Editorial note: This is the third in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <email@example.com>.
David Newell, Repubican candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9
Texpatriate: What is your name?
DN: David Newell
T: What office are you seeking?
DN: Court of Criminal Appeals, Judge, Place 9
T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
DN: While I have over sixteen years of experience in the area of criminal appeals, this would be my first political office.
T: What is your political party?
T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with the incumbent’s ruling? What is a specific case in which you agree?
DN: As a criminal appellate practitioner I would love to single out particular cases that I either agree or disagree with. But as a judicial candidate, I cannot single out a ruling that might disagree with because it could suggest potential bias or an inability to follow binding precedent on my part to do so. Such an expression could result in my inability to participate as a judge in a case where that precedent is at issue. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with a particular result reached by the Court of Criminal Appeals, I would uphold that precedent unless there were significant reasons presented in an appropriate case to reconsider that holding.
T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court of Criminal Appeals will face in the near future? Why is it important?
DN: I believe the Court will have to resolve whether advances in forensic science that undermine past scientific opinions rendered honestly under the generally accepted science of the time require a new criminal trial or a finding of actual innocence. There is an inherent tension between science that is inherently adaptable to new information and a legal system based upon precedent that strives to establish certainty over time. The importance of the issue is obvious as this type of evidence can often form a significant part of the prosecution’s case, and the use of such evidence seems to increase exponentially.
T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
DN: I believe that my skill and experience in criminal appellate law makes me the best suited to do the job on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Over my sixteen-year career, I have written numerous appeals on death penalty cases and death penalty writs. I have appeared as both the petitioner and the respondent before the Court of Criminal Appeals on multiple occasions. As often as I have appeared before the Court of Criminal Appeals, I have appeared many more times before intermediate courts of appeal. I have briefed legal issues before the United States Supreme Court, which adopted my reasoning to uphold the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals. I am Board Certified in both Criminal Law and Criminal Appellate Law. I have written numerous articles in The Texas Prosecutor on the significant decisions by the United States Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. I have been presenting the Court of Criminal Appeals Case Law Update almost continuously for the State Bar of Texas at their Annual Advance Criminal Law Course since 2007. Consequently, I am very familiar not only with this Court’s precedent, but the emerging trends in its decisions. And I am well-respected by both sides of the criminal appellate bar. I am not running for the position, I’m running for the job, and I think my background and experience demonstrates that I am the best person to start doing that job on day one.
T: What role do you think a Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals should have individually? What role do you think the Court of Criminal Appeals should have as a whole?
DN: First and foremost, a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals should, in his or her individual capacity, fairly, accurately, and impartially decide the law. When drafting an opinion for the Court, the individual judge should work to incorporate the views of the other members of the Court in a clear and concise fashion so that practitioners and judges are properly guided on how to handle particular legal issues. When conferencing with other members of the Court, a judge should always be open to different points of view so that all of the Court’s written opinions are well-formed. The Courts constitutional role is to act as a check on legislative and executive overreach through impartial interpretation of the laws duly passed by the representatives of the citizens.
T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
DN: I support electing judges in partisan contests. The goal of having judges remain truly independent of the electoral process is certainly laudable, but in practice this goal is impossible to achieve. My experience having to analyze holdings from the many fractured opinions in a particular case before the United States Supreme Court has emphasized to me that pure appointment of judges can actually lead to more fractured and ideological opinions that can provide less guidance for parties, practitioners, and judges. Moreover, we essentially have a retention election in practice due to the nature of political appointments. Many qualified candidates choose to seek a judicial appointment rather than enter a political contest for an open seat with the knowledge that an incumbent has an advantage in any primary or general election. But partisan elections simply provide more transparency to the process and require at least some method by which voters can make a reasonable decision regarding a judge’s philosophy based upon party affiliation in the absence of more thorough research. It is not a perfect system, but is the best available option.
T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
DN: As with the question regarding particular cases I agree or disagree with, I cannot discuss particular legal issues that are of personal importance because they might suggest a lack of impartiality on my part should that issue come before me as a judge. What I can say is that I have always felt that is important to make sure lawyers and judges are accurately informed on the prevailing law regardless of the issue. To that end, I have written and lectured extensively on criminal law topics to police officers, lawyers, and judges. While I worked in Fort Bend County, I not only volunteered to teach at the Gus George Law Enforcement Academy on topics such as search and seizure, confessions, criminal procedure, and constitutional law, I also set up an in-house continuing legal education system to make sure new prosecutors were aware of law surrounding criminal prosecution. In our private lives, my wife and I have donated our time, talents, and treasure to our church, Southminster Presbyterian, as well community organizations such as the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry, the Houston Food Bank, the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, and the Fort Bend Junior Service League to name a few. In that sense, we both believe it is important to live our lives in service to others, and those are ways we have acted on that belief. But perhaps the most important issue to me is being present for my two sons, Peter and Jacob. Having been raised by a military father, I have always tried to be available for my sons, to help them with school and extracurricular activities. I’ve coached my younger son in Little League (despite my limited skill) and helped my older son train for a triathlon. While these may not be the important issues contemplated in this question, I hope that my answers provide some insight into who I am and what is important to me on a personal level.