(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)
1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?
My name is Alex Salgado and I am the current judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #1
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
All class A and B misdemeanors, and the occasional Class C appeal.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
When my colleagues and I took over the misdemeanor benches after the 2018 election and along with Judge Jordan who was already on the bench, we immediately settled the ongoing federal lawsuit and began working on a new bail system. We made the changes necessary to ensure people charged with a misdemeanor do not remain in custody solely because they cannot afford a bond. We have completely changed the way misdemeanor cases are handled when it comes to bail and the studies have shown that it is a success. More people are released while their cases are pending and do not have to sit in jail until their case is disposed, and more people are able to reach alternate resolutions other than a conviction on their cases. Despite what is being portrayed in the media, our misdemeanor bail reform has not led to increased violence, recidivism is low, and more and more people are able to leave the Harris County jail without having to take a guilty plea just to be released. The other main accomplishment is what my colleagues and I have recently started with the Bayou City Community Court. One of the goals of the Bayou City Community Court is to inform and assist those that are eligible in obtaining petitions for nondisclosure, which in turn helps people find jobs by minimizing the impact of any past criminal history. This program notifies people who are eligible to obtain petitions for non-disclosures and are then connected with services such as health screenings, job services, high school diploma/GED services, and local community colleges. It is a growing program and we plan to add more services in the future to help those who have been through the criminal justice system and have successfully completed their deferred adjudications and sentences.
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
I would like to see the Bayou City Community Court grow and provide other programs and services to those people who have successfully completed deferred, probations, and misdemeanor sentences. I would also like to continue decreasing the pending case count in my court. Since we took the bench, we have not had much normalcy in our day-to-day operations. We inherited the remnants of a judicial system affected by hurricane Harvey and then we had to deal with the Covid 19 pandemic. We are starting to operate at a more normal pace, such as setting trials and hearings every week, and I would like to continue to lower the number of pending cases. I have already implemented changes that I have noticed are working in reducing the pending case count. For example, when a case hits the 200 day mark, I have the attorneys (State and defense) approach me before being reset. I then make a decision on how long of a reset to grant based on the needs of the case (missing discovery, applications to pretrial interventions, completing classes for a dismissal), and I have noticed that when cases are brought up more frequently they tend to be disposed of quicker. I would perhaps expand on this method of resetting cases to see if it can continue reducing the number of pending cases in my court.
5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because if my colleagues and I do not win in November, misdemeanor bail reform will be done away with and the misdemeanor courts will be taken back to a day and age when people were forced to accept guilty pleas just go get out of jail. There has been progress made in the misdemeanor courts when it comes to bail reform, and the studies show that our reform is working; the facts back up the work we have done with misdemeanor bail reform. I do not want to see the criminal justice system taken back to a day when money equals freedom; non-violent misdemeanor cases should not be treated that way. Our laws provide that a person is innocent unless proven guilty and with our bail reform we are ensuring this law is applied universally to all people who are arrested for a misdemeanor.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
After this term, I will have 13 years experience as an attorney. I have 9 years experience as a prosecutor and 4 years experience as the Judge of this court. My entire career has been devoted to criminal law, and for the past 4 years it has been devoted to criminal justice in the misdemeanor courts. I have the experience and passion to continue moving the misdemeanor courts in Harris County in the right direction. We do not need to go back to an archaic mindset where money equals freedom. People should have the opportunity to get out of jail while their cases are pending and get back to their families, jobs, school, etc. People should not be burdened with a final conviction for the rest of their lives simply because it was a means to walk out of the jail. I am the candidate to continue moving these courts forward and will continue to make sure that every person that comes before me is treated fairly and equally under the law.