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judicial races

Judicial Q&A: Chris Watson

(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.

Chris Watson

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

My name is Chris Watson and I am running for Harris County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears community based issues such as small claims, evictions, and truancy.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have been working for a better quality of life in this community for many years. This position will allow me to have an immediate impact on the people in our community. I feel this position offers me a great chance to touch lives and have immediate impact in this community in a positive way. For example, truancy cases, in particular, can give me the chance to positively touch the lives of our community youth, maybe before they are committed to lives of continuous crime. I would like to institute creative, positive ideas to deal with truant students and their parents.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Besides meeting all the stipulated legal qualifications for the Justice of the Peace in Texas, my experience as a licensed Texas mediator, legal researcher for more than 15 years and community activist in this community for more than 25 years, has uniquely prepared me to serve the people of this community as a Justice in our community court.

5. Why is this race important?

In these trying times of COVID and economy, the community court has and will continue to play a crucial role in helping this community navigate through these turbulent times. In helping people to keep their homes and reestablishing their quality of life, there will have to be a community court that is fair, creative and compassionate and the justice that is in this court needs to be one who is prepared to be creative and compassionate enough find ways of compromise, within the law, to keep to bring our community together for the common good.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Chris Watson is the one to vote for because of his long time commitment to building the quality of life in this particular community. He has worked alongside many of the community leaders and has been endorsed by leaders who know his commitment to our community. State Representative Jarvis Johnson, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, Senator Borris Miles, State Representative Alma Allen, and many other local leaders and activists have attested to Chris Watson’s dedication to this community and endorsed his campaign. He will serve in fairness and compassion as the Justice of the Peace and will work every day to improve the quality of life in Precinct 1.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 14

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 Commissioners Court Precinct 4. Starting Monday will be the County Treasurer and District Clerk races, and the week after that will be Senate District 15 and (I hope – it’s still in the works) Candis Houston from HD142. After that is CD38, and probably statewide candidates.

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

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court>,

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

Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Judicial Q&A: Judge Michael Newman

(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 Michael Newman

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

My name is Michael Newman. I am the incumbent Judge of Harris County Probate Court Two. I have over 41 years of legal and trial experience. I have tried over 110 cases as a trial lawyer and judge. During my career, I have conducted thousands of contested hearings, represented thousands of clients in complex disputed matters including will contests, elder abuse and financial exploitation, common law marriage and child visitation disputes, contested guardianships and personal injury and insurance defense cases.

As a certified mediator, I have conducted over 500 mediations, settling over 80% of the cases that I mediated. I have been married to trial attorney Deborah Newman for over 36 years.

Our daughter Caitlin, 28, is a manager in the hospitality industry. We have two rescue dogs, Bridget and Chloe. I received my JD Degree from the University of Houston Law center in 1980, where I served as associate Editor of the Houston Law Review. I received a B.B.A in management with Honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 1977

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Probate Court 2 is a trial court. We try and hear contested cases involving will contests, challenging the validity of wills, the testamentary capacity of testators and undue influence and fraud; breach of fiduciary cases, elder abuse and financial exploitation, common law marriage disputes involving the characterization of community and separate property, contested guardianship cases, personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death and real estates and business disputes. The non-contested matters include the probate of wills, uncontested heirships, and guardianship cases.

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

Since being elected, I have quadrupled the number of weekly ancillary dockets from one to four. Ancillary dockets are the ones where the judge handles disputed hearings. As a result of the increased dockets, the number of contested hearings have increased by over 100 percent and the waiting time for contested hearings has also been reduced for lawyers and litigants During my term, the number of trials conducted has increased by a factor of five.

I have significantly increased the diversity of the court staff over sixty percent of new court staff have been qualified minority candidates. I rule timely, rarely take cases under advisement since I read all paperwork filed prior to hearing and have not been reversed on appeal, as of yet.

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

I will continue to provide the public, lawyers, and their clients with equal and timely access to the courts, render prompt and correct rulings in accordance with the law in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner to avoid unnecessary costs and delay. I will continue to treat all people that appear in my court with the dignity and respect each deserve. I will continue to read all motions and paperwork in advance of all contested hearing and trials, as well as work as hard as I can serving the public in a just and fair manner and will proceed with my recruitment of additional qualified minority candidate for court staff positions.

5. Why is this race important?

Harris County Probate Court 2 is first and foremost a trial court. Trials are now set on Thursdays and Fridays in addition to Mondays because of the heavy volume of contested cases that are filed and to accommodate lawyers and their clients.

It is essential that the lawyer elected to serve as probate judge have the necessary trial experience and substantive knowledge of the many diverse areas of laws that this courts hears so that proper and time rulings can be made. The cases heard in probate court effect the lives including the emotional and financial wellbeing of the people that seek judicial relief. In addition to judicial temperament, the judge of probate court must have the substantive knowledge and necessary experience of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Estates Code, the Texas Guardianship code, the Texas Family Code, the Texas Trust Code, among other codes and statutes.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I seek reelection because I am the candidate running for this court with the necessary years of experience in just the types of cases and issues that are litigated in probate court. I draw on that experience every day. Lawyers with minimal experience can and do run for judge, but a law license does not make one qualified to make the kind of decisions probate court judges make every day. As my literature states, “Experience matters”.

I have over 41 years of trial experience as a trial lawyer and trial judge. I have represented thousands of clients in disputed cases, I have conducted thousands of hearings and have tried over 110 trials as a lawyer & judge. I have conducted over 600 meditations as a lawyer and certified mediator. I have been committed and will continue to be committed to providing equal and timely access to the courts for hearings & trials in a fair, impartial and non-discriminatory manner.

Literally hundreds of lawyers that practice in my Probate Court 2 strongly support my reelection. They have seen my commitment to providing court access; they have observed my patience and preparedness; and observed my commitment to do the right thing. I know that rulings can greatly affect people’s lives, their families, finances and loved ones.

I have spent years arguing before judges; now lawyers argue before me in Probate Court 2. I know how hard they work and the stresses of their clients. I try to keep people at ease. My court has been present to serve those who need access. We are there because we are needed, and I make sure the staff keep that in mind.

I am a judge who likes and cares about people. That coupled with my experience, my record and my temperament are the reasons that people should vote for me in March. Because I wanted to serve in a way that all judges should. I have the experience to rule accurately, to follow the law and to understand the effects of rulings on peoples’ lives.

As a judge I am diligent, prepared, and attentive. I treat those who come to probate court 2 equally and with respect. My first tenure as a judge has been personally fulfilling. I have been a lawyer in court and know that it can be a difficult job. I respect the lawyers and their clients and give the time and attention required to make the best decisions I can, while following the law. I read what lawyers file; and I treat everyone with respect. My legal experience, knowledge and integrity are unmatched.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Andrew Wright

(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 Andrew Wright

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

My name is Andrew A. Wright, I am the Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number Seven (#7).

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court is one of 16 Misdemeanor Criminal Courts in Harris County. This court handles primarily Class B and Class A Misdemeanors. The duties are to handle various criminal cases, typical in this court are Driving While Intoxicated cases, Burglary of Motor Vehicle cases, Thefts, Assault cases and various other cases. In addition to this, sometimes these Courts hear Class C (JP and Municipal Court) appeals. In addition to the above, there are various administrative duties of the position. This court can also hear Chapter 33 bypass hearings.

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

My main accomplishment was when myself and my colleagues implemented misdemeanor bail reform in the County Criminal Courts at Law. We helped create the presumption of a pr bond in the vast majority of non-violent misdemeanor cases. In addition to this we created the Office of Managed Assigned Counsel to make sure that misdemeanor criminal appointments are done free from the Judge’s involvement. We want to make sure the Court Appointment system is raised to a higher bar than ever before, yet free from Judicial involvement.

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

One of the things I hope to accomplish moving forward is to create a system of guidelines to keep cases from just laying stagnant for a long period of time. Something like a Docket Control Order, or scheduling order is one method I am contemplating for doing so. This will create clear and defined expectations to which all parties are aware of. There is a great deal of cases that cannot move forward because of issues that prolong this case without any clear expectations.

5. Why is this race important?

What happens in misdemeanor court affects peoples lives. I know plenty of people just look at it and thinks “its just a misdemeanor” or gives it less importance due to not being a felony court. But what we do each and every day in Court 7 affects many people’s lives. This race is important because those people need to have a judge that fairly, accurately and competently administers justice in their case. The judge needs to know what they are doing and knows the relevant law applicable to their case. The person on the bench needs to be able to step forward on January 2, 2023 and administer justice and not have a “on the job training.”

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

As above, this race is important as it affects people’s lives. The judge in this race needs to be able to have the relevant experience, knowledge and skill to effectively administer justice in a fair and non-biased way. I am that candidate. I have been a practicing attorney for 14 years and have tried many criminal cases. I am board certified in Criminal Law. I have the relevant experience, knowledge and knowhow to make sure that what happens in Criminal Court 7 is the right thing according to the laws of the State of Texas. This bench is a trial court bench, we try cases. Since taking the bench I have been at the top, if not the top of judges in trial. We do not have the time for this bench to be a learning curve or on the job training for a candidate that does not have the necessary experience to gain. I am the best and most qualified candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number Seven and I hope to continue to serve in that capacity. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Chris Morton

(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 Chris Morton

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

I am Judge Chris Morton of the 230th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Felony Criminal Cases.

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

I have implemented policies and procedures that deal with bail and bond in a fairer more equitable way and in a way that more closely aligns with the constitutional laws of Texas.

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

I hope to implement a fairer system of appointing attorneys to indigent defendants and I hope to move bail and bond practices closer to a point were dangerous individuals are detained and others are released without bankrupting their families.

5. Why is this race important?

The first virtue of every social institution is justice. Neutral objective judges are crucial to justice. Judges cannot be prosecutors on the bench. They cannot trade away justice merely to create security. Judges are currently being attacked from every angle in an effort to make authoritarian security supersede the virtue of justice. I'll stand with the law and with justice.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have a proven track record of standing firm against those who will use the law as a means of oppression and who would subvert judicial independence. I stood up to Governor Greg Abbot when his executive orders sought to strip the judiciary of independence and to strip people of substantive statutory and constitutional rights by finding his executive orders unconstitutional. I stood up to the legislature when they sought to create a constitutional crisis in issuing arrest warrants for their colleagues by accepting a writ of habeas corpus from one of those beleaguered law makers. I have not been intimidate nor swayed from applying the law in a fair and equitable fashion by attacks from right wing organizations or attacks in the media. I have not been swayed or intimidated by criticism from fellow Democrats or left wing activists. I stand solidly with the law and with justice.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Kelley Andrews

(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 Kelley Andrews

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

My name is Kelley Andrews and I am the Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court 6 is a misdemeanor court, so we hear cases that involve offenses that can potentially lead to county jail sentences. Assault, DWI, DWI 2nd, Assault Family Violence, Animal Cruelty, Criminal Mischief, Criminal Trespass, and Thefts up to $2500 are some examples of the cases that are heard in misdemeanor courts.

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

Since being elected and taking the bench in January 2019 I, along with my colleagues, immediately began working on bail reform. The O’Donnell lawsuit that was costing the county excessive amounts of legal fees was dismissed, we worked, and continue to work, together to change and create local rules that affect bail reform, so that no one is left in custody, or feels forced to enter a plea, simply because they can not afford to get out of jail. I helped create and preside over the misdemeanor Mental Health Court and I represent the misdemeanor courts on the Harris County Mental Health Standing Committee. As presiding Judge of Court 6, I have focused on addressing the underlying conditions that factor into a person entering into the criminal justice system. Conditions such as mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction, housing and educational insecurity, and health care. I tailor conditions of bond and community supervision to the individual person, so that those conditions address the underlying issues that landed that person in criminal trouble in the first place. It has been my experience in the last 14 years that I have worked in the area of criminal law, as both an attorney and now a judge, that addressing these issues can truly help people to get out of the criminal justice system permanently. Every single person that comes into Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6 is treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

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

I would like to continue with the work that I have started, begin to work with some of the other agencies and judges involved in the criminal justice system on developing some community outreach that shows people the courts can be places to get help and work to help put people in need of services in contact with those services, and I’d like to expand the Mental Health Court, so that I am able to help more people in this area.

5. Why is this race important?

Misdemeanor courts are one area of the criminal justice system where you have a real shot at helping someone to turn their life around because it is often the first time an adult ever has contact with the criminal justice system. Helping people work towards getting out of the criminal justice system helps the person, and it also helps the community. Judges need real experience in the area of law that their courts preside over in order to help people make these types of changes. Experience facilitates alternative dispositions in the criminal arena because with that experience comes a real time working knowledge of options available under the law, of resources currently available in Harris County, relationships with the attorneys, agencies, and departments that work within the criminal justice system and are necessary to help effectuate the desired outcome.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I truly care about my job and the people that find themselves in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6. I believe in criminal justice reform and work every day with the goal of getting the people that find themselves in criminal trouble out of the criminal justice system permanently because helping them do that helps the entire community.

Judicial Q&A: Teresa Waldrop

(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.

Teresa Waldrop

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

I am Teresa Waldrop. I’ve been a resident of Harris County for 25 years. I am Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and have practiced law for over 30 years. I am running as a Democratic candidate for the 312th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears divorce cases, suits affecting parent-child relationship, adoptions, name changes, and enforcements. This court also hears Child Protective Services cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to unseat the incumbent. The incumbent ran for judicial office 4 times for 3 different family law benches over a span of 8 years. The blue wave landed him a bench in the 2018 election cycle. He has touted his experience, compassion and common-sense approach when responding previously in this blog to questions about seeking judicial office. He failed to mention shortcomings in the areas of professionalism, temperament and emotional outbursts. Over the course of my career, I have had my share of judges who did not like me, my client, my argument, or my side of a case. I have witnessed judges lose their cool. Getting dressed down by judicial bullies has been part of my job for 30 years. But what took place in my 3-day bench trial before the incumbent was new-level different. Not only do Harris County citizens and their lawyers doing business in this Court deserve to be treated with professionalism, dignity and respect, the judicial canons require it. I have the temperament, demeanor and experience to run a professional family law court, the type of court one would expect to encounter in Harris County, Texas.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for over 30 years. I have been Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2009. Ninety-eight percent of my practice is devoted to family law matters. I have handled all phases of litigation from intake to trial, both jury and bench, and post-trial matters, including several appeals. My last jury trial lasted 12 days. My longest non-jury trial was 9 days. I have been the trial lawyer in three family law cases of first impression in the State of Texas. I am a graduate of Leadership Houston (Class XXII) and a Past President of the (Houston) Association of Women Attorneys. I have both the professional experience and leadership underpinnings needed to run this Court in a patient, dignified and courteous manner.

5. Why is this race important?

Because bullies don’t belong on the bench. Humiliation, sarcasm and snark are a judicial bully’s tools of oppression. Harris county citizens access this Court in times of crisis. Those citizens and their lawyers pay the salaries of our Harris County family law jurists. They deserve to interact with a judge who is patient, dignified and courteous when they find themselves in family law court. Every. Single. Courtroom. Day.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am the most qualified candidate for this job. The incumbent has had a judicial term to demonstrate his experience, compassion and common-sense approach, and he’s come up short. Judicial incumbents who have shown themselves incapable of managing the job you gave them should now be returned to private practice. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, ‘when people show you who they are, believe them’.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 7

Putting these in one place for your convenience and mine. I’ll try to do this on a weekly basis so you don’t have to hunt for the previous engagements I’ve had with candidates. It’s going to be pretty much wall-to-wall through the primary period. Next week I’ll be running the Commissioners Court interviews, and the week after that will be the Treasurer and District Clerk interviews. After that will be SD15 and hopefully HD142, and I’m working on CD38 as well. After that, I will probably be reaching out to some statewide candidates.

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

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court>,

Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3

Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Judicial Q&A: Judge Abigail Anastasio

(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 Abigail Anastasio

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

I am Judge Abigail Anastasio, presiding of Judge of the 184 th District Court. I have nearly 20 years of experience in public service as a Judge, teacher,
defender, and prosecutor. You can find out more at JUDGEANASTASIO.COM.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles all felony prosecutions ranging from Capital Murders to state jail felonies. I have handled thousands of cases during my time on the bench, including charges of capital murder, child abuse, sex abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, weapons offenses, animal cruelty, and various financial crimes.

Felony courts also handle special misdemeanors that deal with official oppression. I handle post conviction writs and some appellate matters. Probation revocations, adjudications, and administrative law are also included within my jurisdiction.

The District Court Judges also handle extensive administrative duties. I am the Chair of both the Docket Management and Justice Technology Committees. I also serve in many capacities including development and staffing of backlog trial courts and developing procedures to aid other judges in running their dockets more efficiently. Under my leadership, the court clearance rates increased significantly to rates higher than those even prior to Hurricane Harvey. I also serve on the Special Projects Committee, Standing Committee, and Bail Bond Committee.

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

I have accomplished many things during my time on the bench including the following: efficient court procedures leading to lowest backlog, lowest age of case, one the highest number of jury trials conducted, one of the highest successful probation completion rates, advancement of rehabilitative programs, creation of more courts… among many other things. I have been operating under emergency conditions the entirety of my time on the bench and have still been able to improve the court and successfully hold trials.

Additionally, and as simple as this may sound, the current felony court Judges had one guiding principle coming in: to ensure the law was followed. We have done that.

Many of my accomplishments are tangible. I (more often than not) have the lowest felony docket and backlog. I inherited a docket in the middle of then pack, but I worked hard to improve those numbers and to make things run efficiently despite Harvey and COVID-19.

My efficiency has led to the 184th having the lowest average age of case and one of the courts with the lowest number of individuals detained pretrial and on bond. The 184th also takes less actual number of court settings/appearances to resolve cases than nearly any of the Criminal District Courts.

I have presided over, to date, the most felony trials during the pandemic and have one of the highest number of felony cases tried during my 3 years on the bench. I was one of the first judges in Texas to implement safety procedures and try a felony case during the pandemic.

The key to public safety, overpopulation in jails, and access to justice for victims and the accused alike, is timely disposition (resolution) of cases. And you can do all of this while being fair and balanced. It takes a lot of hours and hard work, but, as I have proven over the past 3 years, it can be done.

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

We hope to stay on the same trajectory, disposing of cases timely and getting people their day in court as quickly as possible. I’d like to continue to work with the other Judges to improve the efficiency of our dockets and create new courts. We would also like to focus on creating more therapeutic and rehabilitative programs to those suffering from addiction and for those without support systems. I would like to see a reduction in recidivism, which can only come by providing these services.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it is essential that good, fair, qualified judges who have proven themselves remain on the bench. Consistency and knowledge of the cases is key. Now that we have experienced judges on the bench, it’s important to keep them there if they are doing a good job. I have extensive experience in my field and have kept the court functioning properly even during the seemingly impossible challenges of Covid. I encourage the voters to compare the experience levels, qualifications, and accomplishments of each candidate. I feel assured that the people will see that I am the right candidate to remain in this position.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have kept my promises to the electorate and beyond.

Always a champion of the people, I dedicated my life to public service in Harris County early in my career. I have served close to twenty years as Judge, assistant district attorney, teacher, and defender for the indigent. I taught English at Cesar Chavez High School in Southeast Houston for seven years.

I spent most of my childhood overseas, mainly in the Middle East, with much travel through Europe and Northern Africa. This left a lasting appreciation for diverse communities and an affinity for the cultural and demographic wonder of Harris County.

I am a fighter and understand the value and necessity of hard work.

In 2004, I was diagnosed with cancer, specifically Hodgkins Lymphoma. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation, and beat it, going on to become a licensed white-water rafting guide on the Kennebec River in Maine, and eventually completing the Ironman race subsequent to my battle and recovery. I remain cancer free 18 years later.

While working full time, I graduated from the University of Houston, and while working as a teacher in HISD attended night classes part-time to earn my law degree from South Texas College of Law.

After graduating law school and passing the bar exam, I served as an Assistant District Attorney for Harris County, prosecuting thousands of cases at that post. I always held that helping everyone was key: both victims of crime as well as those deserving of a second chance.

With that noble mission in mind, I left the DAs office to work complex defense cases, representing with fervor and integrity the indigent and others who stood accused of crimes. I quickly made a name for myself in my practice, being chosen as a Texas Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2017 and 2018.

Serving from both sides of the aisle, and now on the bench, has given me a unique perspective as both prosecution and defense; attorney and judge. This gives me a paramount ability to be fair, balanced, and impartial when compared to those who have only served on the side prosecuting those who are innocent unless proven guilty.

I have served years on the bench; years representing the accused; and years advocating for those seeking justice.

Collectively, I have tried close to 100 jury trials and handled thousands of cases, including charges of capital murder, child abuse, sex abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, weapons offenses, animal cruelty, and various financial crimes.

Of all the Criminal District Courts in Harris County, the 184th District Court, under my leadership, has the smallest backlog of cases. The court has one of the shortest dockets of individuals awaiting trial, and one of the shortest lists of people on bond. I consistently have one of the highest case clearance rates of all the Criminal District Courts (as of 12/20/2021) and have maintained the highest case clearance rate in over a decade for the 184th District Court. 

I treat every case individually and effectively and don’t waste your valuable tax dollars. My no-nonsense professionalism and efficient approach to case processing leads to wider access to justice for all, ensuring Harris County communities stay safer.

You, and those you love, can have faith that someone experienced and accountable is working swiftly to administer fair and unbiased justice on your behalf, all the while making sure due process and the rule of law remain.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Hilary Unger

(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 Hilary Unger

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

Judge Hilary D. Unger, 248th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Criminal – felony cases.

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

First and foremost, we kept the courthouse open during the continuing renovation and repairs from Hurricane Harvey through the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. All of the judges went back to the Criminal Justice Center before the renovations were complete and each of us had to share a courtroom. When we finally were able to get back into our courtrooms, we were deep into the pandemic and I came to the courthouse every day, just trying to help keep the system afloat. When we were finally able to start trying cases, we had to contend with both Covid and building related issues. We have had to share jury rooms and we still have to deal with Covid related setbacks; I’ve had to stop two jury trials because of Covid exposure. None of us complained and we all did what we had to do.

Since I’ve been the judge for this court, the number of probationers who have successfully completed probation has doubled; people are no longer going to prison for minor technical violations.

Individuals who come before me, and who are proven to have committed serious and violent crimes, are punished appropriately under the law, and I have meted out very harsh sentences where called for. However, it is my belief that the community is protected, taxpayer costs are reduced, lives are salvaged and the community’s productivity improves when recidivism is diminished. In appropriate situations, I actively engage with social workers, organizations, and community leaders in an effort to find alternatives to incarceration, with an eye towards rehabilitation, and a reduction in recidivism, while emphasizing an increase in community safety. I try to steer these defendants into programs where they can better themselves, and become law abiding and positively contributing members of society.

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

I stay very involved with the people whom I have sentenced to probation/deferred adjudication. I will continue those efforts if I am re-elected for a second term. I encourage probationers, and I offer guidance when needed. I also stress to them the importance of education and trade certificates, and I frequently offer incentives to probationers who complete such programs. I believe that my efforts have worked as measured by the fact that the number of people who have successfully completed probationary sentences has doubled in this court since I took the bench.

I also would like to expand my partnership with the various organizations who work with defendants pretrial; these organizations include psychiatric medication providers, substance abuse treatment providers, and counselling providers. I would continue to arrange emergency housing for individuals as well as emergency mental health treatment, when needed. I would continue to
request assistance from the social workers at the Re-Entry program, which is located at the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, in an effort to connect defendants with services. Finally, I would continue to reach out to community organizations and leaders who have offered to help provide support for young adults who appear before me.

5. Why is this race important?

All citizens of the US, the State of Texas and Harris County deserve fair, and equal treatment before the law. We do not want to head backwards, to a climate where abuses in the administration of justice, notably in the manner in which the criminal justice system treated some members of society differently than others, were accepted as the norm in the 248th District Court. We have made great strides in removing some of the inequities, but certain pundits have tried to conflate the nationwide rise in crime with Democratic judges’ insistence on the preservation of due process rights for all; this revival of soft-on-crime rhetoric ultimately serves to perpetuate the lie that the current Democratic judges are weak or bad and that we do not consider the safety of victims, or of society as a whole. These accusations are simply false.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Since taking the bench in 2019, I have made it a priority to treat everyone who appears before me with respect and to ensure that due process rights are not forfeited for expediency’s sake. Yet, I am always mindful that public safety is of paramount importance.

I have criminal court experience as a DA and a defense attorney in two of America’s largest cities – Houston and New York. As a prosecutor, I prosecuted complex narcotics and conspiracy cases and as a defense attorney I represented clients in both state and federal courts. My experiences have enabled me to critically assess positions taken by both the State and the defense.

Although my primary practice area has been criminal law, the experiences that I’ve had handling CPS cases and civil involuntary commitment hearings have proven extremely useful in giving me perspective into how criminal cases affect families and children.

Through my work with civil involuntary commitment patients in mental health hospitals, I saw the devastating effects of mental illness and also how well medications help. I also learned about the unique challenges facing mental health patients. Given that the Harris County jail is the largest mental health provider in Texas, this experience has proven invaluable. Similarly, through my work with CPS parents and children, I saw firsthand, how addiction affects families and also about the long-term effects of trauma on the childhood brain.

All of these experiences have provided me with significant insights and extensive experience that my opponent does not have. These insights in turn allow me to better understand the needs and hurdles of those who appear before me as defendants as well as the particular circumstances, feelings, pain and loss of crime victims.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Lucia Bates

(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 Lucia Bates

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

I am the Presiding Judge of Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Place 2. My court is located in Baytown. I was elected November 2018.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I preside over a variety of cases including:

Small Claims and Debt Claims up to $20,000
Evictions
Only Court in Harris County handling the Driver’s License suspension dockets
Mental Health Docket
Magistration
Truancy
Jury Trials for Criminal Citations

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

o Cleared a backlog of 20,000 cases in 3 months
o Conducted Eviction Workshops with Houston Apartment Association to educate the Landlords and Tenants on procedures.
o Hosted Virtual Truancy Workshops via zoom due to the Pandemic. Facilitated by the Assistant. District Attorney, there were over 147 Triad officers in attendance.
o Streamlined court access to the public.
o Elected on the Harris County Juvenile Probate Board- Just re-appointed. (15 students graduated in the summer).
o Goose Creek CISD Communications Academy Advisory Board
o Partnered with Exxon Mobile to facilitate a Teen Summit to be held in Spring, 2022
o Established a very good relationship with the various School Districts, helping with youth initiatives.

Actively involved in the Precinct 3 Community

✓ Board Trustee for HCA Hospital -Southeast-just re-elected for 3 more years
✓ Galena Park ISD Community Leadership Council
✓ Membership Board Committee of the North Shore Rotary
✓ Nominating Board Committee of the North Channel Chamber of Commerce (Former Board Chairman)
✓ Top Ladies of Distinction-Baytown Chapter
✓ Vice President- Home Owners Association
✓ Collaborated on 6 Food Drives throughout the Community including 3 at the Courthouse Parking lot.
✓ Sponsored a Bicycle giveaway at Christmas
✓ Collaborated with the City of Baytown on many initiatives
✓ National Junior Honor Society Induction
✓ Member of Crosby/Huffman, Baytown and Highlands Chamber of Commerce.

Spoke to various groups:

▪ North Shore’s Annual Certification Day
▪ Friends of Crosby Library
▪ Baytown Lions Club
▪ Black History Program at Lee College
▪ Kiwanis Club
▪ Young Professional Council-Baytown Chamber of Commerce
▪ Baytown Optimist Club
▪ Northshore Senior Networking meeting.
▪ Highlands Elementary (guest speaker)
▪ Houston Chronicle “Lunch & Learn Guest” Celebrating Women’s History month.

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

Continue to provide the best solutions to everyone who enters the Courtroom.
Continue to be fair in my rulings.
Complete the backlog of Jury trials, put on hold during the pandemic.
Continue to Educate myself by attending all classes pertinent to the Justice of the Peace Court.
Continue the positive relationship with my constituents and keep the Court “The People’s Court”.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because I am committed to this job and community. I still have initiatives to complete. The Community has trusted my judgement and fairness and I would love to continue to be the positive change agent at “The People’s Court”.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am the only candidate in this race that has experience. I am successfully running an efficient court. In my 1st term, I have cleared over 20,000 backlog cases, made the court accessible to all citizens and I work hard every day to better the lives of those most in need.

I would like to continue advocating, leading and finding solutions for my community, whether it be Truancy, Evictions, Food distributions or educating the public on the numerous legislative changes.

Judicial Q&A: Glenda Duru

(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.

Glenda Duru

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

My name is Glenda Duru. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas and am a proud Houstonian. I am honored to run for judgeship for the 313th Juvenile District Court of Harris County Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th Juvenile District Court hears both criminal (juvenile delinquency) and civil (family child protection) cases.

3. Why are you running for this bench?

I am running for this bench because I have a passion for children, youth, and families. I believe that Harris County continues to need representation in the judiciary, particularly when it comes to the juvenile courts. I believe that there is a need for change in the 313th District Court. The change I seek to bring will balance fairness, impartiality, and protection of the community.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I bring a wealth of professional experience in social work, child welfare, and the law that will serve me well in this position. I am a graduate of the University of Houston’s Masters of Social Work program as well as a graduate of Thurgood Marshall Law School. Earning my degrees from both of these outstanding Houston institutions prepared me for both theoretical and practical application of the practice of youth and family services, social work, and the law. For more than 10 years I have worked on the ground to support thriving families through social work and legal advocacy. For the last 4 years I have been particularly focused on child welfare law. As an experienced trial attorney, with over 250 trials, I have developed an expertise in advocating on behalf of a child or family, in service of the best interest of my client. In gaining this practical experience, I now impart this knowledge onto students as a trial advocacy professor at Thurgood Law School. I continue to be an avid learner of the law and committed to upholding the principles that govern our courts – to use the letter and spirit of the law for the greater good.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important to me because I have civilly prosecuted in 313th since 2018, and in my years in the court I have witnessed many things that have led me to see a need for change. There is a need to remove bias and prejudice that can so easily remove objectivity from the court’s ruling. Too often I have witnessed how the current court’s judgement has left the permanency of children in limbo. The court must be fair and make judgements based on the law. Too often I see that children have been made to be voiceless despite knowing that they are our future. The court is held to the highest levels of accountability to make sure that both children and families are protected by all means within the law.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am an advocate who seeks to bring change to the court that will support those who have been made most marginalized. Harris County citizens deserve a judge that is familiar with and a representation of the community; one who is fair, objective, and experienced. I will bring my years of experience to the bench to make impartial judgements that put the best interest of the children, youth, and families in my court first. Additionally, my work will not only be limited to the court room. I will continue to serve the community on the frontlines of education, community engagement and child protection. A vote for me, is a vote for the right Candidate.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Tristan Longino

(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 Tristan Longino

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

Tristan Harris Longino, 245th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Family law (Divorce, Parent-Child Relationship, Protective Orders where court has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a child or dominant jurisdiction through a pending divorce).

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

a. First family court to implement online scheduling (created myself as the county did not yet have any pilot program available) to allow litigants and counsel to conveniently pick settings that worked with their schedules and free up staff time (otherwise spent on the phone and e-mail responding to scheduling requests) for other responsibilities to increase court efficiency.

b. Eliminated trial dockets which were an inefficient use of court’s resources and litigants’ money and attorneys’ time (sitting through large dockets being called to hear other’s announcements without knowing if the court could have time to reach you if you were ready for trial).

c. Implemented a number of policies, such as prove-up of agreed divorces/orders by affidavit or unsworn declaration without the need to appear in person (saved litigants time & money), creating a submission docket where non-evidentiary matters were required set by submission (increasing court availability for evidentiary hearings like temporary orders and trial settings), etc. A number of these policies were adopted by the other family courts at the outset of the pandemic as they allowed cases to progress while the family bar/litigants/the courts ibecame familiar with Zoom for remote hearings.

d. Second highest rated presiding judge on 2021 evaluation by our local bar association (https://www.hba.org/docDownload/1871299).

e. Highest clearance rate in 2021 and second lowest docket size in family division (excluding the 507th as that is a more recently created court with a smaller docket as a consequence of having fewer post-judgment cases) (https://www.justex.net/dashboard/Family).

f. Have continued to conduct many proceedings by Zoom due to efficiencies created by medium (reduced travel time means less time off work and elimination of unproductive billing time for travel, increased participation in the process by parents navigating protective service cases, etc.) combined with increased safety for participants involved during multiple waves of ongoing pandemic while continuing to ensure the court remains open to the public by streaming proceedings.

g. Coordinated with two other family courts in the county (who also implemented online scheduling) to adopt joint policies to try and move toward simplifying practice by attorneys in Harris County by having shared policies between those three courts.

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

Continue to look for opportunities to innovate to increase efficiency and access to the court to ensure litigants can have their disputes disposed of timely.

5. Why is this race important?

To quote my predecessor, the Hon. Roy Moore, from our endorsement interview with the Houston Chronicle in 2018, family courts have “power over property, people, and liberty.” I think anyone would agree it’s important to have a jurist on the bench who knows the law, will apply it fairly to the facts, and work diligently to get matters heard and out of litigation so litigants are not kept hostage in an expensive and emotionally toxic process longer than necessary.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I’m experienced (I’m a board certified family lawyer and will have four years on the bench) and have brought innovation to the courts that have increased efficiency while reducing barriers to access. Read more about what I’ve done and why I’m running again at www.longinoforjudge.com.

Judicial Q&A: Lema Barazi

(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.

Lema Barazi

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

My name is Lema “May” Barazi and I am running for the 189th District Court in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a civil district court that hears civil matters in which the amount in controversy is $200 or more.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Throughout my legal practice, I have always advocated for fairness and impartial justice in the courtroom. I am running for the 189th District Court because I believe my legal and personal experiences have equipped me to serve the residents of Harris County impartially, yet compassionately.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In addition to my degrees and extensive legal experience representing individuals and businesses in various different areas of law, I also have a unique skill set that allows me to bring diverse perspectives to the bench.

Education:
BA, English/Political Science, The University of Houston Honors College, 2003
JD, The University of Houston Law Center, 2006
MBA, Texas Tech University, 2014

Experience:
I have been a trial attorney for 15 years. I have served as a felony prosecutor, plaintiff’s attorney, and defense counsel in both state and federal courts throughout my career.

Specifically, I have practiced in the following areas over the course of the last 15 years:
1. Criminal prosecution;
2. Criminal defense;
3. Family law;
4. Immigration law;
5. Civil rights litigation;
6. Commercial litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
7. Commercial litigation as defense counsel;
8. Personal injury litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
9. Personal injury litigation as defense counsel;
10. Health law litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
11. Health law litigation as defense counsel;
12. Intellectual Property litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
13. Intellectual Property litigation as defense counsel;
14. Real Estate litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
15. Real Estate litigation as defense counsel;
16. Mass torts as a plaintiff’s attorney;
17. Pharmaceutical litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
18. Medical Device litigation as a plaintiff’s attorney;
19. Civil appellate law.

Skills:
I have native, professional proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing Arabic. I am proficient in multiple dialects and can converse with Arabic speakers across numerous countries spanning the Asian and African continents.

I also have a working knowledge of Spanish.

An additional skill set I have is that I am an educator. I have served as an Adjunct Professor teaching Business Law and Constitutional Law to university students for the past four years.

5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because I firmly believe that the lower the race is on the ballot, the closer the race is to our doors. We have all been impacted by the judicial system or will be impacted at some point in our lives and it is important to elect a judge that is qualified, representative, and a staunch advocate for fairness and impartiality.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

People should vote for me because I am a qualified attorney, a compassionate educator, and a wife and mother who is in tune with the concerns of Harris County voters. A vote for me is a vote for fairness, equality, and justice.

Judicial Q&A: Herbert Alexander Sanchez

(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.

Herbert Alexander Sanchez

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

My name is Herbert Alexander Sanchez, I am 37 years old, a husband, and a father to 3 children ages 4 to 19 years old. I am the son of Silvana and Oscar, two hard working people, who taught me the value of hard work, service, and dedication. I am a small business co-founder on the East Side of Harris County and an elected School Board Trustee. I believe that being a public servant requires an unshakeable conviction in the principles of equality and justice for all. There is no greater calling than to be of service to others by diligently working for the greater good of our communities by building coalitions and building up individuals through effective interventions when they are introduced to the justice system. These interventions must aid citizens to be productive members of society. I am currently running for the office of Harris County Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Harris County Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Place 2 court hears civil cases that rise to $20,000 in argument. The Justice Court hears Class C misdemeanor criminal cases, traffic cases, and landlord/ tenant disagreements. The JP Judge may preside over driver’s license suspension, revocation, or denial hearings, occupational licensing hearings, and gun license revocation, denial, or suspension hearings. The Justice of the Peace also performs marriage ceremonies, may conduct hearings relating to tow and storage of vehicles, and may conduct inquests. The JP Court has a JP Liaison who assists with offenses that include juvenile truancy.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I feel that I am the most qualified candidate. I understand the issues our community faces on a daily basis. Being a father to 3 young children, a husband, and a son to elderly parents, I long for a safe and prosperous community. Presently, our community is experiencing high levels of crime and poverty. I have witnessed firsthand the detrimental impacts of inequality in public services. I believe in building bridges instead of walls, providing a hand up not a handout, and closing the gap between the public and the officials who serve them. For many citizens, the Justice of the Peace Court is their first experience with the justice system, and it must be an experience that ensures the best possible outcomes for the citizens of Precinct 3 and Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In order to have a strong, vibrant community, it is imperative that the Harris County Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Place 2 be a highly qualified individual. As a member of this community, a business owner, and public official, I have worked hand in hand with our local law enforcement, local organizations, community leaders, and directly with our community members on a daily basis, allowing me to understand the needs in our area and better understand areas of neglect.

Serving as an elected Galena Park ISD Board Trustee has also provided me with crucial insights regarding the direct impact living in an underserved community has on our children and their future. It is clear that our community deserves servant leaders who have the competencies and clear understanding of the needs of our community. I possess the qualifications, skills, and abilities that the office of the Justice of the Peace requires. My educational attainments, business experience, and community involvement have prepared me to best serve our community. I have earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a concentration In Homeland Security and Disaster Management from Sam Houston State University, a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice Cum Laude from Texas Southern University and an Associate’s Degree in Social and Behavioral Science from San Jacinto College. I am also actively pursuing a Law Degree. I have served in in law enforcement capacities from Police Intern Trainee, 911 Dispatch, Jail Deputy, and finally Patrol Deputy. All of these experiences have given me invaluable insight into the criminal justice system.

5. Why is this race important?

As a youth growing up in an impoverished area, I too experienced the feelings of frustration and helplessness as a result of imbalanced public services in our communities. People living in these situations often feel as though public servants are working against them rather than for them. This race is important because the Justice of the Peace Court can be the first and final experience within the justice system by promoting firmness, fairness, and compassion to strengthen citizens and deter them from a life of self-defeating, community-damaging poor choices. It is crucial that JP Judges implement sensible and lawful avenues of serving justice to serve the people. Effective interventions at this level can help prevent a citizen’s progression to the higher criminal court system, and help maintain safety and strength in our communities.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

A Justice of the Peace Judge must be prepared for the various challenges our community faces, must understand our community’s needs, and must respond to these needs through the implementation of programs aimed at building bridges instead of walls through accountability, deterrence, and rehabilitation. I understand the needs of our community. I have fought and continue to fight for a safe and more resilient community. I have the qualifications and the desire to change our community in a more positive way. The status quo serves no justice and is a revolving door that leads to higher levels within the justice system. Your vote in March will ensure firmness, fairness, and compassion, with equal justice for all.

Judicial Q&A: Porscha Natasha Brown

(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.

Porscha Natasha Brown

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

I am Porscha Natasha Brown, a Public Defender and Criminal Justice Reform proponent. I have been a Public Defender since 2016. I graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State in 2011, received my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 2015, and my Master’s in Public Administration from University of Texas in Arlington in 2018. I am a proud graduate of the Gideon’s Promise Core Training for Public Defenders and I actively work on multiple committees that work to mentor newer public defenders and better indigent criminal legal services.

I am seeking to be the next Judge of Harris County Criminal Court No. 3.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County Criminal Court No. 3 hears misdemeanor criminal cases. Misdemeanor criminal cases are low level offenses such as Resisting arrest, Evading on foot, Driving while Intoxicated 1st offense and 2nd offense, Assault Family Violence, and small possession of drugs. Misdemeanors are divided into three different levels which are Class A Class B, and Class C misdemeanors. Harris County Criminal Court No. 3 hears only Class A and Class B misdemeanors, while Municipal Courts handle Class C misdemeanors such as traffic tickets. The difference between Class A/B misdemeanors and Class C are that Class A/B are punishable by possible county jail time. Class A misdemeanors may be punishable with probation of up to 2 years or confinement in the county jail for no more than a year and a fine not to exceed $4000, while Class B misdemeanors may be punishable with probation of up to 2 years or confinement in county jail for no more than 6 months and a fine not to exceed $2000.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to be a Judge because I care. I care about the rights and lives of those accused of a crime, victims of crime, and the community. As a Public Defender, I have seen what types of Criminal Justice reform are successful in real-time and I can also see where we are able to improve to better the chances of successful returns to court and reduce the rate of recidivism. As a crime victim, I have felt unsafe and I don’t want that feeling for anyone else. People should be held accountable once there has been a fair trial and/or sentencing. Unfortunately, even in 2021, there are still unfair trials and disparities in sentencing along racial, gender, and income level. I believe that in pretrial and sentencing we can push for more comprehensive services that provide for future success such as resources that address mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness. I believe that I can be a part of the solution for Harris County and provide a court that is efficient, follows the law, and is fair for all.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been an attorney for 6 years, most of which has been as a Public Defender. I have been to trial on cases ranging from misdemeanors, felonies, and 1st degree felonies, as well as I have worked on high profile media cases, complex mental health and competency cases. I have handled heavy and fast paced dockets. I participate on committees and groups that work with Public Defenders and groups that work to enhance the knowledge of the Criminal Law codes. Currently, I serve as the Course Director of the Future Indigent Defense Leader’s Steering Committee. I am also a member of the State Bar of Texas Legal Services to the Poor in Criminal Matters Committee. Lastly, I am one of four hosts who lead a weekly Criminal Defense Study Group with attorneys throughout the state of Texas that are currently reviewing and discussing each section of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as legislative updates and other pertinent timely criminal issues.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the lives of the people who are affected in this court are important. It is essential that those who are accused, those seeking justice as crime victims, and the community know that they will be taken seriously and that they will be treated fairly by each of the 16 misdemeanor courts. Currently, Harris County Criminal Court No. 3 has the lowest number of active cases out of the other 16 misdemeanor courts. It is important that Harris County continues to make sure that cases, justice, and the community are swiftly served by the courts. Even though misdemeanor courts cannot result in prison, the cases that are heard in this court can still be life changing.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

People should vote for me because I care. I care about the rights and lives of those accused of a crime, victims of crime, and the community. I am currently a Public Defender in Harris County which has afforded the opportunity to see first-hand what types of pretrial and sentencing methods work best to promote success and lower instances of recidivism. As someone who has also been a victim of a crime, I know that victims want their day in court and to be treated with importance by law enforcement. People should vote for me because I can relate to the people that are coming in the court, whether those are people who are charged with crimes, victims, and/or the community. I know that it is imperative that people who are accused of crimes know that the person who is presiding over their case is someone who doesn’t have a one-sided background or is unable to put themselves in their shoes. Judges must be able to be fair to all and follow the law. Based on my legal background, my experience as a Public Defender, and my past experience as a crime victim, I feel that I am best to see both sides in the Court and provide fair and just rulings for all of Harris County. Harris County has made tremendous strides in Criminal Justice Reform but we are not done yet. A vote for me, is a vote to push to be efficient and fair in a way that ultimately provides equality in reducing recidivism, enhancing victim solutions, reducing poor policing habits, and increasing success of the accused.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Scot Dollinger

(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.

Scot Dollinger

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

I am Scot “dolli” Dollinger, Judge of the 189th Civil District Court, Harris County Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County divides its 61 District Courts into four parts: civil (24), criminal (23), family (11) and juvenile (3).

The 189th Civil District Court hears every kind of case except those involving criminal, family or juvenile matters. The court hears mostly personal injury and commercial litigation disputes but also handles other kinds of cases like employment, civil rights, defamation and property tax cases. The court also has the power to issue injunctions – orders which prevent people from taking certain actions.

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

I more than doubled the number of jury trials tried every year. My predecessor normally tried 10 jury trials per year. My first year on the bench I tried 26 jury trials. In 2021, I tried more jury trials than any other civil district court judge.

I am polite to everyone and know people need prompt fair decisions. I consistently either rule from the bench or within five days of the hearing.

I am 100% paperless and sign every ORDER electronically which reduces the time for the ORDER to be viewable on the District Clerk’s website.

When COVID-19 came, I joined with my other civil judges in holding hearings via zoom technology and plan on keeping zoom as a valuable tool to make hearings easier to conduct.

I marry same sex couples. Before I took the bench, the presiding judges would not marry same sex couples. I conduct marriages for all people eligible to be married.

I make pies for all my juries. It’s my way of saying “thank you for your service.” Good government is about bringing people together to solve problems. That’s what juries are – problem solvers. Nothing brings people together like homemade pie.

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

Going forward, I want to build upon the work of the last three years and continue to try a large number of cases and implement case evaluation systems to better manage the court’s docket to help reduce backlogs caused by limited courtroom space created by Harvey and COVID-19.

5. Why is this race important?

Who your judge is matters.

This race is important because we need experienced trial judges on our benches. I am the most experienced candidate running for this position. I have been licensed to practice law for over 34 years. I am Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law – Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) – one must be an experienced trial lawyer to gain membership. Before taking the bench, I tried over 30 jury trials. Since taking the bench, over the last three years, I tried 45 jury trials. I have been doing the work of this court for over 34 years. I am dedicated to the right to trial by jury. The only thing that slowed us down in terms of jury trials was COVID-19, but even then we adapted and eventually returned to a high rate of trying cases.

This race is important because of diversity on the bench. The Civil Ten – elected in 2018 – consist of an incredibly talented diverse group of people: seven women and three men. Two judges are African-American, two are Hispanic, one Vietnamese, one Pakistani and one LGBTQ+. I am the only white heterosexual male of the 10. I am a piece of the diversity rainbow. A vote for me is a vote for diversity.

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

I am the more qualified candidate with a heart for the people having received endorsements in 2018 from the following groups:

• Houston Chronicle
• Houston Association of Women Attorneys
• Pasadena Bar Association
• Mexican American Bar Association of Houston
• Houston Lawyers Association
• Texas Democrats with Disabilities
• Bay Area New Democrats
• Area Five Democrats
• Tejano Democrats, Harris County
• Harris County Labor Assembly C.O.P.E., AFL – CIO
• Communications Workers of America 6222 (CWA)
• Houston GLBT Political Caucus
• Our Revolution – Harris County Chapter
• Texas Coalition of Black Democrats – Harris County
• Houston Black American Democrats
• Texas Progressive Executive Council
• Bay Area Democratic Movement.

The endorsement process has just started and so no group has yet made endorsements for 2022, but I hope to obtain renewed support from the above groups. As endorsements are made, I will post them on my website: www.dolli4judge.com.

Any positive my opponents have, I have also but more and better. For example, I believe I have tried more civil district court cases, handled more appeals from the district courts and clerked with a federal judge. I am board certified, I have run my own firm and I have consistently hired diversely.

I have a strong work ethic which I bring to every task including campaigning and understanding what is necessary to win in Harris County. I have been campaigning for over a year. In 2014, when I was on the ballot in Harris County running for Civil Court No. 2, I made more phone calls than any other Democratic candidate.

Before I took the bench, I represented individuals, not institutions, virtually my entire practice. I worked as a defense lawyer for eight years being hired to defend people who were accused of hurting others. So, I understand the law from a defense lawyer’s perspective. I worked as a plaintiff lawyer for 22 years before taking the bench helping people who had been hurt. So, I understand the law from a plaintiff’s lawyer perspective. I clerked for a federal judge and worked as a District Court Judge for almost three years. So, I understand the law from a judge’s perspective.

I am a proven product. You know what you are getting when you vote for me.

I understand the courts belong to all the people. Judges are trustees of the judicial power given to our courts. That power must be exercised with the utmost good faith and checked at every turn to battle against the tendency for power to be abused.

I understand the law is here to protect the weak from the strong and powerful. The law levels the playing field. The end of all government is justice for all – equal protection and fairness are corner stones of the house of justice. There are two things difficult for any person to accept:

– Being unjustly harmed/wronged;
– Being unjustly accused.

For every matter at issue, our courts must be respected and known for properly sorting out which is which. If a person has been unjustly wronged, then the courts must give and provide proper remedies. If a person has been unjustly accused, then the courts must release the wrongly accused and deny the accuser the remedy sought.

My work and life experience have prepared me for this job. If re-elected, I am ready, willing and able to continue serving my community well. Please vote for me. I am asking for your vote. Thank you.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Chip Wells

(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 Chip Wells

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

I am the Presiding Judge in the 312th Family District Court. I was first elected to the Court in November 2018 and ascended to the bench January 2019. I was first licensed to practice law in June 1977 after graduating from South Texas College of Law. I have practiced law in the state of Texas for 42 years prior to my election to the bench and will have been licensed 45 years in June of this year. Before my election I practiced law with my law partner for over 28 years. I am married, divorced, married, divorced and married again. Together my wife of more than 27 yrs and I raised her two children and one of our own. We presently have three grandchildren. Because of my legal experience and my life experience I am without question the most qualified individual to serve in this Court. Family Courts have traditionally been Courts of equity where we seek to do what is best for the family and especially for the children involved. I do that work every day on the bench in the courthouse where I was elected to serve.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 312th hears the entire range of family law cases including but not limited to divorce, modification of prior orders, child support enforcement and modification; original suits affecting the parent child relationship; contempt; paternity; adoption; terminations; cases involving children in the care of CPS/ TDFPS. These case descriptions have the effect of minimizing the broad range of cases this Court hears. I have cases involving allegations of murder, vast financial resources, physical and emotional abuse, and complex jurisdictional issues involving marital estates. A Family Law Judge does not serve in a vacuum but in an arena of life experiences acquired through life and years of practice.

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

I am very proud of the fact that the 312th has been open and in-person every day that we have had access to the Courthouse. I had a staff including my lead Clerk, Court Reporter and Associate Judge who desired to be in the Courtroom where we were elected to serve and expected to be found. We followed all protocols and moved our docket effectively, safely and efficiently. From the beginning I adopted discovery procedures intended to effectively streamline the time associated with discovery hearings. The ability to create time saving policies came as a result of my extensive experience in other areas of the practice of law. In the 312th we have attempted every day to provide a Courtroom where lawyers could try their case in a meaningful way in compliance with the rules of civil procedure. The HBA Bar Poll rated the 312th 80% Satisfactory, Very Good and or Excellent. The Associate Judge appointed by me was among the highest rated among her peers. Our lead clerk was recognized as the Professional of the Year.

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

Going forward I would like for the 312th to successfully continue to resolve its docket so that cases are handled in a timely, efficient manner. The 312th Court Coordinator is constantly combing through the docket to identify cases that have stalled and are no longer being actively prosecuted. We want to clear those cases to allow for appropriate attention on those cases being actively prosecuted. Additionally, every week we work diligently to improve the movement of cases involving CPS participation. Our children must receive better and more effective protection. Often these cases due to the sheer size of the docket fall between the cracks and the children are suspended in foster care with no real hope of family reunification or permanent placement. It is a tragedy. Judge Baughman and I work every day to move through our docket more efficiently to allow attention to be given to those cases ready to go forward and to relieve lawyers of time wasting delay. When we identify shortcomings in our process we address them. We are committed every day to improve the service we provide to the citizens of Harris county.

5. Why is this race important?

I began seeking election to the bench as a Family District Court Judge in 2009. At that time Judicial candidates were recruited to campaign based upon their recognized experience and ability to handle the job in the event they were elected. So long as we are electing judges in the state of Texas it is necessary that we elect those judges who not only have the experience but have the ability to serve in a state district court. I have been recognized as such an individual by my peers and by the people of Harris county. I am the candidate of choice by my colleagues and peers serving in the family law division. The very worst thing that we could do would be to elect Judges based upon gender, color, or ethnic background. I am the most competent candidate; the incumbent and I should be returned to the bench for 4 more years.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

The answer to 6 is reflected in 5. I am a fully paid member of the HCDP Coordinated campaign. In every race that I have participated in since 2010 I have received the endorsement of each of the major endorsing entities. I not only support the Democratic Party but I support the individuals in our community that in-turn share common interests with the Democratic party and who seek to be judged by those of similar experiences. I have more legal experience than any other candidate. I have more life experience than any other candidate. I have more judicial experience than any other candidate. The 312th is among the highest rated of the Family District Courts. There is no justification for the replacement of the current Judge and staff serving the citizens of Harris County in the 312th.

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

See here for Part One, which covered district and appellate court judges. Today we review the contested Democratic primaries for county court judges and justices of the peace.

County Civil Court At Law #4: Cynthia Castanon, David Patronella, Manpreet Monica Singh, and Treasea Trevino. This is the bench currently held by Judge Lesley Briones, who is running for County Commissioner, Precinct 4. I don’t know offhand if Judge Briones has stepped down yet or not, but in either case there will be someone appointed by Commissioners Court to fill in through the 2022 election. David Patronella is the incumbent Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1, Place 2.

County Criminal Court At Law #2: Incumbent Judge Ronnisha Bowman, Jannell Robles.

County Criminal Court At Law #3: Staci Biggar, Porscha Brown, Lorenzo Williams. The incumbent judge in this court is Judge Erica Hughes, who was just appointed as a US immigration court judge, and is thus not running for re-election.

County Criminal Court At Law #5: Carlos Aguayo, incumbent Judge David Fleischer.

County Criminal Court At Law #6: Selina Alaniz, incumbent Judge Kelley Andrews.

County Criminal Court At Law #7: Mauricio Vazquez, incumbent Judge Andrew Wright.

County Criminal Court At Law #8: Incumbent Judge Franklin Bynum, Erika Ramirez.

County Criminal Court At Law #10: Juanita Jackson, Thuy Le. Jackson appears to have been a candidate for a county criminal court at law in 2010. Incumbent Judge Lee Harper Wilson is not running for re-election. Which is a good thing, as he is not worth anyone’s vote.

County Criminal Court At Law #14: Je’Rell Rogers, incumbent Judge David Singer.

County Probate Court #2: Pamela Medina, incumbent Judge Michael Newman.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2: Ron Campana, Steve Duble, Victor Lombrana, Sonia Lopez, Jonathan Preston, Chris Watson. This is the JP position that is currently held by David Patronella, who is running for County Court At Law #4.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2: Dolores Lozano, Blair McClure. Incumbent JP George Risner is running for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2: Incumbent JP Lucia Bates, Ashleigh Roberson, Herbert Alexander Sanchez.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5 Place 2: Eman Afshar, Roderick Rogers. This is a Republican-held position, with the incumbent JP being Jeff Williams. Israel Garcia won the Precinct 5 Position 1 race as a Democrat in 2020. Eman Afshar filed for that position on the ballot but was subsequently disqualified after questions were raised about the petition signatures he submitted as part of his ballot application. However, he remained on the ballot because of the later date on which he was disqualified.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 6 Place 2: Luis Garza, incumbent JP Angela Rodriguez. JP Rodriguez is the daughter of the longtime previous JP, who was appointed to the position in 2018 following his retirement and was unopposed for election that year.

Finally, I have realized that I missed one race that belonged in the previous post:

208th Criminal District Court: Beverly Armstrong, incumbent Judge Greg Glass, Kim McTorry.

And now you’re as up to date as I can make you at this time. As before, if I didn’t list the race it’s because the incumbent has no primary opponent, and if I don’t link to a webpage or Facebook/Instagram page, it’s because I didn’t find one with a basic Google search. I’m sending out the judicial Q&As and look forward to publishing a bunch of responses from these candidates. Finally, Murray Newman has a few notes about some of these candidates as well.

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.

The Constitutional amendments

Hey, remember how in odd numbered years there are some number of constitutional amendments to vote on in November? This is the one thing that guarantees you have a reason to turn out regardless of what your city or school district is doing. Reform Austin runs down this year’s tableau. I’m going to zoom in on two of them, one of which I think is good and one of which I think is bad.

Proposition 3 (SJR 27)

What it says: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”

What it means:  Proposition 3 would amend Article 1 of the Texas constitution by adding a new section to prohibit the state or any political subdivision from enacting a law, rule, order, or proclamation that limits religious services or organizations. Arguments against this amendment cite COVID as one valid reason to suspend religious services, approving this proposition would prevent authorities from banning this type of events even during a worldwide pandemic.

Proposition 4 (SJR 47)

What it says: The constitutional amendment changing the eligibility requirements for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.”

What it means: The amendment would change the eligibility requirements for the following judicial offices: a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.

New requirements would include:

  • Candidates should be residents of Texas as well as citizens of the United States;
  • Candidates should have 10 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of the supreme court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, or a court of appeals;
  • Candidates should have  8 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of a district court;
  • It would disqualify candidates if their license to practice law was revoked or suspended during experience requirement; and
  • These requirements would be applied to individuals elected or appointed to a term beginning after January 1, 2025.

You can probably guess which one I think is which, but just so we’re clear I’ll be voting for Prop 4 and against Prop 3. I suppose given the recent shadow docket rulings from SCOTUS about local restrictions on religious services during COVID that Prop 3 isn’t actually doing anything that isn’t already the law, but it’s still a bad idea and I refuse to put it in our overstuffed Constitution.

Beyond that, none of the remaining bunch looks all that bad to me. Progress Texas endorses all but Prop 3 endorses five of the eight, opposing 3, 4, and 5. I noted during the session that the one thing missing this time around was an ugly fight over a nasty amendment – on that front at least, it was pretty boring – and you can see why. What do you think about these proposals?

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

UPDATE: I swear, when I looked at the Progress Texas page, I saw Yes for Props 4 and 5. Either I just misread it or they had an error. I actually think those props are OK, though I understand the objections. I’ll have to think about it some more.

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 2

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE
Congress, part 1

I didn’t want to leave the Congressional district analysis without looking at some downballot races, since I mentioned them in the first part. To keep this simple, I’m just going to compare 2020 to 2012, to give a bookends look at things. I’ve got the Senate race (there was no Senate race in 2016, another reason to skip that year), the Railroad Commissioner race, and the Supreme Court race with Nathan Hecht.


Dist   Hegar   Cornyn  Hegar% Cornyn%
=====================================
01    79,626  217,942  26.30%  71.90%
02   157,925  180,504  45.50%  52.00%
03   188,092  224,921  44.50%  53.20%
04    79,672  256,262  23.20%  74.70%
05   101,483  173,929  36.00%  61.70%
06   155,022  178,305  45.30%  52.10%
07   154,670  152,741  49.20%  48.60%
08   100,868  275,150  26.20%  71.50%
09   168,796   54,801  73.50%  23.90%
10   191,097  215,665  45.90%  51.80%
11    54,619  232,946  18.60%  79.20%
12   129,679  228,676  35.20%  62.00%
13    50,271  217,949  18.30%  79.40%
14   117,954  185,119  38.00%  59.60%
15   110,141  111,211  48.10%  48.60%
16   148,484   73,923  63.10%  31.40%
17   127,560  174,677  41.00%  56.20%
18   178,680   60,111  72.60%  24.40%
19    65,163  194,783  24.40%  73.00%
20   163,219   99,791  60.10%  36.80%
21   203,090  242,567  44.50%  53.10%
22   188,906  214,386  45.80%  52.00%
23   135,518  150,254  46.10%  51.10%
24   165,218  171,828  47.80%  49.70%
25   165,657  222,422  41.70%  56.00%
26   168,527  256,618  38.60%  58.70%
27    98,760  169,539  35.90%  61.70%
28   118,063  107,547  50.60%  46.10%
29    99,415   51,044  64.00%  32.80%
30   203,821   53,551  77.00%  20.20%
31   178,949  206,577  45.20%  52.20%
32   170,654  165,157  49.60%  48.00%
33   111,620   41,936  70.40%  26.50%
34   101,691   93,313  50.60%  46.50%
35   175,861   87,121  64.50%  32.00%
36    78,544  218,377  25.90%  71.90%


Dist   Casta   Wright  Casta% Wright%
=====================================
01    75,893  217,287  25.20%  72.20%
02   153,630  176,484  44.90%  51.60%
03   181,303  220,004  43.70%  53.00%
04    76,281  254,688  22.50%  75.00%
05   100,275  171,307  35.80%  61.20%
06   151,372  176,517  44.60%  52.00%
07   149,853  149,114  48.50%  48.20%
08    97,062  271,212  25.60%  71.40%
09   168,747   51,862  74.10%  22.80%
10   184,189  211,020  44.90%  51.40%
11    53,303  230,719  18.30%  79.10%
12   123,767  227,786  33.90%  62.50%
13    47,748  215,948  17.60%  79.50%
14   114,873  182,101  37.40%  59.40%
15   113,540  103,715  50.50%  46.10%
16   144,436   75,345  62.30%  32.50%
17   121,338  171,677  39.70%  56.20%
18   177,020   57,783  72.60%  23.70%
19    62,123  192,844  23.60%  73.20%
20   165,617   93,296  61.40%  34.60%
21   197,266  234,785  43.90%  52.30%
22   184,521  209,495  45.50%  51.60%
23   136,789  144,156  47.10%  49.60%
24   160,511  167,885  47.10%  49.20%
25   157,323  218,711  40.30%  56.00%
26   160,007  251,763  37.30%  58.70%
27    97,797  165,135  36.00%  60.80%
28   121,898  100,306  52.90%  43.60%
29   102,354   46,954  66.30%  30.40%
30   204,615   50,268  77.60%  19.10%
31   169,256  203,981  43.40%  52.30%
32   168,807  160,201  49.60%  47.10%
33   111,727   40,264  71.10%  25.60%
34   105,427   86,391  53.30%  43.70%
35   173,994   82,414  64.70%  30.60%
36    76,511  216,585  25.40%  72.00%


Dist Meachum    HechtMeachum%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    79,995  215,240  26.60%  71.50%
02   154,787  179,887  45.20%  52.50%
03   185,076  220,662  44.60%  53.10%
04    79,667  253,119  23.50%  74.50%
05   101,813  172,186  36.40%  61.50%
06   155,372  175,793  45.80%  51.80%
07   149,348  154,058  48.20%  49.70%
08    99,434  272,277  26.20%  71.60%
09   170,611   52,213  75.00%  22.90%
10   188,253  212,284  45.80%  51.60%
11    56,146  228,708  19.30%  78.50%
12   129,478  225,206  35.50%  61.80%
13    51,303  214,434  18.90%  78.90%
14   118,324  181,521  38.50%  59.10%
15   115,046  103,787  51.20%  46.20%
16   149,828   73,267  64.20%  31.40%
17   126,952  170,378  41.50%  55.70%
18   179,178   58,684  73.50%  24.10%
19    66,333  190,784  25.20%  72.30%
20   166,733   93,546  62.00%  34.80%
21   200,216  237,189  44.50%  52.80%
22   188,187  210,138  46.30%  51.70%
23   138,391  143,522  47.70%  49.50%
24   164,386  168,747  48.10%  49.40%
25   162,591  218,370  41.60%  55.80%
26   168,621  251,426  39.10%  58.30%
27   100,675  164,273  37.10%  60.50%
28   122,263   99,666  53.50%  43.60%
29   101,662   48,349  66.00%  31.40%
30   207,327   50,760  78.50%  19.20%
31   172,531  198,717  45.00%  51.80%
32   169,325  163,993  49.60%  48.10%
33   112,876   40,077  71.80%  25.50%
34   104,142   84,361  53.80%  43.50%
35   177,097   82,098  66.00%  30.60%
36    78,170  216,153  26.00%  71.90%

	
Dist  Sadler     Cruz Sadler%   Cruz%
=====================================
01    76,441  169,490  30.55%  67.74%
02    84,949  155,605  34.35%  62.92%
03    88,929  168,511  33.52%  63.52%
04    69,154  174,833  27.60%  69.79%
05    73,712  130,916  35.14%  62.41%
06   100,573  143,297  40.12%  57.16%
07    89,471  141,393  37.73%  59.63%
08    55,146  190,627  21.88%  75.64%
09   140,231   40,235  76.35%  21.91%
10   103,526  154,293  38.76%  57.76%
11    45,258  175,607  19.93%  77.32%
12    77,255  162,670  31.22%  65.74%
13    43,022  175,896  19.12%  78.17%
14    97,493  142,172  39.77%  58.00%
15    79,486   62,277  54.55%  42.74%
16    91,289   56,636  59.66%  37.02%
17    82,118  130,507  37.31%  59.30%
18   145,099   45,871  74.37%  23.51%
19    52,070  155,195  24.37%  72.65%
20   106,970   73,209  57.47%  39.33%
21   115,768  181,094  37.32%  58.38%
22    90,475  157,006  35.74%  62.02%
23    86,229   98,379  45.28%  51.66%
24    90,672  147,419  36.88%  59.97%
25   101,059  155,304  37.79%  58.07%
26    77,304  173,933  29.66%  66.74%
27    81,169  125,913  38.11%  59.12%
28    90,481   68,096  55.14%  41.50%
29    71,504   38,959  63.27%  34.47%
30   168,805   44,782  77.58%  20.58%
31    89,486  138,886  37.46%  58.13%
32   103,610  141,469  41.03%  56.03%
33    81,568   33,956  68.96%  28.71%
34    79,622   60,126  55.23%  41.71%
35   101,470   56,450  61.37%  34.14%
36    63,070  168,072  26.66%  71.04%


Dist   Henry    Cradd  Henry%  Cradd%
=====================================
01    67,992  170,189  27.73%  69.41%	
02    78,359  155,155  32.30%  63.95%	
03    80,078  167,247  31.02%  64.80%	
04    64,908  170,969  26.53%  69.87%	
05    69,401  129,245  33.75%  62.86%	
06    96,386  141,220  39.03%  57.18%	
07    80,266  143,409  34.60%  61.81%	
08    51,716  188,005  20.83%  75.74%	
09   138,893   39,120  76.19%  21.46%	
10    94,282  153,321  36.00%  58.54%	
11    44,310  171,250  19.77%  76.42%	
12    72,582  160,255  29.85%  65.90%	
13    42,402  171,310  19.15%  77.36%	
14    96,221  137,169  39.91%  56.89%	
15    81,120   56,697  56.51%  39.50%	
16    90,256   49,563  60.67%  33.31%	
17    77,899  126,329  36.20%  58.70%	
18   142,749   44,416  73.97%  23.01%	
19    50,735  150,643  24.17%  71.76%	
20   102,998   72,019  56.19%  39.29%	
21   103,442  181,345  34.03%  59.66%	
22    85,869  155,271  34.42%  62.24%	
23    85,204   92,976  45.63%  49.79%	
24    83,119  146,534  34.52%  60.85%	
25    92,074  153,051  35.16%  58.44%	
26    71,177  172,026  27.82%  67.24%	
27    79,313  120,235  38.16%  57.84%	
28    94,545   59,311  58.53%  36.72%	
29    72,681   35,059  65.14%  31.42%	
30   166,852   43,206  77.43%  20.05%	
31    82,045  136,810  35.10%  58.52%	
32    92,896  143,313  37.69%  58.15%	
33    81,885   30,941  69.96%  26.43%	
34    82,924   50,769  58.78%  35.99%	
35    97,431   55,398  59.79%  34.00%	
36    62,309  161,751  26.88%  69.79%


Dist   Petty    Hecht  Petty%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    71,467  163,306  29.37%  67.11%
02    84,472  147,576  35.05%  61.23%
03    85,368  161,072  33.16%  62.56%
04    68,551  163,313  28.26%  67.31%
05    72,559  123,012  35.59%  60.34%
06   101,437  133,905  41.29%  54.51%
07    86,596  135,562  37.63%  58.90%
08    55,495  181,582  22.47%  73.53%
09   141,509   36,555  77.91%  20.13%
10   100,998  146,370  38.76%  56.17%
11    47,657  163,669  21.49%  73.81%
12    76,959  153,820  31.79%  63.53%
13    46,099  162,448  21.01%  74.02%
14   100,566  131,348  41.86%  54.67%
15    83,009   53,962  58.27%  37.88%
16    93,997   46,517  63.26%  31.31%
17    82,692  120,206  38.64%  56.16%
18   145,329   41,564  75.56%  21.61%
19    54,458  143,426  26.12%  68.80%
20   109,712   66,441  59.93%  36.29%
21   112,633  172,657  37.12%  56.90%
22    91,252  149,320  36.71%  60.06%
23    90,554   87,003  48.74%  46.83%
24    89,019  139,910  37.09%  58.29%
25    98,663  145,549  37.88%  55.87%
26    76,953  165,377  30.12%  64.73%
27    83,222  114,299  40.30%  55.36%
28    97,850   55,633  60.91%  34.63%
29    74,382   33,124  66.97%  29.82%
30   169,799   39,877  78.96%  18.54%
31    89,084  128,420  38.24%  55.13%
32    97,997  137,060  39.92%  55.84%
33    84,095   28,859  72.01%  24.71%
34    85,950   47,645  61.27%  33.96%
35   102,646   51,225  63.03%  31.46%
36    66,497  154,956  28.85%  67.24%

There are two things that jump out at me when I look over these numbers. The first actually has to do with the statewide totals. Joe Biden cut the deficit at the Presidential level nearly in half from 2012 – where Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney by 1.26 million votes, Biden trailed Trump by 631K. The gains were not as dramatic in the Senate and RRC races, but there was progress. Ted Cruz beat Paul Sadler by 1.246 million votes, while John Cornyn beat MJ Hegar by 1.074 million; for RRC, Christi Craddock topped Dale Henry by 1.279 million and Jim Wright bested Chrysta Castaneda by 1.039 million. Not nearly as much progress, but we’re going in the right direction. At the judicial level, however, that progress wasn’t there. Nathan Hecht, then running for Supreme Court Place 6, won in 2012 by 908K votes, and he won in 2020 by 934K. That’s a little misleading, because in the only other contested statewide judicial race in 2012, Sharon Keller beat Keith Hampton for CCA by 1.094 million votes, and five out of the seven Dems running in 2020 did better than that. Still, the point remains, the judicial races were our weakest spot. If we really want to turn Texas blue, we will need more of an investment in these races as well.

One explanation for this is that Dem statewide judicial candidates didn’t do as well in at least some of the trending-blue places. Hegar and Castaneda both carried CD07, but only two of the Dem judicial candidates did, Staci Williams and Tina Clinton. All of them carried CD32, but none of them by more than two points, while Biden took it by ten; to be fair, Hegar won it by less than two, and Castaneda had the best performance with a 2.6 point margin. Maybe these folks were motivated by Trump more than anything else, and they didn’t see the judicial races in those terms. I have noted before that Dem judicial candidates did better in CD07 in 2018 than in 2020, so maybe the higher turnout included more less-likely Republicans than one might have expected. Or maybe these folks are in the process of becoming Democratic, but aren’t all the way there yet. Just something to think about.

On the flip side of that, while Hegar underperformed in the three closer-than-expected Latino Democratic districts CD15, CD28, and CD34 – Cornyn actually carried CD15 by a smidge – everyone else did better, and indeed outperformed Biden in those districts. The judicial candidates all carried CDs 28 and 34 by at least six points, with most in the 8-9 range and a couple topping ten, and all but two carried CD15 by a wider margin that Biden’s 1.9 points, with them in the three-to-five range. Still a disconcerting step back from 2012 and 2016, but at least for CDs 28 and 34 it’s still a reasonably comfortable margin. Maye this is the mirror image of the results in CDs 07 and 32, where the Presidential race was the main motivator and people were more likely to fall back on old patterns elsewhere. As with CDs 07 and 32, we’ll have to see where those trends go from here.

After however many entries in this series, I don’t have a whole lot more to say. We’ll be getting new maps soon, and we’ll have a better idea of what the immediate future looks like. I think the last two decades has shown us that there’s only so far out in the future that redistricting will be predictive in such a dynamic and growing state as Texas, but we have seen the winds shift more than once, so let’s not get too comfortable with any one idea. Whatever we get in this session is not etched in stone, and we still have some hope for federal legislation. For now, this is what we’re up against.

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 1

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE

In addition to the SBOE data, we finally have 2020 election results for the Congressional districts as well. With the redistricting special session about to start, let’s look at where things were in the last election.


Dist   Biden    Trump  Biden%  Trump%
=====================================
01    83,221  218,689   27.2%   71.5%
02   170,430  174,980   48.6%   49.9%
03   209,859  214,359   48.6%   49.6%
04    84,582  258,314   24.3%   74.3%
05   107,494  172,395   37.9%   60.8%
06   164,746  175,101   47.8%   50.8%
07   170,060  143,176   53.6%   45.1%
08   109,291  274,224   28.1%   70.5%
09   178,908   54,944   75.7%   23.2%
10   203,937  210,734   48.4%   50.0%
11    58,585  235,797   19.7%   79.1%
12   140,683  224,490   37.9%   60.4%
13    54,001  219,885   19.4%   79.1%
14   124,630  185,961   39.5%   59.0%
15   119,785  115,317   50.4%   48.5%
16   160,809   77,473   66.4%   32.0%
17   137,632  172,338   43.5%   54.5%
18   189,823   57,669   75.7%   23.0%
19    71,238  195,512   26.3%   72.2%
20   177,167   96,672   63.7%   34.7%
21   220,439  232,935   47.8%   50.5%
22   206,114  210,011   48.8%   49.7%
23   146,619  151,914   48.5%   50.2%
24   180,609  161,671   51.9%   46.5%
25   177,801  216,143   44.3%   53.9%
26   185,956  248,196   42.1%   56.2%
27   104,511  170,800   37.4%   61.1%
28   125,628  115,109   51.6%   47.2%
29   106,229   52,937   65.9%   32.9%
30   212,373   50,270   79.8%   18.9%
31   191,113  202,934   47.4%   50.3%
32   187,919  151,944   54.4%   44.0%
33   117,340   41,209   73.0%   25.6%
34   106,837   98,533   51.5%   47.5%
35   188,138   84,796   67.6%   30.5%
36    82,872  221,600   26.9%   71.9%

Joe Biden carried 14 of the 36 Congressional districts, the 13 that Democratic candidates won plus CD24. He came close in a lot of others – within two points in CDs 02, 03, 10, 22, and 23, and within five in CDs 06, 21, and 31 – but the Congressional map gets the award for most effecting gerrymandering, as the Presidential results most closely matched the number of districts won.

Generally speaking, Biden did a little worse than Beto in 2018, which isn’t a big surprise given that Beto lost by two and a half points while Biden lost by five and a half. Among the competitive districts, Biden topped Beto in CDs 03 (48.6 to 47.9), 07 (53.6 to 53.3), and 24 (51.9 to 51.6), and fell short elsewhere. He lost the most ground compared to Beto in the Latino districts, which is a subject we have covered in much detail. I only focused on the closer districts in my 2018 analysis, but you can see the full 2018 data here. Biden’s numbers are far more comparable to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 – I’ll get into that in more detail in a subsequent post.

As we have also seen elsewhere, Biden’s underperformance in the Latino districts – specifically, CDs 15, 28, and 34 – was generally not replicated by other candidates down the ballot. Again, I’ll get to this in more detail later, but with the exception of John Cornyn nipping MJ Hegar in CD15, Democrats other than Biden generally carried those districts by five to ten points, still closer than in 2016 but not as dire looking as they were at the top. Interestingly, where Biden really overperformed compared to the rest of the Democratic ticket was with the judicial races – Republicans carried all but one of the statewide judicial races in CD07, for example. We discussed that way back when in the earlier analyses, but it’s been awhile so this is a reminder. That’s also not too surprising given the wider spread in the judicial races than the Presidential race, and it’s also a place where one can be optimistic (we still have room to grow!) or pessimistic (we’re farther away than we thought!) as one sees fit.

I don’t have a lot more to say here that I haven’t already said in one or more ways before. The main thing to think about is that redistricting is necessarily different for the Congressional map simply because there will be two more districts. (We should think about adding legislative districts, especially Senate districts, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) I have to assume that Republicans will try to give themselves two more districts, one way or another, but I suppose it’s possible they could just seek to hold serve, if going for the gusto means cutting it too close in too many places. I figure we’ll see a starter map pretty soon, and from there it will be a matter of what alternate realities get proposed and by whom. For sure, the future plaintiffs in redistricting litigation will have their own maps to show off.

For comparison, as I did in other posts, here are the Congressional numbers from 2016 and 2012:


Dist Clinton    TrumpClinton%  Trump%
=====================================
1     66,389  189,596  25.09%  71.67%
2    119,659  145,530  42.75%  52.00%
3    129,384  174,561  39.90%  53.83%
4     60,799  210,448  21.63%  74.86%
5     79,759  145,846  34.18%  62.50%
6    115,272  148,945  41.62%  53.78%
7    124,722  121,204  48.16%  46.81%
8     70,520  214,567  23.64%  71.93%
9    151,559   34,447  79.14%  17.99%
10   135,967  164,817  42.82%  51.90%
11    47,470  193,619  19.01%  77.55%
12    92,549  177,939  32.47%  62.43%
13    40,237  190,779  16.78%  79.54%
14   101,228  153,191  38.29%  57.95%
15   104,454   73,689  56.21%  39.66%
16   130,784   52,334  67.21%  26.89%
17    96,155  139,411  38.43%  55.72%
18   157,117   41,011  76.22%  19.90%
19    53,512  165,280  23.31%  71.99%
20   132,453   74,479  60.21%  33.86%
21   152,515  188,277  42.05%  51.91%
22   135,525  159,717  43.91%  51.75%
23   115,133  107,058  49.38%  45.92%
24   122,878  140,129  44.28%  50.50%
25   125,947  172,462  39.94%  54.69%
26   109,530  194,032  34.01%  60.25%
27    85,589  140,787  36.36%  59.81%
28   109,973   72,479  57.81%  38.10%
29    95,027   34,011  70.95%  25.39%
30   174,528   40,333  79.08%  18.27%
31   117,181  153,823  40.07%  52.60%
32   134,895  129,701  48.44%  46.58%
33    94,513   30,787  72.78%  23.71%
34   101,704   64,716  59.07%  37.59%
35   128,482   61,139  63.59%  30.26%
36    64,217  183,144  25.13%  71.68%

Dist   Obama   Romney  Obama% Romney%
=====================================
01    69,857  181,833  27.47%  71.49%
02    88,751  157,094  35.55%  62.93%
03    93,290  175,383  34.13%  64.16%
04    63,521  189,455  24.79%  73.95%
05    73,085  137,239  34.35%  64.49%
06   103,444  146,985  40.72%  57.87%
07    92,499  143,631  38.57%  59.89%
08    55,271  195,735  21.74%  76.97%
09   145,332   39,392  78.01%  21.15%
10   104,839  159,714  38.77%  59.06%
11    45,081  182,403  19.55%  79.10%
12    79,147  166,992  31.65%  66.77%
13    42,518  184,090  18.51%  80.16%
14    97,824  147,151  39.44%  59.32%
15    86,940   62,883  57.35%  41.48%
16   100,993   54,315  64.03%  34.44%
17    84,243  134,521  37.76%  60.29%
18   150,129   44,991  76.11%  22.81%
19    54,451  160,060  25.02%  73.55%
20   110,663   74,540  58.77%  39.59%
21   119,220  188,240  37.85%  59.76%
22    93,582  158,452  36.68%  62.11%
23    94,386   99,654  47.99%  50.67%
24    94,634  150,547  37.98%  60.42%
25   102,433  162,278  37.80%  59.89%
26    80,828  177,941  30.70%  67.59%
27    83,156  131,800  38.15%  60.46%
28   101,843   65,372  60.21%  38.65%
29    75,720   37,909  65.89%  32.99%
30   175,637   43,333  79.61%  19.64%
31    92,842  144,634  38.11%  59.36%
32   106,563  146,420  41.46%  56.97%
33    86,686   32,641  71.93%  27.09%
34    90,885   57,303  60.71%  38.28%
35   105,550   58,007  62.94%  34.59%
36    61,766  175,850  25.66%  73.05%

Looking at the 2016 numbers, you can begin to see the outlines of future competitiveness. That’s more a function of Trump’s weak showing in the familiar places than anything else, but Democrats got their numbers up enough to make it a reality. Looking back at 2012 and you’re reminded again of just how far we’ve come. Maybe we’ll reset to that kind of position in 2022, I don’t know, but that’s a little harder to imagine when you remember that Mitt Romney won the state by ten more points than Trump did. We’ll be going down that rabbit hole soon enough. As always, let me know what you think.

New felony court coming

Your 2022 ballot is about to get longer.

A new Harris County felony court will open Sept. 1 after decades of population growth and no new criminal district judges.

The addition comes as judges, prosecutors, administrators and defense attorneys battle a massive backlog in the criminal courts, with almost 98,000 docketed cases near the end of July. Almost 54,000 of those cases were felonies, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

The 22 existing felony judges are each juggling an average of 2,392 cases on their dockets, county data shows.

Gov. Greg Abbott on June 18 signed the existence of the 482nd district court into law. He has not yet selected a judge, and the 11th Administrative Judicial Region of Texas will make a jurist available until an official appointment takes place, said Harris County district court administrator Clay Bowman.

All of the current felony judges are elected Democrats, meaning Abbott could appoint a lone Republican to the bench.

“Will appoint a Republican”, you mean. That person will very likely be voted out next November. There are already going to be a lot of contested Democratic primaries for the judicial positions. This one will surely draw a crowd as well, it just won’t be against a Democratic incumbent.

County Court judge Barnstone resigns

Ugh.

George Barnstone

A Harris County civil court judge has resigned amid several allegations of judicial misconduct, including showing bias or prejudice toward litigants and attorneys on the basis of race, sex or socioeconomic status, according to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

George Barnstone, of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1, was the subject of six complaints encompassing at least seven allegations of misconduct. Those also included claims he used his judicial office to advance his private interests and made appointments violating the Texas Government Code, which bars conflicts of interest, the resignation agreement states.

He signed the agreement on July 12, records show, and state commission Chair David Hall approved the decision Monday.

[…]

Other complaints — all listed in the agreement — alleged the judge didn’t comply with the law related to awarding attorneys fees or statutory interest post-judgment; failed to give a defendant their right to be heard; failed to treat attorneys with patience, dignity and courtesy; and failed to require and maintain order and decorum in court proceedings.

The state commission had not made any findings related to the complaints, and Barnstone’s resignation will take place instead of disciplinary action, the document reads. The resignation, however, is not an admission of guilt.

Barnstone won’t be able to run for judicial office or sit in a judicial capacity again, the agreement stipulates.

We won’t get a lot of details because the Commission will not make any findings due to the resignation, but all of this sounds bad. I found this story from 2019 while image searching, and that isn’t a good look, either. I’ve known George Barnstone for a few years – he’s a genuinely affable guy – and he made at least one other run for judge before winning in 2016, but it clearly wasn’t a good fit. I’m sorry it came to this, but it’s the right call.

Because this is a County court and not a District court, County Commissioners will get to name a replacement, as they have done before in recent years. Between this and the forthcoming replacement of Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, they’ll have some big decisions to make. I would assume they’ll have a new judge on the bench in a couple of weeks. Get your name in the hat quickly if you think it should be you.

Betsy Price to run for Tarrant County Judge

I don’t usually pay much attention to county races outside the Houston area, but there are some points of interest to discuss about this.

Betsy Price

Outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is running for Tarrant County judge in 2022, attempting a swift return to power in one of the state’s most politically important areas.

Price revealed the decision in interviews with North Texas TV stations that published Thursday morning, telling WFAA that she would make a formal announcement later.

“I promised my family I’d take a month or two off,” Price told WFAA. “I’m just getting this out there softly.”

The news of Price’s decision comes two days after the current county judge, Republican Glen Whitley, announced he would not run for reelection. He has since 2007 been at the helm of the county, the third most populous in the state and a historically Republican place where Democrats have been making inroads recently.

[…]

Price will not be unopposed in the March primary for county judge. Before Whitley made his retirement official, Tim O’Hare, former chairman of the county Republican Party, announced he was running for county judge. He launched with a list of GOP endorsements including current county GOP Chairman Rick Barnes, county Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and five state representatives from the area. O’Hare has since rolled out endorsements from U.S. Reps. Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

While Democrats do not have any known candidates for county judge yet, they can be expected to seriously contest the race after the county went their way at the top of the ticket in the last two statewide elections. The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, won the county, while President Joe Biden carried it two years later.

Here are the Tarrant County election results for 2018 and 2020. It’s widely noted that Beto O’Rourke carried Tarrant in 2018 (by a 49.93% to 49.24% margin) and Joe Biden carried it in 2020 (49.31% to 49.09%), becoming the first Dems in however long to do so. They were also the only Dems to do so. The other statewide candidates in 2018 lost by a range from one point (Justin Nelson) to ten points (Lupe Valdez), while the handful of countywide candidates all lost by about five points. This includes Lawrence Meyers (I assume the former Court of Criminal Appeals justice), who lost to now-outgoing County Judge Whitley by six points.

In 2020, the statewide Dems trailed in Tarrant by four to six points, with countywide candidates losing by six or seven points. One difference between 2018 and 2020 is that in 2018 there were literally no Democrats running for district court positions, while in 2020 there was a Dem in all but two of those races. My assumption is that the Dems will have a full slate of judicial candidates as in 2020 – there’s nothing like the hope of winning to generate that kind of interest.

We used to talk about Tarrant County as a proxy for Texas as a whole electorally. I’ve posted before about how the Presidential results in Tarrant almost eerily echoed the statewide results. That was true from 2004 through 2016, but the Beto breakthrough in 2018 was a sign that things were changing, and indeed Tarrant’s Presidential result in 2020 was several points to the left of the state’s. The county that most closely mirrored the statewide Presidential result in 2020 was Zapata, carried by Trump 52.5% to 47.1%. The closest big counties were Collin, slightly to the left at 51.4% to 47.1%, and Denton, slightly to the right at 53.2% to 45.2%.

Tarrant may have been too Democratic at the top level to be a statewide predictor, but at the District Court level they were much closer to the mark, with results ranging from 52.9% to 47.1% on one end to 53.9% to 46.1% on the other. What this reminds me of is Harris County in 2004, where District Court challengers got between 45.8% and 47.9% of the vote. That doesn’t mean anything for the path Tarrant County is on – Harris did shift a little towards Dems in 2006 before the 2008 breakthrough, in conditions that were very different from what we have now – it’s just an observation.

Finally, I don’t know anything about the other contenders for the GOP nomination for County Judge, but it’s plausible to me that someone like Betsy Price, a known quantity with a low-key style, might perform better against the partisan average than a more Trumpified Republican. Again, I don’t know the players and don’t know how that primary might shape up, but it seems highly unlikely to me that there won’t be a significant pro-Trump presence in that race. Trump is one of the two Republicans to lose Tarrant County since 2018. Make of that what you will.

Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman stepping down

Interesting.

Eva Guzman

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman is resigning from her post effective Friday.

She informed Gov. Greg Abbott of the decision in a letter sent Monday. The news was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

“With utmost gratitude for the opportunity and gift of public service, I write to inform you that I am resigning from my office,” Guzman wrote in her letter to Abbott, a copy of which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to answer this high calling.”

Guzman, a Republican, was appointed to the post in 2009 by then-Gov. Rick Perry as the first Hispanic female on the court. She ran for a full six-year term the next year before winning reelection in 2016. Her second term would have ended Dec. 31, 2022.

Before Perry appointed her to the high court, Guzman served on the 309th District Court in Harris County and the Houston-based Fourteenth Court of Appeals.

[…]

In her letter to Abbott, Guzman did not state a reason for her resignation, fueling speculation that she may have aspirations to run for another office during the 2022 election cycle.

Her resignation will create a vacancy on the state’s highest civil court, which Abbott will be able to fill with an appointment. The court is currently occupied by all Republicans.

I’ll get to the Chron story in a minute, but first two things to note. One is that Guzman was the high scorer in the 2016 election, winning 4,884,441 total votes. That’s over 75K more than the next highest candidate (Debra Lehrmann), and 200K more votes than Donald Trump. She was the strongest Republican in Latino districts, which is not a surprise. If she is running for something else, she will be harder to beat than most. Two, note that at every step of the way – district court, 14th Court of Appeals, Supreme Court – she was appointed first, and ran for a full term later. She’s far from unique in this, of course, I just noted it in this story. The ability to fill judicial vacancies is an underrated power of the Governor’s office. One does wonder what all the incumbent Republican judges and justices who are ready to step down and take a higher-paying job will do when the Democrats finally take that office.

And it usually is for a payday, if it’s not for retirement, when a judge or justice steps down like this. In this case, as that Chron story notes, the speculation is that she wants to run for something else.

One race that Guzman could be contemplating began heating up last week: the Republican primary for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s seat. Land Commissioner George P. Bush — whose uncle, former Gov. George W. Bush, first appointed Guzman to the 309th District Court in Harris County in 1999 — opened up his campaign last week.

AG makes the most sense, at least in the abstract. I mean, she’s not going to run for Ag Commissioner. The question to me is, does she get into the “I Will Gladly Debase Myself For Donald Trump’s Endorsement” sweepstakes, or does she position herself as the non-Trump candidate, with actual accomplishments and conservative bona fides? This is where I admit I’m giving this speculation the side-eye. It’s hard to imagine, at this late date and with no record of sucking up to Trump in the past, that she could out-sycophant either Ken Paxton or George P. Bush. It’s also hard to imagine that there’s enough Republican primary voters who will prefer a non-Trump candidate in this – or almost any – race. I mean, you know who else didn’t do so well in that CD06 special election? Mike Wood, the anti-Trump Republican in that race, who got a whopping 3.2% of the vote. Eva Guzman would do better than that, but I see her as the odd person out in a three-or-more-way race. There’s no evidence that there’s a constituency for that kind of candidate, and as noted it’s awfully late for her to claim to be The One True Trump Candidate. Maybe I’m missing something – maybe she thinks the Lege will draw a Congressional district for her – but I don’t see how this makes sense. We’ll see if I’m right.

Senate approves pointless appeals court

There’s more than one way to attack Democratic appellate court justices.

Sen. Joan Huffman

The Texas Senate passed a bill Wednesday to create a new statewide court of appeals that would hear cases that have statewide significance — including ones that challenge state laws, the constitution or when the state or its agencies are sued.

Currently, when such cases go to the intermediate appellate level, they are mostly heard by the 3rd Court of Appeals based in Austin. That court’s judges are elected by voters in Democratic-leaning Travis County. Senate Bill 1529, though, would send the cases to the new appellate court whose judges would be elected by voters statewide — an electorate that skews Republican.

Some of the state’s highest profile cases could be affected by this proposed court. Bill author Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said that recent lawsuits surrounding Gov. Greg Abbott’s pandemic emergency orders are examples of types of litigation the proposed court would have jurisdiction over.

Critics say the proposed new court is a Republican attempt to yank jurisdiction of these cases from Democrats.

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals has five Democrats and only one Republican. Currently, all statewide elected judges are Republican, including on the Texas Supreme Court — and it’s likely the proposed court would also be all Republican.

“Since the [3rd Court of Appeals] deals with issues facing state government, it’s a thorn in the Republican Party side,” Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University, said in an interview. “And so by transitioning that by moving that to a statewide election where Republicans have the advantage, they would be able to, most likely, flip from being a Democratic majority… to a [5-0] Republican advantage.”

Huffman maintains that she wrote the bill to promote consistency — not for partisan reasons.

“The new court has five justices elected statewide so that all Texans have a voice in electing those who decide cases of statewide significance,” she said from the Senate floor Tuesday. “It’s important for judges deciding cases of statewide importance to be familiar with specialized jurisprudence to provide consistent rulings for state litigants.”

[…]

Democrats on Tuesday raised constitutional concerns related to this bill, asking if the Legislature has the authority to create an appellate court with statewide jurisdiction, overlapping the current district system. Huffman maintains that it does.

“We’ll have to see you in court on this one,” Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said.

Darlene Byrne, chief justice on the 3rd Court of Appeals and a Democrat, said in an interview she thinks the bill is “bad policy and bad for statewide jurisprudence.”

Byrne also said the new structure would promote large campaigns.

“I don’t know of a Supreme Court race that costs less than a million dollars per candidate,” she said. “So this new statewide court is going to be mega-big donors infusing big money to influence the judiciary. And I thought we were trying to get away from that — but apparently not.”

Linda Thomas, a former Republican chief justice of the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals, said she believed the bill was unnecessary.

“As a retired judge, I think it’s a little disingenuous, and in some ways, insulting to the sitting justices of this state to indicate that they are not capable of handling complex business cases,” Thomas said.

I noted this in passing in my initial post about appellate court redistricting, the bill for which has since been withdrawn for the time being. I tend to agree with Justice Thomas, and I also think that insult was a feature and not a bug. Sen. Huffman’s justification for this new court is ridiculous on its face, because all of the lawsuits in question start out in a district court, with a judge that was elected by local voters in far lesser numbers than for appellate court justices. That’s not exactly conducive to “consistent rulings for state litigants”. Why not go whole hog and create an entirely separate court system for “cases of statewide importance” (whatever that means, and I’ll bet that very topic becomes a contentious point of appeals in itself) so as to avoid local yokel judges making insufficiently erudite rulings? One could argue that Sen. Huffman is actually making a back-handed case for ending the election of judges in the first place. At least that would be a more honest approach to this.

I have no idea what the prospects are for this in the House, but I do feel confident that there will be litigation if and when this does pass. That lawsuit would eventually come before a district court of appeals, as one presumes it would be halted from taking effect pending the litigation, before ultimately being decided by the Supreme Court. I’ll leave it to you to sort out where that all lands on the Irony-o-Meter.

Appellate court redistricting bill withdrawn

I had a post all ready to go yesterday with more on the bill to redistrict the appellate courts, and then this happened on Thursday night:

This is not the end of it – there will be at least one special session on legislative redistricting, after all – but whatever does happen, it won’t be in this session. So the post that I had queued up for Friday morning became out of date, and so here we are. The original post is beneath the fold because it’s still worth reading, so click on for more. Whatever made this delay happen, I’m glad for it. Hopefully we will get a better bill out of this in the end, but we can’t take that for granted. The Chron story from Friday about this is here.

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Let’s get rid of Democratic appellate court justices

If that’s the Legislature’s goal, then this would be an effective way of accomplishing it.

A Texas Senate committee [heard] public comment Thursday on a controversial proposal to consolidate the state’s 14 intermediate appellate courts into just seven, a move opponents have criticized as gerrymandering but that supporters say will make the courts more efficient and cure knotty court splits.

A committee substitute to S.B. 11 proposes dramatic changes to the organization of the state’s appellate districts: It would combine Houston’s two appellate courts, merge the Dallas and Austin districts together, lasso Waco and Eastland into a division with Texarkana and Fort Worth, and move two San Antonio justices to Midland in a district that would span roughly 500 miles — from Kendall County just southwest of Austin to the state’s western edge and include El Paso — among other changes.

The state’s current number and location of appellate courts largely reflects the state’s demographics, economy and travel conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP partner Scott Brister wrote in a 2003 Houston Bar Association article.

Brister, who formerly served as a Texas Supreme Court justice and chief justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, told Law360 the districts need to be updated and consolidated.

“I just think 14 is too many,” he said. “They’re not located where all the people and the cases are.”

Yet opponents of the consolidation plan say it is blatant gerrymandering, and the worst instance of it they’ve seen in the Texas judiciary.

Elsa Alcala, a former justice on the First Court of Appeals in Houston and Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals, took to Twitter to call out the plan, writing “This has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with electing Republicans to the bench.”

Since the 2018 general election, a wave of Democratic justices have ousted Republican from Texas appellate benches in record numbers, largely concentrated in urban population centers.

Alcala told Law360 that in the past the Legislature has changed jurisdictions one county at a time, but lawmakers have never proposed completely eradicating certain appellate courts like the proposed committee substitute bill does.

“This is the most significant and blatant change I’ve ever seen,” she said.

S.B. 11 originally called for a realignment of five counties that are currently under the jurisdiction of two appellate courts outside of the Houston district to eliminate overlapping jurisdiction between multiple courts.

Details for the new bill were leaked and spread on social media Tuesday, but the bill’s text [hadn’t] yet been made public. Law360 has reviewed a map detailing the new appellate districts as well as a bill summary and a table explaining how the 80 Texas justices would be distributed among the new districts.

According to the bill summary, consolidating the appellate districts would balance a “highly unbalanced” workload across the courts, an issue the Texas judiciary has dealt with for years through a docket equalization program that transfers cases when needed. The summary cites workload data showing that, between 2015 and 2019, the Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso received an average of 79 appeals per justice compared to 158 appeals per justice in the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

[…]

During her time on the First Court of Appeals, which has nine justices, Alcala said she would frequently review opinions handed down by her colleagues to make sure she didn’t have any qualms about their rulings. But on a court with 21 justices, it would be impossible to review all those decisions, she said.

Lawyers are also concerned that larger benches could cause issues at the ballot box.

Alcala said there’s already an issue with the public being able to make informed choices during elections about the various judges on the ballot. Expanding the court’s jurisdictions would mean more judges for the public to inform themselves about before voting.

Brister acknowledged that under the committee’s substitute, voting would look different. He would be concerned if he were a judge in Texarkana on the state’s eastern border with Arkansas, for example, because under the new district alignment, there’s a good chance voters from the more populous Fort Worth would control outcomes in the district and knock some small-town judges off the bench.

Christopher Kratovil, managing partner of Dykema Gossett PLLC’s Dallas office, told Law360 he can see both sides of the consolidation argument but believes the committee’s substitute isn’t the proper way to redistrict the state.

“I do think there are some good-faith efficiency arguments for reducing the number of intermediate appellate courts in the state,” he said. “That said, this is not based on efficiency. If we’re being honest about this, it is a partisan gerrymandered map to return control of the majority of the state intermediate appellate courts to the Republican party.”

Other attorneys, like solo appellate practitioner Chad Ruback, are upset that information about the committee substitute bill hasn’t been released ahead of Thursday’s public hearing. The original version of S.B. 11 is currently attached to agenda materials for the meeting.

“That doesn’t give the appellate judiciary — or appellate lawyers who regularly practice in front of them — much time to analyze the potential ramifications of the proposed changes in advance of the hearing,” he said. “That looks awfully suspicious.”

See here for the background. Not being transparent about the process or giving anyone the time to review the bill in question is on brand for the Republicans. To give you a sense of what this looks like, here’s a picture from the story:

This Twitter thread from Dylan Drummond gives you the data:

Maybe the new Fifth Circuit, with Dallas and Travis Counties, or the Third, with Bexar County and South Texas, would lean Democratic. I’d have to do a more in depth analysis. Katie Buehler, the reporter of the story linked above, attended the hearing and reported that Sen. Nathan Johnson said it would be a 5-2 split. Whatever the case, I guarantee you that someone with strong Republican credentials has already done such an analysis, and these districts are drawn in a maximally beneficial way for Republicans. What would even be the point from their perspective if that wasn’t the case?

You’ve read many bloviations from me over the years about why calls to change the way we select judges from the current system of partisan elections to something else were mostly a smokescreen to disguise complaints about the fact that Democrats were now winning many of those elections. It has never escaped my notice that we only began seeing those calls for change after the 2008 election, when Dems broke through in Harris County, and it moved to DefCon 1 following the 2018 election. If nothing else, I thank Sen. Joan Huffman for putting the lie to the idea that the motivating factor behind those calls for change was a fairer or more equitable or more merit-based system for picking judges, or that “taking politics out of the system” had anything to do with it. No, it is exactly what I thought it was from the beginning, a means to ensure that as many judges are Republican as possible. There may well be legitimate merits to rethinking the appellate court system in Texas – I’m not an appellate lawyer, I have no idea – but it’s crystal clear that this ain’t it. This is a full employment program for Republicans who want to be judges. That’s what we’ll get if this bill passes.

Which it has now done from the Senate committee, on a partisan 3-2 vote. For a report from the committee hearing, where multiple appellate court justices from both parties testified against SB11, see Law360 and The Texas Lawbook. This is easily the biggest redistricting matter going on right now it’s getting very little attention so far. (The DMN has a story, but it’s subscriber-only, which limits the impact.) Let’s not let this slip through without being noticed.

UPDATE: The Chron now has a story as well, and it contains this knee-slapper:

Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, also an attorney, asked Huffman if she took partisanship into consideration when making the maps.

“Some people think this is going to result in five Republican courts and two Democratic courts,” Johnson said. “Do you think that would accurately represent the partisan breakdown of this state?”

Huffman said she did not consider political makeup in drawing the maps and didn’t know how her plan might alter that.

Yeah, that’s obvious bullshit. Anyone with a list of counties per appellate district and access to recent state election results could tell you in five minutes what the likely orientation of each district would look like. Joan Huffman isn’t stupid, but if that’s what she claims then she thinks the rest of us are.

One more thing:

Another bill introduced by Huffman would create a statewide Court of Appeals that would have exclusive jurisdiction over civil cases of statewide significance filed by or against state agencies or officials. The justices on the court, seated in Austin, would be elected on a statewide ballot. No Democrat has won statewide office since 1994.

That bill was met with similar opposition and accusations of partisan motivation. It, too, was referred to the full Senate on a 3-2 party line vote.

This appears to be SB1529, and I heard about it yesterday for the first time. I have no idea what problem (real, imagined, or political) this is intended to solve. Any thoughts from the lawyers out there?

Republicans take aim at bail reform

Lots of bad ideas in here.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Members of the Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence held their first hearing this week over Senate Bill 21, a controversial bail reform bill backed by Republicans.

The purpose of the bill according to its author Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is to prevent repeat violent offenders from committing new crimes after being released on personal bond. A personal bond is an agreement to appear in court that allows a defendant to be released without any financial obligation, unlike a cash bond or a surety bond with a bail company.

Opponents who testified against the legislation Thursday warned that language of the bill goes much further than simply attempting to keep violent criminals locked up.

“This is a work in progress, I know this bill is not perfect, I know it’s not ready to be passed,” Huffman, who chairs the committee said at the beginning of the hearing.

Under the text of the bill, a person charged with a crime would not be eligible for release if they have recently failed to appear in court for another offense, if they have been charged with any other crime after being released on bond, or if they have been recently convicted of a felony, Class A or B misdemeanor. That includes charges for resisting arrest, possession of marijuana, prostitution and many other non-violent offenses.

To be clear, so-called violent repeat offenders would still be able to be bailed out of jail, just not on personal bond, which waives the financial obligation meant to incentive someone to appear in court.

[…]

Mike Fields, a former Republican judge in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 14, testified against the bill calling it an “overreach” and a return to the bad old days.

Fields said he was an original defendant in the O’Donnell lawsuit, the major lawsuit that was filed against the county’s wealth-based bail detention system and which ended in a settlement that allowed for the release of a majority of misdemeanor defendants.

“I switched from my position of opposition to the O’Donnell lawsuit to agreeing with it, I was only one of two judges who did,” Fields said.

He said that the 72 homicides in Harris County committed by people out on bond in 2020 — a figure cited by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg earlier in her testimony in support of the bill — were largely done by defendants with surety bond, or bonds posted by a bail bond company.

“I learned after 20 years of being a Republican judge in Harris County, that money does not make us safer,” Fields said. “Conditions make us safer. Assessment makes us safer. Using smarter strategies to keep people who need to be incarcerated, incarcerated, and those who don’t out. That’s what makes us safer.”

Fields said the conflation with misdemeanor and felony cases had led to legislation like SB 21 that would cast a broad net hurting taxpayers and slowing the work of criminal courts.

Emily Garrick, an attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project, a criminal justice nonprofit and one of the groups involved in the O’Donnell v. Harris County lawsuit, said SB 21 would allow people who don’t have money to stay in jail and those who do to be released from jail despite having similar charges — a violation of the decision by federal judges that ruled Harris County’s wealth-based pre-trial detention system to be unconstitutional for that very reason.

Another aspect of SB 21 grilled during the hearing was the bill’s restrictions on charitable bail organizations, or groups (often churches or advocacy groups) that organize bail funds to help defendants who could otherwise not pay for their release. Among other things, the bill would only allow charitable bail organizations to pay bail bonds for defendants charged with misdemeanors and would restrict them from paying no more than $2,000 for each defendant they want to help.

This Trib story from earlier in March covered a lot of this ground already, while Grits has noted that much of this bill is or will be in conflict with federal court rulings. This is a classic “solution in search of a problem” situation, with a side order of retaliation against Harris County and its Democratic judiciary. It’s very likely that this bill will evolve before it comes to a vote, but it’s much less likely that it will transform into something productive.

Precinct analysis: Fort Bend County, part 2

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1

This post is going to focus on the judicial races in Fort Bend County. There are a lot of them – seven statewide, four appellate, five district and county – and I don’t want to split them into multiple posts because there’s not enough to say about them, nor do I want to present you with a wall of numbers that will make your eyes glaze over. So, I’m going to do a bit of analysis up top, then put all the number beneath the fold for those who want a closer look or to fact-check me. I’ll have one more post about the Fort Bend county races, and then maybe I’ll take a crack at Brazoria County, which will be even more manual labor than these posts were.

The point of interest at the statewide level is in the vote differentials between the three races that included a Libertarian candidate and the four races that did not. Just eyeballing the totals and bearing in mind that there’s some variance in each group, the Republican candidate got an increase of a bit more than half of the Libertarian vote total in each district, while the Democrats were more or less around the same level. That comports with the general thesis that Libertarians tend to take votes away from Republicans more than Democrats, though the effect here was pretty small. It’s also a small sample, and every county has its own characteristics, so don’t go drawing broad conclusions. For what it’s worth, there wasn’t anything here to contradict that piece of conventional wisdom.

For the appellate court races, the thing I have obsessed over is the incredibly small margin in the election for Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals, which Jane Robinson lost by 1500 votes, or 0.06 percentage points. We saw in Harris County that she trailed the two victorious Democrats, Veronica Rivas-Molloy and Amparo Guerra, who were part of a trend in Harris County where Latino candidates generally out-performed the rest of the ticket. That wasn’t quite the case in Fort Bend. Robinson again trailed Rivas-Molloy by a little – in overall vote total, Robinson trailed Rivas-Molloy by about two thousand votes, while Republican Tracy Christopher did an equivalent amount better than Russell Lloyd. But unlike in Harris, Robinson outperformed Guerra, by about a thousand votes, and Guerra barely beat out Tamika Craft, who was farther behind the pack in Harris County. I don’t have a good explanation for that, it looks to me just like a weird result that has no obvious cause or correlation to what we saw elsewhere. It’s also the case, as we discussed in part one of the Fort Bend results, that if Dems had done a better job retaining voters downballot, none of this would matter all that much.

Finally, in the district court races (there were four of them, plus one county court), the results that grabbed my attention were in a couple of contests that appeared one after the other. Republican Maggie Jaramillo, running for the 400th District Court, was the closest member of Team GOP to win, as she lost to Tameika Carter by ten thousand votes. In the next race, for the 434th District Court, Republican Jim Shoemake lost to Christian Becerra by twenty-two thousand votes. This was the difference between a three-point loss for Jaramillo, and a six-and-a-half point loss for Shoemake. Jaramillo was the top performing Republican candidate in any race in Fort Bend, while Becerra was sixth best among Dems, trailing Joe Biden, three statewide judicial candidates, and Sheriff Eric Fagan. You may have noticed that they’re both Latinos, though the effect appears to have been a bit greater for the Republican Jaramillo. Becerra was the only Dem besides Biden to carry Commissioners Court Precinct 1, though that may not have been strictly a Latino candidate phenomenon – Elizabeth Frizell had the next highest percentage, with Veronica Rivas-Molloy and Tina Clinton close behind. (Amy Clark Meachum and Staci Williams, both in three-candidate races, came closer to carrying CC1 than any other candidates, but their percentage of the vote was lower.) Again, no broad conclusions here, just an observation.

Click on for the race data, and remember I had to piece this together by hand, so my numbers may be a little off from the official state totals when those come out. County races are next. Let me know what you think.

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The Republican war against Harris County

To be fair, it’s not just Harris County that’s in the crosshairs, it’s the big urban counties, and cities in general. But it’s real and it’s dangerous and it’s anti-democratic.

Republicans in the Texas Legislature are gearing up to bar local governments from hiring lobbyists, punish cities that reduce their police budgets and restrict county judges’ power during future pandemics when lawmakers convene in Austin later this month.

The measures are sure to escalate the long-running feud between Texas’ conservative leaders and the mostly Democratic officials who run the state’s largest cities and counties. And while higher profile items such as coronavirus relief and redistricting are expected to eat up much of the 140-day session, Republicans have made clear they will carve out time for items such as the lobbying ban.

“In terms of (taxpayer-funded) lobbying, it’s morphed into a kind of partisan struggle,” said Michael Adams, chair of the political science department at Texas Southern University. “The Dems were hoping, particularly in the House of Representatives, they would fare better (in the November elections). But that didn’t happen, and so we still see the dominance of the Republican Party in all branches of the state government. And certainly I think they will send a signal.”

Local officials have been bracing for an especially difficult session since October 2019, when House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was caught on tape saying he had tried to make that year “the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.” Bonnen said he made his goal evident to “any mayor, county judge that was dumbass enough to come meet with me.”

[…]

Last session, Republicans nearly ushered through a bill to prevent large cities and counties from spending tax revenue on lobbying, but the measure died in the final days when voted down in the House. Bonnen in 2019 announced he would not seek re-election after he was heard on the same tape recording targeting fellow Republicans who opposed the lobbying ban.

Though the Legislature does not begin until Jan. 12, lawmakers already have filed numerous bills related to cities and other local entities. State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, has proposed making cities liable for damages if they release someone from custody who was the subject of a federal immigration detainer request and that person commits a felony within 10 years.

A bill filed by state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, would prevent cities and counties from requiring businesses to adopt labor peace agreements — in which employers agree not to oppose unionization efforts in exchange for employee unions agreeing not to go on strike — in order to receive a contract. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, has filed legislation that would allow business owners to halt local laws in court if the law “would result in an adverse economic impact” on the owner.

Swanson also filed a bill that would abolish the Harris County Department of Education, unless voters decide to continue it through a referendum on the November 2022 ballot. Conservative lawmakers have long sought to shutter or study closing the agency, the last remaining countywide education department in Texas.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed legislation that would codify a Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to every registered voter in the county ahead of the November election. Swanson filed the House companion bill.

That’s a lot, and it doesn’t count the revenue cap, or this little gem that I had been unaware of:

During the 2019 legislative session, Abbott quietly backed a bill that would have maintained the current system in Texas’ rural Republican regions while changing it in more densely populated, mostly Democratic counties. That bill, which failed, would essentially have allowed the Republican governor to pick judges in the state’s Democratic areas, while Republican voters picked judges in the conservative areas.

I have to say, on reading all this my first reaction was why would anyone in Harris County want to be governed by people who hate us and want to do us harm? Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if Harris County were its own state. We’d have something like ten electoral votes all on our own, and we wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of bullshit.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. It’s not that long ago that “local control” was a Republican slogan rather than a quaint idea. But it’s also not that long ago that Harris was a Republican stronghold, and the radical shift in philosophy isn’t a coincidence. It’s very much of a piece with the Trump administration’s attacks on blue states, and of the increasingly bizarre and undemocratic legal arguments being made about this past election, including the one that the Supreme Court briefly considered that federal courts could overrule state courts on matters of state administration of elections. It has nothing to do with federalism or “states’ rights” or local control or any other mantra, but everything to do with the fact that Republicans don’t recognize any authority that isn’t theirs. If they don’t like it, it’s not legitimate, and the laws and the voters can go screw themselves.

This, as much as anything, is the tragedy of Dems not being able to retake the State House. With no check on their power, the Republicans are going to do what they want, and the best we can do is try to slow them down. It makes the 2022 election, and the continued need to break through at the statewide level, so vital. I’ll say it one more time, nothing will change until we can win enough elections to change the balance of power in this state. And if someone can give me an answer to that “how can Harris County become its own state” question, I’m listening.

No consensus on partisan judicial elections

Even the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection can’t agree.

There’s always been room for disagreement on the question of how to select judges in Texas. That won’t change in recommendations by the Lone Star State’s latest commission looking at the issue.

With a report to the Texas Legislature coming due this month, the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection met on Friday to vote on the recommendations it would include for Texas lawmakers to consider. The commission members’ votes were split down the middle when they were asked if Texas should stop electing judges as Republicans or Democrats and switch to a method where a commission initially appoints judges, who then run in retention elections. But the members found more agreement with smaller reforms, such as increasing the minimum qualifications to be a judge or further regulating how judges can use money in their campaigns.

When the final report comes out, it will say that Texas should not continue with partisan judicial elections. But that decision was highly divisive, with an 8-7 vote.

Most of the “no” votes came from Texas senators and representatives—both Republicans and Democrats—who serve on the commission. If their view is similar to their colleagues in the Texas Legislature, the recommendation has a slim-to-none chance of passing the lawmaking body.

“Constituents have relayed to me they do not want to have their rights taken away from them on judges they want to serve on these benches,” said Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said he would not take away Texans’ constitutional rights.

“I’m going to be voting to stay with the current method of partisan selection, but I’m encouraging us to increase qualifications on the judges,” he said.

Considering that a majority of the commission did vote to recommend eliminating partisan judge races, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she would not sign off on the commission’s report, and did not want her name associated with it, unless the report clearly explained her disagreement.

“We’re going to set forth exactly what the vote was, so everyone knows what they are agreeing to and what they are not,” replied commission Chairman David Beck, a partner in Beck Redden in Houston who added that Huffman could write a separate statement in the report about her viewpoint.

Another divisive vote asked if the commission should recommend that Texas create a judicial selection commission that would initially appoint judges to the bench, and then they would run in retention elections to keep their seats. The commission was tied on the idea by a 7-7 vote, with one member abstaining. Again, it was the legislator-members of the commission who said no.

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, and I said quite a bit of it in those two posts, so I’ll leave it at that. The Commission‘s report is due today, so we’ll see what they have to say. They did find more agreement on questions of mandating more experience for judicial candidates and for further regulating campaign contributions for judicial races. As a philosophical matter, I’m fine with those ideas, though of course the details will matter. The bottom line here seems to be that there’s zero appetite in the Legislature to make fundamental changes to our judicial election system. As I’ve said many times, until someone actually comes up with a viable alternate system that addresses the actual complaints people have with the current system without introducing other problems, this is how it should be.

UPDATE: Here’s a Trib story about this.