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Kyle Carter

Look out! Here come the lady judges!

Everybody scream!

In Democratic judicial primaries last Tuesday, Dayna beat David, Jane trounced Jim, and Colleen got more support than John, David and Brennen combined. Is that all there was to it?

Men have dominated Texas courts for decades. Now, in Democratic-controlled areas of the state, they seem headed for extinction.

The corrective for years of gender inequity on the bench has proven rather simple: voters.

Women have disappeared from the high-octane Democratic presidential primary. But in down-ballot, low-information races, Texas Democrats are increasingly, consistently backing women over men. In last week’s Democratic primary, women won more votes than men in all of the roughly 30 gender-split contests for high court, court of appeals and district court, according to results from the Texas Secretary of State. Rarely was it even close.

In urban areas, Democrats typically beat Republicans in the general election. So if Democratic men can’t beat Democratic women in judicial primaries, the bench in Texas cities is likely to become a lot more female. Democratic men won primary races for high court, courts of appeals or district courts only when they were uncontested or facing a male opponent.

Some voters may have chosen women candidates because of their superior qualifications or experience. But experts say it’s likely that many of them just looked at two unfamiliar names and chose the one that sounded like a woman.

“Maybe they knew nothing, maybe they knew that they were both equal, but all things being equal, they went with the woman,” said Elsa Alcala, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “People are voting based on some characteristic that’s apparent from the ballot as compared to knowing who these people really are.”

There’s more, but you get the idea. This issue was important enough that the Chron and Texas Lawyer also devoted feature stories to it.

Look, I get it, judicial elections can be quite random, most people don’t know much about the candidates they’re voting for, yadda yadda yadda. There really were multiple good judges ousted, and that is a shame. It also is what it is, and as I’ve said before, the same mercurial partisan election system that unceremoniously dumped these good judges also elected them in the first place. This is my reminder that while there have been calls since at least 2008 (the first year since the early 90s that Democrats started winning judicial elections in Harris County, mind you) for some kind of different selection process for judges, no one has yet come up with an actual concrete proposal. There is now a blue-ribbon Judicial Selection Commission that is tasked with proposing such a method; I see no reason to trust it and recommend you do the same. I could be wrong, they could come up with something that minimizes cronyism while rewarding merit and promoting diversity, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

By the way, there were seven male Democratic judges who did not draw a primary opponent this cycle: Kyle Carter, RK Sandill, Michael Gomez, Mike Engelhart, Robert Schaffer, Robert Johnson, and Darrell Jordan. If Democrats maintain their recent dominance in Harris County, then we will see those seven men along with 20 women elected to district and county court benches this year. Back in 2004, the last time in a Presidential year that Republicans swept the judicial races, there were also 27 such elections. That year, 20 men and seven women were elected. I admit my memory isn’t what it once was, but I’m pretty sure there weren’t multiple articles written about how hard it was to get elected judge as a woman in Harris County back then.

My point is, let’s all take a deep breath and calm down. There were still 30 male judges elected in 2018, out of 59 total, 29 of whom are still on the bench (Bill McLeod of accidental resignation fame was the 30th). If after the 2024 election there are zero men on the district or county court benches in Harris County, then maybe there’s a problem. And I’m sure in another hundred years or so, society will evolve to the point where it can be remedied. History shows that you can’t rush these things, after all.

(And yes, the irony of these stories running within days of Elizabeth Warren suspending her Presidential campaign is…something.)

Endorsement watch: Civil court incumbents

Keeping up with the weekly endorsement schedule, we have round one of Civil Court endorsements, as there are many Civil Court races this year.

HarrisCounty

11th Civil District Court: Kevin Fulton

The candidates in this race to replace outgoing Judge Mike Miller are both living proof of the American Dream. Republican Kevin Fulton, our choice for the bench, grew up in gritty South Central Los Angeles. The family of his Democratic opponent Kristen Hawkins fled Communist Hungary. Both candidates went on to graduate from law school and start their own firms. Both have the right temperament and work ethic to succeed on the bench.

61st Civil District Court: Erin Elizabeth Lunceford

Gov. Greg Abbott chose well when he appointed Erin Elizabeth Lunceford, 55, to this court in July 2015, and voters should give her a full term. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Lunceford, a Republican, has 27 years of practice, is board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and is also an associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

80th Civil District Court: Larry Weiman

When civil judges want to brag about their number of jury trials, the size of their dockets and their overall productivity, they compare themselves to Judge Larry Weiman.

125th Civil District Court: Kyle Carter

Democrat Kyle Carter – first elected to the bench in 2008 – gets our nod for another term. This graduate of the South Texas College of Law genuinely seems to love his job and to view it as an opportunity not only to administer justice but to help people. Carter, 40, said that he’s started an organization, Judges At Work in Schools, and visits local schools to educate students about the judicial system, career opportunities and the importance of education.

127th Civil District Court: R.K. Sandill

Judge R.K. Sandill, 40, admits that he’s developed a reputation for being curt. He expects lawyers to come prepared and has no patience for counsel who waste his and their client’s time. But over his two terms, this hard-working, qualified judge has learned how to keep the docket moving without being too harsh on the attorneys.

129th Civil District Court: Michael Gomez

Voters should return Democrat Michael Gomez to the bench for four more years. Although his numbers in the Houston Bar Association judicial qualification poll weren’t stellar when he was first elected in 2008, Gomez has grown into the role and last year he was awarded Judge of the Year by the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston. According to Gomez, 42, anyone who “loves his job the way I do is always looking for a way to do things better.”

133rd Civil District Court: Jaclanel McFarland

Judge Jaclanel McFarland brings a lot of personality and small-town common sense to her court. In meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, the two-term Democratic judge explained how she hates it when opposing counsel just rely on email instead of actually talking to each other.

The 11th is an open bench, while the 61st was filled by appointment after Judge Al Bennett was elevated to federal court. The rest are all Democratic incumbents. The next batch contains four Democratic incumbents (Englehart, Schaffer, Smoots-Hogan, Palmer), one Republican incumbent (Halbach), and two Republican appointees (Mayfield Ibarra and Dorfman). There’s one incumbent I don’t expect the Chron to endorse (Palmer); beyond that, we’ll see.

Judicial Q&A: Kyle Carter

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Kyle Carter

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

My name is Kyle Carter, and I am running for Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears appeals from the criminal, civil, family, and juvenile courts of Harris County, and all appeals out of state district courts in the counties of Austin, Brazoria, Colorado, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Waller and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I want to help people. The 14th Court of Appeals hears cases from the District Courts in the ten-county region. The Court’s decisions shape the policy that affects the everyday lives of Texans. I have chosen the Chief Justice position on the 14th Court of Appeals because it is a leadership position. The Chief Justice hears appeals and writes opinions along with the other members of the Court, but also manages the Court’s budgetary matters. I believe that I would bring a different perspective to the Court of Appeals. I have served as a trial judge for the past five years, and I can bring that experience with me to the Court. Additionally, all current members of the 14th Court of Appeals are Republican. My election would add balance to the Court and offer a different set of ideas when dealing with legal and policy issues.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have served as judge of the 125th District Court in Harris County since my election in 2008. During my time on the bench, I have made it a rule that everyone who enters the 125th District Court is treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.

In five years on the bench, I have handled over 7,000 cases and conducted over 180 bench and jury trials. Additionally, I have been honored by my colleagues to serve as chair to the Civil Court Committee on Special Dockets, as well as Secretary to the Civil Court Board of Judges.

I have also conducted numerous speaking engagements across the State of Texas, as well as to out of state audiences. I have spoken on a range of legal topics to the State Bar of Texas, the American Association for Justice and the Houston Trial Lawyers Association.

Most importantly, I am deeply committed to community service and outreach, and actively participate in numerous charitable organizations. I am most proud to work with students, and enjoy speaking at schools and educating youth on a host of different topics from government and civics to career opportunities. To that end, I have founded an organization called Judges At Work in Schools, which visits local schools and educates students about the judicial system, career opportunities, and the importance of higher education.

Prior to taking the bench, I served as a trial lawyer with the Carter Law Firm for over 8 years, working on cases with a variety of subject matters including commercial litigation, transactional law, corporate formalities and business development, securities litigation, personal injury and corporate compliance.

Additionally, I am honored to have served as general counsel to the Legislative Committee on General Investigating and Ethics for two sessions, as well as the Legislative Committee on Urban Affairs.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the members of this Court determine the policy that affects the lives of all Texans. This race presents a great opportunity to elect a Chief Justice who brings a fresh perspective on issues. I believe in following the Constitution, protecting Texas families, and individual property rights. We need a Chief Justice that will work for all people.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the best person for this position because of my judicial philosophy to follow the law, and treat everyone who comes before me with dignity and respect. Additionally, I am the only candidate with any experience having served as a trial judge. Finally, I am a dedicated public servant who believes in community service.

As a current trial judge I work hard to ensure that all who come before me are treated fairly, and I am committed to making justice available to everyone regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and importantly, financial means. A judge should recognize that those with the most financial means often have better access to counsel and an ability to bear the expense of litigation. As a result, I have always maintained a fair courtroom where justice is available to all citizens regardless of financial means.

I want Texas to be the best possible place to live, work, and raise a family, and our judicial system is vitally important in making that a reality. As a husband, father, lawyer, and judge, I am aware of the many issues that affect everyday Texans, and I want to ensure that the system is fair to all. In conclusion, I believe that my experience, judicial philosophy, and commitment to fairness make me the best person for the position of Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals.