(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 other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.
1. Who are you and what are you running for?
Jim L. Peacock, candidate for Judge, Harris County Probate Court #2
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
A probate judge must supervise the administration of the estates of deceased persons whether created by will or intestacy while considering what is the intent of the testator and in the best interests of the beneficiaries and estates. Additionally, probate courts administer guardianships and are responsible for the appointment and supervision of guardians and ad litems appointed by the court and insuring the proper care and treatment of the wards. A probate court is also a trial court with the same jurisdictional limits as a Civil District Court and with the ability to have a 12 member jury rather than just 6 members. Virtually any subject matter that could be tried in a civil court can be heard by a statutory probate court if the issue touches on the matters pertinent to the deceased, the estate or the probate.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
Although the prior Judge of this Court was a decent jurist, this is now an open bench. Some of the probate courts have been the subject of ridicule and there has been the appearance of corruption and impropriety. The appointment, supervision and payment of guardians and ad litems creates an environment where true integrity and objectivity must be unquestionable. The payment to the lawyers that frequently perform those duties must be fair to the persons doing the work while always focusing on the requirement that the assets of the wards must be protected and preserved for the benefit of the wards. That means that the court cannot appear to favor any lawyer or group of lawyers in the appointment to those positions and the amount of payments and distributions must always put the wards’ interests first. I am not part of any probate clique and can make certain that the priorities are followed and that all participants are treated fairly and honestly. Also, the probate courts are trial courts; unfortunately, many times the judges in those courts are not necessarily good trial lawyers. Therefore, it has been difficult for parties that need a trial to get one in the probate courts. I can remedy that problem since I believe in the jury system and have the extensive trial experience to give the litigants a truly fair trial. We need greater diversity of opinion on the courts in Texas. Some courts have been dominated for several years by Republicans of a mindset that some perceive as not completely unbiased. Diversity of opinion can be derived from having different backgrounds and life experiences. The extent of my exposure to more diverse legal experience has enabled me to have a more open and objective approach to matters that will come before the court. I am not beholden to any group or limited by a closed political philosophy. My professional and life’s experiences make me well suited to be a probate Judge.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
Over 36 years of litigation experience representing thousands of clients. I have tried approximately 200 trials and numerous appeals. I have drafted wills and trust agreements and advised guardians, executors and beneficiaries of estates. I have represented Executors, Guardians, Beneficiaries, the Government, Individual Plaintiffs and Defendants, Partnerships, and Corporations in complex civil litigation. Some of the issues tried include: civil rights violations, disability discrimination, racial discrimination, slander, libel, legal malpractice, invasion of privacy, fraud, usury, breach of contract, car wrecks, medical malpractice, sexual harassment, guarantor breach, premises liability, and more. The diversity of my experience and the variety of judges I have appeared before has given me a clear understanding of what it takes to be a good judge. I have become adept at understanding the unique nature of each person and each case. I have experienced injustice and unfairness from courts that were indifferent to the rights of individuals. I have also experienced the pleasure of appearing before well-qualified and compassionate jurists, one of which I aspire to be.
5. Why is this race important?
There are only four statutory probate courts in Harris County. These courts have very broad jurisdiction with diverse responsibilities and extremely heavy dockets. The potential effects of this court extend to parties far beyond the potential beneficiaries of a deceased’s estate. In addition to managing probate estates the court also manages guardianships, which must be carefully supervised to insure the proper care of the wards and preservation of their rights and assets. The third leg of responsibility of a statutory probate court is trial. The court has the same jurisdictional limits as a state district court. As such this court needs a lawyer that has the right temperament to be a judge and the experience to rule properly and fairly. Presently the judges of these courts are all Republicans. The method of appointment and amount of payment to lawyers practicing as ad litems and guardians before the courts has reduced the publics’ belief in the objectivity and fairness of the court. It is crucial that the integrity of the courts be preserved and beyond reproach. We need balance to be returned to the courts in Texas including the probate courts. We also need judges with sufficient diverse experience to expand the capabilities of the courts to their statutorily authorized capabilities. Ensuring an efficiently run court and issuing timely fair rulings is important to obtaining justice and I can bring that result to this court.
6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?
I am the candidate with the best judicial temperament and broadest experience to qualify me to perform the multifaceted duties of a probate judge. I have more actual jury trial days than almost any candidate running this year for any bench. My trial experience has covered diverse areas of law more than most lawyers ever experience. My experience has been on both the plaintiffs and defense side of civil matters. I have learned by practical, real life, experience the importance of having a judge that is unbiased, fair and knowledgeable. I believe in protecting access to the courts of all persons and I oppose the recent trend to restrict access to the courts for parties who cannot resolve their problems in other ways. I have seen how arrogance from the bench can create a hostile environment in the courtroom and I hope to show a more humble, patient, tolerant, servant oriented, demeanor as a judge. I offer the voter the opportunity to select a candidate that has years of dedicated support and active participation in Democratic Party politics combined with over 36 years of relevant legal experience to qualify me for the position sought.