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January 15th, 2020:

Interview with Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

We wrap up our visit with the candidates in HD138, the district that I was sure would flip before HD132 did. Politics is funny sometimes. Today’s candidate is Jenifer Pool, whose website is not up right now. If you’ve been here before, you know Jenifer, who owns a construction and permitting consulting firm and has a long history of activism in the community. She’s run for Council a couple of times and became the first trans person to win a primary for county office when she was nominated for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2016. She also ran in the primary for HD138 in 2018; you can listen to that interview here. This election’s interview with Jenifer Pool is right here:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138

Judicial Q&A: Robert Morales

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Robert Morales

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

My name is Robert S. Morales and I am running to be the Family Court Judge of the 507th District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears cases related to the family relationship such as divorces, paternity, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, support cases, adoptions, etc. along with name changes and gender marker cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 507th Family District Court because it is the only family law court up for election in Harris County this election cycle. Also, “507” is not only this court’s designation, but the country code of Panama where I was born. So, that number holds a special significance to me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing family law every since I was a third-year student at the family law clinic at my law school. I even worked a few years in the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General. In my current position as the supervising attorney of the Veterans Department of a non-profit organization, I also mentor and assist other attorneys navigate their pro bono family law cases. Finally, for the past few years I have assisted bar takers prepare for the Texas Bar Exam, including the family law essays.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because courts belong to society – the people, and judges are their custodians. As such, we should insist on the best possible representative of each court and not those who have been graded to “need improvement” after years on the bench. As this is a new year, a new decade, the people deserve to vote in a new judge accordingly.

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

People should vote for me in the primary because it is time to pass the torch to someone new. I bring the experiences of having been in court under different capacities including a noncustodial parent in a support case, a pro se litigant in a divorce, private attorney, and even government attorney. Those experiences I will always carry with me and use them to better relate to everyone who appears before me. Furthermore, as a father of young children, I know what is at stake when deciding what is in the “best interests of the child.” Whether it is as a soldier in the U.S. Army, a government attorney, mentor, teacher, or a non-profit attorney, I have been at my best when at the service of others and on the bench is where I will be able to do the most good serving society. As a future judge, I cannot make very many promises, but what I can promise is that I will treat everyone in my court with the same dignity and respect that I, myself, would like to be shown.

Flynn officially on HD138 primary ballot

Score two for formerly-booted candidates.

Josh Flynn

In mediation last Friday, [candidate Josh Flynn and the Harris County Republican Party] agreed that Flynn would appear on the upcoming primary ballot [for HD138].

[HCRP Chair Paul] Simpson said in a statement that he challenged Flynn’s eligibility to “protect the integrity of the ballot,” and continued to dispute that Flynn should be allowed to run.

“As Texas law also requires, we agreed that Mr. Flynn’s name will remain on the primary ballot, even though he is ineligible to run,” Simpson said.

An attorney for Simpson and the party echoed that.

“We’ve left (Flynn) on the ballot because the law requires us to do so, but unless a judge rules otherwise, he’s still ineligible,” said Trey Trainor, an Austin-based attorney.

Regardless of the outcome of the primary, lingering ambiguity about Flynn’s eligibility could be bad for the Republican Party, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said.

If Flynn wins the primary, Jones said, his Democratic opponent in the general election could seek to have him declared ineligible. And they would be able to use the Republican Party’s own words to bolster that claim.

The Texas Supreme Court then would need to rule on whether Flynn was allowed to run, and clarify what is or is not a “lucrative office.”

If such a decision goes against Flynn, local precinct chairs would appoint a replacement candidate, which Jones said could be seen as a subversion of the voters’ will.

Even if a court sides with Flynn, Jones said, the legal dispute could cost valuable time, money and resources in the race for House District 138, which GOP Rep. Dwayne Bohac won by only 47 votes in 2018. Bohac announced late last year that he would not seek reelection.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have much else to add – I thought Flynn had the stronger case, and I think the Lege ought to clarify this situation. How much any of this matters, in March and in November, I have no idea. If the district is still on the razor’s edge, then every little bit does count, but given the way things have been going, maybe it’s all academic. As with all the other races of interest, let’s see what the finance reports tell us.

Update on the “Judicial Selection Committee”

Yes, this is a thing.

All but one member of the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection indicated at the group’s first meeting Thursday that they believe partisanship is problematic in the state’s method of selecting judges.

Only Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she’s unconvinced that partisan election of judges must go. But the senator added she planned to keep an open mind as the Judicial Selection Commission this year completes its task to study a number of selection methods, and report back to the Texas Legislature with recommendations for reform.
Much of the commission’s first meeting in the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin was devoted to spelling out the problems with the current system.

“You can’t solve a problem unless you know what the problem really is,” said Chairman David Beck, partner in Beck Redden in Houston.

Beck said Texas is one of only six states in the nation that uses partisan elections for judges.

“We are losing good, experienced judges,” he said. “I don’t care if they are Republicans or Democrats. It has nothing to do with their performance. It depends on the issues at the top of the ticket.

[…]

A candidate who can raise the most money from wealthy people and corporations, to put ads on TV, has the best shot at winning the bench in urban areas where voters do not know the judicial candidates, added Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Instead, Jefferson said the emphasis in judicial elections should be on the merit of the candidates.

But Jefferson indicated that the election of judges is a good thing, too, because a candidate must travel the state and speak with attorneys and people about their concerns.

“I was able to bring innovation from all around the state to the judicial system because there were good ideas,” said Jefferson.

Another plus: The 2018 elections brought a racially diverse group of candidates into office, he said.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so I’ll keep my comments brief. One, I will remind David Beck and everyone else who has ever utter a lamentation about the “good, experienced judges” that we lose via the partisan election process that we gained them in the first place via the partisan election process. Second, I would challenge Wallace Jefferson to show me the data on that claim about raising money for TV ads to win judicial elections. For one thing, very few judicial candidates actually raise that much money, and for two, even fewer of them run TV ads. That said, it’s quite interesting to see Jefferson, who has been an advocate for something other than the partisan election of judges for a long time to admit that the partisan elections we had in 2018 did an awful lot to diversify the judiciary in Texas. How much progress do you think we’d have made on that score in a judicial appointment system?

I mean look, I don’t want to claim that the partisan elections process for judges is the best system. I get the concerns about it, and like anything it’s worth considering how it could be improved. Really, my main problem is that the arguments put forward by proponents of change are such obvious tripe that I feel compelled to point it out each time. It’s wishcasting plus unsupported claims, and on top of it all no one has yet proposed an actual alternate system that can be objectively shown to be better than the one we have, and by “better” I don’t mean “would allow Republicans to regain or hold onto power in places where they have lost it or are losing it”. Everyone seems to take it on faith that Something Else would be better. I say show me the evidence. That in theory is what the Judicial Selection Commission is intended to do. I’ll believe it when I see it. Grits for Breakfast has more.

UPDATE: Well, there’s this:

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is pushing back against the thought of eliminating partisanship from judicial elections.

In a statement Friday, one day after the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection met for the first time and identified partisan judicial elections as a major problem, Patrick issued a statement saying he was surprised it appeared the commission supported eliminating partisanship before it began hearings.

“I expect the members to have an open mind on every issue—including the partisan election of judges—with the single goal of making sure Texas continues to maintain one of the best judicial systems in the country,” Patrick said. “Texans feel strongly about voting for their judges. The commission will need to make a compelling argument to the people and legislators to change the current system. I do not believe that support exists today.”

Having one’s viewpoint affirmed by Dan Patrick is a heck of a thing. Be that as it may, his opinion will carry a bit more weight than mine. I don’t know if this means he’s actually not on board with ending the partisan election of judges, which means he’s not on the same page as Greg Abbott, or just telling the committee to not give the game away before it even starts. Either way, very interesting.