(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)
1. Who are you, and what are you running for?
My name is Juanita Jackson Barner. I am a criminal defense attorney with over 12 years experience. I am running for Harris County Criminal Court #9.
2. What kind of cases does this court hear?
County Criminal Courts of Law hear Class B and A misdemeanors, which includes such offenses as driving with license invalid, burglary of a motor vehicle, assault, animal cruelty, driving while intoxicated, and unlawful possession of a firearm, just to name a few.
3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
County Court #9 has consistently wasted taxpayers dollars by handing out unnecessarily harsh jail sentences for minor non-violent offenses. The court’s policy of setting specific punishments for particular offenses creates a “one size fits all” system which does not take into consideration the individual case specifics and facts. Judges should treat each case individually and judge it on it’s individual merits. In 2004, County Court #9 became the first court to no longer allow defendants to make payment agreements on their court costs. Instead, Court #9 requires all defendants to pay all court costs and fines in full before final sentencing or the judge will increase the sentence to an additional 10 days in jail. Such a policy creates further hardship and punishment for the defendant and their family. Essentially it criminalizes poverty and potentially creates a greater economic burden on our already overcrowded county jail system. Our courts should not be designed so that poor people have different outcomes than those with money.
4. What are your qualifications for this job?
Prior to becoming an attorney, I had a successful career in higher education administration which allowed me to develop strong administrative, fiscal and supervisory skills. After obtaining my law degree, I began my legal career as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas recovering funds on behalf of Texas citizens that had been defrauded by unscrupulous businesses. A few years later, I began my own law practice specifically to provide affordable legal services to low and moderate income people. I began as a plaintiff attorney, but after realizing the need, I decided to dedicate my practice criminal law. To date, I have handled over 950 criminal cases in Harris and surrounding counties. I am in Harris County courts daily and have experience in every criminal court in the county.
5. Why is this race important?
This race is important because it is time to stop the madness in our county courts. Throwing people in jail for minor non-violent crimes is simply not working. Every year our jails are more and more overcrowded with young people, non-violent offenders and the mentally-ill. The system that has been in place over the last 16 years has done nothing but create a greater burden on our county tax dollars.
6. Why should people vote for you in November?
As someone who was raised here in Houston, I understand the needs of the citizens of Harris County. I care about the people of Harris County because this is where my home and my heart is. I am highly committed to making our county safer for everyone. I strongly believe that criminals should be accountable for their actions. However, I also realize that simply being tough on crime and throwing people in jail is not enough. I will develop programs and alternatives to educate young offenders and deter crime in our communities. Furthermore, I know there are innocent people that walk into the courtroom every day, and quite often many of our current judges have forgotten that fact. I understand the real meaning of justice. Once elected, I will treat every accused person with respect and dignity. County Court #9 will be a level and just playing field. I will require law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys to follow the law. Finally, sometimes even decent hard-working people get accused and can’t afford an attorney. I believe justice should not be about money. People should not have to decide between housing or food in order to have good legal representation. Our courts should not be designed so that poor people have different outcomes than those with money.
One person can make a difference and I am the one that will start the step in the right direction.