(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 what are you running for?
I’m Steve Duble (he/him/his) and I am running for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 2.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
One of the primary things that JPs do is hear landlord and tenant disputes, which means JP court is the first step in eviction cases. If elected, I will promote eviction and homelessness diversion programs, increase transparency, and bring social services, legal aid, and resources into the court to help people in our community and reduce the harm of evictions that do happen. JPs also hear traffic cases, Class C misdemeanors that are punishable by fine, civil cases with up to $20,000 in controversy, and truancy cases. If elected, I will overhaul sentencing practices to ensure that fines are assessed on an individual basis and are equitably enforced without creating an undue burden on people. I will also work to address racial disparities in sentencing and fee assessment. Finally, JPs can marry people. As the first gay JP in Harris County history, I will welcome all couples and ensure an affirming environment for them to get married.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
In December 2019, I represented members of the Houston Tenants Union pro bono in a Harris County Justice of the Peace court and in their appeals to County Court. Hundreds of tenants, most of whom had to take a day off work or find childcare just to be there, were hoping that the JP court would be their opportunity to be heard. Instead, they were subjected to a confusing, degrading experience that felt like detention. Some of these issues were specific to that particular court, but all of our JP courts must do more to address the eviction crisis and strengthen our communities.
I am not running for this position as a stepping stone on the way to another position, I am running because I know that this court can make a tangible difference for our community. I am committed to sticking around and transforming Precinct 1, Place 2 into a model problem-solving court that emphasizes holistic, sustainable, and community driven resolutions to housing problems.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I’ve represented both tenants and landlords in Harris County JP and county courts. Additionally, I’ve spent over thirty years’ advocating for plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of cases. My peers in the legal community have ranked me at the highest level of professional excellence for my legal expertise, communication skills, and ethical standards by granting me an AV preeminent rating with Martindale-Hubbell. Moreover, I am deeply embedded in Houston’s progressive community through my work to advance social justice and Democratic values. Over the past ten years, in my leadership role with the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association, I’ve worked with community leaders, judges, lawyers, and law students to provide continuing legal education on social justice issues, including a CLE panel on the housing crisis and the role of the JP courts. I have never hesitated to jump into action in support of causes I believe in, from helping organize the “No Ban, No Wall” rally at the Texas Capitol in 2017, to pro bono representation of everyone from activists to tenants. These experiences have helped me learn about the most important issues facing our community and forge meaningful relationships with advocates and experts.
5. Why is this race important?
JP courts are on the frontlines of Harris County’s eviction crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated an ongoing problem created by a lack of affordable housing, stagnant wages, and scant protections for the most vulnerable tenants. Now, the situation is getting worse as pandemic-related rent relief funding is rapidly disappearing. Sometimes evictions are necessary, but oftentimes they can be avoided with rent relief funding, conflict resolution, and resources. Evictions are harmful for tenants, disruptive for landlords, and they weaken the very structure of our communities and neighborhoods. As the largest County in Texas with sixteen fully staffed JP courts, Harris County can and should be leading the charge in Texas by thinking beyond the pandemic to create lasting solutions to reduce evictions and mitigate the harms of this crisis. An effective JP can work with tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders in our community to achieve outcomes that benefit everyone.
6. Why should people vote for you in March?
I have a progressive vision for the court and the experience needed to realize it. I will listen to advocates, experts, and the people most affected by the issues. I’ll remain open to trying innovative ideas to decrease evictions and create a more equitable, transparent, and accessible court. Being in my court will not feel like high school detention because I will listen to people, not scold them. I won’t use a gavel and I won’t impose dress codes or arbitrary codes of conduct. I will respect everyone’s name, pronouns, and gender expression. JP courts have the potential to do a lot of good in our community, and I will use my position to help connect people with resources they need by working with the county, wraparound services, nonprofits, social workers, and legal aid.