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.

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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 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 endorses in District Criminal Courts

In addition to the 15 County Criminal Courts that cover all level of misdemeanor offenses throughout the area, Harris County is also represented by 22 Criminal District Courts, all with jurisdiction over felony offenses. Of those 22 courts, 13 are up for election this November for four year terms. Among those courts, 8 featured contested elections. Much like our deliberations with the lower-level criminal courts, this board is skeptical of the total dominance that longtime Judges who are overwhelmingly former prosecutors have on the judiciary. Simply put, these courts need more individuals with backgrounds in defense work to be on the bench. It offers a fresh perspective but it also ensures we have arbiters of the law who indeed still believe in the presumption of innocence.

We also have some big problems with the way that many — if not most — of these Judges handle their grand jury systems. Using the venal “key man” option, these grand juries often serve as little more than rubber stamps for the prosecution. The Judges have failed in reigning in or otherwise regulating these processes at all.

Furthermore, we would be remiss if we opined in these elections without reiterating our total opposition to capital punishment. The barbaric, inefficient and capricious procedure is a stain upon our criminal justice system. Recognizing its continued popularity, we have been hard-stretched to find any candidates willing to openly stand against it. However, we believe that — on the whole — the Democratic challengers are more reasonable on this issue than the incumbents, all of whom are Republicans. We think that the Democratic candidates would be more prudent in allowing the penalty to be administered, though we recognize this power is largely delegated to prosecutors and the jury.

The issues of the most importance to us are neutrality, fairness and the compassion of the jurist. Like the county courts, we are looking for candidates who would not intend to prosecute from the bench, so to speak, or otherwise meddle in agreements between parties.

In five courts, the Republican incumbent Judges are unopposed. In the 228th District Court, Judge Marc Carter is seeking a third term. Carter has been a remarkably talented and commendable jurist, neutral and fair. Voters should feel particularly accomplished voting to re-elect him. Judges Jeannine Barr (182nd District), Vanessa Velasquez (183rd District), Mike McSpadden (209th District) and Mary Lou Keel (232nd District), meanwhile, have been qualified and experienced Judges, though we maintain some reservations about the partiality of their record in office. We recommend votes of confidence for them nonetheless, despite our misgivings.

180th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Catherine Evans, a Republican and a longtime prosecutor, is a relatively new sight on the bench. Appointed by Governor Rick Perry to office last year, she is running for her first term in office. Accordingly, Evans’ record is a little too short to examine with much rigor. What we do know is that she would bring the same trite mindset of a prosecutor to yet another bench. She has been a pretty good Judge. However, we think her opponent is also particularly well qualified for this post.

Rand Roll, a Democrat, served as a Criminal District Judge from 2009 to 2013. He won and lost both elections as a result of partisan winds, which is a real shame, because he proved himself time and time again as a laudable Judge. A former defense attorney, he ran a tight ship, often working around the clock to reduce his docket in any way possible without sacrificing the integrity of his court at all. More specifically, this board has been impressed with actions he took to respond to new technology regarding DNA testing. Nearly every candidate and stakeholder we talked to regarding this discipline of law agree that DNA testing is a very important issue for felony courts, one that they will have to face in new ways in upcoming years.

Thus, we are left with two good candidates in Evans and Roll. On the balance, we believe that Roll’s proven judicial record is preferable to taking a chance on Evans, and we think Harris County would be better served with a former defense attorney, not a prosecutor, on the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Randy Roll for the 180th District Court.

184th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Jan Krocker was a prosecutor for many years. As far as we’re concerned, she’s practically still one. In a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, Krocker noted that she believed the role of a judge was to fight crime. Not interpret the law, not be a fair and neutral decider, but to fight crime and keep the public safe. Cursory observers of her courtroom will know that these troubling words have translated into even more troubling actions on the bench. After 20 years on the bench, Krocker all too often treats defendants with contempt and a presumption of guilt. It is a bad attitude for a judge to have, and definitely not the right one for Harris County.

While Krocker, a Republican, may tout her dedication to judicial economy, this is often done at the expense of the public’s interest in seeing fair trials and due process. On one such occasion, Krocker hurried a jury on a capital murder case to reach a verdict on a Friday afternoon, rather than allowing for a fair and more open-ended allocation of time for deliberations the following week. This is just one specific example of a long tradition of Krocker’s shenanigans in office.

Mark Thering, her Democratic opponent, is a defense attorney with a long record helping the public in Harris County. He would certainly be a qualified judge, but he would also be a compassionate and fair judge. Before Thering’s long record as an attorney, he served as a Probation Officer with the county. Such experience allowed Thering to approach complex criminal justice issues from a point of empathy, not contempt. Harris County could sure use another judge like that.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mark Thering for the 184th District Court.

185th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Susan Brown, a Republican, has almost everything going for her that lead us to not endorse Krocker in the aforementioned contest. The only difference is, she is not so brash as to utter her true feelings in public. But make no mistake, we believe Brown’s tenure as judge has been marred by prosecuting from the bench, unfairly entangling herself within deliberations and maintaining a worldview of contempt toward defendants in her court. She’s not right for Harris County, and the county indeed deserves better.

We also take exception with Brown’s method of grand jury selection. Brown, more so perhaps than any other Judge, is a passionate advocate for the corrupt “pick-a-pal” system, in which a Judge appoints a friend who in turn selects more friends to empanel a grand jury. These grand juries serve as glorified rubber stamps for prosecutors, and completely neglect their constitutional responsibility to consider the evidence against the accused to prevent frivolous persecution. It was also in Brown’s court that the infamous “Runaway Grand Jury” was seated that inappropriately and dishonestly defamed District Attorney Pat Lykos in the midst of her re-election campaign.

Her Democratic opponent, Mack McInnis, is a fine defense attorney who desperately needs to be elected to the bench. Harris County would benefit from his nearly unmatched legal acumen, as well as his compassionate and well-tempered ideas on both grand juries and pre-trial release programs. He would be tough, but fair and reasonable. Harris County would gain an invaluable asset with a Judge named McInnis.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mack McInnis for the 185th District Court.

208th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Denise Collins, who has served in office for more than 20 years, has a positive record as a Judge. We have some hesitation regarding certain parts of her record; overall, though, she’s been a good asset for the county in office. A former defense attorney, Collins, a Republican, brings a unique perspective to the District Courts. She is fair, knowledgeable and often works together with both prosecutors and defense attorneys to craft consensus benefiting the entire community.

Collins is part of an old guard of attorneys, one who is not merely obsessed with scoring points at Republican fundraisers or the like. She actually cares to serve the county that elected her, working diligently and honestly often under the radar.

Additionally, Collins’ Democratic opponent is not a good fit for Criminal Courts. Chuck Silverman has very little experience in criminal law and, while he has some good ideas, we are uneasy about supporting such a novice. While it is true that we endorsed a candidate in a similar predicament yesterday, the District Courts are simply a whole different animal. Rather than being a court with a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail, these courts quite literally deal with matters of life and death. It is just too risky to take a chance on someone without the requisite experience.

Accordingly, this board endorses Denise Collins for the 208th District Court.

230th DISTRICT COURT
First appointed to the bench by Perry last year, Judge Brad Hart has barely been in office a year. In that capacity, he hasn’t quite developed a reputation one way or another. Yet another former prosecutor, we will give him the benefit of the doubt that he has been fair and ethical while in office. If you are merely concerned about keeping calm in the courtroom and minimizing change, vote for Hart. If you think that Harris County can raise its standards though, there is another option.

Greg Glass is Hart’s Democratic opponent. A magnificent defense attorney, all those who have ever spent any time whatsoever at the Criminal Justice Center will be familiar with his abilities in and out of the courtroom. Experienced, qualified and compassionate, he would arguably be one of the best Judges Harris County has if elected. He strongly urge the voters of this county to make that a reality.

Accordingly, this board endorses Greg Glass for the 230th District Court.

248th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Katherine Cabanaiss, much like Evans and Hart, has only been on the bench for about a year. A former prosecutor, she has done a passable job on the bench and voters should definitely be hard pressed to pass her up for another term. But, not to sound trite, much like all of these other benches, Harris County would be well-served with a Judge who has experience on the other side of the courtroom.

Shawna Reagin, the Democratic opponent, delivers on these qualities. A longtime defense attorney, she also has years of experience both teaching the law and helping the representation of the indigent. Reagin also served as Criminal District Judge from 2009 to 2013, where she ran one of the more impressive benches in all the courthouse, a model of efficiency, ethics and compassion. She would be a great Judge, just as she already was for a quadrennial.

Harris County has an easy choice. Either more of the same or a throwback to one of the more impressive chapters of Harris County Criminal law in recent memory. Yet another prosecutor or a defense attorney. Another politician seeking to move up the ladder or a dedicated public servant striving to make the community a better place by providing justice for the accused. We think the choice is crystal clear.

Accordingly, this board endorses Shawna Reagin for the 248th District Court.

262nd DISTRICT COURT
Judge Denise Bradley, a Republican first appointed to this post in 2011 by Perry, will be seeking her first full term in November. All in all, we think that Bradley has been a pretty fair judge. She tries to adjudicate cases neutrally and pragmatically, without any of the politics. On most issues of law, our concerns have largely been placated.

Contrarily, our valid concerns with Bradley stem from a big ethical issue a couple years ago. In 2012, a good friend of hers, Mike Anderson, who at the time was running for District Attorney, filmed a commercial in her courtroom. He did this after “asking her,” not going through the legal mechanism needed for non-official use of a courtroom. The kerfuffle lead to David Jennings, a prominent conservative blogger, among others, opining she had perhaps violated state judicial conduct rules. While perhaps her interpretation of the law have not been marred by politics, we have some serious questions as to her ethics as a Judge.

Jules  Johnson, the Democratic opponent, would stand apart as a very ethical and sensible alternative. A one-time prosecutor who then went into private practice, he has seen both sides of the criminal justice process in a unique way. Furthermore, when speaking on his campaign priorities, Jules argues that the role of a Judge is to be a “neutral and fair arbiter of the law.” We completely agree. All those who personally know or have practiced alongside Jules can attest that he would, indeed, be such an arbiter.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jules Johnson for the 262nd District Court.

263rd DISTRICT COURT
Herb Ritchie served as a criminal district judge from 2009 to 2013, when he was regrettably defeated for re-election because of partisan sweeps. He was, in our opinion, the best Criminal Judge without exception in Harris County during his terms of service. With unmatched intellect, problem-solving abilities, ethics, pragmatism and compassion, Rithcie presents all of the qualities desperately needed in a criminal judge. Harris County made a huge mistake losing him as a judge, one they desperately need to correct.

Ritchie, a Democrat, seeks out rehabilitation and not just punishment for those accused before his court. He has worked tirelessly in reducing the overcrowding of jails and keeping all those possible out of them. He has been an effective advocate for competent representation for the indigent as well. Ritchie has even been one of Harris County’s best advocates for saving taxpayer money while in office.

For all these reasons, it is most important that voters absolutely restore Ritchie to the bench. But the decision is easier given that the Republican incumbent, Jim Wallace, has a reputation for prosecuting from the bench. Compared to Ritchie, Wallace simply lacks the compassion or mindset to be that good of a judge. He is obviously not the right choice.

Accordingly, this board endorses Herb Rithcie for the 263rd 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 of the voting board.