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Chuck Silverman

Final roundup of interviews and judicial Q&As

Here they all are. As noted, I may return to some races for the runoff. For now, this is what we have. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Vote well.

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Jinny Suh, Land Commissioner
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2
Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Judge Jason Luong, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Kim McTorry, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Amy Martin, 263rd Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Paul Calzada, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Ieshia Champs, 315th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Treasea Treviño, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Ron Campana, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

UPDATE: Naturally, I woke up this morning to see another set of Q&A responses in my inbox. They will run tomorrow.

Endorsement watch: Finally, some judicial races

There are so many contested judicial races on the primary ballot, but we’re just now starting to get some judicial race endorsements from the Chronicle. Let’s being this roundup with three criminal district court races, in which the Chron went with the incumbents. First up, Judge Chuck Silverman in the 183rd.

Judge Chuck Silverman

When Chuck Silverman ran for the 183rd Criminal District Court in 2018, his main flaw as a candidate was his lack of criminal law experience. Now, Silverman has three years on the criminal bench under his belt, and while there are still areas where Silverman can improve, we recommend Democratic primary voters give him a chance to defend his seat this fall.

One of the chief criticisms leveled at Silverman, 61, is his relatively high pre-trial detention rate among district court judges. With the Harris County Jail already overcrowded, it’s critical that judges aren’t just locking up indigent defendants without cause. But in Silverman’s case, we believe the numbers don’t tell the whole story. He has built a reputation as a reformer and in 2020, filed a motion to join the historic lawsuit challenging cash bail in the felony court system, saying he wanted “to make the cash bail system obsolete or to make it work better.” We believe he is sincere in his desire for a fairer bond system and that his pre-trial detention figures require greater context.

“Individuals are entitled constitutionally to bail, and they’re given bail, but then the question becomes, what happens when those individuals violate the bond conditions? People are taken back into custody, and then my numbers may go up,” Silverman told the editorial board.

My Q&A with Judge Silverman is here. I did not receive responses from his opponent, Gemayel Haynes.

Next, Judge Abigail Anastasio in the 184th.

Judge Abigail Anastasio

Four years ago, we thought Abigail Anastasio was a qualified, enthusiastic, yet inexperienced candidate for the bench. Now, with three years as a district judge under her belt and a reputation for running an efficient, balanced courtroom, Anastasio has more than earned the chance to defend her seat in the general election.

A former high school teacher, defense attorney and prosecutor, Anastasio, 41, has proved to be a quick study as a judge.

At a time when the case backlog in Harris County remains stubbornly high, Anastasio consistently maintains one of the county’s lowest dockets. Her 101 percent clearance rate for the past year is third-highest of any district court judge and she also has a remarkably high trial rate, even with the COVID-19 pandemic grinding many court proceedings to a halt. She’s accomplished this in part by implementing a scheduling order issuing deadlines for attorneys to meet over the life of a case. Perhaps most impressively, Anastasio has managed to both maintain a low pretrial detention rate and the third-lowest bond population of any district court, proving that efficiency and public safety aren’t mutually exclusive.

Anastasio sets high expectations for how her courtroom should operate, which has won her the respect of both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

My Q&A with Judge Anastasio is here. I will have a Q&A with her opponent, Katherine Thomas, on Monday.

And then there’s Judge Jason Luong in the 185th.

Judge Jason Luong

Jason Luong has faced unprecedented challenges in his first term as judge, juggling myriad duties amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, while maintaining a reputation as a fair jurist. Voters should give him an opportunity to return to the bench.

Luong, 47, a former prosecutor and civil lawyer, didn’t even have a courtroom when he first began presiding over the 185th District Court due to the extensive damage at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center from Hurricane Harvey. Months after the building finally opened back up in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down the court system. Luong was part of the group that established the jury selection system at NRG Stadium, allowing courts to resume operating.

Even with those obstacles, Luong still managed to preside over the county’s Felony Veterans Treatment Court, chair the felony district courts’ Bail Bond Committee, and keep his docket relatively efficient, with a stellar 101 percent clearance rate over the past three months. However, we’d like to see Luong preside over more trials, as he’s only held 10 in three years.

I did not receive Q&A responses from Judge Luong for this election. I did get responses from him in 2018, which you can see here. He has two opponents, Andrea Beall and Kate Ferrell, and I received responses from Beall that you can see here.

There are two races among the five they focused on that only feature Democratic challengers. First we have William Demond for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 9.

William Demond

We recommend William Demond, a Houston constitutional rights attorney, as the best choice for the March 1 Democratic primary for Place 9 on the 14th Court of Appeals. The winner will face Justice Randy Wilson in the fall.

The Texas Courts of Appeals serve as the kitchen sink of the judiciary. When lawyers think something went wrong at the trial level, it falls on the appellate justices to set the legal record straight and ensure that the law is applied properly.

Demond, 44, has the breadth of experience that would fit this court perfectly. He has a background in civil litigation, covering everything from breach of contract cases to administrative law. Not many attorneys can say their case work has helped establish constitutional rights. Demond has done it twice in cases before the Fifth Circuit Court, including the right to film police officers. Recently, he was appointed to represent Harris County inmates in a case concerning their constitutional rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s already established relationships with some of the sitting justices on the court of appeals and believes he’d be able to fit in seamlessly with an ideologically diverse panel. Demond also assured us he wouldn’t take an activist approach as a judge.

Demond was a candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2020. I don’t have Q&A responses from him or his opponent Chris Conrad.

Finally, there’s Kyle Carter for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2.

Kyle Carter

After 13 years as a civil district court judge in Harris County, Judge Kyle Carter, 45, tells us he’s ready for a new job. “I am asking voters for a promotion,” he said.

We think he’s earned Democrats’ vote in the March 1 primary for Place 2 on the 14th District Court of Appeals in Harris County. The winner will face Justice Kevin Jewell in the fall.

Carter’s Democratic opponent, Cheri Thomas, 43, is a lawyer with an impressive background. She’s worked as a defense attorney focusing on criminal appeals, and for two years was a staff attorney at the 14th District Court of Appeals. She says she made presentations to the justices there in nine cases, and has more recently argued before the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in a still-pending case. On Thursday, she was endorsed by the Houston Association of Women Attorneys.

That laudable background doesn’t match the experience Carter has gained on the bench. Thomas told us that Carter’s experience as a trial judge doesn’t necessarily prepare him for the more cerebral role appellate justices must play. While it’s true that a justice’s effectiveness greatly depends on legal knowledge, reasoning and writing skills, there are few better ways to prepare for a role in shaping and interpreting the law than 13 years of having to implement them daily.

Carter as noted has been the judge of the 125th Civil District Court since 2009; we was elected in the first Democratic wave of 2008, and has won re-election three times since then. I received Q&A responses from him for this race, and they are here. Cheri Thomas was a candidate for this court in 2020, and I will have Q&A responses from her on Wednesday.

Those of you who have more direct experience with these judges and attorneys, please feel free to leave a comment.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through February 4

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was CD38 plus Candis Houston in HD142 and Chase West in HD132. Next up, for the final week of interviews, will be two Land Commissioner candidates, Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. After that, I still have several Q&As and will run them till I run out. As noted before, I will likely do some more interviews for the runoffs.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Thanks to CityCast Houston for the recent shoutout in the newsletter and on the podcast. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 28

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was Senate District 15. This coming week will be CD38 plus the long-awaited Candis Houston in HD142 and Chase West in HD132, with two Land Commissioner interviews for after that. After that, probably just whatever remaining judicial Q&As there are. Why? Because the week after next is when early voting starts, and at this point I don’t have the time to try to schedule more interviews.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Judicial Q&As

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Judicial Q&A: Judge Chuck Silverman

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Chuck Silverman

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

I am Judge Chuck Silverman, the presiding Judge of the 183rd Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd Criminal District Court handles felony cases.

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

I am proud of my many accomplishments during my tenure on the bench.

1. As evidenced by articles published in the Houston Chronicle, I was a leader of efforts to reform the felony bail system in Texas.

2. I believe that all defendants are entitled to a vigorous defense regardless of their economic status. That is why I support funding for and the use of the Public Defender's Office.

3. I am proud to partner with the Houston Gulf Coast Building & Trades Council to refer appropriate probationers to the Apprenticeship Readiness Program in order to afford such individuals the opportunity to learn a trade skill and subsequently become a productive member of the community.

4. I am proud of my ability to manage my docket during the pandemic as evidenced by the fact that my court has one of the lowest number of pending cases among the felony courts.

5. I am proud to have tried many cases, including a Capital Murder (Death Penalty), Capital Murder (Non Death Penalty) and many other serious felony cases.

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

I will continue to build on my accomplishments. I will continue to efficiently manage my docket. I will continue to treat all parties with the respect and dignity they deserve. I will continue to be a judge that the community can be proud of.

5. Why is this race important?

We have to ensure that we have fair and unbiased representation on the bench. I am sensitive to the challenges in our judicial system and have worked in collaboration with community based organizations and advocacy groups to address issues such as bail reform, indigent defense and pathways to trade skills and employment opportunities.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I love my job. I wake up every day looking forward to coming to work. It is the most rewarding and fulfilling work I have ever engaged in. It's an honor to represent the people of Harris County and I would very much appreciate the opportunity to continue to do so.

With respect to the March primary, I would point out that I have been active in the Democratic Party since 1986. I have been a Precinct Chair (711), volunteered for many City, County and State Democratic Party candidates, been a long time member and supporter of Democratic Party clubs and organizations, and, unlike my opponent, have never voted in a Republican Party primary.

Filing update: How many contested judicial primaries are there? (Part one)

Pretty much all of the updates I’ve given about who has filed for what have been for legislative or executive offices. These are the highest-profile races, and they’re also easier to keep track of. But as we know, there are a crapton of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County, and as has been the case in recent cycles, there will be a lot of competition for them. Since Dems swept the judicial races in 2018, that means (with a couple of limited exceptions) challenges to incumbents.

I’ve gone through the list of judicial races for Harris County, and these are the contested ones that I can find. I’ll post the state court races here, and will do a separate post for the county and JP courts. Strap in, we have a long ride ahead of us.

14th Court of Appeals, Place 2: Kyle Carter and Cheri Thomas. Carter is the incumbent judge for the 125th Civil District Court. Thomas was a candidate for a different 14th Court of Appeals position in 2020, but lost in the primary runoff.

14th Court of Appeals, Place 9: Chris Conrad and William Demond. Demond was a candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals in the 2020 primary. I can’t find anything about Conrad.

183rd Criminal District Court: Gemayel Haynes and incumbent Judge Chuck Silverman.

184th Criminal District Court: Incumbent Judge Abigail Anastasio and Katherine Thomas.

185th Criminal District Court: Andrea Beall, Kate Ferrell, and incumbent Judge Jason Luong.

189th Civil District Court: Lema Barazi, Tami Craft, and incumbent Judge Scott Dollinger. Craft ran for 14th Court of Appeals in 2020, losing in the general election. Her webpage still references that campaign.

228th Criminal District Court: Incumbent Judge Frank Aguilar and Sam Milledge.

230th Criminal District Court: Incumbent Chris Morton and Joseph Sanchez.

245th Family District Court: Angela Lancelin and incumbent Judge Tristan Longino.

248th Criminal District Court: Linda Mazzagatti and incumbent Judge Hilary Unger.

263rd Criminal District Court: Incumbent Judge Amy Martin and Melissa Morris. Morris ran against Sen. Borris Miles in the 2020 primary for SD13, and was endorsed by the Chron in that race.

270th Civil District Court: Denise Brown and incumbent Judge Dedra Davis.

280th Family District Court: Dianne Curvey and incumbent Judge Barbara Stalder. Curvey has been a candidate for judge before, more than once, and as her website notes she is also known as Damiane Banieh.

312th Family District Court: Paul Calzada, Teresa Waldrop, and incumbent Judge Chip Wells.

313th Juvenile District Court: Glenda Duru and incumbent Judge Natalia Oakes.

315th Juvenile District Court: Ieshia Champs and incumbent Judge Leah Shapiro.

482nd Criminal District Court: Sherlene Cruz, Alycia Harvey, and Veronica Nelson. This is a new court, created by the Lege this past session. The incumbent judge, Judge Maritza Antu, was appointed by Greg Abbott.

That’s the end of part one. In part two, I’ll look at the county and Justice of the Peace courts, which also have a ton of contested races. Please note that if you don’t see a court in this post and you know that it’s on the ballot, it means that the incumbent is unopposed in their primary. There are a couple of unopposed challengers running for Republican-held appellate court benches as well. If I didn’t link to a campaign webpage or Facebook page, I couldn’t find one with a basic Google search. I mentioned the past candidacies of the challengers that I know ran for something in the past; if I missed anything, it was an oversight. Look for the next post tomorrow or the following day, depending on how long it takes me to put it together. And as always, let me know what you think.

District court judges to be removed from the felony bail lawsuit case

Hopefully, this brings us a step closer to settling the case.

Harris County’s 23 felony judges are no longer being sued over uneven bail practices that plaintiffs say discriminate against poor defendants. The civil rights lawsuit against the county and its reform-minded sheriff will move forward without them.

The federal judge presiding over Russell v. Harris County ruled Wednesday that once the bulk of the state district judges withdraw an appeal of one of her earlier rulings, they will be automatically removed as defendants in the case.

Lawyers for poor defendants say the mechanics of who is listed as a party will not prevent them from pursuing their goal of full adversarial bail hearings. The judges were not part of the original lawsuit, but were added at Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s request. Their removal was precipitated by an appellate court ruling in a similar challenge to the bail system in Dallas County, in which the 5th U.S. Circuit found the judges were cloaked by immunity and should therefore be excluded from the Dallas lawsuit.

See here for the background. If as that previous story suggests Ken Paxton and the AG’s office are also removed from the case, that should further the likelihood of a settlement. It also may mean I don’t have to be mad at the district court judges who were being represented by Paxton, though that will depend on how things go from here. And for those of you who insist that changing the existing policies will lead to mayhem in the streets, I will remind you that many of the US Capitol insurrectionists, who actually caused mayhem in the streets and elsewhere, as well as three-time murderer Kyle Rittenhouse, are now out on bail. It’s not a question of “safety”, it’s a question of who has privilege and who does not.

Bail reform plaintiffs want Paxton booted from case

I for one am a fan of kicking out Ken Paxton in any context.

Best mugshot ever

In a strategic move that could speed up their case against Harris County, the plaintiffs challenging felony bail practices are hoping to kick two dozen players out of the game — 23 judges and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who represents most of them in the landmark suit.

These judges who dole out bail rulings on a daily basis to people accused of crime would become third parties. They would no longer go toe-to-toe with indigent defendants who sued in a civil rights case saying courts offer a vastly different outcomes to people arrested depending on how much money they have in their pocket.

The motion filed Wednesday asks Lee H. Rosenthal, the chief judge of the Southern District of Texas, to dismiss the felony judges as parties from the 2019 lawsuit. Should the judge grant it, the remaining defendants in the case would be the county and its sheriff. The majority in county government are in sync with bail reform and the sheriff’s office is headed by Ed Gonzalez, who has said that setting arbitrarily high bail rates doesn’t protect the public.

Paxton has been an impediment to progress, said Neal Manne, a pro bono lawyer from Susman Godfrey LLP, who is among the lead counsel behind twin bail challenges, to misdemeanor and felony bail.

“The county and the sheriff are actually operating in good faith and would like to figure out a solution to a terrible problem. The attorney general is not acting in good faith, he just wants to find ways to disrupt and disrupt and prevent any reform from happening.”

[…]

The idea of removing the judges from the case stems from a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case that took on Dallas County’s bail system. The appellate court determined that sovereign immunity protected the Dallas judges from being sued over their bail practices. The 5th Circuit ruling said the sheriff is the key party to sue to obtain relief for people who are being detained unconstitutionally due to unaffordable bail.

See here for the previous update. The theory, as espoused by Judge Chuck Silverman, who is not represented by Paxton and agrees with the plaintiffs, is that this would thin the herd in the courtroom, which in turn might make it easier to come to a settlement agreement. It might also put some of the judges who are currently being represented by the AG’s office on the spot, and I’m fine with that.

Felony bail reform lawsuit moves forward

Pending the next appeal, anyway.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the case challenging Harris County’s felony bail system should proceed to trial. Nineteen felony judges represented by state Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately gave notice they planned to appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit

[…]

The defendants include Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who does not oppose the litigation, and 23 Harris County felony district judges, who have split into a larger group represented by Paxton, who opposes the lawsuit, and a smaller faction represented by attorney Allan Van Fleet, who represented the judges in the misdemeanor bail case.

In a 65-page opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal denied the state and felony judges’ motions to dismiss the case, finding that the evidence involved “vigorously disputed factual allegations that must be developed further to resolve the legal issues the parties present.”

Lawyers for Abbott and 19 Democratic district judges argued in October the judges were protected by immunity, the federal courts do not have jurisdiction and the indigent arrestees do not have standing to sue.

Rosenthal found the court had standing and thousands of indigent arrestees, even though the individuals changed over time, had grounds, as a group, to sue.

See here, here, and here for the background. This was a motion to dismiss on largely procedural grounds, so there’s plenty of room for the Fifth Circuit to step in and throw this out without the merits of the case ever getting litigated. Obviously, I hope that does not happen.

This is the first I’d heard of the judicial plaintiffs being in two different groups; I need to understand what that means going forward. You know where I stand on this, and I plan to make a Big Deal out of which judges are on the right side of this issue, and which are actively obstructing it. So far, that standard hasn’t been met, but if the Fifth Circuit upholds this ruling then I will look very sideways at further appeals.

More on the motion to dismiss the felony bail lawsuit

Should get a ruling soon.

The bulk of Harris County’s felony judges sought Monday to get the federal case against them dismissed, saying they should not be party to the challenge on how bail is determined for thousands of poor people accused of crime.

Lawyers for Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and 19 Democratic district judges argued at a packed online hearing that the judges are protected by immunity, the federal courts don’t have jurisdiction and the indigent arrestees behind the case no longer have standing to sue.

The 2019 civil rights case challenges the county’s policy of setting bond that results in the jailing of people who can’t afford cash bail. Nearly 80 percent of the current jail population are people awaiting trial, mostly on felonies.

Although the group of judges asked for the entire case to be dismissed, or alternatively, their removal as parties to the case, the bail challenge is likely proceed regardless of the court’s ruling, since the remaining defendants — the county, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and four felony judges who hired their own lawyers — are not seeking dismissal.

[…]

The state Attorney General’s Office, arguing on behalf of the majority of the felony judges, said the bail process is constitutional because it adheres to ODonnell v. Harris County, the county’s landmark misdemeanor bond case that was resolved through a seven-year consent decree.

But the plaintiffs say the felony bail case, Russell v. Harris County, raises new constitutional issues that the court never had a chance to address in ODonnell.

See here and here for the most recent updates. I will reiterate what I said in that last link: I want this system to be reformed in a manner similar to the misdemeanor case, I want the Democratic judges to be part of the solution and not an obstacle to it, and I will remember who is who and who does what. We’ll see what happens next.

Felony judges move to dismiss bail lawsuit

Of interest.

A group of district judges in Houston on Thursday argued for dismissal of a lawsuit alleging their felony bail practices are unconstitutional because they discriminate against poor people, keeping them jailed when they can’t pay bail.

Among the defendants are the 23 criminal district judges of Harris County, who argue that the plaintiffs lack standing, and the judges have immunity to the claims. They say the plaintiffs were all released on bail and they don’t have an injury that qualifies them to sue.

[…]

“The felony bail system in Harris County raises the same legal issues as the misdemeanor system, has the same devastating consequences for impoverished arrestees, is similarly coercive of guilty pleas, and is even more costly to the system,” said the second amended complaint in Russell v. Harris County.

The lawsuit argued that Harris County for felony bail must stop using a secured bail schedule to make release decisions and better ensure that detained defendants receive constitutional protections that will protect against “erroneous deprivation of the right to bodily liberty.”

The plaintiffs are all detained in Harris County because they couldn’t afford to pay bail. Their lawsuit seeks an injunction against the county’s felony bail practices. They say the county can’t base release decisions on money alone. It must make factual findings that a person is able to afford the bail, or if they can’t pay, that pretrial detention is necessary because there’s a specific, compelling government interest and there’s no less-restrictive alternative.

The 23 judge-defendants’ motion to dismiss said the plaintiffs in the case were released on bail and they don’t have an injury that would grant them standing to sue the judges. The judges also argue they have immunity, and that an exception to immunity for constitutional violations does not apply, because the plaintiffs haven’t alleged a colorable constitutional claim.

“Plaintiffs’ claims all rest on an alleged fundamental right to pre-trial release, but the Fifth Circuit has already made clear that there is no such right. Consequently, there is no colorable constitutional claim in this suit,” the judges’ motion to dismiss said.

See here for the last update, which is when the judges were added to lawsuit. The story notes both the settlement in the misdemeanor bail lawsuit, which took a dramatic turn following the 2018 election when the Democratic slate won en masse and followed through on a promise to settle this, as well as the fact that two of the felony court judges, Chuck Silverman and Brian Warren, have filed motions in support of the plaintiffs. We’re still very much in the early stages of this litigation.

Because the felony (criminal district) courts are state offices, the felony judges are represented by the AG’s office; the misdemeanor court judges were represented by the County Attorney. It’s unclear to me how much influence Harris County government will have in this lawsuit. County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who favored the misdemeanor settlement, is a named plaintiff in both cases, so whatever influence there is will come via that. As far as I know, he has not yet spoken about this lawsuit.

I want this lawsuit to be settled as well, for the same reasons about equal justice for rich and poor, as well as serious concerns about jailing many non-violent offenders who have not been convicted of anything. It may be that the standing argument has merit – I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know – but that’s not really important to me. What I want is for the system to get a big dose of the reform it badly needs, and along the way I want these judges that I voted for to be part of the solution, not part of the problem like their now-former colleagues on the misdemeanor bench were. I’m willing to see how this plays out, but I need to see that we’re all moving towards a fairer and more equitable system. I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind the next time there are primaries.

Judges added to felony bail reform lawsuit

This could be a sign that things are about to happen.

All 23 Harris County felony judges have been added as proposed defendants in the lawsuit alleging that the region’s felony bail practices are discriminatory and damaging to poor defendants.

The amended filing came late Friday after a second judge on the court intervened in support of the 2019 civil rights lawsuit arguing that it’s unconstitutional to jail poor people before trial simply because they cannot afford bail. These two judges, Brian Warren and Chuck Silverman, could potentially become both defendants and intervenors.

Several other judges said they looked forward to being formally included in the case in order to make changes to the current protocol.

Lawyers for the indigent people at the jail asked in a motion Friday that nearly two dozen judges be included in the case. They said in court documents that amid rising COVID-19 infections at the jail, the judges have continued to mandate that thousands of arrestees come up with secured money bail without first determining that pretrial detention is necessary or the least-restrictive condition to ensure public safety or cooperation with court hearings.

These judges don’t routinely hold adversarial hearings to allow defendants to make their case about bail and make findings about defendants’ ability to pay bail, the motion said.

Warren, a Democrat who was elected as presiding judge of the 209th Criminal Court, defeating a judge who berated Black Lives Matter, said he supports “intelligent bond reform” in his request to join the case. Silverman, of the 183rd Criminal Court, was accepted as a party in the case Thursday, a day after he filed an unopposed motion to join it.

“The pandemic has brought this into stark relief,” Warren said. He noted that bail has disproportionately affected people of color.

“The implementation of bond reform is a complex issue. It requires well-reasoned and intelligent proposals,” his motion said.

The lawsuit was filed last January, and this is the first real news I’ve heard about it since. The misdemeanor bail reform lawsuit settlement was finalized in November and has been in operation since earlier that year. There are lawsuits in other counties over felony bail practices, such as in Dallas, but so far nothing has come to a courtroom.

A big difference between this lawsuit and the previous one in Harris County over misdemeanor bail practices is that all but one of the judges who were named as defendants in the earlier lawsuit were Republicans, and all but two of them (the one Democrat and one of the Republicans) opposed the plaintiffs’ arguments and refused to settle the suit. It wasn’t until Democrats swept the 2018 election, in part on a message of settling that lawsuit, that it came to its conclusion. In this case, all of the judges are Democrats. As of Friday, when this story was written, at least two of them have expressed a desire to join on the side of the plaintiffs. Brian Warren was mentioned in this story, and on Thursday we got this story about the first judge to speak up, Chuck Silverman.

Saying the bail system “perpetuates inequalities” and can have “devastating” consequences on lives and livelihoods, State District Chuck Silverman of the 183rd Criminal Court filed paperwork Wednesday to intervene in the 2019 federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of poor defendants stuck at the jail. In addition, fellow jurist Brian Warren, of the 209th Criminal Court, said he planned to file his own motion to join the case this week, with hopes of reforming the way judges handle with pretrial release.

Silverman said he thinks the majority of his colleagues on the felony bench want to revise how PR bonds work and “want to make the cash bail system obsolete or to make it work better.”

Like his colleagues on the bench, Silverman, a Democrat elected in 2018, is not a party in the lawsuit. He sought to intervene to ensure equal protection and due process rights are fairly administered, while protecting public safety.

Silverman said in an interview that negotiations on the bail lawsuit had been moving slowly and he learned in his civil practice prior to becoming a judge that the best way to push it forward and accomplish true bail reform was to intervene.

“We need systemic change in the cash bail system because it disproportionately affects minorities and the poor,” he said. “The time to do something proactive was now.”

The unopposed motion argues that cash bail discriminates against people who can’t access funds, often forcing them to settle for guilty pleas rather than await trial in lockup.

Neal Manne, one of the lawyers for the indigent plaintiffs, applauded Silverman’s “courageous” move and encouraged other judges to follow his lead.

“Any state judge looking in good faith at the cash bail situation in the felony courts in Harris County can see that the system is broken and requires reform,” Manne said. “I am delighted that Judge Silverman has acknowledged that the current situation violates the rights of poor people.”

I too would like to see all of the judges join with the plaintiffs to work towards a fair and equitable solution as quickly as possible. The way COVID-19 has burned through all the jails in the state, as well as the ever-increasing jail population, should make this an urgent priority, from a public health standpoint as well as a justice standpoint. I hope that most if not all of the judges will take similar action as Silverman and Warren have done, and I am damn sure that those who don’t will need to account for their actions in the next primary election. We know what is right, and we know what needs to be done. There’s plenty of room to negotiate the details and particulars, but the goal is clear and we need to get there. Let’s make this happen.

Judicial Q&A: Chuck Silverman

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. 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.

Chuck Silverman

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

I am Chuck Silverman and I am the Democratic Party candidate for the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas.

I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and attended Tulane University where I received my undergraduate, master's and law degrees. I have lived in Houston since 1986. I am married and have three children. In my spare time I enjoy cycling and shooting skeet and sporting clays.

For more information please visit www.Chuck4Judge.com.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd District Court handles felony cases. Felonies are the most serious criminal cases and include murder, aggravated robbery, and sexual assault. The sentences in these cases can range from a period of probation to life imprisonment or in some instances, death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am passionate about the law and how it should be applied equally and fairly to all, regardless of race, religion or financial situation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a broad range of legal experience that will serve me well as a district court judge. I have practiced law for over three decades and have represented hundreds of clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts. In addition to my litigation experience, I have represented clients in administrative hearings and alternative dispute resolution forums throughout Texas. For the last 11 years I have been the General Counsel of a multinational corporation. I believe that a judge must be an effective administrator and a fair-minded decision maker. I am confident that I can be both.

5. Why is this race important?

One of the major issues facing the criminal justice system in Harris County is the fact that for too long Harris County has had two systems of justice. One for those who have money and the other for those who don’t. A significant percentage of those incarcerated in the Harris County Jail are awaiting trial. Consequently, I think there is a need to reform the systemic denial of personal recognizance bonds to nonviolent defendants in felony cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

My hard work ethic, calm demeanor, impartiality, courtroom experience and knowledge of the law make me a superior candidate. I have more than 32 years of legal experience and have many published appellate court decisions. Additionally, I have a good judicial temperament, would be fair to lawyers and litigants and have the extensive depth of legal knowledge required of a district court judge.

Judicial Q&A: Chuck Silverman

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so 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. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

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

I am Chuck Silverman, a 49 year old native Texan and I’m running for judge of the 157th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas. I have enjoyed practicing civil litigation as an attorney at law in Harris County for over 23 years. I have been married to my wife, Liz for 22 years and we have 3 children – an 18 year old son, a 15 year old daughter, and a 7 year old son. Also included in our family are several dogs and cats. I have actively supported democratic clubs, organizations and candidates, I have always voted in democratic primaries and I have been a sustaining member of the Harris County Democratic Party for many years. For more information please visit www.Chuck4Judge.com

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears civil actions such as constitutional issues, breach of contract claims, employment disputes, real estate matters, personal injury and death and insurance disputes. This court does not hear matters involving family law, probate, juvenile and criminal cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am passionate about the law and how it should be applied equally and fairly to all, regardless of race, religion or financial situation. I ran for judge in 2006, at a time when it was almost impossible to find anyone willing to admit they were a democrat, much less make a commitment to run for public office. In 2006 the court system was dominated by the Republican Party. In fact, a Democrat hadn’t been elected county wide in over 14 years. I was disgusted with the abuse of civil rights and liberties that occurred during this period. I wanted to make a change, try to make a difference, fight back. So I ran and almost won. At the time, my race was the closest civil court race in over a decade. I still believe that the judiciary needs to be changed to more accurately reflect our society’s values so I’m running again.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

After receiving my B.A., M.B.A. and law degree from Tulane University I began my legal career in Houston, Texas in 1986. I actively represented hundreds of litigants in federal and state trial and appellate courts for 20 years. I have been involved in over 284 cases filed in Harris County Civil District Court. In addition to my litigation experience, I represented clients in administrative hearings and alternative dispute resolution forums throughout Texas. As a result of my extensive trial practice I have a solid understanding of the rules of civil procedure and evidence and I have extensive knowledge of judicial practices and procedures.

For the last 3 years I have been the General Counsel for the largest cookware manufacturing company in the US. In addition to managing litigation throughout the country I also oversee corporate governance of domestic and international subsidiaries, administer contracts and financial and legal issues including employment, intellectual property, real estate, equipment and material lease and finance, and customer safety.

I believe that a judge must be an effective administrator and a fair-minded decision maker. I am confident that I can be both. I have a solid understanding of the rules of civil procedure and evidence and will be able to effectively conduct judicial hearings and trials. Also, I have a broad range of legal experience which will serve me well as a district court judge.

5. Why is this race important?

The 157th Civil District Court has been dominated by the Republican Party for many years. It is important that the legal system be well-balanced and provide the foundation for the civil liberties and freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of our state and country. Courts should be free from the influence of money and special interests. Unfortunately, our legal system has become a target for those who fear its independence. These attacks have weakened our legal system and have resulted in the loss of civil liberties and the encroachment of government into our homes and personal lives. It is time to elect judges who are neither subservient nor willing to pander to politicians or special interests at the expense of the citizens. As a judge, I will work hard to be apolitical and protect and preserve the rights and civil liberties guaranteed to everyone by the United States and Texas Constitutions.

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

My hard work ethic, calm demeanor, impartiality, courtroom experience and knowledge of the law make me a superior candidate. I have 23 years of legal experience to my opponent’s 13. I have been involved in 284 civil court cases in Harris County; my opponent has been involved in just 4 civil court cases. I have many published appellate court decisions, my opponent has none. Additionally, I have a good judicial temperament, would be fair to lawyers and litigants and have the extensive depth of legal knowledge required for a successful candidate.