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Judicial Q&A: Mary Galligan

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so 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. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

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

My name is Mary Galligan and I am a Democrat running for Judge of Harris County Probate Court No. 3.

I have been a resident of Houston since 1977. I graduated from the University of Houston Law School in 1985. My husband, Jeff Galligan, is a teacher at St. Pius X High School. We have one son, Michael, who is a student at South Texas College of Law and a daughter-in-law, Eileen Romero Galligan, who is a teacher at Yes Prep.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Although Harris County Probate Court No. 3 has jurisdiction (as do the other 3 probate courts) over claims brought by or against an executor, administrator or guardian of an estate, guardianship and will contests, will construction cases and claims related to trusts, there are relatively few actual trials in probate court. Most of the probate courts’ business involves administration matters. The probate courts are responsible for monitoring decedents’ estates and guardianships which can go on for years. They must review and approve inventories and accountings, determine the priority and validity of creditor claims, evaluate evidence to determine who a decedents’ heirs are, and make sure that a prospective ward’s rights have been preserved when a guardianship is instituted.

Most of the public’s contact with the probate courts occurs when a will is probated. This involves a non adversarial proceeding during which the probate judge must be well acquainted with the rules relating to what is a valid will and what is involved in a valid will execution.

Probate Court No. 3 (along with Probate Court No. 4) also has a special charge – administering the mental health docket. During the mental health docket, the judge must determine whether there is sufficient evidence for there to be court ordered mental health services and/or court ordered administration of psychoactive medication.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

It is clear from the media coverage of the probate courts (in the Houston Chronicle and in other publications) and the reaction to that media coverage that the public has lost faith in our probate courts. This loss of faith has come about mainly because of the practice of judges soliciting campaign contributions from the attorneys who regularly appear before them. Because of this practice, the public has the perception that justice is for sale.

I would like to take a step toward restoring the public’s confidence in the probate courts by refusing to accept campaign contributions from those attorneys who regularly practice in probate court. I have sent a letter to the members of the Probate, Trusts and Estate Section of the Houston Bar Association informing them that, while I would appreciate their vote and moral support, I will not accept any campaign contributions from them. I have also issued a challenge to the incumbent Judge of Harris County Probate Court No. 3 to join me in not accepting campaign contributions from probate attorneys. He has not responded. Copies of these letters are posted on my website at www.galliganforprobatejudge.com.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Unlike my opponent who has never been an attorney of record in a probate case in Harris County, I have practiced in the probate courts for over 22 years. I was Board certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1992 and I serve on the Texas Board of Legal Specialization Advisory Committee which is charged with the responsibility of reviewing the qualifications of candidates who wish to become board certified. I am an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law where I teach a class on Counseling the Terminally Ill. I am the founding partner of Galligan & Manning, a law firm that focuses its practice on estate planning, probate and probate litigation and I am the recipient of Martindale-Hubbel’s highest national peer review rating of AV for legal abilities and high ethical standards.

5. Why is this race important?

Of all the courts in Harris County, probate court is the one court that touches almost every person in the county. It is the court that people need to turn to at the most vulnerable times in their lives – the death or incapacity of a loved one. That is why it is important that a probate court judge have the experience and expertise to help those going through the process deal with issues that can appear overwhelming.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

There are three reasons why people should vote for me in the primary. First is my experience. A probate judge needs to be thoroughly acquainted with the Probate Code. The Probate Code contains many procedural provisions that are not included in the Rules of Civil Procedure (in fact the Rules of Civil Procedure apply only in the event there is not a Probate Code provision that governs). My opponent has had little or no experience with probate law.

Second is my commitment to reform. I have pledged not to accept campaign contributions from attorneys who regularly practice in probate court. Neither my primary opponent, nor the incumbent judge, is willing to make that pledge.

Third is my electability. I have been endorsed by every organization that has endorsed in this race and I am the stronger candidate to run against the incumbent judge in the general election.

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