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January 7th, 2014:

Judicial Q&A: Sandra Peake

(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 2014 Election page.)

Sandra Peake

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

My name is Sandra Peake, and I am running for the 246th Family District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears family law related cases: divorce, child custody disputes, child support establishment, enforcement and modification, adoptions, name changes, post divorce property disputes, etc.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because the Judge York is not seeking re-election. I wanted to have the experience of running for an open bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced before these Courts for the past 30 years and am sensitive to the unique issues that arise in family law cases, particularly giving consideration to the culturally and religiously diverse families who make up a significant proportion of the population in Harris County. The citizens of this county deserve consistent application of the law, courtesy and fairness. I am up to the challenge of ensuring judicial excellence by ruling decisively with impartiality; and, by respecting the time constraints of the litigants and their lawyers.

5. Why is this race important?

All of the races on the ballot are important. However, those races which are more likely to impact an average family, it is more likely than not that the average person will have occasion to have a case pending in family court because of the high rate of divorce and the number of children being raised in single parent households. Children will primarily reside with a parent or extended family member. Parents will get divorced, need post divorce changed circumstance modifications, enforcement of their existing orders. The definition of the family is constantly evolving and the statutes defining the family relationship will eventually evolve as well.

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

I think people should vote for me in the primary because I am an experienced family lawyer with over 30 years of experience handling the type of typically handled by family court judges. I have also mediated and number of cases and endorse alternate dispute resolution as a means of opening up the lines of communication between disputing family members. I believe I have run a principled practice with focus on not only the client being represented, but with goal toward how this particular family can be salvaged so that going forward, there is a working relationship if at all possible, for the children’s sake.

Fifth Circuit pretends to hear HB2 appeal

We’re all sure what their decision will be, right?

Appellate judges on Monday challenged lawyers over provisions of Texas’ new abortion law and whether they have unduly caused the closure of about a dozen abortion clinics.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals bore down in particular on the shuttering of the only two abortion clinics in the Rio Grande Valley.

The lack of facilities is now requiring women seeking the procedure to travel about 150 miles to a Corpus Christi clinic.

State Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell defended the state law, saying the state has a right to regulate medical practices as a way to promote women’s health.

“The law does not impose an undue burden,” he told the court.

[…]

Judge Edith Jones was openly skeptical of the abortion rights arguments, saying 150 miles to Corpus Christi did not seem to raise a high hurdle.

Jones said the speed limit along the highway was 75 mph, and it was a particularly uncongested roadway.

She also pointed out that while abortion rights groups argued more than one-third of the doctors would have to quit practicing because of the new law, some of those doctors have been able to obtain admitting privileges.

Clearly, any woman who doesn’t have access to a car or who doesn’t have an extra four-plus hours to spare on top of everything else doesn’t count. And hey, there’s at least one doctor and one clinic left – for now, anyway. What more do you complainers need? Really, the only question is whether Jones wrote her decision before oral arguments were made or not. She surely didn’t need to hear them to know what she was going to say.

Not that it would budge her set-in-stone mind, but it would do Edith Jones some good to read Lindsay Beyerstein’s report on what HB2 has meant to many women.

The Valley used to have two abortion providers — Whole Woman’s Health McAllen (WWHM) and Reproductive Services of Harlingen — but now it has none that currently offer abortions, because their doctors lack admitting privileges. (Emergency rooms are required to provide the same care to all patients, regardless of whether their doctors have admitting privileges there. While the doctors at WWHM are applying for privileges at local hospitals, Reproductive Services of Harlingen’s physician has already been turned down by all the hospitals in his area.) Even if Planned Parenthood wins its lawsuit, abortions will still have to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers by this time next year, which means that neither clinic can continue to operate in its current facility.

WWHM is the only abortion clinic in this border city of 134,000. Right now, according to WWHM’s Fatimah Gifford, if a woman in the Rio Grande Valley needs an abortion, she has to travel 240 miles north to San Antonio. Though Texas’ standard 24-hour waiting period is waived for women who live more than 100 miles from the nearest clinic, that allowance applies only to surgical abortions. To reach San Antonio via Highway 281, a woman has to pass through the Falfurrias border checkpoint, where the Texas Border Patrol will likely grill her about her immigration status, a daunting prospect for an undocumented woman seeking abortion care. Gifford says most of her undocumented patients won’t risk the trip.

A woman seeking a medication abortion must make three trips to San Antonio. A medication abortion, also known as a pill abortion, uses two drugs to induce a miscarriage in the first trimester. Under the new law, the first trip is for the ultrasound, consultation and the first pill, then she must return to the clinic 48 hours later for her second pill. Doctors who offer pill abortions in other states routinely give patients the second dose of pills to take home, but Texas law doesn’t allow it. Finally, she has to go back to the clinic 14 days later for a follow-up visit so that the same doctor can check to make sure that the drugs worked. Many abortion providers travel to clinics across the state or the country, which makes it difficult to ensure that the same doctor will be available for all three steps.

Planned Parenthood argued in court that this provision makes it so difficult for women to obtain abortions that it is equivalent to a ban, which has serious implications for the rights and health of women with existing conditions that make drug-induced abortion the only safe option.

Some women resort to self-induced medication abortions with the ulcer drug misoprostol, widely used in Latin America to terminate early pregnancies. Though it is available only by prescription in the United States, misoprostol can easily be purchased at pharmacies across the border in Mexico or at flea markets in the Valley. WWHM saw about one failed misoprostol self-induced abortion a day.

Andrea Ferrigno, WWHM’s vice president, said that if a woman arrives at the clinic after taking the pills for weeks and is still bleeding, doctors will typically complete the abortion if she’s still pregnant or clean out any residual tissue, as they would for a spontaneous miscarriage. Misoprostol is 85 percent effective, if administered properly, which suggests that many more women self-terminate and don’t need further medical attention.

I’ve noted the Misoprostol option before. You know what that’s going to mean: More calls for tightened border security. Because the Republicans who pushed HB2 care so much about women’s health. Irin Carmon, RH Reality Check, BOR, Texpatriate, and Texas Politics have more.

Kinky and pot

The Trib talks to Kinky Friedman, making another run for Ag Commissioner as a Democrat, and his new signature issue.

Bi-polar and tri-partisan

Friedman, 69 — a singer, humorist, novelist and hawker of tequila — has tried, frequently, to add “elected official” to his résumé. But his celebrity status and unique charm have not translated into success at the ballot box, and that seems to be an itch he cannot help but scratch. He has tossed his iconic black cowboy hat into the ring for the race for agriculture commissioner with what he calls a clearer focus.

The campaign is his third run for statewide office in three cycles. A 1986 bid for justice of the peace in Kerrville is his fourth overall. In 2006, running as an independent, he placed fourth in a six-way race for governor. Four years later, he came up short in his first bid for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner.

This time, he said, his campaign has a sense of mission that he lacked in 2010. Its central issue will be the legalization of marijuana, which he predicted could be the state’s biggest cash crop, financing solutions to a variety of the state’s problems.

“It’s a nonbinding referendum,” he said of his candidacy. “It’s bigger than just another conniving politician trying to worm his way into office. That’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening is, if I actually win this thing, the heat on this issue on the Legislature and whoever the governor is will be enormous.”

His two primary opponents are not taking the bait.

“I’m interested in grass, but it’s not that kind,” said Hugh Fitzsimons, a Democratic contender who raises grass-fed bison in Carrizo Springs. “To me, we have some serious, serious problems, and it’s primarily centered around water.”

Jim Hogan, a Cleburne farmer, responded similarly. “I don’t smoke it,” he said. “I don’t have anything to do with it. That’s the last I want to talk about it. I want to talk about raising cattle, trees, goats, tomatoes and peppers.”

No Democrat has won a statewide race in two decades, so whoever emerges from the primary will be considered an underdog against the winner of the Republican primary, which has five candidates. Two Libertarians are currently locked in a primary of their own.

Friedman speculated that having two primary opponents might aid his prospects by splitting the anti-Kinky vote — the existence of which he is aware.

“Politicians like the word gadfly,” he said. “They use it as a negative. They use it with me sometimes — usually Democrats who don’t take me seriously. But if you had a gadfly buzzing around some of this, it wouldn’t hurt a thing. It might help.”

As you know, I have been a member of the anti-Kinky caucus. This year, as you also know, I’m somewhat more willing to hear what he has to say. Back in November, the Houston Press had a cover story on Friedman and his pot-centered candidacy for Ag Commissioner. Reading it at the time, I had to admit that so far at least he’s saying the right things.

Of course, Friedman’s sincerity was immediately questioned. The day of his official announcement, Republican candidate Eric Opiela quickly issued a press release that characterized Friedman’s candidacy as a joke, saying, “The issues facing Texas are serious. Our Agriculture Commissioner should be too.”

“We need an agriculture commissioner,” added Opiela, “who will focus on jobs, not jokes; drought, not drama and water lines, not punch lines.”

Yes, it was that scripted and wooden.

Eye roll from Friedman, who says he expected GOP candidates would take a dismissive tack in responding to his candidacy.

“But if they really weren’t worried about me, I don’t think they’d have started attacking me immediately.”

“Look, I’m 69, I don’t have time for stunts,” the musician, novelist, cigar and salsa salesman, tequila distiller, former Peace Corps volunteer and maverick politician explains as he walks up the Drag in Austin puffing his trademark cigar. “I’m dead serious about this run and about pushing for legalization. Marijuana is at the heart of a crucial matrix that, if we can get it straightened out and in motion, will become a great economic engine we can use to solve some of the biggest problems we face as a state.

“It’s time Texans asked themselves: Are we going to secede or are we going to lead?”

As long as he’s using his one-liner power for good and not for self-aggrandizement, it’s a win. I would also point out that marijuana has more to do with the office of Ag Commissioner than abortion has to do with the office of Railroad Commissioner. And if there’s anyone on the statewide ticket that I’d be okay with talking about pot, it would be Kinky. Again, he’s saying the right things.

“The governor and his cronies want to talk about reducing the size of government?” says Friedman. “Well, why are they all for these for-profit prison operations? How does putting 70,000 people in those private jails help us? Keeping pot illegal and jailing users for profit, this doesn’t help the people of Texas; this helps the outlaws who operate the illegal drug business and don’t pay taxes. How smart is that?”

“Look at history, look at what happened when Prohibition was lifted,” he continues. “The turf wars were over because the criminals lost their source of revenue. The legitimate liquor companies got stronger, and that’s a vigorous, profitable industry today that results in significant tax revenues. I think the same thing will happen when we legalize marijuana.”

As for how it plays out if he actually wins the election, Friedman sees a fairly quick move by the legislature to legalize the drug.

“Politicians move with the voters,” he observes. “If I win this running on legalizing marijuana, I think you’ll see a lot of position-shifting on the issue and a scramble to see who gets a bill onto the Governor’s desk first.”

I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that a larger push to at least decriminalize pot is coming, and it’s just a matter of time before the politicians realize they need to get on board with it. That could be a long time from now, of course. If you listened to my interview with Sen. John Whitmire, he thinks legalization won’t happen during his lifetime, and he’s a few years younger than Friedman. I personally think Sen. Whitmire is a bit too pessimistic – I mean, back in 2005 when we were enshrining a ban on same sex marriage in the state constitution, who thought we’d be where we are on that issue now? – and Friedman is a bit too optimistic. Where the truth is between those two, I don’t know. And again, credit where it is due, Kinky is saying the right things.

The rest of Friedman’s economic engine involves farming hemp (a non-potent form of marijuana) for industrial use and export while realizing significant water conservation gains due to hemp’s low water requirement vis-à-vis cotton; reducing insecticide use — hemp is essentially a weed and insects aren’t interested; and opening casinos so Texas money stays in Texas.

“I’ve never understood why we give all this money to other states,” Friedman shakes his head. “We’re just waving good-bye to the money for school improvements and roads, for mass transit, money we can put into drought remediation, into water-conservation projects, stuff this state is crying out for. What are we thinking?”

Friedman says the last couple of years, all the governor and attorney general have done “is rant about Obama” and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in state money challenging federal laws to appeal to their right-wing voting base.

“They can call my campaign a joke, but if the Republicans have any answers to the great problems this state faces, why haven’t they implemented them instead of obsessing about women’s reproductive systems or gay marriage?” he notes. “They’ve had total control of this state almost 20 years now, but nothing is getting fixed.”

I’m a realist. I haven’t forgotten 2006, and I haven’t forgotten the many instances of Kinky Friedman saying ugly things. He’s a risk to go off at any time, and if he does so as a Democratic nominee, you can be sure the Republicans will use that against the rest of the ticket. Given the racial nature of some of his past comments, I’d be very concerned about Friedman turning off voters of color, who Dems need to turn out in droves this fall. If he sticks his foot in his mouth the Republicans will be all over it, and will force Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte to renounce him in a way that Greg Abbott will never do with his more controversial supporters. It’s a risk putting him on the same ballot with Davis and LVdP. By the same token, Friedman will have vastly more name ID and potentially more crossover appeal than whichever low-wattage Republican wins that primary. He’ll generate news like that Trib story by virtue of who he is and the under-rated support for the issue he’s flogging. If Davis were a solid favorite to win in November, I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole. But underdogs need to take risks, and Kinky has enough upside to at least be worth considering. Hugh Fitzsimons is clearly a serious candidate that’s worth a good look, but as of today I am leaning towards a vote for Kinky Friedman, which is not something I would have said four years ago or eight years ago. That could change tomorrow, so check with me again before early voting begins.

SCOTUS halts same sex marriages in Utah, for now

Bummer.

RedEquality

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put same-sex marriages in Utah on hold, granting the state’s request for a stay while it appeals a ruling that laws banning such marriages are unconstitutional.

The court said the stay would be in place until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver makes a decision on Utah’s appeal.

The state’s stay application was filed with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who referred it to the whole court, according to the order issued Monday. Sotomayor is assigned to the 10th Circuit Court, which rejected Utah’s request for a stay three times.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby also denied the state’s request that he stay his Dec. 20 order overturning Amendment 3 while Utah appealed.

The order from the U.S. Supreme Court means clerks in Utah no longer will be allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It is not immediately clear what the order means for couples who have already married.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who met briefly with reporters Monday, said that this was the “uncertainty” the state hoped to avoid with a stay.

“We don’t know the answer yet as to marriages already performed,” Reyes said, adding that the state wants to carefully evaluate the implications. “There is not clear legal precedent for this particular situation.”

[…]

At least 1,000 same sex couples have wed since Shelby’s ruling. Though it isn’t clear how the stay might affect those unions, making them no longer legal would be unprecedented, said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and Equality Utah board chairman.

“Ultimately, the courts will decide what happens to those marriages,” said Rosky, but “never in the history of this country has a court retroactively invalidated a marriage that was legal when it was entered.”

Well, we’ll see if there’s a first time for everything. Lyle Denniston provides some more information.

The Court’s order reinstates the state ban and will keep it intact until after a federal appeals court has ruled on it.

The order appeared to have the support of the full Court, since there were no noted dissents. The ruling can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Had it refused the state’s request for delay, that would have left at least the impression that the Court was comfortable allowing same-sex marriages to go forward in the thirty-three states where they are still not permitted by state law.

The order, however, cannot be interpreted as a dependable indication of how the Court will rule on the issue when it finally decides to do so directly.

[…]

As a result of the new order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver, will go forward with an expedited review of Judge Shelby’s decision. The appeals court has ordered briefing to begin on January 27 and to be completed by February 25. It has indicated it is not likely to grant any extensions of time to file those documents. It has not yet set a hearing date.

With the Justices’ order in the case, it now appears almost certain that the question of state power to bar same-sex marriages will not be before the Justices during the current Term. A case on that issue would have to be granted this month to be reviewed before the Court is expected to finish this Term in late June.

So now the Texas case will be heard with Utah back in the no-same-sex-marriage column. Again, we’ll just have to see what effect that will have. I was cynical at first thanks to the inevitable involvement of the Fifth Circuit, then I was ebullient, and now I’m disappointed but still hopeful. Sorry for the whiplash. While I remain guardedly optimistic, here’s a reminder from TPM that we may yet be a long way away from a favorable resolution. SCOTUS will do what it wants to do, as anyone familiar with Bush v Gore can attest. In the meantime, keep the faith and keep fighting.