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February 14th, 2020:

Judicial Q&A: Natalia Cornelio

(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.)

Natalia Cornelio

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

I am Natalia “Nata” Cornelio. I am an experienced, bilingual, Latina attorney. I am running for the Harris County 351st District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a Criminal District Court responsible for presiding over felony level cases. This includes presiding over trials and making decisions relating to pretrial release or detention, pretrial motions, sentencing, and certain post-conviction matters.

The Court is also responsible for making decisions and establishing procedures that are distinct from hearing cases, but that have a substantial impact on the community and on individuals appearing before it. For example, the Court has responsibility for case management and courtroom procedures, the appointment of counsel in indigent cases, and for bail-related schedules or policies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because I have the ability to apply the law in a manner that will improve the public’s confidence in our courts and their decisions.

I will work tirelessly to improve case management systems, to demonstrate an exceptional understanding of the law, to always respect the Constitution and people’s rights, and to thoughtfully consider people’s experiences when applying the law.

I am also running to bring desperately needed diversity to our criminal bench. I am a qualified Latina attorney who has directly served the communities that are often hit hardest by our justice system. Of the 38 criminal courts in Harris County, there are zero Latina judges serving on these courts. This is in spite of the fact that the population in Harris County is over 43% Latino.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 13 years of high-level legal & courtroom experience. I have substantial experience working directly with communities most impacted by the criminal justice system and have a clear, profound understanding of the consequences that judicial decisions have in these communities.

I received my law degree in 2006 from the University of Chicago Law School. I succesfully defended my first murder trial and suppressed evidence in two additional cases while a student at the Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid and Juvenile Justice Clinic.

I then served as a staff attorney for the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for nearly four years, where I drafted judicial opinions for federal appellate judges in criminal, immigration, and habeas corpus cases. I disposed of all legal arguments from both sides while applying the law and considering the record in each case.

Between 2011 and 2017, I was a Federal Public Defender here in Houston. During these years, I was in court handling criminal cases almost every day. I represented hundreds of clients charged with serious felony crimes through every phase of their trial proceedings. I litigated hundreds of bail and probable cause hearings. I successfully challenged a case on double jeopardy grounds before federal judge Lee Rosenthal, and successfully challenged a case where speedy trial rights were violated. I developed significant expertise in criminal law and procedure and developed a strong understanding of the immigration consequences that attach to criminal proceedings. While there, I also conducted Continuing Legal Education classes for other practicing attorneys regarding bail proceedings and on defending criminal immigration offenses.

From 2017 until 2019, I was Director of Criminal Justice Reform at the Texas Civil Rights Project. I managed a team of attorneys and litigated prominent, complex civil rights cases relating to our criminal justice system under Section 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I investigated cases under the Fair Housing Act and Title IX. I successfully represented, on a pro-bono basis, parents forcibly separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border under the federal government’s zero-tolerance policy, the medically vulnerable prisoners held in swelteringly hot and cruel conditions in the Texas prison system, prisoners who have been in continuous solitary confinement for over 20 years, a man who was criminally charged in Greenspoint with “standing on the sidewalk,” and a mother in El Paso who was jailed while pregnant for being unable to pay traffic tickets. I was involved in panel discussions, training sessions, and media presentations regarding this work and our criminal justice system.

In the summer of 2019, I became the Director of Legal Affairs for Harris County Precinct One, where I helped negotiate and draft the final settlement agreement in the misdemeanor bail lawsuit against Harris County. This agreement was critical to ensuring and end to the Harris County practice of detaining thousands of misdemeanor arrestees each year prior to trial simply because of their inability to pay a cash bond. I serve as Co-chair of the Harris County Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committee. This committee is tasked with developing strategies to reduce racial disparities in our justice system. My experience in this rols has made me familiar with the resources available to our leaders to support the development of better policies and practices on critical issues relating to race, bail, and incarceration.

I also teach a course on trial advocacy to law students at The University of Chicago Law School for two weeks each year.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we must always strive to elect judges who will improve the public’s confidence in our courts based on a demonstrated ability to apply the law.

While this includes any aspect of the court’s work, one critical issue facing our courts today is whether the law and Constitution will be faithfully followed on bail decisions and procedures. Federal Courts across the country have now held that criminal courts must not detain people simply because of their economic circumstances. In Harris County, the Fifth Circuit has found that we have harmed thousands of people, their families and their communities by solely relying on ability to pay in making bail decisions. These policies have perpetuated racial disparities in our justice system and act as a force in too often making innocent people plead guilty.

We need leaders who are committed to making changes in order to always comply with the law and Constitution. These changes will require hard work and a willingness to make difficult decisions. I am committed to ensuring that the law and Constitution are followed in all cases including in bail decisions and policies, and to ensure that all people receive equal justice under the law.

Diversity is also a pressing issue facing our courts. The lack of a Latina judge in our 38 criminal courts serves to undermine the public’s confidence in our courts. We have an opportunity to change that.

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

I will bring integrity, accountability, diligence, and a respect for the law and legal processes to the bench. I will base my decisions on law and fact. I will respect all members of the community, work hard, and never stop learning. I will always strive to build the public’s confidence in our courts. I ask for your vote.

What is happening in the CD22 primary?

Holy smokes.

Nyanza Moore

A state district judge on Wednesday barred Democratic congressional candidate Nyanza Moore from making domestic violence allegations against opponent Derrick Reed after the former Pearland councilman sued her for defamation.

Brazoria County Judge Patrick Sebesta issued a temporary restraining order after concluding that Reed would “suffer immediate and irreparable damage” to his integrity and reputation if Moore persisted with a series of social media posts implying that Reed “beats women.”

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Reed cited a handful of times in which Moore alleged or suggested that he had beaten his ex-wife or otherwise committed domestic violence. In one post, Moore indicated she possessed a protective order between Reed and his ex-wife.

In the court filing, Reed emphatically denied the allegations and said no protective order “exists between he and his ex-wife or any other woman.”

“Mr. Reed was with his ex-wife for approximately 20 years and has never beat or abused her,” the filing reads. “The police have never been called out to any of their residences for domestic violence or any physical altercation.”

In a statement, Reed’s ex-wife, Erin Reed, said, “The claim being made that my ex-husband, Derrick Reed, physically abused me during our marriage is false. This accusation is damaging and unfair to our young and impressionable children and is an untrue characterization of their father.”

The order prohibits Moore from making any allegations that Reed committed domestic violence, and instructs her to retract any prior statement “used to disseminate the defamatory statements.”

The lawsuit is embedded in the story, or you can see it here. There’s a high standard to meet to win in an action like this when you are a public figure and political speech is involved, as noted in the story. A hearing for the injunction will be held on February 25, after which there will be three more days of early voting. I think it’s safe to say that more people are now aware of this allegation than when it was first made.

We’re all more sensitive to claims about violence against women now, and we all know that just because such a claim was not decided in a courtroom doesn’t mean it was without merit. That said, there are two things about this particular case that stand out to me. One is Moore’s claim about that alleged protective order. She did’t say she heard that one existed, she said she had an actual copy of an actual order in her possession, which she has threatened to make public – “Keep it up and the Protective Order will see day light” was a response Moore made on one of the cited Facebook posts (see Exhibit B in the lawsuit). If you claim you have something like this, you better have it. If she doesn’t, that puts a big dent in her own credibility. Sooner or later in this process, she is going to be asked to produce that order.

The other thing is that if Reed is not being fully truthful, there is a chance someone else could come forward now that this has all been made public and provide their own evidence to back up Moore’s claim or make one of their own. We have certainly seen that dynamic play out in other cases. What we know for sure is that it cannot be the case that both of them are telling the truth. It could be the case that both of them are being less than fully honest, but at least one of them is wrong. We’ll see what happens in court.

One more thing, which isn’t relevant to the lawsuit but which I noticed in the document: Moore repeatedly referred to Reed as a Republican in the Facebook posts. The Erik Manning spreadsheet lists candidates’ primary voting history for the last four cycles. Derrick Reed did indeed vote in the Republican primary in 2016; he then voted in the Democratic primary in 2018. Nyanza Moore had no primary voting history shown. Make of that what you will.

Astros offer an apology

We’ll see how it goes for them.

From a local newscast in LA

Astros players issued their first public apology after being involved in a cheating scandal that rocked baseball in the offseason.

“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team by the organization and by me,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said in a press conference at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans. I would also like to thank the Astros fans for all of their support. We as a team are totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season.”

Jose Altuve followed up with a similar apology and said the team had a meeting Wednesday to talk about how they should move forward.

“I want to say that the whole Astros organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017,” said Altuve in a 38-second statement. “We especially feel remorse for the impact on the fans and the game of baseball, and our team is determined to move forward, to play with intensity and to bring back a championship to Houston in 2020.”

[…]

“At that meeting last night, the players showed tremendous remorse, sorrow and embarrassment for their families, organization, city of Houston and baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I want to ask for the baseball world to forgive them for the mistakes they made.”

Astros owner Jim Crane, who fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow when baseball released its report on the Astros’ cheating scandal, also apologized.

“I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened,” Crane said. “I want to repeat this will never happen again on my watch.”

I’ll get to Crane in a minute, but suffice it to say not everyone was convinced. I do think this will simmer down over time – if nothing else, the Red Sox punishment is coming, and that will provide a distraction and another target for fans to aim their displeasure – but it will be present for the season, if not longer. Every first meeting against another team, every time an Astros player gets hit by a pitch, any time someone pops off on Twitter, the whole saga will get rehashed. And if there are further revelations, well, as the man once said, hold onto your butts.

As for Astros owner Jim Crane, maybe he should have hired a better apology-writer.

The Astros, who now stand, in the words of one analyst, as “baseball’s unfaithful spouse,” tried to address the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal Thursday with a hybrid communications strategy that observers say left questions unanswered and failed to mollify the team’s critics.

While observers were more generous toward comments by Astros players in the spring training clubhouse at West Palm Beach, Fla., they were less complimentary of the 30-minute news conference staged by owner Jim Crane, which included brief remarks by players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.

Gene Grabowski, a partner at the crisis communications firm kglobal in Washington, D.C., said the Astros were ill-served by advisers in planning the opening news conference that got the morning off to a rough start.

“The core of the problem is that the team’s owner and players tried to declare the crisis over before it’s really over,” Grabowski said. “They sounded arrogant when they said they are moving on. That’s for the fans and sports writers to say — not guilty players and owners.

“The team’s news conference was ill-conceived and poorly presented. It was a horrible performance that has actually made the situation worse for the Astros.”

Mike Androvett, who owns a public relations, marketing and advertising firm that works with attorneys in Dallas and Houston, said the news conference failed to put the past to rest and, instead, “reinforced that the 2017 World Series win will likely be forever tainted.”

[…]

Marjorie Ingall with the website sorrywatch.com, which tracks and rates messages of public contrition, said the Astros news conference “was spectacular in its horridness. It’s the way not to apologize. It’s every example of terrible corporate policy.”

Among Crane’s failures during his news conference, Ingall said, was refusing to acknowledge the damage the Astros inflicted on their opponents.

“You have to apologize to the people you’ve harmed,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not really apologizing.”

She did, however, have good words for Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who began his remarks in the clubhouse with the phrase, “We were wrong for everything we did in 2017.”

“That’s the first sentence of a good apology: ‘We were wrong,’” Ingall said.

Well, maybe the worst is now over. Gotta think positive, right? Sports Illustrated has more.

Endorsement watch: Some State Reps

The Chron made seven endorsements in contested Democratic State Rep primaries on Thursday, plus two in contested Republican State Rep primaries. This must be Part One, because there are multiple races left for them to do. I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now, here’s a recap of the action.

Rep. Alma Allen in HD131.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson in HD141.
Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147.

None of those are surprising, or all that interesting given that these are three of the best from Harris County. Moving on.

Josh Markle in HD128.

District 128 borders and straddles the Houston Ship Channel. In the last election, the Democratic Party did not run a candidate against the incumbent Rep. Briscoe Cain. This year, both candidates in the Democratic primary, Josh Markle and Mary Williams, want voters to at least have a choice even if they face long-shot odds. That’s smart, as no seat should be so safe that incumbents aren’t even challenged.

[…]

Markle was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and besides environmental issues, his platform includes the full gamut of core Democratic issues — healthcare, education, jobs and criminal justice reform. He’ll give voters in the Republican-leaning district a promising alternative to consider in the fall.

Williams served the Houston Police Department as a civilian for more than 23 years. We applaud her spirit of service and dedication to her community. But we believe Markle will give voters ready for a change in the district a better option.

Markle got a fundraising boost from Beto back in September, as you may recall. Good candidate, very tough race.

Ann Johnson in HD134.

Ann Johnson

Child prostitutes were seen as criminals not victims under Texas law until 2010 when Ann Johnson won a case at the Texas Supreme Court involving a girl who was 13 when she was arrested. The case changed both the state law and the national conversation around sex trafficking, and is among several achievements that distinguish Johnson from a strong slate in the Democratic primary for House District 134.

[…]

Ultimately it is Johnson who presents the strongest chance for Democrats to take back control of District 134. She speaks with authority about a broad range of issues and with the persuasive power of a former prosecutor. After the landmark case she argued to the Texas Supreme Court, she was was hired by a Republican district attorney as a human-trafficking specialist. She worked with Republican judges to start the CARE court to assist child victims of human tracking and SAFE court for people 17 to 25 charged with prostitution. Now she’s calling for public-private partnerships to establish a victim recovery village.

Even if Democrats do flip the House, whoever wins this seat will have to work those across the aisle. Johnson has a record of appealing to common values to get important work done.

It is a strong field in HD134, as any of Johnson, Ruby Powers, or Lanny Bose would be an excellent State Rep. You can’t go wrong here.

Rep. Shawn Thierry in HD146.

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry traces her interest in politics back to early childhood when she was the first black child in her Houston public elementary school. Thierry’s teacher quit because she said she couldn’t teach a “colored child.”

Her mother, the first black teacher to integrate Sharpstown High School, used to call her “little Barbara Jordan,” after the revered Texas politician who was the first African-American woman in the Texas Senate and the first from the Deep South elected to the U.S. Congress.

[…]

Thierry is being challenged for the seat, which represents a demographically diverse community from Sunnyside through Meyerland and Westbury past Sharpstown, by Houston Black Lives founder and community activist Ashton P. Woods.

Woods, who ran for City Council last year, brings passion for communities that often go unheard, especially on issues impacting the LGBT community. His is a much-needed voice that we hope will be heard.

Thierry, however, brings pragmatism and perseverance that is critical in making change happen in the Legislature. We endorse Thierry for House District 146.

Thierry was elected in 2016 after winning the nomination in one of those precinct chair selections, after Borris Miles moved up to SD13 to replace Rodney Ellis. She had a primary challenger in 2018 but won that easily. I heard a brief rumor after the 2019 election that Dwight Boykins might file for this seat, but in the end that didn’t happen. Woods is the strongest challenger to a Dem incumbent this side of Jerry Davis, and he’s picked up a few endorsements including the GLBT Political Caucus and the Texas Organizing Project. Keep an eye on this one as well.

Rep. Anna Eastman in HD148.

Rep. Anna Eastman

Eastman, whose HISD district included 75 percent of District 148, told the Editorial Board that education would be one of her priorities. She wants to ensure that funding from HB3, the school finance bill passed in the last session, is preserved and the money goes where it is needed. She also believes the state school rating system needed to be reviewed.

“There’s a huge disconnect when you have a district like HISD getting a B rating, triggering a board of managers and having schools that we know really are not serving our kids in a way that they’re worthy of,” said Eastman, 52.

She also supports increasing access to safe, legal abortion and a number of gun reform measures, including closing background-check loopholes, red-flag laws and banning assault-style weapons and ammunition.

We were also encouraged by Eastman’s plan to spend the next several months establishing her office, getting to know her constituents and “showing up in Austin in January ready to serve and do work that matters.”

Eastman was the Chron’s choice in the special election, so this is not a surprise. Penny Shaw has racked up all of the group endorsements, however, so this ought to be a tough race. Most likely, Eastman will have to run a fourth time, in a primary runoff, for the opportunity to run for a fifth time, in November.

Still to be endorsed: HDs 126 and 138, the two remaining challenges to Republican-held seats, and HDs 139 and 142, the other two challenges to Dem incumbents. Also, too, SDs 11 and 13, and a bunch of other races. We’re still waiting.