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Javier Valenzuela

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


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: Javier Valenzuela

(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 Javier Valenzuela. I am running for the position of Judge for Harris County Civil Court at Law #3. I am married to Annette Valenzuela and we have two beautiful children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Jurisdiction in the Harris County Civil Courts includes cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000. Jurisdiction also extends as prescribed by the Texas Government Code, which includes
the following: (1) appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County; (2) exclusive jurisdiction in Harris County of eminent domain proceedings, both statutory and inverse, regardless of the amount in controversy;
(3) suits to decide the issue of title to real or personal property;

(4) suits to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;

(5) suits for the enforcement of a lien on real property;

(6) suits for forfeiture of a corporate charter;

(7) suits for the trial of the right to property valued at $200 or more than has been levied on under a writ execution, sequestration, or attachment; (8) appeals of final rulings and decisions of the Texas Worker’s Compensation Commission; and
suits for the recovery of real property.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I seek this particular bench because I believe this court could be run more effectively and efficiently. My goal is to create a more service oriented court with its purpose being to serve the legal community and the community at large. I believe a judge should provide an atmosphere of professionalism and respect and he or she should be the first to display those attributes. A judge should be humble and avail the court to the needs of the legal community for the prompt resolution of disputes. I believe it is incumbent on the judge to apply new approaches to managing the court’s docket, to see that cases get resolved informally or through trial, and waste as little time as possible; both the lawyers’ time, the litigants’ time and the jurors’ time. I will bring those qualities to the court.

The county civil courts have an upper jurisdictional limit of $100,000.00. Many cases in these courts are not valued up to this level. Nevertheless, whatever the value of the case, I will be conscious of the importance of every case to each individual involved. My focus will be on providing a positive professional environment that serves the citizens of Harris County while maintaining a high level of respect and dignity for those that come to my court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am running a strong campaign based on integrity and honesty, commitment and dedication. I have organized a winning team determined to make contact with voters and achieving success in March. I seek this bench because I am confident I will serve the citizens of Harris County effectively with the goal in mind to perform my judicial duties without bias or prejudice, to dispose of all judicial matters promptly and fairly, and to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. My focus will be on providing a positive professional environment that serves the citizens of Harris County and being a true public servant. I have experience as a trial lawyer, having tried numerous cases in various civil courts, and as a mediator, serving the public as a volunteer civil and family mediator for nearly 10 years. I am confident in my ability to handle procedural and evidentiary issues and in my ability to manage a court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it is an unprecedented time for the Democratic Party in Harris County. We truly have the opportunity to turn Harris County “blue”. It is also important to be mindful that despite the significant number of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, the choices we make regarding each candidate should focus on individuals who are ready, willing and able, to serve as a judge for the betterment of the Harris County judiciary. We should also take care to choose candidates who will be conscious of upholding high standards of ethics and principles so as not to cast other Democratic candidates or fellow judges in a bad light. The focus should be on candidates who maintain strong positive campaigns that reflect a determination to win. Harris County residents should look for these qualities when choosing the right candidate to be their judge and this election provides the opportunity to put quality people on the bench.

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

When I was growing up my parents told me to stick to what I believed in. I believe in Democratic principles, including freedom, fairness, equality and justice for all. I always have and I always will.

From my parents I learned the importance of voting and I would go with them to see first hand the process. They taught me the value of having our voices heard. I continued that practice through the last election cycle and I am proud of my record, having voted for Democrats since becoming of age. When I received the endorsement from the Coalition of Harris County Democratic Elected Officials I was honored and humbled because I respect the officials on that list. Being endorsed by individuals for whom I have voted filled me with pride. The bottom line is, I haven’t wavered, I have remained a Democrat and I will carry the principles of fairness, equality and justice for all to the bench.

I seek this bench because I am confident I will serve the citizens of Harris County effectively. I will work hard and perform my judicial duties with the utmost integrity to resolve cases promptly. Also, I am confident in achieving success in March having organized a great campaign with people who are dedicated to victory and who are strategically planning for victory in November. For more information about my campaign please visit