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judicial races

Runoff reminder: Judicial races

Previously: Statewide, Congress, SBOE and State Senate, State House, county races.

Let’s begin with this, because if you only vote in one judicial primary runoff, this is the one to vote in.

An incumbent judge who is under indictment and is battling for her bench maintains that her 12 years of judicial experience better qualify her in the race. But her challenger claims that someone needs to restore integrity and ethics to Harris County’s 164th Civil District Court.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas and Cheryl Elliott Thornton are the two candidates in the Democratic Primary runoff race for the Houston-based court. Whoever wins will face Republican candidate Michael Landrum in the November election.

Thornton claimed that because her 33 years practicing law has earned her the respect of colleagues, that both public officials and sitting judges asked her to run for the 164th District Court.

“Harris County needs someone whose ethics are not questioned and who is ready and who is able to serve, both legally and through her qualifications, as the next judge,” Thornton said. “What differentiates me from my opponent is not just the respect that people have for me, it’s also my integrity and my ability to let others be heard.”

Smoots-Thomas was suspended in November 2019 from her court by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct after federal authorities charged her with seven counts of wire fraud. Claiming this is a political prosecution, she’s pleaded not guilty in the case, which alleged she embezzled over $26,000 in campaign contributions and used them for personal expenses like her mortgage and private school tuition for her children.

Smoots-Thomas said that she’s presided over the 164th District Court for 12 years and in that time she’s handled more than 200 jury trials and countless bench trials. She wrote that after Hurricane Harvey damaged Harris County’s courthouse, she used her chambers as a courtroom space so she could keep up her court’s efficiency and allow litigants their day in court. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s helped groups distribute masks and personal protective equipment around the county, she wrote.

“Throughout my years on the bench, I have been given several awards from various groups honoring my service and commitment to the legal community and larger Harris County community,” she wrote. “In short, I believe in and strive to exemplify judicial experience, efficiency, and adaptability.”

It’s possible that this is a politically motivated prosecution against Smoots-Thomas. I can’t prove that it isn’t, and if it is there’s no way to restore equity to Judge Smoots-Thomas. But I can’t take the chance. I’ve known Judge Smoots-Thomas since she was first a candidate in 2008. I like her personally. We’re friends on Facebook. I sincerely hope she beats these charges. I can’t vote for her with them hanging over her. I will be voting for Cheryl Elliott Thornton. I will note that Stace disagrees with me on this one. I also note from the Erik Manning spreadsheet that third-place finisher Grant Harvey was the Chron endorsee in March, so I presume we will see them revisit this one.

There’s one other District Court runoff in Harris County, for the open 339th Criminal Court, featuring Te’iva Bell and Candance White. Bell took nearly all of the organizational endorsements and was endorsed by the Chron as well.

The other judicial race on the ballot in Harris County is for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7, Tamika Craft versus Cheri Thomas. That’s another one for the Chron to redo, since they went with Wally Kronzer in round one.

The judicial Q&As that I received from these candidates: Cheri Thomas, Tamika Craft, Cheryl Elliott Thornton. You can watch Thomas, Thornton, Smoots-Thomas, and Bell participate in a judicial candidate forum with Civil Court Judge and all-around mensch Mike Engelhart on the estimable 2020 Democratic Candidates Debate Facebook page. Texas Lawyer covers Bell versus White here and Craft versus Thomas here.

Finally, there is one judicial primary runoff in Fort Bend, for the 505th Family Court, between Kali Morgan (44.6%) and Surendran Pattel (30.3%). I don’t have any information about them, but the Texas Lawyer profile of their runoff is here.

And with that, we bring this series to an end. Hope it was useful to you. Get out there and vote, in as safe and socially-distant a manner as you can.

UPDATE: Today the Chron endorsed in the judicial runoffs, recommending Cheri Thomas and Cheryl Elliott Thornton, and re-endorsing Te’iva Bell.

Coronavirus and the State Supreme Court

Just a reminder, nearly half of the State Supreme Court is up for election this November. You know, in case you had opinions about their recent opinions.

Typically not top of mind for voters, the nine Republican justices of the Texas Supreme Court have come under the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic with a slate of high-profile and controversy-generating moves.

Actions on bailevictions, debt collections, vote-by-mail and a Dallas salon owner named Shelley Luther have foregrounded the court in a year when four incumbent justices face reelection — making it easier, Democratic challengers say, to make the case against them.

Last week, the high court lifted its coronavirus ban on evictions and debt collections, put in place in March as the economy shut down and hundreds of thousands were added to the unemployment rolls. And the justices temporarily put on hold a lower court ruling that expanded vote-by-mail access during the pandemic. Both decisions have infuriated some voters and energized the Democratic Party.

This month, the court ordered the release of Luther, who was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to shutter her salon under coronavirus orders; earlier this spring, it sided with state officials in limiting how many inmates could be released from county jails, which have become hotspots for disease.

Democrats, who have not won a seat on the state’s highest civil court in more than two decades, have reclassified the typically sleepy races as a “top-tier priority,” a designation party officials said comes with digital ad spending. And some candidates have already begun to speak out publicly against high court decisions they say disenfranchise voters and risk their safety.

“I think people’s eyes are opening up,” said 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Gisela Triana, one of the four women running for Supreme Court on the Democratic ticket this year. “What has been the sleepy branch of government … has woken up.”

There’s more and you should read the rest. For obvious reasons, these races are largely going to be determined by the Presidential race – if Joe Biden can run even with or ahead of Donald Trump, one or more of the Democratic candidates can break through. It surely wouldn’t hurt for their to be some money spent on these races, in part just to make sure voters are aware of them and in part to highlight some of the decisions that are not exactly in line with public preferences, but there’s only so much the individual candidates can do about that. In case you’re wondering, I have one Q&A from a Democratic candidate for Supreme Court from the primaries, from Judge Amy Clark Meachum.

On a more sobering note:

Justice Debra Lehrmann

One day after presiding over a hearing on the state’s mail-in ballot controversy via videoconference, Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann says she and her husband have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We began to exhibit symptoms last week, despite diligently complying with stay-at-home rules,” Lehrmann wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Thankfully, this has not interfered with #SCOTX work, as the Court is working remotely. We are grateful for your thoughts & prayers.”

Her diagnosis marks the first known coronavirus case of a top state official. The justice did not immediately respond to requests for an interview but told the Dallas Morning News that she and her husband Greg had fevers and body aches early last week before getting tested at an Austin drive-thru testing center.

She also told The News that their Houston lawyer son, Jonathan, his wife Sarah and their six-month-old son Jack, who had been visiting them every other week, stopped and are believed to also be infected.

Her tweet is here. I wish Justice Lehrmann and her husband all the best for a swift recovery. (She is not on the 2020 ballot, in case you were wondering.)

Primary precinct analysis: Where a man can still win

Judge Gisela Triana

As previously discussed, female candidates in Democratic judicial primaries kicked a whole lot of ass this year. The four statewide races that featured one female candidates against one male candidate were shockingly not close – Amy Clark Meachum and Tina Clinton both topped 80%, while Kathy Cheng and Gisela Triana were both over 70%.

I’ve said before that blowout elections usually don’t yield anything interesting to see when you take a closer look at them. When a candidate wins by a dominant margin, that dominance tends to be ubiquitous. Still, I wondered, given that Texas is such a mix of counties – large, medium, small; urban, suburban, rural; Anglo and Hispanic; Republican and Democratic – that I wondered if that might still be true in these judicial primaries.

So, I picked the closest of the four race, Gisela Triana versus Peter Kelly, which was a 73-27 win by Triana, and looked at the county by county canvass. Behold, here is every county in Texas in which Peter Kelly won or tied:


County      Kelly   Triana
==========================
Borden          4        2
Briscoe        16       15
Burleson      340      292
Carson         59       56
Coke           33       28
Collingsworth  25       17
Fisher         79       20
Glasscock       7        5
Hall           33       30
Hansford       11        8
Hardeman       53       41
Hartley        32       29
Haskell        83       59
Hudspeth      143      143
Jack           72       70
Jasper        551      494
Kent           21       12
King            2        0
Lavaca        257      213
Limestone     340      308
Loving          4        1
Madison       132      111
Morris        345      274
Motley          5        5
Newton        160      134
Oldham         18       18
Red River     208      191
Roberts         5        4
Rusk          861      776
San Augustine 219      172
Shelby        187      182
Stonewall      35       19
Wilbarger     130      129

So there you have it. Congratulations to Fisher County, in what I would call the southern end of the panhandle, for being the most pro-dude part of the state, and to Rusk County in East Texas for being the largest pro-dude county. There were two counties in which each candidate got at least a thousand votes that were fairly close:


County      Kelly   Triana
==========================
Gregg       2,028    2,159
Harrison    1,182    1,484

I did not check the other races, on the assumption that there would be fewer such examples in those less-close contests. None of this is intended as a comment on the quality of the candidates – the Dems had a robust lineup of well-qualified contenders this cycle. I don’t think that this kind of “analysis”, if one can call it that, tells us anything useful, but I do think there’s value in examining the silly side of politics now and then. I’ve also had this sitting in my drafts since mid-March and felt like it was finally time to publish it. I hope you enjoyed this little exercise in said silliness.

Judges have to do their part

Some could be doing better.

Harris County’s largest association of criminal defense attorneys on Monday called on local judges to halt in-person court appearances to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

As the virus has swept across the nation, it has shut down wide swaths of everyday life. But in Harris County — where judges last month halted jury trials and many other court functions — some criminal judges have continued to require in-person court hearings and in-person reporting to pre-trial services.

Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association President Neal A. Davis wrote that such policies present a “threat to public safety and the impartial administration of justice.”

In the four-page letter — which was sent to the county’s 22 state district judges and 16 misdemeanor judges, Davis noted that video appearances are “easy and routine now,” and that local prosecutors are expressly forbidden from appearing in courtrooms, except in “the rarest of occasions.”

“For a Harris County Judge to require one party to physically appear and risk exposure to a deadly pathogen, and allow the other party to appear remotely, violates a judge’s appearance of impartiality, at a minimum,” Davis wrote.

[…]

Local defense attorney Patrick McCann said that while many misdemeanor judges were taking measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, some district judges “have not thought through the implications of everything they’ve been asking the defense bar to do.”

“I’m glad the HCCLA is finally standing up for the average solo (attorney) that’s trying to keep safe, keep their family safe and still do a good job for their clients,” he said.

This is one of those things that should have gone without saying, but clearly we need to say it. It’s clearly unfair to have different rules for each side, and when those different rules put some people’s lives at risk, there’s really no excuse. The story does not indicate which judges are the offenders here, but I’m sure the names are known. All I can say is that the next time these judges come up for election, I would very much like to know who was doing the right thing and who was not. I hope that the various endorsing organizations will take that into account, and more to the point be as transparent as they can about it. I know that most people who vote in judicial elections don’t know a whole lot about the candidates in question. That doesn’t mean the information that is relevant to us shouldn’t be available. Please make sure that it is.

Does getting to 40% make you likely to win the runoff?

Anna Eastman

I was talking with some fellow political nerds last week, and one of the topics was the forthcoming runoffs. As is usually the case, this year we have some runoffs between candidates who finished fairly close together in round one, and some in which one candidate has a clear lead based on the initial election. The consensus we had was that candidates in the latter category, especially those who topped 40% on Super Tuesday, are basically locks to win in May. The only counter-example we could think of off the tops of our heads was Borris Miles beating Al Edwards, who had been at 48%, in the 2006 runoff for HD146.

So, later on I spent a few minutes on the Secretary of State election archive pages, looking through past Democratic primary results and tracking those where the leader had more than forty percent to see who went on to win in the runoff. Here’s what I found:

2018

Winners – CD03, CD10, CD23, CD31, Governor, SD17,
Losers – CD27, HD37, HD45, HD64, HD109*, HD133*

2016

Winners – CD15, HD27
Losers – SBOE6

2014

Winners – Senate, SBOE13
Losers – HD105

2012
Winners – CD34, HD95, HD137
Losers – CD23*, SBOE2

2010
Winners – CD10, HD76*

2008
Winners – CD32, RRC

2006
Winners – Senate, Lt Gov, HD42, HD47*
Losers – HD146

In each of the cited races, the leading candidate had at least 40% of the primary vote. Races that have asterisks indicate that the runnerup also had at least 40%. As you can see, up until 2018, having forty percent or more in the primary was indeed a pretty good indicator of success in overtime. The last cycle provided quite a few counterexamples, however, including one incumbent (Rene Oliveira, who had been busted for a DWI earlier) who went down. So maybe 40% isn’t such a magical number, or maybe it’s harder now than it was before 2012. Or maybe this is just a really small sample and we should be careful about drawing broad conclusions from it.

Fortunately, we have quite a few races this year to add to this sample:

CD03 – Lulu Seikaly 44.5%, Sean McCaffity 43.8%
CD10 – Mike Siegel 44.0%, Pritesh Gandhi 33.1%
CD13 – Gus Trujillo 42.2%, Greg Sagan 34.7%
CD17 – Rick Kennedy 47.9%, David Jaramillo 35.0%
CD24 – Kim Olson 40.9%, Candace Valenzuela 30.4%
SBOE6 – Michelle Palmer 46.8%, Kimberly McLeod 34.6%
SD19 – Xochil Pena Rodriguez 43.7%, Roland Gutierrez 37.3%
SD27 – Eddie Lucio 49.8%, Sara Stapleton-Barrera 35.6%
HD119 – Liz Campos 46.1%, Jennifer Ramos 43.7%
HD138 – Akilah Bacy 46.7, Jenifer Pool 29.3%
HD142 – Harold Dutton 45.2%, Jerry Davis 25.3%
HD148 – Anna Eastman 41.6%, Penny Shaw 22.1%
138th District Court – Gabby Garcia 48.0%, Helen Delgadillo 31.0%
164th District Court – Cheryl Elliott Thornton 41.3%, Alexandra Smoots-Thomas 33.1%

I’ll be sure to do an update in May, when we can see if the leading candidates mostly held serve or not. Place your bets.

Look out! Here come the lady judges!

Everybody scream!

In Democratic judicial primaries last Tuesday, Dayna beat David, Jane trounced Jim, and Colleen got more support than John, David and Brennen combined. Is that all there was to it?

Men have dominated Texas courts for decades. Now, in Democratic-controlled areas of the state, they seem headed for extinction.

The corrective for years of gender inequity on the bench has proven rather simple: voters.

Women have disappeared from the high-octane Democratic presidential primary. But in down-ballot, low-information races, Texas Democrats are increasingly, consistently backing women over men. In last week’s Democratic primary, women won more votes than men in all of the roughly 30 gender-split contests for high court, court of appeals and district court, according to results from the Texas Secretary of State. Rarely was it even close.

In urban areas, Democrats typically beat Republicans in the general election. So if Democratic men can’t beat Democratic women in judicial primaries, the bench in Texas cities is likely to become a lot more female. Democratic men won primary races for high court, courts of appeals or district courts only when they were uncontested or facing a male opponent.

Some voters may have chosen women candidates because of their superior qualifications or experience. But experts say it’s likely that many of them just looked at two unfamiliar names and chose the one that sounded like a woman.

“Maybe they knew nothing, maybe they knew that they were both equal, but all things being equal, they went with the woman,” said Elsa Alcala, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “People are voting based on some characteristic that’s apparent from the ballot as compared to knowing who these people really are.”

There’s more, but you get the idea. This issue was important enough that the Chron and Texas Lawyer also devoted feature stories to it.

Look, I get it, judicial elections can be quite random, most people don’t know much about the candidates they’re voting for, yadda yadda yadda. There really were multiple good judges ousted, and that is a shame. It also is what it is, and as I’ve said before, the same mercurial partisan election system that unceremoniously dumped these good judges also elected them in the first place. This is my reminder that while there have been calls since at least 2008 (the first year since the early 90s that Democrats started winning judicial elections in Harris County, mind you) for some kind of different selection process for judges, no one has yet come up with an actual concrete proposal. There is now a blue-ribbon Judicial Selection Commission that is tasked with proposing such a method; I see no reason to trust it and recommend you do the same. I could be wrong, they could come up with something that minimizes cronyism while rewarding merit and promoting diversity, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

By the way, there were seven male Democratic judges who did not draw a primary opponent this cycle: Kyle Carter, RK Sandill, Michael Gomez, Mike Engelhart, Robert Schaffer, Robert Johnson, and Darrell Jordan. If Democrats maintain their recent dominance in Harris County, then we will see those seven men along with 20 women elected to district and county court benches this year. Back in 2004, the last time in a Presidential year that Republicans swept the judicial races, there were also 27 such elections. That year, 20 men and seven women were elected. I admit my memory isn’t what it once was, but I’m pretty sure there weren’t multiple articles written about how hard it was to get elected judge as a woman in Harris County back then.

My point is, let’s all take a deep breath and calm down. There were still 30 male judges elected in 2018, out of 59 total, 29 of whom are still on the bench (Bill McLeod of accidental resignation fame was the 30th). If after the 2024 election there are zero men on the district or county court benches in Harris County, then maybe there’s a problem. And I’m sure in another hundred years or so, society will evolve to the point where it can be remedied. History shows that you can’t rush these things, after all.

(And yes, the irony of these stories running within days of Elizabeth Warren suspending her Presidential campaign is…something.)

Runoff roundup

Here, as best as I can determine, are the runoffs of interest for May:

US Senate – MJ Hegar versus Royce West

CD02 – Sima Ladjevardian versus Elisa Cardnell
CD03 – Lulu Seikaly versus Sean McCaffity
CD10 – Mike Siegel versus Pritesh Gandhi
CD17 – Rick Kennedy versus David Jaramillo (D), Pete Sessions versus Renee Swann (R)
CD22 – Troy Nehls versus Kathaleen Wall (R)
CD23 – Tony Gonzales versus Raul Reyes (R)
CD24 – Kim Olson versus Candace Valenzuela
CD31 – Christine Eady Mann versus Donna Imam

Note that Wendy Davis (CD21), Sri Kulkarni (CD22), Gina Ortiz Jones (CD23), and on the Republican side Wesley Hunt (CD07) all won outright. I skipped a couple of Republican runoffs in safe D districts, because life is short.

Railroad Commissioner – Chrysta Castaneda versus Roberto Alonzo

SBOE5 – Robert Morrow versus Lani Popp (R, wackadoo versus what passes for normal)
SBOE6 – Michelle Palmer versus Kimberley McLeod

SD19 – Xochil Peña Rodriguez versus Roland Gutierrez
SD27 – Eddie Lucio versus Sara Stapleton-Barrera

Didn’t mention this yesterday, but Susan Criss prevailed in SD11.

HD02 – Dan Flynn versus Bryan Slaton (R)
HD25 – Ro’Vin Garrett versus Cody Vasut (R, this is Dennis Bonnen’s old seat)
HD26 – Suleman Lalani versus Sarah DeMerchant (D), Matt Morgan versus Jacey Jetton (R)
HD45 – Carrie Isaac versus Kent Wymore (R)
HD47 – Jennifer Fleck versus Don Zimmerman (R)
HD59 – Shelby Slawson versus JD Sheffield (R)
HD60 – Jon Francis versus Glenn Rogers (R)
HD67 – Tom Adair versus Lorenzo Sanchez
HD100 – Lorraine Birabil versus Jasmine Crockett
HD119 – Liz Campos versus Jennifer Ramos
HD138 – Akilah Bacy versus Jenifer Pool
HD142 – Harold Dutton versus Jerry Davis
HD148 – Anna Eastman versus Penny Shaw

Note that in that HD47 primary, one (1) vote separates second and third place, according to the Travis County Clerk. I assume there will be a recount, and even before then late-arriving mail ballots could change this. In the event of an actual tie, there will be a coin flip to determine who goes to the runoff. I’m rooting so hard for that outcome, you guys.

In the HD67 primary, 63 votes separate Lorenzo Sanchez and Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez, or 0.3 percentage points. I would expect a recount there as well, but with a far lesser chance of affecting the outcome.

Lorraine Birabil was the winner of the special election in HD100 to fill out the unexpired term of Eric Johnson, who is now Mayor of Dallas. Anna Eastman was the winner of the special election in HD148 to succeed Jessica Farrar.

14th Court of Appeals, Place 7 – Tamika Craft versus Cheri Thomas

164th District Court – Cheryl Elliott Thornton versus Alex Smoots-Thomas
339th Criminal Court – Te’iva Bell versus Candance White

County Commissioner, Precinct 3 – Diana Martinez Alexander versus Michael Moore

Moore was leading most of the night, but Alexander caught and passed him as final results came in. I don’t care to go through the various Constable and JP races, but the good Jerry Garcia was leading problematic incumbent Chris Diaz going into the Precinct 2 Constable runoff.

Whatever turnout there will be in the runoffs will be driven primarily by the Dem Senate race and the Congressional races on both sides. Won’t be much, but it ought to be a bit more than usual, and surely more on the D side if there were no Senate runoff.

2020 primary results: Harris County

Let’s start with this.

Long lines combined with a lack of voting machines turned into frustration for voters at several election sites in Harris County on Super Tuesday.

Margaret Hollie arrived at the Multi Service Center on Griggs Road at 11 a.m. She finished just after 2:45 p.m.

“It was horrible,” she said. “The worst since I’ve been voting. And I’ve been voting for 60 years.”

She decided to stick around and vote at the location in the city’s South Union area. Others did not, opting to find polling sites that were less busy. Under recent changes implemented by county leaders, voters can now cast their ballot at any precinct.

In Kashmere Gardens, at another Multi Service Center, the line of voters stretched from the entrance of the voting room to the exit of the facility.

Bettie Adami was one of about 100 people in the line about 4 p.m. Healthcare, higher paying jobs and raising the minimum wage top the list of her concerns this election season.

She isn’t letting the line prevent her from voting. “I’ll stand as long as I have to to cast my vote,” she said.

[…]

The county’s political parties are in charge of deciding which polling places will be open for primary elections, said [Rosio Torres, a spokesperson for the Harris County] Clerk’s office.

DJ Ybarra, Executive Director of the Harris County Democratic Party , said the decision was made to not include some polling locations in negotiations with Republicans to keep countywide voting in the primary. The parties agreed on the final map of polling locations in January, said Ybarra.

“In that negotiation, we had to come up with what locations we wanted,” said Ybarra. “We wish we could have had more locations, but we had to negotiate and we had to keep countywide voting.

“In the future, we’re going to try our best to get all our polling locations we want earlier in the process, so we’re not put in a position where we don’t have all the locations we want,” Ybarra said.

To sum that up in a couple of tweets:

In other words, there were about twice as many Dems voting yesterday as there were Republicans, but there were an equal number of Dem and Rep voting machines, which is the way it works for separate primaries. Had this been a joint primary as Trautman’s office originally proposed and which the HCDP accepted, each voting machine at each site could have been used for either primary. Oh well.

I had asked if the judicial races were basically random in a high-turnout election like this. The answer is No, because in every single judicial election where there was a male candidate and a female candidate, the female candidate won, often by a large margin. That means the end for several incumbents, including Larry Weiman, Darryl Moore, Randy Roll, Steven Kirkland, and George Powell, some of which I mourn more than others. Alex Smoots-Thomas, who had a male challenger and a female challenger, trails Cheryl Elliott Thornton going into a runoff. I saw a lot of mourning on Twitter last night of Elizabeth Warren’s underperformance and the seeming reluctance many people had to vote for a woman for President. Well, at least in Harris County, many many people were happy to vote for women for judge.

Three of the four countywide incumbents were headed to victory. In order of vote share, they are Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett, and DA Kim Ogg. In the County Attorney race, challenger Christian Menefee was just above fifty percent, and thus on his way to defeating three-term incumbent Vince Ryan without a runoff. I thought Menefee would do well, but that was a very strong performance. Even if I have to correct this today and say that he fell just short of a clear majority, it’s still quite impressive.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis easily won, with over 70%. Michael Moore and Diana Martinez Alexander were neck and neck in Precinct 3, with Kristi Thibaut a few points behind in third place.

Unfortunately, as I write this, Democrats were on their way towards an own goal in HCDE Position 7, At Large. Andrea Duhon, who is already on the Board now, was leading with just over 50%. If that holds, she’ll have to withdraw and the Republican – none other than Don Freaking Sumners – will be elected in November. If we’re lucky, by the time all the votes have been counted, she’ll drop below fifty percent and will be able to withdraw from the runoff, thus allowing David Brown, currently in second place, to be the nominee. If not, this was the single lousiest result of the day.

Got a lot of other ground to cover, so let’s move on. I’ll circle back to some other county stuff tomorrow.

Judicial Q&A: Veronica Rivas-Molloy

(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.)

Veronica Rivas-Molloy

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

My name is Veronica Rivas-Molloy. I am honored and proud to ask for your support to become a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, Place 3.

I am a wife, a mother of three young sons, a proud immigrant to this country, and a practicing attorney of almost 20 years. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, the first to obtain an advanced degree, and the first attorney. If elected, I will be the first judge in my family, the first Democratic elected Hispanic attorney to serve on the First Court of Appeals, and only the second Latina to serve on the court in 128 years, bringing much needed diversity to our appellate bench.

I have a degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish (with honors) from the University of Texas at El Paso. I graduated with honors and at the top of my law school class from the University of Houston Law Center. After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, gaining invaluable experience. For the last 17 years, I have worked at top-tier law firms representing my clients in litigation and appellate matters in Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have handled hundreds of complex litigation matters involving various industries and areas of the law, tried over 20 jury cases (including civil, criminal, and immigration matters), and counseled my clients on a variety of appellate matters. My experience is extensive and it has prepared me well for the position I now seek.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

There are 14 Courts of Appeals in Texas, each presiding over a specific geographic territory. The First Court of Appeals is located in Houston, Texas. The Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices preside over the court and hear civil and criminal (except death penalty) appeals originating from trial courts in 10 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to serve my community and give back to the legal profession that gave me a voice and the opportunity to advocate on behalf of others. I have a passion for what I do, and I want to use my skills and experience to give back to our community and serve our judicial system, for which I have profound respect. I also want to bring my wealth of experience and diverse voice to our appellate bench, where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution.

On a personal level, I also want to set an example for my children and diverse youth who may be considering a career in law. I want them to know the importance of civic duty and service, and for them to grow up knowing that immigrants, mothers, and diverse attorneys can be Justices and serve our communities with integrity, excellence, and hard work.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for almost 20 years, handling a wide-variety of complex business disputes throughout Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have represented numerous clients in state and federal courts, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and before domestic and international arbitral tribunals in disputes involving oil and gas operations, real estate, healthcare, construction, personal injury, employment matters, trade secrets, non-compete and restrictive covenants, and a diverse range of complex contractual and business-related matters. I have met the highest and most rigorous standards at all levels of my legal profession: student, law clerk, and legal practitioner.

I graduated with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso with a double degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish. I graduated from the University of Houston Law Center with honors and at the top of my law school class, where I served as an Article Editor on the Law Review, a Prosecutor on the Honor Court, the Vice President of the Hispanic Student Bar Association, and a Class Representative for the Student Bar Association.

After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk working for the Honorable Ewing Werlein, Jr. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where I gained invaluable experience working on a significant number of civil litigation matters. I worked on procedural and substantive matters assisting the court with trials, dispositive motions, jurisdictional disputes, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, injunction hearings, pre-trial matters, jury charges, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. I engaged in rigorous legal analysis and extensive brief writing, drafting recommendations on the myriad of cases and legal matters presented to the court over the course of two years.

Working in court also helped me understand not only the importance of having open access to our courts and the significance of the rule of law to our democracy, but also the importance of staffing and administration of a court’s docket to ensure efficient, fair and prompt resolution of pending cases. I also understood very early on that judges are servants of our judicial system, and, that as such, they have a duty to rule with impartiality, justice, equality, and with utmost respect for our judicial system. I learned the importance of having proper judicial temperament, and the importance of excellence, hard work and integrity.

Following my clerkship, I worked at the law firm of Baker Botts, LLP, where I continued to work on various litigation matters helping further refine my analytical, oral, and written advocacy skills. I represented clients across different industries in matters involving general commercial litigation and complex business disputes. I also served as a volunteer prosecutor for the City of Houston, where I managed the docket of the court (first-chair) once a week, engaging in various matters, such as plea bargaining, interfacing with defense counsel, working with court staff, officers, and witnesses, and trying numerous cases to the jury involving administrative and criminal matters.

For the last 10 years, I have worked at the law firm of Jones Walker, LLP, advocating for my clients and representing them on a diverse range of complex business disputes and appellate matters. I represent clients in state and federal courts across Texas, and other jurisdictions in the United States, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and arbitral tribunals. I have first-chair experience handling a significant number of bench and jury civil matters, helping my clients develop legal strategy and conduct fact discovery and investigations, motion practice, depositions, preparation and presentation of witnesses and experts, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, legal briefs, jury charges, pre-trial matters, mediations, arbitrations, trial, and appeals in a wide-variety of complex business disputes.

My significant experience in civil litigation makes me uniquely suited to be a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, because more than half of all appeals filed before that court involve civil matters, including complex business disputes like the ones I have been handling for years. It is important to elect judges who have a robust civil litigation practice and experience in trial courts, from which these civil appeals originate. I have that experience. In addition, it is vital that we elect judges who have strong written advocacy skills. As a litigator and former law clerk, a significant part of my practice has been devoted to rigorous legal analysis and extensive written advocacy.

In addition to my litigation practice, I work directly with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) providing pro bono representation to unaccompanied minors in their immigration and asylum proceedings. I also serve as General Counsel for Holy Trinity Episcopal School of Greater Houston, where I provide pro bono legal advice and representation to the school on various matters. I am also actively involved in my sons’ schools, having served on their parent teacher organizations, volunteering on multiple committees and special projects, and volunteering as their catechism teacher at our church.

5. Why is this race important?

Our courts of appeals hear significant cases that affect not only the parties before the court, but our communities at large. The decisions appellate courts render also influence our jurisprudence on a statewide level because they set the precedent our lower courts and legal practitioners apply and follow in their daily practice. It is important to elect judges who have a proven record of success, high qualifications for the job, and a commitment to doing the hard work necessary to give each case the attention it deserves for the parties, our communities, and the integrity of our judiciary and system of laws.

It is also vital that our courts reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. No attorneys of color presently serve on the First Court of Appeals, which presides over some of the most diverse counties and cities in our country. It is imperative that we improve the diversity of our appellate bench. Diversity not only enhances our judiciary by ensuring that different life perspectives and experiences form part of the decision-making process when ruling on significant legal issues, it also helps enhance the public perception and legitimacy of our judicial system.

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

I have significant experience and the skill set necessary to be an excellent Justice on the First Court of Appeals. My record of success is a testament to the quality of work and commitment I will bring to the bench.

I have a strong work ethic and self-discipline, both of which have served me well and have resulted in my success as an attorney. I have achieved not only academic success in my career, graduating with honors and at the top of my law school class, but also professional success, securing a federal clerkship and working at top-tier firms, providing legal advice to my firm clients and also giving back by representing indigent clients on a pro bono basis in various matters. I will bring that same work ethic and discipline to the bench to ensure diligent, fair, and prompt resolution of matters before the court.

I have a reputation for producing high caliber legal work, and for professionalism, always working with the utmost respect for my colleagues, clients, and adversaries. I strive to work with integrity and the highest ethical standards at all times—values that are the foundation of my legal career and should be at the core of any judicial candidate or jurist. If excellence, hard work, and integrity are values that resonate with you, then I ask for your vote. Those values have defined me as a person and professional, and they will guide me as a Justice on the First Court of Appeal serving you and our community. I hope to earn your trust and your vote. It will be a privilege to serve you and our judiciary.

Statesman overview of the statewide judicial races

It’s good to have a full slate of qualified candidates.

After years of trouble scraping together enough candidates to run for seats on both statewide courts, Texas Democrats have the opposite situation in 2020 — contested primaries in almost every race.

In all four races for the Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court, two Democrats are vying to challenge Republican incumbents.

And for the state’s top criminal court, multiple Democrats are running in two of three available races for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The renewed Democratic interest comes after the party’s court candidates lost by 6 to 8 points in 2018 — defeats that seem strong after the party’s judicial candidates were drubbed by an average of 24 points in 2010.

As an added incentive, Democratic judicial candidates tend to do better in presidential election years like 2020.

Contested primaries are a mixed blessing, offering an opportunity to improve name recognition but depleting campaign coffers, particularly in Supreme Court races in which GOP incumbents can raise more than $1 million in contributions, largely from civil lawyers and law firms. In contrast, races for the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be low-cost affairs.

Let me start by saying once again that the “contested primaries are resource drains” narrative continues to be tiresome, and in a year where a lot of people will be voting in the primary it’s very much a good thing for voters to have some idea of who you are ahead of November. There are brief writeups of each candidate, not much more than that, but it’s a start. I have Q&A responses from a couple of the candidates, Judge Amy Clark Meachum (Supreme Court, Chief Justice) and Steve Miears, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. Texas Lawyer has Q&As with nearly all of these candidates as part of their judicial race coverage. Their Supreme Court candidate Q&As are here and for the Court of Criminal Appeals here. The Erik Manning spreadsheet shows everyone’s endorsements, and as you can see there were a lot of split decisions.

One race has drawn a bit more heat than the others, the Supreme Court Chief Justice primary.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Jerry Zimmerer, a Houston appeals court justice running for Texas Supreme Court, said his Democratic primary opponent, Amy Clark Meachum, has “selfish” motivations for running, pointing to the fact that she has cast her campaign to be the first woman elected chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court as a historic one.

“I just think somebody who wants to try to break barriers for their own benefit is not going to be successful,” Zimmerer told The Texas Tribune in an interview Thursday. “I just don’t think that’s what voters are looking for. … I just think that’s a goal she wants to achieve for herself.”

He said his campaign is different because “I actually want the best candidate to win.”

“I may not be the first anything, but I’m going to be the best,” he said.

Meachum said Zimmerer “should run on his own record instead of attacking mine.” Throughout her campaign, Meachum has said she hopes to restore balance to the all-Republican court and champion women in the legal profession.

“If he chooses to disparage a more qualified and experienced judge because of her gender, he’ll find himself on the wrong side of history,” she said. “These sorts of sexist comments are straight from the 1950s.”

[…]

In a state bar poll that gauges Texas attorneys’ support for judicial candidates, Meachum won more favor than Zimmerer, with 1,779 votes to his 326. The Republican incumbent, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, won 2,706 votes.

Meachum has said she is the Democrats’ best chance at winning a seat on the high court for the first time in more than two decades.

“I don’t exactly look like or sound like my primary opponent, my general election opponent, or any of the men who have previously been elected Chief Justice,” she said in a Houston Chronicle questionnaire. “I am making an important statement for women in the law and women in our party in 2020 and I would appreciate your support!”

Reached Friday for comment, Zimmerer said, “As someone who has traveled the state trying to pull together all the different groups that make up the Texas Democratic Party into a cohesive coalition, I have concerns with those who would seek to divide us.”

Yeah, put me down in support of Judge Meachum on this one. I know both of these candidates and I like them both, but I disagree with Justice Zimmerer’s argument. We’ll see what the voters think.

Judicial Q&A: Colleen Gaido

(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.)

Colleen Gaido

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

My name is Colleen Gaido and I am running for the Harris County 337th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 337th hears all manner of felonies, from state jail felonies like burglary of a building and possession of a controlled substance to first degree felonies such as murder and aggravated robbery.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was actually on maternity leave when colleagues from both the Defense bar and the District Attorney’s office reached out to me to let me know that the current judge, Judge Ritchie, was retiring and to encourage me to run. I am running because I care deeply about criminal justice in our community and I believe that I have the experience, temperament and progressive values to be an excellent judge for the residents of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Since graduating from the University of Houston Law Center in 2007 I have practiced criminal law exclusively. I began my career at the District Attorney’s Office where I tried dozens of jury trials, including capital murders, robberies and sexual assaults of children. I was also asked to teach at the state and local level on trial skills and prosecutorial ethics. In 2017 I left the District Attorney’s office to practice criminal defense. I have dedicated my practice to solely representing those who cannot afford counsel. This work has brought me a welcome change in perspective on the criminal justice system, the bail system and the effects of mass incarceration on our communities.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because Harris County has made great progress in its criminal justice system and that progress needs to continue. The judge in a criminal court must ensure several things, including ensuring that people’s Constitutional rights are protected; that bail is not used to punish defendants pretrial or as leverage to get defendants to plead guilty; that their court runs efficiently, goes to trial regularly, and gives scheduling priority to those accused who are being held pretrial; that defendants have access to excellent and zealous representation; and that everyone who appears before them is treated with dignity and respect. When a judge fails to do these things the system fails the community, and the community loses faith in that system.

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

First, I’ve worked extensively in Criminal District Courts. I’ve handled hundreds of felony cases as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and practicing on both sides of has given me knowledge and a unique perspective that will assist me in being an informed, impartial judge. While that experience means that I know the law, it has not made me blind to the criminal justice system’s faults or weary of striving to make the system better for everyone involved.  Lastly, I have the temperament to treat everyone who comes before me with dignity and respect, and the work ethic to keep working diligently for the county long after I am elected.

Judicial Q&A: Amparo Monique Guerra

(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.)

Amparo Monique Guerra

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

My name is Amparo Monique Guerra and I am running for Justice, First Court of Appeals, Place 5. I am a lawyer, judge, mom of three children, and wife. I am the first Hispanic partner in my law firm. I have 17 years’ experience as a litigator, at both the trial and appellate levels, in state and federal courts throughout Texas and the U.S. I handle complex cases for a wide range of clients, from individuals to large multi-national corporations. When I was originally appointed to be a Municipal Judge for the City of Houston in 2005, I was the youngest sitting judge on the court, having been appointed at 28 years old.

I am a graduate of Rice University (double-major in Sociology and Latin American Studies), where I was on the President’s Honor Roll. I obtained my J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center, which awarded me a Dean’s Merit Scholarship, as well as Public Interest Fellowships to work with Texas Rural Legal Aid, and with Farmworker Legal Services in Michigan.

I clerked for a U.S. District Judge immediately following law school. I look forward to bringing my background, strong work ethic, and experience as a lawyer and a judge to the Court of Appeals.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The intermediate courts of appeals hear civil cases (including, but not limited to, business, family, probate, and personal injury) and criminal cases (except death penalty cases, which are appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) from the trial courts throughout a ten-county district, which includes Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington Counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Public service has always been a passion of mine. My mother (Retired Justice Linda Yanez) was the first Latina on a court of appeals in Texas. I was a federal judicial law clerk for U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela immediately following law school. Judge Vela showed me that the duties of a judge include being an excellent jurist, but should also extend beyond the courtroom to the community it serves. He often had us law clerks speak at schools and at naturalization ceremonies. In addition, we were instructors in a pre-law academy for undergraduate students. He and my mom instilled in me how one can use a law degree to serve the community, and so as soon as I could be a judge, I became one at 28 years old. As a judge, I treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter who they are or where they come from.

I am the first Hispanic partner at my law firm, and I have been promoting diversity on the bench for years. When I saw that Democrats could win seats at the courts of appeals here (which essentially had not happened in about 20 years), I was ecstatic, but when I looked at the composition of the bench, I noticed that the court sorely lacked the diversity that I know this community embodies. Houston is the most diverse city, and Fort Bend is the most diverse county in the country; however, our courts of appeals have no African American and no Hispanic justices. This is the perfect opportunity for me to utilize my unique background, education, exceptional legal skills, and experience as a judge to serve my community in a greater capacity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In addition to the qualifications listed in response to Question 1, I am eminently qualified to be a justice on the court of appeals because I have a wide breadth of experience as a lawyer handling cases throughout Texasin federal and state, trial and appellate courts, and other states, and I have judicial experience in a criminal court.

My most notable strength is my ability to dive into complex legal issues, and quickly master and apply the law to the facts. I have a varied background representing all types of clients from individuals and families, to business of all sizes, including sole proprietorships and large multi-national corporations. In fact, for the past four years, I have served as lead counsel for the largest corporation in the world in state and federal courts in Texas and Colorado.

I have experience as a federal judicial law clerk, and as a trial court judge, having presided over many trials. Therefore, I know firsthand what it means to make decisions from the bench that effect litigant’s lives, and the profound responsibility that entails. I have a deep respect for the rule of law, and I strive to apply the law in the most just way possible.

I handily won the State Bar of Texas Judicial Poll, which shows that more lawyers prefer me and find me more qualified than my opponent in the primary. I am humbled by the outpouring of support I have received during this campaign from elected officials, and highly respected members of the bar, including criminal defense lawyers, civil litigators, personal injury lawyers, legal aid lawyers, appellate practitioners, criminal law and appellate law professors, in-house counsel, and a former Justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest criminal court in Texas).

5. Why is this race important?

As stated in my response to Question 2, this is a court of general jurisdiction that hears civil and criminal cases from its ten-county district. Unlike the Texas Supreme Court (Texas’ highest court for civil cases), and the Court of Criminal Appeals (Texas’ highest criminal court), which decide which cases to accept on a petition for review, the intermediate courts of appeals must issue opinions regarding each and every case that is appealed to them. Because fewer cases are appealed to our two supreme courts, and those courts do not accept review of every case, the intermediate courts of appeals are often the last word on many important legal issues. Where there is no opinion from the two supreme courts on an issue which an intermediate court of appeals is called to decide, that appellate opinion controls the lower/trial courts within the court of appeals district.

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

I have a wide breadth of experience in my seventeen years of practice, in addition to being a judge. I have worked in legal aid clinics, municipal and federal courts, as well as law firms of all sizes—small, mid-size, and large. I am the only judge, the only woman, and the only person of color in this race. I am the first Hispanic partner at my law firm. I have 3 children, 2 jobs, and a husband who is a tremendous partner.

I have an outstanding reputation among my peers for excellent research and writing and oral advocacy skills, as well as a keen ability to dive into complex legal issues, swiftly master and apply the law to the facts, and successfully advocate for my clients. I do all of this in an environment where I am typically the only woman and/or the only person of color among my colleagues and opposing counsel.

I have demonstrated I have judicial temperament on the bench. I am a vetted and trusted public servant. I was repeatedly reappointed to serve as a municipal judge because of my impeccable record of integrity, impartiality, and strong work ethic (I handle a demanding law practice full-time, and I serve on the municipal court part-time).

I have represented all types of clients from individuals and families, to businesses of all sizes, including sole proprietorships, small businesses, and national, as well as multi-national, corporations. In fact, I have been lead counsel for the largest corporation in the world for the past four years, handling cases for it in state and federal courts in Texas and Colorado.

I have experience handling very complex (and typically very high-dollar) matters, not just run-of-the-mill cases, in the following areas: business disputes including business torts and breach of contract cases in various industries, such as energy, oil & gas (including Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act matters), medical care, real estate, and insurance; employment and ERISA litigation and advice; consumer litigation; insurance coverage and bad faith; civil rights; receivership; Carmack Amendment; toxic/mass tort; and personal injury, including wrongful death. I also serve as a guardian ad litem in personal injury cases involving minors.

My education has been in highly competitive academic environments. I have always been a studious person ever since I was very young. When I was in seventh grade, I was selected based on my exemplary achievement test scores by the Duke University Talent Identification Program to sit for the SAT with high school students. My scores prompted interest in me by an organization called A Better Chance (ABC), which places academically gifted students in selective college preparatory schools throughout the country. Through ABC, I was accepted to and received a full scholarship to attend St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island as a boarding student. I attended St. George’s for all four years of high school and graduated with distinction. While in high school, I worked during one summer with Mano A Mano, a March of Dimes organization in Brownsville. I worked in medical clinics for indigent people in very impoverished areas on both sides of the border, and did community outreach to educate and disseminate information to women regarding proper prenatal health. This program was, in large part, a response to the prevalence of encephalitic births on both sides of the border. Working in clinics in Mexico and Brownsville without electricity or running water, and witnessing the lives of those much less fortunate than I impacted me greatly and reinforced my interest in public service. That experience showed me two worlds – one of extreme wealth in New England, and another of extreme poverty on the U.S.-Mexico border. That juxtaposition has stayed with me and informs much of what I do and how I think about social justice issues.

I am multi-lingual—an invaluable asset in this most diverse area of the country. I am fluent in Spanish from my family background and formal education. I have a Superior Certification in Legal and Commercial Spanish from the Chamber of Commerce in Madrid, Spain. I also speak Portuguese and Italian.

When I set my mind on a goal, I give it my all. My candidacy is no exception. My hard work is one of the many reasons I have been awarded every organizational endorsement granted to date in this race. My organizational endorsements are in addition to my many individual endorsements from elected officials and well-respected lawyers.

My election will change the face of the court of appeals where we sorely lack diversity. This court of appeals district includes ten counties, including Harris and Fort Bend. It is well-known that Houston is the most diverse city, and Fort Bend is the most diverse county in the country; yet, our courts of appeals do not reflect our rich diversity. We need diversity, not for diversity’s sake, but to have a mixture of backgrounds and ideas at the table on this multiple judge court. My mother, Retired Justice Linda Yanez, was the first Latina to serve on a court of appeals in Texas. She left a legacy I would be honored to continue here on the Houston court of appeals.

I will apply my strong work ethic, unique background, education, exceptional legal skills, and experience as a judge when I am elected to the court of appeals, where I will continue to be a hard-working judge ruling on cases expeditiously with respect for the rule of law.

Judicial Q&A: Cheri Thomas

(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.)

Cheri Thomas

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

My name is Cheri Thomas. I am running to be the Democratic candidate for Justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Place 7. I am a 15-year lawyer with significant appellate and litigation experience. My husband, Lewis Thomas, is a criminal defense attorney. Together, we have three amazing daughters and one fuzzy Samoyed.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court composed of nine justices who hear appeals and original proceedings. The Fourteenth Court has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal appeals from lower courts in ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

In 2017, I applied for and was selected to be a staff attorney for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, the same court for which I am now running. In that position, I worked on over 50 civil and criminal appeals, reviewing the record, conducting legal research, and drafting recommendations on various legal matters for the court’s consideration. I know how the court works, and I know what it takes to review appeals accurately and efficiently.

The 2018 election brought new justices to the court, with fresh perspective and a variety of backgrounds. Because the court reviews a wide variety of legal subject matters, justices with different backgrounds act as resources to one another in cases that touch upon their experience. On the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, many of the new justices have experience in criminal law and experience in small firm or solo civil practice. My experience working on complex civil matters in litigation and on appeal will serve as a helpful and necessary resource, balancing the variety of experience on the court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In the last few years, I have worked on more appeals than all my primary opponents combined during the same time period. Not only do I have significant appellate experience, I have significant trial experience. I practiced civil litigation at Baker Botts, LLP, working on a wide variety of civil trial matters, including contract, employment, securities, toxic tort, and personal injury matters in state and federal courts. I then joined Stuart PC, where I represented clients in civil and appellate matters, in state and federal courts all over the country. In 2016, I became a Partner at Stuart PC. I have managed cases at all stages of litigation. My experience as a litigator will give my appellate decision-making depth.

I also clerked for a federal judge. After graduating with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, I secured a federal clerkship working with the Honorable Jorge Solis of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where I had the opportunity to work on numerous civil cases involving various subject matters.

5. Why is this race important?

Except for death-penalty cases, all cases appealed from district and county courts in the ten counties listed above are considered by the First or Fourteenth Courts of Appeals. Intermediate appellate courts like the Fourteenth Court are often the last courts to review these appeals. The Fourteenth Court must review practically every appeal that comes before it whereas Texas’s highest appellate courts, the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, consider a limited number of appeals.

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

I understand that the court affects real people and real families. I am one of eleven children in a blended family. We have had our own unique set of struggles, and we have experienced struggles that most everyone has experienced: divorce, cancer, death. Voters can count on me to care.

My education and experience have given me the skills I will need to be an excellent Justice: good judgment and the ability to perform rigorous, meticulous legal analysis. I am the only candidate in my race that attended a top-ranked law school or graduated with honors. I am the only candidate that has worked at a leading international law firm or made partner at a law firm. I am the only candidate that has worked in an appellate court (or any court). I was named a “Rising Star” by the Texas Super Lawyers magazine five times, and I was recently elected as a Fellow to the Texas Bar Foundation. Texans are entitled to qualified, fair, and impartial justices. If elected, I will serve honorably. I will work hard, make well-reasoned decisions, and I will treat everyone with fairness and respect.

Judicial Q&A: Natalia Cornelio

(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.)

Natalia Cornelio

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

I am Natalia “Nata” Cornelio. I am an experienced, bilingual, Latina attorney. I am running for the Harris County 351st District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a Criminal District Court responsible for presiding over felony level cases. This includes presiding over trials and making decisions relating to pretrial release or detention, pretrial motions, sentencing, and certain post-conviction matters.

The Court is also responsible for making decisions and establishing procedures that are distinct from hearing cases, but that have a substantial impact on the community and on individuals appearing before it. For example, the Court has responsibility for case management and courtroom procedures, the appointment of counsel in indigent cases, and for bail-related schedules or policies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because I have the ability to apply the law in a manner that will improve the public’s confidence in our courts and their decisions.

I will work tirelessly to improve case management systems, to demonstrate an exceptional understanding of the law, to always respect the Constitution and people’s rights, and to thoughtfully consider people’s experiences when applying the law.

I am also running to bring desperately needed diversity to our criminal bench. I am a qualified Latina attorney who has directly served the communities that are often hit hardest by our justice system. Of the 38 criminal courts in Harris County, there are zero Latina judges serving on these courts. This is in spite of the fact that the population in Harris County is over 43% Latino.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 13 years of high-level legal & courtroom experience. I have substantial experience working directly with communities most impacted by the criminal justice system and have a clear, profound understanding of the consequences that judicial decisions have in these communities.

I received my law degree in 2006 from the University of Chicago Law School. I succesfully defended my first murder trial and suppressed evidence in two additional cases while a student at the Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid and Juvenile Justice Clinic.

I then served as a staff attorney for the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for nearly four years, where I drafted judicial opinions for federal appellate judges in criminal, immigration, and habeas corpus cases. I disposed of all legal arguments from both sides while applying the law and considering the record in each case.

Between 2011 and 2017, I was a Federal Public Defender here in Houston. During these years, I was in court handling criminal cases almost every day. I represented hundreds of clients charged with serious felony crimes through every phase of their trial proceedings. I litigated hundreds of bail and probable cause hearings. I successfully challenged a case on double jeopardy grounds before federal judge Lee Rosenthal, and successfully challenged a case where speedy trial rights were violated. I developed significant expertise in criminal law and procedure and developed a strong understanding of the immigration consequences that attach to criminal proceedings. While there, I also conducted Continuing Legal Education classes for other practicing attorneys regarding bail proceedings and on defending criminal immigration offenses.

From 2017 until 2019, I was Director of Criminal Justice Reform at the Texas Civil Rights Project. I managed a team of attorneys and litigated prominent, complex civil rights cases relating to our criminal justice system under Section 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I investigated cases under the Fair Housing Act and Title IX. I successfully represented, on a pro-bono basis, parents forcibly separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border under the federal government’s zero-tolerance policy, the medically vulnerable prisoners held in swelteringly hot and cruel conditions in the Texas prison system, prisoners who have been in continuous solitary confinement for over 20 years, a man who was criminally charged in Greenspoint with “standing on the sidewalk,” and a mother in El Paso who was jailed while pregnant for being unable to pay traffic tickets. I was involved in panel discussions, training sessions, and media presentations regarding this work and our criminal justice system.

In the summer of 2019, I became the Director of Legal Affairs for Harris County Precinct One, where I helped negotiate and draft the final settlement agreement in the misdemeanor bail lawsuit against Harris County. This agreement was critical to ensuring and end to the Harris County practice of detaining thousands of misdemeanor arrestees each year prior to trial simply because of their inability to pay a cash bond. I serve as Co-chair of the Harris County Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committee. This committee is tasked with developing strategies to reduce racial disparities in our justice system. My experience in this rols has made me familiar with the resources available to our leaders to support the development of better policies and practices on critical issues relating to race, bail, and incarceration.

I also teach a course on trial advocacy to law students at The University of Chicago Law School for two weeks each year.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we must always strive to elect judges who will improve the public’s confidence in our courts based on a demonstrated ability to apply the law.

While this includes any aspect of the court’s work, one critical issue facing our courts today is whether the law and Constitution will be faithfully followed on bail decisions and procedures. Federal Courts across the country have now held that criminal courts must not detain people simply because of their economic circumstances. In Harris County, the Fifth Circuit has found that we have harmed thousands of people, their families and their communities by solely relying on ability to pay in making bail decisions. These policies have perpetuated racial disparities in our justice system and act as a force in too often making innocent people plead guilty.

We need leaders who are committed to making changes in order to always comply with the law and Constitution. These changes will require hard work and a willingness to make difficult decisions. I am committed to ensuring that the law and Constitution are followed in all cases including in bail decisions and policies, and to ensure that all people receive equal justice under the law.

Diversity is also a pressing issue facing our courts. The lack of a Latina judge in our 38 criminal courts serves to undermine the public’s confidence in our courts. We have an opportunity to change that.

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

I will bring integrity, accountability, diligence, and a respect for the law and legal processes to the bench. I will base my decisions on law and fact. I will respect all members of the community, work hard, and never stop learning. I will always strive to build the public’s confidence in our courts. I ask for your vote.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Amy Clark Meachum

(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.)

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

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

My name is Judge Amy Clark Meachum, a three-term district court judge from Travis County, and I am running for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort for civil appeals (including civil cases, family law matters, administrative appeals, probate and estate matters, child protection cases and juvenile justice cases) in Texas.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

It is time for a new generation of judicial thought leaders to bring much needed balance to the all-Republican Supreme Court. Texas has never elected a woman chief justice to its highest court, and I am proud to be the first woman to ever run for this office. We need a system of justice that respects the Constitution, protects the vital role of citizen juries, and addresses the economic barriers that too often prevent women, persons of color, and working families from seeking and obtaining justice. We need to elect judges who put public service and fairness over special interests.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

As presiding judge for the 201st District Court in Travis County, I have general jurisdiction and have presided over cases at the trial level for almost a decade. I am currently the Civil Presiding Judge for all civil and family courts in Travis County, and serve on the Administrative and Public Law Council for the State Bar of Texas. I am a guest lecturer on legal ethics, active on the CLE circuit, and a board member with Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas. Before taking the bench, I practiced civil litigation at two of the best firms in Texas. I graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law in 2000, where I was a member of the Texas Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude from Southern Methodist University in 1997.

5. Why is this race important?

The Supreme Court of Texas has been controlled by the Republican Party for over 25 years. SCOTX is considered by legal watchdog groups to be one of the most ideologically conservative in the nation, consistently ruling in favor of large corporations and insurance companies and against individuals and everyday Texans. I am committed to returning the state’s highest civil court to a much more balanced center — and affording all persons equal justice under the law. Even the skeptics agree that 2020 is the best opportunity for Democrats to win statewide in 25 years, and we have the opportunity to possibly win four seats on a nine-member court. This is the most consequential election in our lifetime. Now, more than ever, we need a system of justice that respects the Constitution and values the role of our judiciary and the rule of law.

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

When you compare my nearly decade of judicial experience to my primary opponent’s one year, any reasonable person will conclude that I am the more qualified and experienced candidate. When you investigate my judicial record, it will show a decade of standing up for the values of fairness, equality and justice under the law. After winning a contested Democratic primary in Travis County in 2010, I ran for reelection unopposed in 2014 and 2018. Not a single Democrat nor a single Republican ran against me in 2014 or 2018. That speaks to the quality of my work and the fairness of my rulings. In the most consequential election of our lifetime, let’s do something bold and give the voters a clear choice next November. I don’t exactly look like or sound like my primary opponent, my general election opponent, or any of the men who have previously been elected Chief Justice. I am making an important statement for women in the law and women in our party in 2020 and I would appreciate your support!

Endorsement watch: The judges

After a couple of Republican endorsements, the Chron gives us a slate of judicial candidates for the Democratic primary in the district courts. A brief summary:

Singhal in Democratic primary for 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3

We recommend Dinesh Singhal, 52, who has tried more than 25 cases and handled 19 appeals.

Hootman in Democratic primary for 1st Court of Appeals, Place 5

We recommend Tim Hootman, 57, an experienced appellate lawyer who is known for having an atypical legal approach.

Robinson in Democratic primary for chief of the 14th Court of Appeals

We recommend Jane Robinson, 46, who is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Kronzer in Democratic primary for 14th Court of Appeals Place 7

We recommend Wally Kronzer, 65, who has extensive appellate court experience in state and federal courts.

Weiman in Democratic primary for 80th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent Larry Weiman, 64, who has been on this bench since 2008.

Harvey in the Democratic primary for the 164th Harris County District Court

We recommend Grant J. Harvey, 55, who is a highly regarded litigator who has participated in numerous trials and appeals.

Daic in the Democratic primary for the 165th Harris County District Court

We recommend Megan Daic, 34, for a court that needs a more efficient and decisive judge.

Acklin in the Democratic Primary for the 176th Harris County District Court

We recommend Bryan Acklin, 34, who is a former prosecutor and is now a criminal defense attorney.

Martinez in the Democratic Primary for the 179th Harris County District Court

We recommend Ana Martinez, 39, who gained a sterling reputation as a human trafficking prosecutor before she became a defense attorney.

Moore in the Democratic Primary for the 333th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent Daryl Moore, 58, who may be the most respected incumbent running in Harris County.

Kirkland in the Democratic Primary for the 334th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent Steven Kirkland, 59, who has been on this bench since 2016 and served on another civil bench and a municipal bench before that.

Gaido in the Democratic Primary for the 337th Harris County District Court

We recommend Colleen Gaido, 39, who is a respected former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney.

Bell in the Democratic Primary for the 339TH Harris County District Courts

We recommend Te’iva Bell, 39, who has served in the felony courts from three perspectives – as a prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and a public defender. H

Powell in the Democratic Primary for the 351th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent George Powell, 54, who was elected to this bench in 2016.

Phillips in the Democratic Primary for the 507th Harris County District Court

We recommend C.C. “Sonny” Phillips, 59, who has been practicing family law, and occasionally appellate law, for 34 years.

They did actually say more about the candidates they recommend, and they noted who else was on the ballot. Go read all that for yourself. As noted, Weiman, Moore, Kirkland, and Powell are incumbents, while Harvey (Alex Smoots-Thomas), Daic (Ursula Hall), Acklin (Nikita Harmon), Martinez (Randy Roll), and Phillips (Julia Maldonado) are running against incumbents. Here are the Q&A’s I’ve run from candidates in these races:

Tim Hootman, 1st Court of Appeals, Place 5
Jane Robinson, Chief Justice, 14th Court of Appeals
Wally Kronzer, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Grant Harvey, 164th Civil Court
Megan Daic, 165th Civil Court
Bryan Acklin, 176th Criminal Court
Ana Martinez, 179th Criminal Court
Judge Steven Kirkland, 334th Civil Court

Q&A’s from candidates not endorsed by the Chron:

Tamika Craft, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
V.R. “Velda” Faulkner, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
Lennon Wright, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Cheryl Elliott Thornton, 164th Civil Court
Jimmie Brown, 165th Civil Court
Judge Randy Roll, 179th Criminal Court
Judge Julia Maldonado, 507th Family Court
Robert Morales, 507th Family Court

Q&A responses from Natalia Cornelio (351st Criminal Court) and Cheri Thomas (14th Court of Appeals, Place 7) are in the queue and will be published in the next couple of days. The Chron will do endorsements for the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals separately, and will not be endorsing in the County Court, Justice of the Peace, and Constable races. That’s one way to get through this long list of candidates and races in a (mostly) timely fashion.

One last thing: As is often the case with these judicial endorsements, I agree with some and not so much with others. The one that surprises me is the endorsement of Judge Powell. After the big deal the Chron made about not endorsing any judge or judicial candidate who didn’t support bail reform in 2018, it’s a bit jarring to see no mention at all of that subject in this context.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Julia Maldonado

(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.)

Judge Julia Maldonado

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

I am Julia Maldonado, the incumbent in the 507th Family District Court, Harris County Texas. I was elected to this office November 2016. I am running for re-election to the 507th Family District Court. I am Board Certified in Family Law, prior to becoming a judge, I practiced law for eighteen years. During my years as practicing attorney, I tried hundreds of cases and dealt with almost every situation that can come up in a family law setting. As a judge, I have made sure that every litigant is treated with dignity and respect and that each case is decided according to the law without favoritism.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 507th Family District Court hears divorces, suits affecting parent-child relationship (SAPCR), which include but are not limited to, custody, establishment of paternity and child-support. This court also hears enforcement of prior orders issued by this court, which include but is not limited to, child support, possession and access, property. Additionally, this court also hears cases from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS), special Immigrant juvenile (SIJS) cases, adoptions and name changes for children as well as adults.

3. What are your main accomplishments in the past four years?

I created a mentorship program for attorneys who are in need of help from more seasoned attorneys; I ensured that the court appointed attorneys list included attorneys from different backgrounds to reflect the diversity of the county; I trained all the new family judges after the November 2018 election. I have implemented procedures in my court which allow the docket to be handled in an efficient manner to ensure that resources are not wasted.

4. What are your goals for the next four years?

To continue to work so that Information Technology is used to make the court more efficient by allowing litigants to set up hearings, check in for cases, and follow up on orders needed to be signed via the internet. Part of the work needs to be synchronized with the office of the Harris County District Clerk so that IT can work in the benefit of every person who comes to court. I will be implementing the electronic voucher system in the next couple of months as part of my ongoing work to ensure that appointed attorneys do not over bill and that there is a better control of the work done by each appointed attorney.

As a senior judge and the administrative judge of the Family Law Division of Harris County, I will continue working to promote that the ten family courts, with the exception of the protective order court, follow policies and procedures that are consistent among the ten courts.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important because family courts make decisions that have long lasting effects on families, both adults and children are impacted by the decisions of the court every day. The judge in charge of making those decisions needs to have vast experience on the matter and needs to have the judicial temperament required when dealing with the type of cases that a family court deals with. I have both, I have ample experience on the subject as an attorney and as a judge and I have the judicial temperament to make correct decisions in every case that comes in front of me.

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

People should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate for this job. I have been practicing family law in Texas since November of 1998. I became Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specializations in 2012. I practiced law for over 18 years prior to becoming a judge. 95% of my law practice was focused in family law. I was elected to the bench as a Family District Court Judge in November 2016. Since then I have gained a wealth of additional experience and have had the opportunity to provide training to all of the new ten family judges that were elected in November 2018. I am currently the Senior Judge and Administrative Judge for the Family Law Division in Harris County. I am now entering my fourth year as a District Court Judge. I have had all the training required by to be a judge and continue furthering my education through Continued Legal Education beyond the required number of hours. I have dealt with almost every scenario that can come up in a family law setting and have tried hundreds of cases related to family law. I have the judicial temperament needed to be a judge and to properly maintain court decorum.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Randy Roll

(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.)

Judge Randy Roll

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

I am Randy Roll the incumbent Judge of the 179th District Criminal Court first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2015. I have 32 yrs experience with more than 5000 clients, 8 yrs on the bench (including muni-court). Before practicing law, I was a teacher and housing contractor. I am a linguist and speak Spanish, Russian, German & French. I am the only attorney in the county qualified by the courts to accept appointments in 5 languages before I became judge. As an attorney I accepted appointments (more than 2000), primarily in Spanish as I had been certified in that language, despite never taking formal classes. I wrote the Spanish admonishments (legal warnings for defendants) the courts used for more than 15 years. I have had more than 150 trials as judge and attorney, my opponent has had 4 felony trials as a defense attorney. I have been involved, as a participant & candidate since 2002 in the judicial selection process.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This felony court hears all 4 types of felonies, from theft to murder. This court hears Prostitution cases. Prosecutors like my opponent put prostitutes in prison. I defended them because they were victims. As judge, I have refused to put such victims in prison.

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

Immediately in 2009, (1) I made my grand juries reflect the diversity of this county. The legislature liked what we did and then made it law. (2) I was instrumental in adoption of the Public Defender’s Office. My vote and support was crucial for getting the Public Defender’s Office installed in Harris County. In 2009 we were only 9 Democrats to 13 Republicans. I had to convince Republicans to join us. (3) I spear-headed the use of DNA testing by appointed counsel. I am a progressive judge, (4) handing down more probations since 2009 and more 2nd chances to probationers in non-violent meritorious cases than all the other 21 judges. The DA’s Office has policies of not giving probations in many types of cases, so it falls on the judge. (5) I terminate probations early if they get their education or GED. (6) I also reversed the excessive probation sentences routinely given before 2009. For example, I do not give 10 years probation for possession of a small drug amount. Usually now it is 2 or 3 yrs with treatment where needed. (7) We use Intensive Out-Patient drug treatment and where warranted, in-patient treatment. (8) I have helped young offenders. Several ministers attend the court and we discuss how we can keep them out of harm’s way. My opponent says giving undocumented people probation is a trap for deportation. Tell that to the father of 5 who has lived here since he was a toddler and is now out working to support his family. (9) I began giving Personal Recognizance (PR) bonds (free) in appropriate cases. Since 2009 I have given more PR bonds than any judge. I had a written policy giving PR bonds for non violent meritorious cases. All other cases were on a case by case review. I was not sanctioned as 13 other judges were & that sanction was reversed. (10) I turned around the most bloated and anemic docket of criminal cases of the 22 courts and made it the 5th best and smallest docket, by working hard and taking 8 days vacation in my 1st 4 yrs. This allowed my court to go to trial more often and those waiting in jail had their delay to trial reduced from years to months. (11) Now, I am the senior judge with judicial experience and several new judges have come to me for advice. I still call older retired judges for advice. I am a dedicated to improving the system.

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

I hope to continue the reforms I have made. I want to use my position as the most experienced senior judge to influence Commissioner’s Court to fund mental health services for the justice system. We should not be treating mental health patients by incarceration. I want to continue advising and leading newer judges. I fight everyday to give justice.

5. Why is this race important?

EXPERIENCE MATTERS! I only have 8 yrs as a judge, but that is the most of all 38 criminal judges (including 16 misdemeanor courts). SAFETY MATTERS! My opponent faults me for revoking bonds for people on serious drugs while in court. She implies it is ok for an Aggravated Robbery suspects to continue on bond doing serious drugs like Cocaine and PCP. Often when it is marijuana or some soft drug like this, I keep them for 30-45 days to dry out and then re-instate their bond. My opponent falsely says I do this regardless of the charge (her words). I fear for public safety. PCP is the most violent drug around. My opponent repeats statements she knows to be false. She said, “…he revokes bonds if a defendant tests positive for use of controlled substances – regardless of the charge …”. That is not true. I am providing documents to this blog from the Harris County District Court Administration showing I have revoked only 41 bonds in the last three years out of thousands of defendants. This is fewer than all the other 21 felony courts of Harris County. EXPERIENCE, JUDGMENT & TRUTH MATTER!

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

EXPERIENCE MATTERS. I came in as a reformer. I made reforms – grand jury, public defender’s office, DNA evidence with appointed attorneys, probations, early terminations, reasonable probations, drug treatment, young offender assistance, PR Bonds, and reduced the docket. I am the senior judge in judicial experience. I am in the best position to continue progressive reforms. I am the only true DEMOCRAT in this Democratic Party Primary. My opponent is a republican masquerading as a Democrat. She became a citizen and started voting in 2008. She has only voted 6 times in 12 yrs and half of those were in the republican primaries. In the same 12 yr period I have voted 13 times and only as a Democrat. She wants good voters to vote for her and yet she votes so sparingly. My ex-DA opponent has had very few felony trials, she admits to 4 as a defense attorney. Shouldn’t we want our judges to be qualified, experienced, involved, wise truthful and compassionate. EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

Judicial Q&A: Jane Robinson

(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.)

Jane Robinson

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

My name is Jane Robinson and I am running for Chief Justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. The Chief Justice serves as a justice on the Court, performs certain administrative duties, and also represents the Court when interacting with the Governor, the state legislature, and other courts across the state and country.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals hears civil and criminal appeals from trial courts in ten counties, including Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Austin, Colorado, Grimes, Waller, and Washington Counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

After more than two decades in private practice, I am eager for the opportunity to serve the public in a role that I am well qualified for, doing work that I know I will love. Because I am running for Chief Justice, it is particularly important that the winning candidate be well qualified for the role and ready to represent the court when interacting with other courts and branches of government. As a board-certified civil appellate lawyer with decades of experience in a broad range of civil litigation and appellate matters, covering many substantive areas of the law in courts across the country, I think my experience, qualifications, and perspective set me apart.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an appellate lawyer with extensive experience in both litigation and appeals in state and federal courts. I have been board-certified as a specialist in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am a partner at Houston litigation boutique AZA, where I handle a wide variety of civil appellate matters, mostly involving business litigation and intellectual property disputes. I graduated from Dartmouth College (magna cum laude) in 1995 and from Duke University School of Law (with honors) in 1998, and practiced in California and North Carolina before moving to Texas over a decade ago with my husband, a professor at the University of Houston. I am a contributing author of O’Connor’s Texas Rules * Civil Trials, the most widely used civil litigation guide in Texas. I have also been selected nationally by my peers as one of the Best Lawyers in America for my appellate work. I am a member of the Texas Bar College and the Houston Bar Foundation, as well as many other professional associations.

5. Why is this race important?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals, like the other intermediate appellate courts in Texas, is the last stop for the vast majority of the appeals before it. The state’s highest courts (the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals) have the discretion to select which appeals they hear, and only a small percentage of appeals are ever heard by either of those courts. The Fourteenth Court shares jurisdiction with the First Court of Appeals over a ten-county area with more than six million residents. Intermediate courts, like the Fourteenth Court, are not only important for the litigants before them, but their opinions set precedent that shape the law in Texas. Most of the laws that affect people’s day-to-day lives are state laws that are interpreted and applied by these very important intermediate courts.

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

I will bring the highest level of qualifications, as well as local and national recognition as a top appellate lawyer, to a tough general election race. The Republican nominee, who is unopposed in the primary, is a sitting justice on the Court with an unexpired term. This means that if she wins, she will begin a new six-year term on the Court and the governor will appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of her term and run as an incumbent in 2022. I am only the second female partner in my well-regarded Houston litigation boutique firm (the first being Rep. Lizzie Fletcher). I will bring the same drive that I have shown in my career to this critical general election.

Judicial Q&A: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

(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.)

Cheryl Elliott Thornton

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

I am CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON, candidate for Judge of the 164th Civil Judicial District Court. I am a native Houstonian who has practiced primarily civil law for about 33 years. I attended Lamar High School in Houston, Texas and received my BA from Trinity University and my MA from St. Mary’s University both in San Antonio, Texas. I received my JD from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. I am married to Peter Thornton, my campaign manager and retired professor from Texas Southern University.

2. What kind of cases does this court heat?

This is a civil court which hears cases with damage claims from $200 to ad infinitum. It is the trial court of general jurisdiction for most civil cases. In Harris County this court hears such cases as personal injury, employment, election, property, contracts and civil cases which are not otherwise assigned to other civil courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench at this time because I was asked by several dignitaries to run since the sitting judge has been indicted and suspended from the bench. They all know me as a person who has chosen to be a public servant in her avocation as well as her occupation and believe that I would be the person who could best bring back character, excellent experience the community can trust.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for over 33 years. Currently, I serve as Senior Assistant County Attorney for Harris County. I have served as an Administrative Law Judge and Hearing Officer for the State of Texas. Further, I have the administrative capabilities necessary to run a court as evidenced by my experience as General Counsel for Texas Southern University and as an Assistant
Attorney General for the State of Texas. I also have State of Texas certification as a Mediator and Ad Litem and have received legal training at Harvard University through the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

Further, in my community I have served as Precinct Chair, Senate District 13 General Counsel, Executive Board of my Homeowner’s association and General Counsel for the World Youth Foundation. I also served as Chair on the Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee for which I received the President’s Award and the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Polls Committee. I additionally serve on the Houston Lawyer Referral Service Board as its Treasurer. And to name just a few more of my community involvement activities which demonstrates my belief in public service, I am a member of the Texas District and County Attorney Association, Houston Lawyer’s Association, Harris County Democratic Lawyers and Women Professionals in Government. I have also successfully fundraised for the United Negro College Fund, The University Museum at Texas Southern University, The Museum of Fine Arts Advisory Association and the Houston Ebony Opera Guild.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is so important because, again, this community, Harris County, has to define who it is. In the past our community has defined itself as accepting of improper, possibly illegal and pronounced unethical behavior. I don’t think this is the route we are choosing again. I believe this time that we will choose a person of CHARACTER, EXCELLENCE, EXPERIENCE you can TRUST. I think we will choose CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON.

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

The people should vote for me because I not only have the needed legal skills as shown above, but I also possess the social skills needed to properly service the people that come before this court as evidenced by my involvement in my community. I have one opponent who has proven that she does not possess the ethical qualifications to be in office as evidenced by the board of judicial conduct that suspended her from the very bench we are running for. I have another opponent who retired in 2010 and has now come out of retirement to seek this bench. I think Harris County deserves more. It needs a person involved in her community, a diversified practitioner of the law, and a person experienced with all the types of people that come before her court and can, therefore, serve as more than a jurist. The voters should vote for me, a public servant with over 33 years of legal and community experience, who has the judicial temperament to be Judge of the 164th Judicial District Court. The voters should vote for me CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON- a person of CHARACTER, EXCELLENCE, EXPERIENCE you can TRUST.

Judicial Q&A: Lennon Wright

(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.)

Lennon Wright

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

Lennon C. Wright. I was licensed to practice law on Feb. 3, 1978. I became Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law in 1982. In my forty plus years of practice, I have represented individuals, families and small businesses, usually as a Plaintiff’s lawyer. I am runnning for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil and criminal appeals arising from the county and district courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I think the court could use a fresh perspective from someone who has practiced extensively as a plaintiff’s attorney.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have tried over 100 jury trials and handled over 70 appeals. I am the only person in this race who is rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubble.

5. Why is this race important?

For most cases, the court of appeals is the court of last resort. The Supreme Court hears very few cases, so most litigation ends in the court of appeals. As a rule, this court has the final say with regard to what happens in a case.

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

I have the most experience, I am the most qualified, and I am the only one rated AV Preeminent.

Judicial Q&A: Wally Kronzer

(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.)

Wally Kronzer

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

I am Wally Kronzer. I am a candidate for Justice, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court of appeals is one of the intermediate courts of appeals in Texas. These courts review appeals in all types of civil and criminal cases, except for capital murder cases (which go directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals).

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I know the law, and I know court of appeals practices. I also know how court systems operate differently in different counties. The way things are done in one county’s legal community are not necessarily the way things are done in other counties. I understand how courts of appeals decisions affect both sides of the civil docket as I handle cases from all sides of the civil docket. I understand how the law effects employers and in employees as I routinely dealt with both. I also understand how criminal decisions affect individuals and families from my pro bono work.

The courts of appeals need diversity of thought and background. For too long too many justices on the Houston area courts of appeals arguably possessed interchangeable legal backgrounds. The courts of appeals must follow the law, but at times following the law has more than one option. I want to be a voice on the court of appeals asking, “Why is it that we keep following only the one option when the law allows another option?”

That leaves one question – why the 14th Court of Appeals as opposed to the other Houston area court of appeals. It is a two-fold answer. The 1967 Texas Legislature created that court of appeals. Numerous former legislatures reminded me over the years that my father was heavily involved in efforts to create that court of appeals as well as refining the other existing courts of appeals. Another reason is that in 2010 I ran for a position on this same court. Frankly, there is a certain logic and symmetry to my serving on the 14th Court of Appeals.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I did some terrific things while in law school. I did it in my early thirties going to school full-time, while working, with a family that included two pre-school children. None of the other candidates for this position are Board Certified in either Civil Appellate Law or Criminal Appellate Law. I achieved Board Certification in Civil Appellate Law within eight years of being licensed.

Many of my court of appeals cases come from outside Harris County. I understand why the non-Harris County judges and lawyers are uncomfortable with the local courts of appeals tendency to focus on Harris County cases. I also understand the relationship between state and federal law as I handle both state and federal appeals. I know what it is like to stand before the Texas Supreme Court, as well as the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

I also have extensive court of appeals writing experience. For years Texas appellate courts have been told to tighten their budgets. Judicial candidates do not talk about this even though they should because the courts of appeals continue to face significant funding issues, including staffing levels, to meet budgetary restrictions. While I look forward to having staff attorneys to assist me in drafting opinions, I am well qualified to handle everything myself if the court of appeals must reduce its current staffing levels.

5. Why is this race important?

The Texas courts of appeals (such as the 14th Court of Appeals) decide significant issues in cases effecting individuals and business entities. The courts of appeals are the final word in almost 90% of cases since the higher courts review a limited number of cases.

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

Voting for me adds an experienced court of appeals mind whose case background improved the court of appeals more than any other candidate.

Judicial Q&A: Tim Hootman

(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.)

Tim Hootman

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

Tim Hootman, running for Justice of the First Court of Appeals, Place 5.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The First Court of Appeals reviews orders and judgments from all trial courts from ten counties (Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington).

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I love appeals and am the most qualified candidate for the job.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Argued in the United States Supreme Court. Handled appeals in every appellate court in Texas. Handled 373 state appeals. Handled 17 federal appeals. Have over 80 published opinions. Handled dozens of state and federal jury trials in 19 Texas counties. Ex staff attorney in the First Court of Appeals. The specific details of my qualifications are on my website: www.HootmanForJudge.com.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the judges reviewing the orders and judgments from the trial courts of ten counties should be done by the most qualified person possible.

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

I am the most qualified candidate running for the First Court of Appeals, Place 5.

Texas Lawyer’s judicial race coverage

As you know, I’ve been busy with judicial Q&As as usual, but this year I’m not the only one chasing down judicial candidates to ask them why they’d make good judges. Texas Lawyer, a part of the Law.com publication, is flooding the zone with its own Who’s Running For Judge In Texas Elections? 2020 Voters Guide. Normally you need to give Texas Lawyer your email address and are limited to three articles per month – they’ll send you a daily newsletter and breaking news, both of which have highlighted stories that I’ve blogged about that I hadn’t yet seen elsewhere – but they appear to have made this feature publicly available. They’ve got their own Q&As with the candidates, most of whom responded to them, which has some overlap with my own questions – not a surprise, there’s only so much you can ask them because there’s only so much they can ethically say. Anyway, a big thumbs up from me, so go check it out and annoy the critics of our current system by making informed choices in the upcoming primaries.

Judicial Q&A: Grant Harvey

(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.)

Grant Harvey

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

My name is Grant Harvey, and I am running for judge of the 164th Civil District Court in Harris County. I have practiced law for nearly 30 years and currently serve as a volunteer Special Prosecutor for the Harris County DA’s office where we’re working to prosecute environmental crimes. I am married to Elizabeth Marroquin Harvey. We have an incredible 13-year-old daughter, and I have a wonderful 31-year-old stepson who teaches music in public school. We also have two other family members—a German Shepherd-mix rescue puppy and a Yorkshire Terrier that thinks he is a German Shepherd.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

As a Texas civil district court, the 164th is the highest-level state trial court. In Harris County, we have a number of specialized district courts including family courts, criminal courts, and probate courts. The 164th is a non-specialized court of general jurisdiction for matters that would not otherwise be filed in the specialized courts. Examples of the types of cases heard in the 164th include medical malpractice, personal injury, contract disputes, disputes with insurers, disputes with homebuilders and many more. In addition, major disputes between or involving local branches of government are filed in courts like the 164th. For instance, when the Fire Fighter’s Union sued the City of Houston in 2017, that case was handled by a civil district court like the 164th. Because of its wide-ranging jurisdiction and potential impact on every Houstonian, this is a very important court, and it is critical that we have the best judge possible on this court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Having practiced for almost 30 years and appeared in front of 100+ judges, I understand how critical to our judicial system it is that we select only the best of the best to be judges. “Just okay” isn’t good enough. Great judges excel at understanding and applying the law, working hard, being impartial and fair, being respectful, and ensuring that the courthouse doors are open to everyone regardless of their race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or the size of one’s bank account. Great judges understand that being a judge is not a job—it is a commitment of service to one’s community—a community that is entrusting the fair and impartial administration of justice to the judges it elects. That is an awesome responsibility to shoulder. I am qualified for this position, I am committed to public service, and I am running because I want to restore integrity and respect back to this important position.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for almost 30 years. I attended law school at the University of Texas where I graduated in the top 10% of my class. I “graded on” to the Texas Law Review. I clerked for Judge David Ebel who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit immediately upon graduating from law school. Next, I started as an associate with the Gibbs & Bruns, LLP law firm, was promoted to partner in five years, and then worked as a partner and senior partner for nearly twenty. Gibbs & Bruns is recognized throughout the United States as one of the best trial law firms in the country. Throughout my legal career, I have represented hundreds of clients before 100+ judges in courts throughout Texas and in on other states. I have represented plaintiffs and defendants, individuals and corporations on all sorts of cases—medical malpractice, personal injury, complex commercial litigation, partnership disputes, oil and gas disputes, eminent domain, employment litigation etc. My extensive background includes litigation, trial work and appellate work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received recognitions from various legal ratings groups including Chambers Leadings Lawyers; World’s Leading Litigators; Leading US Trial Lawyers by Legal 500; Expert Guide’s “Best of the Best USA;” Thomson Reuters Texas Super Lawyer’s Top 100 List;” and others.

Today, I hold an of-counsel position with my law firm and spend my time practicing law on a pro bono, volunteer basis. I currently am serving as a Special Counsel for the Harris County DA’s office as we work on behalf of Texans on a criminal case involving a pollution event that took place during Hurricane Harvey. I also serve on the Board of Directors and the executive committee for Today’s Harbor for Children, a home for abused and abandoned children. I have served on the board for nearly twenty years (three of which was spent as Chairman), and I led a volunteer legal team that obtained a $5+ million settlement from a city that was interfering with the charity’s ability to use its land. In sum, I have been preparing for more than thirty years to serve my community at the highest level and am ready to serve my community as judge of the 164th Civil District Court.

5. Why is this race important?

Today, with the concern over how our executive and legislative branches are functioning, it is more important than ever that we have complete confidence in the third branch of government—the judicial branch. This race is critical not only because the 164th District Court is an important court but because the role of a judge is crucial to the administration of justice. The incumbent judge for 164th District Court has been suspended from serving by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. That makes it all the more important that voters do their research and that they make an informed decision before selecting the person they want to entrust with the weighty responsibility of administering fair and impartial justice in the 164th.

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

Both because of their impact on Houstonians and their role as pillars of free and fair governance, it is vitally important that we elect only the best of the best to serve as judges. Not only should our judges have an established track record of professional success at the highest level—but they should also demonstrate a commitment to public service. I have an established track record of professional success and public service beginning with law school, continuing through my tenure as an associate and partner at one of the best law firms in the United States, and culminating today in my present position as a volunteer Special Prosecutor for the Harris County DA’s office. I have received endorsements from the AFL CIO, Area 5 Democrats, Bay Area New Democrats, and the Greater Heights Democratic Club. If I am elected judge, the 164th District Court will once again be a court of which the citizens of Harris County be proud.

Judicial Q&A: Bryan Acklin

(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.)

Bryan Acklin

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

My name is Bryan Acklin, and I am running to become the Democratic candidate for Judge of the 176th District Court in Harris County, a felony district court. I am a Houston native, and returned here to teach bilingual education at Gallegos Elementary School in HISD following my graduation from Vanderbilt University. I attended law school at the University of Texas School of law and spent the first part of my career at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. While there, I gained invaluable experience trying both felony and misdemeanor cases. I am currently in private practice where I have continued handling felony and misdemeanor cases.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 176th District Court hears felony offenses ranging from state jail felonies to Capital Murder. The Court also hears motions involving the revocation of probation and other forms of community supervision, as well as matters dealing with bonds.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench in particular because many of my colleagues and I have become disturbed and saddened by 176th’s current practices. These practices include denying attorneys the right to zealously advocate on behalf of their clients on the record and bond practices which are neither fair nor aligned with relevant case law and statutes. I strongly believe that the people are entitled to have qualified, competent, and fair judges serve on the bench. I am running for this particular bench to make that a reality for the 176th District Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have prosecuted and defended thousands of felony cases. I even had the solemn honor of trying a Capital Murder case as a prosecutor. As a prosecutor, I worked in the Trial Bureau, the Family Criminal Law Division, the Intake Division, and the Grand Jury Division. I want to put the experience that comes with personally trying felony cases to good use by serving my community and state as a judge.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because every single person, whether the accused or the victim, a defense attorney or a prosecutor, deserves a courtroom in which the presiding judge is qualified, competent, and fair. Unless and until the current judge is replaced, that simply will fail to be the case in the 176th District Court. The outcome of this race is important to show that people care about justice in our criminal courts and to show that the people will not stand for malfeasance and incompetence.

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

People should vote for me because I am the more qualified candidate and the only candidate who is capable and willing to accurately and consistently apply the law in a manner that is fair and coherent. The liberty of the accused and the rights of victims are too precious to allow the 176th to continue as is. People should vote for me to protect their fellow citizens by ensuring that the 176th District Court is placed in the hands of a judge who is qualified, compassionate, fair, and competent.

Judicial Q&A: Megan Daic

(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.)

Megan Daic

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

My name is Megan A. Daic and I am running to become judge of the 165th Civil District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears civil cases related to civil disputes, such as breach of contract, personal injury, products liability, premises liability, temporary injunctions, consumer disputes, fraud, claims over insurance disputes, slander/libel, to name a few.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I decided to run for this position not because I have had a life-long dream of becoming a judge, but rather because I knew that there was current frustration with a lack of efficiency in how the 165th Judicial District Court is currently being run.

Unfortunately, it seems difficult to obtain rulings on motions, and difficult to impossible to obtain a trial setting or hearing on a motion. This has been made evident by the number of mandamuses filed against the current judge, as well as by the recent HBA Judicial Preference polling results.

I believe that the Courts should run efficiently and effectively and afford people the opportunity to be heard – and to provide them with rulings – in a timely manner. At the point in time in which a lawsuit is filed, individuals and/or companies have likely been in disagreement (or injured) for quite some time and the litigation process only prolongs a decision/determination being made in their matter.

People deserve the right to be heard AND to have a decision made as expeditiously as is practical and possible in an effort to allow them to start moving forward with their lives.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My varied legal experience, coupled with my organizational skills and ability to manage a team and multiple projects at one time, make me qualified for this position.

I help manage a firm with over 4,000 cases while managing my own docket of approximately 1,000 cases. I also remain involved in the various organizations and associations that remain important to me, our profession, and our community, while also coaching and teaching at the University of Houston Law Center.

I am efficient, decisive, and objective, which are important qualities for a judge.

I also believe that it is important to be a clear & communicative leader for your peers, co-workers, and staff.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important particularly because we need to see some significant changes in this court. The people who go in front of the courts deserve to be treated fairly and to have their matters heard in an efficient and effective manner.

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

I pride myself on leading by example. I believe it is important to take responsibility for your actions, strive to elevate the people & communities around you, and be fair and objective when making decisions.

In order to be a great and fair-minded leader, it is vital to take responsibility for your actions, hold yourself accountable, and inspire others by your actions, not just your words.

Committing to serving others and helping to inspire others to follow their dreams are central to life's passions.

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected]!

Judicial Q&A: V. R. “Velda” Faulkner

(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.)

Velda Faulkner

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

I am V.R. “(Velda)” Faulkner. I am a candidate for Justice, 14th Court of Appeals, PL 7.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 14th Court of Appeals hears intermediate appellate civil and criminal cases appealed from the County Courts at Law and the District Courts, in 10 Counties, which are: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris (the most populous of the 10 counties), Grimes, Waller, and Washington.

For the most part, there is a 3-judge panel who hears each case, unless an En Banc decision is ordered, wherein all 9 justices are ordered to hear and decide the case(s). “An En bank decision is to be ordered to secure or maintain the Court’s uniformity of the Court’s decision or extraordinary circumstances require such.” Tex. R. App. P. 41.2(c).

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 14th Court of Appeals has been in existed for over 52 years. During these years, there has NEVER been an Black American Female elected to this Appellate Court. It is Time to Change the course of HISTORY with this Court!

If elected, I will the first Black American Jurist to sit on this appellate court, which will be a substantial and significant moment in Texas History! I am running for this seat to bring competence, fairness, integrity and justice to the appellate bench, for ALL litigants. I want to inform the public that the 14th Court of Appeals is “The People’s Court,” and everyone, NOT a select few, has the right and is entitled to access to the Appellate Courts and the Appellate Process, as well as to expect judicial fairness and respect.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 30+ year veteran lawyer. I have represented clients (both adults, minors and person with disabilities). I have handled complex civil litigation and represented clients on both sides of the docket. I have handled misdemeanor and felony cases, during my 30+ years career. I have handled civil and criminal appellate cases and presented Oral argument before the Court of Criminal
Appeals, the Highest Criminal Court in Texas. I am versed on the appellate process and presentation of Oral argument. I have a Published Criminal Opinion, obtained, during a time of adverse decisions under prior Judicial oversight.

5. Why is this race important?

This race could be a monumental moment in Texas and U.S. History, when THE VOTERS, decide to place me in this position, and not relegate this valuable place of Public Servant to an unwarranted political appointment. I want to be “The People’s Jurist.” I intend to bring integrity, competence, experience and Judicial fairness to the judiciary. Otherwise, our legal system, including our judicial system will continue to fall into decay, anarchy and disrespect. Every litigant has the right of access to the Appellate Courts, without threat or fear of intimidation, exorbitant fees or economic ruin. The Laws of this State and the U.S. Constitution must be followed and applied to ALL cases, regardless of political preference of a learned jurist. The legal procedural guidelines must be adhered to, regardless of individual or political affiliation. All Voters should “Elect” a Jurist, based on the voters’ “initial” selection and not a secondary election-selection.

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

I am ready to begin working as “The People’s Jurist” on my first day at work. I will carefully read, review, carefully listen to litigants or their representatives, then rule on cases, according the Law and Procedure, opining a legally sound decision, for “ALL” litigants. The public needs to know that the 14th Court of Appeals may be a Court of last resort for some people, so it is imperative to Rule, Justly, Fairly and with Impartiality.

Judicial Q&A: Ana Martinez

(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.)

Ana Martinez

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

My name is Ana Martinez and I am running for the 179th District Court. I am originally from Colombia and have been living in Houston for 15 years. I am a naturalized citizen, have law degrees from Colombia and Texas. I clerked for the Texas Supreme Court after I graduated law school. I am a former prosecutor and founding member of the former Human Trafficking Section of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I currently serve as an appointed defense attorney and represent indigent clients.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

A Criminal District Court hears all felony (from State Jail to 1st Degree) cases within Harris County assigned to the court. A District Judge will handle all pre-trial and trial procedures arising from said charges. This includes pre-trial release, bonds and bond hearings, hearings on pre-trial motions, docket settings, trial (guilt/innocence and punishment), motions to adjudicate and revoke probation hearings, post-conviction / writ hearings, PSI hearings, issuances of orders and findings of fact / conclusions of law, assignment of attorneys for indigent clients, and overall docket management.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 179th District Court because I believe change and improvement is needed in that court. As an illustration, the 2009, 2017 and the 2019 Judicial Polls from the Houston Bar Association show that 40% or more of the attorneys who answered the poll stated the incumbent judge needed improvement in almost all categories. (Follows the law, is courteous and attentive towards attorneys and witnesses, demonstrates impartiality, uses attorney’s time efficiently, works hard and is prepared).

Also, the current Judge has practices, that in my opinion, target those defendants battling with addiction. His Court records show he revokes bonds if a defendant tests positive for use of controlled substances – regardless of the charge and in most occasions, without a hearing or due process. I believe these types of practices keep subjecting the mentally ill – including those struggling with addiction – to a disparate and unfair treatment, and I believe the current Judge continues to perpetuate an unfair and biased system.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an experienced criminal attorney. I have exclusively practiced criminal law for nine years in Harris County. I have been a prosecutor and I am now a defense attorney. I have handled hundreds of cases ranging from Class C to First Degree Felonies. At the District Attorney’s Office I successfully tried dozens of misdemeanor and felony jury trials and I handled cases in the Family Law Criminal Division, Mental Health Division, Writs Section, and spent my last two years as an Assistant District Attorney at the former Human Trafficking Section.

As a defense attorney I have handled hundreds of misdemeanors and felony cases. Being one of the few certified bilingual appointed attorneys, allows me to represent minorities who are underrepresented and I am able to advocate for their rights.

I graduated from law school in Colombia from Universidad de los Andes, one of the top law schools in the country, and became fully licensed to practice in my home country back in 2004. During my last year of law school in Colombia, I served as an appointed criminal defense attorney for indigent clients.

I moved to Houston, Texas in 2005, and later became a U.S. Citizen. I obtained an LLM degree from the University of Houston Law Center. I then attended South Texas College of Law – Houston, and obtained my J.D., which allowed me to be fully licensed in the State of Texas.

After graduating from law school in 2010, I spent my first year as a licensed attorney in Texas as a clerk for the Texas Supreme Court.

5. Why is this race important?

Criminal Judicial races affect everyone in the community. The safety of our community is influenced by the criminal justice system and the rights of the accused are protected by a fair and knowledgeable judiciary.

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

I believe I will have a better judicial temperament than my opponent. I will be dignified and courteous to any litigant, juror, witness, lawyer and others with whom I deal in an official capacity and my words and conduct will not manifest bias or prejudice. I also believe I have a better understanding and knowledge of the law.

Judicial Q&A: Tamika Craft

(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.)

Tamika Craft

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

I am running for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I will hear appeals of all civil and criminal cases in the lower courts from the 10 counties covered by the 14th Court of Appeals. The only cases I will not hear are capital murder cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because I am qualified to serve as a Justice on the Court of Appeals. Further, there has never been an African American on the 14th Court of Appeals so I am also running to bring diversity and balance to the Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced in every area that I will address on the 14th Court of Appeals, including but not limited to, civil law, criminal law, family law, labor and employment law and probate law. I am also a licensed mediator and arbitrator and have conducted hundreds of mediations and arbitrations since 2003. Though I will never hear a capital murder case on the bench, I have been heavily involved in a capital murder case and even attended an execution in 2005. I have also been an Administrative Judge for the Texas Education Agency since 2013 and I have presided over many hearings and written legal opinions to school boards throughout Texas. I am licensed in all Texas district courts, Federal courts and the 1st, 13th and 14th Court of Appeals and in 2017 I became licensed by the United States Supreme Court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important there are important issues that are heard and decided at the 14th Court of Appeals and people deserve an experienced Justice on the bench.

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

I am the youngest candidate running for this position but I am also the most qualified and experienced candidate. I have earned and deserve the vote of the people in the Democratic primary.

Judicial Q&A: Jimmie L.J. Brown, Jr.

(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.)

Jimmie L.J. Brown, Jr

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

My name is Jimmie L. J. Brown, Jr.

I am an African-American Male. I am an attorney, licensed since Nov. 2, 1984.
I graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University June 1984.
I was born October 14, 1957.
My parents were Jimmie L. Brown, Sr., father/deceased and Mary L. Richard, mother/deceased.
I am and elder and the Assistant Pastor, Harvest Time Church of God In Christ, I am running for the position of Judge, 165th Judicial District Court, Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Texas district courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction.

The district court has exclusive jurisdiction over felony cases, cases involving title to land, and election contest cases. It shares jurisdiction with the county courts, and in some case justice of the peace courts, for civil cases (its lowest limit for hearing a case is a mere $200 in controversy, while JP courts can hear cases up to $10,000). Family law jurisdiction varies depending on the existence of a county court-at-law; in some counties, the district courts share jurisdiction over divorces, child custody and support matters, adoptions and child welfare cases with county courts at law. Probate jurisdiction varies, depending on the existence of a statutory probate court in the county. In some larger counties, such as Harris County, the district courts are specialized, with designated sets of courts hearing criminal cases, juvenile cases, family matters, and non-family civil cases. In the smaller counties, a single district court handles all types of cases. In rural areas, as many as five counties share a single district court; urban counties.

Government Code, Chapter 24. District Courts
Sec. 24.112. 11TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT (HARRIS COUNTY).
(a) The 11th Judicial District is composed of Harris County.
(b) Except as provided by Subsection (g), the provisions of this section apply to the 11th, 55th, 61st, 80th, 113th, 125th, 127th, 129th, 133rd, 151st, 152nd, 157th, 164th, and 165th judicial districts.
(c) Repealed by Acts 2017, 85th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1082 (H.B. 3481), Sec. 3, eff. September 1, 2017.
(d) In all suits, actions, or proceedings in the district courts, it is sufficient for the address or designation to be “District Court of Harris County.”
(e) The judge of each district court shall sign the minutes of each court term not later than the 30th day after the end of the term and shall also sign the minutes at the end of each volume of the minutes. Each judge sitting in the court shall sign the minutes of the proceedings that were held before him. (f) The judge of each district court may take the same vacation as the other district court judges of Harris County at any time during the year. During the judge’s vacation, the court term remains open, and the judge of any other district court may hold court during the judge’s vacation. The judges of the district courts shall, by agreement among themselves, take their vacations alternately so that there are at all times at least six district court judges in the county.
(g) Subsection (h) applies to the 11th, 55th, 61st, 80th, 113th, 125th, 127th, 129th, 133rd, 151st, 152nd, 157th, 164th, 165th, 189th, 190th, 215th, 234th, 269th, 270th, 280th, 281st, 295th, 333rd, and 334th judicial districts.
(h) The judges of the district courts listed in Subsection (g) by agreement shall designate one of the listed district courts as the domestic violence district court for Harris County. In designating the domestic violence district court, the judges shall give preference to a district court:
(1) that has a judicial vacancy at the time of the agreement; or
(2) for which the sitting judge of the district court has not at the time of the agreement announced a candidacy or become a candidate in the upcoming election for that judicial office.
(i) Subject to any jurisdictional limitations, the district court designated under Subsection (h) as the domestic violence district court shall give preference to domestic violence cases, including cases involving:
(1) dating violence, as defined by Section 71.0021, Family Code; and
(2) family violence, as defined by Section 71.004, Family Code.
(j) For the purposes of determining the preference the designated domestic violence district court is required to give cases under Subsection (i):
(1) a domestic violence case means:
(A) an original application for a protective order under Title 4, Family Code;
(B) an original application for a protective order under Title 4, Family Code, that involves both parties and is filed concurrently with an original petition under the Family Code; and
(C) any matter involving custody of a minor child if one parent is alleged to have caused the death of another parent and there is a history of domestic violence in the parents’ relationship; and
(2) subject to judicial discretion and resources, the designated domestic violence district court may also hear divorce and custody cases in which:
(A) a court has made an affirmative finding of family violence involving both parties; or
(B) a protective order has been issued under Title 4, Family Code, involving both parties.
(k) The designated domestic violence district court shall:
(1) provide timely and efficient access to emergency protective orders and other court remedies for persons the court determines are victims of domestic violence;
(2) integrate victims’ services for persons the court determines are victims of domestic violence who have a case before the court; and
(3) promote an informed and consistent court response to domestic violence cases to lessen the number of misdemeanors, felonies, and fatalities related to domestic violence in Harris County.
(l) The Harris County district clerk shall create a form and establish procedures to transfer a domestic violence case that qualifies for preference under this section to the domestic violence district court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Incumbent Judge is not doing the job. I believe I can do the job and certainly do the job better than the present incumbent. I have been a Summary Court Martials Judge – three times, a military conscientious objector hearings officer for not less than 25 hearings and an administrative law judge – Texas Railroad Commission, Transportation Section (prior to deregulation).

I have practiced law for 35 years. I have tried cases, both criminal and civil, conducted discovery, filed and argued motions, familiar with the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure/Civil Practice and Remedies Code/Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and filed appeals – State and Federal. I have argued appeals before the 1st and 14th Court of Appeals (State), and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Federal).

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

See Paragraph 3 above.

5. Why is this race important?

I am not certain what is meant by important. I believe it is a factor and is a positive or negative. For me a positive. It lends a perspective and insight of the judicial system – access, bias, impartiality and partiality, that will shape me as a judge. I believe it allows me to have a perspective on the impact of the role of the law, trial, the process and as a judge as seen from a person and a people who have come to value the need of the courts and the law.

Quoting Cesar Chavez: “History will judge societies and governments and their institutions, not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.”

Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Quoting Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

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

One of the many reasons people should vote for me is that I’m the BEST candidate for the job of Judge for the 165th Judicial District Court. Not that I am perfect, nor that I have been perfect. Not that I have not made mistake. Not that I will not, but that I am human and strive to do what is right and to follow the law as best as I can and to – when the situation requires – deviate from the law to see justice/equity done.

“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.” ― Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws

Judicial Q&A: Steve Miears

(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.)

Steve Miears

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

I am Steve Miears and I am running for judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4, as a Democrat. I grew up in Houston and graduated from Madison High School. I graduated from Austin College and finished law school at the Texas Tech University School of Law. I was a prosecutor after finishing law school. For the last thirty-five years I have been in private practice representing people in criminal cases who were indigent.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court is a court of discretionary review of decisions in criminal cases from the 14 Courts of Appeal in Texas. It hears direct appeals from Texas trial courts where the death penalty has been imposed by a jury. It also hears writs of mandamus. Writs of Habeas Corpus take up most of this Court’s docket. Last year the Court handled over 3,500 writs of habeas corpus. These writs, filed mostly by prison inmates, challenge convictions on constitutional grounds including complaints of ineffective assistance of counsel.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this position because I want to bring my values and understanding of the law to the Court. I am a Democrat and I identify with the values of the Democratic Party. Currently, the Court consists of nine Republican judges. It’s time for a different set of ideas about the rule of law to come to the Court. These ideas include respect for a woman’s reproductive rights, sensible gun regulations, an understanding of society’s evolving views on the death penalty, respect for LGBTQ rights, and the injustice of long prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am Board Certified in Criminal Law and Criminal Appellate Law. I have been named a “Super Lawyer” in criminal law by Texas Monthly magazine for the past 7 years. I have handled as lead counsel the trial and appeal of death penalty cases. To read a complete list of cases I have handled on appeal go to http://www.search.txcourts.gov/CaseSearch.aspx?coa=coa06&s=c:

Click on the box "Case Search." 
Mark  only "All Courts" to search all courts in Texas.
Put in my Bar number for the search field: 14025600

To watch a video of an oral argument I did recently before the Court of Criminal Appeals regarding police needing a warrant to get your cell phone records go to:
http://www.texasbarcle.com/CLE/CCAPlayer5.asp?sCaseNo=pd-1269-16&bLive=&k=&T= 

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals decide the scope of constitutional protections of individual liberties and freedoms of all Texans.

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

My opponent in the primary was elected just over a year ago to complete a four-year term on a Dallas County judicial bench. I believe that if the voters elect someone to a position they have a right to expect that the person will fulfill those duties—before seeking another office. If she won, then the governor would appoint a Republican to be the judge in that court. I can’t believe the Dallas voters expected that outcome when they voted for her.

Because I have handled appeals, writs, and death penalty cases, I am more qualified by experience. I am committed to changing the Court for the better.

Judicial Q&A: Robert Morales

(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.)

Robert Morales

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

My name is Robert S. Morales and I am running to be the Family Court Judge of the 507th District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears cases related to the family relationship such as divorces, paternity, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, support cases, adoptions, etc. along with name changes and gender marker cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 507th Family District Court because it is the only family law court up for election in Harris County this election cycle. Also, “507” is not only this court’s designation, but the country code of Panama where I was born. So, that number holds a special significance to me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing family law every since I was a third-year student at the family law clinic at my law school. I even worked a few years in the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General. In my current position as the supervising attorney of the Veterans Department of a non-profit organization, I also mentor and assist other attorneys navigate their pro bono family law cases. Finally, for the past few years I have assisted bar takers prepare for the Texas Bar Exam, including the family law essays.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because courts belong to society – the people, and judges are their custodians. As such, we should insist on the best possible representative of each court and not those who have been graded to “need improvement” after years on the bench. As this is a new year, a new decade, the people deserve to vote in a new judge accordingly.

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

People should vote for me in the primary because it is time to pass the torch to someone new. I bring the experiences of having been in court under different capacities including a noncustodial parent in a support case, a pro se litigant in a divorce, private attorney, and even government attorney. Those experiences I will always carry with me and use them to better relate to everyone who appears before me. Furthermore, as a father of young children, I know what is at stake when deciding what is in the “best interests of the child.” Whether it is as a soldier in the U.S. Army, a government attorney, mentor, teacher, or a non-profit attorney, I have been at my best when at the service of others and on the bench is where I will be able to do the most good serving society. As a future judge, I cannot make very many promises, but what I can promise is that I will treat everyone in my court with the same dignity and respect that I, myself, would like to be shown.

Update on the “Judicial Selection Committee”

Yes, this is a thing.

All but one member of the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection indicated at the group’s first meeting Thursday that they believe partisanship is problematic in the state’s method of selecting judges.

Only Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she’s unconvinced that partisan election of judges must go. But the senator added she planned to keep an open mind as the Judicial Selection Commission this year completes its task to study a number of selection methods, and report back to the Texas Legislature with recommendations for reform.
Much of the commission’s first meeting in the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin was devoted to spelling out the problems with the current system.

“You can’t solve a problem unless you know what the problem really is,” said Chairman David Beck, partner in Beck Redden in Houston.

Beck said Texas is one of only six states in the nation that uses partisan elections for judges.

“We are losing good, experienced judges,” he said. “I don’t care if they are Republicans or Democrats. It has nothing to do with their performance. It depends on the issues at the top of the ticket.

[…]

A candidate who can raise the most money from wealthy people and corporations, to put ads on TV, has the best shot at winning the bench in urban areas where voters do not know the judicial candidates, added Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Instead, Jefferson said the emphasis in judicial elections should be on the merit of the candidates.

But Jefferson indicated that the election of judges is a good thing, too, because a candidate must travel the state and speak with attorneys and people about their concerns.

“I was able to bring innovation from all around the state to the judicial system because there were good ideas,” said Jefferson.

Another plus: The 2018 elections brought a racially diverse group of candidates into office, he said.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so I’ll keep my comments brief. One, I will remind David Beck and everyone else who has ever utter a lamentation about the “good, experienced judges” that we lose via the partisan election process that we gained them in the first place via the partisan election process. Second, I would challenge Wallace Jefferson to show me the data on that claim about raising money for TV ads to win judicial elections. For one thing, very few judicial candidates actually raise that much money, and for two, even fewer of them run TV ads. That said, it’s quite interesting to see Jefferson, who has been an advocate for something other than the partisan election of judges for a long time to admit that the partisan elections we had in 2018 did an awful lot to diversify the judiciary in Texas. How much progress do you think we’d have made on that score in a judicial appointment system?

I mean look, I don’t want to claim that the partisan elections process for judges is the best system. I get the concerns about it, and like anything it’s worth considering how it could be improved. Really, my main problem is that the arguments put forward by proponents of change are such obvious tripe that I feel compelled to point it out each time. It’s wishcasting plus unsupported claims, and on top of it all no one has yet proposed an actual alternate system that can be objectively shown to be better than the one we have, and by “better” I don’t mean “would allow Republicans to regain or hold onto power in places where they have lost it or are losing it”. Everyone seems to take it on faith that Something Else would be better. I say show me the evidence. That in theory is what the Judicial Selection Commission is intended to do. I’ll believe it when I see it. Grits for Breakfast has more.

UPDATE: Well, there’s this:

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is pushing back against the thought of eliminating partisanship from judicial elections.

In a statement Friday, one day after the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection met for the first time and identified partisan judicial elections as a major problem, Patrick issued a statement saying he was surprised it appeared the commission supported eliminating partisanship before it began hearings.

“I expect the members to have an open mind on every issue—including the partisan election of judges—with the single goal of making sure Texas continues to maintain one of the best judicial systems in the country,” Patrick said. “Texans feel strongly about voting for their judges. The commission will need to make a compelling argument to the people and legislators to change the current system. I do not believe that support exists today.”

Having one’s viewpoint affirmed by Dan Patrick is a heck of a thing. Be that as it may, his opinion will carry a bit more weight than mine. I don’t know if this means he’s actually not on board with ending the partisan election of judges, which means he’s not on the same page as Greg Abbott, or just telling the committee to not give the game away before it even starts. Either way, very interesting.