(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.
1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?
My name is Michael Newman. I am the incumbent Judge of Harris County Probate Court Two. I have over 41 years of legal and trial experience. I have tried over 110 cases as a trial lawyer and judge. During my career, I have conducted thousands of contested hearings, represented thousands of clients in complex disputed matters including will contests, elder abuse and financial exploitation, common law marriage and child visitation disputes, contested guardianships and personal injury and insurance defense cases.
As a certified mediator, I have conducted over 500 mediations, settling over 80% of the cases that I mediated. I have been married to trial attorney Deborah Newman for over 36 years.
Our daughter Caitlin, 28, is a manager in the hospitality industry. We have two rescue dogs, Bridget and Chloe. I received my JD Degree from the University of Houston Law center in 1980, where I served as associate Editor of the Houston Law Review. I received a B.B.A in management with Honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 1977
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Probate Court 2 is a trial court. We try and hear contested cases involving will contests, challenging the validity of wills, the testamentary capacity of testators and undue influence and fraud; breach of fiduciary cases, elder abuse and financial exploitation, common law marriage disputes involving the characterization of community and separate property, contested guardianship cases, personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death and real estates and business disputes. The non-contested matters include the probate of wills, uncontested heirships, and guardianship cases.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
Since being elected, I have quadrupled the number of weekly ancillary dockets from one to four. Ancillary dockets are the ones where the judge handles disputed hearings. As a result of the increased dockets, the number of contested hearings have increased by over 100 percent and the waiting time for contested hearings has also been reduced for lawyers and litigants During my term, the number of trials conducted has increased by a factor of five.
I have significantly increased the diversity of the court staff over sixty percent of new court staff have been qualified minority candidates. I rule timely, rarely take cases under advisement since I read all paperwork filed prior to hearing and have not been reversed on appeal, as of yet.
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
I will continue to provide the public, lawyers, and their clients with equal and timely access to the courts, render prompt and correct rulings in accordance with the law in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner to avoid unnecessary costs and delay. I will continue to treat all people that appear in my court with the dignity and respect each deserve. I will continue to read all motions and paperwork in advance of all contested hearing and trials, as well as work as hard as I can serving the public in a just and fair manner and will proceed with my recruitment of additional qualified minority candidate for court staff positions.
5. Why is this race important?
Harris County Probate Court 2 is first and foremost a trial court. Trials are now set on Thursdays and Fridays in addition to Mondays because of the heavy volume of contested cases that are filed and to accommodate lawyers and their clients.
It is essential that the lawyer elected to serve as probate judge have the necessary trial experience and substantive knowledge of the many diverse areas of laws that this courts hears so that proper and time rulings can be made. The cases heard in probate court effect the lives including the emotional and financial wellbeing of the people that seek judicial relief. In addition to judicial temperament, the judge of probate court must have the substantive knowledge and necessary experience of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Estates Code, the Texas Guardianship code, the Texas Family Code, the Texas Trust Code, among other codes and statutes.
6. Why should people vote for you in March?
I seek reelection because I am the candidate running for this court with the necessary years of experience in just the types of cases and issues that are litigated in probate court. I draw on that experience every day. Lawyers with minimal experience can and do run for judge, but a law license does not make one qualified to make the kind of decisions probate court judges make every day. As my literature states, “Experience matters”.
I have over 41 years of trial experience as a trial lawyer and trial judge. I have represented thousands of clients in disputed cases, I have conducted thousands of hearings and have tried over 110 trials as a lawyer & judge. I have conducted over 600 meditations as a lawyer and certified mediator. I have been committed and will continue to be committed to providing equal and timely access to the courts for hearings & trials in a fair, impartial and non-discriminatory manner.
Literally hundreds of lawyers that practice in my Probate Court 2 strongly support my reelection. They have seen my commitment to providing court access; they have observed my patience and preparedness; and observed my commitment to do the right thing. I know that rulings can greatly affect people’s lives, their families, finances and loved ones.
I have spent years arguing before judges; now lawyers argue before me in Probate Court 2. I know how hard they work and the stresses of their clients. I try to keep people at ease. My court has been present to serve those who need access. We are there because we are needed, and I make sure the staff keep that in mind.
I am a judge who likes and cares about people. That coupled with my experience, my record and my temperament are the reasons that people should vote for me in March. Because I wanted to serve in a way that all judges should. I have the experience to rule accurately, to follow the law and to understand the effects of rulings on peoples’ lives.
As a judge I am diligent, prepared, and attentive. I treat those who come to probate court 2 equally and with respect. My first tenure as a judge has been personally fulfilling. I have been a lawyer in court and know that it can be a difficult job. I respect the lawyers and their clients and give the time and attention required to make the best decisions I can, while following the law. I read what lawyers file; and I treat everyone with respect. My legal experience, knowledge and integrity are unmatched.