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Judicial Q&A: Donna Roth

(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?

I am Donna Roth. I am running for Judge of the 281st Civil District Court, Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 281st is a civil court of general jurisdiction. It is a district court which handles civil cases with amounts in controversy from $500 to any dollar amount. The court also has equity power to impose injunctions, restraining orders and declaratory judgments (a judgment that declares the rights of the parties). The court hears a wide variety of matters including but not limited to breach of contract, commercial disputes, personal injury cases, employment disputes, malpractice cases, death cases, insurance disputes, corporate disputes, partnership/corporate dissolutions, property disputes, debt collection cases, bank foreclosures, attorney disbarment and discipline cases and Harris County property tax collection cases. The civil courts have also begun to hear family trials. The family courts have been so overwhelmed that many of the civil judges, when agreed by the parties, have begun trying jury trials for the family court judges including divorces, child custody and modifications.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The current incumbent was just this January, 2009, appointed by Governor Perry. She received this appointment because her Republican predecessor made his decision to resign just days after the deadline for the 281st to be placed on the ballot. Therefore, rather than to have the people of Harris County decide who they wanted as their next judge, a sitting Republican judge resigned after the deadline and allowed a Republican Governor to appoint yet another Republican judge. I want to return honesty, integrity and transparency to the 281st Civil District Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 1987 cum laude graduate from South Texas College of Law. Since then I have practiced civil trial law. I have extensive first chair jury trial experience, have litigated almost every type of case that could come before the court, have extensive trials before the bench and have mentored any number of younger lawyers by sitting second chair and assisting and advising. In my practice, I have represented the hard working people of Harris County.

I currently serve on the board of directors for the Houston Trial Lawyers Association and I am a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. In 2009 I was the sole recipient of the HTLA Leadership and Service Award. I am also a member of the Association of Women Attorneys and the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association. I have not just recently joined these organizations but have been an active member for years. I am also a member of the Houston Bar Association and the Mexican American Bar Association.

5. Why is this race important?

Many, if not most people, will someday be required to come before a judge. Whether it be a civil judge, a family judge, a probate judge, a juvenile judge or a criminal judge most people will find themselves before a court.

If you have been fired and have to sue your employer for wrongful discharge or employment discrimination, or if you have been seriously injured or lost a family member because of another’s negligence, or if you have lost a limb or organ because of a medical facilities’ negligence, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court. If you have a property boundary dispute, a dispute with your homeowners’ association, or a disagreement with Harris County Appraisal District over the value of your property, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court.

Presiding over the determination of fair and adequate compensation for the loss of a loved one because of another’s negligence, whether one’s livelihood has been taken away without just cause, the value of one’s home, or whether an insurance company should be required to reimburse you for the loss of a limb or organ are important matters that make this race and the determination of who the next judge in this court will be an important matter.

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


    The 281st Civil District Court is a civil trial bench.  Because the role of the judge is to fairly and impartially try cases, trial experience is the most important qualification for voters to choose a candidate. I am the only candidate in my race with first chair jury trial experience.  I have tried to verdict almost every type of case that could potentially come before the court.  I also sit second chair to assist younger lawyers who are learning or who need help and guidance.  I can start working the day I am elected.

    The Harris County District Clerk’s Web site provides a listing of cases involved in litigation where attorneys have been named as counsel of record.  As of January 31, 2010, the district clerk web site indicates that I have filed and litigated 223 cases during my years of practice.  My opponent has been listed in just five (5) cases.  This is a civil trial court bench.  The people of Harris County deserve someone who can begin working on the day they are elected.

    I came to Houston in 1985.  I graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1987 and have practiced law here in Houston since that time.  I have raised my daughter, mostly as a single mom, here in Houston.  I have learned patience from being a mom which will allow me to exercise the judicial temperament necessary to be a judge.

Committed Democrat:

    I am a sustaining member of the Harris County Democratic Party, a member of a number of Democratic groups, including the Spring Branch Democrats, Meyerland Democrats and Tejano Democrats.  My daughter, Andrea and I, are both members of Oak Forest Democrats and the GLBT caucus.  Andrea is also a member of the Young Democrats.  In 1994, I won a contested democratic primary for judge of the 234th Civil District Court.  I unfortunately, along with many other good democrats, lost in the general election in a Republican sweep.  Since then I have helped in many democratic campaigns including Judge Jaclanel McFarland, Judge Robert Schaffer, Judge Steven Kirkland,  Judge Kathy Stone, State Rep. Ellen Cohen, State Rep. Jessica Farrar, Mayor Bill White and Michael Skelly for Congress.  I have contributed money, pushed cards on Election Day and block walked.  In 2008 on Election Day I served at the party headquarters as legal counsel for any problems and issues that arose during the day.

Community Focused:

    I maintain on my docket at least one pro bono case where I represent a woman in need of either a divorce, child support, child custody or a protective order.  I volunteered after Hurricane Ike and provided legal services through the Houston Bar Association at the hurricane victim’s assistance centers.  I often volunteered at my daughter’s high school having coordinated a mock trial event with the senior class.  I volunteered for the Children’s Assessment Center and assisted participants at a skeet shoot.  My favorite activity, however, is serving as a “judge” at South Texas School of Law for the mock trial program.  This I do approximately twice a year and have done since I graduated law school in 1987.  I feel that I have been fortunate in life to have obtained the education that I have received and to practice a profession I could only have dreamed about as a child.  I want to share that with as many people as I can who cannot otherwise afford an attorney or someone to help them.

Justice for All:

    It is important that we elect Judges who are fair and impartial, who do not have a preconceived notion about who should win before they hear any testimony or evidence. I have a passion for justice that has grown through my years of practice. I believe in the rule of law, I believe that each litigant that comes before the court, whether poor or rich, educated or not, whether represented by counsel or not, deserves a fair and impartial judge.  Backed by my belief that justice and fair play are the fundamental values of the United States and Texas Constitutions, I am running for Judge of the 281st Civil District Court.  My name is Donna Roth and I would consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as your next judge of the 281st Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas and I am, therefore, asking for your vote on March 2, 2010 in the Democratic Primary Election.

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  1. Bill Kelly says:

    I’m not supporting any particular candidate in our judicial primaries, but Donna Roth had her daughter intern for Ellen Cohen’s campaign all summer in 2006. So while I’m not getting involved, she has my vote for sure!!!

  2. Lisa Goodwin says:

    I have known Donna all my life. I am her sister. By electing Donna Roth, Texas will have instituted a judge who is a committed democrat and one who has great respect for the law.