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Judicial Q&A: Judge Randy Roll

(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.)

Judge Randy Roll

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Randy Roll the incumbent Judge of the 179th District Criminal Court first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2015. I have 32 yrs experience with more than 5000 clients, 8 yrs on the bench (including muni-court). Before practicing law, I was a teacher and housing contractor. I am a linguist and speak Spanish, Russian, German & French. I am the only attorney in the county qualified by the courts to accept appointments in 5 languages before I became judge. As an attorney I accepted appointments (more than 2000), primarily in Spanish as I had been certified in that language, despite never taking formal classes. I wrote the Spanish admonishments (legal warnings for defendants) the courts used for more than 15 years. I have had more than 150 trials as judge and attorney, my opponent has had 4 felony trials as a defense attorney. I have been involved, as a participant & candidate since 2002 in the judicial selection process.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This felony court hears all 4 types of felonies, from theft to murder. This court hears Prostitution cases. Prosecutors like my opponent put prostitutes in prison. I defended them because they were victims. As judge, I have refused to put such victims in prison.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

Immediately in 2009, (1) I made my grand juries reflect the diversity of this county. The legislature liked what we did and then made it law. (2) I was instrumental in adoption of the Public Defender’s Office. My vote and support was crucial for getting the Public Defender’s Office installed in Harris County. In 2009 we were only 9 Democrats to 13 Republicans. I had to convince Republicans to join us. (3) I spear-headed the use of DNA testing by appointed counsel. I am a progressive judge, (4) handing down more probations since 2009 and more 2nd chances to probationers in non-violent meritorious cases than all the other 21 judges. The DA’s Office has policies of not giving probations in many types of cases, so it falls on the judge. (5) I terminate probations early if they get their education or GED. (6) I also reversed the excessive probation sentences routinely given before 2009. For example, I do not give 10 years probation for possession of a small drug amount. Usually now it is 2 or 3 yrs with treatment where needed. (7) We use Intensive Out-Patient drug treatment and where warranted, in-patient treatment. (8) I have helped young offenders. Several ministers attend the court and we discuss how we can keep them out of harm’s way. My opponent says giving undocumented people probation is a trap for deportation. Tell that to the father of 5 who has lived here since he was a toddler and is now out working to support his family. (9) I began giving Personal Recognizance (PR) bonds (free) in appropriate cases. Since 2009 I have given more PR bonds than any judge. I had a written policy giving PR bonds for non violent meritorious cases. All other cases were on a case by case review. I was not sanctioned as 13 other judges were & that sanction was reversed. (10) I turned around the most bloated and anemic docket of criminal cases of the 22 courts and made it the 5th best and smallest docket, by working hard and taking 8 days vacation in my 1st 4 yrs. This allowed my court to go to trial more often and those waiting in jail had their delay to trial reduced from years to months. (11) Now, I am the senior judge with judicial experience and several new judges have come to me for advice. I still call older retired judges for advice. I am a dedicated to improving the system.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I hope to continue the reforms I have made. I want to use my position as the most experienced senior judge to influence Commissioner’s Court to fund mental health services for the justice system. We should not be treating mental health patients by incarceration. I want to continue advising and leading newer judges. I fight everyday to give justice.

5. Why is this race important?

EXPERIENCE MATTERS! I only have 8 yrs as a judge, but that is the most of all 38 criminal judges (including 16 misdemeanor courts). SAFETY MATTERS! My opponent faults me for revoking bonds for people on serious drugs while in court. She implies it is ok for an Aggravated Robbery suspects to continue on bond doing serious drugs like Cocaine and PCP. Often when it is marijuana or some soft drug like this, I keep them for 30-45 days to dry out and then re-instate their bond. My opponent falsely says I do this regardless of the charge (her words). I fear for public safety. PCP is the most violent drug around. My opponent repeats statements she knows to be false. She said, “…he revokes bonds if a defendant tests positive for use of controlled substances – regardless of the charge …”. That is not true. I am providing documents to this blog from the Harris County District Court Administration showing I have revoked only 41 bonds in the last three years out of thousands of defendants. This is fewer than all the other 21 felony courts of Harris County. EXPERIENCE, JUDGMENT & TRUTH MATTER!

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

EXPERIENCE MATTERS. I came in as a reformer. I made reforms – grand jury, public defender’s office, DNA evidence with appointed attorneys, probations, early terminations, reasonable probations, drug treatment, young offender assistance, PR Bonds, and reduced the docket. I am the senior judge in judicial experience. I am in the best position to continue progressive reforms. I am the only true DEMOCRAT in this Democratic Party Primary. My opponent is a republican masquerading as a Democrat. She became a citizen and started voting in 2008. She has only voted 6 times in 12 yrs and half of those were in the republican primaries. In the same 12 yr period I have voted 13 times and only as a Democrat. She wants good voters to vote for her and yet she votes so sparingly. My ex-DA opponent has had very few felony trials, she admits to 4 as a defense attorney. Shouldn’t we want our judges to be qualified, experienced, involved, wise truthful and compassionate. EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

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  1. C.L. says:

    Here’s the questions I’d be asking…

    If you’ve been a Judge for eights years, who are these 3,000 ‘clients’ you speak of ?

    You took eight vacation days during your first four years as a Judge – how many have you taken in the last four years ?

    How is it that all prostitutes are victims ? Can you expound on that ? Also, how were/are you ‘defending’ them ?

    How/what does a previous voting record have to do with qualifications for the position ?

    Why bring up when your opponent became a citizen ?

  2. Ross says:

    C.L., did you not read the words in the post? He was a criminal defense lawyer before becoming a judge. That’s where the clients came from.

    Since he is in a race in the Democrat primary, the fact his opponent voted in Republican primaries is relevant. The timing of his opponent’s citizenship is part of explaining the weak voting record.

  3. C.L. says:

    Ross, read it. The clients he speaks off, those that apparently hired him for some legal representation, hired him at least eight years ago. I don’t know about you, but at some point they’re no longer clients. I’m sure he recused himself from any case where one of his 5,000 prior clients was somehow a party to the case.

    He fell into the attack ad trap, instead it was an attack interview. If you want my vote, don’t tell me how bad your opponent is or their legal status, tell me about YOU.

  4. mollusk says:

    Penciling it out, 5000 clients over 24 years is a bit over 200 clients a year. There were likely more at the beginning since young lawyers at that time relied heavily on getting court appointments, and as one gains skill one takes fewer (but larger) cases. In any event, that’s a lot of work on the advocate’s side of the docket.

    Likewise, getting the case backlog down to something reasonable within four years is significant. Taking eight to maybe get there wouldn’t be anything to brag about.

  5. Mainstream says:

    I don’t vote in that primary, but this was the Houston Chronicle’s take:

    Martinez in the Democratic primary for the 179th Harris County District Court

    We recommend Ana Martinez, 39, who gained a sterling reputation as a human trafficking prosecutor before she became a defense attorney. She has two law degrees, one from her native Colombia. Practitioners think she will raise the standards in this court. Also running is incumbent Randy Roll, who is known for making inconsistent decisions, saying inappropriate things to lawyers and clients and who received a 43 percent “needs improvement” rating on the bar poll.

  6. Manny says:

    Only 107 attorneys voted in that bar poll, there are thousands of lawyers in Houston, I would take the bar poll with a grain of salt, the Chronicle should do their own interviews and determinations, but they are too dang lazy to do that. Attorneys are like most people, maybe worse, they are more likely to vote against someone that did not rule in their favor. Blame the judge not the attorney.

  7. Criminal defense attorney says:

    I’m one of the lawyers in Houston who has tried a case in front of him. He is a horrible judge. Please vote against him. He puts his entire foot on the scales of Justice. He doesn’t go by the law, and he is a snake.

  8. Mainstream says:

    Because lawyers specialize, a response of 107 attorneys is actually a large number of those who practice in that court, Manny. In the 2017 review of judges, 1145 participated in total, but only the 114 who regularly appear in criminal courts made judgments regarding Judge Roll. The conclusions were very similar to the more recent 2019 evaluation survey

    Follows the law?
    Excellent 20.2% 23 
    Very Good 7.9% 9 
    Satisfactory 14.0% 16 
    Needs Improvement 44.7% 51 
    No Opinion 13.2% 15 

    Rules decisively and timely?
    Excellent 21.9% 25 
    Very Good 11.4% 13 
    Satisfactory 14.9% 17 
    Needs Improvement 36.8% 42 
    No Opinion 14.9% 17 

    Is courteous and attentive toward attorneys and witnesses?
    Excellent 21.9% 25 
    Very Good 12.3% 14 
    Satisfactory 12.3% 14 
    Needs Improvement 42.1% 48 
    No Opinion 11.4% 13 

    Demonstrates impartiality?
    Excellent 19.3% 22 
    Very Good 9.6% 11 
    Satisfactory 9.6% 11 
    Needs Improvement 44.7% 51 
    No Opinion 16.7% 19 

    Uses attorneys’ time efficiently?
    Excellent 21.1% 24 
    Very Good 8.8% 10 
    Satisfactory 18.4% 21 
    Needs Improvement 38.6% 44 
    No Opinion 13.2% 15 

    Works hard and is prepared?
    Excellent 19.3% 22 
    Very Good 10.5% 12 
    Satisfactory 14.9% 17 
    Needs Improvement 40.4% 46 
    No Opinion 14.9% 17 

    Overall rating
    Excellent 20.2% 23 
    Very Good 12.3% 14 
    Satisfactory 15.8% 18 
    Needs Improvement 44.7% 51 
    No Opinion 7.0% 8 

  9. Jules says:

    This short video really explains a lot:

  10. Manny says:

    Mainstream, most lawyers practice in various fields, you know that or should know that. I would take the poll with a grain of salt and not worth the time it took to type the questions. There are thousands of attorneys that take criminal cases.

    51 lawyers in Harris county said he need improvement, it is not a valid poll. It would be similar to asking people how many people think Trump is a good president and then using the results to justify that he is the worse president in modern history.

    I don’t know about now, but one used to have to belong to the Houston Bar Association to participate.

    There are more than 2 attorneys for every 1,000 people in Harris County.

  11. Manny says:

    Asking Democrats

  12. Manny says:

    Criminal Defense Attorney bet you won’t say that using your real name, prove me wrong.

    I don’t the Judge, but have never thought those were valid polls, used to be and probably still the case that the attorney in the larger firms were the ones that filled them out.

  13. Ross says:

    Manny, very few attorneys do civil law with criminal defense. The two are so separate that it’s nearly impossible to do both well. Civil lawyers will do all sorts of civil work, but every civil attorney I know, which is a lot, refuses to do criminal law beyond a traffic ticket for a friend or relative.

  14. mollusk says:

    The HBA poll has huge undervotes because one requirement is that you speak from your own personal experience, not what you may have heard.

    And as others point out, civil lawyers in Houston rarely practice in the criminal courts, if ever, and vice versa. On top of that, there aren’t even many who divide their time between Federal and state courts.