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December 23rd, 2009:

Quan will be in for County Judge

We knew former City Council member Gordon Quan was strongly considering a race for Harris County Judge. It would appear that he has made up his mind, because today I received an invitation via Facebook to attend an event called “Gordon Quan Announces for Harris County County Judge!” It will be on Tuesday the 29th at noon at the Post Oak Grill on Milam, and since this was listed as an open event, you can be there as well. Far as I know, all of the countywide offices in Harris for next year are now covered. May we have as much luck with the statewide ticket.

UPDATE: Miya was on this earlier today.

Judicial Q&A: Trent Gaither

(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?

I am Trent Gaither and I am running for the 248th Judicial (Criminal) District Court of Harris County

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Felony cases of all levels, including but not limited to (1) violent crimes resulting in serious bodily injury or death; (2) most crimes against children; (3) major drug cases; and (4) theft/fraud and other property crimes where value is over $1500.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

In my opinion, the incumbent on this bench is and has been a major contributor in developing and applying the failed policies and bad decisions of the past decade which in turn have contributed to Harris County being viewed by legal communities around the country as a joke. I’m not saying she is a bad person, we just have diverse views on significant and fundamental issues relating to the law and the legal process. Nothing personal, just business – the people’s business.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

* 23 years as a trial lawyer in state and federal courts – primarily criminal defense, but have also handled civil cases including personal injury, wrongful death, and commercial litigation

* extensive trial experience defending all types of criminal cases – from DWI to major fraud and other complex white collar cases (criminal and civil) to murder;

* trained by the best trial lawyers in Houston;

5. Why is this race important?

It can have a major impact on the overall administration of criminal justice in Harris County for years to come. We are potentially on the verge of major breakthroughs in several areas that effect that administration. With the right people, we can make that happen.

Examples:

(1) Indigent defense: For the first time, serious consideration is being given to creation of a public defender office. Right now, all that has been approved is a pilot program of limited application. We need leadership from the bench to make sure that program is properly implemented and administered while working toward expansion for all indigent persons.

(2) Credibility: The prospect of an independent forensic crime lab remains viable, although the City elections have stalled discussions. Input from the judiciary will be crucial to get the project back on track and in assessing and implementing the project and expediting the transition.

(3) Jail Overcrowding: our jails are overloaded to the point where the politicians (only two or so years after abject defeat) are once more crying for more jails. At the same time, the judges continue to follow bonding practices based on presumptions of guilt or the ability to pay rather than proper legal principles. Pre-trial services has been turned into what can only be described as a pre-trial probation department rather than it’s intended purpose. Judges continue to blindly follow a bond schedule that is arbitrary at best and is likely partly unconstitutional. Finally, according to the County Attorney, 60 % of the current jail population is made up of inmates awaiting trial. These folks are presumed to be innocent, their cases given priority for trial. Yet they remain jailed for at the expense of Harris County taxpayers for months and often years without being heard. There is something wrong with that picture.

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

1. Experience – both in terms of quantity and quality;

2. Credibility and respect from the legal community as reflected in:
– an “AV” rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the only recognized national peer review rating system
– selected as a Best Lawyer for Criminal Defense by H-Texas Magazine (a local peer review rating group)
– selected as a Best Lawyer for the People by H-Texas Magazine

3. Courage to explore and implement new and novel ideas in relation to docket control, case management, and rehabilitative programs to enhance productivity in the court and maximize the potential of probationers to become assets to the community rather than burdens to the taxpayers

4. Judicial Integrity – My rulings and decisions will be based on the law, not on a preconceived notion of what the outcome should be and not on the hope or expectation that some appellate judge will claim my screw-up to be “harmless error”

5. Confidence – I believe that the most important function of a trial judge is presiding over hearings and trials in a fair and impartial manner, not the ability to spew out plea admonishments. My trial experience both as lead counsel and as support for other top flight lawyers in often long and complex cases allows me a unique perspective in fulfilling that prime directive.

Runoff precinct analysis, HISD I

To wrap up my series of precinct analyses from the 2009 Houston runoffs, we turn now to the HISD Trustee race in District I. I’ve added a sheet to the Google spreadsheet I put together for the District Council analysis with the precincts from this race, again minus the trivial ones. The first thing you notice when you compare the precincts that Alma Lara won to the precincts that Anna Eastman won is that they were dealing with two different electorates.

Precincts won by Alma Lara Ballots Voters Turnout Lara Eastman Lara% East% HISD% ============================================================= 4,298 33,442 12.85% 2,669 1,284 67.5 32.5 92.0 Precincts won by Anna Eastman Ballots Voters Turnout Lara Eastman Lara% East% HISD% ============================================================= 6,527 26,159 24.95% 2,048 3,627 36.1 63.9 86.7

I skipped two relatively small precincts in which Lara and Eastman tied. It rather goes without saying that it’s hard to win when your voters aren’t showing up at the polls. This comparison reminds me strongly of the analysis I did a year ago in the HD133 race won by State Rep. Kristi Thibaut. In 2006, when turnout in Democratic precincts was lousy, Thibaut lost and it wasn’t particularly close. In 2008 when those precincts were closer to parity with the Republican boxes, she won. Lara didn’t need to be even near parity to defeat Eastman – holding all other percentages equal, a turnout level of 15% would have been enough for her to eke out a win – but she couldn’t afford to be doubled up like this.

Note that in the table above, “ballots” refers to the total number of ballots cast in those precincts, not the total number of votes the candidates got. “HISD%” represents the number of ballots cast that included a vote in this race. As you can see, fewer people in Lara’s precincts skipped this race, which along with her higher margin in those precincts is why she could have won with a lower lever of overall turnout. I bring that up because it had occurred to me that Eastman might have benefited from a wave of Parker supporters coming to the polls. Indeed, while Parker did well in Lara’s precincts, winning 2773 of 4198 votes there, or 66.0%, she really killed in Eastman’s precincts, going 5078 for 6456, or 78.7%. That may have helped drive some of the higher turnout in those precincts, but more of those folks didn’t stick around to register an opinion in the HISD race, so whatever the effect there, it was tempered somewhat.

The other thing that struck me about these numbers is how the two citywide Republican-versus-Democrat runoffs went. (I’ve not been considering Costello versus Derr for these purposes, as Costello did not run on a Republican persona.)

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Khan 5,206 53.0 Green 4,613 47.0 Christie 4,861 52.3 Jones 4,439 47.7

I’m amazed by this. There’s nothing about this district that says “Republican-favoring” to me. Indeed, it’s almost entirely contained within City Council District H, which both Green and Jones won, with three precincts in A and two more in B. Obviously, it was the rest of H that was friendly to them. I looked at these boxes to see if Eastman, who received the endorsement of Linda Toyota, the Republican candidate who finished third in November, plus incumbent Republican Trustees Harvin Moore and Greg Meyers, performed more strongly in areas won by the Republican Council candidates. The answer is Yes:

Precincts won by Christie Christie Jones Chris% Jones% Lara Eastman Lara% East% =========================================================== 3,162 2,280 58.1 41.9 2,586 3,243 44.4 55.6 Precincts won by Jones Christie Jones Chris% Jones% Lara Eastman Lara% East% =========================================================== 1,684 2,108 44.4 55.6 2,087 1,673 55.5 44.5 Precincts won by Khan Khan Green Khan% Green% Lara Eastman Lara% East% ======================================================== 3,956 3,017 56.7 43.3 2,966 4,091 42.0 58.0 Precincts won by Green Khan Green Khan% Green% Lara Eastman Lara% East% ======================================================== 1,250 1,596 43.9 56.1 1,788 857 67.6 32.4

Yes, the disparity between the Christie precincts and the Khan precincts is really that sharp. For what it’s worth, the correlation only goes one way, as both Christie and Khan won the precincts that Lara carried, though by a small margin in each case. I consider this to be further evidence of the strength of Christie and Khan’s advertising efforts, even as they fell short.

So that about wraps it up for me. I don’t think I have anything more to say about the 2009 elections. I’ll be going full steam ahead on the 2010 contests – I already am, really – and I hope you enjoyed these analyses. There will be plenty more to do in the coming months.

Post-election Dynamo Stadium update

So where do we stand with Dynamo Stadium now that the Mayoral election is over? Pretty much where we were before it, actually.

Of the MLS teams pushing for a stadium, the Dynamo appear closest to the goal. Team ownership hopes to strike a deal with the city of Houston and Harris County for a 22,000-seat, $80 million venue just east of U.S. 59 downtown.

Under a proposal backed by Houston mayor Bill White, the Dynamo would contribute nearly $60 million to the project, with the city and county each contributing $10 million in redevelopment money. The money would come from a tax increment reinvestment zone.

Mayor-elect Annise Parker has said she supports the proposal.

“She’s OK with the amount of money the city is willing to invest” provided the county puts in its share, Janice Evans-Davis, Parker’s spokeswoman, said Monday. “She is not OK with putting any additional city dollars (into the project).”

County Judge Ed Emmett is optimistic a deal will be reached. But the proposal has yet to see the light of day at Commissioners Court despite more than a year of negotiations among the county, city and team.

Efforts to reach County Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house the majority of the stadium, were unsuccessful.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia is also involved, as the parts of the stadium that aren’t in Lee’s precinct are in hers. The ball is in their court. If they want this to happen, it will, and if they don’t, it won’t. The question then becomes what if anything will the Dynamo do after that. Will they try to come up with a different scheme, or will they look to pull up stakes and relocate again? If they threaten the latter – and note that they may reconsider suburban options, as Sugar Land is still thinking about sports stadia, even if it’s for a different sport. Would a threat to leave change things one way or another? It wouldn’t shock me to find out. Campos has more.

Budget cuts coming for Rice

It’s going to be a tough budget year for Rice University.

Rice President David Leebron set the stage for the coming year in an address to faculty this fall, warning that coping with endowment losses is one of the most critical issues facing the school.

University officials say no decisions have been made about next year’s budget, or even how deeply to cut.

“There are way too many variables in the planning process,” said B.J. Almond, the school’s chief spokesman. The final budget must be approved by trustees.

[…]

Rice draws about 46 percent of its operating budget from its endowment, which lost $838 million during the year that ended June 30.

When money drawn from the endowment to bolster school operations is added in, the total drop was close to $1 billion. The endowment was reported at $3.6 billion in June.

Pretty scary. No wonder folks are worried about the potential merger with Baylor College of Medicine, which is a huge financial question mark. I just hope they know what they’re doing.

Seeing a story like this makes me wonder how my alma mater is doing on this front, as it too is a small private school with a sizable endowment, but I haven’t seen anything about it. Let’s hope no news is good news.

Another view of city voting

I’ve been showing data about how the city elections broke down by Council district, but there are other ways to look at it as well. This presentation, which was sent to me by Joaquin Estevan DeLeon, is an analysis of the way Anglo, African American, and Hispanic voters made their choices in the citywide races. It’s interesting stuff, so take a look.