(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?
I am Barbara “BABS” Stalder. My nickname is BABS which I was given by a classmate/friend in first year law school back in the year 2000. The BABS stands for Bad Ass Barbara Stalder. Most of my close friends call me BABS. It’s a fun nickname to have.
I am the presiding Judge of the 280th Family Violence Protective Order Court.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
This Court hears cases orders of protection for victims of family violence, stalking, harassment, human trafficking, forced prostitution and sexual assault. This Court also has exclusive jurisdiction over custody cases where one parent has caused the death of the other parent and there is a family member seeking custody of the children.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
I am very proud of the work we have accomplished in the past three years and cannot name just one because we have accomplished so much.
a. We instituted best practices in strengthening our gun surrender program when issuing a Protective Order (PO) against a Respondent.
b. We partnered with the Public Defender’s Office in the appointment of pro bono lawyers for Respondents who have an active criminal case to protect their rights in both proceedings.
c. We created court policies and procedures that ensure fairness for both sides in the submission of evidence and witnesses so neither side is ambushed at trial.
d. We reassessed and tightened security measures for applicants appearing in-person in the courthouse.
e. We instituted a trauma informed approach to all cases and have integrated services when a PO is issued. *This was a mandate by the legislature when the Court was created in 2009 but had never been incorporated into the court. We refer both applicants and respondents to community services when needed such as counseling, parenting courses, substance abuse treatment, and battering intervention courses. We also have taken into consideration any low cost or no cost services for the litigants.
This mandate was to help prevent further family violence cases in the court system. We are extremely proud of the work in this area.
f. We instituted a strict “compliance hearing” policy where the Court holds a hearing approximately 90 days after the PO is issued to ensure the Respondent is complying with the Order. If needed the Court will Order further compliance hearings to make sure the respondent understands the seriousness of complying with a Court Order.
g. We created a late call email to assist lawyers who needed to contact the Court if they were running late.
h. We instituted a policy that responds timely to all calls and emails- usually that day or within 24 hours.
i. We employed best practices and appointed Amicus attorneys on a case-by-case basis when a child is name as a victim or protected person in a PO to insure the best interest of the child
j. We instituted a policy to appoint pro bono lawyers on a case-by-case basis if the Respondent shows a mental health or educational challenge to protect the Respondent’s right s. This also include minor who are named as Respondents in PO cases.
k. Began creating a bench/lawyer toolkit for lawyers in prosecuting and defending family violence cases including PO. (Partnered with AVDA, Judge Janet Heppard and law students from across Texas. We hope to complete this toolkit by the Summer 2022.
l. Partnered in 2021 with Judge Janet Heppard, AVDA, UH Law and Ft. Bend County Bar Association and provided a no cost CLE/webinar for lawyers in prosecuting and defending protective orders. We plan to repeat this course in 2022
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
a. expand the pro bono attorney program to ALL indigent Respondents by working with the public defender’s office, the private bar, and our local law school clinics to meet the needs of our Court.
b. create a courthouse therapy dog program to assist with anxiety and fears when the parties return to in person proceedings in Court. This program will assist with providing a calm presence for those testifying in court
c. expand referrals for low cost or no cost services for both applicants and respondents who meet low-income requirements
d. create additional programs that reduce the likelihood of further family violence and repeat court cases as mandated by the legislature
5. Why is this race important?
Family violence cases have increased exponentially over the past three years, especially during Covid. During my first year on the bench the number of filings increased by over 30%. There is no associate judge to hear the overflow of cases and each case is considered a final trial. There are also no jury trials in this Court therefore the Judge of this Court is the sole person who hears these matters. Since 2019 we have disposed of over 4000 cases which includes default cases where a respondent fails to appear, agreements where both sides agree to a PO and bench trials where I listen to the evidence and make a decision based on a preponderance of the evidence. Since this is a specialty court, the only Court of its kind in Texas, the judge of the Court needs special training in family violence issues to effectively preside over these cases. Family violence involves complex family dynamics that go beyond mere physical violence. A Judge must have the skill and knowledge to understand the nuances of the intersections of emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and psychological abuse.
A candidate who has little or no experience in this area will be ill-prepared to handle the issues and render orders that keep the applicant safe but also help the respondent to make effective changes. A candidate who has only a handful of family violence related cases is not equipped to make the important decisions of this Court. People’s lives are at stake, and we cannot afford to have a Judge who does not have extensive training for this bench. On the job training would be a disaster and our community cannot afford to take a chance with this Court.
We cannot put someone’s life in the hands of an inexperienced judge. It is too risky and too detrimental to our community. We did for the first two election cycles of this Court, and it was a disaster.
6. Why should people vote for you in March?
I am the only candidate with the education, experience, and training. I am the only candidate board certified in family law which means I am oe of only about 918 lawyers of the over 10,000 lawyers practicing family law that is specialized in this area. I also have over 30 years working in the family violence area, as a volunteer and then for over 16 years practicing law. I am a former mediator where I mediated high conflict family violence cases and I have represented both victims and respondents in family violence cases. I have been appointed to represent children in abuse, neglect, and family violence cases I am a former clinical professor at UH Law where I taught law students in family law cases. I also taught substantive courses in family law and family violence. I have participated as speaker and presenter at numerous local, state, and national conferences on topic of family violence, including the impact on children. I have served and continue to serve on local, state, and national committees or agencies involving family violence topics including the National Association of Women Judges, the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Judicial Engagement Network fellowship of judges who hear family violence matters, and a former member of the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.