Judicial Q&A: Juan Aguirre

(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.

Juan Aguirre

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

My name is Juan Jose Aguirre and I am running for Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #16. It is the only misdemeanor court that is up for election this year. All the off the other 15 misdemeanor courts are up for election on the governor’s cycle. This Court was created in the 2015 legislative session and therefore is not on the governor’s cycle

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class A & Class B Misdemeanor, and appeals from Justice and Municipal Courts. Class A misdemeanor are arrestable offenses for which the punishment may be up to one year in the county jail and/or a fine not to exceed $4000. Most common examples are Assault Bodily Injury, Assault Family Member, Driving While Intoxicated as a second offender or having a breath/blood alcohol content over 0.15, and Resisting Arrest or Detention. Class B misdemeanor are also arrestable offenses for which the punishment may be up to 180 days in the county jail and/or a fine not to exceed $2000. Most common examples are Thefts over $100 but less than $750, Driving While Intoxicated as a first offender or with a breath/blood alcohol content less than 0.15, or criminal trespass.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This bench is going to be an open bench as the incumbent is not running for re-election. I do court appointed cases and have cases pending in almost every one of the misdemeanor and felony benches. Since I have cases pending in those courts, I did not want to run against an incumbent Judge. This is the only County Criminal Court at Law that is up for election this cycle.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been licensed as an attorney for a bit over 22 years. Almost every single day of that time, I am at the criminal courthouse. I only practice criminal law. I was a prosecutor for almost 5 years and have been a defense attorney for 17 years. I have 103 jury trials and numerous bench trials as well. I have earned the trust and respect of fellow attorneys, prosecutors, judges and staff throughout the years. I believe that every one must be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what the race, sex, nationality, and socioeconomic status of the person. I grew up poor along the border with Mexico, and acquired my love of the law helping my father clean up the courthouse; he was a janitor for Val Verde County for over 30 years. Every thing that I have achieved has been through hard work and have a firm belief that everyone can achieve their goals, if given a chance and treated fairly.

5. Why is this race important?

Having been in criminal practice for so long, I see that most of the accused and detained are people of color; black and brown. On any given day, you can walk into the courtroom or more importantly the holdover cell of a courtroom and most of the people are minorities. Harris County is a bit over 45% Hispanic and yet the elected Judges represent barely 25% of the judiciary. It is important that this demographic be changed so that it can more accurately reflect the population of the county, but more importantly, the make up of those arrested and charged with a criminal case. Having grown up and worked in city government for 7 years prior to law school, I know the importance of knowing more than one language and being intimately familiar with their culture. I spoke Spanish before I spoke English and many of my existing clients do not speak English.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

First of all, experience. While I have not been a Judge in the past, I have been practicing criminal law, at the courthouse for over 22 years. I am down there every day and know what the charging process and criminal law procedure that the accused and victims face. I have tried over 100 jury trials, which is not an easy task to achieve. I have practiced in all of the criminal courts, whether felony or misdemeanor and have tried cases from traffic to murder.

Second of all, knowledge. With age and practice, comes the knowledge. I mentor third year law students from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and teach them the process from arrest, to client interview, to dealing with prosecutors, judge and staff, to trial. I have trained many a young prosecutors into what they can and cannot do and have earned their respect and admiration, as they have progressed at the office. Additionally, I have volunteered to sit with other attorneys in trial to share my knowledge and experience in trying cases, and to provide another set of eyes and ears during trial.

Lastly, being bilingual and bicultural brings a needed perspective to the bench that is needed in the changing demographic of the population in Harris County. My mother was from Mexico and all of my grandparents were from Mexico. I know the history and culture of Mexico and of several other Latin American countries. I believe that it is important to bring that additional perspective as a presiding judge.

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