(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?
I am Jim Sullivan and I am running for Judge, 248th Criminal District Court. I was named after my late grandfather Rev. James Gary, a Baptist minister. I graduated with honors from Baylor University with a degree in journalism and a minor in Latin American studies. I also speak Spanish. I have practiced criminal and juvenile law for over 16 years. I met my wife Araceli while living in Mexico in 1990, and we have been married almost 20 years. Araceli serves the Latin community by interpreting in juvenile court for Spanish-speaking juveniles, their parents and/or witnesses. We worship at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
The 248th is one of 22 felony district courts that hears all types of felony level cases filed in state court against defendants (age 17 and older) and against juveniles who were first certified in juvenile court to be charged as an adult and whose case was then transferred to adult court. These felony cases range from state jail felony level cases (such as drug possession) to capital murder.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I want to work to establish a justice system in Harris county that improves safety, saves taxpayer dollars, treats everyone fairly, and upholds our constitution. Our current justice system is ineffective, inefficient and unfair in that: (1) Millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on inefficient crime reduction practices. Our court dockets and jails are overcrowded primarily with those accused of misdemeanor and small drug possession cases as well as those with mental illness. Our limited resources ought to focus on protecting the community from violent criminals. First-time, non-violent accused should be offered personal recognizance bonds to free up jail space for violent criminals and to reduce jail operating costs, much of which is for overtime pay for jailers. Those on PR bonds are also more likely to retain their own attorney, thereby saving taxpayer dollars on court-appointed attorneys. (2) The current system of court-appointed attorneys to represent the indigent has not resulted in equal and fair treatment under the law between the wealthy and the poor. When court-appointed attorneys contribute large sums of money to judges’ political campaigns, there is also the appearance of a conflict of interest. I support a public defenders office which will operate independently from the judiciary. (3) There has been a loss of faith in evidence presented in court due to tainted and unreliable scientific evidence from the HPD crime lab as well as the use of faulty eyewitness identifications. I support a regional crime lab as well as reforming the eyewitness identification process. Misidentification is the number one reason for false convictions. Texas leads the nation with 41 exonerations proven through DNA evidence. Texas ought to lead the nation in reform.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I have been a trial lawyer for 16 years in criminal and juvenile court. I speak Spanish. I am board certified in Juvenile Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have extensive trial experience, having defended a broad range of criminal cases from misdemeanors such as DWI and shoplifting to serious felony cases such as aggravated robbery, sexual assault and murder.
5. Why is this race important?
This race, along with the races for all the criminal and juvenile courts, can have a cumulative positive impact for criminal and juvenile justice in Harris county for many years to come. Overall, these races can positively impact jail overcrowding and representation of the poor. As judge, I will reduce jail overcrowding by granting personal bonds on most first-time non-violent offenders and set lower bonds on appropriate cases. Not only will this save taxpayers’ money by eliminating the need for a new jail, it will also allow the accused to work to support his family and perhaps to hire his own attorney. I support the creation of a public defenders office for the representation of all the poor and indigent. Until that happens, I will appoint attorneys who demonstrate that they will work hard to represent their indigent clients well. I will also strive to get non-violent addicts into treatment. Drug treatment and later supervised probation costs a fraction of what it costs to warehouse drug addicts in prison. In addition, by working to support their families, communities are strengthened and families are more likely to succeed.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
I am running for judge because I can positively impact more people as a judge than as a defense attorney. Indeed, I will work to make positive changes to the local justice system as outlined above and will encourage other judges to make similar changes in their courts. I will follow the law, and I will be fair and impartial as I preside over hearings and trials. I am the only candidate who is board certified, speaks Spanish and has meaningful experience representing the accused. Houston is a city rich in diversity and a large percentage of its population is Latino. I have lived in Mexico, traveled throughout Latin America and speak Spanish. I have many close relatives throughout Mexico and regularly visit them. I have represented clients from around the world, from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. I greatly admire and respect people from all backgrounds. I believe my familiarity with the Latin culture and my 16 years of experience representing the accused and the poor brings a greatly needed perspective and sensitivity to the bench.