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December 29th, 2009:

Quan officially files

I had lunch today at the Post Oak Grill on Milam so I could be there for Gordon Quan’s official announcement that he is running for Harris County Judge. In fact, as Martha noted, he submitted his paperwork and paid his filing fee to be on the Democratic primary ballot. (Quan will have an opponent in March, Ahmad Hassan, who lost the 2008 primary to David Mincberg.) Here’s a copy of the press release about the event, and here’s a draft copy of the speech Quan gave at the event. I want to highlight this bit, which was right at the beginning:

I want to bring new ideas to the County Government and look to address the root causes of the problems to develop solutions and not just put a bandage on the problem.

Our jail is under court supervision and is overcrowded. While voters had previously defeated a bond election for a new jail, I believe they spoke out against the manner criminal justice was administered in Harris County.

I want to work to hand-in-hand with the commissioners, Sheriff Garcia, District Attorney Lykos, the local municipalities and the courts and elected officials like Senator Ellis to set criteria for fines versus confinement for minor offenses, a centralized jail system for more rapid bonding, the development of a public defender system and a regional D.N.A. lab to avoid wrongful confinement.

On top of these issues, I want to look at methods to remove from the criminal justice system people who are homeless and suffering from mental health issues. A proactive approach of investing in affordable housing with supportive services would remove “frequent flyers” from our jails and emergency rooms where they run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost for tax payers.

As you might imagine, this is something I’m very glad to hear. This isn’t just a matter of justice, it’s also a matter of fiscal responsibility. We’re paying millions of dollars to lock up people who don’t need to be locked up, which was always a bad idea but is now an urgent priority given the county’s financial situation. I’m really looking forward to seeing Quan push this issue.

An unexpected treat from this event was seeing local sports legend Barry Warner act as emcee and introduce Quan. I had no idea that Warner was so active in the Asian-American community, but he is, and he’s a longtime friend of Quan’s. I shook Warner’s hand after the event, which was nearly as cool as getting my picture taken with Lisa Malosky at Rep. Ellen Cohen’s campaign kickoff event nearly four years ago.

Anyway. Quan will have a tough race against incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, who is generally well regarded and has his performance during Hurricane Ike as Exhibit A for his re-election. I don’t know what kind of fundraising chops Quan has, but he will need to pile up some dough to get his name and message out there. From what I saw of him at this event, I thought his message was a strong one, his challenge will be to convince enough people to change horses. I think he’s about as good a candidate as the Democratic Party could have hoped for this year, and the crowd at this event was certainly fired up about him. We’ll see how it goes.

Judge Jackson resigns

Harris County Criminal Court At Law Judge Donald Jackson, who was recently convicted of misdemeanor official oppression, has resigned his bench, effective Thursday. Given his conviction, I’d say this counts as no surprise. Jackson was one of many judges up for re-election in 2010, and he had accumulated three primary opponents in addition to Democratic challengers, so the question is who will be appointed to finish out his term. I assume that since this is a county court and not a district court that the responsibility for that falls on Commissioners Court. I wonder if they’ll want to wait till the Republicans have chosen a nominee, which could be as late as April if there’s a runoff, or if they’ll seek out someone who will simply serve out Jackson’s term and won’t run for another.

Judicial Q&A: William Thursland

(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’m Bill Thursland and I’m running as a democratic candidate for the 315th Juvenile District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears two types of cases. The first are juvenile delinquency cases which run the gamut from class B misdemeanors to capital murders. The second type are CPS cases which deal with abused and/or neglected children.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

As a juvenile court judge I believe I can make a positive difference in the lives of the children and teenagers that appear before me. After practicing law for the last 28 years and having become a father for the first time 6 years ago, I believe I have the experience and temperament to serve as a juvenile court judge.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’ve been a practicing trial attorney in Harris County for over 27 years. I have handled both civil and criminal cases. For the last seven years, a large part of my practice has dealt with cases heard in the juvenile courts. I am classified as an A attorney under the plan adopted by the juvenile court judges pursuant to the Fair Defense Act which means that I am qualified to handle all levels of delinquency cases including capital murders and appeals.

In regard to CPS cases, I have represented children, parents and intervenors (typically the grandparents) in well over 100 cases. In addition, I have represented parents in at least eight CPS appeals.

5. Why is this race important?

The office I am seeking deals with the well being of children and parental rights. Therefore, it is not only important for the individuals involved in a particular court case but also for society at large.

Most of the litigants are indigent and many suffer from various emotional and psychological disorders. A large percentage only speak spanish. The judge of a juvenile court not only needs to bring legal qualifications to the bench but also the sensitivity gained from representing many people from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. As the father of two small children (6 & 4) this race is also very important. I realize the tremendous effect a judge’s decision can have on families.

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

I am the more qualified candidate based on my extensive and varied litigation experience. I am the only candidate who has actually litigated cases in the juvenile courts.

HCAD rules for Hoang in homestead dispute

On Christmas Eve, the Chron reported that Council Member-Elect Al Hoang and his wife had claimed homestead exemptions on two separate houses, one in Houston and one in Pearland. Now the Harris County Appraisal District has verified Hoang’s explanation about the exemptions, saying that it was properly carried over from the previous owner.

Hoang had previously refused to answer questions about the homestead exemption. But in an e-mail to the Chronicle on Monday, Hoang said he never sought an exemption for the home on Bugle that he now claims as his residence within District F, which he soon will represent.

Bonnie Hebert, an assistant director at HCAD, confirmed that Hoang’s explanation was correct. State law applies the exemption based on Jan. 1 ownership, Hebert said, and a new owner benefits for the duration of the year even if he or she doesn’t technically qualify.

Hoang will not receive the exemption for 2010, Hebert said.

Fair enough. I still think this should have been reported before the election and not after it, but the Chron just doesn’t put enough resources into lower tier election coverage for that to happen.

The story follows up on the other issues that were raised last week, such as the matter of his voter registration, which was reported as being in District G:

In his e-mail Monday, he said he sent the Harris County voter registrar a form with his new address in May 2008 and went to the office in person to change it after learning his prior address, in Council District G, was still listed as his voting address.

“Maybe it got lost in the mail,” Hoang said.

Well, I can believe that the Tax Assessor’s office screwed it up, as it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that has happened.

Hoang continued to insist in his e-mail Monday that two elements missing from his campaign finance reports — the dates of donations and occupations of donors who gave more than $500 in a reporting period — are not required for city election candidates. The city attorney’s office confirmed that these elements are required.

Hoang can believe whatever he wants, but I can say from having looked at every single finance report that was submitted for this campaign that no other candidate omitted the date like he did. This ain’t rocket science. He needs to listen to what the City Attorney is telling him.

Yard waste

I hadn’t realized that an ordinance requiring bbiodegradable bags for yard waste had been passed, but I like it.

Under the ordinance, the city will not collect yard waste in plastic bags, and will fine residents up to $2,000 for putting leaves and clippings in garbage bins.

Plastic bags, made from petroleum, are sturdy and easy to use, but are widely considered an environmental nuisance that can linger for centuries in landfills.

The newly mandated bags begin to decompose within six weeks and leave no harmful residue behind.

As part of the new effort, the city will send bagged leaves and clippings to Living Earth Technology Co. to turn the waste into mulch.

The company will sell the mulch and give the city 10 cents for every bag sold.

City officials predict that the change will result in the diversion of 60,000 tons of organic material from local landfills at an annual savings of $2 million in fees, or 10 percent of the city’s yearly budget for waste disposal.

It makes sense to me that the cost for dealing with this kind of waste gets passed directly to those who generate it. Everybody creates garbage, but not everybody creates this kind of garbage. Whether they respond by generating less of it – by using a mulching lawn mower and/or starting a compost pile, for instance – or by using the biodegradable bags, either way the city can save money and landfill space. It’s a win all around. Implementation has been pushed back till February 1 to ensure an adequate supply of the accepted bags, so make sure you’re prepared. I hope this is a sign that the city will begin to take more steps to create incentives for people to recycle more and throw away less, because there’s a lot we can do to improve on that score.

A win for the Washington Quiet Zone

Some good news for those who live in and around the Washington Avenue corridor.

Come late April, train horns should be quieter through the Washington Avenue corridor from just north of Interstate 10 to Harvard Street.

Union Pacific and two other railroads use the rail line that parallels the corridor, and federal rules currently require them to signal their approach to road intersections in the area. Residents who live nearby are weary of the horns, which sound day and night, and have been working to create a quiet zone for years.

I’ve said before, I can hear those horns from inside my house more than a mile away, and they sound at all hours. This will be a huge improvement in these folks’ quality of life.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to thank everyone for reading all of the weekly blog roundups this year. Click on for the last roundup of 2009, as we all look forward to 2010.