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judicial races

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Harris County can include about 2,100 ballots cast during an extra hour of Election Day voting when officials certify the midterm results. But the state’s highest civil court also ordered Harris County to determine whether those late-cast ballots would affect the outcome of any races — and kept alive Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to counting them.

It’s a win, at least temporarily, for Harris County officials in a fight against Paxton’s attempt to discard thousands of midterm ballots as election results are set to be certified Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said that about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. Election Day should be counted. Those ballots were cast after a district court judge ordered Harris County polling places to remain open an extra hour because many locations had opened late that morning.

“The votes that were cast during that time period pursuant to a court order are still perfectly legal. And there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them from being counted,” Menefee said. “So our perspective is that those provisional ballots are no different than any other provisional ballots — they are to be counted.”

Harris County officials argued as much in a filing to the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday. That came one day after Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court to toss the late-cast ballots.

[…]

In at least one race, the provisional ballots could impact the outcome. After provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the incumbent for Harris County’s 180th Criminal State District Court, DaSean Jones, went from trailing Republican Tami Pierce to leading by less than 500 votes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

See here for the background and here for the court’s order. It’s just one page long, and the gist of it is this:

In this mandamus proceeding, which challenges Harris County election officials’ processing of the “later cast votes,” we grant the following temporary relief under Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.10(b):

  • Respondents are directed to conduct the canvass of the November 2022 election as required by the Election Code.
  • As part of the canvass, respondents are ordered to separately identify in the vote tabulations the number of “later cast votes” for each candidate in each race and for or against each proposition, so that candidates, the parties, and this Court may ascertain whether the “later cast votes” would be outcome-determinative and so that the parties can assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.
  • Respondents are ordered to provide the Court with a copy of the canvass results, including the separately tabulated “later cast votes,” as soon as they are available.

The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.

I presume that last line is there in the event the provisional ballots have an effect on the 180th Criminal District Court race, in which event (again, I presume) the merits of the arguments will have to be addressed. Lawyers, please feel free to correct me as needed. The only other race that is close enough to be even theoretically affected by the provisional ballots is the County Criminal Court #3 race, where Porsha Brown trails by the even smaller margin of 267 votes. However, given that the provisional votes cast on Election Day favored Democrats, it’s even less likely for that race to be affected, and it would be impossible for both of them to be in a position to change.

I maintain as I said yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the 180th Court will be affected. If you throw out all of the Election Day provisional ballots, DaSean Jones still leads by 89 votes. There are apparently 2,100 provisional Election Day ballots in question, out of 2,555 total E-Day provisionals and 2,420 that included a vote in this race. The odds that Jones could lose the entire 360 vote net he got from the E-Day provisionals plus another 90 votes in this subset of the total ballots just strike me as extremely remote. I wish the stories that have been published about this would go into more detail about this as I have done – yes, I know, math is hard, but you could at least use “highly unlikely” language to offer some context. By the time this runs in the morning we’ll know what the official canvass says, and from there we’ll see if an election challenge will follow.

The Chron story, from a bit later in the day, has more details.

While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the “later cast votes for each candidate in each race.” That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and “assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.”

Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

“At this point, we do not anticipate that it impacts the outcome of any races,” Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne said. “Of course the [Texas Supreme Court] proceedings remain pending and the court could rule on something. And of course there can always be election contests. Many of those races were close, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see candidates filing election contests.”

[…]

On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting.

Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That evening, in quick succession, Paxton’s office filed its writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. “should be segregated,” without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

Because the proceedings are still ongoing, it is too soon to know whether the ability to extend voting hours in the future could be impacted.

“The court hasn’t specified whether or not that’s legal,” Fombonne said. “The proceedings are pending. There may be an opinion in the future that addresses that question.”

Hani Mirza, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program, was part of the team that sought the court order extending voting hours this year. The group also filed a lawsuit in 2018 obtaining a similar court order in Harris County. Mirza said in the case four years ago, Paxton’s office did not ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

Nor did Paxton’s office intervene this year when voting hours were also extended by one hour in Bell County because of early morning glitches with check-in systems. The Bell County attorney confirmed last week that a court order there had not been challenged by the Attorney General’s Office or another party.

“It doesn’t make any sense outside of, obviously, cynical partisanship and these targeted actions against Harris County, the most diverse county in the state” Mirza said.

That sort of addresses my question above about the last line in the SCOTx order. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that. The election has been certified by Commissioners Court, which if nothing else avoids the drama of any further delays. As to who might file a contest, again we’ll have to see. Seems like a lot of fuss for something that is unlikely to go anywhere, but who knows.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election.

The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period on Nov. 8.

“Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass,” Christopher Hilton, chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division said Monday. “We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we’re going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires.”

The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

“A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls to open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the Attorney General can’t accept the results of Harris County elections.”

[…]

According to emails shared with Chronicle, parties including the Texas Attorney General’s office, Harris County Attorney’s office, Texas Civil Rights Project, Harris County Republican Party and Harris County Democratic Party all signed off an agreement on Nov. 11 for processing the provisional ballots.

First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne wrote the Harris County Attorney’s office was approving the agreement “based on the understanding that the Texas Supreme Court’s order does not prohibit the tabulating of those votes as long as the ballots themselves remain segregated.”

Kimberly Gdula, deputy chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, signed off on the agreement in an email: “The State is good with this.”

However, Sunday evening, two days before the commissioner’s court meeting to certify the election results, Hilton, the chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, sent an email to the parties questioning the legal basis for including the provisional ballots cast after 7 p,m. in the final count and seeking clarification “so that the parties can pursue any legal remedies, if necessary.”

In a statement Monday, Harris County Attorney’s office spokesperson Roxanne Werner said: “Representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Republican Party asked for the language describing that process to be removed from the agreed order, leaving Harris County to process and count the late ballots as they would other provisional ballots while ensuring they were kept segregated. All parties were put on notice that the votes would be counted.”

“This 11th-hour ask to throw those votes away should not be tolerated, especially considering the State rejected the County’s offer to hold off on counting these votes while it sought clarification from the Supreme Court,” Werner added.

See here and here for some background about the litigation that allowed polling locations to remain open until 8 PM. As the story notes, Bell County had similar issues with some polling locations and also got a court order allowing locations to remain open until 8 PM, which the AG’s office has not opposed. The main takeaway here is that not only can you not trust anything Paxton says, you also can’t trust anything his office says, even if they sign their names to it. No wonder he’s having a hard time retaining staff.

As a reminder, and as you can see from the report released by the Elections Office on the 18th, DaSean Jones netted 360 votes from the provisional ballots cast on Election Day. However, he is leading by 449 votes, so if you threw out all of the E-Day provisionals, he would still be ahead by 89 votes in his race. He had already overcome the 165-vote deficit he had in earlier reports thanks to the counting of cured mail ballots, which had gained him 259 votes.

It’s actually not clear from the story how many ballots we’re talking about. The story refers to “2,000 provisional ballots”. I can’t tell if this is just using a round number because exact figures are confusing or if this is the exact figure. There were 2,555 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, of which 2,420 included a vote in the DaSean Jones – Tami Pierce race. I guess it’s theoretically possible that of the provisional E-Day ballots that were specifically cast by people who got in line after 7 PM (because if you were already in line you were always allowed to vote), Jones had a net advantage of at least 450 over Pierce. To say the least, that would be an extraordinary circumstance. (*)

I point this out to say that barring something truly weird, Paxton’s bad faith filing will not – can not – have any effect on any race. That doesn’t change the fact that his filing is trash and should be rejected by SCOTx on the grounds that these people deserve to have their votes counted. The remedy for having to vote late because of voting location problems is to extend voting hours to accommodate those that were affected. Just like what happened in Bell County (won by Greg Abbott 59.04% to 39.52%, in case you were curious), which the AG has accepted as fact. I for one don’t see any difference between the two.

(*) I did search on the Supreme Court webpage for Paxton’s mandamus filing, which might have been more specific and thus answered my questions. Looking on the Electronic Filings search, I think this case is number 22-1044. However, the hyperlink for that case didn’t work when I tried it, and searching for the case via that number returned no results. If you can do better than I did, or if the webpage eventually fixes itself, let me know.

UPDATE: The Trib story also references “2,000 ballots”, which does not help clear up my confusion. They also refer to the overall total of about 4,000 provisional ballots – the actual overall total is 4,333, of which 1,778 were cast early and are clearly not at issue. So, until I hear otherwise, it is my contention that these provisional ballots are not enough to alter any race’s result, and also that this doesn’t matter because all of the ballots should be counted. We’ll see what the Court says.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

I’m sure someone is going to throw a fit over this.

Judge DaSean Jones

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted.

Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional.

[…]

According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the “final unofficial posting” before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

See here, when I published the previous count, which was as of November 10 at 2:42 PM. Those were the last results before provisional votes were counted – as we know, those always take a few days for review. With the new restrictions on mail ballots, the same law that added those restrictions also allows for mail ballots that have a defect in them, such as lacking the correct ID number (drivers license number or last four digits of the SSN, depending on which you used to register with), to be corrected up to six days after the election, as noted by the Secretary of State. I presume that means up through Monday the 14th, I haven’t checked to see what the exact specification in the law is.

Be that as it may, here’s the November 10 report, which as noted had no provisional ballots and still some uncounted mail ballots. At that time, a total of 60,302 mail ballots had been counted, and as we know they favored Democrats countywide. Beto was leading in mail ballots in that report 62.25% to 36.76% over Greg Abbott, a net of 15,151 votes, while Lina Hidalgo had a 60.26% to 39.65% (11,960 votes) advantage. DaSean Jones was up 31,382 (56.12%) to 24,541 (43.88%) as of the 10th.

In the report from the 18th, which included the final mail totals as well as the provisionals, Jones gained 259 net votes, going to a 31,914 to 24,814 lead. Counted provisional votes were sorted into those from Early Voting and those from Election Day. His opponent Tami Pierce netted five votes in the former, winning them 850 to 845, but Jones added another 360 to his margin by taking Election Day provisional votes 1,390 to 1,030.

Overall, the EV provisional votes had a slight Democratic lean – looking just at the judicial races, the Democratic share of the EV provisionals was generally a fraction of a point to a point higher than the overall early vote percent. Jones was one of three Democratic judicial candidates to not carry the EV provisionals – Genmayel Haynes, one of the four remaining Democrats who lost, and Tami Craft, who had the closest margin of victory among the Dems who won before Jones’ ascent, were the other two. Dems won the Election Day provisional vote by a much more solid margin, in the 57-60% range in the judicial races I looked at. That right there suggests to me that the Republican claims about voting location problems affecting them disproportionately are bogus.

For what it’s worth, Beto now has 54.03% of the vote in Harris County; my previous post with the 2022 update on how statewide results compared to Harris County is now out of date, which is a lesson I’ll learn for next time. Lina Hidalgo increased her lead to 1.67 percentage points, now 0.09 points bigger than her percentage margin from 2018 though her raw vote margin of 18,183 is still slightly less. The Democrat among the four who lost who came closest to winning is now Porsha Brown, who now trails Leslie Johnson 50.01% to 49.99%, a 267 vote margin. Final turnout is 1,107,390, or about 43.75% of registered voters.

A brief look at the judicial races

From a few days ago:

The advertisements rolled out with weeks to go until the November election. In one TV spot, the sister of Martha Medina urged Harris County voters in Spanish and another in English to honor her sister, killed in 2021 during a purse snatching, by electing new tough-on-crime judges.

Stop Houston Murders PAC made similar calls to action in TV ads and online, pleading with the public to rid the felony courts of Democratic judges. The action committee blamed Judge Hilary Unger for facilitating Medina’s death when she set bail for her accused assailant on an earlier capital murder charge. The group blasted other felony judges for similar bail decisions, implying that pretrial releases had led to a rise in violent crime.

Hours before the polls closed on Election Day, the Houston Police Officers Union joined the effort, tweeting a photo of the criminal courthouse stating there would be “zero sympathy” for the judges voted out of office.

By Wednesday morning, the damage to Democrats on the felony bench was contained. Seven incumbents, including Unger, narrowly survived the barrage of rhetoric — winning their races and seemingly validating their progressive approach to bail and punishment decisions.

[…]

Judge Josh Hill, an incumbent Democrat, addressed his win Thursday, saying he had feared voters would take the conservative messaging to heart. For months, he had been unable to response to misinformation in attack ads and news reports because judicial rules prohibit judges from speaking about pending cases.

But the ads didn’t sway enough voters to topple him or remove most of his colleagues.

“If it did anything — it was minimally effective at best,” Hill said.

The crime-focused PAC, with endorsements from loved ones of Harris County crime victims, began pouring more than $2 million into local races months before the November election. The committee blamed the wave of Democratic judges elected in 2018 and thereafter for what they described as a crime crisis in the region.

The PAC said it supported reducing the backlog of felony cases by forcing trials to take place within a year of arrest and prohibiting the release of defendants accused of crimes related to firearms.

I know this PAC spent a lot of money on this – you should definitely read that linked story about who the sources of the money were, and then go re-read that Endorsement Regrets editorial; good times, good times – but it was mostly invisible to me. I think maybe I saw one TV ad for them, there was one billboard on I-45 South just north of the I-10 exit, which was high up and hard to read, and a few yard signs around. No online ads that I can recall, which is usually where I get the most exposure. I’m sure it was different for others, but the joy I get imagining them setting all that money on fire is real.

Nothing new in this article about the numbers, which I wrote about on Monday. On Thursday, I got a mention in the Chron’s latest lament about judicial elections.

The lesson is clear: Texans’ compulsion to vote straight-ticket, even if we have to do so manually these days after lawmakers took away the quick option, is strong enough to ensure that the solidly Democratic counties remained blue. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke may have lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — he won Harris County by half the margin he did when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 — but his coattails were just long enough to drag down-ballot candidates across the finish line.

And yet the narrow margins for Democrats in Harris County suggest that the money funneled by Republicans targeting certain candidates as soft on crime was effective and resonated with voters concerns about public safety. These ads singled out many felony judicial candidates for making bail decisions in cases where defendants were freed on bond and then were re-arrested on new violent charges — including, in some cases, murder.

As local politics blogger Charles Kuffner noted in a recent post, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County typically outperform the statewide candidates. This year’s election broke with that trend: Only eight of the 61 Democrats running for criminal and civil district and county courts won more than 51 percent of the vote. The gap between the top of the ticket — O’Rourke with 54 percent — and the lowest vote-getter among Democratic judicial candidates — misdemeanor court candidate Je’Rell Rogers with 49.3 percent — was the largest since 2010.

“That shows you that there was a lot of defection,” Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University, told the editorial board. “With judicial candidates, I think people made rational choices. They thought Democrats were really bad, not bad enough to replace, but not good enough to give them the kind of margins they got in 2016, 2018 and again in 2020.”

There were, however, some down-ballot results that defied conventional wisdom. While there are still some provisional ballots to be counted in Harris County, as of Wednesday, District Court Judge DaSean Jones, a Democrat, trailed his Republican opponent, Tami Pierce, by 165 votes. In another district court race, Harris County public defender Gemayel Haynes, a Democrat, trailed Republican candidate Kristin Guiney by about 4,300 votes. In the misdemeanor courts, Democratic candidates Rogers and Porscha Brown, as well as incumbent Judge Ronnisha Bowman, also lost their election bids.

There may be a less sophisticated explanation for some results: Voters pay so little attention to down-ballot races that some pick their candidates based on nothing more than cosmetic biases. All five of these Democratic judicial candidates who lost are Black with non-traditional first names. That, combined with a tougher-than-usual political climate for Democrats, is a recipe for outliers.

First, thanks for reading. I recommend you also read the many posts I have about why non-partisan judicial elections aren’t such a great idea, at least not for the problem that the editorial board and various folks like former Justice Wallace Jefferson say they want to fix. You might also listen to Thursday’s What Next podcast, in which we find out that candidates in non-partisan judicial races don’t feel any compunction to be non-partisan themselves, and the big money interests that back candidates of a political party are also spending a bunch of money backing their preferred “non-partisan” judicial candidates. It’s like some local politics blogger once said, you can’t take the politics out of an inherently political process.

As for what Prof. Stein says, I mean I guess, to some extent. If Dems were wiped out in the judicial races then sure. But we still won 56 out of 61, which last I looked was a pretty good percentage. Also, the Chron quoted my post incorrectly – I said only 8 of the 61 got more than the 51.75% that the average statewide candidate got. By my count 38 of the 61 exceeded 51%, with there being two very near misses at 50.99% and 50.96%. My point is that the effect, for which I have said that the anti-Democratic ads likely was a factor, wasn’t very big – a few thousand votes overall. There may have been other factors, as the Chron points out. The range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the low-scoring one was tight, more so than in other years. I mentioned the ad spending because it would have been ignorant and disingenuous not to mention it. We’ll never really know how much of an effect it had. We just can’t say it had no effect.

Finally, a bit of accountability for myself: I had also suggested that in past years weak Democratic statewide candidates lost fairly significant vote totals to third party candidates, which dragged down their percentages and made the local and judicial candidates, who were mostly in two-person races, look better by comparison. That’s true for some years, but to my surprise when I looked this year it was not the case, at least in percentage terms, when compared to 2018. The effect isn’t uniform and I’ll want to take a closer look, but I’m going to discount that now as a factor. Not quite enough Democratic turnout is the better suspect.

State and county election result relationships, part 4: What happened in 2022

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that the final totals are in, let’s go back and do the same exercise in comparing overall results for statewide candidates to the results they got in Harris County, and then from there comparing them to the local countywide numbers. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the last four elections, since as we saw things changed in 2016 and I don’t see any reason to go back farther than that. Here are the statewide numbers:


2016                   2018                   2020                   2022
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48   43.81   54.00  10.19
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03   43.44   53.41   9.97
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34   43.62   53.40   9.78
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67   40.91   50.56   9.65
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41   42.10   51.08   8.98
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00   43.63   53.15   9.52
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62   40.51   49.92   9.41
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27   41.81   50.40   8.59
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02   42.87   51.44   8.57
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53   43.55   52.13   8.58
                       46.29   55.18   8.89                          43.02   50.99   7.97
                       45.48   55.62  10.14                          42.74   50.46   7.72
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53             Min   7.72
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02             Max  10.19
Avg   9.58             Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14             Avg   9.08

One could argue that the dip in the average difference between Harris County and the statewide results is a continuation from 2020, but I’m not so sure. I’m fascinated by the discrepancy between the executive office numbers and the judicial race numbers, which are the last five ones from 2022. The executive office average is 9.64, while the judicial average is 8.29. We have not seen anything like this in previous years – indeed, judicial races had some of the highest differences in all three previous cycles. My best guess for this is the same thing I’ve suggested before, that the multi-million dollar campaign waged against Democratic judges in Harris County had some modest but measurable success.

The point of this exercise was twofold. One was to show that Democrats don’t have to do all that well statewide to still carry Harris County. That’s been especially true in elections since 2016, but it was true before than. Barack Obama got 41.23% statewide, losing by 16 points, and yet Democrats won more than half of the races in Harris County. Wendy Davis got 38.90% in 2014 and lost by over 20 points; if she had lost by about 14 and a half points – which it to say, if she had done less than a point better than Obama – she’d have gotten to 50% in Harris County and Dems would have won at least some county races. Given this past history and the fact that Beto got to 54% in Harris County, the surprise is not that Dems won it’s that they didn’t sweep. I would have bet money on them taking everything with Beto at that level.

Which gets to the second item. In past elections, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County have generally outperformed the statewide candidates. Most, and in some cases all, of the judicial candidates did better than the statewide candidates’ average in Harris County. That was the key to Dems winning as many judicial races as they did in 2008 (statewide candidate average 50.62%) and 2012 (statewide candidate average 48.59%). This just wasn’t the case in 2022. Let’s start with the numbers:


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

As a reminder, “Havg” is the average percentage of the vote in Harris County for statewide candidates. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by Harris County Democratic judicial candidates. “Drop” is the difference between the top score among statewide candidates (54.00% for Beto) and the low score among the judicial candidates.

The Harris average for the statewides was the third best it has ever been, behind 2020 and 2018. As noted in the past, weak statewide candidates have in the past lost a lot of votes to third party candidates, which has dragged down the “Havg” value in those years. While most years there have been judicial candidates that have scored worse than the Havg for the year (2006 and 2016 being exceptions), in previous years the bulk of the judicial candidates did better than the Havg number.

Not this year. By my count, only eight of the 61 district and county court Democrats scored better than 51.75% of the vote. Obviously, you don’t need that much to win, but the effect was that five candidates finished below fifty percent. The range between the top scoring judicial candidate and the bottom scoring one was right in line with historic norms, but because that range began at a lower point, there was a bigger gap overall between how the statewides did compared to the local judicials. That “Drop” of 4.71 points is the second biggest ever, and the only reason that the 2010 Drop was bigger was because Bill White was a huge outlier. If there’s one thing from this election that truly surprised me, it was the gap between the top of the Democratic ticket and the judicial races. That is something we had not seen before.

Again, I believe that the massive amounts of spending by the usual cadre of Republican oligarchs had an effect. It’s something we will have to take into account next time around. Not all of this spending was aimed at the judicial candidates, of course, There was an effect on the county executive office races as well, though thankfully it was smaller:


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

I haven’t calculated a judicial average score for Harris County yet, but my gut says that the three non-County Judge candidates came in above it, while Judge Hidalgo was probably a bit below it. Good enough to win, which is what matters most. County Judge is the only really visible one of these offices and it was very much Judge Hidalgo who was the subject of the ad blitzes. I’m not in a position to say why she persevered, but I will be very interested to see how she performs in the precinct data. In the UH Hobby Center poll of Harris County from October, their second poll of the county, they were pretty accurate about Beto’s performance – they pegged him at 50-42 over Abbott, an eight point lead, which I projected to Beto getting about 54%, dead on to where he was – but they had Hidalgo trailing Mealer among Latino voters by a 47-44 margin. I thought at the time that was inaccurate and I still do, but we’ll get a reality check when the precinct data is available. Let’s put a pin in this one.

I’ve made good on my promise to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope this made sense, I hope it illustrated why I thought the pundits were likely to be wrong about Harris County, and I hope it will help inform this discourse going forward. Past performance may not predict future results, but it does help to at least know what that past performance was. The numbers are always there.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

Believe me, as a Texas Democrat and a longtime fan of the Rice Owls, I know what it looks like to search for moral victories in the face of defeat. It looks like this.

Feel the power…

Harris County Republicans on Tuesday posted their strongest showing in years, appearing to capture their first countywide race since 2014 and nearly unseating County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

In the end, though, Hidalgo eked out a narrow victory over Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, leaving the party all but empty-handed despite massively outspending Democrats and launching an all-out push to reclaim control of Harris County Commissioners Court.

Under new precinct boundaries crafted by Democrats last year to expand their court majority, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle also came up short against Democrat Lesley Briones, whom he trailed by more than 3 percentage points with all voting centers reporting. Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia also held off Republican Jack Morman by more than 5 points in Precinct 2.

Mealer conceded early Wednesday morning, cementing a 4-1 majority for Democrats on Commissioners Court.

Even Republicans acknowledged this year could be their last realistic chance, and certainly their best shot in recent years, at winning a county that has seen pronounced demographic shifts over the last couple of decades. Harris County’s population is growing younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, while adding more college-educated residents — groups that all tend to favor Democrats, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

However, Harris County Republicans saw a confluence of factors — the felony indictment of three Hidalgo aidesa rise in homicidesDemocrats bracing for a Republican wave year nationally — that appeared to put the county judge race and other countywide seats in play. Also fueling their optimism was the removal last cycle of straight-ticket voting, meaning voters no longer can cast their ballots for every candidate from one party by pressing a single button.

“The best chance to unseat a Democrat in Harris County is when they’re new to office, when they’re somewhat vulnerable, and when national trends cut against the Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s the perfect storm.”

Typically a low-profile affair, this year’s county judge race unfolded into one of Texas’ marquee election battles. Republican and business community donors, sensing Hidalgo was vulnerable, poured millions of dollars into Mealer’s campaign and political action committees backing Republican candidates, leaving Hidalgo and other local Democrats financially overwhelmed in a race few expected to be truly competitive a year ago.

The conditions in Harris County’s high-profile races appeared to boost Republicans in down-ballot judicial contests, five of which swung in favor of the GOP. Through unofficial results, Democrats appeared to lose control of two criminal district courts and three county misdemeanor courts, marking the party’s first countywide defeats in eight years.

Republicans also held a number of Democratic judicial candidates under 51 percent, far narrower results than their recent courthouse sweeps.

“We are light years from where we were four years ago. Light years,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said to a crowd at the Harris County Republican Party’s election night watch party.

Atop the ballot, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by about 9 percentage points — far less than his 17-point margin over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That year, O’Rourke helped usher in a wave of Democratic wins in down-ballot county races. Under less favorable conditions atop the ticket this year, Democrats running for administrative countywide offices still narrowly retained the seats they had first captured four years ago.

I wrote three posts talking about the connection between statewide performance and Harris County performance for Democrats. This might be a good time to point out that when Republicans were running the table in Harris County in the off-year elections, they were also absolutely stomping Democrats statewide. This was a worse year for Dems statewide than 2020 and 2018 were, but it was (ahem) light years from where they were in 2014 and 2010. Light years.

I mean, I had plenty of moments of doubt and worry going into this race. Some of those late polls, the ones that had Beto down by 12 or 13 points, were in line with the expectation that Harris County would be at best a mixed bag for Dems, with the real possibility of not only losing Judge Hidalgo’s race but also the majority on Commissioners Court. Hell, having both Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia also lose wasn’t out of the question if things were really going south. I would have preferred to not lose any of those judicial races, but I can live with it. At least now there will be benches to run for that don’t require primarying someone. Oh, and by the way, all five of the losing Democratic judges had a higher percentage of the vote than Mealer did. Just so you know.

I will say, and I’ll say it again when I write another post about the state-county connection to update it for 2022, I do think the campaign to blame Democrats for crime, and all the money spent on it, probably moved the needle enough to get at least a couple of those Republican judicial candidates over the hump. They still needed the good statewide showing to be in a position to take advantage, but every little bit helps. But crime has been declining, and the crime rate has basically nothing to do with who’s on the bench anyway, so good luck replicating that in 2026.

I must note, by the way, that some people (on Twitter and on the CityCast Houston podcast) have mentioned that the five losing Democratic judicial candidates were all Black and all had names that might suggest they are Black. On the podcast, Evan Mintz noted this and mentioned the 2008 election, in which several Democratic judicial candidates with uncommon names had lost. I will just say that if you scroll through the Election Day results you will see quite a few Democratic candidates who are Black and whose names might also suggest they are Black that won. I’ve said before, there is always some variation in the range of performance for the Democratic judicial candidates. I’ve never found a pattern that consistently explains it, and that includes this year. As such, I am very reluctant to offer reasons for why this happens. I do think as I have just stated that the millions of dollars spent on blaming crime on the judges had some effect, but if it did then the effect was an overall one, with the range of scores being a bit lower than it might have been. That was enough to push a handful of Dems below fifty percent.

By the way, the two Republican judicial candidates who lost by the largest margins were named “Geric Tipsword” and “Andrew Bayley”. Make of that what you will.

I guess the question I’d ask is how confident are you right now that things will be better for your team in 2024, and in 2026? I feel pretty confident right now that Dems will sweep Harris County in 2024. The track record in Presidential years is a bit longer and more decisive. For 2026, it’s much harder to say. The possibility of a bad year in what could be Year 6 of President Biden or Year 2 of President Some Other Democrat is one that can’t be dismissed. You couldn’t get me to wishcast a 2026 gubernatorial frontrunner right now for love or money. Current trends suggest Dems would be in a better position in four years even with those possibilities, but trends don’t always continue as they have in the past, and even when they do they can slow down or bounce around a bit. With all that said, I still like our chances. Ask me again in three years when it’s filing season for that election.

Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

All of the judicial Q&As for this cycle

At the end of the primary cycle, I rounded up all of the interviews and judicial Q&As done for the primaries and runoffs, so that you’d have them in one place. As I ran the November interviews, I included links to the others I had done before, but I never did round up all of the latest judicial Q&As. Here they are now, in case you want to review them before you vote.

Justice Julie Countiss, Chief Justice, First Court of Appeals
Ted Wood, Chief Justice, First Court of Appeals
Judge Mike Engelhart, , First Court of Appeals, Place 4

Judge Brian Warren, 209th Criminal Court
Judge Josh Hill, 232nd Criminal District Court
Judge Lori Chambers Gray, 262nd Criminal District Court

Judge Tanya Garrison, 157th Civil District Court
Judge Beau Miller, 190th Civil District Court
Judge Cory Sepolio, 269th Civil District Court
Judge Donna Roth, 295th Civil District Court

Judge Gloria Lopez, 308th Family District Court
Judge Linda Dunson, 309th Family District Court
Judge Sonya Heath, 310th Family District Court
Judge Michelle Moore, 314th Juvenile District Court

Judge Audrie Lawton Evans, Harris County Civil Court at Law #1
Judge LaShawn Williams, Harris County Civil Court at Law #3

Judge Alex Salgado, Harris County Criminal Court at Law #1
Judge Shannon Baldwin, Harris County Criminal Court at Law #4
Judge Toria Finch, Harris County Criminal Court at Law #9
Judge Genesis Draper, Harris County Criminal Court at Law #12
Je’Rell Rogers, Harris County Criminal Court at Law #14
Judge Tonya Jones, Harris County Criminal Court at Law #15

Judge Jerry Simoneaux, Harris County Probate Court #1
Pamela Medina, Harris County Probate Court #2
Judge Jason Cox, Harris County Probate Court #3
Judge James Horwitz, Harris County Probate Court #4

Endorsement watch: Four from the appellate courts

The Chron knocks out its appellate court endorsements in one piece.

Justice Julie Countiss

1st Court of Appeals, Chief Justice: Julie Countiss

The current chief justice of the 1st Court of Appeals, who is stepping down, is Sherry Radack, a Republican who has served on the court since 2002. (Former Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack is her husband.)

Voters are choosing between qualified candidates from each major party as well as a seasoned independent vying to take on the role of administering the court. We believe Justice Julie Countiss, who serves on this court now, has the edge because Radack has begun showing her the ropes of being the court’s administrator.

Elected in 2018 as part of the Democratic sweep, Countiss, 51, has two more years left in her term. If she wins this election, the Texas governor would appoint a replacement for her current place on a court that currently has seven Democrats and two Republicans. Prior to becoming a justice, Countiss was a lawyer with the Harris County Attorney’s Office and focused on ridding the county of illicit, dangerous businesses. With four years appellate experience now, Countiss praised the collegial culture of the court under Radack’s leadership and said she seeks to continue it.

[…]

1st Court of Appeals, Place 4: April Farris

Justice April Farris, 37, was appointed to the 1st Court of Appeals by Abbott in 2021. A Republican, she graduated from Abilene Christian University and Harvard Law School, and clerked on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, known as one of the most conservative in the country, for Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod. As an appellate lawyer for a private firm she represented large companies including ExxonMobil and Uber. Farris then worked for the Texas Solicitor General’s Office representing the state. Her experience includes both civil and criminal cases. She is well-regarded on a court with seven Democrats, and her conservative background likely adds rigor to the court’s process.

Judge Mike Engelhart, 52, is a Democrat and has presided over the 151st Civil District Court in Harris County since 2008. He argues that the 1st Court of Appeals needs more justices with experience serving as a trial court judge. He was the civil administrative judge when Hurricane Harvey hit and helped the criminal-court judges when their building was damaged by the storm, managing the compromises and accommodations to host 23 additional courts.

[…]

14th Court of Appeals, Place 2: Cheri Thomas

The Republican incumbent, Justice Kevin Jewell, said he is the first to arrive at the courthouse in the mornings. Not only does he move through his cases with efficiency, he credits his leadership with making the court as a whole more timely. He helped implement a policy change that rewards staff attorneys with bonuses based on productivity. When the district courts are struggling with a massive backlog of cases, we like to hear about hardworking judges and efficient dockets. Appeals courts, however, are more deliberative than the trial courts.

We are concerned that the 14th Court of Appeals is known for fractiousness, not collegiality. That’s in contrast to the 1st Court of Appeals where candidates and others familiar with it told us that justices get along well across party lines. Should that be important to voters? After all, wouldn’t lively debate make for a better court? Cases are initially heard by panels of three justices who attempt to come to a consensus. There are split votes, and sometimes a case is heard by all the justices. A good process involves both debate as well as consensus building.

The Democratic challenger, Cheri Thomas, 42, said she was the first in her family to attend college. In 2020, the board recommended Thomas in a primary runoff for Place 7 of this court for her “solid reputation among other lawyers” and the experience she had as staff attorney for this court of appeals. Thomas is an honors graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and a former clerk for U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis. She worked in civil litigation for Baker Botts and the Stuart law firm, where she became a partner. Thomas worked as an appellate attorney at the Texas Workforce Commission.

[…]

14th Court of Appeals, Place 9: Randy Wilson

The challenger in this race, Democrat William Demond, 45, earned an enthusiastic endorsement from the board during the primary earlier this year. As an attorney, he has helped establish constitutional rights twice in cases before the 5th Circuit. One of them established a right to film police officers. He’s been inducted in the Texas Lawyer’s Verdicts Hall of Fame. Demond was appointed by a federal judge to represent Harris County inmates in cases concerning their conditions of confinement during the COVID pandemic.

Justice Randy Wilson, 70, was appointed a state district civil court judge in Harris County in 2003 and served as a Republican for roughly 16 years. Wilson was highly respected. Despite our urging against straight-ticket voting in 2018, he was swept out with other Republican judges. Our feelings haven’t changed. Wilson is still a straight-shooter and knows the law and has the respect of the lawyers who argue before him. He was appointed to the 14th Court of Appeals by Abbott in December 2020.

I have Q&As with Julie Countiss, Mike Engelhart, and from the primaries Cheri Thomas; I also have one with Ted Wood. The Chron doesn’t have anything bad to say about any of the candidates, which won’t stop the usual complaints about partisan judicial elections if Democrats sweep (somehow, those same complaints weren’t coming up when Republicans were winning all these races). I personally see “clerked for Jennifer Elrod” as a huge red flag, since she was out there trying her best to overrule Roe v Wade before SCOTUS got around to it. The reason why the Fifth Circuit is viewed as “one of the most conservative courts” in the country (which is both a misstatement and an understatement, but is generally the formulation we get) is precisely because of radicals like Jennifer Elrod. That doesn’t mean that one of her former clerks can’t be a decent judge, but the burden of proof for that is very much on them. They get no benefit of the doubt from me.

State and county election result relationships, part 2: Judicial races

In Part One of this series, we looked at the relationship between statewide results and Harris County results for statewide candidates. In the last three elections, statewide Democratic candidates have done on average more than nine points better in Harris County than they did overall. In the next two posts, we’re going to look at the county candidates, to see how those results compare to the statewides and what if anything we can infer about this year.

Two things should be noted up front, one of which I touched on in the previous post. First, nearly all of the statewide races have at least one third party candidate in them, and in those races the third party candidate(s) can take three to five percent of the total vote. That has the effect of lowering the percentages of both D and R candidates in those races. County candidates, on the other hand, rarely face a third or fourth contestant. In county judicial races, third party candidates are unheard of. Because of this, county Democratic candidates tend to do better than statewide Democratic candidates.

It is also the case, as noted before, that there have been a lot of, shall we say, less than compelling statewide Democratic candidates. They lack money and name recognition and that in turn helps contribute to the vote totals that the third party contenders get, where that effect tends to be greater in the lower-profile races. Harris County candidates aren’t always the highest profile, but I believe the local organizing efforts have helped them outperform the less well-known statewide candidates. All of this comes wrapped in the usual “in general, with some exceptions, some years are different than others” qualifiers. I’m just setting the table.

With all that, I will present the numbers for judicial races. I’m starting this time in 2006 – like I said, the 2002 election is just not relevant to anything anymore, and the 2004 election was marked with a large number of uncontested races.


2006          2008          2010          2012
Havg  42.90   Havg  50.62   Havg  43.46   Havg  48.59
Jmin  46.90   Jmin  48.58   Jmin  42.57   Jmin  48.19
Jmax  50.12   Jmax  52.48   Jmax  45.70   Jmax  51.38
Drop   1.09   Drop   2.93   Drop   7.66   Drop   1.20

2014          2016          2018          2020
Havg  44.76   Havg  49.80   Havg  55.25   Havg  53.83
Jmin  43.64   Jmin  50.93   Jmin  53.83   Jmin  52.56
Jmax  47.16   Jmax  54.11   Jmax  57.16   Jmax  55.51
Drop   3.44   Drop   3.02   Drop   4.15   Drop   3.40

“Havg” is the average percentage by Democratic statewide candidates for that year – you can go back and look at the first post for the list, I didn’t want to overwhelm this post with numbers. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by non-statewide Democratic judicial candidates that year. In other words, for the county, district, and appellate (1st and 14th Circuit) courts. “Drop” is the difference between the highest scoring statewide candidate and the lowest scoring local judicial candidate.

I have used average vote totals among judicial candidates in years past as a simple measure of partisanship in the county. I’m using percentages here because I want a quick visual representation of winning and losing. I am using the range here rather than an average because I want to figure out at what level of statewide performance am I comfortable saying that all local countywide Dems are likely to win, and at what level do I think some, most, or all may lose. I think this conveys the information I wanted to get across in a fairly straightforward manner.

The first thing to notice is that consistently there is a three to four point range between the top-performing Democratic judicial candidate and the low performer. I’ve studied this for years and have no idea why. I can’t see any obvious correlation to candidates’ gender, race, position on the ballot, endorsements, anything. It’s just random, as far as I can tell. The point is, there is a range. Conditions need to be such that the top candidates are at 54% or higher for the bottom ones to win. Maybe 53% is enough – you will note that the range was tighter in 2020 than in previous years, and it’s a hair less than three percentage points. But really, for me to feel comfortable, I’d want the toppers at 54%.

You may also notice, as I mentioned above, that the local judicial candidates tend to outperform the statewide candidates. 2016 is a stark example of this, as more than half of the statewides finished below fifty percent, though all of them ended up carrying the county. Yet all of the judicial candidates won easily, with the low judicial performer outdoing all of the statewides except Hillary Clinton. In 2018, a much stronger year for Dems, the bottom scorer among judicial candidates still did better than the Dem candidates for Governor, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner. Nearly all judicial Democrats won in 2008, while more than half of them won in the weaker year of 2012. My expectation is that even in a mediocre year like 2012, at least some Dems would make it across the finish line. It would take a bad year to sink them all. I just don’t see that happening.

You might look at the 2010 numbers, and maybe even the 2018 numbers, and worry that if the top of the ticket is defined by a real outlier, the gap between that candidate and the bottom rung of the judicial ladder could be too far apart. I absolutely do not expect a “Bill White in 2010” scenario, where someone gets at least six points more than any other statewide Dem. Beto in 2018 was barely one point ahead of Justin Nelson, and less than two points ahead of four other candidates. Two judicial candidates came even closer to Beto’s performance than Nelson did. It’s my opinion that if there’s a significant gap between the top and bottom of the statewide ticket, it’s because the one(s) at the bottom tanked, not because the top dog was so dominant. Bill White was a unicorn. The closest analog to him is Adrian Garcia in 2008, and he was running against a thoroughly scandal-plagued incumbent.

How much of an effect is there with the lack of straight ticket voting? It’s a little hard to say since we just have the one election to analyze, but my view in 2020 was that a lot of people did a fine job of voting all the way down the ballot. I expect that to be largely true this year as well. When the numbers are in, I’ll look at them and see if there’s a reason to change my mind.

To me, the main concern is that the statewide Dems will not do as well as the current polling suggests they might. We need the base level to be sufficiently high, that’s pretty much the ballgame. There is also a range in the county executive office elections, and there have been a couple of outliers over the years – I’ll be examining those phenomena in future posts – and every year is different. My bottom line remains that if the baseline at the state candidate level is 53-54% for Harris County, it will be another sweep year. I think the statewides will perform more like the locals this year, as they are overall better and better-funded than most other years. If we get a decent poll of Harris County, I’ll review and if needed revise my thinking. Until then, this is where I am.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Josh Hill

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Josh Hill

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

I am Josh Hill, current judge of the 232nd District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court exclusively hears felony criminal cases, ranging from drug possession all the way to capital murder.

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

I have worked incredibly hard to make important changes to the Harris County criminal justice system.  As chair of the Fair Defense Act committee, I lead the way in making changes to our court appointed counsel system in order to improve indigent defense.  I also volunteer as a STAR drug court judge, working with probationers and a team of professionals to help the clients achieve and maintain sobriety, repair relationships with their loved ones, and turn their lives around. At the beginning of and throughout the pandemic, I worked hard to make sure that the 232 nd District Court was open and available to everyone remotely, even when the courthouse itself was closed.

I'm proud of my ability to treat the work of the 232nd District Court with the serious attention it deserves while giving serious consideration to the impacts of my decisions. My decisions have all been based on the facts presented to me and the applicable law, and as such, not a single one of my legal rulings has been overturned by an appellate court.

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

If elected for a second term, I will continue making the improvements I began in my first term. Now that COVID appears to be mostly behind us, I will be in trial significantly more often, as I was my first year in office before the pandemic. I will also continue to expand my knowledge in all areas of criminal law. Each time the Houston Bar Association has rated judges during my tenure, my rating has been near the top of all criminal judges. If re-elected, I will continue asking for and listening to feedback of lawyers for both sides, court staff, and others to maintain this distinction and to improve my policies and rulings.

In addition, in light of the abundance of misinformation being presented as fact, (for example, bail reform has not happened at the felony level in Harris County, Texas, despite what is being reported to the contrary), I plan on taking a more active role in providing educational material and discussions about the criminal justice system so that the public can maintain their confidence in the judiciary and better understand the powers and limitations of each participant involved in criminal litigation.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is incredibly important because the consequences of everything that happens in the criminal justice system are extreme and permanent. Victims of crime must have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. Those accused of crimes must have their Constitutional rights protected. The decisions made by a criminal District Court judge can result in loss of liberty, lifetime confinement in prison, victims feeling immeasurable fear, or someone being given a second chance to succeed at life. The public should expect a criminal District Court judge to be an expert in criminal law: the judge must have thorough knowledge and understanding of the laws that apply to criminal litigation, and should not begin learning after being elected. As a prosecutor, I spoke with countless victims of violent crime and served as their advocate before a judge or jury. This experience gave me an immeasurable amount of empathy for the needs, fears, and experiences of those who are re-victimized as they are dragged into the criminal justice system as unwilling participants, forced to re-live their worst moments.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I protected the constitutional rights of my clients and fought hard within the bounds of the law and ethics so that they could have the best possible chance at the appropriate outcome. This experience helped me understand the difference between the person and their actions and taught me that there are often shades of gray in our criminal justice system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have dedicated my entire legal career exclusively to criminal law. I was an Assistant District Attorney with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office before becoming a criminal defense lawyer, which gives me meaningful experience on both sides of criminal litigation. My opponent’s criminal law experience is limited to only one side and is only a fraction of his legal work. I have successfully handled criminal matters at both the trial and post conviction levels, and I have done so as both a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. My post conviction work helped me learn what judges did correctly and incorrectly, as this line of work is commonly referred to as “grading judges’ papers.” I am 1 of only 2 current District Court judges who is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. An improper ruling in a trial from a judge who is inexperienced in criminal law can result in catastrophic consequences, including the innocent being imprisoned and the guilty going free. My opponent has only represented 25 individuals in 36 different cases in the Harris County criminal courts in the entirety of his legal career, none of which went to trial. To put this caseload in perspective, my opponent’s entire Harris County criminal law experience was a caseload that I’d handle in a single day as a prosecutor or in a week or two as a defense lawyer. The citizens of Harris County deserve a criminal District Court judge with meaningful criminal law experience and who thoroughly understands the intricacies of the law relevant to the specific bench. A criminal District Court judge’s main purpose is to maintain the integrity of the system, which is only possible with meaningful relevant experience.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Beau Miller

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Beau Miller

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

My name is Beau Miller and I am seeking re-election as the Judge of the 190th Judicial (Civil) District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

A civil district court hears, among other things, matters involving constitutional questions, business disputes, land disputes, personal injury claims, and expunctions.

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

During the Pandemic, I was the first judge in Harris County to preside over a Zoom bench trial during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first judge in Harris County to preside over the first in-person jury trial during COVID-19.

In addition, I was responsible for producing the District Court of Harris County’s COVID-19 in-person jury trial information campaign which consisted of a website, www.HarrisCountyJuryService.com, pamphlet, and video highlighting the safety procedures and protocols in place for in-person jury trials in Harris County.

While on the bench, I have served as Chair of the Harris County District Courts’ Civil Trial Division’s Ethics and Continuing Legal Education Committee in 2020 and 2021 as well Co-Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s 2021-2022 LGBTQ+ Committee for which I received the Houston Bar Association’s President’s Award.

Currently, I am the Administrative Judge for the Harris County District Courts’ Civil Trial Division, Co-Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s 2022-2023 Civil/Appellate Bench Bar Conference Committee, and Co-Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s 2022-2023 LGBTQ+ Committee. In addition to my own docket, I am the Pretrial Judge of the Multidistrict Litigation In re July 27 Chemical Release Litigation and In re Channelview Flooding Litigation.

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

My goal over the next four years is to continue to work hard to get cases resolved timely, fairly, efficiently, and effectively all the while treating everyone with respect who participates in our legal process.

5. Why is this race important?

As you might expect, judges have great power in how cases move through our judicial process. Without the right person on the bench, a case or dispute important to you or to someone you know may not get resolved as fairly and efficiently as it should. That could needlessly delay justice and increase costs and fees.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Over the last four years, I have a proven track record of treating everyone with respect and disposing the cases in my court fairly and efficiently. Before I took the bench in 2019, it took about 4-6 weeks for a case to get a hearing on any motion in 190th Civil District Court and the court had the average number of total cases across the entire civil trial division (24 civil courts). In my first month on the bench, we worked very hard to reduce the time to get a hearing to 2-3 weeks, which is still the case. And over the last three years, even despite the pandemic, the 190th now has one of the lowest case inventories across the entire division. If re-elected, I will keep working hard for our broader Houston community to be even more efficient while continuing to ensure everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

Endorsement watch: A smattering

The Chron endorses Stephanie Morales, the Democratic challenger in HD138.

Stephanie Morales

Stephanie Morales began her interview with the editorial board with a story about children who wind up in the care of Child Protective Services, fleeing harsh conditions at home only to find themselves sleeping in somebody’s office because the agency is so strapped for resources. Such are the heartbreaking realities that motivated her to run for the Texas House.

“I knew that there was a need,” she told us. “This is the perfect place for me to run where I can actually make a difference, because we need someone who has been boots-on-the-ground, actually representing kids and parents to truly change the system.”

Morales is a Texas A&M and South Texas College of Law-educated criminal defense lawyer whose cases often involve parents and juveniles in the CPS system. In her meeting with us, she talked at length about the “unintended consequences” of recent legislation meant to improve how the agency works. She displayed an expertise that would benefit the Legislature, and her constituents. She wants to add funding for more trauma-informed courts like the ones in use in Harris County, and to build and fund a halfway-house program for people who age out of the foster care system.

Morales, 33, is running for House District 138, which covers Jersey Village, Spring Branch and other parts of west Harris County. She argues that she’ll be more civically engaged, particularly with supporting children’s needs, than Republican incumbent Lacey Hull. “This district needs someone who will really advocate for them and wrangle resources that we need here,” she said.

She told us that her legislative priorities also would include bolstering protections against flooding, passing whatever “commonsense” gun-safety laws might be possible, improving the credit-recapture system in Texas schools and increasing teacher pay.

Hull was another Republican who didn’t bother to screen with them, and the Chron rightly dings her for her anti-trans activism. This is as noted one of the few competitive State House districts in the area, likely the only one in Harris County that has a chance of flipping. I’ll be very interested to see how it performs in comparison to 2020. You can listen to my interview with Stephanie Morales, who is indeed a strong candidate and would make a fine legislator, here.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses three Republican Supreme Court incumbents, two Republican CCA incumbents, the Libertarian candidate in CD22, as the Republican incumbent is an insurrection-loving MAGA-head and the Democratic candidate appears to be an apparition, State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, now in a much bluer district, US Rep. Sylvia Garcia, and a bunch of Criminal District Court nominees, slightly more than half of whom are Dem incumbents. They still have a ton of races to get to, and as has been the case in a number of elections they will have to do many of them after voting has begun.

Judicial Q&A: Pamela Medina

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Pamela Medina

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

My Name is Pamela Medina and I am the only qualified candidate running for Probate Judge Court No. 2 in Harris County. I am a native Houstonian, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and Thurgood Marshall School of Law (cum laude). I will make history as the first minority to serve as a probate judge in Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The court presides over will probate, heirship and estate administration matters, guardianships, trusts creation and appointments of trustees, and litigation involving the abovementioned legal matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I wish to combine my passion and expertise in this area of the law with my passion to serve the citizens of Harris County. I promise to preside over Probate Court No. 2 with a strict adherence to the rule of law, an unbiased approach to the law and the litigants, a fair treatment of the parties, by being prepared on the legal matters before me, by reading the pleadings submitted and the legal precedent related to these legal matters.

The probate court is a special court whereby all citizens will be touched by this court system. The judge serving the people of Harris County on the probate bench must be qualified and be a compassionate person. I hold those qualities and have a proven record of such. As well, the court staff should be afforded a safe and fair work environment, and I embody the characteristics of transparency, open dialogue, warmth, and compassion.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I was licensed by the Texas Supreme Court in 2007. I am the current owner of Medina Law Texas, PLLC, a woman and minority owned law firm. The legal services I provide to my clients include estate planning, estate administration, trust drafting for both family and court created trusts, guardianships, probate litigation and general civil litigation. Prior to establishing my law firm, I was a Vice President at Cadence Bank, N.A., in its trusts and estates division. I provided personal trust administration and financial planning to middle to high-net worth individuals and families. I also provided trust administration for trusts created by probate and state district courts after the trust beneficiary was deemed incapacitated; I also served as estate administrator, either by testamentary bequest or by court appointment. I began my legal career as a law clerk with the 269th Civil District Court in Harris County. I drafted legal memoranda, legal research, analysis of statutory law and legal precedent, conferred with the judge to prepare for hearings and worked with the judge during court proceedings. I am State Bar Guardianship Ad Litem Certified. I currently serve on the Houston Bar Association Board and as a Regent at Texas Southern University and past president of the Mexican American Bar Association, as well as many other servant leadership roles in our community.

5. Why is this race important?

Ensuring we elect a judge whose legal practice areas coincide with what comes before this court, is paramount to an effective, efficient and fair judicial process. I am the only candidate on the ballot with legal experience in the areas before this court.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

My legal expertise, intellect, demeanor and compassion are much needed in the probate court where the parties are often experiencing a difficult life event. The Pamela Medina campaign garnered an unprecedented 65% of the vote county-wide in the Primary Election, and has garnered seventeen (17) endorsements, thus far, two of which are legal organizations. My endorsements include past presidents of a National Bar, the State Bar and the Houston Bar, former judges, and current and former elected officials. I am providing a few of my endorsers’ quotes regarding my qualifications:

Judge Richard Vara “Pamela has the legal experience to be an excellent judge. We need her integrity, fair mindedness, and intelligence.”

Hon. Gracie Saenz (attorney) “Pamela has my vote. She is a professional with experience and great temperament; above all she cares about community. Pamela will make a great judge.”

Ben Hall (attorney) “Pamela is smart, compassionate, and always in the community. She will be a judge that makes us proud we elected her.”

Sarah Patel Pacheco (probate attorney) “Pamela understands the complexities of probate, trusts, and estates, but it is her intellect and compassion that sets her apart.”

Tammy Manning (probate attorney) “Pamela’s legal skills and judicial temperament will ensure parties are given fair treatment.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Alex Salgado

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Alex Salgado

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

My name is Alex Salgado and I am the current judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #1

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

All class A and B misdemeanors, and the occasional Class C appeal.

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

When my colleagues and I took over the misdemeanor benches after the 2018 election and along with Judge Jordan who was already on the bench, we immediately settled the ongoing federal lawsuit and began working on a new bail system. We made the changes necessary to ensure people charged with a misdemeanor do not remain in custody solely because they cannot afford a bond. We have completely changed the way misdemeanor cases are handled when it comes to bail and the studies have shown that it is a success. More people are released while their cases are pending and do not have to sit in jail until their case is disposed, and more people are able to reach alternate resolutions other than a conviction on their cases. Despite what is being portrayed in the media, our misdemeanor bail reform has not led to increased violence, recidivism is low, and more and more people are able to leave the Harris County jail without having to take a guilty plea just to be released. The other main accomplishment is what my colleagues and I have recently started with the Bayou City Community Court. One of the goals of the Bayou City Community Court is to inform and assist those that are eligible in obtaining petitions for nondisclosure, which in turn helps people find jobs by minimizing the impact of any past criminal history. This program notifies people who are eligible to obtain petitions for non-disclosures and are then connected with services such as health screenings, job services, high school diploma/GED services, and local community colleges. It is a growing program and we plan to add more services in the future to help those who have been through the criminal justice system and have successfully completed their deferred adjudications and sentences.

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

I would like to see the Bayou City Community Court grow and provide other programs and services to those people who have successfully completed deferred, probations, and misdemeanor sentences. I would also like to continue decreasing the pending case count in my court. Since we took the bench, we have not had much normalcy in our day-to-day operations. We inherited the remnants of a judicial system affected by hurricane Harvey and then we had to deal with the Covid 19 pandemic. We are starting to operate at a more normal pace, such as setting trials and hearings every week, and I would like to continue to lower the number of pending cases. I have already implemented changes that I have noticed are working in reducing the pending case count. For example, when a case hits the 200 day mark, I have the attorneys (State and defense) approach me before being reset. I then make a decision on how long of a reset to grant based on the needs of the case (missing discovery, applications to pretrial interventions, completing classes for a dismissal), and I have noticed that when cases are brought up more frequently they tend to be disposed of quicker. I would perhaps expand on this method of resetting cases to see if it can continue reducing the number of pending cases in my court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because if my colleagues and I do not win in November, misdemeanor bail reform will be done away with and the misdemeanor courts will be taken back to a day and age when people were forced to accept guilty pleas just go get out of jail. There has been progress made in the misdemeanor courts when it comes to bail reform, and the studies show that our reform is working; the facts back up the work we have done with misdemeanor bail reform. I do not want to see the criminal justice system taken back to a day when money equals freedom; non-violent misdemeanor cases should not be treated that way. Our laws provide that a person is innocent unless proven guilty and with our bail reform we are ensuring this law is applied universally to all people who are arrested for a misdemeanor.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

After this term, I will have 13 years experience as an attorney. I have 9 years experience as a prosecutor and 4 years experience as the Judge of this court. My entire career has been devoted to criminal law, and for the past 4 years it has been devoted to criminal justice in the misdemeanor courts. I have the experience and passion to continue moving the misdemeanor courts in Harris County in the right direction. We do not need to go back to an archaic mindset where money equals freedom. People should have the opportunity to get out of jail while their cases are pending and get back to their families, jobs, school, etc. People should not be burdened with a final conviction for the rest of their lives simply because it was a means to walk out of the jail. I am the candidate to continue moving these courts forward and will continue to make sure that every person that comes before me is treated fairly and equally under the law.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Tonya Jones

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Tonya Jones

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

My name is Tonya Jones and I have the honor and privilege of serving as the presiding judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 15.

I am a native Houstonian and graduated Baylor University and Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, LA. Prior to my election to the bench in 2018 I worked mainly as a criminal defense attorney in both Harris and Fort Bend County. My then practice also included family law and personal injury.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court 15 is one of sixteen county criminal courts at law that serve the citizens of Harris County. This court has jurisdiction over class A&B misdeamenors, as well as appeals from justice of the peace and municipal courts. Some class A&B misdemeanors include driving while intoxicated, theft, assault, an burglary of a motor vehicle.

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

Collectively my colleagues and I accomplished great things collectively while in the first term on the bench. The historic s O’Donnell lawsuit was settled which help to eliminate unconstitutional bail practices in the misdemeanor courts as well as insure due process and timely evidentiary hearings. From that litigation several useful pilots were created including Cite and Release Court, Open Hours Court, and the Managed Assigned Counsel program. We have really worked hard to eliminate some of the most crippling obstacles that made court appearance yet another hurdle to clear.

I’m most proud of the creation of the B.A.Y.O.U. City Community Court, which includes the Fresh Start Program. BAYOU is an acronym which means “bringing knowledge to you with outreach and understanding”. The first program under that initiative is the Fresh Start Program where we have partnered with the public defender’s office as well as other community organizations to assist non-violent offenders with non-disclosures where applicable.

I have also successfully reduced my case backlog from 2300 to below 1800 active cases pending.

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

I hope to expand the BAYOU City Community Court and continue to reduce my case backlog to what it was pre-pandemic and Harvey.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it will either solidify and build upon the great strides my colleagues and I have made in criminal justice or completely erase those efforts. We have transformed the criminal justice system in many ways and have demonstrated a commitment to progressive policies. I want the opportunity to continue this work for all the residents of Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me in November because I have delivered on the promises I made in 2018. I have demonstrated a commitment to leadership in the administration of justice, not only in Court 15, but all county courts at law, having been elected as the Local Administrative Judge for the 20 County Courts at Law. I have consistently come up with ways to increase case management efficiency and utilized all the resources available to combat case backlog without doing so at the expense of due process. I have remained flexible and versatile under extreme and unprecedented conditions and have worked extremely hard with my court team and other stakeholders to improve access to justice and efficiency. I’ve remained active and involved in diverse communities throughout the county as well as opened the courts to young people interested in the practice of law. I’ve done the work but there is more to be done and I want the opportunity to continue.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Mike Engelhart

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Mike Engelhart

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

I am Judge Mike Engelhart. I have been the Judge of the 151st Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas for 14 years. I am the Democratic nominee for the First Court of Appeals, Place 4 which is elected from a 10 county area, including Austin County, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller and Washington Counties.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

It hears appeals and mandamuses from all trial courts, including civil, criminal, family law, probate and juvenile justice matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was an Editor of the Houston Law Review at the University of Houston Law Center. I was hired to handle many appeals as an attorney in private practice. As a trial court judge, I am always thinking about appeals of my decisions, and as a result, I am almost never reversed by the First or Fourteenth (the 2 local) Courts of Appeals. My experience makes me a good fit for appellate work and I would really love to serve on the First Court of Appeals.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a trial court judge for 14 years. I am the only Board Certified attorney in this race. In 2016 I was named Trial Judge of the Year by the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists. That same year I won the University of Houston Alumni Association Public Sector Achievement Award. In 2017 I won the Franklin Jones Award for the best Continuing Legal Education Article in the State. And, in 2019 I won the President’s Award for Service to the Houston Bar Association.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because if you believe in voting and democracy, constitutional privacy rights, and public safety you can elect me. I will work to protect those values.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am the only candidate in the race who has run for and been elected to any position by voters. My opponent was appointed to the position by Governor Abbott last year. I have been a Judge for 14 years, elected 4 times by millions of voters in Harris County. I am the only Board Certified attorney in the race. I am the only person in this race who has represented individual everyday Texans in trials and appeals. In a State Bar of Texas poll of lawyers in 2022 I defeated my opponent nearly 2-1. Finally, I believe my views align with the diverse voters of this area as reflected by my endorsements by the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, the men and women of organized Labor, and the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Donna Roth

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Donna Roth

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

I am Donna Roth, Judge of the 295th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court will hear all civil cases at any dollar level. For example, contract, personal injury from serious plant explosions to minor car wrecks, homeowner property taxes, attorney disbarment, employment, discrimination, and business dissolution cases, etc. This Court also has injunctive and declaratory powers, which means it can stop a party from doing something they should not be doing and declare the rights of parties. This Court does not handle criminal, family, probate and immigration cases.

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

During the almost four years I have served I have doubled the number of jury cases tried by my predecessor and tried more jury cases than any of my civil judge colleagues. I have one of the lowest dockets in the division, if not the lowest. I have reduced the waiting time for a hearing down to two-three weeks (it used to be eight weeks) and have promptly ruled on all pending motions. I have made sure that all persons who appear before the bench are treated fairly and with dignity, regardless of who they are, and to the best of my ability, I have made sure justice is served in each case before me.

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

Continue more of the same. Improve the understanding in the community of what this Court and other Harris County Courts do and attempt to get more people to take an interest in the Courts. I would like to improve the technology in the courtroom which requires working with Commissioner’s Court to obtain the funding for same.

5. Why is this race important?

As shown in answer to Question 2 this Court handles a wide range of cases. At any time, any citizen of this county, can find themselves before this Court or one just like it. Who you appear before makes a difference in how you are treated, how soon you will receive your day in court, and how your case may be decided.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the experienced, qualified and compassionate choice. Prior to taking the bench in January, 2019, I spent 32 years as a civil trial litigator. I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. I tried no less than 40 jury trials during my years of practice, an equal number of non-jury cases, and handled thousands of other cases from start to finish. I took the bench ready and prepared to do the job. As my answer to Question 3 reflects while on the bench I have moved forward with having cases tried and/or settled. It is only through a “real” trial setting that cases will settle. I have ensured that no one feels rushed or pushed and that whether a party has won or lost, they feel they have been heard and have had their day in Court. My opponent has not had a case filed in the Harris County District Courts, according to the District Court Clerk records, is not board certified, and does not possess the experience and qualifications necessary for this important position.

Judicial Q&A: Judge James Horwitz

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge James Horwitz

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

James Horwitz, Presiding Judge for Harris County Probate Court No. 4

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County Probate Court No. 4 has jurisdiction to hear cases involving all aspects of:

(A) DECEDENTS’ ESTATES
(1) the probate of the estate of a decedent which contains issues involving the existence or non existence of valid Wills and whether the executor/administrator has complied with the legal obligations of such role; and
(2) the heirship determination of a decedent’s estate who does not have a valid Will with the possible appointment thereafter of a representative of such an estate as well as whether that representative has complied with the obligation of that role; and
(3) the wrongful death litigation of a decedent whose estate has been filed with this Court (concurrent jurisdiction with Civil District Court but the superior right to bring that type of case into the Probate Court); and

(B) GUARDIANSHIP ESTATES
(1) the determination of incapacity of an individual that might require a guardianship (through age, illness, and/or accident) with the appointment thereafter of a guardian (of the person or estate or both) of the incapacitated person with determination of whether such guardian has complied with the legal obligations of such role; and
(2) personal injury suits involving individuals who have guardianship estates in this Court (concurrent jurisdiction with Civil District Court but the superior right to bring that type of case into the Probate Court) ; and

(3) TRUSTS
(1) matters involving the interpretation and modification of trusts including whether the trustee has complied with the legal obligations of such role

(D) MENTAL HEALTH COMMITMENTS
(1) Harris County Probate Court # 4 (along with Probate Court # 3) has an additional jurisdiction to conduct hearings regarding whether a person requires commitment at a psychiatric hospital because of mental illness and furthermore whether such person who has been committed requires medication

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

Probate Courts have regular ongoing dockets involving the above cases that occur weekly that cannot be postponed. People continue to die and become incapacitated (a fact of life) and the pandemic required immediate adjustments to allow for the uninterrupted judicial determination of such matters. As the administrative judge for the four Harris County Probate Courts during the height of the pandemic (2020), it was incumbent on me to help develop policies that streamlined the process. I’m proud to say that our court along with the other Harris Probate Courts became the state leader in developing methods including zoom hearings to allow for the delivery of such justice to the community. Our caseload and completion rate has actually increased and continues to increase during this term. Because of my work especially as administrative judge. the four Probate Courts work well together to make as much as possible identical procedures so that attorneys do not (has had been the way in the past) have to learn four separate ways to handle their cases loads depending on which Probate Court they find themselves in. Education of attorneys has been a priority, and I am a co-founder of the Texas Probate American Inn of Court that is accomplishing the goal of educating and mentoring young lawyers regarding probate law.

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

Our court has installed more sophisticated technology to help the public have their cases heard remotely and/or in person or a combination of both in a more efficient manner. The use of that technology will speed up the completion rate of our court case load. Continued education of attorneys is essential to that process and more legal seminars will continue to be held on various probate subject matters led by our court.

5. Why is this race important?

Everybody comes to Probate Court eventually, one way or another, as a decedent, an incapacitated person, an heir, contestant, and/ or a witness. This Court’s mission statement is to help families in crisis to resolve issues. A judge handling these types of jurisdiction must possess a heightened sense of empathy as well as the required judicial knowledge and wisdom to accomplish the court’s mission. This race is important because of the leadership required to continue guide the Court effectively.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have 45 years of legal experience. My career has included the practice, of course of estate planning and probate, but also civil, criminal, family, juvenile, corporate, and business law. It is essential to know and be competent in various aspects of different types of the law because of the complex nature of probate. I have demonstrated my competency as a probate judge during the almost 4 years on the bench. Probate Court, unique among all other courts, has 4 times as many staff as other types of court because of the multitude of jurisdictions it must handle day to day. It takes a manager as well as a jurist to effectively administer the workload of this court. I have molded the staff into an effective and efficient task force to handle its case load and will continue this job.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Jason Cox

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Jason Cox

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

I’m Judge Jason Cox, the Presiding Judge of Harris County Probate Court #3. Before being elected in 2018, I worked for approximately 15 years specifically in probate, where I was also a frequent writer and speaker on probate issues. I was also a longtime adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in the political science department where I taught pre-law classes and coached the mock trial team.

Personally, I am a third-generation Houstonian and graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Houston Law Center. I am also a pediatric and adult cancer survivor and longtime volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center here in Houston.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Probate Court #3 is a dual court: It hears general probate-related matters (cases involving Decedent’s estates, guardianships, trusts, and fiduciary relationships); and also has primary responsibility for all civil mental health proceedings in Harris County (cases involving civil mental health commitments, medication proceedings, and proceedings related to the restoration of competency for inmates at the Harris County Jail).

We have two courtrooms – one in the Harris County Civil Courthouse and one in the Harris County Psychiatric Center. We have a staff of 20 and are one of the largest courts in Texas by size and case load.

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

Since taking the bench, I have created partnerships with other county departments and local entities to increase the availability of mental health services. This directly led to the creation of a new program – Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), an outpatient treatment program for persons suffering from mental illness. This program, which is a partnership between our Court, UTHealth, The Harris Center, and the University of Houston, was awarded a $2.7 million, four-year federal grant and has grown into one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in Texas. We now have other courts in Texas sending teams to our Court to learn how to implement this kind of program.

I have also worked with the Office of the Governor on the Committee on People with Disabilities to review and offer recommendations for improvement for laws related to guardianship; obtained a technology grant to allow parties to participate in proceedings remotely; revised the system for court appointments to ensure more equitable and diverse appointments; participated in the Houston Bar Association’s Equity and Inclusion Summer Clerkship program; provided free continuing legal education classes through the Court in the area of mental health; and have spoken at (and helped organize) numerous events for the legal community and the community at-large on the issues of probate and mental health. I have also worked with the other three Harris County statutory probate courts to have uniform rules and procedures across all four courts.

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

If reelected to this office, I will continue the initiatives described above and work to improve and extend them. I am also working with several Harris County departments on projects related to the long-needed improvement of Harris County’s mental health court facilities and the upgrading of technology.

I am also working with the other three local statutory probate courts to require implicit bias training as a condition for receiving court appointments. I previously worked with the courts and the County to secure funding for implicit bias training for attorneys seeking such appointments so they would not have to pay or could participate in the training at a reduced cost.

5. Why is this race important?

If you find yourself in a probate court, you’re probably going through one of the most difficult times in your life. A loved one may have died or be suffering from addiction or mental illness; your family may be struggling with providing care for a member who may no longer be able to take care of themselves. Judges of these courts need to be competent and compassionate. They need to be able to make fair, equitable decisions while also following the law. It’s important to have a judge who understands this area of the law and has demonstrated the temperament necessary for a well-functioning court.

Given the size of this court and the high caseload this specific court has, it’s also important to have a judge who is hard working; respectful of the parties’ and attorneys’ time and the costs that can be incurred in these cases; a good manager of staff; and someone who can cooperate and coordinate with other Harris County departments and entities that serve a similar population.

6, Why should people vote for you in November?

I strive to treat everyone who appears in my Court fairly, with dignity, courtesy and respect. I am mindful of the time and expense that is incurred by individuals who have to take time away from their lives to appear in court. I am highly competent and knowledgeable in this area of the law and endeavor to stay current and innovative. I have worked to create relationships with other Harris County departments and entities so that our services can be coordinated and efficient. I have also worked with the Office of the Governor and with others, including legislators, to advocate for changes in the law when those changes can benefit Texans generally and Harris County residents specifically.

My success as a judge is reflected in the most recent results of the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Questionnaire, where I ranked among the top judges in the County, and in awards I’ve received for my service from the Houston Bar Association and the Houston LGBTQ+ Caucus. I strongly believe in public service and see myself as a temporary custodian of this bench; since being elected I have done my best – and will continue to do my best – to have a court whose focus is on improving people’s lives.

Judicial Q&A: Ted Wood

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Ted Wood

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

My name is Ted Wood. I am an Independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals.

This is probably the most intriguing judicial race in the Houston area because there are three candidates on the ballot (instead of just two). Here’s the lineup:

Julie Countiss is the Democratic nominee. She is currently a judge on Court. She does not have to give up her current spot to run for Chief. She will remain on the Court whether she wins or loses.

Terry Adams is the Republican nominee. He served on the Court for about six months in 2020. He is trying to regain a spot on the Court.

I am the third candidate – the first Independent candidate for a court of appeals in Texas in over 25 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Primarily appeals – in both civil and criminal cases.

In the typical court case, one side wins and the other side loses. The losing party often wants to appeal the case. Generally, any such appeal will be heard by a court of appeals.

A court of appeals does not try the case again. An appeal is not a “do-over.” Rather, a court of appeals considers written arguments by lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers also make oral arguments.

One lawyer will argue that mistakes were made in the trial court. The other lawyer will argue that everything was just fine.

Courts of appeals carefully consider these arguments and then decide which one is right. A court of appeals must explain its decision in a written opinion. While further appeals are sometimes possible, the court of appeals typically has the last say in the case.

Ideally, the judges on a court of appeals are very good at weighing legal arguments and then explaining their conclusions in writing. The end product of an appeal is a written opinion explaining why one side wins and the other side loses.

The First Court of Appeals handles appeals from ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Our Texas judicial system is pretty much broken. The general population doesn’t believe cases are decided on the basis of the law. There are two reasons for this.

First, candidates for judge almost always run as Republicans and Democrats. This creates a perception that judicial decisions are based on politics. This is especially the case in the courts of appeals.

Second, nearly all judicial candidates accept money to fund their campaigns. This creates a perception that money affects judicial decisions.

Even if individual judges do not let party affiliation affect their decisions, people perceive that court decisions are politically based. And even if individual judges do not let campaign contributions affect their decisions, the perception is that money makes a difference. Again, the problem is one of perception.

I am really chagrined that people have such a lack of faith in our judicial system. I want to change this and that is why I am running for Chief Justice. My platform has two planks that work toward restoring confidence in our courts.

First, I am running as an Independent to avoid any impression that I am somehow trying to advance a political agenda.

Second, I am accepting no money from anyone. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that money affects my decisions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I currently work for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. I handle legislative matters for the office and I also do appeals. In six years at the office, I have handled 57 separate appeals. I have made oral arguments at the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

My first job after law school was as a briefing attorney for the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo. I worked for Justice H. Bryan Poff, Jr for over three-and-a-half years. In this role, I evaluated legal briefs in both civil and criminal cases and drafted documents for use by Justice Poff in formulating opinions.

I served over 7 years as the constitutional county judge in Randall County (which takes in half of the City of Amarillo). This is the same position as that currently held by Lina Hidalgo in Harris County. Besides dealing with budgets, taxes, and county administration, I also served as the judge over certain individual cases. Those cases included juvenile cases, mental commitments, guardianships, probate cases, and appeals from justice and municipal courts. So I have plenty of judicial experience. And the experience I gained as Randall County’s chief administrative officer will help me in handling the administrative matters inherent in the position of Chief Justice.

At Baylor Law School, I won a writing competition and became a member of the Baylor Law Review. I eventually served as a Notes and Comments Editor on the Baylor Law Review. I have always enjoyed legal research and writing and I am fairly good at it. This is the main skill necessary for success as a judge on a court of appeals.

Finally, I spent 13 years as an assistant general counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin. This experience gave me a close-up view of the Texas court system as a whole and inspired my interest in improving the system itself.

5. Why is this race important?

There are two courts of appeals in Houston. One is the First Court of Appeals. The other is the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Each of the courts has a chief justice and eight other justices. The two chief-justice positions are the top judicial positions in the Texas court system in the Houston area.

A chief justice has the opportunity to set the tone for the Texas judicial system in this area. And that is exactly what I want to do. I want to set a tone showing that the First Courts of Appeals can be trusted to make decisions based solely on the law. Politics should never enter into judicial decisions. Neither should campaign contributions.

We have a rare opportunity to move in a new direction in 2022. This is an open seat. The current Chief Justice, Sherry Radack, is retiring after 18 years in the position. Voters now have a choice to move toward instilling confidence in our courts and repairing our broken judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Let’s turn this question around. Why should people not vote for me?

If you believe the purpose of the courts of appeals is to advance some sort of partisan political agenda, then I am not your candidate. My view is that it is not the role of a judge to advance any kind of a political agenda. Rather, the role of a judge is to decide cases solely on the basis of the law. Let the chips fall where they may.

If you have no problem with judges accepting money from lawyers and others with interests in the Court’s decisions, then I am not your candidate. The whole idea of judges taking money is inimical to the idea of impartial and unbiased judicial decision-making. It’s unseemly, to say the least.

But, if you agree with me that judges shouldn’t be Republicans or Democrats, then you really ought to vote for me.

And if you agree with me that judges taking money is a bad look, then you ought to seriously consider voting for me for this reason as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

Judicial Q&A: Justice Julie Countiss

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Justice Julie Countiss

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

I am Justice Julie Countiss. I am a judge on the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas and I’m running for Chief Justice of this court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

We hear appeals from every trial court in our ten-county district. Our cases cover almost every area of Texas law. We hear criminal, civil, family, juvenile and probate cases. We interpret and apply Texas law and write our decisions as legal “opinions” that determine the outcome of the case. It could be a divorce, a custody battle, a lawsuit between two businesses, a family dispute over a will, a personal injury case or a murder conviction–just to name a few types.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m now in my fourth year serving as a judge on the First Court of Appeals. Our Chief Justice is retiring and her seat is up in November 2022.

I would like to succeed her as chief justice to ensure our court continues to run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’m the only person running for chief justice who serves on this court now. As such, I have the most experience and am most familiar with the way our court runs. I have worked closely with all my colleagues and our staff since I took the bench. We navigated a ransomware attack in May of 2020 that paralyzed our computer system for over 6-weeks while also dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Through that experience, I learned a lot about leadership from our retiring chief justice. But most importantly, I am deeply committed to my work and to my First Court of Appeals family here and will work tirelessly to ensure we deliver justice and fairness for all.

5. Why is this race important?

In the Houston area, the First Court of Appeals is the last opportunity for justice to be served. In the vast majority of cases, our court has the last word. The courts above us (Texas Supreme Court and
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) have discretion to choose which cases they hear. They only hear a small number of cases depending on how important they deem the case. But our court hears every properly filed appeal. So we are almost always the last word for those parties. We are interpreting and applying Texas law, in very important ways, every single day. Our decisions impact your life, your liberty and your property.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

This race is especially important because of the upheaval we’re seeing in Texas law lately. The future of Texas–especially women and children–is at stake in this election.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Toria Finch

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Toria Finch

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

I am Judge Toria J. Finch, Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class A & B misdemeanor criminal cases with a jurisdictional range of punishment of a fine of no more than $4,000 and/or up to 1 year in the Harris County jail.

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

I consider it an accomplishment to have been a two-time Presiding Judge and a three-time Co-Presiding Judge of all Harris County Criminal Courts at Law during my first term. More significantly, and with the remarkable collaboration of my county criminal courts at law judicial colleagues, the groundwork for criminal justice reform has been laid with the successful implementation of Misdemeanor Bail Reform. Additionally, creating the Managed Assigned Counsel Program; Open Hours Court; Cite and Release Court; Emergency Response Docket; B.A.Y.O.U. (“Bringing Assistance to You with Outreach and Understanding”) Community Court; and so much more even despite not having a consistent place to have jury trials, a courthouse, and in the middle of one of the most catastrophic pandemics of our lifetime. I am without question proud of the work that not only I have done, but my Judicial Colleagues, our Office of Court Management, our Court Team Members, and the Bar/Attorneys/ Litigants. Together we have accomplished so much, and I believe that the best is still yet to come.

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

Going forward, it is my continued goal to reduce the case backlog in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9 (“Court #9). Although Court #9 consistently has one of the lowest dockets and jail populations, it is important to continue focusing on both effective and efficient court management by reducing docket size and length of case disposition. Additionally, I desire for Court #9 to continue to be a place that seeks Truth, Justice, and Fairness for everyone that appears before the court regardless of one’s socio-economic status; race; gender; political affiliation; sexual orientation, etc. I, along with my amazing Court #9 Team seek to ensure that people are treated with compassion and integrity.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it will decide how the County Criminal Courts at Law move forward collectively and individually. Criminal Justice Reform, Experience, and Community Engagement are on the ballot in this race. Respectfully, the candidates in this race are glaringly different from the relevant legal work experiences and platforms. I am and have always been an attorney that has focused my legal practice primarily in the areas of criminal and juvenile law. The breath of my overall relevant experience is reflected in my years of practice, board certification and trainings, legal work experience as both a former defense attorney and prosecutor, current member of the criminal law judiciary, past and present memberships in various criminal law associations and sections within the State Bar of Texas, and my service as an Adjunct Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Alvin Community College’s Paralegal Program. There is no question that experience and commitment matter in this race.

Harris County deserves to continue having a Judge that has a proven track record of substantial legal work experience and involvement in the area in which she seeks to continue serving, a sincere interest in implementing necessary criminal justice reforms, and who is invested in the community and willing to continue serving both on and off the bench. The above stated is what makes this race important.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am seeking re-election to finish/improve the reforms that we have started, to expand the services provided by the programs previously stated, and to protect the progress that has been achieved. We can’t afford to go back!

Judicial Q&A: Judge Gloria Lopez

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Gloria Lopez

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

My name is Gloria López and I am the 308th Family District Court Judge in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th Family District Court is one or ten Family District Courts in Harris County, Texas. It hears family law matters — divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child visitation determination, marital property divisions, parental terminations and adoption cases. This Court also handles issues involving Children’s Protective Services (CPS) cases, enforcements, modifications, and paternity cases.

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

When I was elected, I restored integrity to the 308th Family District Court. Bias and impropriety were eliminated. Parties finally have an opportunity to have their case heard in a fair and just manner. Additionally, during this time, cases run smoother, the docket was streamlined and people get their day in court in a dependable and fair fashion. This was not the case prior to me taking this bench. I have restored efficiency, fairness, kindness, and energy to this court. I am running for re-election because public service is my passion and the issues handled in our overcrowded family courts are of prime importance to our community and our families.

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

I hope to maintain the level of transparency that I have brought to the 308th Family District Court and continue to improve participation rates from families is CPS cases. During Covid, the 308th Family District Court used technology to improve the experience of litigants, especially people who do not have attorneys. We leveraged technology not only to stay open, but also to improve participation rates and help users resolve disputes more efficiently. The boost in court appearances that followed the shift to virtual hearings is consistent with pre-pandemic assertions that reducing the day-to-day costs of coming to court—such as transportation, childcare, lost wages, and travel time—would increase people’s ability to meaningfully engage in court cases. Currently, the 308th Family District Court lives streams all hearings and trials. The increased transparency has restored trust in the judicial system and helped students, lawyers, and families learn about family law.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important to note that the family courts in Harris County are extremely busy. The cases must be presided over by a judge who understands the law and the complexities of the family issues faced in these courts each day. A family law judge must conduct herself honorably and be efficient. Justice is best served when it is handled efficiently and by a family law judge who is compassionate within the bounds of the law. These cases must be handled by someone who is going to work hard each and every day. These cases must be handled by someone dedicated to being a public servant to the constituents of Harris County and not a politician.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Representation matters. It is important for Harris County constituents to see people like themselves on the bench. People from marginalized communities tend to be discouraged by the judicial process. Seeing a person with experience and a similar background (as their own) helps restore faith and trust in the judicial system. Additionally, I am Board Certified in Family Law. I exclusively practiced family law prior to being elected in 2018. I have presented and published articles on family law issues/topics for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, the State Bar Office of Minority Affairs, the Houston Bar Association, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Muslim Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association, and local organizations. I am experienced and dedicated to the practice of family law. I am also compassionate, measured, consistent, and fair. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United State of America and Texas. I do not take this oath lightly and will continue to execute my oath faithfully. I am seeking re-election to ensure that the constituents of Harris County have a Family Law Judge that executes the duties of this position with integrity and compassion. It is important to keep a Judge in the 308th that understands the law and uses her discretion in a way that helps all people feel safe and heard.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Genesis Draper

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Genesis Draper

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

My name is Genesis Draper, and I am the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12. Additionally, as of July 1, 2022, I also serve as the presiding judge for all 16 County Criminal Courts at Law, a role that provides administrative support to all of the county criminal courts.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I preside over misdemeanor cases, which are cases that are punishable by up to one year in the Harris County Jail, and/or up to a $4000 fine.

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

One of the major accomplishments from my term as judge of County Court 12, includes settling a landmark bail reform lawsuit that ended the practice of jailing people in Harris County for misdemeanors solely because they couldn’t afford to buy their freedom through the process of paying a bail bond company. By settling the lawsuit, my colleagues and I ended the practice of wealth-based detention in misdemeanor cases, and created a model for other jurisdictions to follow. Another major accomplishment of my tenure as judge, is the creation of the Harris County Office of Managed Assigned Counsel, which is an independent county agency tasked with supporting the indigent defense bar practicing in Harris County misdemeanor courts. The office now appoints the attorney, provides support to the attorney, and manages the payment of vouchers to the attorney. With the creation of this office, attorneys appointed to represent indigent individuals accused of misdemeanors, can have the independence from the judiciary and the support necessary to provide zealous representation for their clients.

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

I hope to establish a scheduling order in County Criminal Court 12 that will put all parties on notice regarding the deadlines in cases. Currently, there are no uniform expectations for when evidence is due, when motions should be filed, or when cases should be ready for dispositions. Clearer expectations from the court should put the parties on proper notice for when things are due in a case, and assist in shortening the length of time it takes to reach a conclusion in a case.

5. Why is this race important?

County Criminal Courts at Law are important races, because whether you are accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, it will be important to you that the case is handled competently and efficiently.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am asking for people’s vote in November because I have worked hard as the judge of this court for over three years to ensure that every person who encounters the court has access to justice, even in the midst of post-hurricane space limitations and a global pandemic that brought most systems to a grinding hault. My 13+ years of criminal litigation experience at the state and federal level has uniquely prepared me to continue providing a high level of service to the people of Harris County as the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12

Judicial Q&A: Je’Rell Rogers

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Je’Rell Rogers

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

My name is Je’Rell Rogers and I am running for judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #14. I have been practicing law since 2013. For the last 3+ years, I have served as chief prosecutor of the 180 th District Court where I am responsible for the murders and capital murders pending in that court. I am a 2008 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, a Teach for America alumni corps member (Sharpstown Middle School), and an LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center 2013 graduate.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class B and Class A misdemeanors. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days Harris County Jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000.00. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in the Harris County Jail and a fine not to exceed $4,000.00. Common class B misdemeanors may include DWI (first offender), criminal trespass, and some thefts—just to name a few. Class A misdemeanors include DWI (second offender), Assault, and Burglary of a Motor Vehicle—just to name a few.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because there was a lack of community involvement and focus from this particular seat. Many of the other county criminal court judges have been involved with specialized courts/programs that are focused at bettering the members of our community through services targeting specific needs. SOBER Court and Veterans’ court are examples of such specialized courts and my predecessor had next to no involvement. Everyday, judges make decisions that impact our community and so programs like these and the Fresh Start program introduced by the county criminal courts are essential for the bettering of and safety of our community. Thus, judges need to have not just the legal experience but the actual community involvement in order to have proper perspective when making these decisions. I’m running for this bench because I am the candidate that can best bring these qualifications to the position.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications for this job include courtroom experience and community experience. From the courtroom side of things, I have handled the most serious criminal offenses in the state of Texas, from the filing of charges to seeing them through jury verdict. Additionally, I have supervised a number of junior attorneys and support staff, while handling my own case load which demonstrates my ability to lead while getting work done. From the community side of things, my years as a teacher in HISD and my years as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston have brought to my face the issues that plague our community. I’ve witnessed first hand the impacts of drugs on communities and the impact of domestic violence in homes and the role that homelessness and mental health and substance abuse plays in our criminal justice system. By serving as an usher at my church, I’ve had real, genuine conversations with other community members about their concerns and their family concerns. By serving as a course instructor with HPD, I’ve had conversations with new and veteran police officers about the issues they face. In other words, I am best qualified for this position because I recognize the problems our community faces, I’ve faced them head on, and I recognize there is no ”one size fits” all solution as opposed to a case by case approach.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our county has the chance to continue to build on the strides we’ve made in the last 4 years. Misdemeanor bail reform is not finished and there is still work to be done to get to where we need to be. In order for this work to happen, the judge for this bench needs to bring the perfect combination of legal experience and community experience to the conversation while showing an ability to work with the other judges. This race is important because it directly impacts every person who lives in or works in or raises their family in Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am the candidate that this position calls for in 2023 and moving forward. As an attorney, I have experience handling the lowest level of cases to the most serious criminal offenses. Well before I decided to run for office, I got involved with the community when I decided to teach 8th grade students in a low-income area of Houston. Well before I decided to run for office, I decided to become an usher at my church because I have a heart for people and wanted to share with people the love that I had for my church. Well before I decided to run for office, I recognized that I had a responsibility to give back to members of our community who didn’t grow up with the opportunities I had and so I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston as a Big Brother. Well before I ran for office, I recognized that I had certain experiences and knowledge that I could share with police officers to better them and our community as a whole and so I started teaching a class on Racial Profiling and a class on Search and Seizure at the Houston Police Academy. People should vote for me in November because my whole life is a personification of me serving my community for the betterment of my community.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Michelle Moore

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Michelle Moore

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

Michelle Moore Presiding Judge of the 314th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Delinquency and Child Welfare

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

I have removed ankle restraints from juveniles who appear in court. The youth are no longer coming to court in a jail jumpsuit. Instead, they wear a grey or burgundy shirt
and black khaki style pants.

Regarding Child Welfare, same sex couples and single persons are permitted to adopt a child(ren) in the 314th.

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

For court operations, I hope for the 314th courtroom to be completely paperless. Regarding juveniles, I will continue to use community rehabilitation programs. For child welfare, I will become a trauma informed court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because children and parents’ lives are directly impacted. Our youth are vulnerable and impressionable and oftentimes when youthful offenders come to court, they are at a crossroads.

The Court is in the unique position to motivate the youth to change their life for the better. Conversely, if the youth’s interaction with the court is negative, it may push him/her participate in more illegal activities. Understanding the magnitude and reach of this position, is integral to being an effective judge.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am an experienced judge and I practiced Child Welfare Law before taking the bench. I have a breadth of knowledge and experience in the area of law for which I am seeking reelection. The youth in my court have experienced positive outcomes and I have achieved a reputation of being fair and efficient judge, which is exactly what Harris County deserves. There is no reason to change.

Judicial Q&A: Judge LaShawn Williams

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge LaShawn Williams

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

Judge LaShawn A. Williams, Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

These courts share jurisdiction with the district courts up to $250,000. Also, a county civil court at law in Harris County has jurisdiction over all civil matters and causes, original and appellate, prescribed by law for county courts, but does not have the jurisdiction of a probate court.

A county civil court at law has jurisdiction in appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County. A county civil court at law also-regardless of the amount in controversy-has jurisdiction in statutory eminent domain proceedings and exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation suits.

In addition to other jurisdiction provided by law, a county civil court at law has jurisdiction to:

1. decide the issue of title to real or personal property;
2. hear a suit to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;
3. hear a suit for the enforcement of a lien on real property;
4. hear a suit for the forfeiture of a corporate charter;
5. hear a suit for the trial of the right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment; and
6. hear a suit for the recovery of real property.

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

We are protecting seniors and others from losing their homes after years of investment and sacrifice. We’ve helped and continue to help those who are burdened by collections and who just need a hand up. And for renters on the threshold of eviction, we’ve engaged volunteer lawyers and rent relief programs to help them keep the roof over their heads, while helping landlords stay in business. And along with all of those kept promises I am proud to say that we helped taxpayers save lots of money and made our positive mark on the climate by going paperless.

During this pandemic, our court has worked hard to successfully move the dockets avoiding backlog. We collaborated with Houston Volunteer lawyers and the law schools to provide legal representation to folks facing eviction. We provide oral hearings in proceedings for self represented litigants providing them opportunity to conference with the opposition in a fair and safe manner. When it was safe to do so, we opened the court back to in person trials enforcing CDC and local guidelines. We did this because I believe fair and equal access to the courts requires engagement and confrontation without the impediments of technology in a remote proceeding. Certain evidence, particular demeanor and credibility evidence, require testing, objection and consideration without internet interruption or other interferences.

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

I intend to continue using this platform to educate the public, bring more young lawyers into the judicial pipeline, and support groups that do the same. This Court will continue to advance and ensure equal access to justice. We intend to further advance our technological advances by making it easier for parties to receive notices about the status of their case via email. We went paperless in 2019 and then Covid hit. While this interrupted much of our work, we are excited to get back to things like providing improved forms and templates online for self-represented litigants and others.

We will continue working on making legal representation available in eviction cases as a matter of law, rather than just in the face of Covid. When the pandemic is gone, we plan to move forward with what we’ve learned and gained – like legal representation for tenants in eviction cases. We will also move forward in keeping some remote dockets, like bench trials and motions hearings.

I am really excited about being able to further engage and educate the community on equal access to justice and the Rule of Law by holding community events and safe places for real conversations with the judiciary.

5. Why is this race important?

It seems our democracy is moving at the speed of light. Now more than ever it is important that we all understand how our democracy works…that we have three branches of government, and each are equally important. Each affect our lives daily. Who we put into office in these three branches of government has serious implications. How safe we are, whether our children return home safe; our health care; women’s healthcare; gun safety; our elections and our right to vote. It seems all those things most important to us hang in the balance. This race is important because citizens should be confident in and trust our courts now like never before. We see how decisions, creating precedent, resound for decades. It matters today how a court decides, whether the Rule of Law if followed, whether justice is equal.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have run the court successfully over the past 3.5 years and intend to continue improving upon the administration of equal justice and access to the courts. I am tuned into the heart of the people of this diverse county. Each day I see their need and concerns in court – what’s important to them and how they are hurting; and how they are prospering! I take my seat on this bench as a call to service. I enjoy it and find it an honor to serve in this way. I am committed to ensuring the Rule of Law applies equally to everyone and that the administration of justice is fair. This county needs judges that are relatable, competent and who understand what is at stake. I have proven that I am qualified and can do the job. I want to continue serving this great county and our communities.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Lori Chambers Gray

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Lori Chambers Gray

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

I am Lori Chambers Gray, the presiding Judge of the 262nd District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 262nd District Court has jurisdiction over felony criminal cases ranging from state jail felony to capital murder.

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

One accomplishment during my time on this bench has been being elected by my fellow judges to serve as presiding judge over the mental health competency restoration docket. Serving in this position has been especially rewarding because it has allowed me to serve some of our communities most vulnerable, those suffering with mental illness. Through programs in place, persons with mental illness are connected to services and community resources. This docket has long history of persons successfully completing the programs and going on to living productive lives.

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

I want to help speed up the process of resolving cases in a fair and equitable manner. I want to make the court is even more efficient. In the appropriate cases where individuals are not incarcerated I want to insure that we provide reasonable alternatives to incarceration. In cases where individuals are placed on probation I want to insure that the conditions are strict, meaningful and appropriate for that offense.

5. Why is this race important?

This election is important because judges affect citizens lives in so many ways. In the criminal justice system in many ways judges are the backbone of the criminal justice system. Judges have a duty to insure that every accused citizen has a fair process and a fair trial, if they want one. At the same time, a judge must make sure that the community is safe. A number of judicial races are on the November mid term ballot and the peoples vote will decide who will serve as judge in these courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have had the pleasure to serve as the presiding judge of the 262nd district court for the last 3 1/2 years. In my time as a judge I have strived to insure that all people are treated fairly regardless of background. I practiced law for 29 years before being elected in 2018 and built a successful criminal law practice handling cases in Harris and surrounding counties.

I was born and raised in Houston and have strong ties with my community through volunteer organizations that I have served in the past and present. I understand the unique challenges and concerns of the citizens of Harris County and have the desire to make a positive difference for all. It is my hope that the voters keep me on the bench so that we can continue in our efforts to insure justice for all.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Linda Dunson

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Linda Dunson

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

My name is Linda Marie Dunson. I am the Presiding Judge of the 309th Family District Court in Harris County, Texas. I grew up in a small town in east Texas. I grew up very poor and disadvantaged. As a child decisions were made about me by others who were not my family, nor did they live in my neighborhood, nor did they look like me. Those who were in “authority” assessed my situations and made judgments and predetermined my future without giving me the opportunity to speak for myself. They were wrong! They fueled the desire in me, the fire, the passion for advocating on behalf of others, especially children. I believe in equal access to justice; that every human should be treated with dignity and respect and that every litigant should have the opportunity to be heard.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Family District court oversees matters such as divorce, adoption, child support, child protective services, and other related matters.

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

The 309th has been able to manage the flow of cases such that justice has not been delayed during a flood, a freeze, after effects of hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, my main accomplishment is being able to apply the law in a manner to change the trajectory of families who are impacted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective services by recognizing the impact that trauma plays in the lives of those families and how treating that trauma can lead to a more positive outcome. The 309th has been selected as one of six Trauma Informed Courts across Texas.

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

I will continue to collaborate with community organizations and attorneys to create a network of resources to assist families with facing and healing the effects of their respective traumas. I hope to be able to measure the positive outcomes in terms of increased family reunification and reduced recidivism. Dignity, respect, integrity and fair impartial interpretation and application of the law shall always be paramount.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is so important because there is so much progress being made in the courts in general and the 309th in particular and that progress needs to continue. Let’s keep it moving forward.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have been tried and tested. Family is my passion. I am compassionate. I understand the human condition. I understand that there are many ethnic groups with many cultural norms living in America. I understand that there are individuals who may believe differently than I in regards to religion and sexuality.

I have a demeanor that is becoming a Judge. I am consistent in my dealing with people. I believe that everyone is entitled to a fair, impartial and just decision. I listen and I connect with people. Moreover, I believe the rule of law should be respected.

I believe that lawyers ought to be allowed to represent their client zealously without being disrespected by the bench. Let the lawyers practice law and let the Judge be the judge.

People should vote for me because I genuinely care. I have advocated for others ever since I can remember. I have been in the trenches. I have given brain, brawn and bucks to improve the human condition, expecting nothing in return.

I am a Progressive Democrat with traditional democratic values. I believe in Faith, Opportunity, Equality, Hard Work (Jobs), Education, Healthcare. I believe in embracing differences. I believe in equality, justice and fairness. And, I truly believe that a person should be judged by their character.

People should vote for me because I want to continue the fight for equality, justice and fairness.

I am the best and most qualified candidate. I bring with me knowledge, skill, an unmatched personal experience and unsurpassed compassion.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Shannon Baldwin

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Shannon Baldwin

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

Judge Shannon Brichelle Baldwin, I preside over Harris County Criminal Misdemeanor Court #4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears misdemeanor class B and class A cases. The maximum punishment is up to a $4,000 fine and up to 1 year in jail. This court is an appellate court for class C misdemeanors.

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

In my first two years, I served as the Local Administrative Judge over all 20 Harris County Courts comprising of 16 criminal courts and 4 civil courts; for three years I presided over an additional docket for Misdemeanor SOBER Court (a treatment court for persons with alcohol/drug addictions); currently I also preside over the Misdemeanor Veterans Court (a treatment court for Veterans with alcohol/drug addictions and PTSD). I’ve maintained an above average clearance rate despite inheriting one of the largest dockets after Harvey. I reduced the docket despite having limited ability to conduct jury trials due to building construction and COVID restrictions. I use scheduling orders to continue the efficient movement of cases. Collectively, the Harris County Criminal Courts have instituted the Community Care Court where one of our first programs is the Fresh Start Program. In that program, the courts are able to seal the criminal history of defendants who have paid their debt to society.

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

Going forward, I will continue to reduce the backlog assisted with the use of the scheduling order. I hope to accomplish a domestic violence court and a fully functioning (financed) mental health court. Those specialty courts would address the majority of cases in our courts and provide a more efficient means to get them resolved. I would like to propose a computer lab run by Probation or that is open to indigent defendants with no access to the internet. They often have online classes and typically have difficulty finishing classes because they lack access.

5. Why is this race important?

Criminal Misdemeanor Courts encounter individuals at low level and oftentimes the beginning of a potential criminal future. So, we have the opportunity to make a big impact at an early stage. We can target issues and seek resolutions as a part of punishment. With successful resolution of “issues”, we can reduce crime and completely change the trajectory of an individual’s life. I chose misdemeanor court over felony court for this reason.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am a servant leader and I ran for this position to serve the citizens of Harris County and make it better. In many ways, I have accomplished making Harris County better. However, there is still work to be done and that takes time. I am dedicated to seeing community safety increase and not at the expense of citizens’ Constitutional rights. I’m dedicated to keeping the courts open with free access to everyone. I’m dedicated to maintaining fair and impartial courts where one’s race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation has no bearing on their case. I am dedicated to equal protection under the law and justice for ALL! I’m humbly asking for your support and votes to continue as Judge for Harris County Criminal Court #4.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Audrie Lawton Evans

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Audrie Lawton Evans

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

Hello, my name is Audrie Lawton Evans and I am the presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The county civil courts at law hear all civil matters with the amount in controversy of up to $250,000 and has jurisdiction to hear all appeals of civil cases, including evictions, from justice courts in Harris County. The court also has jurisdiction over statutory eminent domain proceedings, suits involving real property disputes, and slander and defamation cases.

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

On August 10, 2021, I was unanimously appointed as the presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1. Approximately four months later, I was elected by my colleagues as the Administrative Judge of all the County Courts at Law. As the Administrative Judge, I am tasked with maintaining cohesiveness among the courts, disseminating information to our constituents, and reviewing and ensuring that our courts are following all Texas Supreme Court and other administrative orders. During my tenure thus far, I implemented our Fall Open House, an online event to give the public and attorneys a chance to hear all about the court and provide resources to the community. I also facilitated Active Shooter training for all courtroom personnel as well as other safety procedures.

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

In the upcoming year, I hope to focus on reviewing the courts’ systems and procedures to streamline the administrative side of the judicial process. At our very core, the court provides a service to the community. As such, I would like to revamp the court’s website and online presence. In addition, because of the pandemic, the court system has had to utilize technology in a whole new way. For example, I plan to continue zoom hearings for certain cases where it makes sense. Overall, I want to ensure that a person’s experience with my court is practical and easy to navigate.

5. Why is this race important?

The judiciary’s job is to facilitate the efficient resolution of disputes. As a judge, I am responsible for maintaining decorum in the court room, making sure that all parties have equal access to the legal system, and to render the prompt and fair resolution of cases filed in court.

This race is important because in our society, protecting the integrity of the bench is becoming increasingly important. Local elections probably have the most impact on our day-to-day lives.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have always had an affinity for this court. As a practicing attorney for 20 years, I have tried thousands of cases in the county courts at law. I have the requisite experience and the right temperament to be a great judge. Since my appointment, I have hit the ground running, managing a large docket from day one. In 2021, the county civil courts at law have disposed of over 18,000 cases. Collectively, my colleagues and I have coordinated with rental assistance programs to help over 73,000 tenants stay in their homes while landlords collected nearly $300 Million dollars thru the programs. In addition, since 2018, the courts have also modernized all court filings to electronic filing system passing savings to taxpayers.

I am humbled every day by my position and the great weight of the responsibility I hold. A vote for me is a vote for experience, fairness, and integrity. I look forward to my continued service to Harris County as judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Brian Warren

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Brian Warren

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

My name is Brian Warren and I have the Honor of being the Judge of the 209th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles all felony offenses, from Capital Murders, Aggravated Robberies, and Sexual Assault to low level drug possession cases

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

Since being elected judge, I have continued to make changes to improve the administration of justice. I have instituted the first scheduling order for criminal cases in Harris County. This order has been adopted by a third of the judges in Harris County. This scheduling order has eliminated needless settings as opposed to the old fashioned way of setting every case once a month. . I also adopted a zoom docket to resolve discovery disputes. I was able to secure a pre-trial officers in every court, in order to cut down on the wait times for defendants, lawyers and judges. The Honorable Judge Rosenthal has said in a hearing that Judge Warren “sets the standard for all of the felony judges to emulate” when it comes to bail reform in Harris County District Courts. With the help of the district attorney’s office, I also implemented an e-warrant system that allows judges to sign warrants electronically.

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

Recently, I also have proposed a plan that would utilize our associate judges, similar to the systems used in federal court and some surrounding counties. This plan would divert our judicial resources and all first setting bond defendants to our associate judges. Allowing our elected judges to spend more time resolving cases and eliminating a significant amount of foot traffic in our courthouse which is inadequate to meet the needs of our community. I would love the opportunity to continue to innovate and make meaningful changes to our criminal justice systems in the future.

5. Why is this race important?

If you haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom recently, you are very fortunate. While some people never find themselves facing a judge, there is a good chance they have a family member or friend who has been involved in a legal case. Participating in judicial elections gives you the power to vote for people you believe to be qualified, committed and conscientious. Judicial elections are no less important, emotional or personal than senate or municipal elections. The work of judges cuts to the very core of humanity; don’t ignore its significance.

6. Why should people vote for you in November

I have over 20 years of experience as a lawyer in the criminal justice system, first as a prosecutor, then as a defense attorney, and now as a judge. My opponent has never practiced criminal law in his career. He has never appeared as a lawyer in any Harris County Criminal District Courts. If elected, his first day will be the first time he has ever set foot in the 209th District Court. The cases we handle in the criminal courthouse are too important and serious, to entrust to someone with ZERO criminal experience as a lawyer.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Sonya Heath

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Sonya Heath

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

Judge Sonya Heath, 310th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Family.

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

Implementing Zoom hybrid hearings. Especially for the CPS cases where we have had a huge increase in parental participation.

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

Setting up a better type of e-hearing system (an online calendaring system).

5. Why is this race important?

District Court Family judges have the ability to take your children, your property and your freedom. You want someone with a good grasp of the law and even temperament.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

As the incumbent I have been on bench 4 years. I have been at work on a regular basis for our County’s families. People need their day in Court. Some people just need to be heard so they can move on with their lives. My own children are grown now, but I have lived what most of the people coming before me are going through. I was a single parent, unfortunately divorced, adopted a child, and went back and forth on custody three times with my children’s father. I bring experience both with the law and real life that make me suited for this bench.