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January 9th, 2014:

Judicial Q&A: Jim Evans

(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.)

Jim Evans

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

My name is Jim Evans, and I am running for the position of Judge in the 308th Family District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court, like each of the nine Harris County family district courts, hears family law matters such as divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child support enforcement actions, name changes, and adoptions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am qualified to do the work required of a judge and because I am passionate about doing that work with integrity and with an understanding of the enormous consequences of my decisions.

Furthermore, I am running for this bench because it belongs to the people of Harris County, and it should not be used as a means to provide financial benefits to my political benefactors and cohorts. The presiding judge in this court has the ability to appoint ad litem attorneys, amicus attorneys, and receivers in hundreds of cases each year. The current Republican presiding judge, James Lombardino, appoints almost exclusively people who have donated to his campaign. Additionally, in the three years that he has been on the bench, he has appointed Jared Woodfill, the Harris County Republican Party chairman, numerous times (and more than any other family judge in Harris County). This sort of favor is inappropriate and not in the best interest of the children who are the subjects of the cases before the court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I understand Texas family law, the culture of Harris County, and the legal environment in Harris County. I am a Harris County native, a graduate of Houston Baptist University, and the University of Houston Law Center. I have practiced law for over 10 years. For the last five years, I have practiced family law almost exclusively. I know the family judges in Harris County, the family attorneys in Harris County, and the statutory and common law bases for family law decision-making in Texas. I currently maintain my law practice in downtown Houston.

While in law school, I graded onto and served as the Research Editor on the Houston Law Review, which shows that I am diligent and a hard worker. At the beginning of my legal career, I practiced chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcy law, so I have a necessary understanding of the complicated property issues that sometimes arise in divorces. In 2009, I obtained certification as a family law mediator, and I understand the value and the limitations of mediation as a tool that can be used to resolve family law disputes.

Prior to attending law school, I taught in Louisiana public schools and worked as a Baptist minister for a number of years serving churches in Texas, Maryland, and Louisiana. These prior careers gave me an appreciation of the enormity of the pressures that people face with regard to their family lives and decision-making. This appreciation will inform my rulings on the bench as I strive for fairness and justice.

I have a life outside of the practice of law, and I believe that this will help me make decisions that are practical and that have good long-term results. I am a parent, divorced parent, step-parent, and adoptive parent. I married my husband, William Flowers, in Connecticut in 2010. I teach Sunday School at Deer Park United Methodist Church, and I serve on the church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee.

5. Why is this race important?

If elected, I will be the first openly gay family judge in Texas (and probably the first in the South). While this, in and of itself, does not qualify me to be a family judge, it will be significant to have an openly gay person on the bench. Currently, the family courts in Harris County negatively discriminate against gay and lesbian people. For example, none of the family judges, all of whom are Republican, will grant an adoption in a case where the prospective adoptive parent is an “out” gay or lesbian. If I am elected, I believe it will create a moral imperative for the other judges to do the right thing and either grant or deny an adoption based on the best interest of the child instead of the sexual orientation of the prospective adoptive parent. Moreover, my promise, if I am elected, is that I will do nothing for the gay community except that I will not discriminate based upon a litigant’s sexual orientation.

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

People should vote for me in the primary because I am energetic and a hard worker as evidenced by my successful campaign efforts collecting almost 1300 signatures on my petition to be placed on the ballot; and I intend, if I win the Democratic primary election, to work hard and run a winning general election campaign.

Additionally, I believe that my candidacy in the general election will inspire greater volunteerism and voter turnout for me and other Democratic candidates among members of the Houston GLBT community. This is particularly so because, if I am elected, I will be the first openly gay family district judge in Texas. I have already personally spoken to over one thousand GLBT people in Houston about this possibility; and their response is universally positive and enthusiastic.

Democrats in Harris County know that our county is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Moving even a few thousand voters from the Republican column to the Democratic column could have a significant impact on election night. I am a native of and a current resident of Deer Park, generally considered to be a Republican stronghold. I have already done block walking in parts of Deer Park and have found many Democrats who are discouraged because they believe that they are the only Democrats in town; I have also found Republicans who are excited about the possibility of voting for a Deer Park “local boy.” If I win the primary, I will consider it my job to get Deer Park Democrats to vote and to get Deer Park Republicans to cross the aisle and vote for me and other Democrats on the ballot. I believe that my intentional efforts to engage with Deer Park people will yield those successful results.

Finally, while my opponent is a good man and a good attorney, between the two of us, I am the only strong Democrat.

Falkenberg on Dave Wilson’s residency

Lisa Falkenberg has another chat with Dave Wilson to try and solve the mystery of where he really lives.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

No bathtub. No refrigerator. No TV.

If 67-year-old small businessman Dave Wilson really lives in a warehouse apartment on West 34th Street, and not with his wife, as he claims, it’s a pretty Spartan existence. And not a particularly clean, well-fed or entertaining one.

An inspection this week by City of Houston code enforcement didn’t help the Houston Community College trustee-elect in his quest to prove he meets district residency requirements for the job. The city ended up slapping a bright orange sticker to the glass door of the warehouse, indicating he doesn’t have permission to use it as a residence.

“Change of occupancy to reflecting living quarters on 2nd floor. Plans required,” it reads, warning that failure to comply may result in citations with minimum fines of $500-$2,000 per incident.

Photos from the city inspection, provided to me by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office, depict sparsely furnished rooms with mostly bare walls, tabletops and counters.

“If you look at these photographs, it does not look like he’s been living there for two years,” said Ryan, who sued Wilson to try and prove the trustee-elect didn’t live in the district he ran to represent.

Ryan, whose office had requested its own tour of the residence but never got one, said he wasn’t surprised by the city’s findings.

“We believe it’s very clear cut,” Ryan said. “Every piece of evidence we see indicates he does not have his address at West 34th Street.”

Too bad Wilson didn’t take my advice and have Falkenberg drop by for a visit, a courtesy he did apparently extend to the local Fox affiliate. Instead, she only got to see the County Attorney’s evidence, which needless to say isn’t favorable to Dave. Wilson is free to show or not show whatever he wants to anyone – other than the judge, of course – but it seems to me he could have advanced his PR if he’d given Falkenberg a tour. Assuming the place does resemble an actual residence, that is. If it is what he says it is, then he prevails in court, his critics look like fools, and the issue is settled forevermore. For a guy who claims, not without some justification, that everyone is out to get him, you’d think he might want to shove the evidence of his righteousness in their faces, but instead he’s playing it close to the vest. Which might lead to a Perry Mason moment in the courthouse, but which also raises a question that Falkenberg brings up:

He’s probably right that some people are scared to death to get him on that board. Wilson has vowed to bring transparency to the often opaque operations of the HCC board and to request independent audits of finances. Heads could roll.

It would be a welcome change. But candidates promising open, honest leadership should walk the walk. Playing fast and loose with election laws and ignoring a temporary restraining order aren’t good ways to start out. Districts exist for a reason: to give citizens a better chance at electing someone who represents them and their interests.

This latest episode, added to the list of Wilson’s other antics, makes me wonder if he’d be a breath of fresh air on that board, or a disaster.

Yes, for a guy who claims to be all about openness and ethics and all that, he sure is less than forthcoming about his own business. As for the matter of districts, I’ve said my piece on that. What I’m going to say now is that the reason we are where we are is because the residency requirements we have on the books are basically a polite fiction for which no effective enforcement mechanism exists. We should either fix that or acknowledge that we just don’t really care. We’re in this debate now because we don’t have an agreed-upon standard of what it means to be a “resident” of a political subdivision, and because even if we did there was no way to objectively validate Dave Wilson’s residency before the election; remember, HCC’s Board and general counsel said it wasn’t their job to vet his application. Not having a standard and a means of validating someone’s candidacy serves no one, and that includes Wilson. Either we do something about this, or we ditch the whole idea and let people file for whatever they want, and leave it to the voters to sort out who represents them and who doesn’t.

I thought the case of Sen. Brian Birdwell in 2010 was as clear a violation of residency requirements you’re likely to see, with Birdwell casting a vote in Virginia at a time when he would have needed to be a resident of Texas to be eligible to run for the Senate. The challenge to his candidacy failed, not on the merits but on technicalities of jurisdiction and documentation provenance. I thought at the time that was telling us that the requirements we had were basically meaningless and that we should act accordingly. This is another test of that hypothesis. If Wilson prevails, then let’s agree that anyone with the wherewithal to declare himself or herself a resident of a given location – a relative, a second home, an office, a warehouse, what have you – is one for the purposes of the law and get on with our lives. Even if Wilson is found to be ineligible, we really owe it to ourselves and every future candidate to clarify the requirements up and down the ballot, one way or another. That’s something the Legislature could address in 2015. If it means a bunch of current incumbents have to scramble to buy a new house between now and their next filing deadline, that’s fine by me. If it means that residency is little more than a state of mind in the eyes of the law, then so be that. Let’s just pick one and stick with it. That has to be better than what we have now, which are winks and nods and the occasional lawsuit.

No BGO for HOF

Missed it by one vote.

One of the most majestic induction classes in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame was set on Wednesday with the announcement that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were elected by eligible writers of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, all of them by big margins.

On the ballot for the second time, Craig Biggio, who had 3,060 hits in 20 seasons, all with the Astros, did not get the necessary 75 percent, falling two votes shy of induction.

Already to be inducted in July are three of the greatest managers of all time — Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, all selected by the Expansion Era Committee last month.

That means six living members are heading toward one of the grandest Induction Weekends from July 26-27 in Cooperstown, N.Y. The results of this year’s BBWAA vote were in stark contrast to that of last year, when the writers didn’t elect anyone.

Maddux and Glavine, a pair of 300-game winners who pitched the bulk of their careers for the Braves, were the favorites, but the 571 voters outdid themselves by also adding Thomas. It was the first time since 1999, when Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and George Brett were elected, that the writers put three first-time eligibles into the Hall.

Maddux, who won 355 games, the eighth-highest figure in Major League history, saw his name appear on 97.2 percent of the ballots, falling short of the all-time mark still held by Tom Seaver, who was elected on 98.84 percent of the vote in 1992. Glavine, who won 305 games, fourth-most among left-handers, was at 91.9 percent, and Thomas, a first baseman and designated hitter, who batted .301, hit 521 homers and amassed 1,704 RBIs in 19 seasons, 16 of them with the White Sox, finished at 83.7.

I’m going to take a break from all the ranting and airing of grievances about the deserving candidates that didn’t get elected and the idiocy of the voters, for this year at least. Biggio becomes the first player to miss being inducted by a single vote, which at least bodes well for his future. You aggrieved Astros fans, go vent your spleen at Ken Gurnick, you’ll feel better. How much better off we’d all be if he had given his vote to Deadspin instead. Congratulations to the three supremely qualified new members, and better luck next year, Bidge. Hardball Talk has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 6

The Texas Progressive Alliance is off to a roaring start to 2014 as it brings you this week’s roundup.