Judicial Q&A: Keith Branch

(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 Keith Branch, I am a native Houstonian and I am the Democratic candidate for Judge of the 315th Juvenile District Court of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 315th Juvenile District Court hears cases regarding Juvenile Delinquency, as well as Children Protective Services and other family matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because: (1) I have unique qualifications, experiences, and skills to offer the 315th Juvenile Court, Harris County Juvenile Board, and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department and (2) I know I can play a positive role in reversing the deteriorating conditions of the Juvenile Court, Board, and Probation Department.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My experiences are in the areas of mental health, social work, counseling, juvenile and criminal justice, training, education and leadership. I am licensed as a practicing attorney by the State Bar of Texas and United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. I have practiced law since May 1990. I am also certified by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission as a Juvenile Probation Officer.

I have been employed by the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department for more than 27 years in various capacities from Child Care Worker to my current position as Assistant Deputy Director of Institutions.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Grambling State University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a specialization in Administration, Policy and Planning and a concentration in Community Mental Health from Atlanta University. I graduated from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law with a Doctorate of Jurisprudence.

I am currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Houston-Downtown and Prairie View A & M University, and previously taught at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law. I’ve also served as a Resource Training Officer at Sam Houston State University’s Correctional Institute.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because of its current impact, as well as the future affects on the children, families, victims, and citizens of Harris County. It is also important because it is not a traditional judicial position. Unlike other Harris County Judges, duties of the Juvenile Court Judges are broader. First, there is the traditional role of dispensing justice which is extremely important. The myriad of important issues in Harris County Juvenile Courts that require special attention and consideration include dignity and respect of families and victims, court efficiency, appointment of attorneys to handle cases of indigent clients, and court access. I have specific plans to address each of these issues.

Secondly, a little known function of the Juvenile Court Judges is that they are members of the Harris County Juvenile Board. In Texas, the County Juvenile Board is a statutorily created entity that exists separate and apart from the county and commissioner’s courts. The Juvenile Board is responsible for establishing juvenile probation departments that provide juvenile probation services. The Juvenile Board is the policymaking board that presides over the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. It is responsible for the oversight of the department’s budget, appointment of the Executive Director, and approval of the Deputy Director. The Juvenile Board also certifies the department’s pre-and post-adjudication facilities, as well as law enforcement’s juvenile processing offices.

In short, the Juvenile Court Judge not only sentences adjudicated offenders, but is also responsible for mandating and monitoring the treatment services provided to all youth referred to the Juvenile Probation Department. Therefore, a determination of the effectiveness of the department’s programs is made by the Juvenile Court Board and Judges. I will bring evidence-based practices (proven services) to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. I will also work to bring integrity to the department’s fiscal matters – fiscal mismanagement is under continuous scrutiny.

And a third role of Juvenile Court Judges is to appoint their Associate Judges. So, the importance of the work of a Juvenile Court Judge cannot be overstated. A judge’s duties, responsibilities, and decisions certainly have an impact on the juveniles who appear before the court, but his or her rulings also have a bearing on family members, victims, and society as a whole.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

First, I am urging everyone to vote because it is a fundamental right of every eligible citizen and therefore should be important to all. Secondly, it is imperative that we elect a qualified leader who is not only familiar with the issues of the Juvenile Probation Department, Juvenile Board and Juvenile Court but knows how to correct them. Finally, I am asking the people of Harris County to vote for me because I have unique qualities, skills, and experiences which will bring value to the 315th Juvenile Court.

I am the only candidate in this race that has not only practiced juvenile law, but has also taught juvenile law in local universities, as well as trained judges, juvenile probation officers, law enforcement officers, educators, and counselors. I am certified by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and have been employed by the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department for over 27 years in various capacities. I currently serve as the Assistant Deputy Director of Institutions (formerly the Assistant Deputy Director of Post Adjudicated Facilities). During my 27 years as a public servant and my tenure in the department, I have testified on numerous occasions on behalf of the department before the state legislature, Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, and a host of other organizations. My ability to be an exceptional Judge is evident by my work and my love for and commitment to this great County.

I have a complete understanding of juvenile law and the juvenile justice system. Additionally, I am extraordinarily knowledgeable about the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. As Juvenile Court Judge, I expect to accomplish a number of things which include:

To return dignity and respect to the juvenile court;
To introduce “restorative justice” to empower parents, transform kids, and restore our communities;
To make the court more accessible to families and victims during non-traditional hours;
To encourage the department adopt evidence-based practices;
To empower attorneys to aggressively defend their cases to the full extent of the law;
To reduce the number of docket resets which are costly to taxpayers;
To re-establish responsible fiduciary practices to the Juvenile Probation Department;
To protect children from abuse and neglect;
To restore fiscally sound program evaluation practices; and
To render thoughtful judgments that are first and foremost in the best interest of public safety for all people of Harris County.

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