October 10, 2008
Endorsement watch: Texas' worst court

The Chron makes its recommendations for the Court of Criminal Appeals, and makes the right call.

Susan Strawn, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3: The Chronicle believes the best candidate for Place 3 is Democrat Susan Strawn, a fourth-generation Houstonian and former federal prosecutor who worked on white-collar criminal cases during 14 years at the Justice Department. She also has international experience investigating extremist groups and organized crime in the Balkans and West Africa.

Strawn, a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, currently teaches anti-corruption law at the University of Houston Law Center. She will bring fresh views and strong leadership skills to a court whose public image is badly in need of rehabilitation.

They also endorsed incumbent Judge Cathy Cochran, so I called them both right. This was an easy one, but you never know. Now let's see if they can manage to do more than two races in a day so we can maintain hope they'll finish on time.

UPDATE: The Corpus Christi Caller-Times endorses Strawn, and throws in nods for Sam Houston and Linda Yanez as well.

Place 7, Supreme Court

The Editorial Board recommends the election of Sam Houston, Democrat, a respected lawyer in Houston. He is an experienced lawyer and Baylor law school graduate who would bring greater political, legal and philosophic balance to the state's highest civil court.

"It has been my impression and many others (including noted professors of the law schools in the state)," said Houston, "that our Supreme Court frequently disregards jury verdicts and too often sides with defendants and corporations. I believe it is time to balance our court, which will best happen by electing a trial lawyer who is also a Democrat."

Houston's opponents on the ballot include the incumbent, Dale Wainwright, Republican. Wainwright has been on the court five years; it has been pointed out that he wrote only four signed opinions in the last year for which statistics were available. The other opponent in the race is David Smith, Libertarian, a lawyer in Henderson.

Place 8, Supreme Court

For Place 8, the Caller-Times recommends voters elect Linda Yanez, Democrat from Edinburg, who is the senior justice on the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. Yanez is widely respected in the legal community and would also help bring greater political and judicial diversity to the court.

"All nine members of the Supreme Court are from the same political party," Yanez said, "which has translated into a 'groupthink' mentality . . . They are actually of one mindset."

The other candidates in the Place 8 race include incumbent Phil Johnson, Republican, who was appointed to the court in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry. He was chief justice on the 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo. While Johnson has been a dependable, solid member on the high court, Yanez would help to restore some needed balance. Drew Shirley, Libertarian, is a lawyer in Round Rock.

Like the state's Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- the state's highest court for criminal matters -- also needs greater balance. This court was once notorious for leaning toward the rights of defendants, but for the past decade or so, it has become notorious for being a prosecutors' court. Voters in this election have an opportunity to make one significant change.

Place 3, Criminal Appeals

The Caller-Times Editorial Board recommends the election of Susan Strawn, Democrat, a Houston lawyer who served 12 years with the U.S. Department of Justice, from 1990 to 2002. She served as a judicial reform adviser in Kosovo and in West Africa. Recently, she has been an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

The incumbent in this race is Tom Price, Republican. He has been on the Court of Criminal Appeals for 11 years and over that period of time he has earned a reputation for his frequent absences and low productivity. The third candidate on the ballot is Matthew Eilers, Libertarian, a lawyer in Universal City.

I harp on this sort of thing because as we saw in 2006, I believe that a string of newspaper endorsements in down-ballot races where there's little to no money spent on advertising can be worth a few points in the voting for the endorsee. If Texas is a more Democratic state overall this year - say, a 45% baseline for Barack Obama - I believe that could be the difference between winning and losing. The more endorsements I see for Strawn, Houston, and Yanez, the better I like their chances.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 10, 2008 to Election 2008
Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)