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January 6th, 2022:

Interview with Danielle Bess

Danielle Bess

Next up in HD147 we have Danielle Bess, a native Houstonian and real estate professional. Bess has been involved in politics for a long time, having worked with campaigns ranging from Obama for America, Sheila Jackson Lee for Congress, Annise Parker for Mayor, and Ron Kirk for Senate. Her work has included affordable housing and community development projects, and rebuilding or repairing homes damaged by floods. Here’s what we talked about:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Hilary Unger

(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 Hilary Unger

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

Judge Hilary D. Unger, 248th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Criminal – felony cases.

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

First and foremost, we kept the courthouse open during the continuing renovation and repairs from Hurricane Harvey through the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. All of the judges went back to the Criminal Justice Center before the renovations were complete and each of us had to share a courtroom. When we finally were able to get back into our courtrooms, we were deep into the pandemic and I came to the courthouse every day, just trying to help keep the system afloat. When we were finally able to start trying cases, we had to contend with both Covid and building related issues. We have had to share jury rooms and we still have to deal with Covid related setbacks; I’ve had to stop two jury trials because of Covid exposure. None of us complained and we all did what we had to do.

Since I’ve been the judge for this court, the number of probationers who have successfully completed probation has doubled; people are no longer going to prison for minor technical violations.

Individuals who come before me, and who are proven to have committed serious and violent crimes, are punished appropriately under the law, and I have meted out very harsh sentences where called for. However, it is my belief that the community is protected, taxpayer costs are reduced, lives are salvaged and the community’s productivity improves when recidivism is diminished. In appropriate situations, I actively engage with social workers, organizations, and community leaders in an effort to find alternatives to incarceration, with an eye towards rehabilitation, and a reduction in recidivism, while emphasizing an increase in community safety. I try to steer these defendants into programs where they can better themselves, and become law abiding and positively contributing members of society.

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

I stay very involved with the people whom I have sentenced to probation/deferred adjudication. I will continue those efforts if I am re-elected for a second term. I encourage probationers, and I offer guidance when needed. I also stress to them the importance of education and trade certificates, and I frequently offer incentives to probationers who complete such programs. I believe that my efforts have worked as measured by the fact that the number of people who have successfully completed probationary sentences has doubled in this court since I took the bench.

I also would like to expand my partnership with the various organizations who work with defendants pretrial; these organizations include psychiatric medication providers, substance abuse treatment providers, and counselling providers. I would continue to arrange emergency housing for individuals as well as emergency mental health treatment, when needed. I would continue to
request assistance from the social workers at the Re-Entry program, which is located at the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, in an effort to connect defendants with services. Finally, I would continue to reach out to community organizations and leaders who have offered to help provide support for young adults who appear before me.

5. Why is this race important?

All citizens of the US, the State of Texas and Harris County deserve fair, and equal treatment before the law. We do not want to head backwards, to a climate where abuses in the administration of justice, notably in the manner in which the criminal justice system treated some members of society differently than others, were accepted as the norm in the 248th District Court. We have made great strides in removing some of the inequities, but certain pundits have tried to conflate the nationwide rise in crime with Democratic judges’ insistence on the preservation of due process rights for all; this revival of soft-on-crime rhetoric ultimately serves to perpetuate the lie that the current Democratic judges are weak or bad and that we do not consider the safety of victims, or of society as a whole. These accusations are simply false.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Since taking the bench in 2019, I have made it a priority to treat everyone who appears before me with respect and to ensure that due process rights are not forfeited for expediency’s sake. Yet, I am always mindful that public safety is of paramount importance.

I have criminal court experience as a DA and a defense attorney in two of America’s largest cities – Houston and New York. As a prosecutor, I prosecuted complex narcotics and conspiracy cases and as a defense attorney I represented clients in both state and federal courts. My experiences have enabled me to critically assess positions taken by both the State and the defense.

Although my primary practice area has been criminal law, the experiences that I’ve had handling CPS cases and civil involuntary commitment hearings have proven extremely useful in giving me perspective into how criminal cases affect families and children.

Through my work with civil involuntary commitment patients in mental health hospitals, I saw the devastating effects of mental illness and also how well medications help. I also learned about the unique challenges facing mental health patients. Given that the Harris County jail is the largest mental health provider in Texas, this experience has proven invaluable. Similarly, through my work with CPS parents and children, I saw firsthand, how addiction affects families and also about the long-term effects of trauma on the childhood brain.

All of these experiences have provided me with significant insights and extensive experience that my opponent does not have. These insights in turn allow me to better understand the needs and hurdles of those who appear before me as defendants as well as the particular circumstances, feelings, pain and loss of crime victims.

Erica Davis announces herself

Her timing is interesting.

Erica Davis

Former Precinct 1 Constable’s Office Chief of Staff Erica Davis announced her run for Harris County Judge on Wednesday, joining 11 other challengers in the race to unseat Lina Hidalgo.

Davis has worked as the Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education and comes from a family of educators. She has also served in the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office for more than a decade and grew up in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood.

“My work experience coupled with my education has prepared me to hold leaders accountable and implement policies that mirror the diverse county we serve,” Davis said in a statement announcing her run.

Davis is one of several women who reported she was sexually assaulted at a Houston-area Massage Heights location in 2019. Her lawsuit helped spark an investigation of the national chain and landed her assaulter — who also was charged in an assault on an undercover Precinct 1  officer during a sting — in jail.

That undercover officer and Davis later both sued the establishment for negligence. Davis agreed to a monetary settlement in the case.

I did not know that about Erica Davis. Respect to her for her courage and persistence.

I am curious about the seemingly slow pace of her campaign. She filed for Harris County Judge on December 13, which is now four weeks ago, but her impending candidacy was teasted on Twitter a week before that. As far as I can tell, this is her first official communication as a candidate for this office. The primary campaign season is pretty short to begin with, and she’s just now introducing herself to an audience that knows the incumbent very well. Her campaign webpage is still very bare-bones, with almost nothing other than a brief biography – the In the Community and “Erica in the News” sections have nothing. She does now have a campaign Facebook page, which is not linked on her campaign webpage and which appears to be her Facebook page from her 2020 campaign for HCDE renamed for this purpose – the last update is from November 4, 2020, which is to say Election Day.

Nowhere in the press release, the webpage, or the Facebook page is there any stated reason for why she is running. She talks about her life and experience, which would be fine if she were just now gearing up to take on a Republican incumbent in November, but sure seems like an omission in this context given that she’s asking Democratic voters to vote out someone who I daresay is quite popular and is frequently talked up as a future statewide candidate. I’m sure there are people who will vote for Erica Davis because they know her, and there are some people (yes, even Democrats) who will vote for her because they don’t like Judge Hidalgo, but there’s no way that’s enough to get her to a runoff, much less to fifty percent. The question is not “would Erica Davis make for a good County Judge”, it’s “would Erica Davis make for a better County Judge than Lina Hidalgo”, and so far Erica Davis has not attempted to answer that question. I have no idea what she’s waiting for.

(Yes, I know, I could try to schedule an interview with her and ask her that myself. I’m still trying to schedule an interview with Judge Hidalgo, and I’m not interested in talking to anyone else in that race until and unless I’m able to do that. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, this sure seems like something she should be leading with. It shouldn’t be up to me, or anyone else, to have to get that information out of her.)

One more thing: The Chron persists in saying that there are three Democrats running against Judge Hidalgo when we all know there are five. I double-checked the SOS Qualified Candidates page just to make sure that Maria Garcia and Kevin Howard were still there and hadn’t been disqualified or something, but there they are. I mean, neither of these candidates will make any impression on the race, but they are there on the ballot and I have no idea why the Chronicle seems to be unable to accurately report that.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 3

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy, safe, prosperous, and hopefully COVID-free 2022 as it brings you the year’s first roundup.


Three comments about three vaccine mandate news stories

Item one:

A U.S. district judge in North Texas has blocked a mask mandate and vaccine requirement for staff and students in the Head Start program that was issued by President Joe Biden.

Head Start is a federal school readiness program for young kids in low-income families that is administered nationally by the federal Health and Human Services department, but run locally by nonprofits or schools. Biden previously ordered that staff running Head Start programs must be vaccinated and all students over the age of 2 had to wear masks. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lubbock ISD sued the Biden administration to stop enforcement of that order.

U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, a 2019 appointee of Republican President Donald Trump, ruled Friday that the Biden administration could not enforce its mask and vaccine mandates for the Head Start program in Texas, although the mandates would continue in other states.

Hendrix wrote that the process by which the Biden administration implemented the mask and vaccine rules was in violation of federal law because such rules could only be put in place through a detailed process or with the authorization of Congress. The order applies until the judge holds a trial and issues a final decision on the full merits of the case, or if it is lifted by a higher court.

Item two:

In the state’s latest push against federal vaccine mandates, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced plans to sue the Biden administration for requiring Texas National Guard members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The suit would be the latest in what has been a slew of litigation against federal vaccine mandates that Texas has either brought forth or taken part in during the pandemic.

In a letter issued Tuesday to Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, Abbott claimed authority to exempt Texas guard members from receiving the vaccine.

Item three:

A federal judge in Fort Worth granted an injunction Monday against the Department of Defense and the Biden Administration that temporarily halted the U.S. Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The mandate is challenged by a group of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval special warfare personnel who say the mandate violates their religious freedom and they have been denied religious exemptions from receiving the vaccine.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas signed the injunction order after hearing testimony from several Navy SEALs in December as part of the group’s lawsuit. The suit is against President Joe Biden, the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro.

My comments:

1. It is impossible to overstate how much Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are on the side of the COVID virus. They themselves are vaccinated, because they are not stupid and want to stay alive, but they absolutely do not care how many people die as a result of COVID. They see only political advantage in making the pandemic worse.

2. They will always be able to find Trumpy judges to plead their cases to, and will generally get favorable rulings from them as a result.

3. The only way to stop the state of Texas from filing these lawsuits is to elect a Democrat as Attorney General. Electing Beto O’Rourke as Governor would also help, as he would be less likely to impose pro-COVID executive orders.

Any questions?