(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)
1. Who are you and what are you running for?
I am Julie Countiss and I’m running for Judge in the 61st District, a civil bench. I am a mother, a former teacher, and an Assistant County Attorney in the Office of the Harris County Attorney, Vince Ryan.
I believe in being prepared, diligent, respectful, humble and decisive. Those are my core values as an attorney and will certainly be important to running an efficient, fair, effective court.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Generally speaking, this court hears civil cases involving matters such as personal injury, wrongful death, product liability, labor and employment, business disputes, property disputes and civil cases where the amount in controversy is $200,000 or more. This court also has the power to rule on judicial bypass requests, issue writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, injunction, certiorari, sequestration, attachment, garnishment, and all writs necessary to enforce their jurisdiction.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I practice civil litigation in the civil district courts and my father was a civil district court judge whose love of the law and judicial temperament inspired me to become an attorney. I am very familiar with how the civil courts run and with many of the judges currently on the bench in the Harris County Courthouse. The 61st was previously Democratic Judge Al Bennett’s bench until he was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate this year to replace U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt as the United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas. I chose to run for this particular bench because Governor Abbott recently appointed a Republican to fill the seat and her professional experience is far less diverse and progressive.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I have been an attorney for over 13 years practicing in a variety of areas including plaintiff personal injury litigation, defense litigation representing companies in the energy industry, non-profit work for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, and pro bono immigration work representing unaccompanied minors from Central America. Currently, I practice law in the litigation section of the largest government law firm in the State of Texas, The Harris County Attorney’s Office. I represent Harris County in a wide variety of matters in federal and state court. I am also in the Nuisance Abatement Practice Group working to eliminate nuisance businesses, such as illicit spas and massage parlors that harbor human trafficking and prostitution.
I am a former teacher and served as a Teach for America Corps member in NYC from 1993-1995 teaching elementary school in the South Bronx in one of the poorest communities in the nation. During that time, I was a proud union member of the United Federation of Teachers. My experience in the classroom inspired my passion for justice, inclusiveness, community action, and public service. In the classroom, one of my core values was “the relentless pursuit of results.” It is the foundation of my work and always will be.
I am the mother of two successful teenagers who are HISD educated. My daughter will graduate from Lamar High School in May 2016 with the IB diploma and my son is a freshman. Both are actively involved with Lamar Young Democrats. Raising two children and juggling the issues that come with career, divorce, and single parenthood challenges me on all levels — like so many working families in Harris County.
I am the daughter of a retired public servant who served as a district attorney, a district court judge and an appellate court justice throughout his long career. My Dad taught me that “justice for all” means justice should be the same regardless of economic status and a judge’s role is to apply the law fairly and objectively to the absolute best of her ability.
5. Why is this race important?
Decisions are made every day in the civil district courts that impact the lives of all citizens in Harris County. Many times those decisions impact the lives of hard-working people who may or may not have access to quality legal representation. Unlike many criminal court cases, civil cases may not catch the attention of the media or the public yet the rulings made in the civil courts affect our civil rights, our careers, our homes and our pocketbooks. We need judges who are not limited in their exposure, both when it comes to application of the law, as well as their awareness of our Harris County communities and citizens. I also believe it is important to maintain a balanced judiciary and currently, out of 25 elected civil district court judges in Harris County, only 10 are Democrats.
6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?
I have dedicated most of my life to public service. First as a public school teacher, and now as an Assistant County Attorney here in Harris County focused on community and consumer protection, I have fought for justice so that everyone, regardless of their background, has the chance to live out their dreams and improve their lives. What happens in our courtrooms every day resonates beyond a particular case or jurisdiction. It becomes part of our core fabric and has the potential to affect people not only throughout Harris County, but the state as well. Because very few district court decisions are appealed to a higher court, the district court is the final court in most cases. Thus, it is critical that district court judges are good legal scholars with an even temperament and an abundance of good common sense.
I am committed to working just as hard to get out the vote for the November election as I have for the primary election and I look forward to earning your vote for Judge in the 61st District. My website is www.juliecountissforjudge.com.