Judicial Q&A: Jill Yaziji

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Jill Yaziji

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Jill Yaziji. I am the democratic challenger running for the 165th Civil District Court, Harris County. I am a Longhorn three times over, graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, and previously earning an M.A. and PhD in Comparative Literature at UT-Austin.

I grew up in Damascus, Syria, and moved to Texas to attend UT as a graduate student. I have lived in Texas for more than 30 years, and moved to Houston in 2000 after I graduated from UT Law. I am married to Darrow Zeidenstein, an executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and have two sons, Julian and Anderson.

I am the sole proprietor of Yaziji Law Firm, PLLC. I started my firm after working at two major law firms in Houston. I represent clients in civil cases, and greatly enjoy the practice of law.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 165th is a civil district court, which hears the types of cases that involve everyday people, such as contract and other business disputes, personal injury cases, tax cases, property disputes, and the like. Typically, it does not hear criminal, family, or probate cases as these cases are heard in their own specialty courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Judges serve the people of Harris County, and they must ensure the cases are timely heard and motions promptly decided. The incumbent, the Honorable Ursula Hall, has been consistently late in ruling on cases pending before her, as evidenced by over thirty mandamus actions to the courts of appeal against her. A judge must be timely and decisive in conducting the business of the court because justice delayed is justice denied. In many of these cases, the parties were forced to seek relief from the higher courts, which raises the costs of litigation and delays resolution of the cases. It also results in wasting judicial resources and taxpayer money when the court of appeals must intervene in ministerial actions.

I want to emphasize that I have nothing against Judge Hall as a person. In fact, I found her to be kind and highly intelligent. But delayed justice can erode the public trust in the judiciary. An example is the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct’s October 28, 2020, decision, which found the Honorable Ursula Hall’s lack of timely rulings to be inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties, issued a public warning, and ordered her to take additional judicial education. See, CJC No 19-1652. Harris County citizens deserve a fair judge who can listen and rule and that’s why I am running for this particular bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 22 years of trial experience, representing hundreds of individuals and businesses in civil disputes. Among the cases I have handled are contract disputes, claims for breach of fiduciary duty, personal injury claims, construction disputes (involving general contractors, owners, and lien holders), employment disputes, and more.

I also know the struggles of attorneys with protracted discovery battles and will provide restructured procedures for fair and effective adjudication of the cases. I have worked on both sides of the docket and have enjoyed amicable relations with opposing counsel. I will listen fairly to all sides of an argument and rule objectively and based on the relevant law and facts.

My personal life experience provides an additional perspective that I can bring into this job. I came to Texas from a country without working courts or respect for the rule of law. I saw how a weak legal system compromised the people’s trust and produced all sorts of social ills. This unique perspective further motivates me to serve, foster trust, and implement the huge potential of our justice system.

I believe in public service. Between 2011 and 2017, I served on various committees of the Houston Bar Association, where I gained insight into ways to facilitate access to justice, promote professionalism, and improve communications between the bench and the attorneys. Volunteering for LegalLine was a rewarding experience where a number of lawyers gathered in the HBA offices downtown over some pizza, and we helped answer basic questions of those in our community who could not pay for legal services. Recently, I was a volunteer president of the ACC, a nonprofit Arab American organization in Houston that fosters understanding and cooperation between Arab Americans and their larger community. In each context, I found serving others to have contributed to my vision of how to beat obstacles and realign diverse interests into meaningful experience.

5. Why is this race important?

The March 2024 Primaries are very important to Harris County and judicial races are especially important. It is good to have new, qualified people on the bench, promote diverse backgrounds, and problem-solve. I hope to inspire others by entering this important race, and to conduct it in an amicable and honest manner.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

My candidacy is important because of the issues we discussed above. Our county is polarized, and we need people who are engaged and can restore the public trust in elected officials. In the March 2024 Primaries, Harris County must rely on candidates that can deliver. I will bring a high standard of professionalism to this Court and would be honored to receive the people’s vote to this important elected office. The choice is clear.

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