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October 12th, 2022:

Judicial Q&A: Judge Donna Roth

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Donna Roth

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Donna Roth, Judge of the 295th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court will hear all civil cases at any dollar level. For example, contract, personal injury from serious plant explosions to minor car wrecks, homeowner property taxes, attorney disbarment, employment, discrimination, and business dissolution cases, etc. This Court also has injunctive and declaratory powers, which means it can stop a party from doing something they should not be doing and declare the rights of parties. This Court does not handle criminal, family, probate and immigration cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

During the almost four years I have served I have doubled the number of jury cases tried by my predecessor and tried more jury cases than any of my civil judge colleagues. I have one of the lowest dockets in the division, if not the lowest. I have reduced the waiting time for a hearing down to two-three weeks (it used to be eight weeks) and have promptly ruled on all pending motions. I have made sure that all persons who appear before the bench are treated fairly and with dignity, regardless of who they are, and to the best of my ability, I have made sure justice is served in each case before me.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

Continue more of the same. Improve the understanding in the community of what this Court and other Harris County Courts do and attempt to get more people to take an interest in the Courts. I would like to improve the technology in the courtroom which requires working with Commissioner’s Court to obtain the funding for same.

5. Why is this race important?

As shown in answer to Question 2 this Court handles a wide range of cases. At any time, any citizen of this county, can find themselves before this Court or one just like it. Who you appear before makes a difference in how you are treated, how soon you will receive your day in court, and how your case may be decided.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the experienced, qualified and compassionate choice. Prior to taking the bench in January, 2019, I spent 32 years as a civil trial litigator. I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. I tried no less than 40 jury trials during my years of practice, an equal number of non-jury cases, and handled thousands of other cases from start to finish. I took the bench ready and prepared to do the job. As my answer to Question 3 reflects while on the bench I have moved forward with having cases tried and/or settled. It is only through a “real” trial setting that cases will settle. I have ensured that no one feels rushed or pushed and that whether a party has won or lost, they feel they have been heard and have had their day in Court. My opponent has not had a case filed in the Harris County District Courts, according to the District Court Clerk records, is not board certified, and does not possess the experience and qualifications necessary for this important position.

Just keep staying away, Commissioners

At this point the pattern is clear. They’re just going to keep staying away, at least until after the election. At which point one can hope that one of them will have a more permanent vacation from these duties.

For those of you who like to bring up the Democratic legislators’ quorum busting from last summer, I will say again that these two have the right to do what they are doing, per the law and the rules of the chamber. That doesn’t mean they’re free from being criticized for it. I will also note that for a variety of reasons, the quorum-busting Democrats eventually came back, and the thing they were trying to stop got passed by the legislative majority in place. Also, for those of us old enough to remember 2003, the Legislature made some subsequent rule changes to make it harder to break quorum, and there were some penalties in terms of committee assignments and other bureaucratic matters in the next session. Assuming there’s still a Democratic majority on the Court in 2023, it would be well within their rights to see about making life a little less pleasant for whichever of their Republican colleagues are still there. I hope someone is at least thinking about that.

School enrollment in Texas declined in 2020-2021

Blame it on COVID.

Tens of thousands more students either dropped out or otherwise left Texas public schools during the 2020-21 school year, compared to previous years, according to the most recently available records from the Texas Education Agency.

The number of students who dropped out jumped roughly 34 percent from 46,319 students in the 2020-21 school year, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 34,477 two years prior. The number of students who left Texas public schools for other reasons, including death, pregnancy or to enroll in other education programs or schools, was 79,071 in 2020-21, up more than 12,000 from the 2019-20 school year.

The dropout rate for students in grades 7 through 12 increased from 1.4 percent in the 2018-19 school year to 1.8 percent in the 2020-21 school year. The rate decreased during the 2019-20 school year to 1.2 percent.

High schools saw the highest increase in its dropout rate. The rate increased to 2.4 percent in the 2020-21 school year, from 1.9 percent in the 2018-19 school year.

The number of students who left to be home schooled increased about 30 percent to 29,846 in the 2020-21 school year from 22,967 in 2018-19. The increase is likely due in part to the impacts of COVID-19. In October 2020, only about 54 percent of Texas public school students were learning in-person.

Enrollment in 2020-2021 was at 5.3 million, down from 5.4 million the year before. I expect this number to bounce back, if only because the overall state population keeps growing and continues to be young, but this is a big blip and it needs urgent attention. That’s going to have to come from the locals, because the current crop of state leaders will do nothing to help. Yes, this is another reason to vote for Democrats this November.

Drone racing

Pretty cool, actually.

Jessica Dunegan watched her high school students fly drones through a maze of hula-hoops, cardboard and chairs last year for an end-of-year assignment in robotics class.

The San Antonio-area teacher was amazed by the teamwork, engagement and drone-flying skills the teens developed during the project.

“I had other students that I had never seen look at the drones and be like, ‘Oh, this is so cool,’ ” she said. “So then that got my thoughts spinning … How can I open this up for even more people?”

She is now petitioning the University Interscholastic League to add drone racing as an academic competition for any Texas high school students who wish to participate. Sanctioning the activity would make it more uniform and help schools get funding, she said.

[…]

In October, the council will vote on proposals from the public, including Dunegan’s request, and then send them to the education secretary for final approval, according to the league.

If approved, a pilot drone competition would be added to the state’s academic programs beginning next August, according to Dunegan’s proposal. The first contest would be held in spring 2023 for high school students in any district that wishes to participate.

Drone racing involves participants navigating through obstacle courses with drones. Dunegan said it helps kids learn about mechanical engineering, software engineering, physics and algebra as well as teamwork, innovation and critical thinking.

Although it remains a fledgling sport, some people compete at a professional level. The Drone Racing League holds international competitions in which pilots control drones equipped with cameras to navigate a complex race course.

For now, Dunegan is working to drum up interest around Texas to back up her proposal to the UIL.

As the story notes, water polo was added in 2019. I’m looking at the UIL website to see what the process is for requesting a new sport, but I don’t see anything obvious. Probably just best to contact them and ask. You might do that as well if you like this idea and want to support it. I’m rooting for them.