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Dennis Slate

Judicial Q&A: Dennis Slate

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

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

My name is Dennis M. Slate. I grew up on the East side of Harris County in the Pasadena area. I went to college at Texas A&M University, on the GI Bill after having served 3 years on active duty as a medic in the Army. I attended law school at the University of Houston, also courtesy of the US Army. After trying my hand briefly at working for a civil law firm, I started my own firm in late 2001. I have practiced criminal defense, based out of my office in Deer Park, in courts all over Texas. I am running for Harris County Criminal Court at Law #13, as a Democrat.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County Court at Law Number 13 is a criminal misdemeanor bench and a trial court. This court has jurisdiction to hear class A and class B misdemeanor cases. The most common of these are:

* D.W.I. (first and second offenses)
* Assault
* Thefts (value of $50 or more but less than $1500)
* Criminal Trespass
* Criminal Mischief (damage of $50 or more but less than $1500)
* Resisting and Evading Arrest (not in a vehicle)
* Possession of Marijuana (less than 4 ounces) and some dangerous drugs
* Failure to Identify (oneself to a police officer)

In addition to hearing these types of cases, the Court monitors probationers, sets the conditions for probation, and determines when those conditions have been violated and what the appropriate punishment is for the violation. The court also is tasked with granting occupational licenses, and ordering conditions for those licenses.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The previous judge of this court was retiring, and I had decided to run for judge because public service has been something I have taken great pride in since I enlisted in the Army at age 18. I have continued my service to this Country for over 19 years, even being activated in support of the Global War on Terror. I also currently serve the citizens of Houston and Pearland as a Municipal Judge. I feel that at this point in my career I have practiced law long enough to have the appropriate perspective and experience to make me a Judge that can listen and evaluate each case on its individual merits. I have learned from hearing cases in my current courts that, to each person that has been charged with an offense, their case is the most important one in the world, and I must give it my full attention. I do not believe this is being done at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse under the current slate of judges. Too often persons charged with offenses and also victims of these offenses are subjected to random and poorly thought out policies. These policies in the misdemeanor courts are resulting in many of the problems we are seeing in jail overcrowding and defendant recidivism. I would like to help get the Harris County Criminal Courts back to focusing on each individual case to ensure that justice is done for both victims and the accused.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced Criminal law in courts throughout Texas for going on 9 years now. I have practiced in front of good fair minded judges and some not so fair minded. I was nominated by Mayor Tom Reid of Pearland and Mayor Bill White of Houston and confirmed by both city councils to sit as an Associate Judge for those cities. I have presided over bench and jury trials, set bonds, magistrated defendants, presided over dispositive motion hearing, conducted arraignments, and I volunteer as an on-call judge for no refusal weekends to sign blood warrants in DWI cases. I have served the United States as an Army Reserve Officer for over 19 years. I am currently the Houston Selective Service Detachment Commander and have earned the rank of Major. I have the legal, judicial, and life experience to make me a fair, ethical, and qualified judge.

5. Why is this race important?

As Associate Judge for Houston and Pearland Municipal Courts, I can appreciate that many people would prefer not to deal with the legal system altogether. However, when it is you or your loved one that has a legal issue, suddenly the court system becomes very important. In the courtroom, you can only hope your Judge is competent in understanding the law and committed to applying it fairly based on the facts of each individual case. In addition, you want the Judge you stand before to be experienced and fair. As an American, you have the right to have your case heard in court without fear of ridicule. You have the right to a fair trial, to have your case before a judge that listens to you and embodies the principles of respect, fairness, and integrity.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the only candidate in my race that routinely practices in the county criminal courts, and the only candidate that actually has JUDICIAL experience. I have the temperament to be fair to all litigants in this court and to ensure justice is done. I have campaigned on the platform of pushing the use of pre-trial release bonds to reduce the numbers of non-violent offenders wasting tax dollars awaiting trial in the Harris County jail, and for the creation of a public defender’s office to take all the bias out of selecting counsel for the indigent. I have been endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, several legal organizations of my peers, the Houston Professional Firefighters, and even the conservative P.O.L.I.C.E. Inc. I have the qualifications, energy and experience to take over this court and make it better for the citizens of Harris County from my first day on the bench.

If you would like to read more about me, go to www.SlateforJudge.com.

Endorsement watch: County courts

There are four County Civil Courts At Law and 15 County Criminal Courts At Law, with the Chron endorsements for all of them being spread over three days. Starting with the civil courts, the Democratic nominees received endorsements in two of the four races.

County Civil Court at Law No. 3: Damon Crenshaw, the Democratic challenger, would bring 25 years’ experience in small business litigation, representing individuals and corporations.

County Civil Court at Law No. 4: Bruce Mosier, the Democratic challenger, receives our endorsement for this bench, along with that of the Association of Women Attorneys and the Mexican-American Bar Association.

Here are the relevant Q&As:

Damon Crenshaw (note: from the primary)

Bruce Mosier

Erica Graham, Civil Court At Law #1

Cheryl Elliott Thornton, Civil Court At Law #2 (note: from the primary)

In Part One of the Criminal Courts At Law races, Dems took four of eight endorsements:

County Criminal Court No. 2: Democratic challenger Mary Connealy Acosta has 15 years’ experience as a criminal defense attorney and is intimately familiar with the operations of the Harris County criminal courts system.

County Criminal Court No. 3: Veteran Houston criminal defense attorney Judith Snively is the stronger candidate for this bench.

County Criminal Court No. 4: Democrat Alfred “Al” Leal was a county criminal court judge in Court 9 for 12 years.

County Criminal Court No. 6: Democratic challenger Denise Spencer, an experienced prosecutor in New York City and Fort Bend County, is our choice to bring change and new ideas to these misdemeanor courts.

And in Part 2, Dems took two of seven:

County Criminal Court No. 9: Democratic criminal defense attorney Juanita Jackson Barner is our choice to enforce the law while helping youthful offenders make positive lifestyle choices.

County Criminal Court No. 13: In a match-up between well qualified candidates, Democratic candidate Dennis Slate, a City of Houston and Pearland associate municipal judge, is our choice to fill this open bench.

For whatever the reason, I only got a handful of Q&A responses from this group of candidates:

Judith Snively

Al Leal

Juanita Jackson Barner

Mark Diaz, Criminal Court At Law #11

Cheryl Harris Diggs, Criminal Court At Law #12

Dennis Slate (note: from the primary, but an updated Q&A from him is in the queue for next week)

Toni Martinez Ingverson, Criminal Court At Law #15

All Democratic candidates are listed here. Q&As for Republican candidates are here.

HCDP apologizes to Slate and Valenzuela

The following is a statement from HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg regarding the recent lawsuit that was filed by two judicial candidates who did not get the ballot placement they had drawn.

At the January 7 ballot drawing, Dennis Slate, a candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number 13, and Javier Valenzuela, a candidate for Harris County Civil Court at Law Number 3, each drew number 1, entitling them to the first place on the ballot for their respective races.

Unfortunately, when that information was entered into the computer list of candidates, a mistake was made by the party: Slate and Valenzuela were listed in the second places on the ballot in their respective races, rather than first.

The Harris County Democratic Party, and its chair, Gerry Birnberg, apologize sincerely for this error. There are 238 candidates running in the Democratic primary this year, and, despite checking and double checking, a mistake was made in listing two of them. That is very painful and embarrassing to me and to all of the folks on the primary staff who have worked so diligently to accomplish a fair primary election.

Upon learning that this error had been made, I directed that the county clerk’s office be informed immediately and demanded to correct the problem by re-programming the electronic voting machines. Unfortunately we were told by the clerk’s office that they would not do so unless ordered to by a district court judge. Upon being informed of that response, the wronged candidates obliged by filing suit. I promised to cooperate in any way I could, as I believed (and believe) these candidates are entitled to be listed first on the ballot in their respective races.

Unfortunately, the county clerk insisted in court that it is simply too late to do anything about the error. Frankly, I don’t understand that. It took less than three weeks to program and test the e-slate machines with the mistake; there were still three weeks from the date the clerk was notified of the error until election day. But the county clerk’s office was successful in persuading the court that it is just too late to do anything to rectify the problem.

I understand that some folks have questioned or criticized the wronged candidates for seeking relief from the courts by filing suit. Personally, I am pleased that they did so. Not only did they have a legal right to file the suit, after the county clerk said the only way they would undertake to fix the problem was if a court ordered them to, filing suit was the only way to achieve what the HCDP was trying to accomplish – remedying a legal wrong. In my opinion, they did the right thing by filing the lawsuit. The party made an error, and I appreciate their efforts to achieve what we were unable to get the county clerk’s office to do voluntarily – right the wrong, correct the mistake.

The Harris County Democratic Party sincerely regrets the error and urges all voters to educate themselves about the qualifications, experience, and credentials of all candidates on the ballot, rather than relying on such arbitrary factors as name and ballot position in selecting the men and women who will carry our banner in the November general election.

Gerry Birnberg
Chair, Harris County Democratic Party
Feburary 11, 2010

I don’t quite understand the County Clerk’s reluctance to fix this error. Seems to me it should be a high priority on their part to ensure things are correct, even when it’s not their fault that something went wrong. And I’ll say again, it’s just incomprehensible that we have to deal with ballot order as an issue at all. The next version of our electronic voting machines needs to be able to deal with this. In any event, as I received a comment about Slate and Valenzuela for filing this suit, I wanted to make sure everyone saw this.

Two judicial candidates file lawsuit over ballot order

sigh

Two lawyers seeking Democratic nominations as county court judges today each filed a pro se suit against Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, alleging they will be “irreparably harmed” because they aren’t listed first in their races on the primary ballot.

Dennis Slate, a Houston solo, alleges in a petition he filed in Harris County 164th District Court that, as a result of a primary ballot drawing conducted by Birnberg on Jan. 7, his name should be first on the primary ballot for County Criminal Court No. 13. However, Slate alleges in Dennis M. Slate v. Gerry Birnberg, et al. that his primary opponent, John V. O’Sullivan, is listed first on the official Democratic Primary ballot that Slate alleges was made public on Feb. 4 by Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman and her office.

Meanwhile, in Javier Valenzuela v. Gerry Birnberg, et al., also filed today in Harris County 334th District Court, Javier Valenzuela alleges he should have been listed on the ballot before his primary opponent, Damon Crenshaw, because of the Jan. 7 primary ballot drawing. Crenshaw and Valenzuela are seeking the nomination for judge in County Civil Court-at-Law No. 3.

Slate and Valenzuela each allege in their petitions that Birnberg has “refused” to correct the errors on the ballot, and they allege they will be “irreparably harmed” by the ballot order.

“It is a well known fact that many times candidates in the first position will receive additional votes based entirely on them being located in the first position,” Valenzuela alleges in his petition.

I’ve heard that, and though I’ve not seen any studies, I believe it’s likely to be true. I can’t evaluate these suits on their merits, but I will say that it’s ridiculous to me that in the age of electronic voting machines we’re still drawing for and arguing over ballot position. There’s no good reason why they can’t be programmed to randomize the ballot order so this issue is moot. Yes, I know, the eSlate machines we have are not able to do that, but as Sue Schechter noted in her interview, we’ll be getting ready to buy their replacements soon. I for one would like to see this capability made a requirement for the next machines. If that means existing elections code needs to be altered to allow for it, then I hope someone will take it up in the next Legislature. There’s just no reason to go through this.

Judicial Q&A: Dennis Slate

(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?

My name is Dennis M. Slate. I am running as a Democrat for Harris County Criminal Court at Law #13. I grew up on the east side of Harris County in the Pasadena area. I went to college at Texas A&M University on the GI Bill after having served 3 years on active duty as a medic in the Army. I attended law school at the University of Houston. Since graduating, I have practiced criminal law, based out of my office in Deer Park, in courts all over Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County Court at Law Number 13 is a criminal misdemeanor bench and a trial court. This court has jurisdiction to hear class A and class B misdemeanor cases. The most common of these are:

  • D.W.I. (first and second offenses)
  • Assault
  • Thefts (value of $50 or more but less than $1500)
  • Criminal Trespass
  • Criminal Mischief (damage of $50 or more but less than $1500)
  • Resisting and Evading Arrest (not in a vehicle)
  • Possession of Marijuana (less than 4 ounces) and some dangerous drugs
  • Failure to Identify (oneself to a police officer)

In addition to hearing these types of cases, the court monitors probationers, sets the conditions for probation, and determines when those conditions have been violated and what the appropriate punishment is for the violation. The court also is tasked with granting occupational licenses and ordering conditions for those licenses.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Harris County Democratic Party selected me to run for this bench after screening myself and dozens of other candidates. I decided to run for judge because public service has been something I have taken great pride in since I enlisted in the Army at age 18. I have continued my service to this Country for over 18 years, even being activated in support of the Global War on Terror. I also currently serve the citizens of Houston and Pearland as a Municipal Judge. I feel that at this point in my career I have practiced law long enough to have the appropriate perspective and experience to make me a Judge that can listen and evaluate each case on its individual merits and provide a just and fair court to the citizens of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced criminal law in courts throughout Texas for going on 9 years now. I have practiced in front of good, fair-minded judges and some not so fair minded. I was nominated by Mayor Tom Reid of Pearland and Mayor Bill White of Houston and confirmed by both city councils to sit as an Associate Judge for those cities. I have presided over bench and jury trials, set bonds, magistrated defendants, presided over dispositive motion hearings, conducted arraignments, and I volunteer as an on-call judge for no refusal weekends to sign blood warrants in DWI cases. I have served the United States as an Army Reserve Officer for over 18 years. I currently manage the Houston Selective Service draft boards. I have the legal, judicial, and life experience to make me a fair, ethical, and qualified judge.

5. Why is this race important?

As Associate Judge for Houston and Pearland Municipal Courts, I can appreciate that many people would prefer not to deal with the legal system altogether. However, when it is you or your loved one that has a legal issue, suddenly the court system becomes very important. In the courtroom, you can only hope your judge is competent in understanding the law and committed to applying it fairly based on the facts of each individual case. In addition, you want the judge you stand before to be experienced and fair. As an American, you have the right to have your case heard in court without fear of ridicule. You have the right to a fair trial, to have your case before a judge that listens to you and embodies the principles of respect, fairness, and integrity.

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

I am the only candidate in my race that was screened by the Democratic Party and selected to run for this bench. I have been a sustaining member of the Harris County Democratic Party for 5 years. I am member in good standing of the Harris County Democratic Party’s Coordinated Judicial Campaign. I am the only candidate in this race that has judicial experience, after having my qualifications vetted by two different city councils. I have been named as a top lawyer in Houston twice by H Texas magazine, and was named as a Houston rising star lawyer this past year by Texas Monthly.

I am a member of the Harris County Dems, Meyerland Dems, GLBT Political Caucus, Spring Branch Dems, the Tejano Dems, Democracy for Houston, and Houston Black American Dems.

I have been endorsed by the Coalition of Harris County Democratic Elected Officials.

You can reach me at [email protected]

Website http://www.SlateforJudge.com