There are seven contested judicial races at the local level in the Harris County Republican primary. Three feature incumbents and four are open seats. One seat is on the Court of Appeals, three are District Courts and one is a County Court. All told, there are 21 candidates vying for all these competitive contests. The following are our recommendations, bearing in mind that the vast majority of our readership are not Republicans. Accordingly, we have abridged our arguments.
1st COURT OF APPEALS, PLACE 3
This race has three good candidates that would serve their constituents well on the Court of Appeals. Dan Linebaugh has been a prolific attorney for many years, Chad Bridges has very strong ties to the Fort Bend County community and Russell Lloyd has invaluable experience in the legal system not shared by his opponents. The choice is yours, but we must admit our biases. Unfortunately, we were unable to receive any correspondence from the candidates, which drastically limits the scope of our knowledge about any possibly divergent political or legal issues.
Given that none of the members of this board reside in Fort Bend county, we see no reason to necessarily reward strong ties to that community, though we do acknowledge that the constituents of the 1st Court of Appeals outside of Harris County have probably been under-served. However, the experience of Lloyd has truly caught our attention. As a former District Court Judge, he would not require any on-the-job training in this important post. Accordingly, we urge a vote for Lloyd.
246th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Jim York, the longtime occupant of this bench, has done a tremendous job over his many years in this court. Unfortunately, Judge York will not be seeking another term, and his bench has attracted two less-stellar candidates for the job. Among both, we have some concerns that they may be ideologues on the bench, placing too much attention on political parties and too little on their constituents and the law. Both candidates, however, have impeccable credentials. Charley Prine has years of experience as an Associate Judge in a local Family District Court. Angelina Gooden has years of experience both in private practice and as the former City Attorney for a municipality.
Those only looking at experience should vote for Prine. Indeed, he has received the endorsement of most of the Republican establishment. However, we recommend giving a serious look to Gooden. She appears to be the more bipartisan and pragmatic of the candidates. At a time when big issues are sure to come before our Family District Courts in the next few years –particularly pertaining to same-sex adoption matters– we believe that pragmatism is desperately needed. Accordingly, this board endorses Angelina Gooden.
247th DISTRICT COURT
M.L. Walker is the exact type of centrist the Family District Court needs far more of. Judge Bonnie Hellums, after many terms on the bench, is retiring, and three candidates have filed to succeed her in the Republican primary. Among these candidates, Walker is the only hold who holds both the experience and the pragmatism needed to be a good Judge.
We got the chance to hear from Melanie Flowers earlier, and have been thoroughly impressed by her devotion and passion involving the issues, but we do have some big concerns regarding her lack of experience. Likewise with another candidate, John Schmude, though without the impressed part. It is Walker who has years of experience as an Associate Judge in the Family District Court, though she also has the capacity to be a fair-minded and middle-of-the-road jurist. We think voters would be wise to choose M.L. Walker next month in the Republican primary.
263rd DISTRICT COURT
This board often defers to incumbents unless we believe the incumbent has failed. It is our sincere belief that the incumbent in this court, Judge Jim Wallace, has not failed. He has served honorably for nearly twenty years as a fair and open-minded defender of the law. His opponent, Robert Summerlin, presents all the hallmarks of a Tea Party challenge to an establishment Republican, and does not offer any unique ideas besides broad themes about not “legislating from the bench,” whatever that means. Harris County needs better, they need to keep Judge Jim Wallace…at least through the primary.
269th DISTRICT COURT
Like the previous contest, we would like to defer to the incumbent. However, Judge Dan Hinde has a skeleton in his closet that voters would be quite wise to remember well. In December 2010, one month after Judge Hinde was re-elected to a full term, the Houston Chronicle reported that he had abused his office in an attempt to win the election. Simply put, Judge Hinde obtained confidential information about jurors in his court, then used the information for the advancement of his political campaign. Technically, this is a third-degree felony, but no investigation ever came of it because of a loophole in how the law defines confidential information. Still, it is our opinion that Judge Hinde betrayed the people’s trust in this situation and this upcoming primary will be the first time –after over three years– he faces the voters.
Judge Hinde’s opponent, however, is no perfect candidate either. John Wittenmyer does not appear to be running much of a campaign this cycle. He previously ran for Judge –unsuccessfully– in 2012, in which he was endorsed by the usual suspects of pay-to-play Republican slates, Garry Polland and Steve Hotze. It is not an easy choice, but we ultimately believe an ideologue is preferential to a criminal. Accordingly, we endorse John Wittenmyer in the Republican primary for the 269th District Court.
311th DISTRICT COURT
Sagacious readers of this blog will be familiar with our displeasure towards Judge Denise Pratt. Time and time again, she has demonstrated her sheer incompetence and unpreparedness for the Family District Court she represents. Frankly, we have lost count of how many complaints and grievances have been lodged against Judge Pratt, from abuse of office to horribly vindictive retaliations. Voters made a mistake nominating her once, and should not do so again. In response to her countless antics, four qualified Republicans have signed up to challenge her in the primary. Among these challengers, we find Anthony Magdaleno to be the best.
Magdaleno has a long history as a family lawyer, and would be a wise and impartial advocate for all on the bench. We also find Donna Detamore to be particularly qualified for similar reasons. But it is Magdaleno whom we have been impressed by, for he is the only candidate who has been actively trying to build –not burn– bridges within both the Harris County Republican Party and the general population. Accordingly, we endorse Magdaleno.
COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #10
The only open seat at the County judicial level, this bench has drawn a diverse slate of four candidates in the Republican primary. Among these candidates, we believe one would be the best addition to the courthouse. Ken Wenzel, a former Police Officer, does not appear to understand how key facets of the criminal justice work, and has a penchant for exaggerating details of his life. As such, we agree with the Houston Chronicle’s recent profile of this race: that voters would be quite wise to avoid Wenzel.
However, we also believe they would be wise to avoid Dan Spjut. Another former Police Officer, our qualms with Spjut rest in the fact that his campaign has largely been underwritten by pay-to-play slates by the aforementioned Polland and Hotze.
We further agree with the Chronicle that Tonya McLaughlin is the best candidate for this bench. It is worth noting, however, that Mary Heafner, a fourth candidate, is also a good pick for the office, though we especially admire McLaughlin’s long record and experience. Misdemeanor criminal courts deserve fair and balanced arbiters of the law, and this board believes McLaughlin best exemplifies these qualities.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, Sophia Arena of Houston, George Bailey of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.