(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?
I’m Judge Jason Cox, the Presiding Judge of Harris County Probate Court #3. Before being elected in 2018, I worked for approximately 15 years specifically in probate, where I was also a frequent writer and speaker on probate issues. I was also a longtime adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in the political science department where I taught pre-law classes and coached the mock trial team.
Personally, I am a third-generation Houstonian and graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Houston Law Center. I am also a pediatric and adult cancer survivor and longtime volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center here in Houston.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Probate Court #3 is a dual court: It hears general probate-related matters (cases involving Decedent’s estates, guardianships, trusts, and fiduciary relationships); and also has primary responsibility for all civil mental health proceedings in Harris County (cases involving civil mental health commitments, medication proceedings, and proceedings related to the restoration of competency for inmates at the Harris County Jail).
We have two courtrooms – one in the Harris County Civil Courthouse and one in the Harris County Psychiatric Center. We have a staff of 20 and are one of the largest courts in Texas by size and case load.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
Since taking the bench, I have created partnerships with other county departments and local entities to increase the availability of mental health services. This directly led to the creation of a new program – Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), an outpatient treatment program for persons suffering from mental illness. This program, which is a partnership between our Court, UTHealth, The Harris Center, and the University of Houston, was awarded a $2.7 million, four-year federal grant and has grown into one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in Texas. We now have other courts in Texas sending teams to our Court to learn how to implement this kind of program.
I have also worked with the Office of the Governor on the Committee on People with Disabilities to review and offer recommendations for improvement for laws related to guardianship; obtained a technology grant to allow parties to participate in proceedings remotely; revised the system for court appointments to ensure more equitable and diverse appointments; participated in the Houston Bar Association’s Equity and Inclusion Summer Clerkship program; provided free continuing legal education classes through the Court in the area of mental health; and have spoken at (and helped organize) numerous events for the legal community and the community at-large on the issues of probate and mental health. I have also worked with the other three Harris County statutory probate courts to have uniform rules and procedures across all four courts.
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
If reelected to this office, I will continue the initiatives described above and work to improve and extend them. I am also working with several Harris County departments on projects related to the long-needed improvement of Harris County’s mental health court facilities and the upgrading of technology.
I am also working with the other three local statutory probate courts to require implicit bias training as a condition for receiving court appointments. I previously worked with the courts and the County to secure funding for implicit bias training for attorneys seeking such appointments so they would not have to pay or could participate in the training at a reduced cost.
5. Why is this race important?
If you find yourself in a probate court, you’re probably going through one of the most difficult times in your life. A loved one may have died or be suffering from addiction or mental illness; your family may be struggling with providing care for a member who may no longer be able to take care of themselves. Judges of these courts need to be competent and compassionate. They need to be able to make fair, equitable decisions while also following the law. It’s important to have a judge who understands this area of the law and has demonstrated the temperament necessary for a well-functioning court.
Given the size of this court and the high caseload this specific court has, it’s also important to have a judge who is hard working; respectful of the parties’ and attorneys’ time and the costs that can be incurred in these cases; a good manager of staff; and someone who can cooperate and coordinate with other Harris County departments and entities that serve a similar population.
6, Why should people vote for you in November?
I strive to treat everyone who appears in my Court fairly, with dignity, courtesy and respect. I am mindful of the time and expense that is incurred by individuals who have to take time away from their lives to appear in court. I am highly competent and knowledgeable in this area of the law and endeavor to stay current and innovative. I have worked to create relationships with other Harris County departments and entities so that our services can be coordinated and efficient. I have also worked with the Office of the Governor and with others, including legislators, to advocate for changes in the law when those changes can benefit Texans generally and Harris County residents specifically.
My success as a judge is reflected in the most recent results of the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Questionnaire, where I ranked among the top judges in the County, and in awards I’ve received for my service from the Houston Bar Association and the Houston LGBTQ+ Caucus. I strongly believe in public service and see myself as a temporary custodian of this bench; since being elected I have done my best – and will continue to do my best – to have a court whose focus is on improving people’s lives.