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Shawna Reagin

Judicial Q&A: Shawna Reagin

(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 all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Shawna Reagin

Shawna Reagin

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

My name is Shawna Reagin and I am a Democratic candidate for judge of the 176th Criminal District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a felony court – it hears cases from death penalty capital murders down to state jail felony offenses, such as low-level drug possessions and thefts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was judge of this court from Jan. 1, 2009 – Dec. 31, 2012. I enjoyed the work and was good at it.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

a) I have over 26 years experience handling felony cases, at the trial and appellate levels;
b) I was voted Best Judge in Houston 2009 by The Houston Press;
c) During my previous term on this bench, I greatly reduced a bloated docket and was consistently among the top courts for number of cases tried;
d) The 176th took the “gold” for its division by trying the most cases in the first half of 2012;
e) Certified by the Harris County Board of Judges to represent indigents accused of capital murder;
f) My life experience has enable to see and understand issues from diverse points of view.

5. Why is this race important?

Judicial races and the functions of district courts have more impact on the whole community than many people realize. Although the criminally accused and their families are affected by their individual cases, a judge’s decisions on probable cause, setting bail and conditions, appointment of counsel to the indigent, oversight of a case’s status and the actual trial itself, all have a ripple effect far beyond any one case. As awareness of racial inequities in the criminal justice system, from the street up through conviction and appeal, continues to rise, it important for people to realize that casting an informed, responsible vote and showing up for jury duty both have a greater effect on remedying potential injustice than any other actions.

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

In addition to my qualifications and experience as set out above, which are unique to me in this primary race, I was and will be a very hard-working judge who believes the taxpayers deserve a full day’s work by their public servants. I routinely stayed in chambers until at least 6:00 PM or later, to be available to review requests for warrants and orders needed by police officers after hours. I also remained “on call” even when it wasn’t my term, due to living in a central location and not ignoring or harassing prosecutors who needed to find a judge at night. I served on any committee requested by the presiding judges with whom I served, and did my best to bridge the partisan divide, such as I and my fellow Democrats elected in 2008 did to help ensure the Public Defenders Office was instituted.

Criminal court is not a happy place, and a judge’s decisions seldom leave anyone completely happy. However, I did my best to make the most fair and appropriate decisions in every case, based on the information I had. I pledge to the people of Harris County that I will continue to serve in this manner, if they see fit to elect me in the primary and then again in November.

Judicial Q&A: Shawna Reagin

(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.)

Shawna Reagin

Shawna Reagin

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

My name is Shawna Reagin and I am the Democratic candidate for Judge of the 248th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Felony cases, e.g., capital murder, murder, aggravated & non-aggravated robbery, aggravated & non-aggravated sexual assault, burglary, etc.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was Judge of the 176th Criminal District Court from 2009-2012. My opponent was appointed to fill a vacancy in Jan. 2013. I have more criminal law and judicial experience than my opponent, and preferred not to run against a judge with whom I had previously served.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My previous tenure as felony court judge, in addition to 20 years experience practicing criminal law at the felony trial and appellate levels. I was voted Best Criminal Judge in Houston 2009 by the Houston Press. I inherited a docket with about 235 pending jury trials and nearly 1,000 pending cases in January of 2009, which was reduced to 41 pending jury trials and 729 pending cases by December of 2012. The 176th was consistently at or near the top of the 22 criminal district courts in number of cases tried, and to date, to the best of my knowledge, no trial verdict has been reversed.

5. Why is this race important?

There is a saying that the lower down on the ballot a race is, the more it affects your daily life. People are going to interact with the courts, whether they think so or not. Criminal district court judges are responsible for empanelling grand juries, among other duties; a judge who does not think diversity is important is less likely to empanel a grand jury that is truly reflective of the community, which then affects the credibility of the grand juries’ actions.

Criminal district courts handle the most serious offenses that occur in our society. It is important to elect judges who know the law and are committed to following the law in a fair and impartial manner. We cannot have judges who believe they are adjuncts of the D.A.’s office, any more than we can have judges who advocate for the defense.

Long delays in getting cases to trial is harmful to both sides of a criminal case. The public should demand judges who are willing to put in the time to try cases in a timely manner.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

First, for my qualifications and experience, as stated above. Since my opponent was appointed, the jury trial docket in the 248th has more than doubled, from 59 on 12/27/12 to 125, as of 9/12/14.

Second, as long as we elect judges in a partisan method, I believe the political party with which a judicial candidate aligns him/herself is worth scrutiny. No Republican judicial candidate responded to invitations to screen offered by either the Harris County AFL-CIO or the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. The Republican party does not permit GLBT groups to participate in its state convention, or even to maintain booths in the exhibition hall. The Republican party is against equality for GLBT persons and promotes the scientifically and medically discredited “conversion therapy,” which is essentially an existential attack on non-heterosexuals.

Voters should consider whether a judicial candidate who carries the Republican label will be a judge who dispenses justice in a truly fair and equal manner. Candidates who refuse to engage in dialogues with representatives of working folks or the GLBT community have demonstrated a complete disregard for those points of view. As a Democrat, I proudly claim the endorsements of both the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and am committed to equal treatment and rights for all.

Endorsement watch: Criminal courts

The Chron made its endorsements for the Criminal District Courts over two days. For their first four endorsements, they went with three Republican incumbents and one Democratic challenger:

184th Criminal District Court: Mark Thering

Judge Jan Krocker has been a proud leader of mental health courts in Harris County. However, she wound down that work last year after being ousted from the mental health court that she founded. Some courtroom observers point to political justifications for her removal, others to poor budget management. We’ve endorsed Krocker, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, in the past because of her dedication to improving mental health treatment in the criminal justice system. Without that on her side, Krocker is a less compelling candidate.

After 20 years on the bench, Krocker has developed a reputation as a judge who preemptively makes up her mind. She didn’t hide this fact in her interview with the editorial board: “My job is to protect the public from dangerous people,” Krocker said. “Same as being a prosecutor.”

No, Judge Krocker, it isn’t. A judge’s job is to remain an unbiased arbiter who ensures that the law is followed, due process guaranteed and justice enforced.

Questions about Krocker’s impartiality are nothing new. Krocker was rated one of Texas’ worst judges back in 2006 after she inappropriately intervened in a death penalty case that dated back to her days as an assistant district attorney.

Voters should go with Krocker’s Democratic opponent, Mark Thering. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, where he graduated third in his class, Thering, 51, is a notable defense attorney who has also worked as a certified probation officer in Harris County.

In Round Two, it was two Ds and two Rs.

248th Criminal District Court: Shawna L. Reagin

Judge Katherine Cabaniss is qualified to serve in our criminal courts, but Harris County needs an experienced jurist like Shawna L. Reagin back on the bench.

Reagin, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, has a nearly 20-year career in criminal law, handling thousands of cases at both the trial and appellate level. She was elected in 2008 to the 176th Criminal District Court, where she earned the respect of both prosecutors and defense attorneys. As judge, Reagin streamlined caseflow management and used intensive supervision programs to help keep probationers on track. Despite her exemplary performance, Reagin, 56, lost that seat in 2012. In the 2014 election, voters need to return Reagin to her rightful place as judge.


263rd Criminal District Court: Herb Ritchie

When Democratic challenger Herb Ritchie served one term as judge in the 337th Criminal District Court, he set out to run the court with a philosophy of CPR: courtesy, patience and respect.

A graduate of the University of Texas Law School, Ritchie is the sort of judge who works slowly and diligently (perhaps even too much so) to check that his court is doing the right thing. He also works hard to ensure that nonviolent criminals receive all the good time credit possible. Board certified in criminal law, Ritchie’s calm and thoughtful demeanor befits a man who has worked as an instructor in classics at the University of Texas and Baylor University.

That sort of personality stands in stark contrast to Republican incumbent Judge Jim Wallace, who routinely receives low marks from lawyers for the way he runs his court.

They continue their habit of generally having nice things to say about the Democratic challengers. They clearly have a preference for retaining judges, which is reasonable enough, with that credit extending to people who had previously served as judges. I don’t have any Q&As with candidates mentioned in this editorial yet, but look for them from Shawna Reagin, Mack McInnis, and Randy Roll in the next two weeks.