(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 what are you running for?
My name is Ted Wood. I am an Independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals.
This is probably the most intriguing judicial race in the Houston area because there are three candidates on the ballot (instead of just two). Here’s the lineup:
Julie Countiss is the Democratic nominee. She is currently a judge on Court. She does not have to give up her current spot to run for Chief. She will remain on the Court whether she wins or loses.
Terry Adams is the Republican nominee. He served on the Court for about six months in 2020. He is trying to regain a spot on the Court.
I am the third candidate – the first Independent candidate for a court of appeals in Texas in over 25 years.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Primarily appeals – in both civil and criminal cases.
In the typical court case, one side wins and the other side loses. The losing party often wants to appeal the case. Generally, any such appeal will be heard by a court of appeals.
A court of appeals does not try the case again. An appeal is not a “do-over.” Rather, a court of appeals considers written arguments by lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers also make oral arguments.
One lawyer will argue that mistakes were made in the trial court. The other lawyer will argue that everything was just fine.
Courts of appeals carefully consider these arguments and then decide which one is right. A court of appeals must explain its decision in a written opinion. While further appeals are sometimes possible, the court of appeals typically has the last say in the case.
Ideally, the judges on a court of appeals are very good at weighing legal arguments and then explaining their conclusions in writing. The end product of an appeal is a written opinion explaining why one side wins and the other side loses.
The First Court of Appeals handles appeals from ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
Our Texas judicial system is pretty much broken. The general population doesn’t believe cases are decided on the basis of the law. There are two reasons for this.
First, candidates for judge almost always run as Republicans and Democrats. This creates a perception that judicial decisions are based on politics. This is especially the case in the courts of appeals.
Second, nearly all judicial candidates accept money to fund their campaigns. This creates a perception that money affects judicial decisions.
Even if individual judges do not let party affiliation affect their decisions, people perceive that court decisions are politically based. And even if individual judges do not let campaign contributions affect their decisions, the perception is that money makes a difference. Again, the problem is one of perception.
I am really chagrined that people have such a lack of faith in our judicial system. I want to change this and that is why I am running for Chief Justice. My platform has two planks that work toward restoring confidence in our courts.
First, I am running as an Independent to avoid any impression that I am somehow trying to advance a political agenda.
Second, I am accepting no money from anyone. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that money affects my decisions.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
I currently work for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. I handle legislative matters for the office and I also do appeals. In six years at the office, I have handled 57 separate appeals. I have made oral arguments at the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
My first job after law school was as a briefing attorney for the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo. I worked for Justice H. Bryan Poff, Jr for over three-and-a-half years. In this role, I evaluated legal briefs in both civil and criminal cases and drafted documents for use by Justice Poff in formulating opinions.
I served over 7 years as the constitutional county judge in Randall County (which takes in half of the City of Amarillo). This is the same position as that currently held by Lina Hidalgo in Harris County. Besides dealing with budgets, taxes, and county administration, I also served as the judge over certain individual cases. Those cases included juvenile cases, mental commitments, guardianships, probate cases, and appeals from justice and municipal courts. So I have plenty of judicial experience. And the experience I gained as Randall County’s chief administrative officer will help me in handling the administrative matters inherent in the position of Chief Justice.
At Baylor Law School, I won a writing competition and became a member of the Baylor Law Review. I eventually served as a Notes and Comments Editor on the Baylor Law Review. I have always enjoyed legal research and writing and I am fairly good at it. This is the main skill necessary for success as a judge on a court of appeals.
Finally, I spent 13 years as an assistant general counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin. This experience gave me a close-up view of the Texas court system as a whole and inspired my interest in improving the system itself.
5. Why is this race important?
There are two courts of appeals in Houston. One is the First Court of Appeals. The other is the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Each of the courts has a chief justice and eight other justices. The two chief-justice positions are the top judicial positions in the Texas court system in the Houston area.
A chief justice has the opportunity to set the tone for the Texas judicial system in this area. And that is exactly what I want to do. I want to set a tone showing that the First Courts of Appeals can be trusted to make decisions based solely on the law. Politics should never enter into judicial decisions. Neither should campaign contributions.
We have a rare opportunity to move in a new direction in 2022. This is an open seat. The current Chief Justice, Sherry Radack, is retiring after 18 years in the position. Voters now have a choice to move toward instilling confidence in our courts and repairing our broken judicial system.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
Let’s turn this question around. Why should people not vote for me?
If you believe the purpose of the courts of appeals is to advance some sort of partisan political agenda, then I am not your candidate. My view is that it is not the role of a judge to advance any kind of a political agenda. Rather, the role of a judge is to decide cases solely on the basis of the law. Let the chips fall where they may.
If you have no problem with judges accepting money from lawyers and others with interests in the Court’s decisions, then I am not your candidate. The whole idea of judges taking money is inimical to the idea of impartial and unbiased judicial decision-making. It’s unseemly, to say the least.
But, if you agree with me that judges shouldn’t be Republicans or Democrats, then you really ought to vote for me.
And if you agree with me that judges taking money is a bad look, then you ought to seriously consider voting for me for this reason as well.
Thank you for your consideration.