Judicial Q&A: Natalie Cokinos Oakes

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so 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. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

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

My name is Natalie Cokinos Oakes and I’m running for 313th Juvenile District Court. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and was raised in a big, civic-minded family full of many uncles, aunts and cousins in Beaumont and New Orleans. I’ve lived in Houston since 1980. I graduated from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. in English Literature and a Teacher’s Certificate. I was awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. I taught school in Beaumont, New Orleans, Houston and Athens, Greece. I am of Greek heritage. My father worked hard and my parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I’ve been married 21 years and am a very involved mother, participating fully in Boy Scout campouts, activities and encouraging our son to achieve his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.

I have spent my entire legal career working with the families and children of Harris County in Juvenile and Family Courts. I interned at Gulf Coast Legal Clinic (now Lone Star Legal Clinic) and clerked for a Social Security/Disability Attorney. Also, I donated many hours of mediation at local J.P. Courts to become a state-certified Mediator

Currently, I defend juvenile respondents in felony and misdemeanor delinquency cases and receive appointments as Attorney Ad Litem and Guardian Ad Litem for children. I represent adult clients in divorce, adoption and in Harris County cases for abused and neglected children.

I am invited by schools to speak to young people about the law as it pertains to them and speak to teachers’ groups and neighborhood groups on Juvenile Law. I became an officer with the Juvenile Law Section of the Houston Bar serving three years. I have brought in speakers on many salient topics to the field of Juvenile Law.

I remain involved in the community as a member of many organizations that inform and increase my understanding of citizens’ concerns.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Law is a hybrid of criminal and civil law. Juvenile Courts handle misdemeanor and felony cases for Juvenile Delinquencies for young people ages 10 to 17. The Juvenile Courts also determine whether a child should be certified as an adult to stand trial in the adult court.

Juvenile Courts hear CPS cases for abused and neglected children where best interests of the child and the fundamental parental rights are weighed. Juvenile Courts also consummate the adoptions for children.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

There are 3 Juvenile District Courts and the 313th Court is an open seat. I have worked in all 3 courts for 10 years and have observed aspects of each court.

I want to promote programs that produce results for the children and families of Harris County. These programs must be tracked to see if kids are being rehabilitated and families are accessing the services that they need in order to help them. Every young person should be able to see their potential by tapping their unique talents be it academics, trade schools, mentoring, crafts or the arts. This, in turn, helps a person’s self-esteem and leads to productivity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

  • I am a parent of a teenage boy: I understand kids
  • I am a former schoolteacher: I understand the educational system
  • I’ve spent my entire legal career in Juvenile Court handling felonies, misdemeanors and cases for abused and neglected children cases (CPS): I understand the law.

5. Why is this race important?

Juvenile Courts are very important to our community. I want to focus on effective rehabilitation and fairness. The goal is to rehabilitate the young people by 1) making them productive citizens and 2) preventing them from coming back into the adult system. These courts influence the direction of young people and play a vital role in the protection of abused and neglected children.

6. Why should people vote for you in the Primary?

My experience living and teaching in Texas and abroad make me uniquely qualified. I am the only parent in my race and practice in both areas of the Juvenile Courts (Delinquencies and CPS cases). I also believe Harris County needs at least one juvenile district judge who will bring a female perspective and motivation to the court. I am currently the only female candidate for any Harris County Juvenile District Court

I work well with people. A Juvenile Court judge deals with many entities such as Juvenile Probation, CPS caseworkers, District Attorneys, County Attorneys and the Juvenile Board. My main focus will be true rehabilitation for the young people who appear before me. I’m ready to lead the charge to make the Harris County Juvenile System more effective and am asking for your vote to be the Democratic nominee.

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4 Responses to Judicial Q&A: Natalie Cokinos Oakes

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    I’m curious what relation she is to former Beaumont mayor, Jimmie Cokinos, who served during the time Lamar College was integrated. He’s a great story of his own right (and parts of it have been told). If she’s anything like the rest of her family, she’ll make a great judge.

  2. Dear Greg,
    Yes. Jimmie Cokinos, now age 92, was the Mayor of Beaumont when he ordered Lamar College (now proud Lamar University) integrated. He endured bombs thrown at the family home and his church dynamited. He went on to become City Manager, City Councilman and County Commissioner of Jefferson County.
    His daughter, Stacie Cokinos, is the Executive Director of San Jose Clinic here in Houston.
    He will be so pleased to know that you remember him.

  3. Greg Wythe says:


    I worked on Fanniece Hawkins’ campaign for mayor in 2007 and Jimmie endorsed her on the day she filed for office (with little to gain and maybe a bit to lose by doing so). I picked up a few parts of his story from that time and managed to find a little more of his history online. It’s hard not to respect a guy who survived bombs at home & at church for being on the right side of history.

  4. I remember you from Forest Park High School. I graduated with Peter in 1966. You come from a wonderful family. I recall you running for cheerleader while I was there. Peter was kind to me at Forest Park and I’ll always remember that. “Sugar” was, pardon the pun, sweet. I’m an retired disc jockey from KOLE then located in Port Arthur. I used the name RICK RAN-DELL. Get out there and kick some tail in this election. Sorry I can’t vote for you, I live in Anahuac. HANK GUPTON.

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