(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 Natalie Cokinos Oakes and I’m running for 313th Juvenile District Court. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and was raised in a big, civic-minded family full of many uncles, aunts and cousins in Beaumont and New Orleans. I’ve lived in Houston since 1980. I graduated from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. in English Literature and a Teacher’s Certificate. I was awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. I taught school in Beaumont, New Orleans, Houston and Athens, Greece. I am of Greek heritage. My father worked hard and my parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example. I’ve been married 21 years and am a very involved mother, participating fully in Boy Scout campouts, activities and encouraging our son to achieve his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. I have spent my entire legal career working with the families and children of Harris County in Juvenile and Family Courts. I interned at Gulf Coast Legal Clinic (now Lone Star Legal Clinic) and clerked for a Social Security/Disability Attorney. Also, I donated many hours of mediation at local J.P. Courts to become a state-certified Mediator.
Currently, I defend juvenile respondents in felony and misdemeanor delinquency cases and receive appointments as Attorney Ad Litem and Guardian Ad Litem for children. I represent adult clients in divorce, adoption and in Harris County cases for abused and neglected children. I am invited by schools to speak to young people about the law as it pertains to them and speak to teachers’ groups and neighborhood groups on Juvenile Law. I became an officer with the Juvenile Law Section of the Houston Bar serving three years. I have brought in speakers on many salient topics to the field of Juvenile Law.
I remain involved in the community as a member of many organizations that inform and increase my understanding of citizens’ concerns.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Juvenile Law is a hybrid of criminal and civil law. Juvenile Courts handle misdemeanor and felony cases for Juvenile Delinquencies for young people ages 10 to 17. The Juvenile Courts also determine whether a child should be certified as an adult to stand trial in the adult court. Juvenile Courts hear CPS cases for abused and neglected children where best interests of the child and the fundamental parental rights are weighed. Juvenile Courts also consummate the adoptions for children.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
There are 3 Juvenile District Courts and the 313th Court is an open seat. I have worked in all 3 courts for 10 years and have observed aspects of each court.
I want to promote programs that produce results for the children and families of Harris County. These programs must be tracked to see if kids are being rehabilitated and families are accessing the services that they need in order to help them. Every young person should be able to see their potential by tapping their unique talents be it academics, trade schools, mentoring, crafts or the arts. This, in turn, helps a person’s self-esteem and leads to productivity.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
• I served as a 3 year officer for the Juvenile Law Section of the Houston Bar Association. I arranged speakers on salient topics for Juvenile Law. I speak to groups and schools on Juvenile Law.
• I am a parent of a teenage boy: I understand kids.
• I am a former schoolteacher: I understand the educational system.
• I’ve spent my entire legal career in Juvenile Court handling felonies, misdemeanors, adoptions and cases for abused and neglected children cases (CPS): I understand the law.
Why is this race important?
Juvenile Courts are very important to our community. Harris County needs to focus on effective rehabilitation and fairness. The goal is to rehabilitate the young people by 1) making them productive citizens and 2) preventing them from coming back into the adult system. These courts influence the direction of young people and play a vital role in the protection of abused and neglected children.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
My experience living and teaching in Texas and abroad make me uniquely qualified. I practice in both areas of the Juvenile Courts (Delinquencies and CPS cases). I also believe Harris County needs at least one juvenile district judge who will bring a female perspective and motivation to the court. I am currently the only female candidate for any Harris County Juvenile District Court I work well with people. A Juvenile Court judge deals with many entities such as Juvenile Probation, CPS , District Attorneys, County Attorneys and the Juvenile Board. My main focus will be to build rehabilitative programs for the young people who appear before me and to track the success of the programs. I’m ready to lead the charge to make the Harris County Juvenile System more effective and am asking for your vote to be the next judge of the 313th Juvenile District Court.