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Mike Englehart

Endorsement watch: Civil incumbents, part 2

The Chron continues a theme.

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151st Civil District Court: Mike Engelhart

If you commute along the Southwest Freeway, then you probably know Judge Mike Engelhart from his big red billboard at Greenbriar Drive, which informs drivers that the two-term Democratic incumbent was voted trial judge of the year by the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists. But billboards cost money, and in their meeting with the editorial board, Engelhart’s Republican opponent Jeff Hastings bopped the sitting judge for his prolific fundraising – even from lawyers who practice in his court.

Engelhart’s response? “I fundraise for this position because I want to win this election.”

And he should win. Engelhart has developed a reputation as a terrific judge with an impressive work ethic.

152nd Civil District Court: Robert K. Schaffer

Over his two terms on the bench, Judge Robert Schaffer has been elected by his colleagues to important leadership positions such as local administrative judge, and voters should follow their lead by electing Schaffer to another term.

164th Civil District Court: Alexandra Smoots-Hogan

Many judicial challengers pick their races just to ensure that their preferred party has a candidate on the ballot. Republican Bruce Bain picked this court specifically to remedy the perceived inefficiencies and failings of Democratic incumbent Alexandra Smoots-Hogan.

In a meeting with the editorial board, Smoots-Hogan admitted that she could be more perceptive to lawyers’ hurt feelings, but wasn’t sure whether that actually impacted the real work of her court.

165th Civil District Court: Debra Ibarra Mayfield

Debra Ibarra Mayfield came up through the ranks of the judiciary, proudly proclaiming that she served as the first Latina judge in the Harris County civil courts at law before being appointed to this post by Gov. Greg Abbott last year. The Houston College of Law graduate began her legal career as a briefing attorney for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Mayfield, the first in her family to attend college, brings a refreshing openness to the bench. She’s also an adjunct professor at University of Houston College of Law.

215th Civil District Court: Fred Shuchart

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Judge Elaine Palmer needs to be removed from her seat.

333rd Civil District Court: Joseph “Tad” Halbach

Republican Joseph “Tad” Halbach, 60, who took the bench more than two decades ago, says he still has a “fire in his belly” for the judiciary and should continue to serve. Board certified in civil trial law, Halbach is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center and consistently gets high ratings from his peers on Houston Bar Association polls.

334th Civil District Court: Grant Dorfman

In this race between two highly qualified and experienced candidates, we urge voters to keep incumbent Judge Grant Dorfman on the bench in the 334th civil district court.

So all incumbents except for one, with the one exception being what I predicted last time. The only close call was Judge Smoots-Hogan, who is apparently on notice. We’ll see how the Criminal Court judges do.

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.