Editorial note: This is the seventh 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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Herb Ritchie, Democratic candidate for the 263rd Criminal District Court
Texpatriate: What is your name?
HR: Herb Ritchie
T: What office are you seeking?
HR: Judge, 263rd Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas.
T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
HR: Judge, 337th Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas; January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012.
T: What is your political party?
T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
HR: Offenders serving a sentence for a state jail felony currently do not earn good conduct time for time served. However, as previous Judge of the 337th Criminal District Court, I told defendants at sentencing that I would award maximum diligent participation credit for diligent participation in programs such as work, education, and/or treatment. My rationale was that this would (1) save taxpayer money since less jail space would required; (2) encourage defendants to better themselves through education and treatment for substance abuse; (3) discourage inmate fighting and abuse toward jailers, lest the time credit be lost. The incumbent to my knowledge has not, and does not award diligent participation credit.
T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
HR: The dockets in Harris County continue to grow larger each year with no additional courts being created to handle the ever burgeoning population. I will support requests for the creation of more criminal district courts. In the meantime, I will continue to work diligently, just as I did previously, to insure that every defendant receives a prompt, full and fair hearing and/or trial.
T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
HR: I think it is more appropriate to set forth the positives of my candidacy rather than to speak negatively of the incumbent. The voters will make this judgment in the upcoming election.
T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
HR: My qualifications are as follows:
U.T. honor graduate (B.A. 1967, with honors; M.A. 1969; J.D. 1974, with honors); Phi Beta Kappa (Honorary Academics Achievement); Phi Delta Phi (Honorary Legal Achievement); Eta Sigma Phi (Honorary Classics Achievement); past teacher/instructor of Classics at U.T.-Austin and Baylor University; Teacher’s Award Mortgages; third highest grade, Texas Bar Examination; past counsel Texas Real Estate Commission and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., past managing partner, Ritchie & Glass, Law Firm; experienced in both civil and criminal cases and appellate procedure; Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1987 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; member: Houston Bar Association, College of the State Bar of Texas. Licensed to practice in all Texas Courts, Southern, Western and Eastern District of Texas, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court. Elected Judge 337th Criminal District Court, 2009-2012.
T: What role do you think a Criminal District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Criminal District Courts should have as a whole?
HR: Individually a Criminal District Judge should exhibit patience, judicial temperament and demeanor. The role requires the highest degree of integrity and the treatment of all persons fairly, equally and respectfully. The Criminal District Courts as a whole should promote faith, confidence in and respect for the American criminal justice system.
T: What role do you believe a Judge should have in plea bargains? Do you think a Judge should ever veto an agreement between the District Attorney and Defense Attorneys?
HR: The Judge should normally let the attorneys for the State and defense agree upon the appropriate disposition of a case based upon the facts, evidence, and criminal history of the defendant. A Judge should veto a plea bargain only when there appears to be a miscarriage of justice, should the plea bargain be followed.
T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
HR: For the non-violent drug offender, treatment is preferable to incarceration. This saves taxpayer money by reserving prison space for violent offenders such as rapists, child sex offenders, robbers, murderers, etc.
T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
HR: I believe in the partisan election of judges for the following reasons: (1) appointed judges are often likely to suffer from “black robe disease” or “robitis”, and even with retention elections, it can be difficult to dislodge an unfit, arrogant judge; (2) judges need to be accountable to the electorate rather than be chosen by a few political insiders; (3) in large counties such as Harris, it is impossible to know all the individual candidates, and party label often gives some clue about a candidate; (4) non-partisan elections are more likely to produce winners with common, familiar-sounding or likeable names; (5) the political parties themselves will often screen out unqualified candidates through various party group endorsements and primary contests. While some argue that appointed judges are less susceptible to political pressure, an elected judge of good character will follow the law and not succumb to political pressure or public clamor. I realize that sometimes political sweeps can remove from office some qualified judges, and install some less qualified jurists, but the reverse is also sometimes true. In short this is a difficult and perplexing question; the answer to which, reasonable minds may differ.
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?
HR: (1) The dockets in Harris county have exploded with the burgeoning population, and the last criminal district court in Harris County was created in 1985. I have advocated for the creation of additional courts, and also for the addition of court magistrates to hear uncontested pleas and other administrative matters in order that the elected judges can spend more time trying and disposing of contested cases. Additionally, when judge of the 337th Criminal District Court, I spent long hours on the bench whenever necessary to keep the docket as current as possible.
(2) Jail overcrowding is a serious and dangerous problem. As mentioned earlier, I would give diligent participation credit to state jail prisoners. Additionally, I would try to rehabilitate non-violent substance abuse offenders in appropriate cases. I had at one time, to the best of my knowledge, more defendants on probation and deferred adjudication than any other criminal district judge in Harris County. The jail space was saved for violent offenders who were a danger to the community.
(3) Effective representation of indigent defendants is a great concern, and I used the Harris County Public Defenders Office as much as possible. This would ensure that by and large the same resources would be available to the defense of the indigent as there would be for the prosecution. There needs to be a level playing field for justice to prevail.