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January 28th, 2014:

Judicial Q&A: Barbara Stalder

(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.)

Barbara Stalder

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

I am Barbara J. Stalder. I am running for the 280th Judicial District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Judicial District Court primarily hears protective orders involving domestic violence. It can also hear (a) original family law cases filed with a protective order, (b) cases involving custody of a minor child if one parent is alleged to have caused the death of another parent and there is a history of domestic violence in the parents’ relationship, (c) divorce and custody cases in which a court has made a finding of family violence involving both parties; or a protective order has been issued, involving both parties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have dedicated my entire adult life to improving the lives of children and victims of domestic violence in the Greater Houston community. All Houstonians deserve a voice in their justice system and I decided early in my career to challenge myself to tirelessly represent clients in need of help, regardless of their ability to pay.

Harris County deserves a judge with the training and experience needed to understand the devastating effects domestic violence can have on victims and their children. I know domestic violence because I’ve seen it and experienced it. As a survivor of both childhood and adult domestic violence, I fled an eleven-year abusive relationship in 1989. Since 1990, I have worked with child victims of domestic violence, abuse, and neglect. My work has includes helping women victims fleeing their homes with nothing but the clothing on their backs. I have represented women who have been stabbed, beaten, stalked, held captive, and threatened with harm to their children and/or fraudulent or coercive legal consequences by their abusers. Although the majority of victims were women I also had several cases in which I represented men. However, men do not usually report the violence and rarely come forward asking for help. My work with these victims and children gives me specialized knowledge and understanding of what effective judicial leadership looks like.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for over 10 years but have worked closely with domestic violence victims for over 25 years. My legal career has been dedicated to working with victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect. Several years ago, I founded a children’s legal service program in Houston to train lawyers representing abused and neglected children. The program also represented children in Child Protective Services (CPS) and contested custody cases.

My experience also includes representing women and children at Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA). Some of the most difficult cases I’ve been involved with are those in which I represented children whose mothers had been murdered by their father. Relatives were left to pick up the pieces.

I am currently a clinical professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center, where I teach, mentor, and supervise second and third-year law students. Students represent real clients, including many involving domestic violence issues. I have been fortunate to have received numerous awards, including the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) President’s Award of Merit for co-authoring the publication, “What To Expect In Family Court.” I have worked with the domestic violence community, have a good working relationship with other legal aid organizations and am respected by my peers for my work as a lawyer and advocate for women and children.

I have been practicing law for over 10 years, I recently became Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and I have dedicated my legal career to helping others. My husband, Fred, and I recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary, love exploring our Houston community, and volunteer our time with Houston animal rescue groups.

5. Why is this race important?

Our daughters, nieces, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends need a judge who understands not only the physical aspects of domestic violence, but the emotional, spiritual and economic aspects. We need a judge who has the knowledge and experience to recognize the subtle ways batterers continue their abuse after the victim has left. We need a judge who is willing to work with our domestic violence community in creating programs to move our victims from helplessness to hopefulness. We need a judge who can can be fair, respectful, and give every person the right to have their voice heard.

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

I am the most experienced lawyer in this race. I have dedicated my entire adult life to advocating for victims of domestic violence. Not only have I represented hundreds of women and children whose lives were forever changed by domestic violence, I also teach my students how to recognize, understand and advocate for victims of violence. I am objective, open-minded and believe every person who comes into court deserves respect and fairness.

The counties we aren’t going to win are just as important as the counties we will win

Collin County is a Republican stronghold. It’s also the kind of place that Democrats need to make gains in order to be competitive. That’s a tough thing to do when there’s little hope for winning the county or taking a legislative seat based in the county. But the needle needs to be moved, and the Democrats there seem to get that, which is good to hear.

“There is a completely different dynamic this time,” said Shawn Stevens, chairman of the Democratic Party of Collin County.

So far, most of the work has been organizing and preparing for next fall. In October, Battleground Texas, a statewide organization devoted to turning Texas into a swing state, hosted house parties to train volunteers.

In November, local party leaders hosted what they described as an unusually energetic crowd at their annual Ann Richards Dinner. And lately, a group has been meeting weekly at the Plano strip mall that houses the county party’s office to call other potential volunteers for 2014.

The hope is to have a large group of supporters ready for the fall who can make personal connections with as many voters as possible. And this time around they will probably have outside help, a rarity for Collin County.

There’s a reason there was a lack of energy in the party in the past. For years, Democrats have failed to even be competitive with the local GOP.

In 2010, Republican Gov. Rick Perry won Collin County with 64 percent of the vote, compared with 33 percent for Democratic former Houston Mayor Bill White. In 2012, more than 133,000 people voted straight-ticket Republican. Only 61,000 voted solely for the Democrats.

It will be next to impossible to turn that around in one election. But one reason for the current effort is the conclusion that Democrats can’t simply ignore the counties they know they won’t win, organizers said.

Battleground Texas has pushed for a new statewide attitude, arguing that the party needs a presence in all 254 counties to win elections. Its leaders say similar efforts are happening in other GOP-dominated counties across the state.

“Collin County is a fantastic example of the excitement we are seeing across the state of Texas,” said Jenn Brown, executive director of the group.


Republicans remain confident, however. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Parker has drawn a Democratic opponent for the first time in years. But she said she isn’t worried. She knows many suburban women who agree with the GOP’s anti-abortion efforts, she said.

And Collin County is thriving economically and has strong schools, she said, so it’s unlikely that Democrats will find enough people who are unhappy with their state government.

“What they are anticipating is not going to work,” Laubenberg said.

Even many Democrats admit that winning the county or individual races in 2014 is a long shot. But they view the fact that they have already begun a significant effort as a positive sign.

And they argue that even a little progress can help Democrats statewide.

“Our voting numbers might not be 50 percent plus one,” said Stevens, the party chairman, “but if you inch up the vote a little bit, you can affect the election.”

Laubenberg doesn’t have to worry about her own re-election, but Stevens is correct, and his recognition of what needs to be done in Collin is critical. Democrats absolutely need to maximize their vote in big urban counties and South Texas, where the bulk of Democrats live. But places like Collin are where the big overall population growth is. Democrats have to be in there competing for these new voters or they’ll be undoing the work they’re doing elsewhere. Look at these figures from the past three off year elections:

Year Registered Turnout Dem high Pct Reg Pct Turn ====================================================== 2002 312,606 130,443 37,716 12.07% 28.91% 2006 381,821 138,686 42,514 11.13% 30.65% 2010 424,548 157,849 51,890 12.22% 32.87%

There’s likely to be between 450,000 and 500,000 registered voters in Collin County in 2014. Turnout actually wasn’t that high in Collin in 2010 – about 37%, compared to about 36% in 2006 – so between population growth and general turnout activities, the potential is there to add thousands of Democrats to the tally. As the story notes, there were over 61,000 straight ticket Dem votes in 2012, and just over 101,000 votes for President Obama that year. The voters are there if they can be persuaded to show up. Sure, the same is true for the Republicans, but that’s not our problem. The job for Collin County Dems is to get their people out. The potential is there. The fact that they recognize it and are willing to work for it even if there aren’t likely to be any local prizes to be won is better. We’ll see how it goes.

Perry and pot

Haul out your blind squirrels and acorns cliches.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he favors decriminalizing marijuana use and lessening punishment for minor offenders as the nation moves toward a more moderate approach to pot use and two states have legalized the drug.

Perry’s comments surprised some, since the governor has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for not stepping up border enforcement to counter the power of Mexican drug trafficking cartels. Perry has also supported legislation that would mandate drug testing for Texans seeking unemployment benefits or public housing.

But each state has the right to choose its path on how to deal with marijuana, he said, while defending Colorado and Washington’s decision to legalize the drug.

“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization” by introducing alternative “drug courts” that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses, Perry said during an international panel on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

It’s the first time the governor, who’s voiced support for drug courts in the past, took a position on decriminalization in Texas.

Local law enforcement leaders in Houston had differing reactions to Perry’s comments.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who as a judge presided over a drug court, backed Perry’s advocacy of offering rehabilitation and community supervision.

“I echo Governor Perry’s support for drug counseling and lesser sentences for marijuana users in Texas,” according to a statement released by her office. “Our goal is to stop the revolving door process where a drug offender gets out of jail, starts using again, only to go back to jail where he or she will spend even more time.”

Anderson added: “Our hope is to keep people out of jail by getting them help.”


In the past, Perry has discussed his opposition to legalization of marijuana but voiced his support for the 10th amendment and states’ rights to legalize the drug, which he highlighted at the forum Thursday.

I include that last bit to observe that this is very likely more about poking President Obama with the 10th amendment than anything else. Perry doesn’t have a reformer’s record, to say the least, but a message of “keep your federal laws off my state” is consistent with the Rick Perry we know. That said, whatever the motivation Perry’s words are welcome. While most right-thinking people have evolved on this and on the huge costs of the “war on drugs” in general, having a few wrong-thinking people on board will help move things forward faster. As for Devon Anderson, I’m honestly unclear what she’s saying at this point. Let’s just agree that there’s a lot more that could be done here in Texas and in Harris County to keep pot smokers out of jail and provide better outcomes overall. I’d like to hear more candidates talk about decriminalization, or at least about dialing back punishment for smoking pot. If Rick Perry just gave some otherwise reluctant legislators and legislative candidates permission to do that, it’ll be one of the few genuine accomplishments he’ll be able to claim when he’s finally gone from office. Hair Balls, BOR, and Burka have more.

“Go, Texans” OK’ed

Well, that‘s a relief.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez’s quest to ban “Go Texans” and other messages from Metro’s digital bus marquees has ended unsuccessfully with a pass from the Federal Transportation Administration and a scathing letter from the Metro board chairman.

Last fall, Sanchez asked the federal agency and the Harris County Attorney’s office to determine whether Metro was “misusing federal transit dollars” or somehow breaking the law by displaying certain messages on the destination signs on the fronts and sides of its buses. Sanchez argued that messages like “Go Texans” were not appropriate because they promoted a privately owned company on publicly owned property.

Both entities looked into Sanchez’s inquiry and concluded that Metro’s current policy is legally sound, with the federal agency saying the only applicable prohibitions of marquee messages would be the ones adopted by Metro itself.

In a letter to Sanchez this week, Metro Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia described the inquiry as “unnecessary” and said it jeopardized Metro’s relationship with the federal transportation agency, which he described as “a critical partner that provides crucial funding for projects that help move people throughout the region.”

“We hope to avoid distractions as we continue to keep the Houston area moving,” Garcia wrote. “Rather than pursuing unnecessary inquiries, we hope you will join us to positively address the transit needs in our community.”

Sanchez expressed no regrets, pointing out that “prior to my inquiry, Metro had no policy” on bus marquee messaging.

See here for the background. Sanchez apparently complained to the FTA after the Metro board adopted its policy to allow for these sporting messages plus other generic ones such as “Happy Holidays”, which seems a little petty to me. I just hope we have a football team that’s worthy of the exhortation this fall.