Judicial Q&A: Judge Josh Hill

(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.)

Judge Josh Hill

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Josh Hill, current judge of the 232nd District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court exclusively hears felony criminal cases, ranging from drug possession all the way to capital murder.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I have worked incredibly hard to make important changes to the Harris County criminal justice system.  As chair of the Fair Defense Act committee, I lead the way in making changes to our court appointed counsel system in order to improve indigent defense.  I also volunteer as a STAR drug court judge, working with probationers and a team of professionals to help the clients achieve and maintain sobriety, repair relationships with their loved ones, and turn their lives around. At the beginning of and throughout the pandemic, I worked hard to make sure that the 232 nd District Court was open and available to everyone remotely, even when the courthouse itself was closed.

I'm proud of my ability to treat the work of the 232nd District Court with the serious attention it deserves while giving serious consideration to the impacts of my decisions. My decisions have all been based on the facts presented to me and the applicable law, and as such, not a single one of my legal rulings has been overturned by an appellate court.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

If elected for a second term, I will continue making the improvements I began in my first term. Now that COVID appears to be mostly behind us, I will be in trial significantly more often, as I was my first year in office before the pandemic. I will also continue to expand my knowledge in all areas of criminal law. Each time the Houston Bar Association has rated judges during my tenure, my rating has been near the top of all criminal judges. If re-elected, I will continue asking for and listening to feedback of lawyers for both sides, court staff, and others to maintain this distinction and to improve my policies and rulings.

In addition, in light of the abundance of misinformation being presented as fact, (for example, bail reform has not happened at the felony level in Harris County, Texas, despite what is being reported to the contrary), I plan on taking a more active role in providing educational material and discussions about the criminal justice system so that the public can maintain their confidence in the judiciary and better understand the powers and limitations of each participant involved in criminal litigation.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is incredibly important because the consequences of everything that happens in the criminal justice system are extreme and permanent. Victims of crime must have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. Those accused of crimes must have their Constitutional rights protected. The decisions made by a criminal District Court judge can result in loss of liberty, lifetime confinement in prison, victims feeling immeasurable fear, or someone being given a second chance to succeed at life. The public should expect a criminal District Court judge to be an expert in criminal law: the judge must have thorough knowledge and understanding of the laws that apply to criminal litigation, and should not begin learning after being elected. As a prosecutor, I spoke with countless victims of violent crime and served as their advocate before a judge or jury. This experience gave me an immeasurable amount of empathy for the needs, fears, and experiences of those who are re-victimized as they are dragged into the criminal justice system as unwilling participants, forced to re-live their worst moments.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I protected the constitutional rights of my clients and fought hard within the bounds of the law and ethics so that they could have the best possible chance at the appropriate outcome. This experience helped me understand the difference between the person and their actions and taught me that there are often shades of gray in our criminal justice system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have dedicated my entire legal career exclusively to criminal law. I was an Assistant District Attorney with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office before becoming a criminal defense lawyer, which gives me meaningful experience on both sides of criminal litigation. My opponent’s criminal law experience is limited to only one side and is only a fraction of his legal work. I have successfully handled criminal matters at both the trial and post conviction levels, and I have done so as both a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. My post conviction work helped me learn what judges did correctly and incorrectly, as this line of work is commonly referred to as “grading judges’ papers.” I am 1 of only 2 current District Court judges who is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. An improper ruling in a trial from a judge who is inexperienced in criminal law can result in catastrophic consequences, including the innocent being imprisoned and the guilty going free. My opponent has only represented 25 individuals in 36 different cases in the Harris County criminal courts in the entirety of his legal career, none of which went to trial. To put this caseload in perspective, my opponent’s entire Harris County criminal law experience was a caseload that I’d handle in a single day as a prosecutor or in a week or two as a defense lawyer. The citizens of Harris County deserve a criminal District Court judge with meaningful criminal law experience and who thoroughly understands the intricacies of the law relevant to the specific bench. A criminal District Court judge’s main purpose is to maintain the integrity of the system, which is only possible with meaningful relevant experience.

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