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Natalie Cokinos Oakes

Judicial Q&A: Natalia Oakes

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Natalia Oakes

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

My name is Natalia Oakes. I’m an attorney and I’m running for Judge of the 313th (Juvenile) Family District Court. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and was raised in a big civic-minded family full of many uncles, aunts, cousins in Beaumont and New Orleans. I’ve lived in Houston since 1980. I graduated from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. in English Literature with a teacher’s Certificate. I was awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of TSU. I taught school in Beaumont, New Orleans, Houston and Athens, Greece. My father worked hard and my parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I have been working in Juvenile Court for 18 years. I joyfully interact daily with lawyers, judges, clients, probation officers, court personnel, assistant district attorneys, county attorneys, detention officers, interpreters and bailiffs.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Court presides over Juvenile delinquency cases from Misdemeanor B to 1st degree Felonies. Juvenile Court also hears CPS (Child Protective Service) cases involving abused and neglected children.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to focus on effective rehabilitative programs so the children do not come back into the adult system. Even with little support at home, juveniles can be guided to see their potential and contemplate a productive future. Juvenile Probation can track which programs work and which programs do not produce results. It is important to give young people tools to effect a positive change in their lives; to find a talent and cultivate it, to be introduced to areas of interest that they are not exposed to in their home environment. Every child has a special talent and must see their potential. We can maximize resources already in place like, community resources, and discard those that don’t produce results.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’ve been working exclusively in Juvenile Family Court for 18 years. I work well with people. A Juvenile Judge deals with many entities (Juvenile Probation, CPS personnel, District Attorneys, County Attorneys, the Juvenile Board, Commissioners Court) and a judge can harm juveniles if a he/she alienates any of the groups. I can accomplish my goals of bringing effective change to the Harris County Juvenile System. I am the most qualified in this race and am ready on day one to implement needed changes.

5. Why is this race important?

When our children benefit, we all benefit. When our communities are safe from teenage crime, communities thrive.

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

  • I am a parent: I understand children
  • I am a former school teacher: I understand the education system
  • I’ve spent 18 years working in Juvenile Court years handling misdemeanors, felonies, adoptions and CPS (Children Protective Services) cases representing abused and neglected children and their parents: I understand the law.

My goals are to promote programs that produce results for the children and families of Harris County. These programs must be tracked to assess if children are being rehabilitated and families are accessing the services that they need in order to help them.

Every young person should be able to see their potential by being exposed to their unique talents/interests, be it academics, trade schools, vocations, mentoring, crafts, arts, animal husbandry, agriculture. This, in turn, helps self-esteem and leads to productivity.

Endorsement watch: Two more benches

Bench One:

Judge, 313th Judicial District: Natalia Oakes

Natalia Oakes, 66, earns our support in this primary contest against a qualified opponent, John Stephen Liles. Although Liles has spent nearly twice as long as a member of the bar, Oakes has more experience in juvenile courts. Voters should want a candidate with that specific focus to serve on this specialty bench.

Both candidates favor a rehabilitative approach for juveniles. But while Liles emphasizes vocational training, Oakes displays a deeper knowledge of area rehabilitation and mental health resources. She has dedicated her legal career to helping children and her background as a teacher makes her well-suited to evaluate the most effective programs available to guide young people to a second chance in leading a successful life. Voters should give this Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University graduate the chance she requests “to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

I’ve got a Q&A for Oakes in the queue – it will publish on Monday. A Q&A for Tracy Good, who is also in this race but apparently didn’t screen with the Chron, is here.

Bench Two:

Judge, County Civil Court-at-Law Court No. 2: Jim F. Kovach

Democratic voters have a choice between two qualified candidates with very different backgrounds. Jim F. Kovach is a former board chair of Legacy Community Health who has spent more than 20 years working almost exclusively in Harris County civil courts at law. Stanley Santire is a former military officer with extensive national and international experience, including working as chief legal counsel at Lockheed Aircraft International.

We encourage voters to back Kovach, 52, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center. While Santire has an impressive career, Kovach has the on-the-ground experience in these specific courts that makes for a qualified judge.

I don’t have a Q&A from Kovach, but I do have one from Santire, which is here. That link also contains endorsements for two Republican primaries on these benches.

Endorsement watch: Juvenile courts

I had thought we were at the end of the line for endorsements, but not quite yet.

Natalia Cokinos Oakes

314th Juvenile District Court: Natalia Oakes

Democratic candidate Natalia Oakes has dedicated her career to helping children, and voters should put that passion to use on the bench. Oakes, a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, has practiced in Harris County family courts for 14 years. Before becoming a lawyer, Oakes worked as a teacher, giving her a solid background for communicating with children and their parents in distress. She told the Chronicle editorial board that she is running for judge to “have the power to introduce new and innovative programs” to the juvenile courts. She would like to see more emphasis on tracking offenders to determine the effectiveness of different rehabilitation programs. Her goals are laudable and her background promising, but her opponent is the tipping point.

Republican incumbent Judge John F. Phillips has served in the 314th since 2002. Despite recognized capabilities, Phillips has earned a reputation for cronyism and heavy handedness. He has been noted for assigning former law partners and campaign contributors as court-appointed attorneys. Phillips also has been criticized for abusing his discretion in separating an abandoned 12-year-old rape victim from her child. We wanted to hear Phillips’ side, but he refused to meet with the editorial board.

Despite her lack of judicial experience, we think the 314th needs a change and that Natalia Oakes will be a capable new judge.

I should note that the Chron endorsed Cokinos Oakes in 2010 for the then-open 313th Juvenile Court. I don’t think she got any less experienced since then. Be that as it may, the Chronicle didn’t mention that the criticism they cite of the incumbent judge in this race comes courtesy of their own Lisa Falkenberg. Falkenberg gives us a reminder of Judge Phillips’ rap sheet.

In recent days, readers have contacted me, some of them apparently on their way to vote early, asking variations of the same question: “What was the name of that judge who took away Angela’s baby?”

By now, all you readers should know his name by heart. But as a frequent sufferer of name-recall syndrome myself, I don’t mind answering.

He is state district Judge John Phillips, a Republican elected to the 314th district court in 2002. After his Republican primary opponent was excluded from the ballot, apparently on a technicality, Phillips was left to face Democrat Natalia Oakes, a juvenile law attorney and former teacher.

In a recent Houston Bar Association poll, Oakes bested Phillips 400-348 – not a huge lead for Oakes but a significant shortcoming for Phillips, a Republican on the bench for more than a decade who holds an administrative position in juvenile courts.

Recently, I asked a reader who votes overwhelmingly Republican and often disagrees with my stances on social issues what kept her from voting straight ticket.

“Well, because there’s always a few,” she said with a laugh. “There’s just always a few.”

She listed Phillips among the few.

[…]

In 2008, I wrote about how the judge ordered two children, aged 1 and 2, from the home of their LaPorte grandparents, who had raised them since infancy, and placed with strangers in a foster home. In a hearing terminating the rights of the parents over drug abuse, Phillips refused to let the grandparents intervene, apparently because he deemed the couple, both in their 50s, too old.

Phillips said the boys would need guidance into their 20s and “the stark reality is there’s a very good chance” their grandparents “will be dead at that time.'”

More recently, a series of columns on 12-year-old rape victim “Angela” gained wide attention from readers. Angela, abandoned by both parents after she became pregnant, was placed in CPS custody. The girl, who had every reason to resent the life inside her, embraced pregnancy, decided on breastfeeding, and even bonded with a Rosharon relative of her foster mother who agreed to provide a loving, stable home for her and her baby.

But when Phillips got wind the Rosharon family was caring for the newborn, he demanded that child protective officials transfer the baby to a foster home in Montgomery County where Angela wouldn’t have access to her.

Phillips told Angela bluntly in court: “You and your baby are not going to be together.”

His reasons had nothing to do with the law. State law only allows children to be taken from parents if there’s evidence of abuse or neglect – neither of which was ever alleged against the young mother.

Phillips was ready to throw Angela away as damaged goods, and he might well have succeeded, if not for attorney Thuy Le, who fought to represent the girl and eventually prevailed in getting a new judge to reunite Angela and her baby.

He also likes to post juvenile crap on Facebook, and he didn’t like the Public Defenders Office, but there’s enough to question his fitness to be a judge without that. Cokinos Oakes did not send me Q&A responses this year but she did so in 2010, and you can see that here. I did get responses from Tracy Good, the Democrat running for the 313th Juvenile Court, and those are here. We’ll see if there is any Falkenberg Effect in this race.

Endorsement watch: Juvenile courts

Three more endorsements, two of which go to Democrats:

313th Family District Court: Natalie Oakes, the Democrat, is our choice to fill this open bench.

314th Family District Court: David Longoria, the Democratic challenger, would bring a wealth of life and professional experience to this bench.

Relevant Q&A responses are here:

Natalie Oakes

David Longoria (note: from the primary)

Keith Branch, 315th Juvenile Court

Probate courts are the last of the district courts to be done, and then there are the county courts. For Republican Q&As, go see Big Jolly Politics.

Judicial Q&A: Natalie Cokinos Oakes

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

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

My name is Natalie Cokinos Oakes and I’m running for 313th Juvenile District Court. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and was raised in a big, civic-minded family full of many uncles, aunts and cousins in Beaumont and New Orleans. I’ve lived in Houston since 1980. I graduated from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. in English Literature and a Teacher’s Certificate. I was awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. I taught school in Beaumont, New Orleans, Houston and Athens, Greece. I am of Greek heritage. My father worked hard and my parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example. I’ve been married 21 years and am a very involved mother, participating fully in Boy Scout campouts, activities and encouraging our son to achieve his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. I have spent my entire legal career working with the families and children of Harris County in Juvenile and Family Courts. I interned at Gulf Coast Legal Clinic (now Lone Star Legal Clinic) and clerked for a Social Security/Disability Attorney. Also, I donated many hours of mediation at local J.P. Courts to become a state-certified Mediator.

Currently, I defend juvenile respondents in felony and misdemeanor delinquency cases and receive appointments as Attorney Ad Litem and Guardian Ad Litem for children. I represent adult clients in divorce, adoption and in Harris County cases for abused and neglected children. I am invited by schools to speak to young people about the law as it pertains to them and speak to teachers’ groups and neighborhood groups on Juvenile Law. I became an officer with the Juvenile Law Section of the Houston Bar serving three years. I have brought in speakers on many salient topics to the field of Juvenile Law.

I remain involved in the community as a member of many organizations that inform and increase my understanding of citizens’ concerns.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Law is a hybrid of criminal and civil law. Juvenile Courts handle misdemeanor and felony cases for Juvenile Delinquencies for young people ages 10 to 17. The Juvenile Courts also determine whether a child should be certified as an adult to stand trial in the adult court. Juvenile Courts hear CPS cases for abused and neglected children where best interests of the child and the fundamental parental rights are weighed. Juvenile Courts also consummate the adoptions for children.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

There are 3 Juvenile District Courts and the 313th Court is an open seat. I have worked in all 3 courts for 10 years and have observed aspects of each court.

I want to promote programs that produce results for the children and families of Harris County. These programs must be tracked to see if kids are being rehabilitated and families are accessing the services that they need in order to help them. Every young person should be able to see their potential by tapping their unique talents be it academics, trade schools, mentoring, crafts or the arts. This, in turn, helps a person’s self-esteem and leads to productivity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

• I served as a 3 year officer for the Juvenile Law Section of the Houston Bar Association. I arranged speakers on salient topics for Juvenile Law. I speak to groups and schools on Juvenile Law.
• I am a parent of a teenage boy: I understand kids.
• I am a former schoolteacher: I understand the educational system.
• I’ve spent my entire legal career in Juvenile Court handling felonies, misdemeanors, adoptions and cases for abused and neglected children cases (CPS): I understand the law.

Why is this race important?

Juvenile Courts are very important to our community. Harris County needs to focus on effective rehabilitation and fairness. The goal is to rehabilitate the young people by 1) making them productive citizens and 2) preventing them from coming back into the adult system. These courts influence the direction of young people and play a vital role in the protection of abused and neglected children.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

My experience living and teaching in Texas and abroad make me uniquely qualified. I practice in both areas of the Juvenile Courts (Delinquencies and CPS cases). I also believe Harris County needs at least one juvenile district judge who will bring a female perspective and motivation to the court. I am currently the only female candidate for any Harris County Juvenile District Court I work well with people. A Juvenile Court judge deals with many entities such as Juvenile Probation, CPS , District Attorneys, County Attorneys and the Juvenile Board. My main focus will be to build rehabilitative programs for the young people who appear before me and to track the success of the programs. I’m ready to lead the charge to make the Harris County Juvenile System more effective and am asking for your vote to be the next judge of the 313th Juvenile District Court.

Judicial Q&A: Natalie Cokinos Oakes

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so this is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

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

My name is Natalie Cokinos Oakes and I’m running for 313th Juvenile District Court. I was born in Beaumont, Texas and was raised in a big, civic-minded family full of many uncles, aunts and cousins in Beaumont and New Orleans. I’ve lived in Houston since 1980. I graduated from Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans with a B.A. in English Literature and a Teacher’s Certificate. I was awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. I taught school in Beaumont, New Orleans, Houston and Athens, Greece. I am of Greek heritage. My father worked hard and my parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I’ve been married 21 years and am a very involved mother, participating fully in Boy Scout campouts, activities and encouraging our son to achieve his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.

I have spent my entire legal career working with the families and children of Harris County in Juvenile and Family Courts. I interned at Gulf Coast Legal Clinic (now Lone Star Legal Clinic) and clerked for a Social Security/Disability Attorney. Also, I donated many hours of mediation at local J.P. Courts to become a state-certified Mediator

Currently, I defend juvenile respondents in felony and misdemeanor delinquency cases and receive appointments as Attorney Ad Litem and Guardian Ad Litem for children. I represent adult clients in divorce, adoption and in Harris County cases for abused and neglected children.

I am invited by schools to speak to young people about the law as it pertains to them and speak to teachers’ groups and neighborhood groups on Juvenile Law. I became an officer with the Juvenile Law Section of the Houston Bar serving three years. I have brought in speakers on many salient topics to the field of Juvenile Law.

I remain involved in the community as a member of many organizations that inform and increase my understanding of citizens’ concerns.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Law is a hybrid of criminal and civil law. Juvenile Courts handle misdemeanor and felony cases for Juvenile Delinquencies for young people ages 10 to 17. The Juvenile Courts also determine whether a child should be certified as an adult to stand trial in the adult court.

Juvenile Courts hear CPS cases for abused and neglected children where best interests of the child and the fundamental parental rights are weighed. Juvenile Courts also consummate the adoptions for children.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

There are 3 Juvenile District Courts and the 313th Court is an open seat. I have worked in all 3 courts for 10 years and have observed aspects of each court.

I want to promote programs that produce results for the children and families of Harris County. These programs must be tracked to see if kids are being rehabilitated and families are accessing the services that they need in order to help them. Every young person should be able to see their potential by tapping their unique talents be it academics, trade schools, mentoring, crafts or the arts. This, in turn, helps a person’s self-esteem and leads to productivity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

  • I am a parent of a teenage boy: I understand kids
  • I am a former schoolteacher: I understand the educational system
  • I’ve spent my entire legal career in Juvenile Court handling felonies, misdemeanors and cases for abused and neglected children cases (CPS): I understand the law.

5. Why is this race important?

Juvenile Courts are very important to our community. I want to focus on effective rehabilitation and fairness. The goal is to rehabilitate the young people by 1) making them productive citizens and 2) preventing them from coming back into the adult system. These courts influence the direction of young people and play a vital role in the protection of abused and neglected children.

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

My experience living and teaching in Texas and abroad make me uniquely qualified. I am the only parent in my race and practice in both areas of the Juvenile Courts (Delinquencies and CPS cases). I also believe Harris County needs at least one juvenile district judge who will bring a female perspective and motivation to the court. I am currently the only female candidate for any Harris County Juvenile District Court

I work well with people. A Juvenile Court judge deals with many entities such as Juvenile Probation, CPS caseworkers, District Attorneys, County Attorneys and the Juvenile Board. My main focus will be true rehabilitation for the young people who appear before me. I’m ready to lead the charge to make the Harris County Juvenile System more effective and am asking for your vote to be the Democratic nominee.