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Judicial Q&A: Barbara Gardner

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Barbara Gardner

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I’m Barbara Gardner, attorney, board certified in labor and employment law, partner and head of Employment Law Practice Group with Lam, Lyn & Philip. I graduated #1 in my law school class at South Texas College of Law. After law school, I was a law clerk/briefing attorney 2 years for US District Judge Carl Bue, working in the courtroom daily. For 30 years I have tried cases for companies and individuals and handled appeals all the way to the United States Supreme Court. For many years, I was a partner at a downtown law firm.

I am running for election to the 234th Civil District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The civil district courts of Harris County, including the 234th District Court, are the starting point for almost all lawsuits in which a party claims damages of $200.00 or more. District court judges have the power to issue injunctions, in matters such as covenants not to compete. District court judges handle cases involving a wide variety of matters that affect Harris County citizens, ranging from real estate disputes and car wrecks to commercial disputes, slander, employment issues and many other important matters.

Rulings by the Judge of the 234th District Court and other district courts affect all Harris County residents, even those who are never involved in a lawsuit. Decisions by these courts are the beginning of binding precedents that other Texas courts must follow. If a district court case is appealed, the appellate court can affirm or reverse the ruling. The appellate court’s written opinion, which started in the district court, then becomes binding law throughout the State of Texas. An appellate court often can be influenced by how the decision was written by the district judge. So, the decisions of our district courts form the crucial starting point of the civil justice system for Texas citizens.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 234th Civil District Court because I am considerably more qualified than the person who Governor Perry appointed to that position a little over a year ago. I have watched the result of the Governor’s judicial appointments, and most often the Governor appoints a person who, according to Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet, is aligned with Governor Perry’s judicial philosophy – which is pro-defendant, anti-consumer, and a stalwart conservative. See http://www.texastribune.org/2011/08/12/supreme-court-elected-bears-perrys-stamp/. This is contrary to our State Constitution, which provides for election of judges by citizens, and it is contrary to our concepts of justice and fairness.

Another reason why I am running for civil district court is that judges’ rulings tend to favor the large corporations and institutions, to the detriment of individuals and small business. I have seen this trend develop, which began back in the 1990’s and progressed steadily during the last ten years. I want to see justice returned to our judicial system in Harris County so that judges apply the law correctly, fairly, and equally to everyone.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My primary qualifications are:

  • Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Labor and Employment Law.
  • Graduated #1 in my law school class.
  • I was on the law review staff, served as case notes editor, and was awarded the “Best Article” in my third year of law school.
  • After law school, I clerked for 2 years for Hon. Carl Bue, Federal District Judge, with the 2d year as the “senior” clerk. Offered a position with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, I chose the District Court because I would gain better experience. (The 5th Circuit clerks were right down the hall. Appellate clerks stay in their offices and read. I wanted more interaction with the federal judge and time in the courtroom. In fact, the appellate clerks would ask me for my research files.) I was inside the courtroom almost every day and observed both civil and criminal trials, injunction hearings, motion hearings, sentencings – a myriad of legal matters. I read and analyzed all of the motions and briefs filed by attorneys. When they did not cite the correct law, I would then find the correct law for the judge. I wrote his draft opinions and the jury charges. The second year, Judge Bue rarely changed anything that I wrote.
  • None of the cases in which I drafted the opinions for Judge Bue were reversed by the 5th Circuit.
  • More than 30 years as a successful trial lawyer. I have won many large verdicts as lead counsel, including some in 7-figures. My first verdict over $1MM was an age discrimination case in 1993, affirmed by the 5th Circuit, before my opponent entered law school in 1995.
  • Represented many employees terminated from their jobs for reasons such as discrimination, and I have never lost a trial for a terminated employee.
  • Represented a number of companies, usually in a consulting role, to help avoid litigation. I have also represented corporations in litigation. Thus, I have a balanced perspective of the courtroom.
  • During my years at Mandell & Wright, a firm founded in 1935, (which became Tucker Vaughan in 2004), I represented longshoremen and other union workers in personal injury cases. I also did union/labor law work during that time, as Mandell & Wright represented a number of unions.
  • Handled my own appeals before the Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court. I have written two writs of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. One appellate matter I litigated against Dow Chemical (represented by Baker Botts) for 11 years, which went to the Texas Supreme Court twice. When my perseverance paid off and we finally prevailed, the case settled.
  • Taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law School Texas from 1991-1994, again, before my opponent entered law school. Judge Michael Engelhart, currently a district judge, was one of my students.
  • Presented Continuing Legal Education courses to lawyers from around the state since 1992.
  • I have been chosen to be among the Texas Super Lawyers since 2007.
  • Also, since 2007 I have been selected by my peers to be listed in the prestigious publication, “Best Lawyers in America.”
  • In 2013 I was selected as one of the “The Best Women Lawyers in Texas.”
  • I was rated one of the “Top-Rated Lawyers in Labor & Employment,” Fortune Magazine 2013.
  • I was among the “Top 100 Lawyers in America,” in the National Trial Lawyers Association.
  • I have been awarded the “Preeminent” classification, top 5% of lawyers, by Martindale Hubbell, a national publication.
  • I have been interviewed several times as an expert in my field by Fox News.
  • I have been selected as one of “Top Lawyers” published in Corporate Counsel, 2008 – 2011.
  • I was selected as one of “Texas’ Best Lawyers,” 2009 – 2012.
  • I was selected as one of “Houston’s Top Lawyers,” 2006, 2007, 2011.

The duties of a trial judge require extensive knowledge of the rules of procedure, rules of evidence, and the substantive law – and experience applying those rules and the law. Much of a trial judge’s analysis is based on the wisdom and judgment that comes only with many years of experience, no matter how smart the individual may be. I have that experience, and I have the superior qualifications for the position of district judge.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our judges should be elected by the citizens of Harris County, not appointed by the Governor based on favoritism. Records from Governor Perry’s office state that my opponent started applying for a judicial appointment as far back as 2003. In January 2012 my opponent went to be a “surrogate speaker” at the Iowa Republican causes for Governor Perry when he made his presidential run. In November 2012 my opponent was appointed to the 234th Civil District Court by Governor Perry.

Once a judge becomes the “incumbent,” many lawyers are afraid to place their names in the public record supporting a judge’s challenger. “[E]ntering an election as an incumbent, however newly minted, has advantages. Donors and lobbying groups are reluctant to go against a sitting justice, or one who has the governor’s stamp of approval.” See link above, Texas Tribune, August 12, 2011. Thus, the appointed “incumbents” have a built-in advantage over any challenger, even a lawyer who is much more qualified than the appointee. That system must stop. Also, the voters of Harris County need to be aware of this “under the radar” appointment system because they do not realize how much they have at stake. Indeed, their rights are at stake.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Harris County citizens should vote for me because, one, I am considerably more qualified and experienced for the position of civil district judge than my appointed opponent; two, I am more organized and experienced in trial matters and can better manage the caseload than my appointed opponent. (I know this because I have studied my opponent’s docket of cases online in the Harris County District Clerk’s records.) And, three, I have the patience and judicial temperament that it takes to be a good trial judge.

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One Comment

  1. joshua ben bulalrd says:

    wesley ward is the presiding judge of the 234th,Ive met barbara gardner several times,i have nothing but positive things to say about her individually as well as wesley ward,Barbara gardner does have a pretty standard campaign strategy,just as she did against brett busby when she ran 2 years ago, she comes out “swinging” and never stops until election night,personaly not sure if thats going to work this time around for her but notably she has stepped up her campaign activity this goround with a huge billboard facing 59 inner loop(this certainly will help) i will call this race at 50.8% wesley ward to barbara gardner at 49.2%.

    joshua ben bullard