(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. This is one of two late entrants I am running today.
1. Who are you and what are you running for?
I am Gemayel Haynes, and I am running to be the next Judge for the 183rd District Court in Harris County, Texas.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
The 183rd Criminal District Court handles criminal cases ranging from low level state jail felonies to capital murder. The range of punishment for these cases is anywhere from 6 months in a state jail to life in prison or death.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I am running for the 183rd Criminal District Court because I believe a Judge who presides over a felony criminal court should be an experienced criminal attorney. My opponent never practiced criminal law before he took the bench in 2019, but I have done nothing but criminal law for almost 15 years. Inexperience can lead to decisions that harm the accused, the victims, and the community.
I also chose the 183rd District Court because it is closed every Friday during a historic backlog of pending felony cases. A closed courtroom causes unreasonable and unnecessary delays in justice for crime victims and the accused. My opponent inherited the lowest court docket in 2019 but the docket numbers have more than doubled due to frequently closed courtroom and lack of trials.
Finally, I want to restore trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. We should have a court that is efficient, transparent, and most importantly, fair to all. I believe every person that appears in court is a human being and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I have almost 15 years of criminal trial experience. I began my career as a prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I worked in the felony, misdemeanor, juvenile and justice of the peace divisions, and I had jury trials on everything from class c tickets to murder cases. After I left the DA’s office, I opened my own law office. I represented juveniles and adults charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses in Harris, Chambers, Fort Bend, and Harris counties. I had jury trials on misdemeanor and felony offenses. I also worked on three capital cases, including a death penalty case, as part of a team of lawyers.
I am now an Assistant Public Defender serving as Senior Litigator and Team Lead in the Felony Trial Division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. In this role I supervise a team of eight lawyers, I mentor other lawyers in our office, and I represent indigent clients charged with first and second-degree felonies. I am in trial, either as first chair on my own clients’ cases or a second chair with younger lawyers, several times a year on everything ranging from state jail felonies to first degree murder and sex cases. I teach Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes to criminal lawyers locally and across the state on various topics including bail, pretrial investigation, search and seizure, revocation and adjudication hearings, trial prep, trial strategy, and sentencing issues. During my career I have also taken hundreds of hours of CLEs directly related to criminal law. I have also been a board member of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers
Association since 2014.
5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because the criminal justice system is getting a lot of attention. The community can’t afford to have inexperienced criminal judges. I believe in smart bail reform that protects the community and respects the right of those accused of crimes. We need judges who will be fair to all, ensure due process rights are protected, and hold people accountable for their actions. The public deserves judges that aren’t learning criminal law while making decisions that have a major impact on lives.
6. Why should people vote for you in March?
People should vote for me in the Democratic Primary Election because I am the most experienced and most qualified candidate in this race. My opponent was a civil attorney for over 30 years before he was elected to the felony criminal bench. As a public defender, I fight to protect the Constitutional and legal rights of people accused of crimes. As a prosecutor I worked with the police to protect Harris County citizens and seek justice for crime victims. I am the only candidate in this race who has represented the State and the accused in criminal court, and I am the only candidate with jury trial experience on both sides of the aisle. Serving as a prosecutor and public defender has given me the perspective and experience that is currently missing from this Court.
The criminal justice system has failed far too many crime victims and people accused of crimes. If elected, I want to use my knowledge and experience to address deficiencies in the system and restore trust between the community we serve and the courts. I will work to make the Court more transparent, accessible, efficient, and fair for all.