in dispute of $10,000 or less, Class C Misdemeanors, traffic tickets, and evictions.

However, a Justice of the Peace is more than a Judge Position. To me, the Justice of the Peace is a vital community position, and a JP should be a community leader and supporter. After all, the Justice Court is the people’s court — it is the court that is most accessible to the every-day citizen. In addition to managing the day-to-day dockets of the Justice Court, a JP should also work with community leadership to address important issues that occur in our community, both of which I intend to do as your next JP.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have a desire to serve the citizens of Harris County, my neighbors, and to work towards improving the quality of life of the citizens in Precinct 1 and beyond. This desire stems from my lifelong commitment to community service which, as the son of a Methodist Minister, was instilled at an early age.

The most interesting and exciting aspect of this community position is that you are truly on the ground floor, working daily with your neighbors, many of whom represent themselves in their cases. It is this constant and direct contact with the citizens which most draws me to the Justice Court. This Court also provides the opportunity to create judicial outreach programs to improve our community, such as my plan to start a “Teen Court” designed to educate and empower our next generation. For me, there is no better way to use all my years of training and experience to improve our community.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Over my nearly ten years of legal practice, I have handled nearly all forms of pre-litigation and trial matters in various business and commercial litigation cases, involving the following areas of law: business transaction and contract disputes, fraud and negligence actions, personal and business torts, Federal SEC regulations and corporate compliance, real estate transactions, landlord/tenant actions, estate planning, and more. My experience includes practicing before many of the courts of Texas, such as: Justice Courts, County Courts at Law, Texas Judicial District Courts, Texas Courts of Appeals, as well as the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

In addition to my general litigation practice, I have also received several judicial appointments to appear as Guardian Ad Litem for the benefit of minor children in Harris County and beyond. Eight different courts, including the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, have entrusted me to protect our community’s children.

Recently, when considering all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for this position (at the time, totaling 10 individuals), the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Candidate Qualifications Poll rated me as the Most Qualified Candidate for Justice of the Peace – Precinct 1, Place 1.

Prior to practicing law, I served as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives, and also the Texas House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics. Since earning my law degree from South Texas College of Law, I’ve worked alongside my father at our law firm, fighting for real people, families, small businesses, and children. Throughout my legal career, I have been involved with or tried nearly every type of case that regularly appears before a Justice of the Peace.

Outside of my law practice, I have a lifelong commitment to community service. This commitment continues today as I serve on the Board of Directors for Wesley Community Center (serving the 5th Ward Community), as well as support our Shrine Hospital System as a Mason and a Shriner.

Over the years, I’ve developed many relationships with our legal, political, and community leaders, which will be necessary to help address important issues occurring every day within Precinct 1. I am capable, motivated, and driven to work for the citizens of Harris County as their next JP.

5. Why is this race important?

This is one of the busiest Justice Courts in Texas. After 37 years of dedicated service to Houston and Harris County, our current Justice of the Peace, the Honorable Judge Dale Gorczynski, has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2016. As this is an open seat, there once existed a crowded field of potential candidates hoping to succeed Judge Gorczynski. I am grateful to have received the most votes in the March 1st Democratic Primary. In the May 24th Runoff, I will face a passionate opponent, whom I respect. However, I am the only candidate with the legal education and training that can “hit the ground running” for this Justice Court and our community.

This Court is, for many, the only place people can go to seek relief and justice. The Judge must be someone who will work hard to “get it right” the first time, because many of our citizens may not have the financial means to pursue their claims on appeal.

For the first time in decades, the citizens of Precinct 1 must place their trust in a new Justice of the Peace. Should the voters elect to trust in me, their next JP will be someone with significant legal experience, commitment to our community, and dedication to equality and justice for all.

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

I believe in treating everyone with equality, fairness, and the respect that they deserve. I pledge to carry those values into Court with me every single day. I pledge to maintain the office with honor, dedication to justice, and respect for all our citizens. Most of all, I promise to be a fair Judge that will listen patiently to every person.

And I want to listen.

If you have a dispute with your neighbor, come on down to the courthouse – I’ll listen to your story. Are you in a fight with your landlord? Come and see me, and I’ll help sort it out. Did you get a traffic ticket? Don’t be nervous, come on down to the courthouse, and we’ll find a fair solution.

Precinct 1 has been my home for more than a decade. I, Eric William Carter, as your next Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1, Place 1, will work to improve our community every single day.

More on the possible Trump effect in Texas

I have three things to say about this.

While one should hesitate to feed the megalomania, there is no point in denying that there is a meaningful distinction between pre-Trump and post-Trump politics in the United States. The mogul turned presidential candidate has not been the sole author of this shift — he has, to adapt a phrase, made history, though not in conditions that he himself has created. But the distinction is a very real one, with real consequences for party politics in Texas.

One aspect of the post-Trump political world — particularly if either Trump or the alternative whose path he has cleared, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, should win the GOP nomination — is the demise of GOP efforts to attract Latino voters to the party or, at least, to avoid alienating them in large numbers. Should abandoning these efforts in the service of mobilizing the faction of the GOP base most energized by the prospect of deporting large numbers of illegal immigrants become the core approach of the post-Trump GOP (including if its standard bearer is Cruz), it will likely render the Texas GOP’s perennial if Janus-faced efforts to attract Latinos much more difficult.

While low voter turnout among Latinos and the comparative conservatism of the Latino population in Texas make a sudden political earthquake highly unlikely, it is equally unlikely that the Texas GOP can completely insulate itself from an intensely nativist turn by the national Republican Party.

While Democrats have always been skeptical of GOP efforts to attract Latino voters, those efforts were real. Think back two years to Greg Abbott’s candidacy to succeed Rick Perry as governor of Texas. The then-attorney general hit familiar themes in his announcement speech — Second Amendment rights, small government, low taxes and so on — on a hot July afternoon at San Antonio’s La Villita. But the choice of the Alamo City for his campaign kick-off took on stronger significance when a few months later Abbott participated in a joint announcement of the launch of the Republican National Committee’s Texas Hispanic Engagement Team, meant to court Latinos in the upcoming election.

[…]

Greg Abbott has certainly issued his share of harsh rhetoric on border security and illegal immigration, and even sued the Obama immigration over those executive orders, but the contrast in tone between the approaches now dominating the GOP presidential contest and the imperatives, however conflicted, at work in the 2014 Abbott campaign for governor reflect a familiar choice. Both Abbott’s predecessors faced the same need to reconcile the realities of demographic change and the ever-increasing pressure from the GOP base to take a harder line on immigration.

Donald Trump, with his now defining promise to “build a great wall on our southern border” and to “terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration,” is steering the national party toward a different, markedly short-term strategy for managing this dilemma — by siding solely with the base instead of attempting to reconcile competing interests.

What the base wants is very clear — so clear that the origins of Trump’s (and Cruz’s) strategy are no mystery: As we’ve previously written on the subject, concerns about immigration, consistently rated as the most important problem facing Texas, have long been evident in conjunction with the embrace of a bundle of restrictive attitudes, from the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants and opposition to sanctuary cities to support for English-only proposals. These poll results have been driven by large majorities of Republican voters. Erstwhile presidential hopeful Jeb Bush famously said that immigration was an act of love; among Texas Republicans, 74 percent, apparently less lovingly, think that undocumented immigrants should be deported immediately.

This choice by the leading GOP presidential candidates has fed a new manifestation of the speculation that first swept Democratic circles in the wake of the 2010 census, in a form borne of the post-Trump world: Could Trump’s likely claiming of the GOP nomination put Texas in play for the Democrats in 2016, as Latinos flocked to the polls to vote against him?

In short, the answer is no.

1. I asked that same question, and while I’m a tad bit more optimistic, I agree that it would be a huge stretch. I do think a non-trivial number of Republicans would refuse to vote for Trump, and that Democrats would get at least a modest boost in turnout, but the gap is pretty damn big. Still, even if the state isn’t in play, if some Republicans stay home and some more people come out to vote Democratic, the potential for gains in the Legislature and at the county level increases. It wouldn’t take much to tip Harris County into solidly blue territory, and considering how close Fort Bend County was in 2008, it wouldn’t take that much to flip it, either. Democrats running for the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals would stand to benefit as well. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to carry Texas for this. Forty-five percent of the vote for her would likely be more than enough. It’s not just about the Presidential race.

2. What about if Ted Cruz manages to win the nomination? Cruz is fairly toxic himself, but he did win the Republican primary here as well as being elected Senator in 2012 against a badly outspent opponent. Unlike Trump, I doubt Cruz will have much trouble getting establishment Republican support here – indeed, for the most part, he already has it, though not all of it just yet. If he wins the nomination through convention shenanigans, some Trump supporters may sit the election out, but if I had to guess I’d say that effect would be smaller; similarly, while I think Cruz will provide some extra incentives for Democrats to turn out, I don’t think he’d be quite the draw as Trump. I’d certainly be rooting for Cruz if I were a Texas Republican.

3. Which brings us back to Trump and the question of what the establishment does with him if he is the nominee, as he is still likely to be. Some prominent Republicans, like Jerry Patterson, are pointedly not on the Trump bandwagon. It’s not hard to imagine the likes of Joe Straus and Ed Emmett declining to support Trump. Others will get on board whether they like it or not. I’m very curious to see what Greg Abbott does with a Trump nomination. Especially on immigration matters, there’s not that much difference between Trump and Abbott, it’s just that Abbott has managed to put a much friendlier face on his noxious policies. Having Trump at the top of the ticket could be quite clarifying, and as authors/pollsters Jim Henson and Joshua Blank note, it could have a longer term effect. I don’t know what we’re going to get in Texas if Trump is the nominee, but I don’t see it being good for the GOP here.

Lots of money being spent on the Austin Uber/Lyft ordinance referendum

Wow.

Uber

David Butts, meet Goliath.

Campaign finance reports filed Thursday for Austin’s ride-hailing services election show a beyond-massive lead in money for Ridesharing Works for Austin, the Uber- and Lyft-backed political action committee supporting a proposed ordinance that would become law if Proposition 1 passes on May 7.

Ridesharing Works reported that between Jan. 1 and March 28 it raised $788,750 in cash contributions and received $1.38 million in in-kind contributions, all of it from Uber and Lyft. The report says the committee spent $781,251 during that period, the bulk of it on Block by Block, a Washington company that conducted the petition drive that led to the May 7 election.

But that understates the costs already incurred. The in-kind contributions — huge consulting fees paid directly by Uber and Lyft as well as lodging, travel and staff time from both companies — were all expended before March 28 as well.

That means that, with more than five weeks left in the campaign, Uber and Lyft have already plowed $2.16 million into the Prop. 1 campaign. That already dwarfs the $1.2 million Mayor Steve Adler spent to get elected in 2014, up to now the gold standard for spending in an Austin municipal election.

The primary group opposing Prop. 1 reported raising and spending less than $15,000. Butts — a consultant who spent Thursday afternoon hammering in yard signs for the Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice political action committee — said he hopes to raise $100,000 by May 7, less than 5 percent of what the other side has spent already.

Lyft

[…]

Chelsea Wilson, a Lyft spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement that the heavy spending is necessary to avoid voter confusion about what is at stake.

“Unfortunately, the ballot language voters will see on May 7th is extremely misleading,” Wilson said, “and we will continue working to ensure that people have all the facts about this election.”

Uber contributed $387,750 in cash and made about $905,000 of in-kind contributions, including more than $450,000 on “consultant fees for campaign strategy.” Lyft made $401,000 in cash donations and nearly $475,000 of in-kind contributions.

Butts said that what Uber and Lyft are putting into the election indicates a lack of confidence that the public supports their cause.

“They see their own polls, and it obviously can’t be that great,” Butts said.

Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice reported just $12,459 in cash and in-kind contributions, and $8,560 in loans, all of that from Butts and Dean Rindy, another political consultant working to defeat Proposition 1.

That sure is a lot of money for any kind of municipal election, and that’s not even counting the cost of conducting the election, which the Trib pegs at $500K. Uber and Lyft drew a line in the sand here, so it’s not a surprise that they’re going all out to win. I’m sure they’d prefer to operate in Austin, which is as amenable a market for their services that they’re likely to find in the state, and they would like even more to make an example of it. If they get what they want here, that gives them a fair amount of leverage in other cities. Losing would also be a pretty big disaster for them. I keep thinking this issue is going to come up again in Houston one way or another. The chances of that a much greater if Uber and Lyft win this fight.

If I were in Austin, I would likely vote against this referendum. I don’t like the idea of companies overriding the normal legislative process like this, and as I’ve repeatedly said here, I disagree that including fingerprint checks is an unreasonable burden on Uber and Lyft. The existence of Get Me, which offers similar ride for hire service and which has said they will comply with fingerprint requirements, is evidence of that. That said, the void that Uber and Lyft would leave in Austin is non-trivial. Austin On Your Feet explains why tat city’s situation pre-Uber and Lyft was so ripe for disruption.

1 THE CITY (STILL) LIMITS THE NUMBER OF TAXIS
Finding a taxi in Austin when you needed one was hard. At 2:00 AM on Friday and Saturday nights (closing time for bars), throngs of downtown revelers used to line up desperately searching for cabs. Many folks had to wait until the first wave of cabs had already driven to the suburbs and back. Others gave up and either drove home intoxicated, took unpaid rides from strangers, or hired unlicensed cabs. Since Uber and Lyft have arrived, the number of people offering rides for money and the number of paid rides have both risen dramatically, showing that the demand was always there, but couldn’t be provided for with the limited number of taxis the city permitted.

2 THE CITY (STILL) FORBIDS TAXIS FROM PRICING APPROPRIATELY
Uber and Lyft vary their prices for a variety of reasons. They use sales and first-ride discounts to promote their services; they use temporary price hikes to motivate drivers to get on the road at times of high demand. Given the city-mandated taxi shortage, taxi companies could have used similar tactics to build ridership at down times and motivate all their drivers to drive at times of highest demand. Except the city doesn’t allow taxicabs to change their prices except by act of City Council. The tools that Uber uses to provide reliable service aren’t available to taxis.

3 THE CITY (STILL) LIMITS THE NUMBER OF TAXI COMPANIES
Ever wonder why, when riders and drivers both complain vigorously about the existing taxi companies, no other company came into existence and tried to lure drivers away to work for them instead? After all, Uber and Lyft are constantly fighting for each others’ drivers. The city only grants franchise agreements to three companies and limits the number of drivers for each, so they have no incentive to compete for drivers. As a member of my neighborhood association, I’ve met with people looking to start a new taxi company. Unfortunately, all their time was spent on the politics of convincing City Council members to allow them to serve customers rather than the actual logistics of serving customers. Starting a business is hard enough; starting a business that requires political approval before you are allowed to operate is a step too far for most people.

4 THE CITY (STILL) FORBIDS OTHER COMPANIES FROM OFFERING ANYTHING THAT EVEN VAGUELY RESEMBLES A TAXI RIDE
With the city-mandated taxi shortage, you might expect people to get more rides from slightly differentiated services like prearranged ride companies (called limousine service, but not limited to stretch limos). However, the city code includes many rules with no conceivable consumer benefit. For example, limo services are forbidden from charging less than $55/hour, must wait half an hour before providing service, and must keep trip tickets proving both of those facts.

That’s a terrible status quo, and as someone who supports efforts to enable people to live without (or with fewer) cars, having convenient options like Uber and Lyft are necessary. I don’t envy anyone the decision they have to make for this. Mike Dahmus and Austin Teacher Dad, both of whom will vote for Prop 1 but for different reasons, have more.

You’ll take lower pay, ladies, and you’ll like it

From Lisa Falkenberg;

Over at the Wall Street Journal, a 25-year newsroom union pay analysis found women earning 13.2 percent less, a finding that prompted the chief executive of parent company Dow Jones and Co. to vow an urgent review of salaries.

Back in Texas last week, Gov. Greg Abbott gave a decidedly less urgent response when a reporter asked about equal pay.

Abbott said it will happen as more women reach top posts in Texas businesses and start enterprises of their own, the Houston Chronicle’s Bobby Cervantes reported.

Ah, but there’s the rub, part of it anyway: promotion. It would have been the perfect moment for the governor to encourage businesses to promote more qualified women. But he failed to make the point, or, to make any sense at all.

“It’s essential that women get more involved in the business arena and that women be able to elevate pay in Texas,” Abbott was quoted as saying. “It’s going to be women who are going to be getting the pay and charting the course.”

Huh. Yeah.

Abbott’s non-answer was particularly hollow given the setting: he was announcing the expansion of his Commission for Women, increasing the number of women on the panel and ordering it to tackle weighty issues such as STEM-based education and access to health care.

Important issues, sure. Missing from the list: equal pay.

[…]

During his campaign against state Sen. Wendy Davis, Abbott acknowledged that he agreed with former Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to veto a state version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. He argued women are already protected federally, but proponents of the legislation said it would have made suing over pay in state courts cheaper and faster for Texans.

Given the bill’s narrow scope, it wouldn’t have made a dent in pay inequity in Texas. But publicly opposing the bill sent a message about the former attorney general’s priorities.

That message came just as the San Antonio Express-News’ Peggy Fikac reported that female assistant attorneys general in Abbott’s office, on average, were paid less than men in the same classification. Abbott’s office cited the men’s experience, but the figures it provided showed there wasn’t always a direct correlation.

As Fikac reported: In several categories, women, on average, had more years of service, had been licensed longer, or both, but were paid less.

Abbott may truly believe there’s nothing government, outside of the courts, can and should do about equal pay. If so, he’s wrong.

The problem has many causes, from men and women choosing different jobs, to women bearing more family responsibilities, to women’s reluctance to negotiate, to real cognitive bias: the perception that women aren’t as competent or don’t work as hard.

Joseph Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas who focuses on employment discrimination, also mentions the “maternal wall,” which he describes as “the way we set up jobs and career paths to make it impossible to advance while having serious family responsibilities.”

Fishkin says government could do a lot about the gap if it wanted to. It doesn’t have to be passing the nation’s toughest equal pay law, as California did. Although that would be nice. For one: paid family leave and/or paid sick days, which would allow more women to stay in jobs and advance while caring for family.

Fishkin also mentions supporting a higher minimum wage, which would reduce the pay gap at the bottom, since those workers are overwhelmingly women.

Conveniently enough, Greg Abbott opposes all of those possible remedies. So we could say that he supports equal pay for women the same way he supports improving access to health care by opposing Medicaid expansion.

From the DMN editorial board:

A data crunch by The Morning News’ J. David McSwane this weekend revealed that if you are a woman, you’re making less than the white male colleague sitting right next to you doing a similar job. If you happen to be a minority woman, you’re making even less — particularly in higher-level jobs.

Not only is that blatantly unfair, but it’s been illegal for more than 50 years.

Even more troubling: Over the last decade, Texas’ gender gap has only widened.

Today, women in government make 92 cents for every $1 a white man makes, down 2 cents from 2006, The News’ report showed. Black women make 84 cents, down 2 cents. And Hispanic women make 82 cents, down 5 cents.

It’s obvious what that does to a paycheck today; just imagine how that inequity is compounded over time. And the effect it has on a woman trying to envision long-term career growth.

How’d we get here? The inequities are caused by an economic stew, including that women more often sign up for lower-paying jobs and white men more often get top-paying jobs.

Take a look at the recent recruiting and hiring done at Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. Instead of posting two of the highest-paid positions in his office — as state law dictates — Paxton personally approached two hand-picked outsiders for the jobs. Both white men.

Paxton, the state’s top law-enforcement official, says the law allowed him the flexibility to simply appoint Jeff Mateer to assistant attorney general and Marc Rylander to communications director without opening the top jobs to others.

That smacks of cronyism. And such an unlevel playing field — where a qualified woman or minority never even had an opportunity to apply — points to one reason women’s paychecks still lag behind.

And hey, great news: Paxton just hired another crony to be his Chief of Staff. Because clearly there was no one within the office of the AG who was qualified for the job. That’s just the way these things work out, you know? But don’t worry, I’m sure the magic of the free market will solve this problem any day now.