(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 LaShawn A. Williams, Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
These courts share jurisdiction with the district courts up to $250,000. Also, a county civil court at law in Harris County has jurisdiction over all civil matters and causes, original and appellate, prescribed by law for county courts, but does not have the jurisdiction of a probate court.
A county civil court at law has jurisdiction in appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County. A county civil court at law also-regardless of the amount in controversy-has jurisdiction in statutory eminent domain proceedings and exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation suits.
In addition to other jurisdiction provided by law, a county civil court at law has jurisdiction to:
1. decide the issue of title to real or personal property;
2. hear a suit to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;
3. hear a suit for the enforcement of a lien on real property;
4. hear a suit for the forfeiture of a corporate charter;
5. hear a suit for the trial of the right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment; and
6. hear a suit for the recovery of real property.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
We are protecting seniors and others from losing their homes after years of investment and sacrifice. We’ve helped and continue to help those who are burdened by collections and who just need a hand up. And for renters on the threshold of eviction, we’ve engaged volunteer lawyers and rent relief programs to help them keep the roof over their heads, while helping landlords stay in business. And along with all of those kept promises I am proud to say that we helped taxpayers save lots of money and made our positive mark on the climate by going paperless.
During this pandemic, our court has worked hard to successfully move the dockets avoiding backlog. We collaborated with Houston Volunteer lawyers and the law schools to provide legal representation to folks facing eviction. We provide oral hearings in proceedings for self represented litigants providing them opportunity to conference with the opposition in a fair and safe manner. When it was safe to do so, we opened the court back to in person trials enforcing CDC and local guidelines. We did this because I believe fair and equal access to the courts requires engagement and confrontation without the impediments of technology in a remote proceeding. Certain evidence, particular demeanor and credibility evidence, require testing, objection and consideration without internet interruption or other interferences.
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
I intend to continue using this platform to educate the public, bring more young lawyers into the judicial pipeline, and support groups that do the same. This Court will continue to advance and ensure equal access to justice. We intend to further advance our technological advances by making it easier for parties to receive notices about the status of their case via email. We went paperless in 2019 and then Covid hit. While this interrupted much of our work, we are excited to get back to things like providing improved forms and templates online for self-represented litigants and others.
We will continue working on making legal representation available in eviction cases as a matter of law, rather than just in the face of Covid. When the pandemic is gone, we plan to move forward with what we’ve learned and gained – like legal representation for tenants in eviction cases. We will also move forward in keeping some remote dockets, like bench trials and motions hearings.
I am really excited about being able to further engage and educate the community on equal access to justice and the Rule of Law by holding community events and safe places for real conversations with the judiciary.
5. Why is this race important?
It seems our democracy is moving at the speed of light. Now more than ever it is important that we all understand how our democracy works…that we have three branches of government, and each are equally important. Each affect our lives daily. Who we put into office in these three branches of government has serious implications. How safe we are, whether our children return home safe; our health care; women’s healthcare; gun safety; our elections and our right to vote. It seems all those things most important to us hang in the balance. This race is important because citizens should be confident in and trust our courts now like never before. We see how decisions, creating precedent, resound for decades. It matters today how a court decides, whether the Rule of Law if followed, whether justice is equal.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
I have run the court successfully over the past 3.5 years and intend to continue improving upon the administration of equal justice and access to the courts. I am tuned into the heart of the people of this diverse county. Each day I see their need and concerns in court – what’s important to them and how they are hurting; and how they are prospering! I take my seat on this bench as a call to service. I enjoy it and find it an honor to serve in this way. I am committed to ensuring the Rule of Law applies equally to everyone and that the administration of justice is fair. This county needs judges that are relatable, competent and who understand what is at stake. I have proven that I am qualified and can do the job. I want to continue serving this great county and our communities.