The Houston Chronicle‘s Editorial Board has begun its endorsement process for the 2014 general election, making selections in 6 Family District Court races, all of the contested ones on the ballot this November. They appeared unwilling to make any type of pronouncement on the unchallenged campaigns, but for the six ones that were, the paper of record broke overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrats. Five out of the six endorsed were Democratic challengers, three of those being over an incumbent Republican judge. The sixth race, regarding Judge Sheri Dean of the 309th District Court, saw the Chronicle stick it out with a sole Republican.
The editorials, in exceedingly bizarre fashion, appeared to focus on the experience of the Democratic challengers. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Democrats are mostly capable attorneys who would (and, hopefully, will) make good judges, but I find honing in on the candidates’ “experience” to be a rather strange reason to support them, especially considering that the Republicans are all either incumbent District Judges or have some experience as an Associate Judge. Strictly speaking, the Republicans have judicial experience and –since they and they alone control the courthouse– the Democrats don’t. Of course, I don’t think that is the only variable at play when making a judicial selection.
Furthermore, the Chronicle appears to not understand how experience works among attorneys in some important ways. As they always have, the editorial board intently honed in on which candidates were “board certified” in Family law, explicitly mentioning it multiple times. Board certifications are great ways to prove you are knowledgeable enough to seek specialization in your particular field, but the label is not for everyone. You generally are not board certified in multiple disciplines, which disqualifies attorneys wishing to diversify or those who may just functionally have to if self-employed. Accordingly, harping about that point is another poor argument.
Additionally, the editorial board took issue with the Republicans outwardly advertising their support by entities such as the National Rifle Association or anti-abortion and anti-LGBT groups, going out their way to specifically lambast Republican candidates for it on multiple occasions. I certainly agree that such divisive political points should have no place in the court system, but the Chronicle’s indignation appears somewhat overblown.
Just off the top of my head, I know two of the Democratic candidates outwardly tout their arguably non-Judicial endorsements. Barbara Stalder, the Democrat for the 280th District Court, proudly presents her endorsement by the GLBT Caucus on her website. Jim Evans, the Democrat for 308th District Court, does the same with the AFL-CIO. Now, does this mean I disagree with them on seeking and advertising the endorsement? Certainly not. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, meaning the Republicans are similarly justified to advertise their anti-LGBT or anti-abortion views in a campaign.
But this isn’t about experience or outward political positions, it’s about integrity. All too often, it appears that the (all Republican) incumbent Judges set aside justice, fairness and equity. As Greg Enos of The Mongoose has remained particularly vigilant in reporting, far too many Judges are allegedly complicit in handing out lucrative ad litem appointments to their buddies, and some of the Judges once even were on the receiving ends of the sweetheart deals. The old adage may have been that the 1994 election, in which incumbent Democratic judges were tossed out of office in favor of their Republican competitors, merely replaced corruption with incompetence. But now, the Republicans have appeared to create a layer of corruption themselves.
Equivocating ever so slightly in favor of Democrats because of empty platitudes about experience is not the type of wakeup call that the people of Houston need in order to clean house down at the family courts. When the Chronicle editorial board makes an exceedingly asinine statement like “[Judge James Lombardino] has done a fine job in his first term,” it only demonstrates their startling ignorance on any of the activities going on down there. Are you kidding me? Has anyone from the newspaper ever even been to the Family Courthouse?
Speaking with those attorneys who regularly do business before his court, it appears that Lombardino –Judge of the 308th District Court– allegedly holds an unusual prejudice against women, cemented by what has been described as a terribly outdated role of the family. I was referred to one case where Lombardino went out of his way to railroad over the independent judgment of an ad litem (who, by the way, is one of the Democratic candidates for a Family Court) in order to take a child away from her mother (and give her to the father, whom had not seen the child since birth). The apparent offense in this case was that the mother once tested positive for marijuana. Unfortunately, I confirmed this was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger, disturbing pattern.
But you’ll never hear that from the Chronicle.
As for the decision to not highlight uncontested races, I would be a huge hypocrite for being critical of that, but it is worth noting that some of the unopposed Republican judges have muddy pasts as well. Judge Lisa Millard of the 310th District Court is a sterling example of this. She is infamous in many circles for not only placing a murky temporary restraining order on the City’s recent spousal benefits policy, but getting entangled in a rather heartless child support case.
There are some good reasons to vote Democratic for Family Court judges in Harris County this year; hopefully, I have delineated a few. But the watered down platitudes from the newspaper are not among them.