(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?
Brandon Dudley and I’m running for Judge, 182nd Criminal District Court
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Court has original jurisdiction over felony criminal cases
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
From the beginning of my career working hands on with incarcerated youth as a juvenile counselor, to writing laws at our capitol to improve justice in Texas courtrooms and communities, to serving as an attorney at the Innocence Project to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and improve the reliability justice around the nation, the common theme has always been the same — working for more fair and effective justice. I want continue that mission from behind the bench, and that’s why I’m running for judge.
I want to help establish a justice system in Harris County that truly promotes safety in our communities, treats everyone equally and fairly under the law, honors our constitution, and uses our taxpayer dollars effectively.
Unfortunately, what we have right now in Harris County is an ineffective and unfair justice system that: 1) Wastes countless taxpayer dollars on inefficient crime reduction practices. Our court dockets and jail are overcrowded primarily with low-level substance possession arrestees and those with mental illness, when we should concentrate on using our resources to protect us from serious criminals who threaten our homes.2) An indigent defense system that is not upholding the basic Constitutional principle that everyone, rich or poor, should be treated equally and fairly under the law. 3) Is plagued by evidence we can’t trust in our courtrooms– from a crime lab that encumbers us with unreliable evidence to faulty eyewitness identifications.
Each of these examples is inexcusable. Together, they are clear and convincing evidence that our criminal justice system needs to be improved. The result, we have a system that is not upholding it’s obligation to the people of Harris County to ensure the guilty are brought to justice and innocent victims are protected. We’ve had two more innocent individuals released in the past couple weeks, and we’ve had more proven wrongful convictions than almost any other jurisdiction in the country.
Even if you don’t care about the fundamental fairness issues, or the constitutional issues, there are serious public safety issues here. When our courtrooms send an innocent person to prison, that means the real criminal is still out there preying on the community.
When we use ineffective and expensive sentencing practices for non-violent, low level offenders, when we know there are more effective diversion and sentencing practices to deter these offenders, those are wasted taxpayer dollars that could be used to protect us from a rapist or keep a violent criminal of the streets.
And that’s why I’m running. I want to help chart a new course for the Harris County Justice System. One that actually makes our communities safer, ensures that all people are treated equally and fairly under the law, honors our constitution, and ensures the innocent are protected and the guilty brought to justice.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I have 15 years of experience in the field of criminal justice.
I received my BA from the University of Texas at Austin, which is when I started working as a counselor at juvenile residential lock-up facilities. After graduating, I continued as a juvenile counselor, working with Texas’ most serious youth offenders at the Texas Youth Commission. These experiences inspired a desire to create and implement more effective programs to prevent crime in Texas communities and led me to enroll in the Graduate School for Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduate school, I directed educational and empowerment crime prevention programs for at-risk youth in the Greater Houston-Galveston area.
That experience strengthened my desire to effect change through more effective justice policies and led me to enhance my knowledge of criminal law and policy by attending the University of Houston Law Center. While at law school, I twice received the Public Interest Law Fellowship Award for my commitment to public service and promotion of fairness and equality in the law, and worked for a number of civil rights organizations and legal clinics on criminal justice policy and practice.
Since graduating from law school, I have gained vast criminal justice policy and legal experience. I currently serve as Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel for the office of Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis. In this capacity I have served as a key criminal justice policy advisor and legal counsel to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, where I have written numerous laws to improve the effectiveness of the Texas criminal and penal codes, and rules of evidence. I have served as a lead legal counsel and advisor to the Governor’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council, the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, and the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission– all bipartisan commissions charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the Texas justice system and making recommendations on how to improve it. Through these years of public service, I have earned the respect of law enforcement professionals, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, legislators and advocates around the state; working together to bring effective crime prevention strategies to our courtrooms and communities.
I have also served as an attorney and policy advisor to the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and promote effective policy reforms to improve the reliability of our criminal justice system.
Through these years of service, I have been instrumental in advancing numerous Smart on Crime reforms to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the Texas criminal justice system–particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, evidence reliability, creating effective diversion alternatives for low-level offenders, and improving the quality of indigent defense.
My expertise and service have been recognized with the Smart on Crime Achievement Award for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Most Outstanding Capitol Staffer by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and was recently participated in the American Leadership Forum’s 2009 Inaugural Criminal Justice Fellow class.
5. Why is this race important?
At the core of our democratic ideals of liberty and justice is the tenet that all people should be protected and secure, and treated equally and fairly, under the law. As I discussed in the previous questions; we’re failing to uphold those basic constitutional principles in Harris County.
Judges are the people we honor with the privilege honored with the privilege of acting as guardians of the law. That privilege requires more from our judges than just putting on a robe, trying cases and making rulings. It comes with the responsibility to be a full administrator of justice—a good judge protects the community by recognizing the need to improve our justice system, and possesses the courage to stand up to make sure the law works effectively and efficiently for all the people of Harris County.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
I have a proven record of working effectively with law enforcement, judges, attorneys, and community organizations around the state to advance effective crime prevention strategies to improve justice and fairness in our courtrooms and our communities. I want to bring that full range of experience, knowledge of the law, and commitment to justice to serve the people of Harris County in the courtroom. In short, I know the problems, and I have the knowledge, experience, and dedication to help fix them.