Texpatriate endorses for Comptroller

 

The Comptroller of Public Accounts has an inquisitorial quality about it. While reforms throughout the 1980s and the 1990s gradually gave the office most of the powers of the former State Treasurer position, its two original duties are still arguably the most important. The Comptroller is charged within collecting the taxes of the State of Texas, namely the sales tax and excise taxes. The post also comes up with a biennial revenue estimate, which the Comptroller relays to the State Legislature, and the legislature is compelled to use when writing their budget.

Without a doubt, the current officeholder of this position, Susan Combs, has failed in both respects. Tax revenue has been down around the state considering our population. This stands in stark contrast to some of the bombastic Democrats, namely Bob Bullock, who have held this position in the past. Bullock infamously organized high-profile raids to tax evaders, and cleaned up inefficiencies and corruptions to ensure that coffers remained filled. His two successors, John Sharp and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, one a Democrat and one a Republican, also ensured that revenue forecasts were accurate.

This is greatly important, because an incompetent or malevolent Comptroller could fudge the numbers and wreak havoc on the state. That is precisely what happened in 2011 when Combs negligently low-balled the revenues, prompting enormously painful austerity cuts, especially to education, that just weren’t necessary.

Democratic candidate Mike Collier, a longtime CPA who calls himself “the watchdog,” pledges to fight exactly this type of ineptitude. Previously an apolitical person, Collier jumped into the race after witnessing the deleterious effects caused by Combs’ dereliction of her responsibilities. He wants to run the office better, not as a stepping stone to higher office but as an actual place of accounting and reasonable forecast.

In our opinion, the office of Comptroller should not be elected to begin with. And while lifelong politicians such as Bullock did great things with the post, the era of the goodhearted statesman is simply a thing of the past in the same respect as black-and-white televisions and horse drawn carriages.

The Republican candidate, State Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), is not an accountant or in any way well-versed in the financial sector. He is a farmer, and his claim to the fame in the legislature was authoring the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis filibustered. He offers no specifics as to how to improve upon the office form Combs and his campaign has consisted of little more than right-wing sound bites heralding his support from anti-abortion rights and anti-LGBT interest groups.

Hegar, in one of the few issues pertaining to the office he is actually running for, advocating lessening property taxes. This is all good and fun, as few Texans besides masochists in Austin would actually be comfortable with their property tax bill, but Hegar’s proposed alternative is much, much worse. He wishes to replace the property tax with a new statewide sales tax that climbs more than 20 cents on the dollar. This stupid — and there just isn’t a better word for it — regressive tax would greatly hurt the poorest among us. It would result in an effective tax hike for a majority of the population.

Like many of this year’s elections, the choice in November is crystal clear. Collier is qualified, would do the job capably and does not want to raise your taxes. Hegar is not qualified, would not do the job capably and wants to raise your taxes. Don’t raise taxes, vote Democrat.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mike Collier for Comptroller of Public Accounts.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Land Commissioner

The Commissioner of the General Land Office, commonly known as the Land Commissioner, has broad powers over relatively random portions of state government. Public land (including beaches), education and veterans’ affairs round out their duties. It is a job that requires both political acumen and considerable policy knowledge. In these categories, the choice that is best for Texas is clear.

Republican candidate George P. Bush is about far, far more than a continuation of a political dynasty. The son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, he has a lot to live up to in arguably the most visible conservative political dynasty in the country. But unlike the partisan excesses pushed by his family members, Bush is pragmatic in his outlook. And standing in stark contrast to his uncle, the last member of his family in Texas politics, Bush has demonstrated considerable mastery of the issues at hand for the Land Commissioner office.

A former teacher, Bush has a special place to understand the plight of many within the public school system. Overseeing the moneys that would go to many schools, Bush has no power to change standards or increase funding, but he does have the capacity to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and responsibly. We have every reason to think he would capably do this.

On veterans, Bush pushes a plan that is both realistic considering the powers of his prospective office and has the capacity to greatly improve the lives of many veterans affected by debilitating conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder. It’s relatively simple; he would publicize and tout the myriad programs Texas already has in place to assist veterans, such as low-interest loans and subsidies involving healthcare. For all our reputation of being a no-frills state when it comes to social welfare programs, Texas already ostensibly does a great deal regarding veterans; we just do a lousy job advertising that fact. Bush would change that.

Most importantly, regarding public land, Bush would push for programs that respect the integrity of our parks and reserves while still allowing the responsible exploitation of the resources underneath the ground. It’s a win-win situation.

Contrary to many in his party, Bush is an environmentalist. One of the mantras of his campaign is that there is no “false choice between protecting the environment…and promoting job creation.” He acknowledges the reality of climate change, as well as the terrifying phenomenon of rising sea levels. Texas would do well to have such a pragmatic steward of both positions in office.

The former Mayor of El Paso, John Cook, is also running as a Democrat. He is a passionate candidate, but his criticisms are far more pointed at the incumbent Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, than they are directed toward Bush. To put it bluntly, Bush commands a mastery of the issues regarding the office that Cook simply does not possess. Despite an impressive resume, he has largely dropped the ball on a serious campaign ahead of the general election.

Educated by the best institutions of higher learning in the state, Rice University and UT Law, Bush is obviously smart. But he is also a passionate and comprising politician as well. Such qualities make him stand apart in Texas politics to most of his compatriots in the Republican Party, much less his family. Texas voters have an easy decision to make, so as long as they do not blame one candidate for the sins of his father.

Or his uncle.

Accordingly, this board endorses George P. Bush for Land Commissioner.


 

Noah M. Horwitz dissented from this editorial, and wrote his own addendum.

My colleague makes some good points in his editorial that urges support of George P. Bush for Land Commissioner. He is, indeed, a pragmatist compared to those within his party, believing in things such as climate change and the need to allocate resources protecting both schoolchildren and veterans from the perils of austerity. Such beliefs were also somewhat evident back in February, when I joined with my colleagues in unanimously selecting Bush as the best choice within the Republican primary. But the points just don’t hold water when Bush is challenged by the reasonableness of John Cook, a Democrat vying for the position.

While it is true, for example, that Bush recognizes the very real danger presented by climate change, he is still willfully ignorant regarding the source of these dangers. Bush still officially doubts the idea that people are the main source of climate change, despite the fact that 97% of pertinent climate scientists agree on that point. Why? The reason is that, like nearly all of the high profile figures within his political party, he has to mollify a zealous, extreme and anti-intellectual faction that dominates primary elections.

What good is a steward of public lands if he does not acknowledge the driving source behind the greatest danger to them? Recognizing that climate change exists merely means you are not delusional as to present realities, but if you think humans are not causing it, there is little you can do besides wring your hands and lament the conundrum while you refill the oversized gas tank in your hummer. He is without any type of actual strategy to deal with the rising sea levels that threaten to eviscerate our beaches.

Speaking of beaches, Bush supports an abominable ruling of the Texas Supreme Court that guts the state’s venerated Open Beaches Act. While the law mandates that all of Texas’ beaches are state parks, to be used by anyone, the high court has adulterated the state constitution to fit their bizarre interpretation that an exception may be carved out if a property owner’s previous non-beachfront land becomes the “first in line,” so to speak, as a result of erosion. With the state’s rapidly eroding coastline (which, not to keep beating the same point, is not a result of mysterious circumstances, but the obvious byproduct of the rising sea levels and increased tropical activity that come with man-made climate change), this terrible ruling will affect more and more parcels of land in the forthcoming decades.

Bush supports this misguided ruling. On his watch, Texas beaches could easily find themselves like the northeast, where the rich and powerful monopolize all the good locations, hogging these pristine landscapes from the public. Now, Bush can just go to his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. But for most honest Texans, the state beaches are all we got.

John Cook opposes this silly ruling, and recognizes the very real threat that man-made climate change poses to the state’s beaches and other public land. With years of experience as both the Mayor of El Paso and a member on the El Paso City Council, Cook is not a political novice. Since my colleagues evidently values policy acumen so highly, it should be worth mentioning that Cook also knows the nitty-gritty intricacies that this office faces remarkably well. Cook doesn’t have Yankee family money underwriting his travels around the state, so he may not be quite so ubiquitous of a presence around our humongous state this general election. But that just should not be important.

Be it the editorial board of this publication, or those of just about any newspaper in the state, it appears everyone has lost sight of their priorities this election. Obsequious adulation is directed toward Bush for his passion, campaign skills and the size of his war-chest, as if those are things any articulate person would prioritize in an endorsement. We’re better than that, we’re better than the sophomoric illogic used in picking the student council candidate with the prettiest posters; at least, I think we are.

What far, far too few people have done is actually look at the policy disagreements between the two, albeit well-qualified, candidates. Bush ascribes to the fairy tale that climate change is not caused or affect by people, whereas Cook thinks we should be vigilant in trying to stop it. Bush thinks the One-Percent should be entitled to steal state parks along the ocean from the average Texan to ensure their million-dollar second homes are protected from eminent domain; Cook thinks this 55 year-old law is valid and should remain enforced. Most importantly, Bush simply will go through the motions of this office for four years while he plots his campaign for Governor, as everyone in this state fully expects him to do. Cook actually wants to get into the weeds and leave his mark on the General Land Office.

I don’t punish Bush for the sins of his father, or his uncle. I punish him for his own. Respectfully, but sternly, I urge you to disregard the majority’s opinion and vote for John Cook for Land Commissioner.
—Noah M. Horwitz

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Railroad Commissioner

The Texas Railroad Commission, despite its byzantine name, is responsible for the regulation of oil and gas throughout the state. It is an enormous responsibility for a state so inextricably linked with the creation of energy. With three commission members serving staggered terms, a sole commissioner seat will be up for election this year.

The incumbent, Barry Smitherman, has been a terrible commissioner in his limited tenure. Between focusing on red-meat social issues that have little to do with energy and neglecting his duties for an ill-fate run toward higher office, Smitherman has — as Chairman of the Commission — reduced the position to a rubber stamp for the oil and gas industry. With Smitherman retiring, Republican candidate Ryan Sitton looks certain to continue this legacy.

Now, in the midst of Texas’ biggest oil boom since the 1970s, being friendly to the industry is not necessarily a bad thing. The recent rev-up in production has the capacity to revitalize the lives of countless Texans and send our economy into overdrive. But the point of a regulatory body is not merely to be a cheerleader for the industry, but to protect the public and foster policies for the benefit of the entire community.

Sitton, an oil and gas engineer, appears complacent to continue along with business as usual. On the other hand, Steven Brown, the Former Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, wants to ensure people are protected above all else. Though not classically trained in the industry, Brown has proven himself to have an impressive mastery of all the issues that the commission faces.

At issue here more than anything else is the dispute over hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking.” The process involves injecting high-pressure liquid into shale rocks that contain natural gas and petroleum, making previously unreachable resources available. Without a doubt, these processes have left a positive mark on Texas. They have helped expedite weaning us off of foreign energy sources, as well as enriching portions of the state and jumpstarting the economy.

But real concerns remain. Namely, the freshwater of these regions has been comprised and some evidence exists that these procedures can cause minor earthquakes. This has prompted many liberals and others affected to call for an outright ban, if not a moratorium, on the measure.

For Brown’s part, he has been more tempered. He wishes to end some fracking into those areas with serious earthquakes, as well as ban the use of freshwater for fracking, but he does not merely want to end the largely successful practice. This measured approach is far superior to Sitton’s mindset, which is to ignore the myriad complications that have arisen.

Additionally, we simply cannot take Sitton seriously as a candidate considering his serious ethical breaches throughout the campaign. As someone who has a significant interest in many oil companies, Sitton originally defiantly stated that he would not divest his interests if elected, despite the fact that he would have regulatory power over those same companies. Only much later did he reverse his stance in an insincere effort to carry favor with voters. This led us against endorsing Sitton in the Republican primary for the post, despite the fact that we agreed with him on policy more than his opponent in that election.

Thus, it would be an easy choice to support Brown in this election. But we also tend to agree with him more on policy choices and actual issues that the commission might face. He wants to be for the people, Sitton wants to be for the profits.

Accordingly, this board endorses Steven Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for District Attorney

For years, Harris County was run by a brutal and harsh District Attorney, Johnny Holmes, who turned the office into the nation’s busiest source of death sentences. As this board has opined in the past, we think that the death penalty is tantamount to unjustified killing. In addition to the outright cruelty used in depriving a fellow human being who is not actively threatening you their life, the penalty has been carried out arbitrarily and capriciously. Black defendants are targeted more frequently by prosecutors, and sentenced to death by juries with even more reliability.

While, sadly, both candidates for District Attorney support this appalling practice, only one actively trumpets her support of the penalty and even appears proud of it. Furthermore, only one candidate supports the status quo on the racially biased policies that have contributed to many of this county’s problems regarding criminal justice. That candidate is the incumbent, Republican Devon Anderson. Her policies have failed Harris County, and they should be wholeheartedly repudiated.

Anderson was first appointed about a year ago by Governor Rick Perry to this post following the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, in the post. Devon Anderson, however, also had a illustrious career as both a prosecutor and a Judge. Sadly, she has continued the misguided policies of her predecessor. Be it the death penalty, the elimination of the DIVERT program to deal with driving while intoxicated, illogical grand jury systems or policies on marijuana, Anderson is just not the right candidate for Harris County.

Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for this post, is completely different. She has a record as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor, being able to see both sides of the courtroom in an honest and noble manner. As the longtime director of Crime Stoppers, she also has the capacity to examine crime from a more objective point of view, seeing it as something to be prevented rather than just punished.

Ogg is also a little less eager on the death penalty, and she advocates for reforming the venal grand jury system, which allows the political buddies of Criminal District Judges to recruit their friends. This has reduced the grand jury system into little more than a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. Under Ogg’s purview, combined hopefully with certain Judges (such as Susan Brown) being defeated for re-election, hopefully this system can be reworked into an effective check and balance once more.

Perhaps most importantly, Ogg has taken bold stands on the need to reform asinine policies on drugs within Harris County. She would rescind the so-called “trace case” policy, which prosecutes residents with felonies for even mere residues of cocaine in dramatically capricious fashion. She would also take advantage of an obscure state law to cite-and-release all those caught with small amounts of marijuana, then work out pre-trial diversion programs that would dismiss all charges if a small amount of community service is rendered. This board supports the full legalization of marijuana, but given that the District Attorney cannot change the law, we believe Ogg’s program — known by the acronym G.R.A.C.E. — is the next best thing. Anderson has only offered a lackluster imitation.

More so than almost any other election at the local level, Harris County voters have a very clear choice this November. They can go with another predictable Republican, trigger happy with putting people to death and complacent with a horrifying status quo that is corrupt, racist and ineffective. Alternatively, voters could rightly repudiate these realities and choose a candidate with an actual plan to shake up the DA’s office for the better.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kim Ogg for District Attorney.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Juvenile Courts

Juvenile Courts are very special places within our society. The entire process is deemed civil, and not criminal. Rehabilitation — and thus not punishment — is the main priority. The accused are not defendants, but respondents. They are not convicted or found guilty, but rather adjudicated delinquent. And sentencing is not levied for merely punitive measures; rather, the court finds a solution that teaches the respondent what he or she did was incorrect while still trying to rehabilitate the person back into society as a productive citizen.

Basically, more than any other court, it is absolutely imperative that Judges are found who are not trying to prosecute from the bench, who are not merely attempting to woo the Pachyderm Club with their “tough on crime” stances and who are willing to ensure society continues being there for the troubled youths among us. It is not enough to find Judges who want to teach right from young. We need to find Judges who will work with these young people in hope that they can truly turn their lives around.

There are three Juvenile District Courts up for election this year, but only two feature contested elections. The unopposed Judge, Mike Schneider of the 315th District Court, is an adequate jurist who deserves a vote of confidence. In the other races, we endorse the Democrats.

313th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Glenn Devlin is a longtime officeholder at the Juvenile Justice center. On the bench since 2011, this freshman Judge has already left his mark upon the courts. A former defense attorney for juvenile matters with more than 30 years of experience, Devlin, a Republican, has the right temperament for the bench. Respondents before his court are dealt with fairly and nobly, and are given a fighting chance to reenter society a better person.

We also like Devlin’s Democratic opponent, Tracy Good. He has a good plan to modernize the courts, as well as address some of the equitable concerns they face. Be it the cultural problems that causes what he calls the “cradle to prison pipeline” or the bureaucracy that blocks much proposed change, Good has a grander plan at hand. Rather than faulting any specific actions of the incumbent, which we think have been admirable in most cases, Good seeks to improve the entire juvenile court system.

He wants to reform the inept ad litem procedures, which we have opined against a plethora of times. He also wants to increase collaboration between the courts and the Public Defender’s office, as well as greatly reform elements of how the courts do business. They are ambitious goals, and will require a lot of work to achieve. But we agree that they are good goals to set, and we think a Judge who would work toward them is worthy of support. Perhaps even more than a fair and balanced Judge who we still believe in. This was one of our toughest decisions.

Devlin is a tried and true choice, the safe bet to be a compassionate and fair adjudicator. But Good represents those who still want to do more, those willing to take a chance. Both are good options. Personally, we are going with the latter.

Accordingly, this board endorses Tracy Good for the 313th District Court.

314th DISTRICT COURT
Judge John Phillips, a three term Republican incumbent, has a mixed record. Harris County just deserves better. His Democratic opponent, Natalia Oakes, is a spectacularly well qualified attorney who simply needs to be elected to the bench. All around better qualified and better tempered to deal with these unique and important types of disputes and issues, Oakes would be a great asset to Harris County.

Oakes has, in the past, pointed to the incumbent’s high rate of reversal by higher courts for terminating the parental rights, 31 times in all. She contends that she would not be quite so eager to enter an order that irrevocably ends the legal relationship a parent has over their child, and would instead engage in more judicial restraint. As an attorney with a long resume in cases of children’s welfare, Oakes undoubtedly knows the serious consequences of such an action, would be far more tempered on the bench. She’s the better choice, without a doubt.

Accordingly, this board endorses Natalia Oakes for the 314th District Court.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for District Clerk

Four years ago, a 27 year old lawyer and Community College Trustee made headlines by becoming one of the most powerful individuals in the county, when Chris Daniel was elected Harris County District Clerk. In the quadrennial since, he has followed his predecessor’s start by implementing ambitious reforms at the office. Daniel has done a great job of it too.

The office has broad powers regarding most filings involving the county, and it also oversees jury service. However, under Daniel’s leadership, the office has also begun to process passports, just as Federal facilities around the country have started cutting back. It is a profitable industry for the county, and it provides an invaluable service for constituents.

Furthermore, unlike his colleague in the County Clerk’s office, Daniel has skillfully guided his office into the age of electronic filing. While other departments of the courthouse have struggled to move into the 21st century with inconsistent criteria or choppy transitions, Daniel has overseen the process rather seamlessly.

Daniel has also made a name for himself as a ubiquitous presence at public events throughout the county, as well as a participant in public service announcement trumpeting the county’s biggest civic priorities. Be that the importance of answering the call to jury service or the need to file certain government funds properly, Daniel has made big improvements in the way his office interacts with the public. We certainly think that most of the other county officials, both Democrats and Republicans, would be wise to follow his lead.

Obviously, we would be remiss if we did not stipulate our deep opposition to many of Daniel’s underlying political beliefs. A frequent guest at Tea Party events, we lament that he has aligned himself with such troubling political ideology. But, as far as we can tell, any of the diverging positions we hold compared to him have no bearing on the job that Daniel does. He holds himself with integrity in all of his official actions, and politics is checked at the courthouse door. If that ever changes, we’ll be the first to complain. But we don’t think it ever will.

Judith Snively, the Democratic opponent for this position, is a skilled attorney and politician. She is more than capable of leading of the office, and we sincerely think she would do it quite well. However, we think Daniel already is an effective manager, and we typically defer to incumbents unless we can prove they have failed in some specific way. Snively declined to return a questionnaire to the Editorial Board, but she has more broadly been without effective concrete examples as to how she would do the job effectively better than Daniel. We hope she chooses to run again in the future for a County post, but this board thinks Daniel is the right choice this time.

Accordingly, this board endorses Chris Daniel for Harris County District Clerk.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Family Courts

Ask any general practitioner attorney about the different disciplines of law, and you’ll almost always hear the same: Family law is the toughest to practice, emotionally speaking. Heavyhearted disputes, particularly involving the custody of children, require very serious and compassionate Judges. Unfortunately, the courts have become — in some cases — a figurative cesspool of malfeasance and corruption. The thankfully-former Judge Denise Pratt sullied the reputation of the Family Courts by intentionally backdating orders and unilaterally dismissing hundreds of cases. Her replacement, Judge Alicia Franklin, allegedly violated the rules of conduct for ad litem attorneys by overcharging her clients, sometimes as much as 23.5 hours a day, as well as apparently continuing the practice of law from the bench.

Similarly culpable are the Judges who allow this venal ad litem system to continue unchecked; but the shame does not end there.  Still more Judges have sought to turn their courtrooms into soap boxes for their political beliefs, improperly going beyond their purview as Family District Judges to wade into contentious constitutionality fights over legislation. Still other Judges have been wholly derided by attorneys that practice in their courts for unacceptable behavior on the bench, be it their demeanor or the irrational decisions that they make.

Still, the 10 Republican Family Judges on the bench in Harris County have some valued jurists among them. Unfortunately, two of them are retiring after long and positive records of service, and still others are running unopposed. In the six contests featuring contested elections, though, we go with the Democrats in all six.

In the four uncontested races, we recommend votes of confidence for three Judges: Roy Moore of the 245th District Court, Judy Warne of the 257th District Court and David Farr of the 312nd District Court. All are valued arbiters of disputes who, despite some disagreements, have been qualified and experienced leaders of jurisprudence. However, we simply cannot ask the same for Judge Lisa Millard of the 310th District Court.

Millard, first elected in 1994, made headlines late last year for improperly wading into a dispute over the constitutionality of the City’s spousal benefits program. She improperly put a temporary restraining order on the program, despite these arguments typically being under the purview of Civil Courts. The case was later removed to Federal Court, where her ruling was sternly reversed. Millard’s conduct, in our opinion, was unbecoming of the typical neutral and non-contentious role a Family District Judge should have. Even though she is unopposed, this board still urges a vote of no confidence against her.

246th DISTRICT COURT
For many years, Judge Jim York has been a model for the Family Courts. Always operating with the utmost professionalism and respect, he diligently presided over the plethora of disputes that came before his court throughout a sixteen year tenure. Likely our favorite Family District Judge, his retirement has prompted a heated contest in one of the few open Judicial seats in the county.

Republican candidate Charley Prine simply does not measure up to York’s grand legacy. Undoubtedly well qualified and experienced, Prine has served as an Associate Judge in the Family Courts for the past three years. He knows the system backwards and forwards, and would be hit the ground running on day one. Without a doubt, the recent Pratt fiasco has made a somewhat compelling argument that new District Judges should have some prior experience on the bench. If your concern is judicial expediency, Prine is your candidate.

But we have some concerns about his impartiality. Prine sometimes appears a little too eager to throw around his partisan credentials, in a way that makes us uncomfortable for a such an important post. The Democratic candidate, on the other hand, Sandra Peake, would be a great addition to the bench precisely because of her worldviews. Her open mindedness and non-partisanship stand in stark contrast to Prine’s  divisive rhetoric. We also commend her grand record of practice, serving not only as a skilled family attorney, but also in other fields such as bankruptcy and probate, which add depth to her understanding of the law.

Ultimately, however, both are good choices. But Peake offers new blood to the courthouse. She would be a fair and open minded jurist in a way her opponent just would not be. The Family Court desperately needs some reforms, especially regarding ad litems, and Peake would be the most effective vehicle to deliver them.

Accordingly, this board endorses Sandra Peake for the 246th District Court.

247th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Bonnie Hellums, another longtime veteran of the Family Courts, is retiring at the conclusion of this term after many years of thoughtful service. Like the previous contest, Hellum’s successor as the Republican candidate just does not measure up well. John Schmude, a local attorney, was chosen in a contentious primary over the far better candidate M.L. Walker, an Associate Judge. Schmude ran a nasty campaign against her, but more importantly, he never outlined how he would be a preferable Judge to her –or anyone else, for that matter. Come to think of it, he has done spectacularly little in his campaign, besides outlining the support of Republican interest groups such as the National Rifle Association. Unless they have a new lecture series on divorce we are unaware of, that isn’t a good reason to support him.

The Democratic candidate, Chip Wells, has superior qualifications and temperament for the bench. Wells has been an attorney for nearly 40 years, and according to just about any attorney worth her or his salt, has been a heck of a good one. Knowledgeable about the law, and pragmatic on contentious disputes, Wells would make a great Judge. With an inherently neutral demeanor, quite unlike his opponent, he would also be a much fairer one.

Accordingly, this board endorses Chip Wells for the 247th District Court.

280th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull, a freshman Republican Judge first elected in 2010, has had a tumultuous past few months. The Houston Chronicle recently published a damaging expose outlining her apparently callous actions taken in the course of office. As the story goes, the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, no one’s idea of a liberal rag, has accused her of being improperly critical of victims of domestic violence. “Uncompassionate” and “demeaning to women” were phrases copiously used throughout the report. She even allegedly makes of point of grilling these victims, suggesting ulterior motives for making the serious allegations, such as retaining custody of children in a subsequent divorce.

Such remarks, which have been confirmed by individuals familiar with the situation, are appalling and saddening for an individual tasked with protecting families and children throughout the county. It is atrociously unacceptable to allow a Judge to commit these acts with impunity, and Harris County needs a big change.

Fortunately, the difference between Bradshaw-Hull and her Democratic opponent, Barbara Stalder, is as clear as night and day. A well-renowned Family attorney, as well as a lecturer at the University of Houston Law Center, Stalder’s experience is in defending children and victims of defending violence, not malevolently working against them. A veteran of Children’s Legal Services and Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Stalder possesses empathy for those affected by such heinous actions, empathy apparently absent in her competitor.

Stalder would be a great Judge, but the choice is particularly easy here. Accordingly, this board endorses Barbara Stalder for the 280th District Court.

308th DISTRICT COURT
Much like the previous contest, we have some huge doubts about the ethics and the temperament of the incumbent Judge, James Lombardino. A bombastic Republican, he has sullied the integrity of his court on multiple occasions. Lombardino maintains what appears, in our opinion, to be a nearly pathological aversion to awarding children to their mother in heated disputes. He manufactures whatever modicum of fault that can be cobbled together to take children away from their mother, often for the flimsiest of reasons.

On one such occasion, Lombardino took away children from a caring mother, because her boyfriend once tested positive for marijuana. His grand strategy as a result of this show of law and order bravado was to send the children off to their biological father, whose interaction therewith was quite limited. The actions taken were even over the recommendation of the ad litem in this case, coincidentally the Democratic candidate in another contest.

Lombardino’s Democratic opponent would be a far more impartial and fair Judge. Jim Evans, a prominent family attorney, would have the compassion and the integrity to lead this wayward bench back into the light. He would look over custody battles with an open mind, and always follow the law to do what was correct. Once again, we think he would be a good Judge, but considering the incumbent, it is an easy choice.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jim Evans for the 308th District Court.

309th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Sherri Dean has served on this bench for about six years. She is generally somewhat levelheaded, but has developed a reputation for being a little bit abrasive on the bench. Dean, a ubiquitous presence at Republican events, also has a tendency to keep her partisan affiliations a little bit too close to the courthouse for comfort. All in all, she is a pretty good Judge, and those more intent upon preserving judicial expediency should vote for her. But, like any of the other myriad races we have faced such a scenario on, we think the voters of Harris County should take a chance on someone a little better.

Kathy Vossler, a well-season family lawyer with an emphasis on helping those going through crisis, would be an all-around better Judge. She has the compassion and the professionalism to take this court to a better place, as well as the experience to ensure it stays in good hands. Furthermore, we believe that Vossler would be better suited to guide the ad litem process out into the light for reforms.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kathy Vossler for the 309th District Court.

311th DISTRICT COURT
This is the most infamous court in Harris County, any way you look at it. As mentioned previously, the former Judge on this bench, Denise Pratt, committed a whole host of misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance while in office. Backdating orders and unilaterally dismissing cases, she has simply a disgrace to the bench. After she was nearly indicted for these actions, Pratt resigned earlier this year. A local attorney in family matters, Alicia Franklin, won the Republican primary to succeed her and was promptly appointed by Governor Rick Perry. This made her Judge Alicia Franklin.

Unfortunately for Franklin, whom we have been a fan of in the past, news has come out that suggests she has also engaged in unethical and possibly illegal actions both before and after taking the bench. The charges contend that Franklin overcharged her clients while an ad litem attorney, once having the unmitigated temerity to charge 23.5 hours in one day. She also arguably allowed associates to charge on her behalf, as well as continued operating her law practice after assuming office, both serious violations of judicial ethics and the law.

Sherri Cothrun, Franklin’s Democratic opponent, is a remarkably appealing alternative. She has an illustrious resume in family law, practicing for many years within this discipline, often as an ad litem attorney, where she has fought for reform from the inside. She’d be a great Judge, a tremendous improvement from the incumbent. The 311th District Court needs a strong personality to clean up Pratt’s mess, and Cothrun would be able to do that more effectively.

Accordingly, this board endorses Sherri Cothrun for the 311th District Court.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for County Treasurer

Upon first glance, the office of County Treasurer is useless. It is rather compelling, even, to argue for its abolition. What does it do? We’re not even completely sure. Something involving fiscal stewardship and being a direct intermediary between the government funds and the people. Our confusion is prompted by the fact that the incumbent, Orlando Sanchez, has done a rather lackluster job in office. For the past eight years, he has done little of consequence. As far as we can tell, the only time he has ever come out of the woodwork was to bluntly grandstand against METRO Buses that portrayed pro-Houston Texans messages. Nothing about fiscal prudence, nothing about transparency and nothing about working together with the public in a more effective way.

Granted, following the tumultuous tenure of former County Treasurer Dom Sumners in the 1990s, the County Commissioners’ Court stripped the post of many of its powers, rendering it comparably feckless. And the process to abolish the office would be long and costly. A Texas constitutional amendment would be a necessity, requiring 2/3rds votes of the Legislature and a statewide referendum. It would be a hard process, but left to our own devices, we’d probably see it through none the less.

But David Rosen, the Democratic challenger for this post, insists that the office is salvageable and that it can do good things nonetheless. He touts a plan to make county expenses accessible to the general public and to be an ally for all those who wish to examine the government’s coffers. Under current practices, the county expenses are buried amid a massive PDF file. These are the same tactics used by elusive attorneys looking to bury information during the discovery phase of litigation; it is unbecoming of the county’s ostensible fiscal watchdog. Rosen promises to streamline this process, making it easier to navigate and more search friendly. He also wishes to rescind the reforms taken by the Commissioners, and allow the office to audit, budget and forecast.

Rosen also wishes to use the office as a bully pulpit to advocate for domestic partnership benefits for county employees, irrespective of sexual orientation. While we wholeheartedly agree with his position, we do retain some concerns about if it is the proper role of the County Treasurer to be advocating for such positions.

Sanchez, on the other hand, has been completely silent on the campaign trail. We don’t what he would stand for or what he would do. Judging by his track record in office, not much. He also opposes abolishing the office, but he doesn’t support doing anything productive with it either.

Thus, even though we believe the office would be better off a relic of the past, Rosen is the right choice. His heart is in the right place, and he would implement reforms that would give the office a fighting chance of relevance and effectiveness. He would even go above and beyond to retain some important auditing and budgeting responsibilities. Giving the office some real power would justify its existence, and we would gladly like to see Rosen do this.

Accordingly, this board endorses David Rosen for Harris County Treasurer.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised 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 voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for James Horwitz

Editorial note: This is the twenty-fourth 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>.

Further note: Editorial Board member Noah M. Horwitz took no part in the implementation or publication of this questionnaire. Unlike the other Probate Courts, Texpatriate did not offer an endorsement in Probate Court #4.

James Horwitz, Democratic candidate for Harris County Probate Court #4

Texpatriate: What is your name?
JH: My name is James Horwitz

T: What office are you seeking?
JH: I am the Democratic candidate for judge of Harris County Probate Court No. Four (4).

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

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

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
JH: Only recently have the actual filings in probate cases become easily been accessible to the public. As an attorney I hear many complaints from other probate practitioners concerning rulings from the bench in this court involving lack of legal knowledge of or failure to follow the Texas rules of civil procedure. While the cases are still pending in her court, it is not ethical of me to comment further on those matters

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?
JH: Two issues-

First there is the issue involving the “probate” club wherein probate judges appoint their favorite attorneys as guardians and/or ad litems. The process doesn’t pass the “smell” test and needs improvement by expanding the pool of possible guardians and attorney ad litems. The seminar wherein certification by the State Bar of Texas to act as either a guardian and/or attorney ad litem will be offered on Saturday mornings in my court and publicized widely. My appointments will be tailored to the needs of the individual party and/or ward requiring such appointment matched with the attorney whose qualifications and experience is the best fit. It is easy enough to create such a system. It takes the willingness to break away from “go along to get along’ system that currently exists. Although I have practiced probate law for 37 years, I am not by choice a member of the “probate” club. I have chosen in my practice to be free of any one label or specialty certification. I am independent and not beholding to the probate bar because of my varied and long background of practicing law.

The law provides family members with certain rights as addressed in probate court. The second issue involves the definition of what is a family. Every family is different and in the next 4 years (the term of office that I am seeking) the definition of what is a family is going to expand.   It is up to judges at the lower court levels to not be afraid to follow the law as dictated by the laws of Texas and the Constitution of the United States. Our society and our community needs individuals with varied and balanced backgrounds as judges so as to make fair and impartial decisions based on the facts and constitutional law every time, balancing the needs of the individual versus the needs of society and not allow ideology or public pressure to dictate their decisions.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
JH: The incumbent is a young bright person. I believe I am the better candidate not because of any particular fault of the incumbent, but rather because there are no short cuts to experience and especially wisdom. I have practiced law for thirty seven (37) years, more than twice as long as my opponent. Before that I was a social worker working with families in crisis. When I began my legal practice, my opponent hadn’t even begun first grade. My experience counts. For thirty-seven (37) years, I have represented thousands of clients in estate planning and probate court as well as at all levels of the civil, criminal, family, and juvenile courts in Harris County, Texas, including also a multitude of other jurisdictions in Texas. My wisdom counts. My sound judgment has been gleaned from nearly four decades of work providing assistance to individuals and their families through my dedication to quality, my understanding of the foibles of people, and my understanding of the law.

My experience and wisdom is the result of working, now in my fourth decade, with the grieving, the divorced, the criminal, and the incompetent. I am also a husband, father, and grandfather with aging in-laws and special needs relatives – all of the above provides me with a unique perspective to understand and address the needs of those that come before me as a judge in probate court. Voters in Harris County should vote for me to bring an independent voice to the probate courts utilizing the law and fairness with compassion. I will follow Texas law as I know it with the upmost regard to the Constitution of the United States.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
JH: I believe my experience as a lawyer best matches up with that of my opponent. I began practicing law in 1977. The 4 existing probate judges were licensed respectfully in 1973, 1980, 1982, and my opponent in 1997. My law practice is now spent helping families cope with aging and the transitions required in moving assets between generations. My varied background outlined above beginning with my social work experience wherein I helped create and managed the first two halfway houses for runaway children in Harris County, Texas (Family Connection and the Sanddollar) as well as co-designing the test for licensing of all child-care administrators in the State of Texas as well as my legal work with the general public involved in business and the court system provides me with the tools necessary to be a judge in probate court. I have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO Council of Harris County, Texas, the Harris County Association of Trial Lawyers, the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association, and the Houston LGBT Political Caucus.

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?
JH: Judges should be impartial but not isolated. Judges are elected from the community, and judges should be involved in the community. It is the civic duty of all elected officials to not only do their job well, but also to educate the public relevant to the governmental functions in their office. I believe one of the obligations of the job of probate judge is to educate the public on the methods by which individuals can use self reliance and simple actions in order to maximize their decision making on their own well being and estates so that the government role’s is minimized as to determining the most personal decisions in a person’s life. That is why I will speak to all interested members of the public, and not only lawyers, on these topics now and when elected.

Probate involves the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died) according to the laws of descent and distribution if one has died without a Will such as by granting an Order of Administration giving judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate, determines the validity of Wills, makes orders concerning the provisions of a valid Will (by issuing the Order Admitting a Will to Probate), rules on issues of breach of fiduciary duties by executors and administrators of estates.

In contested matters involving probate with a Will, a Probate Court examines the genuineness of a Will and/or whether the Will was made under duress or that the Will is not the last Will written by the deceased person. It is the job of the Probate Court to decide which Will is authentic. Once that determination is made, the Probate Court appoints an Executor to fulfill the terms of the Will. In many cases, an Executor is named in the Will and the court appoints that person. The Executor then executes the Will according to the deceased person’s wishes as stated in his/her Will. When age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient, the establishment of a guardianship can occur. A guardianship is a relationship established by a Probate Court between the person who needs help – called a ward – and the person or entity named by the court to help the ward. This person or entity is known as a guardian.

In Texas, a person does not have a guardian until an application to appoint one is filed with the court, a hearing is held and a judge then appoints a guardian. When the court appointment is made, the person the guardian cares for becomes the ward. There are different types of guardianships available in Texas. They are:

  • Guardian of the person, full or limited
  • Guardian of the estate, full or limited.
  • Guardian of the person and estate.
  • Temporary guardianship.

In addition to individuals, entities and guardianship programs can be appointed guardians. Guardians have legal responsibilities and are required to perform certain tasks and make reports to the Court while providing assistance to their wards.

The Probate Court should look at the individuals and programs willing to be guardians and base the appointment of guardians on several factors including: a preference to appointing a qualifying family member as guardian rather than guardianship programs or court appointed attorneys.

The Probate Court also should establish how much freedom a ward may have to make his/her own decisions. The Probate Court should decide limitations on a guardian’s authority.

T: Would role do you think mandatory mediation should have in Probate law?
JH: I would require parties to engage in mediation before trial occurs. Many parties absolutely believe mediation will not work, and yet discover, once they go through the process, that outstanding issues can be worked through and their case either partially or fully resolved. It is one of my tenants in life that people are entitled and obligated to participate in as many ways as possible in the decision making process that affects their lives. I would ask mediators that wish to be appointed by my court to attend meetings with me to discuss ways to be more effective mediators in my court.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
JH: I once ran for a position on Houston City Council. There was no “D” or “R” beside my name or the names of my opponent. The public had to learn about my public policy positions and not through the lens of a label. I am proud to be a Democrat and to have the core values of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, one’s political party affiliation, while acknowledging that it is important, should not be the sole factor determining whether that candidate should be elected as a judge. A strong knowledge base, experience, and proper temperament should be the keystones of a good judge.   Our democracy works to the degree our citizens are factually informed about the candidates and not swayed by party labels or spin. Additionally, I echo the comments of a fellow candidate in supporting term limits for judges. Electing judges is a community responsibility. That responsibility filters down to individuals doing their civic duty and seeking public office. There is no shortage of qualified individuals ready to assume the mantle of a judgeship.

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?
JH: (1) I bring knowledge and information to the general public about estate planning and the probate court. To that end, I have spoken to many groups on this topic. As I mentioned above, I want individuals to use self reliance and simple actions in order to maximize their decision making on their own well being and estates so that the government role’s is minimized as to determining the most personal decisions in a person’s life.

(2) I utilize the community resources in Harris County, Texas to enhance the education and care of families in distress that I have come into contact with in my life. I did that as a social worker and now for close to four decades as a lawyer. To that end I am meeting with the Dean of the University of Houston School of Social Work to develop a program wherein graduate students can assist the probate courts in monitoring the effectiveness of the existing guardianships as well as to be resource for such families requesting guardianship.

(3) Preserving the civil rights of our citizens is so very important to me. To that end, I do not agree that basic civil rights are or should be subject to popular vote. When I graduated high school in May, 1967, it was still illegal to have a white-non white marriage in Texas. Unbelievable. Yet the general public in Texas as well as the Texas legislature seemed to favor it. Such laws were always unconstitutional in my mind, and finally the Supreme Court agreed. I have argued throughout my professional career on behalf of the civil rights of our citizens as guaranteed by our United States Constitution.   Minorities, women, the LGBT community, and special needs individuals already possess their civil rights. Our society needs to enforce those rights.

Parker subpoenas pastors

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle noted that Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman have subpoenaed the sermons of prominent pastors who have been a part of ongoing petition efforts against the local non-discrimination ordinance. The NDO, passed last May, prevents discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and other distinguishing features, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. Those last two qualities garnered a great deal of controversy both before and after the Houston City Council passed the measure, even prompting a petition drive to force a referendum.

In a still controversial decision, city leaders disqualified most of the signatures provided, saying not enough valid voices signed against the ordinance to compel a referendum. Since then, litigation has been pending and a referendum is still quite possible in the future. I suppose that the city is now trying to cover its behind by proving many of the tactics exhibited by these pastors, who are legally required to remain apolitical, have been unlawful.

On Wednesday, however, Parker distanced herself from the subpoenas, calling them “overly broad” and regretting the incident was handled the way it was. As they likely realized right away, this little bout of theatrics did the Mayor and all supporters of the NDO no favors. In fact, it merely stirred the pot even more, riling up the same group that so vociferously opposed the ordinance and fought it throughout the summer.

National news and opinion sites have been quick to castigate Parker, and she has received 20 bits of negative press for every item of support thus far. Fox News didn’t look too kindly, nor did The Washington Times. Forbes Magazine wrote that the city has “a first amendment problem.” Meanwhile, a columnist for The Washington Post even opined that the whole exercise is a trampling of the first amendment. The whole story is so outrageous at first glance that Snopes.com even ran a feature on it.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, both made big stinks today as well against this decision.

As a matter of law, I don’t know that Parker did anything too egregious. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, as a matter of policy, it was a foolish move on her office’s part. Fire and brimstone clergy, particularly those who all too often bully others, are remarkably talented at feigning victimization. In a place as religious and conservative as Houston, picking a fight with them will always be a losing proposition.

Parker even noted in a press conference today that these are fairly well-famed pastors, with expansive followings both on television and online. The sermons are easily accessible through less intrusive means than a court order. The whole point of this exercise was for show, and in that department, Parker undoubtedly lost. I’m glad she has backed off from this, hopefully it can cause the press to move past it and focus on some real issues. Typically, on Wednesday nights, I recap the events of the Houston City Council from the preceding morning. But the council did nothing of real note today. Everything revolved around press conferences involving this puny anonymity and the Ebola hysteria, respectively.

Rhymes with Right has more, from the other side of the aisle.