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February 22nd, 2020:

Judicial Q&A: Veronica Rivas-Molloy

(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.)

Veronica Rivas-Molloy

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

My name is Veronica Rivas-Molloy. I am honored and proud to ask for your support to become a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, Place 3.

I am a wife, a mother of three young sons, a proud immigrant to this country, and a practicing attorney of almost 20 years. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, the first to obtain an advanced degree, and the first attorney. If elected, I will be the first judge in my family, the first Democratic elected Hispanic attorney to serve on the First Court of Appeals, and only the second Latina to serve on the court in 128 years, bringing much needed diversity to our appellate bench.

I have a degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish (with honors) from the University of Texas at El Paso. I graduated with honors and at the top of my law school class from the University of Houston Law Center. After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, gaining invaluable experience. For the last 17 years, I have worked at top-tier law firms representing my clients in litigation and appellate matters in Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have handled hundreds of complex litigation matters involving various industries and areas of the law, tried over 20 jury cases (including civil, criminal, and immigration matters), and counseled my clients on a variety of appellate matters. My experience is extensive and it has prepared me well for the position I now seek.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

There are 14 Courts of Appeals in Texas, each presiding over a specific geographic territory. The First Court of Appeals is located in Houston, Texas. The Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices preside over the court and hear civil and criminal (except death penalty) appeals originating from trial courts in 10 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to serve my community and give back to the legal profession that gave me a voice and the opportunity to advocate on behalf of others. I have a passion for what I do, and I want to use my skills and experience to give back to our community and serve our judicial system, for which I have profound respect. I also want to bring my wealth of experience and diverse voice to our appellate bench, where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution.

On a personal level, I also want to set an example for my children and diverse youth who may be considering a career in law. I want them to know the importance of civic duty and service, and for them to grow up knowing that immigrants, mothers, and diverse attorneys can be Justices and serve our communities with integrity, excellence, and hard work.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for almost 20 years, handling a wide-variety of complex business disputes throughout Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have represented numerous clients in state and federal courts, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and before domestic and international arbitral tribunals in disputes involving oil and gas operations, real estate, healthcare, construction, personal injury, employment matters, trade secrets, non-compete and restrictive covenants, and a diverse range of complex contractual and business-related matters. I have met the highest and most rigorous standards at all levels of my legal profession: student, law clerk, and legal practitioner.

I graduated with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso with a double degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish. I graduated from the University of Houston Law Center with honors and at the top of my law school class, where I served as an Article Editor on the Law Review, a Prosecutor on the Honor Court, the Vice President of the Hispanic Student Bar Association, and a Class Representative for the Student Bar Association.

After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk working for the Honorable Ewing Werlein, Jr. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where I gained invaluable experience working on a significant number of civil litigation matters. I worked on procedural and substantive matters assisting the court with trials, dispositive motions, jurisdictional disputes, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, injunction hearings, pre-trial matters, jury charges, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. I engaged in rigorous legal analysis and extensive brief writing, drafting recommendations on the myriad of cases and legal matters presented to the court over the course of two years.

Working in court also helped me understand not only the importance of having open access to our courts and the significance of the rule of law to our democracy, but also the importance of staffing and administration of a court’s docket to ensure efficient, fair and prompt resolution of pending cases. I also understood very early on that judges are servants of our judicial system, and, that as such, they have a duty to rule with impartiality, justice, equality, and with utmost respect for our judicial system. I learned the importance of having proper judicial temperament, and the importance of excellence, hard work and integrity.

Following my clerkship, I worked at the law firm of Baker Botts, LLP, where I continued to work on various litigation matters helping further refine my analytical, oral, and written advocacy skills. I represented clients across different industries in matters involving general commercial litigation and complex business disputes. I also served as a volunteer prosecutor for the City of Houston, where I managed the docket of the court (first-chair) once a week, engaging in various matters, such as plea bargaining, interfacing with defense counsel, working with court staff, officers, and witnesses, and trying numerous cases to the jury involving administrative and criminal matters.

For the last 10 years, I have worked at the law firm of Jones Walker, LLP, advocating for my clients and representing them on a diverse range of complex business disputes and appellate matters. I represent clients in state and federal courts across Texas, and other jurisdictions in the United States, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and arbitral tribunals. I have first-chair experience handling a significant number of bench and jury civil matters, helping my clients develop legal strategy and conduct fact discovery and investigations, motion practice, depositions, preparation and presentation of witnesses and experts, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, legal briefs, jury charges, pre-trial matters, mediations, arbitrations, trial, and appeals in a wide-variety of complex business disputes.

My significant experience in civil litigation makes me uniquely suited to be a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, because more than half of all appeals filed before that court involve civil matters, including complex business disputes like the ones I have been handling for years. It is important to elect judges who have a robust civil litigation practice and experience in trial courts, from which these civil appeals originate. I have that experience. In addition, it is vital that we elect judges who have strong written advocacy skills. As a litigator and former law clerk, a significant part of my practice has been devoted to rigorous legal analysis and extensive written advocacy.

In addition to my litigation practice, I work directly with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) providing pro bono representation to unaccompanied minors in their immigration and asylum proceedings. I also serve as General Counsel for Holy Trinity Episcopal School of Greater Houston, where I provide pro bono legal advice and representation to the school on various matters. I am also actively involved in my sons’ schools, having served on their parent teacher organizations, volunteering on multiple committees and special projects, and volunteering as their catechism teacher at our church.

5. Why is this race important?

Our courts of appeals hear significant cases that affect not only the parties before the court, but our communities at large. The decisions appellate courts render also influence our jurisprudence on a statewide level because they set the precedent our lower courts and legal practitioners apply and follow in their daily practice. It is important to elect judges who have a proven record of success, high qualifications for the job, and a commitment to doing the hard work necessary to give each case the attention it deserves for the parties, our communities, and the integrity of our judiciary and system of laws.

It is also vital that our courts reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. No attorneys of color presently serve on the First Court of Appeals, which presides over some of the most diverse counties and cities in our country. It is imperative that we improve the diversity of our appellate bench. Diversity not only enhances our judiciary by ensuring that different life perspectives and experiences form part of the decision-making process when ruling on significant legal issues, it also helps enhance the public perception and legitimacy of our judicial system.

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

I have significant experience and the skill set necessary to be an excellent Justice on the First Court of Appeals. My record of success is a testament to the quality of work and commitment I will bring to the bench.

I have a strong work ethic and self-discipline, both of which have served me well and have resulted in my success as an attorney. I have achieved not only academic success in my career, graduating with honors and at the top of my law school class, but also professional success, securing a federal clerkship and working at top-tier firms, providing legal advice to my firm clients and also giving back by representing indigent clients on a pro bono basis in various matters. I will bring that same work ethic and discipline to the bench to ensure diligent, fair, and prompt resolution of matters before the court.

I have a reputation for producing high caliber legal work, and for professionalism, always working with the utmost respect for my colleagues, clients, and adversaries. I strive to work with integrity and the highest ethical standards at all times—values that are the foundation of my legal career and should be at the core of any judicial candidate or jurist. If excellence, hard work, and integrity are values that resonate with you, then I ask for your vote. Those values have defined me as a person and professional, and they will guide me as a Justice on the First Court of Appeal serving you and our community. I hope to earn your trust and your vote. It will be a privilege to serve you and our judiciary.

Cable franchise fees lawsuit heard

Rooting for the cities, because this is a mess.

Lawyers representing 59 cities, including Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, on Wednesday asked an Austin district court judge to temporarily block a Texas law passed last year that cuts government fees for telecommunications and cable companies.

Senate Bill 1152, which took effect Sept. 1 and started to apply to payments starting Jan. 1, allows companies that offer both cable and phone services over the same lines to only pay the lesser of the two charges to local governments for using their rights-of-way. No physical change is required to add new uses of a line.

C. Robert Heath, one of the attorneys who represents the cities, said the law amounts to an unconstitutional gift of public resources to private corporations and said estimates show it would cost cities at least $100 million a year.

The cities argue that the Texas Constitution forbids cities, counties and other political subdivisions from giving away public money or things of value to private groups or individuals. The companies are not required to pass on savings to consumers because the state can’t regulate cable rates.

“It’s like ‘buy one, get one free,’” Heath said. “So we’re saying, ‘No, no, you can’t do that. You’re giving away the use of the right-of-way.’”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had pushed legislators to oppose the measure and has said it cost the city about $17 million in annual revenue this year and has hurt its ability to offer services to residents.

“Given the fee would fluctuate with the number of cable customers, what is not changing is the significant impact this has had on our city budget,” Bill Kelly, Houston’s director of government relations, said Wednesday. “Anyone asking the cable companies why no one has lowered their bills?”

[…]

Assistant attorney general Drew Harris, who represents the state, argued that the reduced fee is not the same as a gift, making the analogy of toll roads that charge per car, not per passenger. Harris added that Texas law says the state owns rights-of-way, meaning the cost of using them is a matter for the Legislature to decide.

See here and here for the background. I must have missed the actual filing of the lawsuit, but never mind. We all know this will get to the Supreme Court eventually, and we know they love to rule in favor of businesses. The question is whether they’ll be overturning a lower court verdict or not. The judge has promised a quick ruling after the state files a response to a late plaintiffs’ motion, so we won’t have to wait too long to see where we start out.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Four: First Friday

We are at the end of the first business week, shortened by the holiday on Monday. It’s been a brisk week, especially compared to other years, but there should be a lot more to come. Here’s the Day Four report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609    8,542   14,151
2016   8,850   14,554   23,404
2018   8,844   16,110   24,954
2020  15,101   25,254   40,355

2012  12,111   18,643   30,754
2016  12,205   21,348   33,553
2018  12,530   15,515   28,045
2020  16,528   24,778   41,306

A large number of Republican mail ballots being returned push them into the lead so far. More Dems have voted in person, and more Dem mail ballots remain to be returned than Republican mail ballots (23K to 15K). Democrats have had a bigger jump in turnout from 2016, but they had a lower base to start with. I’m seeing more or less what I expected from Dems, but more Republicans are turning out than I thought would. We’ll see how that continues.

By the way, I combined Days Four and Five from 2012 in this report. Unlike the 2016 and 2018, the 2012 primary was in May (remember that?), so that year the first week of early voting was a full first week. All the totals you see now are through the Friday of that year.

It’s been a long week and I don’t have it in me to do much analysis. I’ll have more tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

Endorsement watch: Not Borris

The Chron makes its second major endorsement against an incumbent.

Melissa Morris

Texas Senate District 13 stretches through Harris County into the northeastern corner of Fort Bend County. It winds through struggling neighborhoods such as Sunnyside and the world-renowned Texas Medical Center and reflects our city’s rich diversity in the East End, Greater Fifth Ward and Chinatown.

Its residents deserve an elected representative attentive to its needs and able to pass legislation that will make a difference where it’s most needed.

State Sen. Borris Miles has been effective in getting funding for programs such as the Miles Ahead Scholars Program, a mentoring initiative for boys of color. He also introduced legislation to stem maternal mortality and end criminal prosecutions for failing to keep up with rent-to-own payments.

But Miles fell short in his response to the discovery of a suspected cancer cluster in Fifth Ward. Miles told the Editorial Board that he first learned of the cluster in 2017 and responded by holding community meetings and sending a strongly worded letter to TCEQ. It wasn’t until U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee got involved, Milessaid, that the issue got the attention it deserved.

That raised serious questions for us — and for one of his challengers in the Democratic primary,

During our candidate screening, attorney Melissa Morris asked Miles why he had not contacted Jackson Lee when he first learned of the cluster.

“I didn’t share it with her in 2017,” Miles responded. “I felt it was a state issue.”

Morris countered that such a serious issue merited a more urgent response from the senator representing the afflicted neighborhood. We agree. Miles’s contention that he had to follow a process doesn’t hold water when the health and lives of the people in his district are at stake.

They mention, in passing, the harassment allegations against Sen. Miles, which were an issue in the GLBT Caucus endorsement process but have otherwise been largely ignored, but this cancer cluster and Sen. Miles’ response to it was their red line. I don’t know how consequential this will be. Morris has little money, no other endorsements, and a poorly constructed webpage that doesn’t display her banner photo correctly (on two machines, and in two browsers) and links to facebook.com and twitter.com (and Google Plus, for crying out loud) instead of her own campaign Facebook account (no Twitter or Instagram, as far as I could find for her). Point being, she may be a good person and a qualified candidate, she’s probably not the most formidable opponent one could imagine.

Also endorsed yesterday: US Rep. Al Green in CD09.

While other congressional Democrats are facing primary challenges from the left wing of the party, eight-term Rep. Al Green has the opposite problem.

His lone opponent in House District 9, political newcomer Melissa Wilson, describes herself as “pro-life,” especially concerning late-term abortions, opposes an assault-weapons ban and is against imposing a higher minimum wage on small businesses.

Far from criticizing Green for not being progressive enough, Wilson says she is running against the incumbent as a “moderate” who will bring much-needed “young blood and fresh eyes” to Congress.

While a greater diversity of thought would make both political parties healthier, there is no evidence that Green’s more traditional liberal positions are out of step with his district. He was reelected with 89 percent of the vote in 2018, 81 percent in 2016 and 91 percent in 2014.

It also would be counter-productive for area voters to surrender Green’s seniority and leadership position on the Financial Services Committee when Democrats are expected to retain control of the House.

Green, 72, points to his work in securing $90 million for flood protection projects along Brays and Sims bayous. He says he continues to work on legislation to streamline recovery aid in future disasters.

Green is the right choice for voters in the March 3 Democratic primary.

I like Rep. Green and would have supported him regardless, but all this is a hard no from me. Better young blood and fresh eyes, please.