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December 27th, 2021:

Judicial Q&A: Judge Chip Wells

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Chip Wells

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

I am the Presiding Judge in the 312th Family District Court. I was first elected to the Court in November 2018 and ascended to the bench January 2019. I was first licensed to practice law in June 1977 after graduating from South Texas College of Law. I have practiced law in the state of Texas for 42 years prior to my election to the bench and will have been licensed 45 years in June of this year. Before my election I practiced law with my law partner for over 28 years. I am married, divorced, married, divorced and married again. Together my wife of more than 27 yrs and I raised her two children and one of our own. We presently have three grandchildren. Because of my legal experience and my life experience I am without question the most qualified individual to serve in this Court. Family Courts have traditionally been Courts of equity where we seek to do what is best for the family and especially for the children involved. I do that work every day on the bench in the courthouse where I was elected to serve.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 312th hears the entire range of family law cases including but not limited to divorce, modification of prior orders, child support enforcement and modification; original suits affecting the parent child relationship; contempt; paternity; adoption; terminations; cases involving children in the care of CPS/ TDFPS. These case descriptions have the effect of minimizing the broad range of cases this Court hears. I have cases involving allegations of murder, vast financial resources, physical and emotional abuse, and complex jurisdictional issues involving marital estates. A Family Law Judge does not serve in a vacuum but in an arena of life experiences acquired through life and years of practice.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I am very proud of the fact that the 312th has been open and in-person every day that we have had access to the Courthouse. I had a staff including my lead Clerk, Court Reporter and Associate Judge who desired to be in the Courtroom where we were elected to serve and expected to be found. We followed all protocols and moved our docket effectively, safely and efficiently. From the beginning I adopted discovery procedures intended to effectively streamline the time associated with discovery hearings. The ability to create time saving policies came as a result of my extensive experience in other areas of the practice of law. In the 312th we have attempted every day to provide a Courtroom where lawyers could try their case in a meaningful way in compliance with the rules of civil procedure. The HBA Bar Poll rated the 312th 80% Satisfactory, Very Good and or Excellent. The Associate Judge appointed by me was among the highest rated among her peers. Our lead clerk was recognized as the Professional of the Year.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

Going forward I would like for the 312th to successfully continue to resolve its docket so that cases are handled in a timely, efficient manner. The 312th Court Coordinator is constantly combing through the docket to identify cases that have stalled and are no longer being actively prosecuted. We want to clear those cases to allow for appropriate attention on those cases being actively prosecuted. Additionally, every week we work diligently to improve the movement of cases involving CPS participation. Our children must receive better and more effective protection. Often these cases due to the sheer size of the docket fall between the cracks and the children are suspended in foster care with no real hope of family reunification or permanent placement. It is a tragedy. Judge Baughman and I work every day to move through our docket more efficiently to allow attention to be given to those cases ready to go forward and to relieve lawyers of time wasting delay. When we identify shortcomings in our process we address them. We are committed every day to improve the service we provide to the citizens of Harris county.

5. Why is this race important?

I began seeking election to the bench as a Family District Court Judge in 2009. At that time Judicial candidates were recruited to campaign based upon their recognized experience and ability to handle the job in the event they were elected. So long as we are electing judges in the state of Texas it is necessary that we elect those judges who not only have the experience but have the ability to serve in a state district court. I have been recognized as such an individual by my peers and by the people of Harris county. I am the candidate of choice by my colleagues and peers serving in the family law division. The very worst thing that we could do would be to elect Judges based upon gender, color, or ethnic background. I am the most competent candidate; the incumbent and I should be returned to the bench for 4 more years.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

The answer to 6 is reflected in 5. I am a fully paid member of the HCDP Coordinated campaign. In every race that I have participated in since 2010 I have received the endorsement of each of the major endorsing entities. I not only support the Democratic Party but I support the individuals in our community that in-turn share common interests with the Democratic party and who seek to be judged by those of similar experiences. I have more legal experience than any other candidate. I have more life experience than any other candidate. I have more judicial experience than any other candidate. The 312th is among the highest rated of the Family District Courts. There is no justification for the replacement of the current Judge and staff serving the citizens of Harris County in the 312th.

Congressional committee has some questions for Live Nation

Interesting.

A congressional committee is investigating the promoter of the Astroworld music festival, where 10 people were killed in a crowd surge as rapper Travis Scott performed last month.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter Wednesday to Live Nation Entertainment Inc. President and CEO Michael Rapino requesting information on preparation and safety measures for the Nov. 5 event.

[…]

“Recent reports raise serious concerns about whether your company took adequate steps to ensure the safety of the 50,000 concertgoers who attended Astroworld Festival,” the top Democrat and Republican on the committee wrote in a letter also signed by U.S. Reps. Al Green, D-Houston, and Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands.

“For instance, reports indicate that security and medical staff were inexperienced or ill-equipped to deal with mass injuries,” they wrote. “Some attendees stated that the placement of barricades made it difficult to escape. Experts have stated that Astroworld Festival organizers failed to heed warning signs.”

[…]

The committee is requesting information about venue security, crowd control, mass casualty planning, emergency communications and medical care. The panel also wants to know at what time Live Nation Entertainment was first made aware of casualties, and what steps were taken in response.

The letter says the committee is also looking into reports that Live Nation withheld pay until part-time employees who worked the festival signed a revised employment contract that includes a broad provision releasing the company from liability in the 2021 festival.

The committee wants Rapino to address members during a briefing on the issue on Jan. 12, the letter says.

Hard to know how to evaluate this right now. This kind of action can often be more of an opportunity to grandstand than to uncover truth. Even with that in mind, we may learn things that might have stayed hidden or unnoticed otherwise. Let’s see what they can find out.

What Harris County could maybe do to counter SB8

From last week. I have my doubts much of it will happen, though.

Three months after Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court sought advice on how to counter Texas’ new abortion ban, policy analysts for the court on Tuesday advised County Judge Lina Hidalgo the county could spend public money to support groups that aid those seeking abortions — and perhaps even to directly fund abortion care.

The memo to Hidalgo and her top aides detailing the county’s options came in response to a resolution passed by Commissioners Court in September, two weeks after the abortion law took effect, that directed their policy analysis office to investigate how the county could “support individuals impacted by” the ban or “otherwise mitigate the law’s negative effects.”

The county is free, the analysts wrote, to send local and federal funds to groups that provide support services — including transportation, lodging and child care — to those seeking abortions outside the state. Austin officials have approved funding for similar usage, the memo noted, to get around a 2019 state law that bars local governments from sending taxpayer funds to abortion providers — a move that has withstood legal opposition.

The policy analysts said that while the 2019 law, known as Senate Bill 22, prevents Harris County from spending local taxpayer funds on abortion services, the county’s expected $915 million allotment of federal COVID-19 relief money may be eligible for that purpose.

[…]

Hidalgo, who is running for re-election next year and has drawn more than a dozen challengers, has been fiercely critical of the abortion law, known as Senate Bill 8, since lawmakers approved the measure this spring. One of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion policies, it bans the procedure in almost all cases once cardiac activity is detected — often around six weeks into a pregnancy, when most women do not know they are pregnant.

Hidalgo has been especially critical of the law’s enforcement mechanism: lawsuits filed by private citizens, who can collect $10,000 cash and recoup their legal fees if the challenge is successful. Hidalgo on Tuesday said the provision — which is aimed at shielding the law from court challenges — “creates a culture of vigilantism in the community.”

Facing criticism during Tuesday’s meeting, however, Hidalgo noted the memo had appeared on court agenda merely to be “transmitted” to the court from the Harris County Commissioners Court’s Analyst’s Office, which prepared the document. County departments routinely use the process to formally communicate with the court, which did not vote on any of the “policy considerations” outlined in the memo.

“It is not a proposal that is in front of Commissioners Court,” Hidalgo said. “I know some folks have been saying that. And with campaign season, these kind of accusations, misleading statements are only the first of many.”

I support any reasonable measures that Harris County can take to abet reproductive health care. I also have no doubt that anything the county does will spark a huge outcry from the forced birthers, and unless there is a change in state government from the 2022 election, there will be legislative reprisals in 2023, just as Harris County’s efforts to make it easier to vote were targeted in the voter suppression law. Doesn’t mean we should shy away from the fight, just that we should be clear about what we hope to accomplish, what we are potentially risking and who might be directly affected by it, and which fights are the best to pick. It’s good to have the discussion and know what our options are. Now let’s choose well.

We need to get more kids vaccinated

C’mon, y’all. Now is very much not the time to be hesitant.

Most Houston parents have not rushed out to inoculate their children against COVID-19, new data show, the latest indication that achieving widespread immunity among the young may be a faraway prospect, even as case counts explode across the region.

Overall, about 85 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds in the nine-county Houston area have not yet received a COVID vaccine, according to tallies compiled by Texas Children’s Hospital. The remaining 15 percent have had at least one dose, the lowest rate among any eligible age range.

The figures are far below what health officials hoped to see nearly two months ago when the shots became available. In promoting the shots, public officials — including First Lady Jill Biden, who visited Texas Children’s Hospital in November to plug the pediatric vaccine — have struggled to reach the broad swath of parents who remain reluctant to vaccinate their children.

Dr. James Versalovic, the hospital’s pathologist-in-chief, said he hopes the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant gives hesitant parents a renewed sense of urgency.

The doses are tailored for children and have a “tremendous safety record,” he said.

[…]

It is unclear whether the low rate of childhood vaccinations means the region has reached a saturation point, or whether harried parents simply have not had time to vaccinate their little ones.

“There’s not one specific reason why some parents haven’t vaccinated their kids,” said Jermaine Monroe, co-chair of Texas Children’s COVID Task Force. “We are trying to meet people where they are to help parents overcome their concerns.”

I’m sure the holiday season is a contributing factor, though you’d think it would also be an incentive, and there would be more opportunities with people off work. I hope this picks up in January, we really need to do everything we can to resist omicron. In my particular bubble, it seemed like most of the folks I know with kids in that age range got them vaxxed as soon as they could, but those I know who haven’t done that yet aren’t posting about it on social media, so I don’t have a full picture. Just, please, let’s get this going.