Judicial Q&A: Tom Berg

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

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

I’m Tom Berg and I am the Democratic candidate for the 262nd Criminal District Court of Harris County, Texas. I am a graduate of Rice University and the University of Houston Law Center. I was licensed to practice law in Texas in 1978. I was a State Department brat and grew up in Mexico where I graduated high school; I still speak fluent Spanish.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court is a trial court and hears felony cases, i.e., the most serious criminal charges.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This is an open bench – the incumbent chose not to run again shortly after I announced my campaign. I originally selected this court because the incumbent had developed a poor reputation for courtesy and demeanor toward lawyers and defendants (sometimes called “Black Robe” disease).

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law here for 32 years. I have been board certified in criminal law since 1984. I served 27 years in our Federal Public Defender’s Office including 19 years as its First Assistant. I’ve tried in excess of 150 jury trials and have extensive appellate experience. I am also a colonel in Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps. I have sat for the last five years as a part-time military judge in the Army Trial Judiciary, presiding over courts-martial about one week a month around the country. I spent a year in Iraq as a liaison to the Iraqi judiciary in 2008-2009. I also did a combat tour as the staff judge advocate with a civil affairs task force in Afghanistan in 2003-2004 and served as the legal advisor for detention operations at Guantanamo Bay in early 2002, enforcing the Geneva Conventions while I was there. During Desert Shield/Storm and in Bosnia during Operation Noble Eagle I was an Army prosecutor. Overall, my practice has been in the court-room and I’ve enjoyed all the different perspectives. As noted I have worked in judicial policy and the administration of detention/corrections operations.

5. Why is this race important?

The Harris County judicial system has been broken for decades (can’t just blame the Republicans for this). Too many non-violent pretrial defendants are held in jail for extended periods; they can’t make bail and can’t get their cases heard. It makes a mockery of the presumption of innocence. Not only are they taken out of the work force and unable to support their dependents, but they cost us, the Harris County taxpayers, a fortune to keep locked up without a corresponding benefit to society. The Pretrial Release Agency does not execute its mission. I worked there before I went to law school in the mid-1970’s when it actually was used successfully to alleviate both overcrowding and hardship. The Bail Bond schedule is arbitrary – tied to the alleged offense rather than the individual’s actual risk of flight or danger to the community. State law mandates a fair defense for the accused. I interpret that as a directive to establish a viable, efficient and comprehensive public defender system and I support it.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I am committed to the reform of our judicial system for the benefit of our County. I am committed to the just and timely punishment of those who are convicted when they are convicted. Pretrial punishment just rubs me wrong. I realize that we are resource-constrained but there is much we can do if we do it in the public spirit. I’m prepared to work double days in court and with the judicial policy makers to raise our system to meet the promises and obligations of the Constitution and the law.

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