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December 28th, 2021:

Judicial Q&A: Judge Scot Dollinger

(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.

Scot Dollinger

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Scot “dolli” Dollinger, Judge of the 189th Civil District Court, Harris County Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County divides its 61 District Courts into four parts: civil (24), criminal (23), family (11) and juvenile (3).

The 189th Civil District Court hears every kind of case except those involving criminal, family or juvenile matters. The court hears mostly personal injury and commercial litigation disputes but also handles other kinds of cases like employment, civil rights, defamation and property tax cases. The court also has the power to issue injunctions – orders which prevent people from taking certain actions.

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

I more than doubled the number of jury trials tried every year. My predecessor normally tried 10 jury trials per year. My first year on the bench I tried 26 jury trials. In 2021, I tried more jury trials than any other civil district court judge.

I am polite to everyone and know people need prompt fair decisions. I consistently either rule from the bench or within five days of the hearing.

I am 100% paperless and sign every ORDER electronically which reduces the time for the ORDER to be viewable on the District Clerk’s website.

When COVID-19 came, I joined with my other civil judges in holding hearings via zoom technology and plan on keeping zoom as a valuable tool to make hearings easier to conduct.

I marry same sex couples. Before I took the bench, the presiding judges would not marry same sex couples. I conduct marriages for all people eligible to be married.

I make pies for all my juries. It’s my way of saying “thank you for your service.” Good government is about bringing people together to solve problems. That’s what juries are – problem solvers. Nothing brings people together like homemade pie.

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

Going forward, I want to build upon the work of the last three years and continue to try a large number of cases and implement case evaluation systems to better manage the court’s docket to help reduce backlogs caused by limited courtroom space created by Harvey and COVID-19.

5. Why is this race important?

Who your judge is matters.

This race is important because we need experienced trial judges on our benches. I am the most experienced candidate running for this position. I have been licensed to practice law for over 34 years. I am Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law – Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) – one must be an experienced trial lawyer to gain membership. Before taking the bench, I tried over 30 jury trials. Since taking the bench, over the last three years, I tried 45 jury trials. I have been doing the work of this court for over 34 years. I am dedicated to the right to trial by jury. The only thing that slowed us down in terms of jury trials was COVID-19, but even then we adapted and eventually returned to a high rate of trying cases.

This race is important because of diversity on the bench. The Civil Ten – elected in 2018 – consist of an incredibly talented diverse group of people: seven women and three men. Two judges are African-American, two are Hispanic, one Vietnamese, one Pakistani and one LGBTQ+. I am the only white heterosexual male of the 10. I am a piece of the diversity rainbow. A vote for me is a vote for diversity.

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

I am the more qualified candidate with a heart for the people having received endorsements in 2018 from the following groups:

• Houston Chronicle
• Houston Association of Women Attorneys
• Pasadena Bar Association
• Mexican American Bar Association of Houston
• Houston Lawyers Association
• Texas Democrats with Disabilities
• Bay Area New Democrats
• Area Five Democrats
• Tejano Democrats, Harris County
• Harris County Labor Assembly C.O.P.E., AFL – CIO
• Communications Workers of America 6222 (CWA)
• Houston GLBT Political Caucus
• Our Revolution – Harris County Chapter
• Texas Coalition of Black Democrats – Harris County
• Houston Black American Democrats
• Texas Progressive Executive Council
• Bay Area Democratic Movement.

The endorsement process has just started and so no group has yet made endorsements for 2022, but I hope to obtain renewed support from the above groups. As endorsements are made, I will post them on my website: www.dolli4judge.com.

Any positive my opponents have, I have also but more and better. For example, I believe I have tried more civil district court cases, handled more appeals from the district courts and clerked with a federal judge. I am board certified, I have run my own firm and I have consistently hired diversely.

I have a strong work ethic which I bring to every task including campaigning and understanding what is necessary to win in Harris County. I have been campaigning for over a year. In 2014, when I was on the ballot in Harris County running for Civil Court No. 2, I made more phone calls than any other Democratic candidate.

Before I took the bench, I represented individuals, not institutions, virtually my entire practice. I worked as a defense lawyer for eight years being hired to defend people who were accused of hurting others. So, I understand the law from a defense lawyer’s perspective. I worked as a plaintiff lawyer for 22 years before taking the bench helping people who had been hurt. So, I understand the law from a plaintiff’s lawyer perspective. I clerked for a federal judge and worked as a District Court Judge for almost three years. So, I understand the law from a judge’s perspective.

I am a proven product. You know what you are getting when you vote for me.

I understand the courts belong to all the people. Judges are trustees of the judicial power given to our courts. That power must be exercised with the utmost good faith and checked at every turn to battle against the tendency for power to be abused.

I understand the law is here to protect the weak from the strong and powerful. The law levels the playing field. The end of all government is justice for all – equal protection and fairness are corner stones of the house of justice. There are two things difficult for any person to accept:

– Being unjustly harmed/wronged;
– Being unjustly accused.

For every matter at issue, our courts must be respected and known for properly sorting out which is which. If a person has been unjustly wronged, then the courts must give and provide proper remedies. If a person has been unjustly accused, then the courts must release the wrongly accused and deny the accuser the remedy sought.

My work and life experience have prepared me for this job. If re-elected, I am ready, willing and able to continue serving my community well. Please vote for me. I am asking for your vote. Thank you.

How’s that online voter registration thing going?

Pretty well, it seems. So well, perhaps, that the state of Texas doesn’t want to tell you how well.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Since a federal judge forced Texas nearly a year and a half ago to offer limited online voter registration, 1.5 million Texans have used the option, according to new state data.

The August 2020 ruling, which found Texas in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, required state officials to give residents the opportunity to register when they renew their driver’s license online. The system was in place a month later.

Advocates say the new data speaks to the success of online registration — and is evidence that Texas, one of just a few states that does not offer an online option for every registrant, should implement the program statewide. Republican leaders in state government have resisted such change, instead pursuing new voting restrictions in the name of election security.

“The very best thing you can do is have systems where the government is seamlessly integrating voter registration into other processes,” said Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represented the plaintiffs in the case that spurred the creation of the online system.

[…]

“Getting registered to vote is not something that many people necessarily remember,” said Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Politics Project. “And in the process of moving, it’s very likely that this would not be on the top of their list of things to address, like changing their electricity, gas providers and forwarding all their mail.”

Without more granular data on first-time voter registrations filed online, it’s difficult to determine whether the option has had a significant impact on Texas’ overall registration numbers, Blank added. More than 17 million people are registered to vote in Texas.

Still, it’s doubtful that GOP leaders would embrace an expansion of online registration in Texas, which has some of the nation’s strictest voting laws. Republicans have long declined to allow any online voter registration, saying it would lead to an increase in election fraud — even as 63 percent of Texas voters would support such a system, according to an October 2020 poll by the Texas Politics Project.

The availability of online registration “flies in the face” of Texas’ current approach to voting policies, Blank said. The GOP-led Legislature spent months earlier this year campaigning for a sweeping elections bill that, in part, restricted voting hours in some parts of the state, prohibited drive-thru and overnight voting, and introduced new ID requirements for mail-in ballot applications.

“Texas has been at the forefront recently of enacting strict voting laws, and, in truth, has been at the forefront of enacting strict voting laws for much of the last decade,” Blank said. “Even in an area like this, where I think a majority of voters … say that we should expand online voter registration, it’s unlikely that you’d see something like this move in Texas.”

But advocates say they’ll continue to push for a extensive online registration system — and, if possible, automatic voter registration. Both changes would not only facilitate access to the ballot box, but also address longstanding racial inequities in Texas’ voter rolls, said Marziani of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, the state would not break down the data by new voters versus existing voters who are updating their address. My guess is that it’s overwhelmingly the latter, but that’s also a big deal because it keeps those folks from getting caught in the various voter purges that the state and some counties engage in. There is of course no justification for not allowing people to handle voter registration matters online – any legal security measure can be done just as readily – it’s just that the Republicans who are in control don’t want it. Here, for once, they had no choice. Now imagine what it would be like if we had a more robust federal voting rights law to force them on some other matters.

HISD will not lift its mask mandate

Seems like an easy call at this point.

The Houston Independent School District will maintain its mask mandate and offer free COVID testing at campuses for students and staff in 2022, Superintendent Millard House II announced last week.

House previously said the district would review the mandate after the holidays. The largest public school district in the state, HISD remains one of the few school systems regionally with a mask requirement.

“In light of the surge of COVID-19 cases in Houston and the surrounding areas, HISD continues to prioritize safety, including providing additional vaccination and COVID testing opportunities,” House said in an email to parents.

The ongoing spread of the omicron variant, which has proven capable of evading some immunity from vaccines, has triggered a steep surge in cases nationwide. The average number of daily cases has more than doubled since Nov. 29, from 80,680 to 201,330, according to the New York Times COVID data tracker. The numbers are also climbing in Texas, which reported 10,600 confirmed new cases last Thursday, the highest total since Oct. 6.

HISD data only shows confirmed cases up to Dec. 17. The district reported 143 positive cases on that day, up from 22 on Dec. 10.

Starting in January 2022, the district will offer free COVID-19 PCR tests on campuses to HISD students and staff. A one-time consent is required for testing and can be filled out at the following link https://bit.ly/HISDC19Test.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of Superintendent House’s email. It was reasonable, back in November when things were looking good and Harris County was lowering its threat level to consider whether the mask mandate was still needed after the holidays. For obvious reasons, things have changed since then, and it would be more than a little unwise to take other action. If omicron burns itself out quickly, if the kid vaccination rate skyrockets, the district can consider the question again later. For now, there was no other call to make.

And by the way, isn’t it nice how HISD called Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton’s bluff on their mask mandate ban and threats to sue over HISD’s totally correct action? That has paid off in spades, and brings with it the extra zest of knowing we beat them fair and square. A whole lot more districts should have followed this path.