Judicial Q&A: Judge Natalia Oakes

(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 Natalia Oakes

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

My name is Natalia Oakes, Judge of 313th Family (Juvenile) District Court and worked as a lawyer in Juvenile Court for 18 years handling juvenile delinquencies and CPS (Child Protective Services) cases before being elected judge to the 313th Juvenile Family District Court in 2018. Previously, I was a secondary school teacher.

I was born in Beaumont, Texas and raised in a big civic-minded family. I graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in English Literature with a Teacher's Certificate and awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. My parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I worked in Juvenile Court as a lawyer for 18 before being elected judge. I joyfully interacted daily with lawyers, judge, clients, probation officers, court staff, assistant district attorneys, assistant county attorneys, detention officers, interpreters and bailiffs.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th hears Juvenile delinquencies, Child Protective Services cases, adoptions and child immigration cases.

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

What we have accomplished in 3 years is a source of pride: We have implemented more rehabilitation measures to help prevent recidivism. Therapeutic services have been introduced to address the trauma that many of the youth have experienced. Multi Systemic and Family Functional Therapy are used to address the family's needs in dealing with the youth and helping the family deal with each other. This service is done in the home for better accessibility. Diversion programs, for non-violent offenders, are used so youth do not have to come to court; parents don't have to miss work nor, youth school.

Also, in 3 years we have developed many community partners who have input and output to redefine youth justice, who support the youth in their neighborhoods. There is a dual status docket concentrating on youth who are in the CPS system and delinquency system. The 313th presides over GRIP (Gang Recidivism Intervention Court) with MAGO (Mayor's Anti Gang Office) showing noted success in support for: education, family, substance abuse, counselling, relocation, mentoring). Houston Endowments for the Arts have come to the Detention Center to expose youth to ballet class, opera, music, slam poetry and other creative measures. Also, we are keeping the youth close to home and not sending all violent offenders to TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) Harris County has a placement for violent offender treatment and families can more easily visit, too.

There are fewer certifications, giving youth the opportunity to rehabilitate.

As for the CPS cases, keeping the family together and best interest of the child is the goal.

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

I want to continue to implement the rehabilitative programs that have been so successful. I want to add more trade and cultural programs. I want to broaden youth's exposure to new outside interests. I want to continue to forge the many relationships that I have made over 21 years practicing juvenile law for the benefit of the youth. There are many entities the juvenile judge deals with and a judge can harm the youth if any of the groups are alienated.

I would like to promote gun control, awareness, education in Harris County. The youth have so much access to guns that curbing the gun violence is difficult without some concerted effort from government and authorities.

5. Why is this race important?

When the youth benefit, we all benefit. When our communities are safe from teenage crime, communities thrive.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am dedicated to Juvenile Law. I am very open to suggestions and have an open door to new ideas. The morale in the 313th Curt is very high. The court staff is polite, organized and efficient. They serve the public well and promptly.

I want to continue to promote programs that produce results for youth and families of Harris County.

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4 Responses to Judicial Q&A: Judge Natalia Oakes

  1. Jason Hochman says:

    What kind of lawyer were you in a juvenile court? A child advocate, county attorney, parental advocate, or private attorney specializing in child welfare cases? If you have been working as a lawyer for 18 years, and a judge for three, how long were you a teacher?

  2. C.L. says:

    She can’t hear you.

  3. Kibitzer Curiae says:

    Re: “She can’t hear you.”

    Second opinion: If a candidate agrees to be interviewed by Kuff in connection with a re-election campaign or a primary challenge, they are probably reading the comments too. So, it’s reasonable that this candidate would at least “read you” even if she doesn’t literally – em, acoustically – “hear you”.

    This Kibitzer’s unrelated comment, or rather, question:

    Why does she call her court a JUVENILE FAMILY COURT?

    Given that we have separate FAMILY and JUVENILE district courts in Harris County – in separate buildings no less — this seems to be misleading. Not to mention the rather distinct respective caseloads, affected populations and constitutencies, and the mostly distinct public purposes.

    ​Most notably, they don’t do divorces and divorce-linked SAPCRs there, do they?

    For roster of specialized courts, see: https://www.justex.net/Courts/Courts.aspx

    And if the answer is that the Texas Family Code provides the substantive law for juvenile cases, well that should be explained to the general voting public.


    Even the politically interested public that participates in primary voting probably knows very little about the juvenile court system, so pertinent info would be welcome. Busy civil litigation attorney may never even have set foot in the Juvenile Justice Center because the law and practice is very specialized.

    That the juvenile courts hear what are essentially criminal cases against those under age of majority may be generally understood, but what about CPS cases and adoptions? Do all child protection cases in Harris County go to Juvenile Courts if and only if public authorities are initiating them? And are adoptions in those courts limited to kids where parental rights are terminated on the state’s motion? And aren’t those now handled by the Department of Family and Protective Services?

    Do they ever hear petitions for private adoptions? What about paternity establishment and child support enforcement cases by the Attorney General’s Office? And what is the role of state juvenile courts with respect to immigrant kids, given that immigration is under federal jurisdiction?


    The latter question might be of some additional current interest, given that AG Candidate Eva Guzman, herself a former Harris County Family Division district court judge, is now beating the drum against immigrants in TV ads.

  4. Jason Hochman says:

    I worked as a child welfare caseworker, in another state, and in another century, and this is a juvenile court, at least from the description of hearing petitions for dependency and delinquency. Family court is for custody cases that presume at least one parent is able to provide adequate care and control of minor children.

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