(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?
My name is Paul Simon, and I am running for the 295th Civil District Court. I am happily married to my beautiful wife, Robin, and we live in The Heights with our two rescued Labrador Retrievers, Hicks and Bear. Robin and I are strong supporters of our community, she having co-founded, and each of us having served on various Boards of, a local charity that has given more than $600,000 in student scholarships. We also donate a lot of our time and resources to many other charities that help our community, particularly those that help the poor, medical research, animal rescue, and veterans/police. I have also tutored and mentored young children and law students.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
A Civil District Court hears almost any kind of civil dispute. So it is almost easier to tell voters what this Court does not hear: it does not hear criminal, family (divorce and child custody/support), juvenile (young offenders) or probate (wills, guardianships) cases. So, what’s left? Car accidents and other personal injury cases, business disputes, contracts, consumer cases, employment, fraud, foreclosures and other disputes involving land, insurance, malpractice, oil and gas, and slander and defamation. The list literally goes on and on. Some long-time residents may remember the famous Pennzoil v. Texaco case, a very complex business case that resulted in a multi-billion dollar judgment, still one of the largest in history of its kind. That case was decided by one of the 24 Civil District Courts in Harris County in the 1980s.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I am running for a Civil District Court because I believe “fair and balanced” isn’t just a slogan, and I believe the citizens of Harris County should expect our courts, which have huge backlogs, to be better managed. More efficient courts will lead to lower costs to litigants and taxpayers and more timely justice, and that is a principle everyone—Republican, Democrat, and Independent alike—should embrace.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
To me, being a judge is not just a job, but a commitment to the principle of the rule of law. That said, I am qualified because I meet the requirements (age, residency, etc.). But there is more to being a judge than simply meeting these requirements. I have the commitment it takes, a deep respect for the law, and a sense of fairness that is respected even by lawyers who have been on the other side of cases I have handled. Furthermore, because this Court hears a wide variety of cases, my broad litigation and appellate background and my no-nonsense approach and strong work-ethic, make me the best candidate for this race and provide me with the tools necessary to serve Harris County well.
Education: I have more than 22 years in the legal profession, having spent some of those years working my way though college and then law school as a paralegal. While at South Texas College of Law, I regularly made the Dean’s List, was an Assistant Articles Editor of the Law Review, authored a paper that was printed in the Law Review, and was on three of South Texas’ nationally-renowned moot court teams. Because of these academic achievements, after graduating, I earned a position as a Briefing Attorney for the Court of Appeals. To put that in some context, each year, hundreds if not thousands of people apply for this job, but only nine are selected for each court, and my strong work ethic and dedication to the law gave me the opportunity to be one of those nine.
Experience: After that year, I worked at a very large, well-respected Texas-based law firm where I primarily handled complex lawsuits. These cases were tried all across the country, and usually involved tens of thousands of documents, dozens of witnesses, novel legal theories, complex contracts, and millions of dollars. While there, I wrote a brief for the court on a point of law that had never before been decided in Texas, and ultimately, the firm’s client succeeded in establishing new law in Texas based in part on my work. Several years ago, I left that firm to start my own. Today, my firm represents individuals, family-owned companies and small businesses in a wide variety of cases—for both plaintiffs and defendants—like the kinds the Court I am running for hears.
What voters should expect in a Judge running for a court like this one is a well-trained lawyer, a broad background in the kinds of cases that lawyer handled before becoming a judge, and a lawyer who, like me, has earned the respect of other lawyers.
5. Why is this race important?
All races, but especially judicial races, are important. A lot of voters do not realize that there are more than 60 judicial races on the 2010 ballot. Because about half of us end up before a judge at some point in our lives, and because a judge can significantly impact your livelihood, your business, your care and a host of other things, oftentimes all by herself or himself, it is important that voters have confidence in their choices for judge.
If elected, Harris County will get someone who is supported by people from all walks of life: conservatives and progressives; Republicans, Independents and Democrats; business leaders and lawyers. In short, someone who is fair and balanced and someone the voters can trust.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
I think for all of the reasons I have given so far. After reading this entire questionnaire, my hope is that you will sense that I have a genuine commitment to the rule of law and its core principle of fairness, an ability to fairly judge all cases that will come before me, and the know-how to make the right decisions and to change the way things get done. But there are two things in particular I want to emphasize.
First, we need efficient courtrooms. It may surprise a lot of readers to learn that it takes at least two years for a case to go to trial. Some of the reasons for this can’t be avoided. For example, some rules have built-in waiting periods that a judge can’t change.
But a lot of it is controlled by how the Judge runs his or her courtroom. For example, 75% the court’s calendar is set aside for trials, but trials take up only a small fraction of what actually happens in a courtroom, usually 25% or less of the time. In other words, three-fourths of the court’s calendar is blocked-off for one-fourth of its work. That means that the other critical things to your case get delayed, often for months.
If you want to see what I am talking about, visit the courts. Usually what you’ll see is a lot of activity on Monday or Friday mornings, and almost nothing the rest of the week. That Monday or Friday morning is when the Court is handling the “other critical things.” The rest of the week are the days set aside for trials that aren’t happening. This slows down your case, delays justice, costs the parties more in attorney’s fees, and wastes your tax dollars.
Second, we need judges who are fair and who make the right calls. Another reason Independents and Republicans should vote for me is because, over the last five years, my opponent has the highest reversal rate of any current Civil District Judge in Harris County. Oftentimes, a reversal results in a new trial, which delays justice, costs the parties more in attorney’s fees, and wastes your tax dollars.
So, I leave you with this pledge: I will work hard to make sure my courtroom is run efficiently, I will be fair, I will put aside politics, and I will work hard to make sure I make the right calls. That may mean working more than 40 hours a week, but that is why I have the support of so many lawyers who have known me professionally, and even those who have represented clients adverse to my own. I thank you for taking the time to read my entire questionnaire, and I hope that I have earned your support.