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judicial races

Judicial Q&A: Ted Wood

(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.)

Ted Wood

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

My name is Ted Wood. I am an Independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals.

This is probably the most intriguing judicial race in the Houston area because there are three candidates on the ballot (instead of just two). Here’s the lineup:

Julie Countiss is the Democratic nominee. She is currently a judge on Court. She does not have to give up her current spot to run for Chief. She will remain on the Court whether she wins or loses.

Terry Adams is the Republican nominee. He served on the Court for about six months in 2020. He is trying to regain a spot on the Court.

I am the third candidate – the first Independent candidate for a court of appeals in Texas in over 25 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Primarily appeals – in both civil and criminal cases.

In the typical court case, one side wins and the other side loses. The losing party often wants to appeal the case. Generally, any such appeal will be heard by a court of appeals.

A court of appeals does not try the case again. An appeal is not a “do-over.” Rather, a court of appeals considers written arguments by lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers also make oral arguments.

One lawyer will argue that mistakes were made in the trial court. The other lawyer will argue that everything was just fine.

Courts of appeals carefully consider these arguments and then decide which one is right. A court of appeals must explain its decision in a written opinion. While further appeals are sometimes possible, the court of appeals typically has the last say in the case.

Ideally, the judges on a court of appeals are very good at weighing legal arguments and then explaining their conclusions in writing. The end product of an appeal is a written opinion explaining why one side wins and the other side loses.

The First Court of Appeals handles appeals from ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Our Texas judicial system is pretty much broken. The general population doesn’t believe cases are decided on the basis of the law. There are two reasons for this.

First, candidates for judge almost always run as Republicans and Democrats. This creates a perception that judicial decisions are based on politics. This is especially the case in the courts of appeals.

Second, nearly all judicial candidates accept money to fund their campaigns. This creates a perception that money affects judicial decisions.

Even if individual judges do not let party affiliation affect their decisions, people perceive that court decisions are politically based. And even if individual judges do not let campaign contributions affect their decisions, the perception is that money makes a difference. Again, the problem is one of perception.

I am really chagrined that people have such a lack of faith in our judicial system. I want to change this and that is why I am running for Chief Justice. My platform has two planks that work toward restoring confidence in our courts.

First, I am running as an Independent to avoid any impression that I am somehow trying to advance a political agenda.

Second, I am accepting no money from anyone. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that money affects my decisions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I currently work for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. I handle legislative matters for the office and I also do appeals. In six years at the office, I have handled 57 separate appeals. I have made oral arguments at the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

My first job after law school was as a briefing attorney for the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo. I worked for Justice H. Bryan Poff, Jr for over three-and-a-half years. In this role, I evaluated legal briefs in both civil and criminal cases and drafted documents for use by Justice Poff in formulating opinions.

I served over 7 years as the constitutional county judge in Randall County (which takes in half of the City of Amarillo). This is the same position as that currently held by Lina Hidalgo in Harris County. Besides dealing with budgets, taxes, and county administration, I also served as the judge over certain individual cases. Those cases included juvenile cases, mental commitments, guardianships, probate cases, and appeals from justice and municipal courts. So I have plenty of judicial experience. And the experience I gained as Randall County’s chief administrative officer will help me in handling the administrative matters inherent in the position of Chief Justice.

At Baylor Law School, I won a writing competition and became a member of the Baylor Law Review. I eventually served as a Notes and Comments Editor on the Baylor Law Review. I have always enjoyed legal research and writing and I am fairly good at it. This is the main skill necessary for success as a judge on a court of appeals.

Finally, I spent 13 years as an assistant general counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin. This experience gave me a close-up view of the Texas court system as a whole and inspired my interest in improving the system itself.

5. Why is this race important?

There are two courts of appeals in Houston. One is the First Court of Appeals. The other is the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Each of the courts has a chief justice and eight other justices. The two chief-justice positions are the top judicial positions in the Texas court system in the Houston area.

A chief justice has the opportunity to set the tone for the Texas judicial system in this area. And that is exactly what I want to do. I want to set a tone showing that the First Courts of Appeals can be trusted to make decisions based solely on the law. Politics should never enter into judicial decisions. Neither should campaign contributions.

We have a rare opportunity to move in a new direction in 2022. This is an open seat. The current Chief Justice, Sherry Radack, is retiring after 18 years in the position. Voters now have a choice to move toward instilling confidence in our courts and repairing our broken judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Let’s turn this question around. Why should people not vote for me?

If you believe the purpose of the courts of appeals is to advance some sort of partisan political agenda, then I am not your candidate. My view is that it is not the role of a judge to advance any kind of a political agenda. Rather, the role of a judge is to decide cases solely on the basis of the law. Let the chips fall where they may.

If you have no problem with judges accepting money from lawyers and others with interests in the Court’s decisions, then I am not your candidate. The whole idea of judges taking money is inimical to the idea of impartial and unbiased judicial decision-making. It’s unseemly, to say the least.

But, if you agree with me that judges shouldn’t be Republicans or Democrats, then you really ought to vote for me.

And if you agree with me that judges taking money is a bad look, then you ought to seriously consider voting for me for this reason as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

Judicial Q&A: Justice Julie Countiss

(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.)

Justice Julie Countiss

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

I am Justice Julie Countiss. I am a judge on the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas and I’m running for Chief Justice of this court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

We hear appeals from every trial court in our ten-county district. Our cases cover almost every area of Texas law. We hear criminal, civil, family, juvenile and probate cases. We interpret and apply Texas law and write our decisions as legal “opinions” that determine the outcome of the case. It could be a divorce, a custody battle, a lawsuit between two businesses, a family dispute over a will, a personal injury case or a murder conviction–just to name a few types.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m now in my fourth year serving as a judge on the First Court of Appeals. Our Chief Justice is retiring and her seat is up in November 2022.

I would like to succeed her as chief justice to ensure our court continues to run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’m the only person running for chief justice who serves on this court now. As such, I have the most experience and am most familiar with the way our court runs. I have worked closely with all my colleagues and our staff since I took the bench. We navigated a ransomware attack in May of 2020 that paralyzed our computer system for over 6-weeks while also dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Through that experience, I learned a lot about leadership from our retiring chief justice. But most importantly, I am deeply committed to my work and to my First Court of Appeals family here and will work tirelessly to ensure we deliver justice and fairness for all.

5. Why is this race important?

In the Houston area, the First Court of Appeals is the last opportunity for justice to be served. In the vast majority of cases, our court has the last word. The courts above us (Texas Supreme Court and
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) have discretion to choose which cases they hear. They only hear a small number of cases depending on how important they deem the case. But our court hears every properly filed appeal. So we are almost always the last word for those parties. We are interpreting and applying Texas law, in very important ways, every single day. Our decisions impact your life, your liberty and your property.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

This race is especially important because of the upheaval we’re seeing in Texas law lately. The future of Texas–especially women and children–is at stake in this election.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Toria Finch

(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 Toria Finch

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

I am Judge Toria J. Finch, Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class A & B misdemeanor criminal cases with a jurisdictional range of punishment of a fine of no more than $4,000 and/or up to 1 year in the Harris County jail.

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

I consider it an accomplishment to have been a two-time Presiding Judge and a three-time Co-Presiding Judge of all Harris County Criminal Courts at Law during my first term. More significantly, and with the remarkable collaboration of my county criminal courts at law judicial colleagues, the groundwork for criminal justice reform has been laid with the successful implementation of Misdemeanor Bail Reform. Additionally, creating the Managed Assigned Counsel Program; Open Hours Court; Cite and Release Court; Emergency Response Docket; B.A.Y.O.U. (“Bringing Assistance to You with Outreach and Understanding”) Community Court; and so much more even despite not having a consistent place to have jury trials, a courthouse, and in the middle of one of the most catastrophic pandemics of our lifetime. I am without question proud of the work that not only I have done, but my Judicial Colleagues, our Office of Court Management, our Court Team Members, and the Bar/Attorneys/ Litigants. Together we have accomplished so much, and I believe that the best is still yet to come.

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

Going forward, it is my continued goal to reduce the case backlog in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9 (“Court #9). Although Court #9 consistently has one of the lowest dockets and jail populations, it is important to continue focusing on both effective and efficient court management by reducing docket size and length of case disposition. Additionally, I desire for Court #9 to continue to be a place that seeks Truth, Justice, and Fairness for everyone that appears before the court regardless of one’s socio-economic status; race; gender; political affiliation; sexual orientation, etc. I, along with my amazing Court #9 Team seek to ensure that people are treated with compassion and integrity.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it will decide how the County Criminal Courts at Law move forward collectively and individually. Criminal Justice Reform, Experience, and Community Engagement are on the ballot in this race. Respectfully, the candidates in this race are glaringly different from the relevant legal work experiences and platforms. I am and have always been an attorney that has focused my legal practice primarily in the areas of criminal and juvenile law. The breath of my overall relevant experience is reflected in my years of practice, board certification and trainings, legal work experience as both a former defense attorney and prosecutor, current member of the criminal law judiciary, past and present memberships in various criminal law associations and sections within the State Bar of Texas, and my service as an Adjunct Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Alvin Community College’s Paralegal Program. There is no question that experience and commitment matter in this race.

Harris County deserves to continue having a Judge that has a proven track record of substantial legal work experience and involvement in the area in which she seeks to continue serving, a sincere interest in implementing necessary criminal justice reforms, and who is invested in the community and willing to continue serving both on and off the bench. The above stated is what makes this race important.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am seeking re-election to finish/improve the reforms that we have started, to expand the services provided by the programs previously stated, and to protect the progress that has been achieved. We can’t afford to go back!

Judicial Q&A: Judge Gloria Lopez

(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 Gloria Lopez

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

My name is Gloria López and I am the 308th Family District Court Judge in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th Family District Court is one or ten Family District Courts in Harris County, Texas. It hears family law matters — divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child visitation determination, marital property divisions, parental terminations and adoption cases. This Court also handles issues involving Children’s Protective Services (CPS) cases, enforcements, modifications, and paternity cases.

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

When I was elected, I restored integrity to the 308th Family District Court. Bias and impropriety were eliminated. Parties finally have an opportunity to have their case heard in a fair and just manner. Additionally, during this time, cases run smoother, the docket was streamlined and people get their day in court in a dependable and fair fashion. This was not the case prior to me taking this bench. I have restored efficiency, fairness, kindness, and energy to this court. I am running for re-election because public service is my passion and the issues handled in our overcrowded family courts are of prime importance to our community and our families.

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

I hope to maintain the level of transparency that I have brought to the 308th Family District Court and continue to improve participation rates from families is CPS cases. During Covid, the 308th Family District Court used technology to improve the experience of litigants, especially people who do not have attorneys. We leveraged technology not only to stay open, but also to improve participation rates and help users resolve disputes more efficiently. The boost in court appearances that followed the shift to virtual hearings is consistent with pre-pandemic assertions that reducing the day-to-day costs of coming to court—such as transportation, childcare, lost wages, and travel time—would increase people’s ability to meaningfully engage in court cases. Currently, the 308th Family District Court lives streams all hearings and trials. The increased transparency has restored trust in the judicial system and helped students, lawyers, and families learn about family law.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important to note that the family courts in Harris County are extremely busy. The cases must be presided over by a judge who understands the law and the complexities of the family issues faced in these courts each day. A family law judge must conduct herself honorably and be efficient. Justice is best served when it is handled efficiently and by a family law judge who is compassionate within the bounds of the law. These cases must be handled by someone who is going to work hard each and every day. These cases must be handled by someone dedicated to being a public servant to the constituents of Harris County and not a politician.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Representation matters. It is important for Harris County constituents to see people like themselves on the bench. People from marginalized communities tend to be discouraged by the judicial process. Seeing a person with experience and a similar background (as their own) helps restore faith and trust in the judicial system. Additionally, I am Board Certified in Family Law. I exclusively practiced family law prior to being elected in 2018. I have presented and published articles on family law issues/topics for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, the State Bar Office of Minority Affairs, the Houston Bar Association, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Muslim Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association, and local organizations. I am experienced and dedicated to the practice of family law. I am also compassionate, measured, consistent, and fair. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United State of America and Texas. I do not take this oath lightly and will continue to execute my oath faithfully. I am seeking re-election to ensure that the constituents of Harris County have a Family Law Judge that executes the duties of this position with integrity and compassion. It is important to keep a Judge in the 308th that understands the law and uses her discretion in a way that helps all people feel safe and heard.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Genesis Draper

(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 Genesis Draper

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

My name is Genesis Draper, and I am the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12. Additionally, as of July 1, 2022, I also serve as the presiding judge for all 16 County Criminal Courts at Law, a role that provides administrative support to all of the county criminal courts.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I preside over misdemeanor cases, which are cases that are punishable by up to one year in the Harris County Jail, and/or up to a $4000 fine.

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

One of the major accomplishments from my term as judge of County Court 12, includes settling a landmark bail reform lawsuit that ended the practice of jailing people in Harris County for misdemeanors solely because they couldn’t afford to buy their freedom through the process of paying a bail bond company. By settling the lawsuit, my colleagues and I ended the practice of wealth-based detention in misdemeanor cases, and created a model for other jurisdictions to follow. Another major accomplishment of my tenure as judge, is the creation of the Harris County Office of Managed Assigned Counsel, which is an independent county agency tasked with supporting the indigent defense bar practicing in Harris County misdemeanor courts. The office now appoints the attorney, provides support to the attorney, and manages the payment of vouchers to the attorney. With the creation of this office, attorneys appointed to represent indigent individuals accused of misdemeanors, can have the independence from the judiciary and the support necessary to provide zealous representation for their clients.

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

I hope to establish a scheduling order in County Criminal Court 12 that will put all parties on notice regarding the deadlines in cases. Currently, there are no uniform expectations for when evidence is due, when motions should be filed, or when cases should be ready for dispositions. Clearer expectations from the court should put the parties on proper notice for when things are due in a case, and assist in shortening the length of time it takes to reach a conclusion in a case.

5. Why is this race important?

County Criminal Courts at Law are important races, because whether you are accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, it will be important to you that the case is handled competently and efficiently.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am asking for people’s vote in November because I have worked hard as the judge of this court for over three years to ensure that every person who encounters the court has access to justice, even in the midst of post-hurricane space limitations and a global pandemic that brought most systems to a grinding hault. My 13+ years of criminal litigation experience at the state and federal level has uniquely prepared me to continue providing a high level of service to the people of Harris County as the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12

Judicial Q&A: Je’Rell Rogers

(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.)

Je’Rell Rogers

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

My name is Je’Rell Rogers and I am running for judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #14. I have been practicing law since 2013. For the last 3+ years, I have served as chief prosecutor of the 180 th District Court where I am responsible for the murders and capital murders pending in that court. I am a 2008 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, a Teach for America alumni corps member (Sharpstown Middle School), and an LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center 2013 graduate.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class B and Class A misdemeanors. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days Harris County Jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000.00. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in the Harris County Jail and a fine not to exceed $4,000.00. Common class B misdemeanors may include DWI (first offender), criminal trespass, and some thefts—just to name a few. Class A misdemeanors include DWI (second offender), Assault, and Burglary of a Motor Vehicle—just to name a few.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because there was a lack of community involvement and focus from this particular seat. Many of the other county criminal court judges have been involved with specialized courts/programs that are focused at bettering the members of our community through services targeting specific needs. SOBER Court and Veterans’ court are examples of such specialized courts and my predecessor had next to no involvement. Everyday, judges make decisions that impact our community and so programs like these and the Fresh Start program introduced by the county criminal courts are essential for the bettering of and safety of our community. Thus, judges need to have not just the legal experience but the actual community involvement in order to have proper perspective when making these decisions. I’m running for this bench because I am the candidate that can best bring these qualifications to the position.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications for this job include courtroom experience and community experience. From the courtroom side of things, I have handled the most serious criminal offenses in the state of Texas, from the filing of charges to seeing them through jury verdict. Additionally, I have supervised a number of junior attorneys and support staff, while handling my own case load which demonstrates my ability to lead while getting work done. From the community side of things, my years as a teacher in HISD and my years as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston have brought to my face the issues that plague our community. I’ve witnessed first hand the impacts of drugs on communities and the impact of domestic violence in homes and the role that homelessness and mental health and substance abuse plays in our criminal justice system. By serving as an usher at my church, I’ve had real, genuine conversations with other community members about their concerns and their family concerns. By serving as a course instructor with HPD, I’ve had conversations with new and veteran police officers about the issues they face. In other words, I am best qualified for this position because I recognize the problems our community faces, I’ve faced them head on, and I recognize there is no ”one size fits” all solution as opposed to a case by case approach.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our county has the chance to continue to build on the strides we’ve made in the last 4 years. Misdemeanor bail reform is not finished and there is still work to be done to get to where we need to be. In order for this work to happen, the judge for this bench needs to bring the perfect combination of legal experience and community experience to the conversation while showing an ability to work with the other judges. This race is important because it directly impacts every person who lives in or works in or raises their family in Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am the candidate that this position calls for in 2023 and moving forward. As an attorney, I have experience handling the lowest level of cases to the most serious criminal offenses. Well before I decided to run for office, I got involved with the community when I decided to teach 8th grade students in a low-income area of Houston. Well before I decided to run for office, I decided to become an usher at my church because I have a heart for people and wanted to share with people the love that I had for my church. Well before I decided to run for office, I recognized that I had a responsibility to give back to members of our community who didn’t grow up with the opportunities I had and so I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston as a Big Brother. Well before I ran for office, I recognized that I had certain experiences and knowledge that I could share with police officers to better them and our community as a whole and so I started teaching a class on Racial Profiling and a class on Search and Seizure at the Houston Police Academy. People should vote for me in November because my whole life is a personification of me serving my community for the betterment of my community.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Michelle Moore

(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 Michelle Moore

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

Michelle Moore Presiding Judge of the 314th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Delinquency and Child Welfare

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

I have removed ankle restraints from juveniles who appear in court. The youth are no longer coming to court in a jail jumpsuit. Instead, they wear a grey or burgundy shirt
and black khaki style pants.

Regarding Child Welfare, same sex couples and single persons are permitted to adopt a child(ren) in the 314th.

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

For court operations, I hope for the 314th courtroom to be completely paperless. Regarding juveniles, I will continue to use community rehabilitation programs. For child welfare, I will become a trauma informed court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because children and parents’ lives are directly impacted. Our youth are vulnerable and impressionable and oftentimes when youthful offenders come to court, they are at a crossroads.

The Court is in the unique position to motivate the youth to change their life for the better. Conversely, if the youth’s interaction with the court is negative, it may push him/her participate in more illegal activities. Understanding the magnitude and reach of this position, is integral to being an effective judge.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am an experienced judge and I practiced Child Welfare Law before taking the bench. I have a breadth of knowledge and experience in the area of law for which I am seeking reelection. The youth in my court have experienced positive outcomes and I have achieved a reputation of being fair and efficient judge, which is exactly what Harris County deserves. There is no reason to change.

Judicial Q&A: Judge LaShawn Williams

(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 LaShawn Williams

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

Judge LaShawn A. Williams, Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

These courts share jurisdiction with the district courts up to $250,000. Also, a county civil court at law in Harris County has jurisdiction over all civil matters and causes, original and appellate, prescribed by law for county courts, but does not have the jurisdiction of a probate court.

A county civil court at law has jurisdiction in appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County. A county civil court at law also-regardless of the amount in controversy-has jurisdiction in statutory eminent domain proceedings and exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation suits.

In addition to other jurisdiction provided by law, a county civil court at law has jurisdiction to:

1. decide the issue of title to real or personal property;
2. hear a suit to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;
3. hear a suit for the enforcement of a lien on real property;
4. hear a suit for the forfeiture of a corporate charter;
5. hear a suit for the trial of the right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment; and
6. hear a suit for the recovery of real property.

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

We are protecting seniors and others from losing their homes after years of investment and sacrifice. We’ve helped and continue to help those who are burdened by collections and who just need a hand up. And for renters on the threshold of eviction, we’ve engaged volunteer lawyers and rent relief programs to help them keep the roof over their heads, while helping landlords stay in business. And along with all of those kept promises I am proud to say that we helped taxpayers save lots of money and made our positive mark on the climate by going paperless.

During this pandemic, our court has worked hard to successfully move the dockets avoiding backlog. We collaborated with Houston Volunteer lawyers and the law schools to provide legal representation to folks facing eviction. We provide oral hearings in proceedings for self represented litigants providing them opportunity to conference with the opposition in a fair and safe manner. When it was safe to do so, we opened the court back to in person trials enforcing CDC and local guidelines. We did this because I believe fair and equal access to the courts requires engagement and confrontation without the impediments of technology in a remote proceeding. Certain evidence, particular demeanor and credibility evidence, require testing, objection and consideration without internet interruption or other interferences.

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

I intend to continue using this platform to educate the public, bring more young lawyers into the judicial pipeline, and support groups that do the same. This Court will continue to advance and ensure equal access to justice. We intend to further advance our technological advances by making it easier for parties to receive notices about the status of their case via email. We went paperless in 2019 and then Covid hit. While this interrupted much of our work, we are excited to get back to things like providing improved forms and templates online for self-represented litigants and others.

We will continue working on making legal representation available in eviction cases as a matter of law, rather than just in the face of Covid. When the pandemic is gone, we plan to move forward with what we’ve learned and gained – like legal representation for tenants in eviction cases. We will also move forward in keeping some remote dockets, like bench trials and motions hearings.

I am really excited about being able to further engage and educate the community on equal access to justice and the Rule of Law by holding community events and safe places for real conversations with the judiciary.

5. Why is this race important?

It seems our democracy is moving at the speed of light. Now more than ever it is important that we all understand how our democracy works…that we have three branches of government, and each are equally important. Each affect our lives daily. Who we put into office in these three branches of government has serious implications. How safe we are, whether our children return home safe; our health care; women’s healthcare; gun safety; our elections and our right to vote. It seems all those things most important to us hang in the balance. This race is important because citizens should be confident in and trust our courts now like never before. We see how decisions, creating precedent, resound for decades. It matters today how a court decides, whether the Rule of Law if followed, whether justice is equal.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have run the court successfully over the past 3.5 years and intend to continue improving upon the administration of equal justice and access to the courts. I am tuned into the heart of the people of this diverse county. Each day I see their need and concerns in court – what’s important to them and how they are hurting; and how they are prospering! I take my seat on this bench as a call to service. I enjoy it and find it an honor to serve in this way. I am committed to ensuring the Rule of Law applies equally to everyone and that the administration of justice is fair. This county needs judges that are relatable, competent and who understand what is at stake. I have proven that I am qualified and can do the job. I want to continue serving this great county and our communities.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Lori Chambers Gray

(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 Lori Chambers Gray

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

I am Lori Chambers Gray, the presiding Judge of the 262nd District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 262nd District Court has jurisdiction over felony criminal cases ranging from state jail felony to capital murder.

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

One accomplishment during my time on this bench has been being elected by my fellow judges to serve as presiding judge over the mental health competency restoration docket. Serving in this position has been especially rewarding because it has allowed me to serve some of our communities most vulnerable, those suffering with mental illness. Through programs in place, persons with mental illness are connected to services and community resources. This docket has long history of persons successfully completing the programs and going on to living productive lives.

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

I want to help speed up the process of resolving cases in a fair and equitable manner. I want to make the court is even more efficient. In the appropriate cases where individuals are not incarcerated I want to insure that we provide reasonable alternatives to incarceration. In cases where individuals are placed on probation I want to insure that the conditions are strict, meaningful and appropriate for that offense.

5. Why is this race important?

This election is important because judges affect citizens lives in so many ways. In the criminal justice system in many ways judges are the backbone of the criminal justice system. Judges have a duty to insure that every accused citizen has a fair process and a fair trial, if they want one. At the same time, a judge must make sure that the community is safe. A number of judicial races are on the November mid term ballot and the peoples vote will decide who will serve as judge in these courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have had the pleasure to serve as the presiding judge of the 262nd district court for the last 3 1/2 years. In my time as a judge I have strived to insure that all people are treated fairly regardless of background. I practiced law for 29 years before being elected in 2018 and built a successful criminal law practice handling cases in Harris and surrounding counties.

I was born and raised in Houston and have strong ties with my community through volunteer organizations that I have served in the past and present. I understand the unique challenges and concerns of the citizens of Harris County and have the desire to make a positive difference for all. It is my hope that the voters keep me on the bench so that we can continue in our efforts to insure justice for all.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Linda Dunson

(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 Linda Dunson

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

My name is Linda Marie Dunson. I am the Presiding Judge of the 309th Family District Court in Harris County, Texas. I grew up in a small town in east Texas. I grew up very poor and disadvantaged. As a child decisions were made about me by others who were not my family, nor did they live in my neighborhood, nor did they look like me. Those who were in “authority” assessed my situations and made judgments and predetermined my future without giving me the opportunity to speak for myself. They were wrong! They fueled the desire in me, the fire, the passion for advocating on behalf of others, especially children. I believe in equal access to justice; that every human should be treated with dignity and respect and that every litigant should have the opportunity to be heard.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Family District court oversees matters such as divorce, adoption, child support, child protective services, and other related matters.

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

The 309th has been able to manage the flow of cases such that justice has not been delayed during a flood, a freeze, after effects of hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, my main accomplishment is being able to apply the law in a manner to change the trajectory of families who are impacted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective services by recognizing the impact that trauma plays in the lives of those families and how treating that trauma can lead to a more positive outcome. The 309th has been selected as one of six Trauma Informed Courts across Texas.

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

I will continue to collaborate with community organizations and attorneys to create a network of resources to assist families with facing and healing the effects of their respective traumas. I hope to be able to measure the positive outcomes in terms of increased family reunification and reduced recidivism. Dignity, respect, integrity and fair impartial interpretation and application of the law shall always be paramount.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is so important because there is so much progress being made in the courts in general and the 309th in particular and that progress needs to continue. Let’s keep it moving forward.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have been tried and tested. Family is my passion. I am compassionate. I understand the human condition. I understand that there are many ethnic groups with many cultural norms living in America. I understand that there are individuals who may believe differently than I in regards to religion and sexuality.

I have a demeanor that is becoming a Judge. I am consistent in my dealing with people. I believe that everyone is entitled to a fair, impartial and just decision. I listen and I connect with people. Moreover, I believe the rule of law should be respected.

I believe that lawyers ought to be allowed to represent their client zealously without being disrespected by the bench. Let the lawyers practice law and let the Judge be the judge.

People should vote for me because I genuinely care. I have advocated for others ever since I can remember. I have been in the trenches. I have given brain, brawn and bucks to improve the human condition, expecting nothing in return.

I am a Progressive Democrat with traditional democratic values. I believe in Faith, Opportunity, Equality, Hard Work (Jobs), Education, Healthcare. I believe in embracing differences. I believe in equality, justice and fairness. And, I truly believe that a person should be judged by their character.

People should vote for me because I want to continue the fight for equality, justice and fairness.

I am the best and most qualified candidate. I bring with me knowledge, skill, an unmatched personal experience and unsurpassed compassion.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Shannon Baldwin

(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 Shannon Baldwin

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

Judge Shannon Brichelle Baldwin, I preside over Harris County Criminal Misdemeanor Court #4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears misdemeanor class B and class A cases. The maximum punishment is up to a $4,000 fine and up to 1 year in jail. This court is an appellate court for class C misdemeanors.

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

In my first two years, I served as the Local Administrative Judge over all 20 Harris County Courts comprising of 16 criminal courts and 4 civil courts; for three years I presided over an additional docket for Misdemeanor SOBER Court (a treatment court for persons with alcohol/drug addictions); currently I also preside over the Misdemeanor Veterans Court (a treatment court for Veterans with alcohol/drug addictions and PTSD). I’ve maintained an above average clearance rate despite inheriting one of the largest dockets after Harvey. I reduced the docket despite having limited ability to conduct jury trials due to building construction and COVID restrictions. I use scheduling orders to continue the efficient movement of cases. Collectively, the Harris County Criminal Courts have instituted the Community Care Court where one of our first programs is the Fresh Start Program. In that program, the courts are able to seal the criminal history of defendants who have paid their debt to society.

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

Going forward, I will continue to reduce the backlog assisted with the use of the scheduling order. I hope to accomplish a domestic violence court and a fully functioning (financed) mental health court. Those specialty courts would address the majority of cases in our courts and provide a more efficient means to get them resolved. I would like to propose a computer lab run by Probation or that is open to indigent defendants with no access to the internet. They often have online classes and typically have difficulty finishing classes because they lack access.

5. Why is this race important?

Criminal Misdemeanor Courts encounter individuals at low level and oftentimes the beginning of a potential criminal future. So, we have the opportunity to make a big impact at an early stage. We can target issues and seek resolutions as a part of punishment. With successful resolution of “issues”, we can reduce crime and completely change the trajectory of an individual’s life. I chose misdemeanor court over felony court for this reason.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am a servant leader and I ran for this position to serve the citizens of Harris County and make it better. In many ways, I have accomplished making Harris County better. However, there is still work to be done and that takes time. I am dedicated to seeing community safety increase and not at the expense of citizens’ Constitutional rights. I’m dedicated to keeping the courts open with free access to everyone. I’m dedicated to maintaining fair and impartial courts where one’s race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation has no bearing on their case. I am dedicated to equal protection under the law and justice for ALL! I’m humbly asking for your support and votes to continue as Judge for Harris County Criminal Court #4.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Audrie Lawton Evans

(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 Audrie Lawton Evans

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

Hello, my name is Audrie Lawton Evans and I am the presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The county civil courts at law hear all civil matters with the amount in controversy of up to $250,000 and has jurisdiction to hear all appeals of civil cases, including evictions, from justice courts in Harris County. The court also has jurisdiction over statutory eminent domain proceedings, suits involving real property disputes, and slander and defamation cases.

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

On August 10, 2021, I was unanimously appointed as the presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1. Approximately four months later, I was elected by my colleagues as the Administrative Judge of all the County Courts at Law. As the Administrative Judge, I am tasked with maintaining cohesiveness among the courts, disseminating information to our constituents, and reviewing and ensuring that our courts are following all Texas Supreme Court and other administrative orders. During my tenure thus far, I implemented our Fall Open House, an online event to give the public and attorneys a chance to hear all about the court and provide resources to the community. I also facilitated Active Shooter training for all courtroom personnel as well as other safety procedures.

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

In the upcoming year, I hope to focus on reviewing the courts’ systems and procedures to streamline the administrative side of the judicial process. At our very core, the court provides a service to the community. As such, I would like to revamp the court’s website and online presence. In addition, because of the pandemic, the court system has had to utilize technology in a whole new way. For example, I plan to continue zoom hearings for certain cases where it makes sense. Overall, I want to ensure that a person’s experience with my court is practical and easy to navigate.

5. Why is this race important?

The judiciary’s job is to facilitate the efficient resolution of disputes. As a judge, I am responsible for maintaining decorum in the court room, making sure that all parties have equal access to the legal system, and to render the prompt and fair resolution of cases filed in court.

This race is important because in our society, protecting the integrity of the bench is becoming increasingly important. Local elections probably have the most impact on our day-to-day lives.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have always had an affinity for this court. As a practicing attorney for 20 years, I have tried thousands of cases in the county courts at law. I have the requisite experience and the right temperament to be a great judge. Since my appointment, I have hit the ground running, managing a large docket from day one. In 2021, the county civil courts at law have disposed of over 18,000 cases. Collectively, my colleagues and I have coordinated with rental assistance programs to help over 73,000 tenants stay in their homes while landlords collected nearly $300 Million dollars thru the programs. In addition, since 2018, the courts have also modernized all court filings to electronic filing system passing savings to taxpayers.

I am humbled every day by my position and the great weight of the responsibility I hold. A vote for me is a vote for experience, fairness, and integrity. I look forward to my continued service to Harris County as judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 1.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Brian Warren

(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 Brian Warren

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

My name is Brian Warren and I have the Honor of being the Judge of the 209th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles all felony offenses, from Capital Murders, Aggravated Robberies, and Sexual Assault to low level drug possession cases

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

Since being elected judge, I have continued to make changes to improve the administration of justice. I have instituted the first scheduling order for criminal cases in Harris County. This order has been adopted by a third of the judges in Harris County. This scheduling order has eliminated needless settings as opposed to the old fashioned way of setting every case once a month. . I also adopted a zoom docket to resolve discovery disputes. I was able to secure a pre-trial officers in every court, in order to cut down on the wait times for defendants, lawyers and judges. The Honorable Judge Rosenthal has said in a hearing that Judge Warren “sets the standard for all of the felony judges to emulate” when it comes to bail reform in Harris County District Courts. With the help of the district attorney’s office, I also implemented an e-warrant system that allows judges to sign warrants electronically.

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

Recently, I also have proposed a plan that would utilize our associate judges, similar to the systems used in federal court and some surrounding counties. This plan would divert our judicial resources and all first setting bond defendants to our associate judges. Allowing our elected judges to spend more time resolving cases and eliminating a significant amount of foot traffic in our courthouse which is inadequate to meet the needs of our community. I would love the opportunity to continue to innovate and make meaningful changes to our criminal justice systems in the future.

5. Why is this race important?

If you haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom recently, you are very fortunate. While some people never find themselves facing a judge, there is a good chance they have a family member or friend who has been involved in a legal case. Participating in judicial elections gives you the power to vote for people you believe to be qualified, committed and conscientious. Judicial elections are no less important, emotional or personal than senate or municipal elections. The work of judges cuts to the very core of humanity; don’t ignore its significance.

6. Why should people vote for you in November

I have over 20 years of experience as a lawyer in the criminal justice system, first as a prosecutor, then as a defense attorney, and now as a judge. My opponent has never practiced criminal law in his career. He has never appeared as a lawyer in any Harris County Criminal District Courts. If elected, his first day will be the first time he has ever set foot in the 209th District Court. The cases we handle in the criminal courthouse are too important and serious, to entrust to someone with ZERO criminal experience as a lawyer.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Sonya Heath

(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 Sonya Heath

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

Judge Sonya Heath, 310th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Family.

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

Implementing Zoom hybrid hearings. Especially for the CPS cases where we have had a huge increase in parental participation.

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

Setting up a better type of e-hearing system (an online calendaring system).

5. Why is this race important?

District Court Family judges have the ability to take your children, your property and your freedom. You want someone with a good grasp of the law and even temperament.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

As the incumbent I have been on bench 4 years. I have been at work on a regular basis for our County’s families. People need their day in Court. Some people just need to be heard so they can move on with their lives. My own children are grown now, but I have lived what most of the people coming before me are going through. I was a single parent, unfortunately divorced, adopted a child, and went back and forth on custody three times with my children’s father. I bring experience both with the law and real life that make me suited for this bench.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Jerry Simoneaux

(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 Jerry Simoneaux

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

I am Jerry Simoneaux and I preside over Harris County Probate Court 1

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Probate Courts help families coping with death and disability. People come to probate court to appoint an executor for a deceased loved one in order to pay final bills and distribute their assets. People also come to probate court to appoint a guardian for loved ones with diminished capacity, such as dementia or intellectual disabilities. Sometimes, people fight over estates and we hear those contested matters, too.

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

I have done more to fundamentally improve our courts and the practice of probate law than any other judge of this court before me. I took a court with 1990’s technology, accessed $400,000 of non-taxpayer money, and fully upgraded the four probate courts in Harris County. Now, the probate courts are the most technologically advanced courts in the county. That means we can offer remote and in-person hearings simultaneously and seamlessly. I have made it very easy for people with mobility impediments (and busy schedules) to appear in court. Many more of my accomplishments are listed on my website at www.judgejerry1.com

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

I am working to increase the availability of pro bono attorneys to help families who cannot afford one. I have been on the board of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers since 2019 and we are constantly finding ways to bring new volunteer attorneys into probate court. I am also working with the County Commissioners Court and the State Legislature to form a new Probate Court 5 to help ease the strain on the four existing courts. We have not had a new court created in over 25 years and the population has nearly doubled since then.

5. Why is this race important?

Because death and disability are indiscriminate, we see people from all walks of life. That is different from any other court, so it is essential to have a judge who is welcoming to everyone and who will provide as safe space for all. As a trilingual, openly LGBTQ judge, I know how important it is to have representation on the bench who also reaches out to all communities to ensure suitable inclusion.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have received the highest rating of any elected judge from the Houston Bar Association (Judicial Evaluation Poll 2019 and 2021) and the LGBTQ Caucus. I am an innovator who has completely transformed the courts by giving greater access to the public and creating efficiencies for attorneys who practice here. And, I have lots more plans for the next four years to continue to improve our courts.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Cory Sepolio

(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 Cory Sepolio

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

Judge Cory Don Sepolio of the 269th Civil District Court of Texas

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 269th is a civil court dealing primarily with disputes over property, contracts, money, elections, injuries, health issues, and business activities, among others.

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

I eliminated the ineffective practice of unnecessary court appearances. The Harris County Court house is a sophisticated yet often crowded venue. Recently the relocation of courts followed by the damage to the Criminal Court House in Harvey has the Civil Justice building overburdened. With electronic filing courts should allow matters to be heard on the submission docket rather than requiring all matters to have oral hearing. The pandemic lessened the burden yet created a health risk for in-person attendance. If oral hearings are requested courts should allow participation by telephonic appearance when appropriate. The 269th under my direction embraced “zoom” and eliminated unnecessary docket appearances. The litigants should have the option of choosing how they wish their matters heard. This change saves litigants on legal fees, parking and decreases courthouse crowding.

The best practice in most cases is for a judge to give limited instructions on voir dire and then turn the questioning over to the trial attorneys. In my career I sat through some judges’ voir dire that ran as long as five hours. This was on routine, non-capital cases. These lengthy speeches by the judges were ineffective, delayed justice, and annoyed the jurors. Judges should not use the courtroom for campaigning. During my time as judge of the 269th I read the required instructions, introduce the parties and staff, and provide an estimated time of trial prior to lawyer questions. This takes less than 10 minutes and is respectful of everyone’s time.

It is my primary duty to ensure a safe, fair, and unbiased venue for all litigants, witnesses and their attorneys. This is regardless of race, color, creed, orientation, gender or country of origin. Historically judges refused to follow the law regarding same-sex marriage. Many prior judges belonged to groups that discriminated against the Hispanic and immigrant communities. This is unacceptable. Since taking the bench I have fought to ensure justice for all.

I refuse to allow those who appear in the 269th to be harassed or frightened. Everyone is entitled to a fair day in court without outside burden.

I proudly implemented a method I call the “Batson pause” in trial where I ensure impermissible strikes are not permitted. In this way we prevent prospective jurors from impermissible discrimination due to their ethnic background or gender.

During the pandemic I issued a moratorium on dismissals for want of prosecution in the 269th. Many lawyers, witnesses, and litigants were ill or displaced during the pandemic and I did not believe it equitable to dismiss their cases simply because they could not respond to email inquiries during that time.

In 2022, the 269th has disposed of more cases than all 24 other civil district courts, except one.

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

When I took the bench in 2019 I shared the 269th with two criminal district court judges as a result of the continuing displacement resulting from hurricane Harvey. In the early Spring of 2020, the pandemic shut down the courts the exact day the criminal court judges were able to return to their own courts. The past four years required sharing and patience to ensure justice functioned in all courts. Despite these obstacles the 269th has performed admirably and continued to try cases. I am thrilled to finally be back in the 269th and have all facilities to continue our mission of ensuring justice and equality to all litigants whom have cases in the 269th.

5. Why is this race important?

I cherish our judicial system and earnestly wish to maintain the integrity of our trial courts. We began this campaign with the goal of ensuring that the citizens, litigants, and trial attorneys of Harris County have a qualified and fair judge on the bench. Those of us who maintained active trial dockets in Harris County were frustrated by several years of practicing before temperamental and inexperienced judges. The litigants and lawyers whom the 269th serves expect the level of preparation and justice the court currently provides and deserve for it to continue. I shall see that it does.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Campaigning this long has come at a great sacrifice to my family. The time and effort spent on this campaign is great. I am determined to win this race and ensure experience, equality, and justice for all continues in the 269th Civil District Court.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Tanya Garrison

(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 Tanya Garrison

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

Tanya Garrison, Judge of the 157th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil cases in which parties are seeking equitable, declaratory, or monetary relief.

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

Increased efficiency in calling cases to trial. Increased jury trials. Opening the Court for marriage equality. Began taking law school interns for the first time in the history of the Court. Named Trial Judge of the Year in 2021 by the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists.

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

More of the same. Increased educational opportunities for young lawyers and law students. Continued focus on continuing legal education for trial lawyers.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important to elect people to the trial courts who have experience in these courts as not only the judge but as practicing lawyers. Judges need to see the whole forest for the trees to effectively administer justice. Due process requires more than a since of fairness and equality. It requires knowing why the rules of procedure, rules of evidence, and rule of law exist so that they can be applied fairly and equally.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I’m a true believer in the jury system and that our civil courts are the best way to resolve disputes, and I know I will do a great job as a civil court judge. The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution is a crucial part of our democracy. The Third Branch of Government should be protected by judges that respect the importance of courtroom justice for all people.
I can best summarize the reasons I am running in three points: (1) passion for the work; (2) experience; and (3) perspective.

Passion. I truly love being a trial lawyer and working in the courtroom. I respect all parts of the process and believe that when the law is applied equally, the right result is possible. Being a Judge is my dream.

Experience. I have practiced civil trial law since I graduated law school in 2000 and have been a part of trial teams with over 20 commercial cases going to a full jury verdict. I am Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and have almost 45 appeals with my name on them. I am a member of various trial law associations, including the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists. In 2011, I was named Outstanding Young Lawyer in Houston by the Houston Young Lawyers Association.

Perspective. I am someone who sincerely believes that the greatest part of our government is its people. The strength of our judiciary comes from the diversity of our people coming together to participate in our jury system. I am a lifelong Democrat who values all backgrounds and life experiences. I want to create a courtroom experience that welcomes everyone despite the fact that courtrooms and the controversies that are resolved there are intimidating and difficult. Everyone is entitled to a fair and impartial trial, and it is my goal to ensure that they get one.

More evidence of misdemeanor bail reform’s success

Lower costs, fewer wrongful incarcerations and guilty pleas, less recidivism. What more do you want?

Fewer misdemeanor defendants went on to commit crimes in Harris County after federal litigation in 2017 aimed at curtailing the jailing of low-income people charged with low-level offenses, according to a recent study.

A 13 percent rise in pre-trial releases within 24 hours of a defendant’s arrest also followed the judicial injunction, the court order that researchers found led to positive reforms in Houston’s criminal justice system. Judicial jurisdictions elsewhere have watched the progress of Harris County’s reforms to create their own, researchers with the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania said.

“I think that it shows that misdemeanor bail reform, when implemented properly, can work,” said Paul Heaton, academic director for the Quattrone Center — a research and policy institute with the University of Pennsylvania. “It led to less costly punishment for the defendants and tax payers — it didn’t increase crime.”

The findings come amid years of tense debate over the bail reform’s implications and whether it has any connection to the local rise in homicides and other violent crimes, which increased nationwide during the pandemic. Prosecutors, law enforcement, bail bondsmen and victims’ rights advocates are among the opponents of the changes.

Houston police on Wednesday said that non-violent crime had decreased by five percent since this time in 2021 — and violent crime had dropped 10 percent during the same time frame.

Researchers went through about 517,000 misdemeanor and felony cases in Harris County filed from 2015 until last May, but focused on the months surrounding the start of the injunction — prior to the havoc that Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic caused in the courts. Unresolved cases increased later in 2017 — likely because of court closures in the storm’s wake, according to the study.

Conviction rates dropped by 15 percent, and the length of jail sentences for those low-level offenses also declined by 15 percent after the injunction, the study found. The injunction stemmed from several defendants lodging a federal lawsuit arguing that the bail practices in Harris County were unconstitutional. The county settled the lawsuit in 2019 with the arrival of Democratic judges and a federal jurist issued a landmark opinion, prompting the O’Donnell consent decree and independent monitoring group to issue reports on the effects.

Misdemeanor Judge Darrell Jordan, who helped shaped the consent decree, said the Quattrone study, mirrors the progress noted in the mandated monitor reports. He commended the decision for having allowed some defendants in his courts and others to get out of jail within 24 hours of their arrest. The alternative was worse, he said.

“They lose their house, car, families, jobs and they come out of jail in a state of chaos,” said Jordan, who oversees the Criminal Court of Law No. 16. “They have to find a way to get back on their feet and make a living.”

If the reforms are working in Harris County — one of the most populous counties in the U.S. — they can be implemented elsewhere, the judge said.

[…]

A report issued in March by Brandon Garrett, a professor for Duke University’s School of Law tasked with overseeing the decree oversight, found that repeat offenders, those arrested for misdemeanor offenses, “remained largely stable in recent years.” The same study also found that, from 2015 to 2019, convictions declined and the number of dismissals and acquittals doubled.

The fifth report from Garrett’s team is slated to be released Saturday.

You can see the UPenn report here. Brandon Garrett has been issuing reports as the overseer for the past two years. We’ve had two years of data on this now, and the findings are clear. I suppose it could change tomorrow, but unless that happens there’s just no reason take the critics of misdemeanor bail reform seriously. Bloomberg News has more.

Hopefully the last time she will appear before a judge

For her sake, I hope it is.

Years of legal trouble for a former Harris County civil judge have come to an end with three years probation.

Alexandra Smoots on Wednesday wept as Judge Chuck Silverman granted her deferred adjudication on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge — an offense stemming from her decision in August 2020 to fire a shotgun during an argument with her ex-husband’s girlfriend. The incident exacerbated a downward spiral marked by laundry list of personal woes, including a breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy treatment, infidelity, divorce, foreclosure on her home and a federal indictment for wire fraud.

The indictment prompted her suspension from the bench in the 164th District Court.

She pleaded guilty to the federal charges later in 2020 and the case in the 183rd District Court represented the last hitch to moving on.

Smoot’s fate in the assault case was expected to be decided Wednesday during a pre-sentencing investigation, but the judge told both parties that he had already settled on a punishment and the hearing would be a “waste of time.”

“I don’t think it’s a benefit to this court and society to idle along,” said Silverman, who addressed Smoots as judge throughout the appearance. “I would like everything to continue on the up for you.”

[…]

Smoots, first elected in 2008, can no longer practice law because of her felony convictions. She now works as a legal consultant, [her defense attorney Juanita] Jackson said.

Federal investigators caught wind that Smoots was siphoning campaign money from 2013 to 2018 to purchase a Zales engagement ring, two Prada handbags, and for mortgage payments and private school tuition for her two sons.

The jurist in that case, Lynn N. Hughes, sentenced her to the 36 days she had spent jailed for a bond violation connected to the assault charge, as well as three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors in that case requested a sentence within the guideline range of 18 to 24 months in prison, saying the defendant abused her power and authority as a sitting judge. It was not known what state prosecutors planned to recommend to the judge as a punishment.

As part of her probation, Smoots must undergo 80 hours of community service and have no drugs or alcohol. Anger management therapy is also part of the court’s conditions.

Smoots’ federal plea and sentence came in September of 2020, about a month after this incident. To be honest, I don’t remember reading about it at the time, but then we were all kind of busy around then. As I said before, I hope she is getting her life back in order, and I hope the next time I hear about her it’s for something positive.

The independents

Recently I got an email from a gentleman named Ted Wood, who wrote to inform me that he had successfully completed the requirements to be an independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals on the November 2022 ballot. The basic requirements to be an independent candidate for non-statewide office are filing a declaration of intent to run as an indy – this is to be done at the filing deadline – and then collecting 500 signatures from people who didn’t vote in the primaries.

Wood told me his candidacy is the first Independent run for an appellate bench in Texas since 1996. I hadn’t checked that at the time he told me, but I believed it. In my experience, most of the independent candidates run for Congress or the Legislature. I’ll get to some past numbers in a minute, but did you know that there’s no public listing of independent candidates for the 2022 election right now? Obviously there will be one in about a month when the ballots are finalized and printed to be sent to overseas voters, but if you want to know right now who besides Ted Wood is an independent candidate running for state or federal office in Texas, you have to make a Public Information Act request to the Secretary of State. Seems crazy to me, but here we are.

Anyway, Wood did this and shared the list with me, which you can see here. It’s six candidates for Congress, two for the State House, and him. Two of the Congressional candidates are repeat customers – Vince Duncan has been an indy for Cd18 in 2020, 2018, and 2014, while Chris Royal ran as an indy for CD34 in 2020. The current cycle and the last two have been relatively busy ones for independent candidates for Congress – six this year, seven in 2020 and 2018, though in 2018 there were two in CD09, so indy candidates were only in six races – but for whatever the reason it wasn’t like that at all before 2018. I found no independent candidates for Congress in 2016, two in 2014, and one in 2012. I have no explanation for that – if you have one, let me know. I found one independent candidate for State House in each of 2014, 2016, and 2018; I didn’t search 2020 because the new format on the SOS website is a pain in the ass for that sort of thing. I found no independent candidates for any other offices since 2012, which was as far back as I checked for state elections.

Wood also inquired with Harris County about any independent candidates running for county offices. He was informed by Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office that there were no independent candidates for county office on the ballot in Harris County in 2022. This didn’t surprise me, as I couldn’t think of any recent examples of such a candidacy offhand. I went back through Harris County election results all the way to 1996, and found two non-legislative indies in that time. One was a candidate for the 245th Civil District Court in 2002, an Angelina Goodman, who got 3.69% of the vote. That’s not a county office, though – it’s a state office. I finally found a genuine indy for a county office in 1996. In the race that year for Constable in Precinct 7, a fellow named Andy Williams was the sole opponent to Democrat A. B. Chambers, and he got 6.39% of the vote. You learn something new every day.

Anyway. Wood as noted is running for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals, a seat that is being vacated by Sherry Radack. Democrat Julie Countiss, who is currently a Justice on this court but for another bench (she can run for Chief Justice without giving up her current seat), and Republican Terry Adams, who had been appointed to the First Court for Place 5 in 2020 then lost to Amparo Guerra that November, are his opponents. He’s working now in the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Before that, he worked for the General Counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA) in Austin, and served two terms as County Judge in Randall County. As a Democratic precinct chair I am supporting Julie Countiss, who is also someone I know in real life and who I voted for the First Court in 2018. But I enjoyed having the chance to talk to Ted Wood, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a nerdy blog post out of it. Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into electoral miscellania as well.

Runoff results: Harris County

As with the statewide roundup, here are the results from Harris County. As of 10 PM, 99 of 260 voting centers had reported, so while these results aren’t final, it seems likely to me that not much will change.

Congressional Dem

CD38 – Diana Martinez Alexander vs. Duncan Klussman. Klussman had a 67-33 lead after early voting (65-35 as of 10 PM) and looked to be an easy winner.

SBOE Dem

SBOE4 – Coretta Mallet-Fontenot vs Staci Childs. Childs was up 56.5 to 43.5, and was leading big in early in person voting (62%) and Tuesday voting (65%), which helped her overcome a 1,200 vote deficit in mail ballots. Given that trend, I’d say she’s on her way to winning.

State House Dems

HD147 – Jolanda Jones vs Danielle Bess. Jones was up 55-45, and unlike the special election led in mail ballots (by 300 votes) and early in person voting (by 200 votes), while running nearly even on Tuesday (the tally was 520-508 for Bess as of 10 PM). She seems likely to hold on.

Harris County Dems

185th Criminal District Court – Andrea Beall vs Judge Jason Luong. Beall led 54-46 and had the advantage in all three forms of voting.

208th Criminal District Court – Beverly Armstrong vs Kim McTorry. Armstrong had a big lead in mail ballots, while McTorry had small margins in in-person voting, but it doesn’t look like it will be enough as Armstrong was up 52-48.

312th Family District Court – Teresa Waldrop vs Judge Chip Wells.
County Civil Court at Law #4 – Manpreet Monica Singh vs Treasea Treviño.

Waldrop (63%) and Singh (65%) were in command from the beginning. I believe Manpreet Singh will be the first Sikh on the bench if she wins in November.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones vs Ben Chou. Briones led 55-45, with similar margins across all three voting types.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 – Sonia Lopez vs Steve Duble. Duble also led 55-45, using a 59-41 advantage in early in person ballots to overcome a modest deficit with mail votes.

Republicans

Alexandra Mealer cruised to victory for the County Judge nomination, while Jack Morman got his rematch in Precinct 2. The HD133 race was too close to call, with less than 100 votes separating Mano DeAyala and Shelley Barineau. Check on that one in the morning.

UPDATE: All of the Dems that were leading last night won. Mano DeAyala won in HD133 51-49.

Two judges sanctioned by Judicial Conduct Commission

Not a good look, and really bad timing for one of them.

A pair of Harris County civil court judges have been sanctioned for behavior in their courtrooms, with one judge allowing the shackling of attorneys and another erupting into fits of rage during a trial.

The reprimand applies to Judge Barbara Stalder in the 280th Family Protective Order Court for holding an attorney in contempt during a February 2020 hearing and then ordering the bailiff to shackle him to a chair in the jury box, according to State Commission on Judicial Conduct documents. A week later, the judge did the same with another attorney.

The commission also ordered that Judge Clinton “Chip” Wells in the 312th Family District Court be admonished and undergo two hours of education on how to appropriately conduct himself for courtroom outbursts of anger aimed at lawyer Teresa Waldrop during an April 2019 divorce trial.

Stalder could not be reached Friday as the commission’s ruling from April 20 was made public. Wells acknowledged that his actions were wrong.

“I made a mistake and I’m not hiding from that,” said Wells, who is facing Waldrop in the Democratic runoff election. “My behavior was not acceptable.”

You can read on for the details – as I said, it’s not a good look for either of them. Stalder was defeated in the March primary, so her situation is short-term no matter how you look at it. Wells is in the May primary runoff, and as it happens Waldrop is his opponent. I know from previous correspondence that she has pursued this matter for some time – the precipitating event was in April of 2019, so you can do the math.

I received judicial Q&A responses from Wells and Waldrop, so consult those if you still need to know more. I know these procedures take time, and I know that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct tends to release their orders in groups on a regular rather than ad hoc basis, but it would have been nice to have known all this before we voted in March, especially given the Chron’s grievous lack of endorsements in non-criminal court races. You don’t have to hold this against either Judge Wells or Judge Stalder if you don’t want to – it would be perfectly defensible to conclude that their merits outweighed these incidents, or that they were still better than their opponents, or that this was just one bad day on the job, or whatever. Obviously, fair minds may disagree on that. All I’m saying is that I’d have preferred to have had as full a picture as possible before I voted. Given that Stalder lost her primary and that Waldrop led Wells 46-28 in March, perhaps it wouldn’t have made any difference. It still would have been nice.

Where are the endorsements?

As you know, early voting has begun for the May 7 election, which includes two Constitutional amendments and the special election for HCC District 2. As of last night when I drafted this, I see no endorsements in any of these elections on the Chron’s opinion page. Are these elections not worth it to them, or have they just not gotten around to them yet? I sure hope it’s the latter, and that they will rectify that quickly. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.

Seventeen days after that election will be the primary runoffs. A quick check of the Erik Manning spreadsheet confirms for me that in all of the Democratic primary runoffs for which the Chron issued a March endorsement, their preferred candidate is still running. In ballot order:

CD38 – Duncan Klussman
Lt. Governor – Mike Collier
Attorney General – Joe Jaworski
Comptroller – Janet Dudding
Land Commissioner – Jay Kleberg
SBOE4 – Staci Childs
HD147 – Danielle Bess
185th Criminal Court – Judge Jason Luong
208th Criminal Court – Kim McTorry
Commissioners Court Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones

You may or may not agree with these, but those are who the Chron picked. They have no races to revisit among them. They do, however, have three more races to consider, which were among those they skipped in Round One:

312th Family Court – Judge Chip Wells vs Teresa Waldrop
County Civil Court at Law #4 – MK Singh vs Treasea Treviño
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2 – Steve Duble vs Sonia Lopez

The links are to my judicial Q&As for those who submitted responses. You can find all the Q&A and interview links from the primary here. More recently I interviewed Staci Childs and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot in SBOE4; I will have an interview with Janet Dudding on Monday. There’s no need to rush if the Chron wants to circle back to these races they ignored originally – they can wait till after the May 7 election, but not too long since early voting there will begin on May 16. It’s only three runoff races (*), plus those two Constitutional amendments and that one HCC race. C’mon, Chron editorial board, you can do this.

(*) There may be some Republican runoffs for them to revisit as well. I didn’t check and am obviously not as interested. I doubt most Republican runoff voters are either, so whatever. The HD147 special election is between the same two candidates as in the primary runoff, so we can assume the endorsement for one carries over to the other.

Judicial Q&A: Beverly Armstrong

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This was intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March, and I have extended it for the May runoffs. 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.

Beverly Armstrong

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

I am Beverly Armstrong. I am running for Judge of the 208th Criminal District Court. I have been a resident of Harris County for more than 30 years. I moved here after graduating from Prairie View A&M University with a BS degree in Civil Engineering. I attended the part time program at South Texas College of Law in downtown Houston while working full time. When I’m not serving as a public servant, I serve on the communion steward and finance committees at my church, Jones United Methodist Church. My husband and I started our family here and have raised two children who attended schools in Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 208th Criminal District Court hears all levels of felony cases. This includes State Jail Felonies, 1st through 3rd degree felonies and capital felony cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m running for this bench because too many habitual, violent offenders were being released on low (lowered) bonds by this court And because this court was not holding trials to bring justice to the accused and for the accuser.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a licensed attorney for 25 years. I’ve been a prosecutor for 15 years. I started my prosecution career in Polk County. I spent 3 years in the Galveston County District Attorneys Office where I served as Court Chief in the 212th and 10th Criminal District Courts and Chief of the Child Abuse Division. I was asked to return to Polk County to serve as the First Assistant Criminal District Attorney, where I currently serve. Over the course of my criminal law career, I have handled more than 2000 cases from misdemeanor thefts to murder. I have been the led attorney handling cases from grand jury to trial for numerous felony cases including aggravated robbery, child sexual assault and murders. I supervise a staff of secretaries, investigators and prosecutors. I’ve prepared numerous appellate briefs and I have successfully argued before the 9th court of appeals. Additionally, I served as a faculty advisor at the Prosecutor Trials Skills Course held by the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

5. Why is this race important?

This court handles the most serious criminal cases in the county. It’s imperative that the most qualified candidate is seated for this court. Additionally, the judge of this court needs a proven track record of implementing tools to help promote fairness and justice for all parties in the courtroom.

6. Why should people vote for you in May?

People should vote for me because experience matters. I am the most experienced candidate in this race. I am ready to handle any types of case that is on the docket on day one. I am the only candidate that has handled every type of case this court hears. I have a proven record of fighting against the release of repeat violent offenders while demonstrating compassion for non violent offenders who need a second chance. I have worked with agencies to find mental health programs, parenting skills programs and drug rehabilitation programs to give offenders the tools needed to become successful members of our community as opposed to repeat offenders. I will show up ready to work. I will respect the attorneys time and the time of the community before my court. I will bring fairness, integrity and experience to the courtroom. I am committed to the protection of the community in the courtroom and outside of the courtroom.

Meet the new judge of County Civil Court at Law #4

So far, this is the only public announcement I have seen:

There was an item (#281 if you search) on the March 8 Commissioners Court agenda to discuss and possibly take action on this vacancy, which had stretched on for awhile. While the County Civil Court at Law #4 website still showed Lesley Briones as Judge as of the weekend, I assume that will be updated soon. This appointment is for the rest of the year only, as the position will be filled for the next four years in the November election. As noted before, Manpreet Monica Singh and Treasea Treviño are in the runoff to be the nominee for that bench. For now, congrats to Judge Ayala, who I’m sure will do an excellent job in the interim. And I’m glad Commissioners Court finally got around to this.

Initial post-election wrapup

Just a few updates and observations to add onto what I posted yesterday morning. Any deeper thoughts, if I have them, will come later.

– Cheri Thomas and William Demond won their races for the 14th Court of Appeals. I didn’t mention them yesterday, just too much to cover.

– Also didn’t mention any of the SBOE races, four of which are headed to runoffs on the Dems side, including SBOE4 in Harris County. Those were all open or (with SBOE11) Republican-held seats. The three incumbents were all winners in their races – Marisa Perez-Diaz (SBOE3) and Aicha Davis (SBOE13) were unopposed, while Rebecca Bell-Metereau (SBOE5) easily dispatched two challengers.

– All of the district court judges who were leading as of yesterday morning are still leading today.

– Harold Dutton also held on in HD142, but the final result was much closer once the Tuesday votes were counted. He ultimately prevailed with less than 51% of the vote.

– Cam Campbell took and held onto the lead in HD132 (he had trailed by four votes initially), defeating Chase West 52.8 to 47.2, about 300 votes.

– Titus Benton was still leading in SD17, though his lead shrunk from 484 in early voting to 275.

– I touched on this in the runoff roundup post, but the perception that Jessica Cisneros was leading Rep. Henry Cuellar was totally a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. I say this because if you click on the race details for the CD28 primary on the SOS election returns page, you see that Cuellar led by more than 1,500 votes in early voting; he stretched that to about a 2,400 vote lead in the end, though it was just barely not enough to get to 50%. But because Bexar County was first out of the gate and thus first to be picked up by the SOS, and Cisneros ran strongly there, it looked like she was about to blow him out. There are a couple of tweets from Tuesday night that did not age well because of that.

– Statewide, the Dem gubernatorial primary will be a bit short of 1.1 million votes, up a tiny bit from 2018, while the GOP primary for Governor is over 1.9 million votes, comfortably ahead of the 1.55 million from 2018. More Republicans overall turned out on Tuesday than Dems statewide. In Harris County, it looks like the turnout numbers were at 157K for Dems and 180K for Republicans, with about 43% of the vote in each case being cast on Tuesday. Dems were down about 10K votes from 2018, Rs up about 24K. In a year where Republicans are supposed to have the wind at their backs and certainly had a lot more money in the primaries, I’m not sure that’s so impressive. That said, March is not November. Don’t go drawing broad inferences from any of this.

– At the risk of violating my own warning, I will note that the CD15 primary, in a district that is now slightly lean R and with the overall GOP turnout advantage and clear evidence of more GOP primary participation in South Texas, the Dem candidates combined for 32,517 votes while the Republicans and their million-dollar candidate combined for 29,715 votes. Does that mean anything? Voting in one party’s primary, because that’s where one or more local races of interest to you are, doesn’t mean anything for November, as any number of Democratic lawyers with Republican voting histories from a decade or more ago can attest. Still, I feel like if there had been more votes cast in that Republican primary that someone would make a big deal out of it, so since that didn’t happen I am noting it for the record. Like I said, it may mean absolutely nothing, and November is still a long way away, but it is what happened so there you have it.

– In Fort Bend, County Judge KP George won his own primary with about the same 70% of the vote as Judge Hidalgo did here. Longtime County Commissioner Grady Prestage defeated two challengers but just barely cleared fifty percent to avoid a runoff. The other commissioner, first termer Ken DeMerchant, didn’t do nearly as well. He got just 14.3% of the vote, and will watch as Dexter McCoy and Neeta Sane will battle in May. I confess, I wasn’t paying close attention to this race and I don’t have an ear to the ground in Fort Bend, so I don’t know what was the cause of this shocking (to me, anyway) result. Sitting County Commissioners, even first timers, just don’t fare that poorly in elections. Community Impact suggests redistricting might not have done him any favors, but still. If you have some insight, please leave a comment.

– As was the case in Harris, a couple of incumbent judges in Fort Bend lost in their primaries. I don’t know any of the players there, and my overall opinion of our system of choosing judges hasn’t changed from the last tiresome time we had this conversation.

This came in later in the day, so I thought I’d add it at the end instead of shoehorning it into the beginning.

Harris County election officials are still counting ballots Wednesday morning for the Tuesday Primary Election. Despite the Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott saying officials will not finish counting ballots by the deadline, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said she’s confident counting votes will be done.

“It’s going to take a couple of days to finish the entire process as we’ve always seen,” Longoria said. “I don’t have concerns about counting the election ballots for this election.”

[…]

Harris County Voting Director Beth Stevens said the paper ballot system slows down the process for both voters and election workers.

“We’re working with paper here, what we know is we have hundreds of thousands of ballots processed accurately and securely here in our central counting station and we’re working with 2.5 million registered voters,” Stevens said.

In addition to voter registration identification mishaps, and mail-in ballot rejections, Harris County election officials also said damaged ballots have become an issue in the counting process. According to Stevens, damaged ballots have to be duplicated before being scanned by electronic tabulators and counted in at the central polling location. Officials said this could take some time.

“There was a negative attempt to make Harris County look bad in this moment and it’s completely unnecessary because we are processing as appropriate,” Stevens said. “Voters can be sure that paper ballots and electronic media that go with that is the most safe and secure ballot in the country.”

And this.

More than 1,600 ballots in Harris County were not read properly by the county’s new voting machines because of human error, the elections administration office said, resulting in a slower tabulation process for Tuesday’s primaries.

The new system requires voters to take paper ballots with their selections from a voting machine and feed it into a counting machine. Voters did this incorrectly in some cases, said elections office spokeswoman Leah Shah, making the ballots unreadable. Instead, those ballots were re-scanned at the county’s election headquarters, an extra time-consuming step.

Shah said Harris County’s long primary ballot required voters to feed two sheets of paper instead of the usual one, increasing the chance of error if they are inserted the wrong way or inadvertently creased or wrinkled. The 1,629 incorrectly scanned ballots represent less than 1 percent of the nearly 500,000 primary ballots cast.

“These are margins of error that are already accounted for, built in to how we process the ballot,” Shah said. “But we also understand the importance of having the paper trail and having that extra layer of security and backup.”

Voter Sara Cress, who ran the county’s popular elections social media accounts in 2020, said the first page of her ballot became wrinkled in her hand as she filled out the second page. When she attempted to feed the scuffed sheet into the counting machine, it would not take.

“I tried it twice, and then two poll workers tried it over and over again, and it just was giving errors,” Cress said.

[…]

Shah said new requirements under SB1, the voting bill passed by the Legislature last year, placed additional strain on county elections staff. She said 30 percent of the 24,000 mail ballots received have been flagged for rejection because they fail to meet the law’s ID requirements.

Elections staff have been calling those voters, who mostly are over 65, to inform them of the March 7 deadline by which they must provide the correct information or their ballots will not be counted.

The issue with the printers is one reason why the new voting machines were rolled out last year, when they could be tested in a lower-turnout environment. Fewer initial disruptions, but perhaps not enough actual testing to work through all the problems. Going to need a lot more voter education, and more stress testing on those machines. The fiasco with the mail ballots, which is 100% on the Republicans, is putting a lot of pressure on the elections staff. None of this had to happen like this. I mean, if we’re going to talk voter education, not to mention training for county election workers, that was a complete failure on the state’s part. It’s easy to dump on the Secretary of State here, and they do deserve some blame, but they too were put in a no-win spot by the Republicans.

As far as the rest goes, the early voting totals were up at about 7:20 or so on Tuesday night. Initial results came in slowly, as you could tell from my posts yesterday, but almost all of the voting centers had reported by 1 PM yesterday. I do believe there will be some improvement with the printers before November. At least we have two more chances to work out the kinks before then, with the primary runoffs, the May special election, and possibly May special election runoffs. Here’s hoping.

A roundup of runoffs

I was going to just do a basic recap of all the primary races that will require runoffs, and then this happened, and I had to do some redesign.

Rep. Van Taylor

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has decided to end his reelection campaign after he was forced into a primary runoff amid 11th-hour allegations of infidelity.

Taylor made the stunning announcement Wednesday, hours after he finished his five-way primary with 49% of the vote, just missing the cutoff for winning the primary outright. The runner-up was former Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is now likely to become the next congressman for the 3rd District.

“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” Taylor wrote in an email to supporters. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life. I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters.”

The day before the primary, the conservative outlet Breitbart News posted a story that Taylor had had a monthslong affair with a Plano woman, Tania Joya, who he had paid $5,000 to keep quiet. The publication reported that she provided it a phone screen shot purporting to be communications with Taylor and a bank record showing that she deposited $5,000 into her account. The Texas Tribune has not been able to independently verify the report.

[…]

Taylor has until March 16 to remove his name from the runoff ballot, which he plans to do, according to a spokesperson. After he does that, Self is automatically the Republican nominee for the district. There is a Democratic nominee for the seat, Sandeep Srivastava, but they face long odds after the district was redrawn last year to favor Republicans.

Holy shit. There’s a link to that article in the Trib story, which I refuse to include. It’s one of the less important aspects of this story, but the timing is curious. Why not publish this earlier, if that’s what you’re going to do, and not take the chance that he could win without a runoff? It gets a whole lot more complicated for the Republicans if he withdraws after winning the primary, and he came quite close to doing just that. I don’t understand any of this.

Anyway, this is where I was originally going to start this post. Here’s a list of the races that have gone into overtime. You can also read the Decision Desk wrapup for some more details.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.

AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski. As of Wednesday afternoon Jaworski had less than a 2K vote lead over Lee Merritt. When I first looked at this, it was a 3K lead, with all of the remaining ballots in Harris County, where Jaworski started the day with a 6K vote lead over Merritt. That had shrunk to a bit less than 5K votes by the afternoon, which almost made my logic that Jaworski would easily hold his lead look idiotic, but the gap appears to have been too large for Merritt to overcome. But who knows, there may be a bunch of late-fixed mail ballots out there, so let’s put a pin in this one.

Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.

Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.

CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo, who has a 300-vote lead over John Rigney.

CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.

CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay, who rebounded after my initial bout of pessimism to finish in second place.

CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros had a big early lead that was mostly a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. Cisneros crushed it in Bexar County, then watched as Starr, Webb, and Zapata erased her lead. In the end, if what I’m seeing is the actual final tally, it was Cuellar who missed winning outright by nine (!) votes. This one could change to a Cuellar win as the overseas and provisional votes are tallied, and then of course there may be a recount. Hold onto your hats.

CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

CD38 – Diana Martinez Alexander vs. Duncan Klussman. This is the only Congressional runoff in Harris County for Dems.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez. The third-place finisher had big charter school backing, so this race can go back to being one you don’t need to know about.

SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

SBOE4 – Coretta Mallet-Fontenot vs Staci Childs. This is in Harris County, it’s the seat Lawrence Allen vacated in his unsuccessful run for HD26. I’ll put this one on my to do list for runoff interviews.

SBOE11 – Luis Sifuentes vs James Whitfield. Double-timer DC Caldwell finished third, while also losing in the Republican primary for this same seat to incumbent Pat Hardy. Let us never speak of this again.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.

HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal

HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa. This one was an almost even split among three candidates, with third place finisher Lorenzo Sanchez 29 votes behind Plesa and 102 votes behind Hernandez. Another overseas/provisional vote count to watch and another recount possibility.

HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson. This is the new Dem-likely seat in Fort Bend.

HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.

HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant. Bryant was a Dem Congressman in the 90’s, in the old CD05. After winning a squeaker against Pete Sessions in 1994, Bryant tried his luck in the primary for Senate in 1996, eventually losing in a runoff to Victor Morales. Bryant just turned 75 (why anyone would want to get back into the Lege at that age boggles my mind, but maybe that’s just me), while Guio is quite a bit younger. Should be an interesting matchup. This was a five-way race with everyone getting between 17 and 25 percent, so endorsements from the ousted candidates may make a difference.

HD147 – Jolanda Jones vs Danielle Bess.

Harris County Dems

185th Criminal District Court – Andrea Beall vs Judge Jason Luong.

208th Criminal District Court – Beverly Armstrong vs Kim McTorry. Judge Greg Glass finished third.

312th Family District Court – Teresa Waldrop vs Judge Chip Wells.

County Civil Court at Law #4 – Manpreet Monica Singh vs Treasea Treviño. David Patronella was in second place after early voting, but fell behind as the Tuesday votes came in.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones vs Ben Chou.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 – Sonia Lopez vs Steve Duble.

Republicans

Not really interested in a complete rundown, but it’s Paxton versus P Bush for AG, Dawn Buckingham versus Tim Westley for Land Commissioner, and Wayne Christian versus Sarah Stogner for Railroad Commissioner. At least that last one will be interesting.

As noted yesterday, it will be Alexandra Mealer versus Vidal Martinez for the nomination for County Judge. I have no feelings about this.

I will put some other primary news and notes in a separate post. Let me know if I missed a race.

2022 primary results: Harris County

There were some issues, as there always are. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I vote early – less time pressure in case something happens. There was also an issue with reporting the early ballots.

The Harris County Elections Administration has requested an extension on the 24-hour deadline to report the results of Tuesday’s primary elections, according to Texas Secretary of State John Scott.

State law requires that counties report results from both early voting and Election Day within 24 hours of the polls closing. Just after polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Scott’s office said that they were informed by Harris County election officials that the county would not be able to count and report the results.

“Harris County election officials have indicated to our office that the delay in ballot tabulation is due only to damaged ballot sheets that must be duplicated before they can be scanned by ballot tabulators at the central count location,” Scott said in a statement.

Failing to meet the deadline is a Class B misdemeanor, Scott’s office said.

“Our office stands ready to assist Harris County election officials, and all county election officials throughout the state, in complying with Texas Election Code requirements for accurately tabulating and reporting Primary Election results,” Scott said.

Don’t know what happened there, but I get a PDF of the results in my inbox every time they get posted to the web, and the first one arrived at 7:25, so whatever the delay was it didn’t take that long to fix it. Other places had their issues as well, often because of missing election judges. And I can’t wait to see how long it takes Potter County to finish its count.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo was headed for an easy win in her primary; she was at almost 70% of the vote in early voting. Erica Davis was just shy of 15%. Alexandra Mealer and Vidal Martinez were the two top Republicans. Marilyn Burgess was winning for District Clerk, but Carla Wyatt had a nearly identical lead for Treasurer over incumbent Dylan Osborne. You just can’t tell with these things sometimes.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia was also on the way to an easy win in Precinct 2, while Lesley Briones and Ben Chou were leading in Precinct 4. Jack Morman and Jerry Mouton were the top two for Precinct 2 on the Republican side.

Multiple District Court judges were losing their primaries. The ones who were leading included Hilary Unger, Chris Morton, Dedra Davis, Natalia Oakes, Leah Shapiro, and Frank Aguilar, the latter two by smaller margins that could vanish overnight. Amy Martin was trailing Melissa Morris by a small margin as well. Jason Luong was in second place and headed to a runoff against Andrea Beall, Chip Wells was in a similar position against Teresa Waldrop, while Greg Glass and Scott Dollinger were out of the running, with Glass’ opponents in a runoff and Tami Craft leading the field in Dollinger’s race. Veronica Nelson was above 50% in the three-way race for the new 482nd Criminal District Court.

The County Court judges were doing a bit better, with four out of seven leading their races. For the open benches, Juanita Jackson won in Criminal Court #10, Porscha Brown was above 50% for Criminal Court #3, and Monica Singh was leading for Civil Court #4, with second place too close to call between David Patronella and Treasea Treviño.

For the JP races, Sonia Lopez was leading in Precinct 1, with Steve Duble slightly ahead of Chris Watson for second place. Dolores Lozano won in Precinct 2, incumbent Lucia Bates was over 50% in Precinct 3. Roderick Rogers was winning in Precinct 5 and Angela Rodriguez was winning in Precinct 6.

That’s all I’ve got, with results trickling in. I’ll follow up tomorrow.

UPDATE: We’re going to be waiting for results for the rest of the day due to issues with the paper receipts and the printers.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Dedra Davis

(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. One more late entrant for the series.

Judge Dedra Davis

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

I am Judge Dedra Davis. I preside with great pride over the 270th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I have the pleasure of presiding over a plethora of cases. As a Civil District Court judge, I hear matters dealing with Structured Settlements, Minor Settlement hearings, Expunctions, Employment disputes, Jones Act disputes, tax disputes, personal injury matters, and a host of other important and potentially life-changing matters.

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

I have had exceptional results since having the honor of serving as the presiding judge of the 270th Court. To quote William Ewart Gladstone, “access delayed is access denied.” As an entrepreneur for over 22 years, I developed strong survival skills that have actually served me well in my role as presiding judge of the 270th Court.

1) In 2019, I implemented a telephone docket. Many of the civil court judges were having to share courtrooms with the criminal court judges and with other civil court judges and there was no where to have trials or hearings in a timely manner.
2) In 2019, I was the only court, of the 24 Civil District Courts in Harris County, that allowed virtual appearances via CourtCall. No matter where a person was, they had access to justice.
3) In 2019, I opened the doors to the 270th court to school field trips. I have had over 1000 students visit the 270th court, sit on the judge’s bench, hit the gavel, give an order, and get pictures galore. We discussed jobs at the courthouse, setting goals and having dreams.
4) In 2020, when the courthouse closed due to Covid19, I immediately began hold virtual hearings via Zoom, once the service was provided.
5) In 2020, when the courthouse closed due to Covid19, I held virtual trials. As an entrepreneur, I focused on what I COULD do and not what I could NOT do. Even though no juries were being called to duty, the court still had many trials that COULD be held and heard. I was able to get 45 trials to verdict! I finished 2020 with 52 trials to verdict! Number 1, of the 24 Civil District Courts, in trials to verdict that year!
6) In 2021, when the District Clerk’s office got a system in place to do virtual jury calls, I began doing virtual juries. I am the only District Court judge in Harris County, of the 60, that is has been holding virtual jury trials with 12 jurors. This has had an monumental affect on justice being served. I’ve had parties in Scotland, France, and other parts of the world get their day in court, Covid19 Free.
7) Instead of hearing motions only 1 day a week, I changed the court’s practice and now matters are heard 5 days a week. This practice has allowed the court to maintain one of the lowest inventories of the 24 Civil District courts.
8) I changed the “official record” of 270th Court proceedings to a more efficient and cost effective system. Lawyers and litigants no longer have to call and beg for the “official record” of the court. Lawyers no longer have to pay thousands of dollars for the “official record” of the court. They now receive the “official record” of the 270th Court FOR FREE and within 15 minutes of the end of the proceeding. I recognize that all clients and lawyers do not have the resources to pay for the “official record,” and justice was being denied.
9) I require lawyers requesting hearings to be heard to schedule them within 30 days, if law allows. No more waiting months to get a hearing.
10) I demand WORLD CLASS customer service be given to any and everyone that does business with the 270th Court. Good or great customer service is just not enough.
11) I have opened the court to internships for over 30 law students, paralegals, college students and high school students. Majority are volunteers that are trying to learn about the courts and being a judge. Fueling the future.
12) I created an Expunction seminar that I give all across Texas.
13) I created a seminar entitled “How To Become A Judge,” that I have presented all across the USA to law students and pre-law students.
14) I have many more accomplishments since taking the bench in 2019. I just listed a few.

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

I have a PROVEN record. I have and will continue to make sure law and order equals justice.
I have already implemented new policies and procedures that have drastically changed the access to, as well as the efficiency of, the 270th
Court.
I have a PROVEN record. I have and will continue to treat all parties in the court equally. All trials need to be heard, not just the ones where the party can afford to pay a fee for a jury. As the presiding judge of the 270th court, I have a responsibility and a duty to serve all the parties. I refuse to discriminate against a party just because they can’t pay a jury fee.
As you may be aware, when the party files a lawsuit, that party decides if the case will be heard as a jury trial or a nonjury trial. If the party wants it to be a jury trial, the party will pay the jury fee. The parties in the case 100% decide if they want a jury to hear their case or if they want a judge to hear their case, all the way up to 30 days before the date of trial.
I have a PROVEN record. I have and will continue to be innovative, creative in serving the citizens of Harris County. I am dedicated.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important for many reasons. One reason this race is important is because truth and honor are a huge part of the job. When I pulled the 1/1/2019 to 2/13/2022 report, it reflected that I had 88 nonjury trials and 16 jury trials to verdict, that is over 100 trials to verdict. I have been consistently sharing the correct number of trials to verdict, jury and nonjury. There is no room for mistake or confusion.

Another reason this race is important is because the citizens deserve a judge with sound legal judgment. Two occasions when my rulings were taken to the Texas Supreme Court, my rulings were upheld. In one case, two different Courts Of Appeals (6 justices) and the Texas Supreme Court (9 justices) all upheld my decision. That’s 15 justices that upheld my opinion. Sound legal judgment.
PROVEN.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have over 35 years of legal experience.
I have almost 10 years as a civil litigation paralegal and more than 25 years as an attorney doing litigation and transactional work. I have over 20 years as a Certified Mediator, specializing in civil litigation.
I bring a broad knowledge of the system and the law.
I bring an expertise that is incredibly necessary for the position. Tunnel vision from one perspective is not an ideal trait for a presiding judge.
I have over 3 years as the presiding judge of the 270th Court and have made incredible improvements.
Justice. Fairness. Equality. Judicial temperament.
I am an award winning judge. The Houston Lawyers Association recognized my work and presented me with a “Judicial Service” award. The Texas Bar Foundation, a prestigious organization of elite attorneys, voted me in as a “Fellow.” I am now a “Lifetime Fellow” of the Texas Bar Foundation.

The voters in Harris County do not have to GUESS if I will perform. They have a PROVEN track record that shows I am devoted, driven, dedicated, creative and innovative. No guessing necessary.

The people should vote for me because litigants deserve a leader, not a follower.
If I followed everyone else, I would not be the only District Court in Harris County providing an 100% free Covid19 environment for jury trials.
I would not be the only District Court in Harris County that gives the litigants the “official record” of the court FOR FREE, and within minutes of the end of the proceeding.
The people should vote for me because I have PROVEN that I an innovative and creative.
I have PROVEN that I am a hard worker that thinks outside the box.
I have PROVEN that the citizens and the community are of the utmost importance to me as the presiding judge of the 270th Civil District Court. PROVEN, no guessing necessary.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

Judicial Q&A: Denise Brown

(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. This is one of two late entrants I am running today.

Denise Brown

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

I am Denise Brown. I’m running to be judge of the 270th Judicial District Court of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 270th Civil District Court hears all matters except criminal, family, juvenile, and probate. The civil courts handle every type of case from personal injury to employment, defamation, and tax cases, but does not handle criminal, family, or probate cases. The court handles cases involving $200+ in dispute.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Being a trial lawyer and litigator means I know the value of a jury trial. My clients depend on jury trials to have their cases decided. When a judge fails to hold jury trials, the people of Harris County are affected. To date, there have only been 9 jury trials since January 1, 2019 according to the District Clerk’s website. Judges should be held to the highest levels of honesty and ethics. I will bring integrity to this court so the people of Harris County know what I am saying is the actual truth. I am also running so there is equality in this court. Litigants, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and members of the public will get equal treatment in my court and not have to wonder if they will get a fair trial.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a licensed attorney for more than 21 years. I am a litigator and trial attorney. I’ve handled multiple bench and jury trials representing both plaintiffs and defendants. I have handled cases from motor vehicle wrecks to complex fraud and breach of contract cases to Dram Shop to construction defect to DTPA. A judge should have trial experience before becoming a trial judge.

5. Why is this race important?

Jury trials are the backbone of our judicial system. Without them, cases come to a standstill and parties are denied justice. As a litigator and trial lawyer for more than 21 years, I am not afraid of jury trials. A trial setting motivates parties to resolve a case without the need of a jury. Cases that cannot be resolved are then able to have their day in court and reach a resolution. Since January 1, 2019, there has only been 7 jury trials in the 270th District Court. Not having jury trials is simply unacceptable for this court. I will ensure that the court is managed efficiently and access to justice is available to all parties.

Judges should be held to the highest levels of integrity, honesty, and ethics. Representations made by a judge or on behalf of the court must be truthful, accurate, and beyond reproach. From denying litigants the right to trial by jury (https://search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=14723357-
f7cc-4f74-95b4-aace505320b6&coa=coa01&DT=Opinion&MediaID=c8f87cd1-9515-414c-a1b4-56dbfbd330a9) to publicly commenting on cases pending before the Court, the 270th needs someone who believes the rules apply not only to the parties and attorneys but also to the judge. I will restore the 270th to a respectable and honorable court.

Everyone who appears in front of the Court must be treated equally, with respect and dignity, and the knowledge that they will get a fair hearing or trial, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, who they love, or what their beliefs are.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am the best candidate for the position. A trial judge should have litigation and trial experience before taking the bench. I am the only candidate who has that experience. My background with both plaintiffs and defendants gives me a unique perspective as I understand the challenges faced by each bar as litigation proceeds as well as preparing and trying a case. By bringing efficiency, integrity, and equality to the 270 th , I will raise the level of decorum and dignity in this Court to where Harris County deserves. I am the most qualified person to be judge of the 270th .

Judicial Q&A: Gemayel Hayes

(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. This is one of two late entrants I am running today.

Gemayel Haynes

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

I am Gemayel Haynes, and I am running to be the next Judge for the 183rd District Court in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd Criminal District Court handles criminal cases ranging from low level state jail felonies to capital murder. The range of punishment for these cases is anywhere from 6 months in a state jail to life in prison or death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 183rd Criminal District Court because I believe a Judge who presides over a felony criminal court should be an experienced criminal attorney. My opponent never practiced criminal law before he took the bench in 2019, but I have done nothing but criminal law for almost 15 years. Inexperience can lead to decisions that harm the accused, the victims, and the community.

I also chose the 183rd District Court because it is closed every Friday during a historic backlog of pending felony cases. A closed courtroom causes unreasonable and unnecessary delays in justice for crime victims and the accused. My opponent inherited the lowest court docket in 2019 but the docket numbers have more than doubled due to frequently closed courtroom and lack of trials.

Finally, I want to restore trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. We should have a court that is efficient, transparent, and most importantly, fair to all. I believe every person that appears in court is a human being and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have almost 15 years of criminal trial experience. I began my career as a prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I worked in the felony, misdemeanor, juvenile and justice of the peace divisions, and I had jury trials on everything from class c tickets to murder cases. After I left the DA’s office, I opened my own law office. I represented juveniles and adults charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses in Harris, Chambers, Fort Bend, and Harris counties. I had jury trials on misdemeanor and felony offenses. I also worked on three capital cases, including a death penalty case, as part of a team of lawyers.

I am now an Assistant Public Defender serving as Senior Litigator and Team Lead in the Felony Trial Division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. In this role I supervise a team of eight lawyers, I mentor other lawyers in our office, and I represent indigent clients charged with first and second-degree felonies. I am in trial, either as first chair on my own clients’ cases or a second chair with younger lawyers, several times a year on everything ranging from state jail felonies to first degree murder and sex cases. I teach Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes to criminal lawyers locally and across the state on various topics including bail, pretrial investigation, search and seizure, revocation and adjudication hearings, trial prep, trial strategy, and sentencing issues. During my career I have also taken hundreds of hours of CLEs directly related to criminal law. I have also been a board member of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers
Association since 2014.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the criminal justice system is getting a lot of attention. The community can’t afford to have inexperienced criminal judges. I believe in smart bail reform that protects the community and respects the right of those accused of crimes. We need judges who will be fair to all, ensure due process rights are protected, and hold people accountable for their actions. The public deserves judges that aren’t learning criminal law while making decisions that have a major impact on lives.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

People should vote for me in the Democratic Primary Election because I am the most experienced and most qualified candidate in this race. My opponent was a civil attorney for over 30 years before he was elected to the felony criminal bench. As a public defender, I fight to protect the Constitutional and legal rights of people accused of crimes. As a prosecutor I worked with the police to protect Harris County citizens and seek justice for crime victims. I am the only candidate in this race who has represented the State and the accused in criminal court, and I am the only candidate with jury trial experience on both sides of the aisle. Serving as a prosecutor and public defender has given me the perspective and experience that is currently missing from this Court.

The criminal justice system has failed far too many crime victims and people accused of crimes. If elected, I want to use my knowledge and experience to address deficiencies in the system and restore trust between the community we serve and the courts. I will work to make the Court more transparent, accessible, efficient, and fair for all.

Final roundup of interviews and judicial Q&As

Here they all are. As noted, I may return to some races for the runoff. For now, this is what we have. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Vote well.

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Jinny Suh, Land Commissioner
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2
Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Judge Jason Luong, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Kim McTorry, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Amy Martin, 263rd Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Paul Calzada, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Ieshia Champs, 315th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Treasea Treviño, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Ron Campana, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

UPDATE: Naturally, I woke up this morning to see another set of Q&A responses in my inbox. They will run tomorrow.

Judicial Q&A: Treasea Treviño

(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.

Treasea Treviño

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

My name is Treasea Treviño and I am running to be the Democratic Candidate for Judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Harris County Courts at Law have jurisdiction in appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County including evictions. These courts have jurisdiction over statutory eminent domain proceedings, any civil matter where the amount of controversy is less than $250,000. It decides matters regarding title to real or personal property, enforcement of liens on real property, and have exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation suits.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

As you know, the pandemic has affected the underprivileged the most, with many working families struggling to stay afloat, keep a roof over their heads, and food on the table. I decided to run for this bench specifically to help such working families. One of the most important tasks of the Civil Courts at Law is to hear eviction appeals and I want to ensure that everyone who is facing eviction will be treated fairly and have the opportunity to be heard regardless of their socioeconomic status.

This race is also important for demographic reasons. If I am elected, I will be the only Latina Civil Court at Law judge, with over 43% of Harris County’s population being Latino, it is important for Latinos to have representation at every level of the judiciary.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a practicing attorney for over 14 years and have tried over 700 cases during that time. I have spent six years as Assistant Attorney General and six years as assistant county attorney my time practicing law has been devoted to public service and defending the wellbeing of Harris County’s residents. I have vast experience dealing with multiple parties, I am bilingual and my experience as a trial lawyer will allow me to hit the ground running from day one.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because this court will be making important decisions regarding eviction appeals and because it is a bench that needs a judge committed to service, a judge who is efficient, follows the law, is fair and will utilize her discretion for the benefit of the residents of Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I know that my professional experience coupled with my life experience, make me the most qualified candidate for this open bench. I am the one who has the most trial experience, in the past 14 years I have been at the courthouse almost every day trying cases, involving complex issues and multiple parties. Also, because I am hard worker, determined, and I have good judicial temperament which would allow me to be a good judge.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Amy Martin

(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.

Judge Amy Martin

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

I am Judge Amy Martin and I preside over the 263rd Criminal District Court of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I hear state felony-level criminal cases.

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

One of my most significant accomplishments has been to reduce the relative size of the docket since I was elected. When I took the bench, the 263rd had the highest case load among the 22 District Courts. Now, it is one of the 10 smallest dockets among the 23 District Courts (an additional court was added last year).

Improvement in my court’s efficiency was accomplished despite initially only having access to a criminal courthouse every other week, then having to share courtroom with 2 other judges, and ultimately having exclusive use of a courtroom, but without a jury room.

I have increased the number of successfully completed probations and deferred adjudications by 20% through the thoughtful use of tailored probation conditions that are meant to help an individual to improve their life and end their involvement with the criminal justice system. I have utilized specialty courts such as the STAR Court, Veteran’s Court, and Mental Health Court to address the specific needs of individuals that have found themselves in the legal system because of particular issues.

In my court, a defendant’s appearance is waived in most circumstances to minimize the unnecessary negative impact on a defendant who may have to take time off of work, obtain childcare, and find transportation downtown. I have changed the practice in my court to resetting cases for at least 60 days (often longer) between settings. Traditionally, the time between settings has been 30 days. At the same time, I require the attorneys on both sides to meet and make substantive progress on resolving the case.

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

I hope to continue to make my court the model in Harris County for adjudicating criminal cases with efficiency, fairness, and compassion. When public health circumstances and courtroom space allow, I would like to implement a more structured case management plan to reduce the number of unnecessary court appearances and have a uniform schedule for which particular tasks need to be completed by the attorneys in each case. I hope to continue to increase the use of diversion programs, explore creative options for effective dispositions of cases, and to assist defendants on bond to find programs to participate in so they can be productive while their case is pending.

5. Why is this race important?

Everyone in our community is affected by what happens in my court. The 263rd Criminal District Court handles the most serious criminal cases in Texas, including capital murder. There is no other setting in which Constitutional principles are more important. Crime rates across the country continue to rise amid a global pandemic. In Harris County we are still working on fixing the criminal courthouse from Hurricane Harvey and we have woefully too few district courts for our population explosion over the last three decades.

Even during this time of unprecedented challenges, under my supervision, the 263rd has become a more efficient, accessible, and considerate court. This race is important because Harris County voters have the opportunity to allow me to continue to improve our criminal justice system. I’m committed to using my 3 years of hard-earned experience to continue to innovate the court and protect the community.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Experience matters. I have more experience both as a lawyer and as a judge than any of my opponents, Democratic or Republican. I have earned endorsements, previously and during this primary cycle, from diverse organizations across the political spectrum.

Organizations have endorsed me repeatedly because I have not only improved the productivity metrics of the 263rd , but the courtroom culture as well. Anyone who visits my courtroom can see that I treat all parties with respect and that my number one priority is the fair treatment of everyone who appears before me.

As a member of the Criminal District Court Judges’ Fair Defense Act Management System (FDAMS) committee I have worked to ensure that the Harris County felony attorney appointment process is compliant with Texas law and local policy, and that there are well-established qualification requirements for attorneys who take felony court appointments.

I am on the committee responsible for the hiring and termination of the Harris County Magistrates as well the Associate Judges Hiring Committee, the group that is responsible for creating the standards, application process, and supervisory plan for the newly created positions of Associate Judge. I choose to be on committees such as these to participate in improving the Harris County criminal justice system as a whole, not just my court.

It has been an honor to serve Harris County as a District Court Judge and I hope the voters will give me the opportunity to continue to improve the 263rd District Court, the local administration of justice, and our community. My record shows that I am dedicated to public service and I will continue work hard if given the privilege of being re-elected.