Judicial Q&A: Priscilla Walters

(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 Priscilla Walters and I am running for Judge, Probate Court 3.

I am a native Texan; I grew up in Houston and graduated from Spring Woods High School. I studied nursing and biology in college, and graduated with honors from Texas Women’s University in 1977. I practiced nursing for ten years before entering the University of Houston Law School. I graduated in 1990 and I have had a diverse civil law practice since that time.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Probate Court 3 is a Statutory Probate Court. Most Texas courts are created by the constitution, and the constitution authorizes the legislature to create other courts as necessary. Statutory Probate courts have been created by the legislature in the state’s larger counties.

These Courts have very broad jurisdiction. Generally, the Court probates wills, established guardianships for incapacitated persons and minors, supervises the administration of estates of deceased and incapacitated persons and minors, and hears matters involving trusts. The Judge in Probate Court 3 also administers the County’s mental health docket.

Probate Judges also hear lawsuits pertaining to or “incident to an estate” of a decedent or ward and actions by or against a personal representative of an estate. Therefore, trials are conducted for medical malpractice, wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits, to name a few. Cases involving contracts, property ownership or damage, breach of fiduciary duty, and family law are now commonly litigated in Probate Court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Probate Court 3 hears most cases in the county involving civil mental health commitments. An example of this type of hearing would be when there is a request for commitment of a person who may be a danger to themselves or others. The court also conducts medication hearings to determine the necessity of medical treatment and hearings to determine whether there should be an order to resuscitate a terminally ill person. Probate Courts make life and death decisions regarding the wellbeing of the citizens of Harris County, and the Judge should care about these issues.

The incumbent Judge Rory Olsen has done a terrible job. Witnesses have complained that he is disinterested, impatient and uncaring toward the mentally ill and toward potential wards of the court. Lawyers have complained that they can’t get a trial. Olsen declined a request by members of the Houston Psychiatric Society to meet and discuss their concerns! In a Houston Bar Association poll, he received the lowest rating among Probate Judges. Probate Court 3 needs a proactive Judge, who will work to improve services in a fiscally efficient manner. When elected, I intend to do that.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I chose Probate Court 3 because I have healthcare experience. My opponent has no education, training or experience in the mental health or healthcare fields, and his actions and statements reflect ignorance in these matters. In making decisions regarding emergency health care matters, the Judge of Probate Court 3 needs to understand the complexities of mental and physical diseases.

Also, as a civil trial lawyer for the past 20 years, I have had cases in Federal courts, State district Courts and in Probate courts. I have represented individuals, businesses, school districts, families, physicians, estates, and disabled children and adults. These cases have involved probate disputes, contract disputes, products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, healthcare fraud, wrongful termination, and many other issues. My cases frequently involve estates and persons under guardianship. My range of experience is as broad as the courts jurisdiction; I have more experience in more fields of law than the incumbent.

During the past 30 years of my professional life, I have developed empathy for people in crisis. I have good leadership and problem solving skills. I believe that people who find themselves in the courts should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. I want to provide the citizens of this county with excellent service without wasting their assets and without causing unnecessary stress, delay and expense. No one will work harder than me.

5. Why is this race important?

We need qualified, compassionate judges in the Probate Courts. With the exception of Probate Court 1, all sitting Probate Judges have been there for many years. These judges have, for too long, enjoyed absolute job security regardless of performance. There have been published accounts regarding some of these judges who allowed sizable estates to be wasted by court appointed attorneys, guardians and executors. We need to restore balance and integrity to the Probate Courts, and I know that I can do a better job in Probate Court 3.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the most qualified candidate for Probate Court 3. My opponent has been on the bench for 12 years, and still does not understand mental health issues. He has shown no interest in improving the Court’s services. He seems to have forgotten that he is a public servant. I have significant experience in the subjects that are adjudicated in Probate Court 3. I am the only candidate with Healthcare education, training and experience. I have 20 years of civil courtroom experience in courts of various jurisdictions. I am excited about the prospect of serving the citizens of Harris County, and I want your vote on November 2.

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