(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?
My name is Tonya Jones and I have the honor and privilege of serving as the presiding judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 15.
I am a native Houstonian and graduated Baylor University and Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, LA. Prior to my election to the bench in 2018 I worked mainly as a criminal defense attorney in both Harris and Fort Bend County. My then practice also included family law and personal injury.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
Court 15 is one of sixteen county criminal courts at law that serve the citizens of Harris County. This court has jurisdiction over class A&B misdeamenors, as well as appeals from justice of the peace and municipal courts. Some class A&B misdemeanors include driving while intoxicated, theft, assault, an burglary of a motor vehicle.
3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?
Collectively my colleagues and I accomplished great things collectively while in the first term on the bench. The historic s O’Donnell lawsuit was settled which help to eliminate unconstitutional bail practices in the misdemeanor courts as well as insure due process and timely evidentiary hearings. From that litigation several useful pilots were created including Cite and Release Court, Open Hours Court, and the Managed Assigned Counsel program. We have really worked hard to eliminate some of the most crippling obstacles that made court appearance yet another hurdle to clear.
I’m most proud of the creation of the B.A.Y.O.U. City Community Court, which includes the Fresh Start Program. BAYOU is an acronym which means “bringing knowledge to you with outreach and understanding”. The first program under that initiative is the Fresh Start Program where we have partnered with the public defender’s office as well as other community organizations to assist non-violent offenders with non-disclosures where applicable.
I have also successfully reduced my case backlog from 2300 to below 1800 active cases pending.
4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?
I hope to expand the BAYOU City Community Court and continue to reduce my case backlog to what it was pre-pandemic and Harvey.
5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because it will either solidify and build upon the great strides my colleagues and I have made in criminal justice or completely erase those efforts. We have transformed the criminal justice system in many ways and have demonstrated a commitment to progressive policies. I want the opportunity to continue this work for all the residents of Harris County.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
People should vote for me in November because I have delivered on the promises I made in 2018. I have demonstrated a commitment to leadership in the administration of justice, not only in Court 15, but all county courts at law, having been elected as the Local Administrative Judge for the 20 County Courts at Law. I have consistently come up with ways to increase case management efficiency and utilized all the resources available to combat case backlog without doing so at the expense of due process. I have remained flexible and versatile under extreme and unprecedented conditions and have worked extremely hard with my court team and other stakeholders to improve access to justice and efficiency. I’ve remained active and involved in diverse communities throughout the county as well as opened the courts to young people interested in the practice of law. I’ve done the work but there is more to be done and I want the opportunity to continue.