(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 Judge Kathy Stone and I am running for reelection as Judge of Harris County Probate Court # 1. In November of 2008, I was the first woman elected Judge of any Harris County Probate Court by the highest margin of any candidate or incumbent in a county or district judicial election. I have twenty years of judicial experience. I was twice elected to the 55th Civil District Court serving from 1991 to 1998. I continued presiding over cases for the next 10 years as Senior Judge Sitting by Assignment in the Civil, Criminal and Family District Courts, County Courts-at-Law, and Justice Courts in Harris and surrounding counties.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Most people know that families go to Probate Court after a loved one dies to prove that a will is valid and have someone appointed who is responsible for collecting and distributing that person’s belongings according to his or her wishes. The Probate Court does much more than that. Probate Courts help families get a guardian appointed for a loved one who is unable to care for himself or herself. A guardian may be children of an aging parent who is struggling with Alzheimer’s or a guardian may be a parent seeking legal responsibility for a child who is developmentally challenged and becoming an adult. In addition to helping families take care of a loved one, the Probate Court has the same authority as a District Civil Court to hear lawsuits concerning a deceased person’s estate or guardianship matters, as well as any issue concerning a trust. Some of the most complex wrongful death and/or personal injury cases are tried in Probate Courts.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I was elected to this bench in 2008. I am especially qualified for this particular bench because I can utilize my many years of private practice and two decades of judicial experience to be decisive on the many different legal issues that must be resolved in probate. I also enjoy the many people that I assist in going through the probate process—which can be a stressful time. I love being able to make this part of the process as stress free and easy as possible. Because of some of the particular human issues that accompany probate proceedings, it is very rewarding to me to be a part of the judicial system that can help people every day.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
In addition to my two decades of judicial experience, I have more than 30 years legal experience. I graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1979. As a student, I was Assistant Editor of the Law Journal and competed in moot court. I am Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and a Certified Mediator and Arbitrator. I am uniquely qualified to handle every aspect of the probate bench from previously practicing probate law to being able to utilize my board certification in Personal Injury Trial Law and years of judicial experience to allow me to streamline and dispose of complex litigation.
5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because Probate Court is the one court that will touch everyone’s life in Harris County at one time or another. Every segment of Harris County society appears in this court, all races and nationalities, all socio-economic groups, all religions, creeds and orientations. It is very important that we have a judge on this sensitive bench who will treat all who appear before them with dignity and respect. I feel that I am the best candidate to do that.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
I have made many positive changes at Harris County Probate Court #1 in the short two years that I have presided over the bench. I have created free continuing legal education courses that are held at the court. The attorneys who take these courses volunteer to provide free legal services in Harris County guardianship cases. Without my pro bono programs, those legal fees would otherwise be paid with taxpayer money. My program has already saved Harris County taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
Additionally, I am offering training to non-attorney members of the community who serve as guardians so they can better serve their loved ones under guardianship. This service also saves them legal fees as they are aware of their duties and do not need to call upon their retained counsel as often. I have instituted an online docketing system so attorneys can set their hearing more efficiently at their convenience. Also I have streamlined the dockets to move them more quickly and cleared the backlog of litigation that was in the court. I am very excited to have another four years to continue improving this court’s service to the community.