Judicial Q&A: Andrea Beall

(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.

Andrea Beall

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Andrea Beall and I am running for the 185th District Court. I am a lifelong Democrat. I have a background in Community Development and have worked for nonprofits in Houston’s Second and Third Wards. I’m a Child Homicide Prosecutor and an Adjunct Law Professor. I live with my family in Houston, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears every felony case, from State Jail Felonies to Capital Murders.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because I know I can work harder for Harris County to decrease the case backlog in the 185 th District Court. My opponent has only presided over 8 felony cases in a 3-year period, while many of our hard-working Democratic Judges has presided over 8 or more trials just in 2021 alone. The 185th went from a docket of 918 cases in January of 2019 to over 2500 cases, causing the court to be the 4th highest docket out of the 23 District Courts in the Criminal Courthouse. This must be solved by increasing the access to justice in the 185th by ensuring that everyone gets his/her/their day in court.

I am also running for the 185th District Court to create a Youthful Offenders Program in that court in order to provide a more individualized path to rehabilitation for 17-25-year-olds in the adult probation system. According to The Marshall Project, individuals who are incarcerated and released before turning 21 years of age have a rearrest rate of 68%. Statewide, the group with the highest recidivism rate across all degrees of felonies are individuals 24 and younger at their release, according to the State of Texas Legislative Budget Board’s Criminal Justice Data Analysis Team. In Texas, 17-year-olds are considered adults for purposes of the penal code. So, per the data, if a 17-year-old is arrested, incarcerated, and released before they turn 25, that teenager is statistically likely to be rearrested and become part of the revolving door of the criminal justice system. We need to effect real change to stop this cycle and the current tools being used are clearly not working. The Harris County Probation Department has many great resources, but our Probation Officers can only work within the constraints of programs that are already in place; the same programs that have been in place and have failed to curb the recidivism rate for young people.

This is why my Youthful Offenders Court idea is so desperately needed. My recognition of this comes from my work in nonprofits as well as my own personal story. I grew up with one parent in prison and the other with addiction issues. However, my family had social capital, which ensured that I was surrounded by a community of people to ensure I had advocates. Because of these advocates, I never went hungry, always had a roof over my head, completed schoolwork, and had healthy outlets for grief and anger, all of which kept me out of the criminal justice system. Many of the young people who appear in felony court come from households with absent parents, but do not have the social capital I had. There is no one to advocate for these young adults. This leads to a variety of problems such as unstable housing, increased high school dropout rates, a lack of learned healthy ways to address negative emotions, and a lack of sense of belonging. The likelihood of joining groups that mimic perceived “family” structure, such as gangs and street cliques, increases when a young person lacks familial and communal support. When society fails these individuals, they end up in the criminal justice system. By creating a specialty program that involves community buy-in, we can create social capital for these young adults. Through mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, stable housing, mentorships, tutoring, job skills training, and networking, a pathway out of the criminal justice system can be provided. I am running so that I can have the opportunity to create this specialty program within the 185th court’s docket.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a BA in Political Science from Baylor University, an MA in International Development with an emphasis on Urban Development, and a JD from South Texas College of Law, from where I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I have served the last 4 years as an Adjunct Professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, where I teach law students trial skills in the Mock Trial Litigation course. I also work as a contract employee with the City of Houston as a Search and Seizure instructor, educating future and current police officers on 4th Amendment citizen protections. My primary job, however, is as an Assistant District Attorney, where I currently prosecute one half of all the cases in Harris County in which a child under 14 has been abused and murdered. I have prosecuted everything from traffic tickets to Capital Murders. I have overseen felony court dockets as a District Court Chief Prosecutor in the Trial Bureau. I am the only person in my race who has experience litigating Capital Murders. I have the most experience in my race handling the most violent and serious crimes in our penal code. Prior to my legal career, I worked in nonprofits in Houston’s Second and Third Wards with at-risk youth and young adults. My nonprofit experience, my family history, and my formal education in Urban Development provide me with a unique perspective on social and economic issues affecting those within the criminal justice system.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our felony justice system needs true change. Our community must have access to fair and efficient justice. How felony courts are run touches the lives of all community members. Felony courts handle cases that carry significant penalties. Our victims and those accused of crimes have a right to have their cases heard fairly.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have a proven record of hard work and diligence. While one of my opponents has served a Misdemeanor Court Chief, I am the only person in my race who has served as a Chief in Felony Courts, overseeing felony dockets and capital cases. Despite having been licensed for fewer years than the current sitting judge, I have the most relevant experience in serious felony offenses in this race. Neither of my opponents are certified to handle Capital or First Degree cases, yet that is all I handle. I have worked hard to gain the amount of experience I have. My record of hard work is also seen through my prior service with nonprofits in Houston’s Second and Third Wards. I have also shown my work ethic by building my career while continuing to teach for the City of Houston and South Texas College of Law.

In addition to serving South Texas College of Law, I am also involved in various other organizations within the legal community. I serve on the Houston Bar Association’s HAY Center Committee, dedicated to working with foster youth, and the Gender Fairness Committee. I am a member of the Houston Young Lawyers Association, the Houston Democratic Lawyers Association, and the Association of Women Attorneys. I am also a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, which is limited to 1/3 of 1% of licensed attorneys and is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a member of the State Bar of Texas.

Most importantly, I deserve your vote because I have a plan to create true change in our justice system by creating Youthful Offenders Court in the 185th . I have already begun speaking with nonprofits and local community leaders in order to provide our teenagers and young adults in the probation system with a true pathway out of the revolving door of the criminal justice system. By creating community buy-in and social capital, true redemption can begin in Harris County. I am putting the work in now to ensure that I can begin this program immediately upon taking the bench.

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