Texpatriate endorses for County Clerk

Every election night, the members of this board gather around our computer screens and begin clicking refresh every few seconds, for hours on end. We got to the website of the County Clerk, who first publishes local election results every time residents of Harris County go to the polls. Given that, with the exception of absentee and provisional ballots (which are not counted on election night anyways), the entire county votes on electronic ballots, and have been for many years, counting the votes should be relatively simple. But the office of the County Clerk, Stan Stanart, somehow takes its sweet time. Hours and hours later, those following online will surely be familiar with hasthag of “#FireStanStanart,” for the apparently general failure of duties.

It’s a cute slogan, but we would be awfully superficial to demand voters break from an incumbent because you don’t get election results for a few more hours. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident of ineptitude in office. While it is true that many of the county’s records have been updated and the electronic filing has now become the norm, this isn’t really because of any bright maneuvering on the part of Stanart. A few orders of the Texas Supreme Court’s Chief Justice have actually been needed to move Harris County into the 21st century, and even these transitions have been handled poorly.

But the County Clerk isn’t just about overseeing filings; as the first paragraph would suggest, he also serves as the Elections Administrator for the county. This board believes that such a position should be appointed and non-partisan, but as long as it isn’t, it should be served by someone at least willing to play a neutral part. Simply put, Stanart is not that person. He has possibly unethically blurred the lines between office and politics on numerous occasions. Most recently, he sent out a mailer, reiterating his role as Elections Administrator, urging constituents to vote the Republican slate. Over the summer, he showed up in a prominent role at rallies opposing things such as non-discrimination for gays and lesbians, which have nothing to do with his job.

Stanart’s Democratic opponent, Ann Bennett, is a good fit for the position. Though she has run for a plethora of positions in the past, she has more than 14 years experience as a Court Coordinator at the county level. Obviously, she is more than capable of working through the intricate ins-and-outs of the role.

Others have derided Bennett’s alleged lack of specifics in how she would rectify Stanart’s wrongs. We are simply flabbergassed that anyone could be so vacuous as to make such an asinine claim. Merely not committing possibly unethical behavior or engaging in general ineptitude would be a welcome shift, in and of itself. But Bennett would do more. Not looking at just climbing the political ropes, she would have the familiarity needed for a County Clerk, in order to oversee any changes needed for the department in coming years.

Accordingly, this board endorses Ann Bennett for County 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 of the voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Leticia Van de Putte

Editorial note: This is the twenty-first 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>.

Leticia Van de Putte, Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor

T: What is your name?
LV: Leticia Van de Putte

T: What office are you seeking?
LV: Texas Lieutenant Governor

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
LV: ELECTED

  • 1991-1999 Texas House of Representatives, District 115

  • 1999-Present Texas State Senate, Senate District 26

APPOINTMENTS

  • 2011-Present Families USA

  • 2009-Present The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse Advisory Commission

  • 2009-Present The National Assessment Governing Board

  • 2009-Present Milbank Memorial Fund, Member

  • 2008-Present American Legacy Foundation Board, Member

  • 2004-2005 NALEO Board Committee

POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT

  • 2008 Co-Chair, Democratic National Convention Committee

  • 2007-Present State Affairs Committee – Texas Senate

  • 2003-Present Chair, Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee – Texas Senate

  • 2003-2010 Chair, Texas Senate Democratic Caucus

  • 2001-2003 Chair, Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus

  • 1998 Chair, Mexican American Legislative Caucus

  • 1991-1996 Secretary, Mexican American Legislative Caucus

  • 2003-Present Member, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL)

  • 2003-2005 President, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL)

  • 1991-Present Member, National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)

  • 2007-2008 President, National Conference of State Legislators Foundation

  • 2006-2007 President, NCSL

T: What is your political party?
LV: Democrat

T: What would you recommend about the so-called “2/3rds rule”?
LV: Texas has always been a state where we work together to solve challenges. In Texas, we should not pit people against one another – we are a state where we always look for common ground, and neighbor helps neighbor. What we don’t need in Texas is the partisan gridlock that has infected Washington, D.C..

The two-thirds rule has served the Senate well. It fosters civility and collegiality. The Texas Senate is the deliberative body, the two-thirds rule preserves that legacy.

As Lieutenant Governor, I would advocate to maintain the two-thirds rule. While the discussion on the rule is usually framed as Republican vs. Democrat, there are many issues where the true division is between urban members and rural members, or those representing areas with plentiful water and those without. It is important to preserve the two-thirds rule so that Senators seek to find common ground and the voice of the minority is respected.

T: What criteria would you use to appoint the Chairpersons of the Senate committees?
LV: I will appoint chairpersons based on the passion for and knowledge of the issues that the committee will work on during the legislative session regardless of political party. The legislative session is only 140 days. There  is no time  to waste  so committees chairs need to be committed to  leading their committees to improve the laws of this state.

T: What relationship do you think that the Lieutenant Governor should have with the Senate?
LV: One of mutual respect. I believe that leadership is a process that requires mutual respect so that the members of the Senate can work towards achieving common goals while maximizing their individual efforts.  Texas is a geographically diverse state with diverse needs and beliefs. I believe Texas’ diversity should be embraced, not dictated.

T: What is one thing that you would continue over from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s administration? What is one thing you would not or change?
LV: I would continue the 2/3 rules and appointment of chairpersons regardless of political party. What I would change would be starting on time and working to improve the relationship between the House and Senate.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
LV: I have the experience and passion for the job. I have a record of working across party lines and chambers to pass effective legislation that makes Texas better.

My opponent seeks to bring Washington DC style tactics to the Senate. His “my way or the highway” mentality will only bring partisan gridlock to the chamber.

I made the decision to run for Texas Lieutenant Governor because I want a strong future for my children, grandchildren and everyone’s children and grandchildren. I will not stand aside and allow my opponent to leave my grandchildren any less of a Texas that I have come to love.

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?
LV: Education –  Providing a high quality education to every student in this state has been and will continue to be of utmost importance to me. I believe it is of utmost importance to the economic prosperity of this state that we get students to and through school. The education we provide the young people of this state should prepare them to be workforce ready for locally and internationally available jobs in a competitive market.

I have filed school finance bills and bills that keeps college affordable, passed a law combating bullying in schools, passed a law that encourages the creation of dropout recovery high schools, and passed law to ensure children of Military Personnel and children adopted from the foster care system would be eligible to receive free prekindergarten classes.

Improved quality of life for veterans, servicemembers and their families – As the daughter of a veteran, I know that it takes a family to serve and that to truly honor those who protect us, we must improve the quality of life for military members, veterans, and their families and support our military bases.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations, I wrote the law that allows Texas veterans and their families to qualify for expedited licenses within one year of separation, created the Hazlewood Legacy Act which allows veterans to pass their unused education benefits to their children or spouse, and led the successful fight for the 100% property tax exemption for Gold Star Spouses of active-duty service members killed in combat.

Combating Human Trafficking – For the past 10 years I have led the fight against the vile crime of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, in the Texas Senate.

I passed the law that required hotline postings along Texas highways, created the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force and in 2011 I passed Senate Bill 24, which increased the penalties for traffickers and provided protections for victims.

Texpatriate endorses for the Court of Appeals

In 1981, the State Legislature changed the relevant laws to allow for the the only intermediate judicial body in Texas, then known as the Court of Civil Appeals, to consider criminal cases as well. Until then, instead of reaching mandatory review by one of fourteen separate bodies, the cases all went to the sole, statewide Court of Criminal Appeals. This little tweak in the judicial system greatly transformed and strengthened the checks and balances for the accused. By raising points of error in a significantly more accessible setting, the accused would have more protections; at least, they should have.

Unfortunately, in the last twenty years, as Republicans have maintained their stranglehold on the two Courts of Appeals with jurisdiction over Harris County (as well as the surrounding counties), the 1st Court of Appeals and the 14th Court of Appeals, these protection for the accused have been all but eviscerated. Intent followers of the proceedings will know that the court affirms, with very, very, very few exceptions, every single criminal conviction that comes before them. Go ahead, look online. You’ll have to search back months to find a single reversal. An appellate body should be inquisitive and scrutinizing, not a rubber stamp! County and District Judges are good at ruling on issues of law, but they are not that good.

Of course, the Court of Appeals, like their original name suggests, also deal with civil disputes. Once again, since the Republicans took over this court, they merely transformed it into a bottleneck that combats suits against large entities. Time and time again, the Courts have become a perilously unfriendly setting for plaintiffs and the damages they seek.

In the three contested races, we endorse the Democrats. In two more races, incumbent Republican Justices will ascend to re-election unopposed. We recommend votes for these Justices, Marc Brown and Laura Higley, because of their undisputed experience in the law. They are capable jurists, we just think their political philosophy is misguided.

14th COURT, CHIEF
Chief Justice Kem Frost will be seeking her third six-year term this November. By all accounts, she’s heavily favored for re-election and is unmistakably qualified to hold the position. When it comes to administration, the 14th Court runs like a well-oiled machine. However, as our previous comments would suggest, we sharply disagree with the political philosophy espoused by her and her Court and the unfortunate reality it has caused, both for plaintiffs who have been wronged and those convicted of crimes but with legitimate legal grievances.

Frost’s Democratic opponent, in addition to our sincere hope that he will transform this unfortunate reality, is also a qualified jurist. Judge Kyle Carter has been a Civil District Judge in Harris County since 2009, and was re-elected to the post a couple years ago. If the concern is that the replacement of Frost would need on-the-job-training, so to speak, those fears are remarkably unfounded. Carter would make a great Chief Justice, both in management style and judicial philosophy. He maintains the temperament to be pragmatic but stick to his core principles.

A civil-trial lawyer by trade, Carter is admittedly not quite as well-versed in matters of criminal law. But perhaps familiarity numbs a certain compassion our jurists needs. Certainly, retaining the same 20th century philosophy prevents our region from allowing complex issues to be solved by a new set of eyes, a new generation.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kyle Carter for the 14th Court of Appeals, Chief Justice.

1st COURT, PLACE 3
Justice Jim Sharp was elected in 2008, amid the Democratic landslide that accompanied Barack Obama into the White House. A Democrat, Sharp is the only of his party among the 18 justices on the Houston area’s dual Appellate bodies. On his website, he proudly advertised that fact, and urges the voters of the region to recognize the need for some balance. As off-putting the partisan cliche may be, Sharp sort of has a point. More so than the need of balance for balance’s sake, the Court simply needs others who share Sharp’s judicial philosophy, prioritizing the legal rights of defendants and plaintiffs over expediency. It is a commonsensical approach, but ironically has not been very commonly implemented.

Sharp is not without his skeletons, however. In 2012, he was sharply rebuked for improperly meddling in local criminal matters. The incident, which has been overplayed and generalized all too often, involved him uttering profanity and possibly threatening language to local detention officers after a family friend’s minor daughter was incarcerated. Contrary to some allegations, he never followed through with threats or took any truly ignominious action, and he quickly issued an apology, received a punishment and moved on. We’re doing the same.

And far more important than anything else, just about, is the aforementioned judicial philosophy of a candidate. Russell Lloyd, the Republican candidate, is a good attorney who would make a good judge; we endorsed him in his primary election. But, we fear, he would be another voice against the “little guy,” another concurrence to our all-too-sad status quo.

Accordingly, we endorse Jim Sharp for the 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3.

1st COURT, PLACE 7
Justice Ken Wise was appointed just last year by Governor Rick Perry, followed the elevation of Jeff Brown from this court to the Texas Supreme Court. Wise is now running for a full term. A Republican, he has climbed up the political ladder rather expeditiously and has been an adequate jurist. We still think, however, that — like our previous comments — he ascribes to a bad political philosophy, one that the region would be best advised to steer away therefrom.

Wise’s Democratic opponent is Gordon Goodman, an attorney in Houston. Goodman has never been a Judge before, but he is certainly qualified to be one. He would not require much initial training; we are confident that he would quickly get into the hang of things, to borrow the colloquialism. We believe that Goodman was best illustrate the ideals of capably inspecting all legal challenges brought by those convicted of crimes. We also believe he would never show deference to the bigger side in a lawsuit, inadvertently or not.

Heavily favored in November, we think that Wise has a bright future ahead of him in the judiciary. But this board simply respectfully disagrees with him on much of his philosophy. On that question, the choice to go with his opponent, also qualified, is simply abundantly clear.

Accordingly, we endorse Gordon Goodman for he 1st Court of Appeals, Place 7.

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 of the voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Natalia Oakes

Editorial note: This is the twentieth 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>.

Natalia Oakes, Democratic candidate for the 314th District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
NO: Natalia Oakes

T: What office are you seeking?
NO: Judge, 314th Family (Juvenile) District Court

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
NO: N/A

T: What is your political party?
NO: Democrat

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?
NO: The court continuously faces the problems of effective rehabilitation for young offenders so as to not recycle into the adult system. It’s important to break the cycle of crime. One solution is to update probation programs, track the success of the programs and get more community involvement in the crime centered neighborhoods.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
NO: The Judicial Code of conduct prevents me from answering this question.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
NO: The incumbent has been reversed 31 times for the same issue of terminating parental rights (permanently taking children away from their parents), one case as recently as August.  He either does not follow the law or procedure.

T: What role do you think a Juvenile District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Juvenile District Courts should have as a whole?
NO: A judge should be patient and respectful to the public, lawyers and witnesses. The Courts should give due process to all who come before it.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
NO: I have the proper judicial temperament.

T: Do you believe that the way Courts address minor drug and alcohol offenses should be changed? If so, how?
NO: Judges must follow the law and cannot legislate from the bench.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
NO: In a large county such as Harris County, the voters cannot know all 80 judicial candidates. The party label of D or R gives the voters some guidance of what the candidate stands for.

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?
NO: Important issues are:

1) effective rehabilitation of young offenders. As a defense lawyer, I try to craft a recommendation for services specialized to the child’s needs.

2) to limit change of placement (movement) of children who come into CPS custody. As a children’s attorney I consistently urge this to the court.

3) to run an efficient courtroom so as not to waste the public’s and the lawyers’ time. Many parents miss work to come to court for the juvenile offenders and for CPS cases. It is a burden to make them wait all day to get their case heard.

Lt Gov campaign update

First things first, I’m sorry for the lack of activity. I’ve had a remarkably busy week, and have been driving all around the State for the past 36 hours (fun fact: there are cities in Texas named “Nixon,” “Pawnee” and “Three Rivers”). Now, I’m back in Houston for the weekend in observance of a religious holiday and some personal odds-and-ends.

Back on Monday night, the only debate in the Lieutenant Governor’s campaign was held in Austin. State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Republican candidate, and State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate, squared off against one another in a battle of words that was exceedingly civil when it comes to the rough and tumble world of Texas politics. Without getting into too much of the minutia of the debate, it was characterized by Patrick’s total extremism, despite coming off as an ostensibly formidable foe. The two argued over education, abortion, gay marriages and taxes…oh my goodness, lots of taxes.

Patrick began his comments by claiming, completely falsely, that Van de Putte has recently voted for a State Income Tax. Those who do not believe that the sky is red, of course, are aware that the Texas Constitution has effectively precluded the Legislate from considering a State  Income Tax for many years now. He just made it up. Van de Putte, meanwhile, alleged that her opponent supported hiking the sales tax. To that allegation, Patrick admitted it was true, but insisted that it was not a tax increase. Rather, he said, it was a “swap.”

On other issues, Patrick tacked heavily to the right. He reiterated opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. He confidently defended his opposition to gay marriage and continued drugging up so-called tort reform. He equated the expansion of Medcaid, the brainchild of Lyndon Baines Johnson, with the other boondoggles of Obamacare. Needless to say, the big headline here is that Patrick has not mellowed his rhetoric one bit whatsoever in advance of the general election.

Paul Burka at Texas Monthly had some harsh words for Patrick, calling him “most formidable radical politician the state has produced in my career of covering the Legislature,” which, by the way, is nearly 50 years. He said that the true Patrick is a “conservative radical,” but I beg to differ. The true Patrick is a facade; he is merely puts on an ideology that works best for him. Perhaps in the past that type of populism would be pragmatic, but not today. This is an era of pitchforks, and Patrick would not be the type of leader who would stand up against the lynch mob…he would be the one leading the charge and giving the speech upon the soapbox.

Recently, the Houston Chronicle‘s Editorial Board even went of its way to write a thoughtful endorsement of Van de Putte. It is a touching piece, and covers all the key features while taking a few pot-shots at Patrick. This, on a year when they are endorsing Republicans in a spirit of “going along to get along” even more than usual.

Back to the debate itself, I think Van de Putte won, but I don’t think it will get her any traction. People in Texas don’t watch things like debates, it’s not her fault. The format, though, was still pretty bad. Candidate-to-candidate interaction was minimal and many of the questions were just low-hanging fruit for the sake of fireworks.

Brains & Eggs, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist have more.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Kim Ogg

Editorial note: This is the nineteenth 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>.

profileimage

Texpatriate: What is your name?
KO: Kim Ogg.

T: How long have you held this post? What number term are you seeking?
KO: I am currently the managing partner at the Ogg Law Firm, PLLC. The 2014 race for Harris County District Attorney is for an unexpired term of two (2) years.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
KO: I have not been previously elected to any post.

T: What is your political party?
KO: I am a Democrat.

T: What do you think the role of District Attorney should be?
KO: The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 2.01, states that the primary duty of a district attorney is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. The DA is the highest law enforcement official in Harris County and represents the people in all criminal investigations and prosecutions of individuals and corporations for violations of Texas law in Harris County.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with the actions undertaken by the incumbent?
KO: I specifically disagree with my opponent’s actions in the following specific cases:

  • Entering into a secret plea bargain arrangement with Judge DenisePratt that allowed Pratt to resign from her bench in lieu of facing further criminal investigation by a Harris County Grand Jury and facing criminal charges.
  • Failing to investigate (former) HPD Homicide Sgt. Ryan Chandler for Tampering with a Government Document, following the request for criminal charges by Chief Charles McClellan.
  • Orchestrating Chandler’s criminal investigation to be reviewed by a Montgomery County Asst. DA, preventing a Harris County Grand Jury from investigating Chandler.
  • Failing to investigate the conflict of interest between ADA Inger Hampton and Chandler for working on criminal cases together while romantically involved and for failing to take any administrative action for Hampton’s unauthorized access into criminal case files on behalf of Ryan, after he was under criminal investigation.
  • After learning from a prosecutor that Sgt. Ruben Sean Carrizal backdated a search warrant while employed at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, allowing him to resign instead of firing him.
  • Failing to notify the Harris County Sheriff’s Office about Carrizal’s actions during a routine background check; remaining silent when the Harris County Sheriff’s Office hired Carrizal three days after he resigned. He backdated a search warrant and never missed a day of pay.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at his or her job? If so, why?
KO: I believe that my opponent specifically failed in her duty as District Attorney to investigate and prosecute two police officers who lied on government documents and a Republican Judge who harmed thousands of Houston families by dismissing their cases without notice.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KO: I pledge to be a District Attorney who seeks justice without influence of friends, political allies or professional colleagues because I believe in equal justice for all. I have a strategic plan for reducing crime that involves the full spectrum of diversity in Harris County and will flip current public safety priorities.

T: What place do you think that Pre-Trial diversion programs (also known as “DA’s probation”) should have in the criminal justice process?
KO: Pre-Trial diversion has an appropriate place in the criminal justice system as a useful tool for holding a person accountable for their law violation while allowing them to avoid a permanent criminal record for the offense. It deserves regular use, which I have pledged to begin using in all misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases.

T: In what ways —if any— do you think that the DA’s office should amend the way it deals with marijuana cases?
KO: I have proposed creation and use of the GRACE program.

The GRACE program is the future of misdemeanor marijuana prosecution in Harris County. No jail. No bail. No permanent criminal record… if you earn it. GRACE stands for Government Resource Allocation/ Criminal Exemption and utilizes existing law to summon offenders directly to court rather than arresting and jailing them. Once offered GRACE, offenders are referred — through the extant mechanism of pre-trial diversion — to the Clean & Green Program. In return for case dismissal, GRACE-eligible offenders will clean up litter and recycle debris reclaimed from Buffalo Bayou; that means, rather than languishing in jail, offenders will spend two days working to better our community.

Government’s first duty is public safety. Currently, every misdemeanor marijuana arrest takes a patrol officer off of our streets for three hours or more. Kim believes police resources are better spent investigating the crimes that harm our community most, not transporting and booking non-violent drug offenders.

Houston has the fifth-highest arrest rate for misdemeanor marijuana in the country and, since 2007, has prosecuted 100,000 Houstonians, saddling them with permanent criminal records and compromising their futures by limiting their job and housing opportunities. Additionally, local records show that those arrested are disproportionate representations of our community; to an alarming degree, those arrested are black, Hispanic, male, under 25 years old and low-income. The “nail em’ and jail em’” policy employed by the current Harris County DA means marijuana offenders are incarcerated and housed right alongside hardened, violent criminals. As recently as November 2013, the American Medical Association amended their official policy regarding marijuana possession, calling for “public health based strategies, rather than incarceration.”

As DA, I want to bring Harris County’s criminal justice policies into line with other states and with common sense. Marijuana is illegal in Texas, but permitted for medicinal use in 24 states and for recreational use in another two. Marijuana law is rapidly evolving at the national level, and the future of marijuana prosecution is evolving too.

It is time we start utilizing our public safety resources in a manner that makes Harris County safer, and stop racking up slews of arrests for crimes that don’t directly involve — or even impact — public safety. By re-rerouting offenders through GRACE, Harris County taxpayers will save more than $10 million per year, and offenders will have the opportunity to clean their community and their record.

T: What role do you believe that capital punishment should have in the future of the country?
KO: Capital punishment is available by law to the District Attorney for use in seeking the ultimate sanction against a murderer. The future of the death penalty is as fluid as the public sentiment among Texas voters. If elected, and with the increased prosecution for and use of ‘Life without Parole’ sentences, I will seek the death penalty in fewer cases than my opponent.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one things you have done to address each of them?
KO: Three issues of paramount importance to me are:

  1. Grand jury reform – As DA, I have pledged to be a leader in the Legislature for reform which bars the‘ key man’ practice of grand jury selection and requires random selection of grand jurors.
  2. Revolutionize management of the DA’s Office as a public law firm, not a paramilitary pseudo-police organization – I have researched the current paperless systems being used by various counties, and found that Tarrant and LA both employ paperless systems that are effective and efficient. I have pledged to change the current culture as set by my opponent and to professionalize prosecution management of more than 600 employees.
  3. Pursuit of violent and white collar criminals as a priority, instead of jailing thousands of non-violent drug offenders, a significant percentage of whom are mentally ill, at taxpayer expense. I have worked my entire professional career to improve public safety, including work as a public servant and as a pro bono volunteer. I have written, taught and worked with the Texas Legislature to improve criminal laws and procedures.

 

Texpatriate endorses for Court of Criminal Appeals

Last month, this board turned a few heads when we advocated for the abolition of the death penalty. We feel, somewhat strongly, that it is an outdated and barbaric procedure, applied arbitrarily and capriciously. That it is a blight to our state and the constitutional liberties it ostensibly protects. Most of all, we feel that it is just an excessively cruel practice to inflict in this day and age.

With all that said, we are faced with a strange choice when deciding who to endorse in the three races for the Court of Criminal Appeals. As the court of last resort in Texas for all criminal cases, the court has broad range over a variety of causes, but seldom do any receive more attention than capital punishment. Whereas other disputes must go through the intermediate appellate body, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals (yes, this is confusing, the names are all very similar) is required by law to hear appeals on cases involving the death penalty. Most of the time, the court unfortunately serves as a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. In the past, they have even gone so far as to allow an execution to go forward despite reasonable evidence that the condemnation should be stayed.

Thus, we were happy to see three Justices of this court stand aside ahead of this election. All three seats up this year feature open races. In addition to the three Republicans, the Democrats pitifully managed to field one candidate. All four support the indefensible procedure of capital punishment. In addition to these candidates are three Libertarians and two Greens. But we are not convinced any of these fringe candidates hold the legal acumen necessary to sit as a Judge on this high court.

Left with these realities, we judged (pun intended) the candidates based on their experience and qualifications. Accordingly, notwithstanding our deep disagreement on invaluable policy, we endorse the three Republicans.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
One may wonder what the current indictment of Governor Rick Perry has to do with this race, but the two are actually quite interconnected. Bert Richardson, the Republican candidate for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals, is the senior Judge currently overseeing Perry’s two pending felony indictments. Oddly enough, Richardson’s involvement in that case has garnered him significantly more media attention than his current Statewide race.

As the Texas Tribune noted, observers on both sides of the political spectrum have described Richardson as a “thoughtful” and “fair” jurist. Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike have nothing but adulation for his style of Judging. Simply put, when he is on the bench, politics and ideology are checked at the door. A Criminal District Judge who represented Bexar County for ten years, Richardson knows all too well the deleterious affects of partisanship running roughshod over the judiciary. He was the victim of a partisan sweep himself when a less-qualified Democrat defeated him in 2008.

Richardson’s Democratic opponent, John Granberg, is also a capable attorney. And while his lack of experience in judicial office doesn’t necessary concern us, we simply think Richardson is better suited for the job. Given that the we disagree with both of them over our main policy priority, we will gladly defer to the candidate with the sterling qualifications and credentials. Still, when it comes to the death penalty, we have some hope that Richardson can serve as a voice of reason. He appears rather reasonable regarding upcoming issues, such as DNA testing and judicial interpretation of the Michael Morton Act.

All in all, we have every reason to believe that Richardson will serve as a honorable Judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Accordingly, this board endorses him for Place 3 of the Court.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4
Earlier this month, the Court of Criminal struck down the State’s law against improper photography. In an unnecessarily expansive holding, the court ruled 8-1 to protect most forms of lecherous photography in public places as protected symbolic speech under the 1st Amendment. We disagree with the ruling not only because the intent could have been accomplished significantly narrower, but because it does not take under consideration the protection of some of society’s most vulnerable. Surely, there could be a better solution?

Oddly enough, the brouhaha that inevitably erupted regarding this ruling reminded us of the credentials of Kevin Yeary, the Republican candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. In a long and illustrative career as a appellate prosecutor, Yeary was the driving force behind defending the Texas Telephone Harassment statute from a similar first amendment challenge. Although the Court of Appeals originally struck down the law, it was later reversed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Although candidates like Yeary are often prevented by ethics rules from publicly rebuking decisions such as the Improper Photography one, we confidently feel that his unique perspective would have allowed him to see the case differently.

Yeary is a good lawyer, with an honorable resume as a prosecutor. We have some concerns that, like many others, his prosecutor’s cap would follow him too closely onto the bench. And we are obviously disappointed to see yet another vehement advocate for the death penalty. All this being said, Yeary has no Democratic opponent. His only opposition is in the form of unqualified, unknown third parties. Given these choices, we think that Yeary is a very easy choice.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kevin Yeary for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9
David Newell, a longtime appellate prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office, is uniquely qualified against his opponents to look out against mismanagement and miscarriages of justice. Indeed, we think his impressive career would allow him to be a good judge on the high court. A down-to-earth, affable personality, we think Newell’s greatest asset may be the way he approaches serious endeavors such as his run for office. We have every reason to believe he’ll take the same attitude to the court if elected.

Obviously, we do have some misgivings about his candidacy. An emphatic defender of capital punishment, we sharply disagree. His website also contains an inappropriately lengthy section on his religious faith, juxtaposed immediately next to one on his “judicial philosophy.” In our society, where –as Thomas Jefferson once proscribed– there should be a wall erected between the church and the state, the occurrence is slightly troubling.

But Newell’s judicial philosophy and his history warrant support, especially in light of him lacking any serious competitors. Facing only token opposition, his endorsement is an easy one. But we have hope that Newell will make a good judge.

Accordingly, this board endorses David Newell for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9.

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 of the voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Bert Richardson

Editorial note: This is the eighteenth 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>.

https://mail.zoho.com/mail/FileDownload/1-DSC_6360.JPG?accountId=2153885000000008001&msgId=2153885000001352003&filePath=2153885000001352003_attach_1&isOutbox=false&mode=mail

Judge Bert Richardson, Republican candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3

Texpatriate: What is your name?
BR: Bert Richardson

T: What office are you seeking?
BR: Place 3, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
BR: Judge of the 379th District Court, Bexar County, Texas.  1999-2008

T: What is your political party?
BR: Republican

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with the incumbent’s ruling? What is a specific case in which you agree?
BR: N/A

T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court of Criminal Appeals will face in the near future? Why is it important?
BR: Although it would be inappropriate to classify any specific issue as contentious, I do believe there are important issues that the TCCA will have to consider in the coming years including ongoing issues raised in relation to DNA testing, scientific evidence in arson cases, interpreting the Michael Morton act and many others.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
BR: I am the only candidate for this position that is Board Certified in Criminal Law (less than 2% of lawyers are certified in this area).  The Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all death penalty cases.  I have significant experience in death penalty litigation as a prosecutor and judge both at the trial level and post conviction level. I also have significant appellate experience at the State and federal level. As an elected judge in Bexar County I was consistently ranked at the top of local Bar Polls for knowledge of the law, work ethic and judicial demeanor.  As a Senior Judge I receive a steady stream of judicial assignments for routine matters (both civil and criminal) and high profile cases across the State and have worked in over 40 counties in the last 5 years.   As a judge I have never had a trial verdict reversed by an appellate court.  I have taught law related classes at local colleges & St. Mary’s Law School for over 15 years.    

T: What role do you think a Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals should have individually?  What role do you think the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals should have as a whole?
BR: A: To have an open line of communication with the other judges on the Court regarding pending cases.  B: The Court should issue clear and concise opinions, so those practicing in the criminal justice arena understand how to deal with some of the more complicated and controversial issues in the trial courts.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
BR: After receiving almost every major endorsement (from newspapers, law enforcement groups and lawyers) and being ranked at the top of most bar polls, I was a “victim” of a partisan sweep as an elected judge, so I am of the opinion that there has to be a better way to select our judges.  However, the party in power is rarely motivated to change the system.  Since 2008 in Bexar County there have been “judicial sweeps” in each election.  In San Antonio the elections for judicial positions have been referred to by members of the media as a “Judicial Lottery.”  Even for this race at the State level, most average voters have no idea what the TCCA does, or the qualifications needed to do the job. I would be in favor of a different system in order to attract the most qualified candidates for the bench.

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?
BR: (A)(1). Significant changes in scientific evidence in many areas that have exonerated several wrongfully convicted defendants. The TCCA promulgates rules of evidence for criminal trials and those rules should address these changes and the admissibility of such evidence;   (A)(2). Online filing of briefs and records to that court.  Most appellate courts across the State have implemented this and I would work to do that at the TCCA;  (A)(3). Legislative changes in discovery rules, in light of the Michael Morton Act and exoneration.  One way to do that would be to educate judges on these changes and the obligation the State has to turn over specific information to the defense.  The TCCA administers funds that educate judges. (B)  I have presided over and submitted to the TCCA extensive Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in many of the areas in (A)(1), such as arson, DNA and mental retardation.

VDP hops on the Highway Fund bandwagon

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released an ad that touted his big plan for improving the state of transportation infrastructure in Texas. After crunching the numbers, I was simply not impressed. Now, the Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, has hopped on the bandwagon and is now touting that plan as a cornerstone for her transportation infrastructure (with a few notable difference) platform.

Last night, I noted that such a proposal could likely raise about $1 Billion per biennium, a statistic confirmed by The Dallas Morning News. Of that, the News notes that more than 80% go to law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Public Safety (DPS), while about a dozen million dollars even go to the Attorney General’s office. Accordingly, while transportation would surely be given a great deal of extra cash, it would be at the expense of other –very important– spheres of government expenditures. Thus, unless more money is withdrawn from the rainy day fund or taxes are raised, the hurt will merely be shifted elsewhere. Last night, I opined hiking the Gas Tax modestly, something that has not been done in nearly 25 years despite an exploding population, higher prices and more more fuel-efficiency.

Van de Putte, according to the Tribune article, was somewhat murky on how exactly she wold make up the lost money, not only for DPS, but also for programs such as Veterans. She did pledge, however, not to divert money earmarked for education.

Luckily, Van de Putte does admit that her meager proposal (which Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus and even her Republican opponent, State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), have preceded her in backing) will not do enough. Incorporating the whole Highway Fund will likely only raise a fraction of the $5 Billion that state bureaucrats have suggested will be necessary to keep our roads in top shape.

For this, Van de Putte acknowledged the tough realities involving an unchanged gas tax, but stopped short of endorsing any action regarding it. Shortly thereafter, the Tribune noted that a spokesperson unequivocally ruled out raising taxes. Too bad.

Unlike some Democrats, I am not masochistic on the subject of taxation. I abhor the idea of creating a State Income Tax, and hope property taxes can one day be cut in a sizable manner. But roads cost money. As a frequent commuter between two major cities, and the venerable State Highway 71 that connects them, I rely particularly strongly on state-funded roads. They are built, maintained, repaired and expanded with tax money. And in the past 25 years, as gas mileage has shot up remarkably, the average individual has consumed far less gas. Meanwhile, as prices have risen from $1.10 in 1990 to about $3.00 today, the tax rate has stood steady at $0.20-a-galloon.

I get that being seen as pro-taxes is a poison pill in today’s political environment, so I do not fault Van de Putte’s campaign for the omission. But as the rhetoric approaches complacency regarding this issue, I hope Van de Putte and others know that, next session, they need to put every option on the table –including raising the gas tax– in order to not just repair our crumbling highways, but make them the envy of the world once more.

Texpatriate endorses for County Judge

Counties in Texas are managed by a five-person Commissioner’s Court. Four commissioners are selected from different precincts, each representing roughly a quarter of the population. The fifth member is the County Judge, elected countywide to manage the affairs of the county and preside over the commissioners’ court, though no trials.

Since 2007, the County Judgeship of Harris County has been in the capable hands of Ed Emmett. A former member of the Texas House of Representatives for four terms from 1979 to 1987, Emmett represents a seemingly dying breed of moderate Republicans. A transportation planner by trade, he has served on the Interstate Commerce Commission and understands the need for vigorous expansion of mass transit options. He has fought for Texas to assent to Obamacare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, and he is a perpetual advocate for the preservation of the Astrodome. On social issues, Emmett takes a largely moderate stance, and thinks the County should have no role in regulating or commenting upon them.

But Emmett’s greatest asset is his inimitable leadership qualities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike devastated the entire region, Emmett was a familiar face who tirelessly worked day and night to turn the lights back on and maintain normalcy in Houston. While voters have judged Emmett twice since that time, and we should really be judging his actions in the last quadrennial, his skillful leadership during the tragedy have set the stage for a constantly prepared County Judge. Emmett’s face is usually on a billboard or two every summer, with his signature phrase “Hunker Down,” and his office is one of the best prepared in the State for dealing with possible tropical cyclones.

Simply put, we believe that Emmett is our best representative on the Commissioner’s Court. He shows an understanding and a empathy for the average person to an extent nearly unheard of in today’s crop of politician. And, most importantly, he prioritizes pragmatism and big solutions over ideology and small-minded partisanship.

This was put on full display earlier this year when Emmett put his money where his mouth was, so to speak, on that front. He largely underwrote the campaign of Paul Simpson, who had challenged Jared Woodfill for Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. Woodfill was a zealot who put undue priority on divisive social issues and bullied more moderate members of the party. Simpson, with Emmett’s help, defeated Woodfill and has begun making the County Republicans arguably a little more of a “big tent” party. We are ecstatic to see it.

Emmett’s only opponent, after his Democratic adversary dropped out, is Green candidate David Collins. While he means well, even he lauds the record that Emmett has. Simply put, we think that, since the incumbent has done a good job, he should be rewarded with another term.

Unfortunately, Emmett has announced that -assuming he wins- this next term will be his past. We thoroughly hope this means that he will run for Governor in 2018. Removed from party labels, he has done wonders for Harris County. Hopefully, Texas will be next.

Accordingly, this board endorses Ed Emmett for County Judge.

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 board.