(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.)
1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?
Judge Cory Don Sepolio of the 269th Civil District Court of Texas
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
The 269th is a civil court dealing primarily with disputes over property, contracts, money, elections, injuries, health issues, and business activities, among others.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
I eliminated the ineffective practice of unnecessary court appearances. The Harris County Court house is a sophisticated yet often crowded venue. Recently the relocation of courts followed by the damage to the Criminal Court House in Harvey has the Civil Justice building overburdened. With electronic filing courts should allow matters to be heard on the submission docket rather than requiring all matters to have oral hearing. The pandemic lessened the burden yet created a health risk for in-person attendance. If oral hearings are requested courts should allow participation by telephonic appearance when appropriate. The 269th under my direction embraced “zoom” and eliminated unnecessary docket appearances. The litigants should have the option of choosing how they wish their matters heard. This change saves litigants on legal fees, parking and decreases courthouse crowding.
The best practice in most cases is for a judge to give limited instructions on voir dire and then turn the questioning over to the trial attorneys. In my career I sat through some judges’ voir dire that ran as long as five hours. This was on routine, non-capital cases. These lengthy speeches by the judges were ineffective, delayed justice, and annoyed the jurors. Judges should not use the courtroom for campaigning. During my time as judge of the 269th I read the required instructions, introduce the parties and staff, and provide an estimated time of trial prior to lawyer questions. This takes less than 10 minutes and is respectful of everyone’s time.
It is my primary duty to ensure a safe, fair, and unbiased venue for all litigants, witnesses and their attorneys. This is regardless of race, color, creed, orientation, gender or country of origin. Historically judges refused to follow the law regarding same-sex marriage. Many prior judges belonged to groups that discriminated against the Hispanic and immigrant communities. This is unacceptable. Since taking the bench I have fought to ensure justice for all.
I refuse to allow those who appear in the 269th to be harassed or frightened. Everyone is entitled to a fair day in court without outside burden.
I proudly implemented a method I call the “Batson pause” in trial where I ensure impermissible strikes are not permitted. In this way we prevent prospective jurors from impermissible discrimination due to their ethnic background or gender.
During the pandemic I issued a moratorium on dismissals for want of prosecution in the 269th. Many lawyers, witnesses, and litigants were ill or displaced during the pandemic and I did not believe it equitable to dismiss their cases simply because they could not respond to email inquiries during that time.
In 2022, the 269th has disposed of more cases than all 24 other civil district courts, except one.
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
When I took the bench in 2019 I shared the 269th with two criminal district court judges as a result of the continuing displacement resulting from hurricane Harvey. In the early Spring of 2020, the pandemic shut down the courts the exact day the criminal court judges were able to return to their own courts. The past four years required sharing and patience to ensure justice functioned in all courts. Despite these obstacles the 269th has performed admirably and continued to try cases. I am thrilled to finally be back in the 269th and have all facilities to continue our mission of ensuring justice and equality to all litigants whom have cases in the 269th.
5. Why is this race important?
I cherish our judicial system and earnestly wish to maintain the integrity of our trial courts. We began this campaign with the goal of ensuring that the citizens, litigants, and trial attorneys of Harris County have a qualified and fair judge on the bench. Those of us who maintained active trial dockets in Harris County were frustrated by several years of practicing before temperamental and inexperienced judges. The litigants and lawyers whom the 269th serves expect the level of preparation and justice the court currently provides and deserve for it to continue. I shall see that it does.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
Campaigning this long has come at a great sacrifice to my family. The time and effort spent on this campaign is great. I am determined to win this race and ensure experience, equality, and justice for all continues in the 269th Civil District Court.