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Judicial Q&A: Judge Amy Martin

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Amy Martin

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

I am Judge Amy Martin and I preside over the 263rd Criminal District Court of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I hear state felony-level criminal cases.

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

One of my most significant accomplishments has been to reduce the relative size of the docket since I was elected. When I took the bench, the 263rd had the highest case load among the 22 District Courts. Now, it is one of the 10 smallest dockets among the 23 District Courts (an additional court was added last year).

Improvement in my court’s efficiency was accomplished despite initially only having access to a criminal courthouse every other week, then having to share courtroom with 2 other judges, and ultimately having exclusive use of a courtroom, but without a jury room.

I have increased the number of successfully completed probations and deferred adjudications by 20% through the thoughtful use of tailored probation conditions that are meant to help an individual to improve their life and end their involvement with the criminal justice system. I have utilized specialty courts such as the STAR Court, Veteran’s Court, and Mental Health Court to address the specific needs of individuals that have found themselves in the legal system because of particular issues.

In my court, a defendant’s appearance is waived in most circumstances to minimize the unnecessary negative impact on a defendant who may have to take time off of work, obtain childcare, and find transportation downtown. I have changed the practice in my court to resetting cases for at least 60 days (often longer) between settings. Traditionally, the time between settings has been 30 days. At the same time, I require the attorneys on both sides to meet and make substantive progress on resolving the case.

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

I hope to continue to make my court the model in Harris County for adjudicating criminal cases with efficiency, fairness, and compassion. When public health circumstances and courtroom space allow, I would like to implement a more structured case management plan to reduce the number of unnecessary court appearances and have a uniform schedule for which particular tasks need to be completed by the attorneys in each case. I hope to continue to increase the use of diversion programs, explore creative options for effective dispositions of cases, and to assist defendants on bond to find programs to participate in so they can be productive while their case is pending.

5. Why is this race important?

Everyone in our community is affected by what happens in my court. The 263rd Criminal District Court handles the most serious criminal cases in Texas, including capital murder. There is no other setting in which Constitutional principles are more important. Crime rates across the country continue to rise amid a global pandemic. In Harris County we are still working on fixing the criminal courthouse from Hurricane Harvey and we have woefully too few district courts for our population explosion over the last three decades.

Even during this time of unprecedented challenges, under my supervision, the 263rd has become a more efficient, accessible, and considerate court. This race is important because Harris County voters have the opportunity to allow me to continue to improve our criminal justice system. I’m committed to using my 3 years of hard-earned experience to continue to innovate the court and protect the community.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Experience matters. I have more experience both as a lawyer and as a judge than any of my opponents, Democratic or Republican. I have earned endorsements, previously and during this primary cycle, from diverse organizations across the political spectrum.

Organizations have endorsed me repeatedly because I have not only improved the productivity metrics of the 263rd , but the courtroom culture as well. Anyone who visits my courtroom can see that I treat all parties with respect and that my number one priority is the fair treatment of everyone who appears before me.

As a member of the Criminal District Court Judges’ Fair Defense Act Management System (FDAMS) committee I have worked to ensure that the Harris County felony attorney appointment process is compliant with Texas law and local policy, and that there are well-established qualification requirements for attorneys who take felony court appointments.

I am on the committee responsible for the hiring and termination of the Harris County Magistrates as well the Associate Judges Hiring Committee, the group that is responsible for creating the standards, application process, and supervisory plan for the newly created positions of Associate Judge. I choose to be on committees such as these to participate in improving the Harris County criminal justice system as a whole, not just my court.

It has been an honor to serve Harris County as a District Court Judge and I hope the voters will give me the opportunity to continue to improve the 263rd District Court, the local administration of justice, and our community. My record shows that I am dedicated to public service and I will continue work hard if given the privilege of being re-elected.

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