Judicial Q&A: Erica Graham

(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?

Erica M. Graham and I am running for Judge, Harris County Civil Court at Law 1. I am a native Houstonian, and a graduate of Lamar High School in Houston ISD. I earned my bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University in California, while attending school on a basketball scholarship, and graduated cum laude from Tulane Law School in 1997. While in law school, I interned for the Honorable Calvin Botley, recently retired Federal Magistrate Judge here in Houston. I am the mother of a six year old son, and an active member of The Church Without Walls here in Houston, where I participate in various outreach ministries, including, but not limited to, the worship and arts ministry, Diamonds in the Rough ministry (a mentoring ministry for teenage girls ages 13-17),legal ministry and Pas’ Angels (ministry that provides Christmas gifts to children whose parents are incarcerated). I am also an active member of the Houston Bar Association and The Downtown Group, and I volunteer for organizations committed to improving my community. My volunteer activities have included helping build a house for Habitat for Humanity, working for several of DePelchin’s annual toy drives, sponsoring children through the Houston Bar Association’s Adopt an Angel program, and doing pro bono legal work for the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Association and Lone Star Legal Aid. I have also participated as a speaker at career day events held by various schools and church organizations, as well as Judge for Moot Court competitions at Thurgood Marshall School of Law and South Texas School of Law.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil matters, excluding family law, juvenile and probate law cases, wherein the amount in controversy is $500 – $100,000. Types of cases heard include, but are not limited to,personal injury cases, breach of contract cases, credit and consumer law cases, malpractice cases, property rights cases,property damage cases, defamation cases, and employment case. County Civil Courts at Law have exclusive jurisdiction over eminent domain cases and also hear appeals of civil cases from Justice of the Peace Courts and final rulings and decisions of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have over 13 years experience handling the types of civil litigation matters that will be heard before this Court, therefore I am familiar with the relevant rules of law, as well as the rules of evidence and civil procedure that are applicable to these cases. Furthermore,the dollar range of the amount in controversy for this Court appeals to me because I believe it will give me the opportunity to serve, interact with and directly impact the everyday lives of real people in the community.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced civil litigation in Houston for my entire legal career. I have worked for two nationally recognized law firms – Fulbright & Jaworski and Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman – and as counsel for Chevron. I have represented clients in both state and federal courts in counties throughout Texas in litigation involving toxic tort and environmental law, employment law, personal injury law, oil and gas law and general commercial litigation. As lead counsel over several mass toxic tort dockets, I have gained invaluable experience litigating multi-party complex civil litigation cases. I have logged hundreds of hours in the courtroom arguing various types of pre-trial and discovery motions and trying cases before Judges in federal and state court in several counties throughout Texas. Additionally, as a volunteer lawyer, I have also had experience representing plaintiffs in smaller cases involving personal injury and some family law matters. I have been recognized for doing high quality work preparing and trying cases, identifying settlement possibilities, benefiting client organizations, considering cost implications, and explaining complex legal options and technical issues to opposing counsel and clients. I also have a proven track record of collaborating and working productively with managers, clients, judges, opposing counsels, other attorneys, legal staff and juries.

5. Why is this race important?

I believe that all Judicial races are important because Judges directly interact with and affect the lives of all the citizens of Harris County, both individual and corporate, on a daily basis. The fact of the matter is, the average person has a higher probability of appearing before or having an audience with a Judge then they do with most other elected officials. Therefore, all the people of Harris County should educate themselves about the candidates in these races and be involved in the process of electing the Judges who will hear their car accident cases, property rights cases, contract disputes, divorce cases, child custody cases, business disputes and will contests. These Judicial races are not something we the people can leave up to chance or put off on the next man or woman hoping that they will go out and make the right decision for us. In order to bring about real, positive change in the Harris County Judicial System we must all put forth an effort to elect Judges who are fair, unbiased and committed to serving justice with honesty and integrity to all.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am a native Houstonian and was born and raised in Harris County. I am also a lifelong Democrat and a Sustaining Member of the Harris County Democratic Party. Therefore, I have a real and lasting connection to this community, and as Judge will strive to serve all the people of Harris County with integrity, honesty and a spirit of excellence. Additionally, I bring a diverse background to this position, in that I have worked in the court system as a judicial intern,in large firm private practice, small firm private practice, corporate legal department and as a volunteer lawyer with legal aid organizations here in Houston. Furthermore, being a minority female, I believe that I bring a diversity of life experiences to the bench that are unique and that would better equip me to serve the diverse citizenry of the Harris County community.

Furthermore, I want to improve the quality of justice served in the Harris County judicial system,especially at the County Civil Court at Law level. I believe that the Judiciary is in place to serve the people – all the people – of the community, and therefore should be committed to providing the best quality service they can to the people they serve. As Judge, I will be committed to customer service. In the courtroom, quality customer services means creating a people-friendly environment by: 1) running a timely and efficient courtroom; 2) being prepared before taking the bench by familiarizing oneself with the facts and relevant rules of law for the cases set on the docket and reviewing documentation submitted by the parties; 3) actively listening to the parties as they present their cases; 4) minimizing docket backlog; and 5) most importantly, treating everyone who comes through the courtroom doors with courtesy, dignity and respect. I also want to bring trust and accountability back to the courtroom. It is imperative that Judges be about the business of building and maintaining the trust of the people they serve by applying the relevant rule of law fairly and consistently to the facts of each case, regardless of who the parties may be and/or may represent. I believe that every citizen of Harris County, plaintiff and defendant, individual and corporate, regardless of race, gender, national origin, or socio-economic status, has the right to have their case heard by a Judge that is committed to fairness,impartiality and service with a spirit of excellence – and that Judge is me, Erica M. Graham Democratic Nominee for Judge, Harris County Civil Court at Law 1.

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