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January 14th, 2014:

Judicial Q&A: Bruce Steffler

(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.)

Bruce Steffler

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

I am Bruce Steffler and I am running for Judge of the 308th Family District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th Family District Court primarily hears matters regarding families such as divorce, adoption, child support and custody matters as well as Child Protective Services cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to restore impartiality and experience to this bench. Everyone should be afforded respect and this includes respecting time and available resources without regard to any agenda other than the best interest of families.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a husband and a father and a grandfather. I know what it means for parents and children to experience divorce and the issues associated with blended families. I will bring empathy and experience for parents and children of divorce to the 308th bench.

I worked my way through the University of Houston on the cooperative education program (alternating work and school semesters) as an engineer with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, worked as a reliability engineer with General Dynamics Corporation for two years, served as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army for two years (honorably discharged in 1971) and then worked full time for Southwestern Bell while attending law school at South Texas College of Law full time at night.

I have worked as an attorney, both with law firms and as a solo practitioner, since 1976. My practice is limited to family law and I am board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have real world work experience to temper my extensive legal experience. I have no agenda other than fairness and impartiality to all.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important, both the primary and the general election, because the family law courts need judges who do not have an agenda, but do have experience, maturity, judicial temperament, non-legal as well as legal work experience, the knowledge and experience to apply the law fairly and impartially to all who come before the court.

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

We have a higher probability of being touched, either personally or through a family member or friend, by an issue before a family law court, than by a criminal or civil court. Family law courts are too important to have anyone but the most qualified judge making rulings that have a profound impact on our families. I have the experience, education, maturity and vision to make the 308th a hardworking court where integrity and concern for families are paramount.

Wilson’s status is still up in the air

The suspense is killing me.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

The restraining order prohibiting newly elected Houston Community College trustee Dave Wilson from taking the oath of office until questions about his residency can be resolved will remain in effect for another two weeks, a judge ruled Monday, and the legality of a private swearing-in reported by the District 2 representative is still unclear.

Meanwhile, the HCC board is scheduled to convene and elect officers on Thursday.

Whether Wilson will be allowed on or restricted from the dais is undetermined. Whether trustees can proceed with the meeting or vote on items before the District 2 trustee-elect’s legal matters are resolved also is unknown.

[…]

After the filing, the trustee-elect submitted notarized documents to the Texas Secretary of State’s office and HCC showing that he already had been sworn in.

Reiterating what he said at a hearing last Friday, State District Court Judge Mike Engelhart said Monday that he wants to hear more information on several issues before ruling on whether Wilson can take office.

Keith Gross, Wilson’s attorney, said his client plans to appeal Monday’s ruling.

“It’s like granting an injunction against knocking a building down after the building has been knocked down,” he said in court.

Robert Soard, the county attorney’s first assistant, said the HCC board would be irreparably harmed if Wilson takes office and casts votes while the courts decide if he is eligible to serve.

It would be nice if Judge Engelhart could issue a ruling before Thursday’s meeting, but I can’t blame him for wanting to get all the information he can before making up his mind. At this point, I don’t think anything would surprise me.

There’s a lot of talk in the comments to the previous post about this officeholder or that not meeting residency requirements, with some rumbling about other complains being filed. Knock yourselves out, I say. What I want out of the Wilson case, more than anything else, is for there to be a standard that we can all more or less agree on as to what “residency” actually means. If Wilson is found to meet that standard, then I don’t see how anyone could fail to meet it. If he is found to be in violation, then at least we have a line that has been drawn, and we can see if anyone else falls outside it. First things first, though, and that’s to decide about Wilson.

Endorsement watch: Davis for Alameel

This was unexpected, at least by me.

David Alameel

Texas Democrats may be working on drafting a 2014 dream team.

State Sen. Wendy Davis announced today that she’s backing David Alameel in his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination.

The wealthy Dallas dentist and investor is one of five Democrats vying in the March primary. The winner will face two-term Sen. John Cornyn, if he survives his own primary fight with Rep. Steve Stockman and a handful of others.

“Dr. Alameel is an astute and successful business leader who shares my commitment to creating good paying jobs, improving education for all our children and protecting the retirement our seniors have worked hard for and earned,” said Davis, D-Fort Worth. “I am pleased to endorse him for U.S. Senate.”

Davis gained national attention last summer after an 11-hour filibuster over an abortion bill. Since then, she has become a rallying point for Democrats hoping to put some blue back in Texas’ deep red Republican politics. She’s likely to face Attorney General Greg Abbott in November.

“I am honored to have the support and encouragement from my good friend, Senator Wendy Davis,” Alameel said in a statement. “Wendy knows I will work hard to make sure every Texan has a real voice in Washington and that I will bring fair and common sense leadership back to our nation’s capital.”

Alameel brings deep pockets to the race, with an estimated fortune of about $50 million. He flexed his financial muscle in a 2012 campaign for what is now Rep. Marc Veasey’s Fort Worth congressional district. He spend more than $4.5 million in the Democratic primary, ending up in fourth place with 10 percent of the vote.

Alameel would not be my first choice, in part because I know precious little about him. His webpage is new and as of this morning still hasn’t been indexed by Google – his old webpage is still the first result when you Google his name, and it doesn’t redirect to the new webpage – and his Facebook page was created January 6 and isn’t displayed when you enter “David Alameel” in Facebook’s search box. The main thing I learned when I did find these two pages is that Alameel has been endorsed by Wendy Davis.

I’m personally leaning towards Maxey Scherr, who I think has the highest upside and who has been the most active campaigner so far. Mike Fjetland is someone I’ve known for several years for whom I have a lot of respect. But Davis prefers Alameel, and while it’s easy to see a financial motive in that choice, I’ll take her at her word. Be all that as it may, let’s not forget that the real bottom line here is to ensure that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers is not the nominee. We can argue all we want about which of the others is the best choice, but right now I care more about Rogers not being the nominee than I do about who is.

More from the Pratt files

This is just bizarre.

Judge Denise Pratt

Since being cleared last month by a grand jury for backdating records, a family court judge has quietly dismissed hundreds of cases, effectively nullifying a bevy of child support obligations and custody arrangements she previously made to protect children and families.

Lawyers say state District Court Judge Denise Pratt gave no prior notice of her intent to drop their cases from her 311th Court. Nearly 300 have been dismissed since Dec. 20, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, including many that had been scheduled to go to trial soon.

All but 19 were dismissed on a single day, Dec. 30.

Judges are required under rules of civil procedure to schedule hearings and warn parties involved in pending litigation of their intent to dismiss cases, but lawyers said they learned their cases had been dropped after the fact by postcards mailed by the district clerk or by word of mouth from clients.

Among those dismissed were three cases from which Pratt had been recused earlier in December.

[…]

Several of the newly dismissed cases involve lawyers who had joined Enos in publicly criticizing Pratt. Enos’ firm had three cases dismissed, including one from which Pratt had been recused by a visiting judge and another from which she had voluntarily recused herself.

“It is a ridiculous, shocking, unconstitutional, unfair thing to do,” Enos said. “It’s going to have terrible consequences for children and families.”

Joan Jenkins, one of the 32 family lawyers who signed a letter last fall calling for Pratt to resign, said one client whose divorce was set to be finalized told her a week ago that his wife had found out their case had been dismissed. He said his wife showed up at the family home with a police officer and told him she was moving back in.

[…]

Family lawyer Rob Clark had five cases dropped, including one he said Pratt threatened to dismiss in open court on Dec. 30, giving no explanation. That case involves a mother who had been awarded temporary custody of her toddler daughter while seeking to collect child support from the father, who had moved to Florida. With a dismissed case, the father “could come from Florida to pick up the kid and there’s nothing she can do,” said Clark, who signed the letter calling for Pratt’s resignation. “It’s crazy.”

Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said the judge always has granted motions to reinstate in the past, and blamed any lack of notice on a new electronic filing system the District Clerk’s office is using, under a state Supreme Court mandate.

“She is finding out that some of those notices didn’t go out,” Yates said. “They’ve just got to file a motion to reinstate, if someone’s case was dismissed for want of prosecution, so it’s really no big deal.”

District clerk’s office spokesman Bill Murphy said the new system, eFileTexas.gov, “has nothing to do with the mailing of notices of upcoming dismissal hearings.” That responsibility, he said, falls on court coordinators, who are employed by the county but “handpicked by the judges for whom they work.”

State District Court Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for the family courts, said Pratt had no authority to dismiss cases from which she had been recused.

What the hell is going on in that courtroom? I know Judge Pratt just got no-billed by the grand jury on charges that she falsified dates on court documents, but clearly there are more things to be investigated here. Seriously, does any of this sound normal to you? Hair Balls, which had the story first, and Texpatriate have more.