Texpatriate’s Questions for Scot Dollinger

Editorial note: This is the seventeenth 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 <info@texpate.com>.

Scot Dollinger, Democratic candidate for County Civil Court at Law #2

Texpatriate: What is your name?
SD: Scot Gibbons Dollinger

T: What office are you seeking?
SD: Judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
SD: None

T: What is your political party?
SD: Democrat

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by your incumbent?
SD: In Cause No. 1050447 Williams Apartments v. Tiffany Franklin the judge improperly allowed the Plaintiff (a legal entity) to be represented without an attorney. This practice is ongoing in other cases. As well, the judge is not properly following the rules for setting supercedeas bonds on appeal showing a bias in favor of landlords and not properly following the rule of law.

T: What is a contentious issue that you belief the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
SD: Improperly allowing legal entities to represent themselves without lawyers in county court at law. It is important because the rule of law requires legal entities in county court at law to have lawyers. As well, the law of supercedeas bonds needs to be followed. I would solve the problem by requiring all legal entities to have a lawyer absent clear authority authorizing action without counsel and I would follow the law governing supercedeas bonds.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
SD: Yes. The law is clear for not allowing legal entity representation in county court at law without counsel. Even the judge acknowledged in our Houston Chronicle interview that it was an improper practice. She said she advises legal entities that they have to have an attorney and re-sets the cases. However, in reviewing eviction court files from January 1, 2014 to date, I can find no such practice in eviction cases. I found no re-sets. I found no admonition to non-represented entities. I found no such statements in the court’s procedures. As well, there are cases where the court is ignoring pauper affidavits which directly impact the filing of supercedeas bonds. By so acting, the court is demonstrating a landlord bias against tenants. No judge should be biased. If the court is biased here, one wonders in what other ways the court is biased.

As well, the court tells lawyers in general they have 15 to 20 minutes to pick a jury in her court. Any experienced trial attorney will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury. As was stated by James Madison – “In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
SD: We need a different judge with my administrative and trial background. I have been representing individuals of all races, religions, sexual orientations and genders in civil matters my entire 25 plus year career. My opponent has not had this kind of experience. Instead, she has worked for Harris County or the City of Houston (institutions) her entire legal career giving her a certain level of bias in favor of establishment institutions. This bias is manifested in Judge Chang’s improper practice of allowing legal entities to represent themselves in County Court without a lawyer and not following the law when it comes to fairly setting supercedeas bonds in eviction cases.

This court handles eminent domain cases involving Harris County. I do not think this court should have a judge that used to work for Harris County and was appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Currently, the four civil county courts at law work independently of each other in the sense of having different procedures in each court. If elected, I would work with all the other judges to strive to have uniform procedures in all four courts to bring uniformity of procedure to all four courts and to increase predictability of outcomes.

Currently, the county courts at law are not under the JIMS computer system that manages access to county documents. All the District Courts are under JIMS. The civil county courts at law and probate courts have their own computer system for viewing documents. This method is duplication of effort. It should be noted that the criminal county courts at law are under the JIMS system. So, there is no reason not to move the rest of the county courts at law over to JIMS. As well, the county court database is not being properly used to establish a set of metrics to study the caseload of these courts. One sets metrics or gathers data in the database to measure levels of productivity. The current computer system either needs to be properly used at the encouragement of the judges or the county courts at law need to fall under the JIMS system and authority of the District Clerk in terms of case management. There is no reason for the county courts at law to be separately managed unless they are being managed in a much better way which they are not. The judges play a role in helping to cast the vision for management of these courts. Currently, the judges’ vision is lacking in my view.

Currently, the sitting judge tells lawyers via her procedures that she generally gives them 15 to 20 minutes to conduct voir dire (pick a jury). http://www.ccl.hctx.net/civil/2/procedures.htm#motions Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury to determine if they are biased or prejudiced against the case. It is illegal for lawyers to strike jurors based on race. Lawyers need the time to properly test for this problem under the Batson case law. An experienced trial lawyer like me is more sensitive to Batson violations and the need to properly question a panel and spend the time necessary to properly pick a jury.

I believe I am the person who has the best combination of administrative and court room trial skills to run an excellent court. I have handled large case loads, written programs to handle large caseloads, created database systems, tried over 40 trials and worked on over 10 appeals. This court needs an excellent administrative judge and also an excellent trial judge to be properly run so that everyone is treated fairly: Fair access to a fair forum.

T: What role do you think a County Civil Judge should have individually?

SD: Individually, a County Civil Judge should be fair minded and desire to treat everyone fairly and lead by example. He should have good temperament and be approachable. He should be decisive and efficient and at the same time be willing to give people the time they need to properly present their case. These two goals are constantly competing: 1. Resolving disputes quickly, 2. Taking the time to properly resolve disputes. We can never forget that right outcomes (justice) matters. A quickly made, wrong decision is no good. I think Leviticus 19:15 sums things up nicely: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”

T: What role do you think the County Civil Courts should have as a whole?
SD: There are four civil county courts in Harris County numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4. The county civil courts handle the following caseloads:

– 60% debt collection/contract disputes

– 17% injury cases

– 15% eviction cases

– 4% occupational licenses

– 3% eminent domain

– 1% tax and tow

All four courts should work as a unit. The judges should work together to have common practices and procedures so that the parties have common procedures regardless of the courts. These courts should be models of efficiency and due process. They should shine. Unfortunately, in my view, these courts are under-performing because they do not work as a unit and have little administrative vision to improve.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
SD: Justice is not about Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Justice is about right outcomes. Justice is about consensus building and resolving disputes fairly without bias, sympathy or prejudice. Though I am running as a Democrat, I certainly know and believe that I can and will be fair to all people regardless of their party and regardless of their political philosophies. Is the debt owed or not? Is not a political issue. Is an eviction proper or not? Is not a political issue. Therefore, I would prefer the non-partisan election of judges. But I also think with the right kind of judge, a judge can be fair whether Democrat or Republican. In my life, I have seen both.

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?
SD: Legal Entities Not Having Lawyers

I have brought attention to the issue of improperly allowing legal entities to not have lawyers in county court at law. I have brought this problem to the attention of the Houston Chronicle and bar leaders. I have documented the improper practice. I am running for office to fix this problem. I will put an end to the practice if elected.

Allowing Only 15 to 20 Minutes to Pick a Jury

I have brought attention to the issue of only allowing 15 to 20 minutes to select a jury. I have brought this problem to the attention of the Houston Bar Association. I am running for office to fix this problem. I will put an end to the practice if elected.

Under-utilization of Database Management Systems

I have also retrieved database information from the county court at law database managers and confirmed that the software is being under-utilized. I am prepared to move forward with a better system: either shift over to the District Clerks office JIMS system or improve the county court at law’s system by entering metric data. I also have discussed these issues with past clerks of the court to confirm that there is a better way. Fundamentally, one has to ask whether one wants a caretaker like the present judge with limited vision or an innovator like me with my skill set and vision for making these courts shine. I have the gift for administration and excellent trial skills. I am very comfortable in a court room. My website is www.dolli4judge.com Thank you for taking the time to read these materials and consider voting for me.

 

Crocodile tears

The Houston Chronicle reports that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, has unveiled yet another television ad. Going back to the style of his first, very positive and self narrated, Abbott lamented the troubles facing Texas roads and outlined his proposal to help.

“A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas,” Abbott says. He proposes prohibiting moneys in the State Highway Fund from going to non-highway sources. From what the ad says, Abbott appears to insinuate that these so-called diversions are pork barrel spending used by legislators as de facto earmarks. According to Abbott’s website, this could save $400,000,000.00 a year, or $800 Million a biennium!

This is all good and well, but the Houston Chronicle noted earlier this year that House Speaker Joe Straus will instruct members to compile a budget next session that does exactly this. Accordingly, if one were to agree with this proposal, Straus should get the accolades, not Abbott. However, this assumes that the proposal is a good idea. The Chronicle article suggests that the bulk of this non-transportation money spent out the highway fund goes to law enforcement agencies. Abbott’s website also admits that, “In the 2014-15 biennial budget , more than $800 million was appropriated to non-transportation related agencies, including the Office of Comptroller, the Veteran’s Commission, and the Department of Insurance.” Not pork-barrel spending, but veterans. Obviously, these important government expenditures will have to be made up for elsewhere in the budget, so the actual “savings” will be kept to a minimum.

As Dug Begley, the Chronicle’s awesome transportation columnist, has opined, roads are quite high priority but low on the totem pole for folks willing to spend money. People like Abbott, all too often, appear to think that they just magically appear one day. Those in the know in transportation land have said many billions of dollars are needed per annum just to maintain the quality of our roads with the exponentially increasing population. $4 Billion to $8 Billion, by some estimates. Abbott’s plan does not do this, and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) does not have a good plan for it either.

Both candidates are afraid of uttering the true solution to this problem: raising the gas tax. Unchanged for nearly 25 years, the gas tax is the main mechanism that the State of Texas uses to fund its expansive highway system. Republicans and Democrats alike, trembling in fear before vehemently anti-tax voters, dare not to speak of raising it. But, because of this reluctance, the Texas Department of Transportation has only dug itself deeper and deeper into debt. State Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County) is one of the few politicians willing to frankly discuss this problem, and the need to do something drastic (like hike the gas tax). The New York Times reported on this development last year in some detail.

But Eltife is not running for Governor, Abbott is. And Abbott’s grand plans for roads are completely worthless. It does not even put a band-aid over the problem like the Legislature did last session. He may shed crocodile tears over our crumbling roads, but he and his Tea Party friends’ extreme ideology are partly why we are in this situation. Roads are expensive.

Texpatriate endorses for Agriculture Commissioner

Four times, we have opined our selections to be the next Agriculture Commissioner of Texas. A Democratic primary, a Republican primary, a Democratic runoff and a Republican runoff. On each occasion, the voters regrettably repudiated our selections. The unfortunate result is that both major parties’ nominees for the office are bad fits for the post. The Agriculture Commissioner, despite its name, is actually responsible for quite a lot more. Between regulating gas pumps, overseeing school lunches and managing a de facto PR campaign for the State’s food, the position is among the more powerful in Austin.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican candidate for this post, simply should not be in that position of power. His service as a legislator was, in a word, mediocre, and that time under the dome should sound alarms about his capacity to effectively exercise this office. While he did author a bill to force sonograms for women attempting to obtain abortions, Miller did almost nothing for his local district, and his constituents threw him out of office in the 2012 Republican primary. He was replaced by J.D. Sheffield, a more moderate Republican, in a year where the trend tended to be the other way around.

Since that time, we have been disappointed to see Miller only double down on his divisive, extreme rhetoric. He has selected admitted child-rapist Ted Nugent as his campaign treasurer and a chief political surrogate. He regularly talks up right-wing talking points on abortion, gay marriage, guns, foreign policy and the supposed general tomfoolery of the President, despite all of which having almost no connection to the Agriculture Commissioner’s office. Inconspicuously absent from the topics he regularly talks about, however, is any serious reference to agriculture or the office he is actually vying to win.

Then there is Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate. No website, no platform, no public appearances and a generally hostile attitude toward politics in general. To put it bluntly, Hogan is a useless candidate. The few times that he has opened his mouth, it has spewed ambiguous platitudes or troubling comments regarding his ignorance on state issues.

So with a bad Democrat and a bad Republican, who should the intelligent voter support? We thought about skipping the race altogether, or perhaps giving a look at the Libertarian candidate, Rocky Palmquist. Ultimately, however, we decided on the Green candidate, Kenneth Kendrick, as the best choice.

Perhaps best known as a whistle-blower in a high profile scandal a few years back involving the Peanut Corporation of America, Kendrick has been a tireless advocate for the stringent enforcement of food safety regulations. While we have admittedly had some concerns in the past with him relying too heavily on this past notoriety, Kendrick has recently developed a fully platform online and in a campaign that hopes to transverse the State.

Kendrick hopes to increase the visibility of safety regulations on our food production, but he also has a complex plan to deal with waste, fraud and abuse. He also supports commonsense solutions to water conservation and hemp production. Most importantly, we believe that he would be qualified to be the Agriculture Commissioner, with precisely the right kind of temperament for the job.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Stations and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority of the voting board.

Civil Affairs: Law

CIVIL AFFAIRS

Editorial note: Noah M. Horwitz has previously contracted work with the Clifford Group, a public relations firm that counts Yellow Cab among its clients. He currently does no work on behalf of them.

Serving on the Editorial Board of The Daily Texan, I have gotten the opportunity to sit down with a diverse set of stakeholders in community issues. This evening, I had a conversation with a few corporate representatives of Uber, who are trying desperately to pressure the Austin City Council into legalizing their service later this week. I don’t really want to get into the weeds of that issue right now, but what struck me as peculiar was their cognitive dissonance upon being confronted on operating illegally.

Uber and Lyft, app-based vehicle for hire services, routinely jump into new markets by cavalierly breaking the local laws until the municipal government agrees to legalize their courses of action. Once again, I don’t want to get into arguing why I think most all of the regulations currently governing taxis in most Texas cities are sound, or why the reforms Uber and Lyft are fighting toward are misguided. This is just about their strategy when entering a new marketplace. In Houston, they received some citations, but in Austin, they have racked up a lot of them and have even seen the impounding of many vehicles.

When I asked the Uber representatives about this, they confidently stated that they were not, in fact, breaking the law. The Austin Police Department begs to differ, but Uber’s response was that they had a different “interpretation” of the laws currently governing vehicles for hire. Of course, I know some people who have “different interpretations” of laws on cannabis and underage drinking, but it doesn’t ever seem to help them on the weekends.

Many reasonable proponents of Uber will concede that the service breaks the law, but that their lawbreaking is somehow justified by the fact that the laws are allegedly silly. Indubitably, the same thing can be said about our tax code, but the last time I checked, the IRS still does not take too kindly to tax evasion.

I will freely admit that I was radicalized on this issue when Uber and Lyft first began nonchalantly violating the law in Houston, last February. In May, they followed suit in Austin. Now, I grew up in a fairly secular household, and my father is a super old-school attorney, so I was raised with an almost spiritual reverence and respect for the law. I couldn’t ever justify taking either service in a city that is illegal in, and I really do not understand some of the people I know, who gloated about driving for the services on their social media accounts. Perhaps I’m a goody-two-shoe, but the casual attitude on breaking laws –especially local ones– is troubling. These were not imposed by some malevolent dictator in a faraway land, they were concurred to by rather pure representatives of the people not so long ago. Say what you will about the laws being obsolete or wrong, they still need to be respected until they are changed.

And if I hear one more self-righteous liberal gripe about “civil disobedience” or compare Uber and Lyft to players in the Civil Rights movement, I think I am going to lose it. Be it from Thoreau or Martin Luther King, there is a history in this country of violating unjust laws, but this is only in the rare exception of a statute that violates higher law, be that the Constitution or the inherent liberties of man. I don’t think you would find a single person who could say with a straight face that taxi regulations requiring 24/7 commercial insurance or prohibiting variable pricing violate either of these principles. This isn’t a moral struggle.

Personally, I’m offended by how few of my contemporaries are offended by Uber and Lyft’s cavalier lawbreaking. We have a social contract in this society, and that includes abiding by mutually-agreed upon laws.

Texpatriate endorses for the US Senate

We tend to swing back and forward on prioritizing issues and prioritizing experience & leadership skills when it comes to campaigns, elections and endorsements. Most of us agree that Senator John Cornyn, the Republican incumbent who has been in office for twelve years, is a strong choice in the leadership department while his Democratic challenger, David Alameel, beats him in the policy arena. All in all, though, this board believes its squabbles on policy with Cornyn outweigh our preferences with him on leadership, and we therefore will support his competitor.

In this era of Tea Party upstart leaders who come out of nothing rather abruptly, Cornyn has been an exception to the rule. He is a slow but steady growing leader for Republicans in Texas. Before he entered the Senate in late 2002, he served for one term as Attorney General and about one-and-a-half on the Texas Supreme Court. Originally, Cornyn’s experience was in the judiciary, as he started out electorally as a District Judge in his home of San Antonio. Furthermore, Cornyn has spent his years in the Senate somewhat productively, moving up the food chain ever-so-efficiently until he recently became Minority Whip, the second highest ranking Republican. The country faces the distinct, though very real, possibility that Cornyn could even be the Majority Leader of the Senate come January.

All this is to say that, if Texas voters choose to repudiate Cornyn in his quest for a third term, the state would lose a lot. But it would also lose a consistent voice against everyday Texans, one indubitably without their best interests at heart. Despite what Cornyn’s many extreme Republican primary challengers may have suggested earlier this year, the incumbent is indeed a true conservative. So true, in fact, that his positions should not continue to have a home in the United States Senate.

Cornyn continues to be a driving force behind the asinine movement to amend the constitution in order to ban same-sex marriages. Once, he likened the idea to a man loving a box turtle. He also has stood against even the most reasonable gun regulations or bipartisan accommodations designed to keep the government afloat when Tea Party zealots were extorting Washington into austerity. After vanquishing rightist challengers in this year’s primary, you would think that Cornyn could move toward the center, but instead he has sadly doubled down on the very same type of partisan rhetoric.

David Alameel, the Democratic challenger, is not a strong candidate. His considerable largess allowed him to bully the state’s top political brass into supporting him over more qualified and more interesting candidates in the Democratic primary, with the ultimately false assumption that he would be amenable to spending some of his fortune during the campaign. Unfortunately, he has been missing in action from heavy politicking for many months now. We’re not holding our breaths for a sudden reversal.

We have some serious reservations about his qualifications, temperament and other characterizations. But on policy, there is a night and day difference. Alameel is pro-LGBT rights, wants to end neoconservative foreign policy elements and supports reasonable gun regulations.

It is still an open question as to if Alameel would make an effective Senator. But Cornyn has, without a doubt, lost our confidence as one, so we are willing to take a chance on a replacement, specifically one who we agree with on principle. Accordingly, this board endorses David Alameel for the United States Senate.

A dissent to the Editorial was also published
I largely agree with the platitudes espoused by the remainder of the editorial board, and their assessment of strengths and weaknesses among the candidates. We just disagree on which one should be prioritized.

Cornyn’s positions likening bestiality with reptiles to marriage equality are offense and indefensible. Similarly, his general demeanor on the issues as a member of the Senate is somewhat poor. But our friends, we fear, drastically understate the value of Cornyn’s leadership positions. The Senate is not a collection of fiefdoms. One freshman Senator would not be very effective in shaking things up. Texas is much better served by a tried-and-true statesman like Cornyn, with what he could affect for the people.
–Andrew Scott Romo

Noah M. Horwitz also published an individual addendum
I agree with the editorial’s positions, but I would like to clarify the role of experience. Being in the Senate is not very hard, it’s not a job that requires a lot of advanced brain power; anyone who ever met Dan Quayle could testify to that. Obviously, David Alameel is no LBJ, and neither is John Cornyn. It’s useless to try and romanticize or aggrandize their power or influence. The most important thing a Senator can do is to write and advocate for her or his bills. And, for that, it is beyond debate in our circle that Alameel would do a superior job.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials are comprised of a majority opinion of the voting board.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate

RGV Debate

On Friday evening, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor, and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee, squared off in the first of two general election debates in the gubernatorial campaign. The debate was minimally televised but livestreamed from McAllen. In a word, it was a disaster. In two words, it was an unmitigated disaster. The format of the debate was so terrible that it is literally incapable of being described in an artful manner.

Basically, the entire debate consisted of what would be referred to by those familiar with debates as a “lightning round.” One of the three moderators would come up with a fairly specific question, typically with some background, addressed to a specific candidate. No followup, no rebuttals and no clarification were made. Just a softball (given in advanced) lobbed right over the plate, and the same trite sound bites coming up again and again. The one exception to this rule was what they called the “Candidate-to-candidate questioning,” which consisted of a grand total of two questions. Davis took the opportunity to pontificate about one of her pet issues, with a thoroughly unremarkable question buried somewhere amid the rambling. Abbott asked Davis point-blank, “Do you regret voting for President Obama?” Davis, unsurprisingly, fumbled…Derek Carr style.

Longtime readers of my words will definitely know that I am no obsequious loyalist to Obama. I wouldn’t have been personally offended if Davis would have said “yes,” and then proceeded to list the multitude of reasons she supposedly would have an ax to grind against the President. It’s a reasonable strategy for a Democrat in a red state; it might end up working out well for Alison Grimes in Kentucky. Likewise, she could have stood her ground and defended the President against an increasingly out-of-touch Republican Party. Either option has some strengths, but her chicken way of equivocating was just pitiful.

Those questioners were out of place for Davis compared to the rest of the debate. Otherwise, she was knowledgeable, on-message and with no shortage of good zingers against Abbott. She wiped the floor with him on the merits, but –especially in a poorly formatted debate like this– that just doesn’t mean much anymore.

Abbott was totally dominant on style. He was sleek, polished and articulate. Davis was none of those. Most pundits have taken to the word “robotic” in describing Davis’ performance. Her monotone voice and general absence of delivery skills was quite apparent throughout the evening. As I have said many times over the past few months, Davis’ strength is not her innate political acumen. She has tremendous perseverance, courage and bravery, that’s what led her to the filibuster. Everyone obviously remembers that, but no one remembers any sound bites from her. And that’s what wins debates, not superior policy prescriptions.

Of course, I wasn’t surprised with Davis’ performance. And, please not forget, the worst part of the debate was its format. The moderators were some of the worst “journalists” I have ever seen. When one is an underdog like Davis, and the rules simply do not allow you to rebut the baldfaced lies lodged by your opponent, the odds are just stacked against you. That should be the takeaway lesson.

Nevertheless, both Abbott and Davis claimed victory in the debate. The Houston Chronicle noted this morning that they both a renewed sense of optimism on the campaign trail. In reality, however, this isn’t especially good news for the Davis camp. Even if, for the sake of argument, we say that the debate was a push, it’s bad news for Davis. With the polls putting her behind anywhere from 8 to 18 points, she needed a decisive victory on Friday night. Only the truly deranged would actually believe she actually achieved it.

Brains & Eggs and Texas Leftist have more.

Texpatriate endorses in HD134

State Representative Sarah Davis (R-Harris County) has now concluded her second session in the Texas Legislature, representing one of the strangest house districts in Texas. It combines the affluent neighborhoods of Bellaire, West University and River Oaks, among others, with the cosmopolitan and LGBT-friendly Montrose area. It also includes most of the heavily Jewish middle class neighborhood of Meyerland. The result is a district that favors Republicans on economic issues, ever so slightly, but is extraordinarily socially liberal. Thus, a Representative such as Sarah Davis is chosen by its voters.

Davis, a Republican, is pro-choice and broadly in favor of gay rights. Last summer, she was the only Republican to stand against the onerous restrictions placed on a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The only one, of about 100. She caught a great deal of flak for the brave position, including being publicly derided by Jared Woodfill, the then-Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. She even drew a socially conservative primary challenger who incessantly lambasted her for her pro-choice viewpoints. As it turned out, Davis handily defeated her primary challenger, Bonnie Parker, amid tremendous support for her convictions from her constituents.

This board has no doubt that Davis will, in the upcoming legislative session, continue to be a tireless advocate for women’s rights and healthcare. Be it standing against HB2 or fighting against devastating cuts to Planned Parenthood and other healthcare sources, Davis has never backed down from a fight. We also expect her to continue “evolving” on the issue of LGBT rights, leading a small but growing caucus of pro-gay marriage Republicans in the next few years.

Still, there are some serious issues we take with Davis’ platform. She voted for an ill-designed bill that would have allowed for university students to bring their concealed weapons onto college campuses, obvious hotbeds of tempers and bad decisions. And, all too often, she followed in lock-step with a Republican budget philosophy still intent on minimizing invaluable services.

Of course, Davis’ only opponent, Democratic candidate Alison Ruff, has been a functionally worthless challenger. She has no online or public presence. Nobody has ever seen her, nobody has ever heard of her. Without anything to say or do, a candidate might as well not exist.

But Davis, on the other hand, has more than plenty to say, even if he disagree with some of it. Still, no one can deny that Davis is an absolutely perfect representative for her unique, economically centrist and socially liberal, district. We look forward to her being one of the venerated voices of reason in her party.

Accordingly, this board endorses Sarah Davis for the Texas House, District 134.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board of comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Kim Hoesl

Editorial note: This is the sixteenth 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 <info@texpate.com>.

Kim Hoesl, Democratic candidate for Harris County Probate Court #1

Texpatriate: What is your name?
KH: My name is Kim Bohannon Hoesl.

T: What office are you seeking?
KH: I am the Democratic candidate for judge of Harris County Probate Court No. One.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
KH: I have not held elected office before.

T: What is your political party?
KH: Democratic Party.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
KH: I cannot answer this question for a number of reasons. First, in the probate courts, the actual filings in cases have only become publicly available in the last few weeks. Prior to that, it was simply not possible to readily access all the written pleadings and orders in a case, even if they were all publicly available. Second, as a judicial candidate, I cannot prejudge situations. Until the facts are presented to me in accordance with the law, I cannot state what my decision would be in any given situation, other than to say I would follow the law. Similarly, I cannot state whether I would rule differently in a given situation.

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?
KH: I see a significant issue on the horizon with the subject of ad litem appointments. In our probate bar, there is a definite impression of what some may call “cronyism.” In other words, the small probate bench and the small probate bar are very familiar with each other.

Harris County probate courts employ an appointment system for the appointment of ad litem attorneys in certain cases. The informal nature of the system and the familiarity of the bench and bar do not promote much confidence in the impartiality or fairness of the system. Instead, this situation invites the perception that the judges and the attorneys are too cozy, often using the appointments as rewards. When a litigant sees the attorneys in their dispute in cozy conversation with the bench, or learns that the opposing attorney handles many appointments from the court, it is not surprising that the litigant may believe the deck is already stacked against them.

Regardless of whether actual favoritism exists, it is the appearance of favoritism that is a problem. I bring independence to the bench because my background is from outside the probate bar. I stand apart from those attorneys and from the alliances among them. I intend to fulfill the role of the impartial justice, beholden to no lawyer or firm, relying solely upon the law and the facts. For appointments, I will endeavor to develop a selection system based on the needs of the litigant and the qualifications of the attorney, and nothing else. I believe that is the only way that justice can be served.

When I worked in the Administrative Office of the District Courts in the 1990s, one of my job functions was to implement and run a system to qualify attorneys for criminal appointments. At that time, the District Courts were concerned with having qualified attorneys available for indigent defendants and with eliminating the perceived, and perhaps real, bias in using appointments to reward judicial supporters.

This is a very real problem in the family courts even today, and the probate courts are not immune to these same concerns. I intend to develop a database-system, hopefully in conjunction with the other probate Courts, where information on attorneys seeking ad litem appointments can be maintained in a way that the Court can access randomly-selected, qualified attorneys for any particular case.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
KH: I am running for judge of Probate Court No. One because I have the experience, skills, independence, and knowledge needed to bring fairness and justice to the probate bench. I am not running against the incumbent; I simply believe I am the better candidate for the job.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KH: I have practiced civil and commercial litigation, including in the probate context, for over ten years. My practice involves a diverse range of cases including fiduciary litigation (for example, suits against corporate officers and directors, suits by and against executors and trustees), contract disputes, intellectual property disputes (trade secrets, copyright infringement), business divorce, personal injury, and, of course, probate and trust litigation.

My experience includes the full range of litigation activity, beginning with investigation, drafting pleadings, managing discovery, conducting depositions, working with experts, selecting juries, managing trials, and following through with appeals. I have argued legal issues before trial courts and probate courts, before the First Court of Appeals, and before the Texas Supreme Court. Finally, my practice includes transactional matters such as business filings, will drafting, probating wills, and working with executors and trustees.

In my experience, the first thing a client wants is an estimate of their chances of winning in a particular dispute. As their attorney, one of my jobs is to evaluate the facts and the law as they apply to the dispute, and then provide some information on the client’s position so that the client may make an informed decision in their case. In order to do that, however, I have to assume that the judge will listen to the facts, will know the law, and will fairly and justly apply the law to those facts. In practice, this assumption is far too often wrong. I am running to correct that, and to provide a fair forum for litigants to have their cases heard.

T: What role do you think a County Probate Judge should have individually? What role do you think the County Probate Courts should have as a whole?
KH: When a litigant comes to the probate court, they are usually dealing with very intimate and personal family matters that involve loss, grief, and pain. Perhaps a loved one has recently passed away and their estate needs to be settled. Perhaps a beloved parent has reached a point where they can no longer take care of themselves, and a guardianship is needed. These events in our lives are difficult enough, even when there is no dispute involved.

However, if there is a dispute, such as a family member contesting the will or claiming that an executor breached a fiduciary duty, we end up with a very different scenario. Now, the pain of this family loss is drawn out in a legal battle that strains family relationships and drains family budgets. Here is where the kind of judge on the bench can make a huge difference in the justice that the litigants receive. An experienced probate judge can shepherd the dispute effectively, ensuring that the law is upheld and that justice is served in a timely and efficient manner. A judge with little litigation experience, on the other hand, can prolong the already-too long process, increase the family trauma, and essentially deny the litigants any effective resolution.

I also believe the Court should keep open lines of communication with the community. There is a need to ensure that all people know the justice system belongs to everyone, not just a chosen few. It is important that people understand the need to execute wills and other documents to protect their interests. To the extent permitted, I would like the Court to be a resource for information and education in this area.

T: Would role do you think mandatory mediation should have in Probate law?
KH: Because mediation can be a very useful tool, saving litigants both time and money, I would encourage litigants to consider mediation. However, I am not likely to require it in all cases because there are some cases where mediation simply will not be effective.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
KH: I am a fan of the election of judges. Our democratic process depends on the involvement of our citizens. Electing judges is one way to get them involved. However, I am also a supporter of term limits for judges. Every practicing attorney has at least one experience with a judge who has been on the bench so long that the judge has decided he or she knows better than the law. Once a judge has turned cynical, he or she is no longer capable of hearing the facts with unbiased ears. When a judge is unwilling to listen to the facts of a case, or is convinced of their own knowledge as to which side should win or lose, there can be no justice.

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?
KH: I presume that the scope of this question is not limited to the bench or even to the practice of law. One issue very important to me is education. Education was my saving grace, giving me opportunities I otherwise would not enjoy. I want all children to have the same opportunities. To that end, I try to be involved in my children’s education, and to share my career with them as much as possible so that they will see the law as a possible future for themselves. For example, I participated as a judge in a debate competition at my daughter’s high school last year. In the past, I have arranged for children to visit the courts, meet the judges, and learn about our justice system. While in law school, I arranged for the international law students to do the same.

In a similar vein, I have great concern for a relatively unknown population of children in need – adolescents in CPS custody who age out without ever having been adopted. These kids generally spend their teen years bouncing among foster homes and youth shelters. They have little in the way of quality family support. Then, on their 18th birthday, they are expected to become productive citizens overnight. The HAY Center (part of CPS) works with these kids to transition them into adulthood. I have been involved with the Houston Bar Association committee that provides assistance to the HAY Center. This year, I am co-chair of that committee.

Finally, I believe very much in the virtue of tolerance—tolerance for differing opinions, tolerance for differing backgrounds. Personally, I strive to remind myself that not everyone has to agree with me on all things, and that we can disagree civilly with each other. This ability is critically lacking in much of society today. To combat that deficiency, my husband and I work on modeling tolerance for our children, something that we had many opportunities to do during the 2012 election season because my husband is a life-long Republican and I am a stalwart Democrat. Yet, we can maintain our respect for each other even when we discuss our differing opinions as we did while helping our daughter understand the substance of the presidential debates for her social studies homework.

There are many other opportunities to practice tolerance as well, such as defending the rights of the LGBT community, combating the still pervasive systemic racism in our society, and protecting the rights of women to make their own health and life choices. In my circle of friends and family, we do not all have the same opinions on these issues. But we learn to respect the right of people to hold whatever opinions they choose, as long as those opinions do not interfere with the rights of others. This is, I believe, the heart of the Democratic Party – we are the Big Tent, welcoming all, even those who disagree with us, because all people are created equal, entitled to hold whatever opinion their conscience dictates, with the understanding that the mere pinion of one person can never justify abrogating the rights of another.

 

Staples to resign, lead TXOGA

The Texas Tribune reports that Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who was slated to leave office in January at the conclusion of his second term, will resign his post early to become the President of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the statewide trade association of the burgeoning energy industry. Staples, a Republican who has extensive ties to both ranching and the oil industry, reportedly will be in place before the commencement of the 84th Legislature, prompting an exit from his position before the end of his term, at the beginning of next year.

Staples, who has served in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, took office in 2007 and has served for the two terms since. Overall, I would say he was done an adequate job as Agriculture Commissioner, but his tenure still leaves plenty to be desired. A few years ago, he revealed his intention to run for Lieutenant Governor, back when incumbent David Dewhurst was considered a shoe-in to be Texas’ next Senator. Of course, Ted Cruz came out on top in the Senate election, so Dewhurst ended up running for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. Still, Staples (as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson) soldiered on anyways with his candidacy. That primary ended up being one by none of them, but by State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), a late entrant into the campaign. All this is to say that Staples, who has held a six-figure government job for eight years, would be unemployed come January.

In remarks sent out to the press, Staples confirmed that he would be resigning within the next two months, but stayed away from any specific. He’ll likely call it quits in short order after the November election. He insinuated that the Deputy Commissioner, Drew DeBerry, will act as Commissioner in the interim between then and January, when a new Commissioner would have taken over anyways following a regularly scheduled election.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican nominee, is almost beyond the shadow of a doubt assured victory. He only faces the ghost Jim Hogan as his Democratic opponent, as well as fringe party opposition. While many in the political intelligentsia (including myself) will end up voting for the latter, namely Green nominee Kenneth Kendrick, the general public will be unmoved and Miller will be the new Commissioner undoubtedly come January.

Accordingly, Rocky Palmquist –the Libertarian nominee for the post– opined that Governor Rick Perry would appoint Miller in the interim, a dubious claim that was quickly debunked.

For all my political troubles with Staples, he always struck me as an easygoing and nice guy, and I wish him luck in his future endeavors. Particularly, I always loved that ad of him riding around on a horse, explaining all the duties of the Agriculture Commissioner. All other things being equal, it’s a pretty detailed and accurate picture of what the Agriculture Commissioner does.