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January 24th, 2020:

Judicial Q&A: Ana Martinez

(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.)

Ana Martinez

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

My name is Ana Martinez and I am running for the 179th District Court. I am originally from Colombia and have been living in Houston for 15 years. I am a naturalized citizen, have law degrees from Colombia and Texas. I clerked for the Texas Supreme Court after I graduated law school. I am a former prosecutor and founding member of the former Human Trafficking Section of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I currently serve as an appointed defense attorney and represent indigent clients.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

A Criminal District Court hears all felony (from State Jail to 1st Degree) cases within Harris County assigned to the court. A District Judge will handle all pre-trial and trial procedures arising from said charges. This includes pre-trial release, bonds and bond hearings, hearings on pre-trial motions, docket settings, trial (guilt/innocence and punishment), motions to adjudicate and revoke probation hearings, post-conviction / writ hearings, PSI hearings, issuances of orders and findings of fact / conclusions of law, assignment of attorneys for indigent clients, and overall docket management.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 179th District Court because I believe change and improvement is needed in that court. As an illustration, the 2009, 2017 and the 2019 Judicial Polls from the Houston Bar Association show that 40% or more of the attorneys who answered the poll stated the incumbent judge needed improvement in almost all categories. (Follows the law, is courteous and attentive towards attorneys and witnesses, demonstrates impartiality, uses attorney’s time efficiently, works hard and is prepared).

Also, the current Judge has practices, that in my opinion, target those defendants battling with addiction. His Court records show he revokes bonds if a defendant tests positive for use of controlled substances – regardless of the charge and in most occasions, without a hearing or due process. I believe these types of practices keep subjecting the mentally ill – including those struggling with addiction – to a disparate and unfair treatment, and I believe the current Judge continues to perpetuate an unfair and biased system.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an experienced criminal attorney. I have exclusively practiced criminal law for nine years in Harris County. I have been a prosecutor and I am now a defense attorney. I have handled hundreds of cases ranging from Class C to First Degree Felonies. At the District Attorney’s Office I successfully tried dozens of misdemeanor and felony jury trials and I handled cases in the Family Law Criminal Division, Mental Health Division, Writs Section, and spent my last two years as an Assistant District Attorney at the former Human Trafficking Section.

As a defense attorney I have handled hundreds of misdemeanors and felony cases. Being one of the few certified bilingual appointed attorneys, allows me to represent minorities who are underrepresented and I am able to advocate for their rights.

I graduated from law school in Colombia from Universidad de los Andes, one of the top law schools in the country, and became fully licensed to practice in my home country back in 2004. During my last year of law school in Colombia, I served as an appointed criminal defense attorney for indigent clients.

I moved to Houston, Texas in 2005, and later became a U.S. Citizen. I obtained an LLM degree from the University of Houston Law Center. I then attended South Texas College of Law – Houston, and obtained my J.D., which allowed me to be fully licensed in the State of Texas.

After graduating from law school in 2010, I spent my first year as a licensed attorney in Texas as a clerk for the Texas Supreme Court.

5. Why is this race important?

Criminal Judicial races affect everyone in the community. The safety of our community is influenced by the criminal justice system and the rights of the accused are protected by a fair and knowledgeable judiciary.

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

I believe I will have a better judicial temperament than my opponent. I will be dignified and courteous to any litigant, juror, witness, lawyer and others with whom I deal in an official capacity and my words and conduct will not manifest bias or prejudice. I also believe I have a better understanding and knowledge of the law.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: Statewide

There’s a whole lot of candidates of interest for state offices. I’m going to break them down into several groups, to keep things simple and the posts not too long. Today we will look at the candidates for statewide office. This will include the statewide judicial races, and both Republicans and Democrats. I have previously done the Harris County reports.

Roberto Alonzo, RRC
Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Kelly Stone, RRC
Mark Watson, RRC

Ryan Sitton, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Jerry Zimmerer, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Lawrence Praeger, Supreme Court, Place 6

Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Brandy Voss, Supreme Court, Place 7
Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7

Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Peter Kelly, Supreme Court, Place 8
Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8

Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

William Demond, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
Elizabeth Frizell, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
Dan Wood, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3

Gina Parker, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
Bert Richardson, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3

Tina Clinton, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4
Steve Miears, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Kevin Yeary, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Brandon Birmingham, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9

David Newell, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Alonzo         1,500     8,458    7,340       3,840
Castaneda     46,297    42,196   26,000      46,297
Stone         25,331    23,465    3,875       3,018
Watson           750     3,762        0         750

Sitton       480,850   154,832  378,899   2,514,759

Meachum      139,370    42,854        0     119,067
Zimmerer      10,680    22,213   20,000      45,251

Hecht        296,168   146,575        0     531,660

Cheng          1,315    41,200   84,167       8,129
Praeger        1,280     5,227   10,000       1,280

Bland        335,707    73,945        0     277,965

Voss         100,696   135,076  100,000     169,470
Williams      55,154   105,936        0      59,074

Boyd         134,844   100,193      177     562,533

Kelly         30,527     7,037        0      50,963
Triana       100,970    39,710        0     106,577

Busby        260,378   129,825        0     542,918

Demond        4,250      5,050    5,000       3,599
Frizell       1,000        988        0          11
Wood          6,490     68,592        0      41,291

Parker       58,195     82,247   25,000      21,055
Richardson   52,975     21,690    4,500      35,207

Clinton           0     10,216   25,000       4,944
Miears            0      3,750        0           0

Yeary        14,355     11,203    3,004       6,245

Birmingham   29,770     16,375   10,960      25,003

Newell        8,879      7,370        0       1,391

Railroad Commissioner is not a high profile office and not one for which a bunch of money is usually raised, though Ryan Sitton has clearly made good use of his five-plus years on the job. If you’ve listened to my interviews with Chrysta Castañeda and Kelly Stone, you know that I’m a little scarred by goofy results in some of our statewide primaries in recent cycles. Strange things can and do happen when people have no idea who the candidates are, as the likes of Grady Yarbrough and Jim Hogan can attest. On the plus side, I’d say three of the four candidates running in this primary would be fine – Castañeda and Stone are actively campaigning, Roberto Alonzo is a former State Rep, you can have confidence they’ll do their best. As for Mark Watson, at least I could identify him via a Google search. It’s a low bar to clear, you know?

I don’t often look at finance reports for judicial candidates – there’s just too many of them, for one thing, and they usually don’t tell you much. None of what I see here is surprising. The Republican incumbents have a few bucks, though none of their totals mean anything in a statewide context. I’m guessing the Dems with bigger totals to report had cash to transfer from their existing accounts, as District Court or Appeals court judges. It’s possible, if we really do see evidence of the state being a tossup, that some PAC money will get pumped into these races, for the purpose of making sure people don’t skip them. Everyone has to be concerned about the potential for undervotes to have an effect on the outcome, in this first year of no straight ticket voting.

As for the Court of Criminal Appeals, well, the money’s on the civil side of the house. It is what it is. I’ll be back with the Lege next, and then the SBOE and State Senate after that.

Looking ahead in CD07

This story is primarily about the Republican primary in CD07. I don’t care about that race or those candidates, but there’s some good stuff at the end that I wanted to comment on.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Since she’s taken office, some Houston Republicans — old school, Bush-acolyte types — concede [Rep. Lizzie Fletcher is] an on-the-ground presence and a force to be reckoned with for whoever the Republicans nominate.

That assessment is, in part, thanks to her fundraising. She is the top Democratic fundraiser in the Texas delegation and only lags behind Crenshaw among U.S. House members from Texas. And while the Republican primary is expected to drag on into a runoff in May, Fletcher can watch from the sidelines while banking her money for the coming general election television ad wars.

Because of those factors, non-partisan campaign handicappers at Inside Elections rate the 7th Congressional District as “Lean Democratic.”

“She is formidable, as evidenced by nobody on the Democratic side running against her,” said Jason Westin, a rival from her 2018 primary fight who has donated to her campaign this time around. “She’s done an excellent job … and I think she’s been checking boxes and basically doing what she said she was going to do, which is what got her elected over an incumbent the first time.”

And there’s an urgency in GOP circles that if they are to defeat Fletcher, it must be this cycle. Incumbents are traditionally at their weakest during their first term.

But also, the next cycle will take place after redistricting. Even if Republicans hold the map-drawing power in the state Legislature, it will be difficult to shore up the 7th District into their favor this time around. Any attempt to draw nearby Republican voters into the district could risk destabilizing the other Republican-held districts in the Houston metropolitan area.

In the here and now, members of both parties privately acknowledge that for all the fundraising, campaigning and strategizing, the 7th Congressional district is likely to be the Texas seat most susceptible to national winds.

After all, it is Trump who is most credited with pushing this district into the Democratic column. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the district by 21 percentage points. But in 2016, Trump lost the district by one percentage point, giving Democrats the impetus to compete in West Houston.

As I’ve said before, I consider CD07 to be Lean Dem. Rep. Fletcher could certainly lose, but she hasn’t done anything to make her position any more vulnerable. She’s done the things she campaigned on, she’s raised a ton of money, she’s not committed any gaffes, and she’s been very visible in the district. As the story notes, she won by five points in a race that was expected to be a photo finish, and in which the polling we had tended to show John Culberson up by a small margin. Don’t underestimate her, is what I’m saying.

If there’s one thing that gives me a little bit of pause, it’s that while Democrats in 2018 exceeded their countywide totals from 2016, Republicans lagged theirs, by 70 to 100K votes. Their turnout will be up from 2018, and so it’s a question of how much Dems can increase theirs. I expect it to be up to the task, but it is a factor. I mean, Culberson got 143K votes in 2016 but only 116K in 2018, while Fletcher got 128K. I expect she will need more than that to win this year.

Of course, some of those votes Fletcher got were from people who had previously voted mostly Republican. It was those people, who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump while otherwise voting GOP in 2016, that out CD07 on the map in the first place. These people voted for more Democrats in 2018, as precinct analysis makes clear, but they still voted for some Republicans. My sense is that those people will mostly stick with Dems in 2020 – if being anti-Trump drove their behavior in 2016 and 2018, it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t drive their behavior in 2020 – but that is a variable. And as for what happens in 2022 when we are post-Trump (please, please, please), that’s anyone’s guess at this point.

As for redistricting, I don’t know what the Republicans will want to do with CD07. First, it matters whether they have control over the process or if they have to deal with House Democrats, and second it matters if they’re seeking to protect a new incumbent or enact a strategic retreat, in which case they can use CD07 as a Democratic vote sink and shore up all three of CDs 02, 10, and 22. Or, you know, try to win back one or more of them – if Dems take at least one of those seats, they’ll need to figure out how to protect those new incumbents, too. I know that redistricting is at a basic level a zero-sum partisan game, but it’s also more than two-dimensional. There are a lot of interests to balance, and it’s not always obvious what the best move is. I mean, who would have ever expected that we’d be talking about this back in 2011, right?