Editorial note: This is the fifteenth 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>.
Mack McInnis, Democratic candidate for the 185th (Criminal) District Court
Texpatriate: What is your name?
MM: Mack McInnis
T: What office are you seeking?
MM: Judge, 185th Criminal District Court
T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for which years you held them.
T: What is your political party?
MM: Democratic Party
T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
MM: My opponent’s Grand Jury selection method. My opponent uses an archaic and notorious method of selecting Grand Juries. She uses the “Key-man” a.k.a. Pick-a-Pal system which almost all Texas counties have abandoned. This old practice employs three to five Commissioners selected by the Judge. These Commissioners then select the Grand Jury.
In the case of Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos, a “Runaway” Grand Jury launched an investigation of the DA’s use of breath test results obtained using mobile Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) vans. This protracted investigation revealed no wrong doing by Lykos, but it did serve to smear Lykos causing her to lose the Republican primary. My opponent acting both as a Judge of the 185th Criminal District Court and as presiding Administrative Judge over the Harris County Criminal District Courts ordered that the names of the July/August 2012 Commissioners and Grand Jurors be sealed until “further order of the Court.”
In recent months many articles in the Houston Chronicle and in the Washington Post have decried the use of the Pick-a-Pal selection process and the sealing of Grand Jury records.
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?
MM: Pretrial Release. In the past, Harris County had an active Pretrial Release program that used a risk scoring system to determine whether or not an arrestee was a safe risk for a low cost pretrial bond. Because of the strong law and order slant taken by the Harris County Criminal Courts in recent years, the practice declined and the Pretrial Release Agency made fewer and fewer bonds.
As a consequence, our jails are flooded with low risk offenders who could be paying a low cost bail fee to the County as was done in the past. I would solve the problem by urging my colleagues on the Criminal Judge’s Board to revitalize the Pre-trial Release program. In support of this approach, I will extend inexpensive Pretrial Release bonds to appropriate candidates based on the risk scoring system.
T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her job? If so, why?
MM: Yes, she has. As stated earlier, she has sealed the Grand Jury records in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Judicial Administrative rules. In 2010, she put an innocent woman in jail for three days for saying “Thank you, Jesus.” when her husband’s not guilty verdict was announced in court. Putting this innocent, religious woman in jail was an unnecessarily cruel over reaction demonstrating a lack of judicial temperament.
T: Why you, as opposed to your opponent?
MM: I am more balanced in experience and temperament. I have served as a civil prosecutor for over eight years prosecuting termination cases in order to protect children from abusive parents. I also served as a criminal defense lawyer for 32 years. I have been the lead counsel in capital murder cases, multi-defendant federal cases, and I have around 300 jury trials under my belt. I also served as an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Trial Advocacy. I am Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I will be decisive and fair.
T: What role do you think a Criminal District Judge should have individually?
MM: At the sake of sounding redundant, I believe that a balance of experience and personality makes for a good judge. A good judge cannot inaugurate sweeping changes. A good judge becomes an example by thoughtful rulings in individual cases.
T: What role do you think the Criminal District Courts should have as a whole?
MM: A judge should rule based on the law and the law should be tempered by reason and mercy in appropriate cases. A Criminal Judge’s influence is limited to his or her contribution to the policy decisions of the Criminal Judge’s Board and to his or her individual rulings.
T: What role do you believe a Judge should have in plea bargains?
MM: Very limited. I think that Judges sometimes refuse to allow plea agreements based on some iron clad or punitive policy mandate.
T: Do you think a Judge should ever veto an agreement between the District Attorney and Defense Attorneys?
MM: I can envision rare cases where a plea agreement should not be followed. For example, a burglar is offered a mild punishment and it is later discovered prior to the scheduled plea date that he/she is a serial killer and has committed multiple other crimes and perhaps should stay in jail to permit a more thorough investigation.
T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
MM: I am a strong believer in rehabilitation. I have seen it work in multiple cases. One of my former clients was a repeat drug offender and he and his wife (also a former repeat drug offender) have operated very successfully for many years one of the best prison rehab ministries in Texas.
T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
MM: I think it is a mistake. Judges should be elected based on personal experience and qualifications and should serve for only two four-year terms. Unfortunately, we have to run in partisan elections. I do not believe that judges should be appointed by the Governor.
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?
MM: 1) The Pick-a-Pal Grand Jury System which I have advocated against it for years.
2) A bail-bond-company dominated bonding system which I have also advocated against for many years.
3) Wrongful convictions caused by a failed Crime Lab and evidence storage system which is illustrated by the deplorable history of the HPD Crime Lab. The new Michael Morton Law is a step in the right direction. I have advocated for an independent quality controlled Crime Lab and a reformed biological evidence storage system. Additionally, I believe that all expert witnesses and crime scene investigators should be trained under the NIJ Eyewitness Evidence Guide.