Texpatriate’s Questions for Herb Ritchie

Editorial note: This is the seventh 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>.

 Herb Ritchie

Herb Ritchie, Democratic candidate for the 263rd Criminal District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
HR: Herb Ritchie

T: What office are you seeking?
HR: Judge, 263rd Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
HR: Judge, 337th Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas; January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012.

T: What is your political party?
HR:Democrat.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
HR: Offenders serving a sentence for a state jail felony currently do not earn good conduct time for time served. However, as previous Judge of the 337th Criminal District Court, I told defendants at sentencing that I would award maximum diligent participation credit for diligent participation in programs such as work, education, and/or treatment. My rationale was that this would (1) save taxpayer money since less jail space would required; (2) encourage defendants to better themselves through education and treatment for substance abuse; (3) discourage inmate fighting and abuse toward jailers, lest the time credit be lost. The incumbent to my knowledge has not, and does not award diligent participation credit.

T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
HR: The dockets in Harris County continue to grow larger each year with no additional courts being created to handle the ever burgeoning population. I will support requests for the creation of more criminal district courts. In the meantime, I will continue to work diligently, just as I did previously, to insure that every defendant receives a prompt, full and fair hearing and/or trial.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
HR: I think it is more appropriate to set forth the positives of my candidacy rather than to speak negatively of the incumbent. The voters will make this judgment in the upcoming election.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
HR: My qualifications are as follows:

U.T. honor graduate (B.A. 1967, with honors; M.A. 1969; J.D. 1974, with honors); Phi Beta Kappa (Honorary Academics Achievement); Phi Delta Phi (Honorary Legal Achievement); Eta Sigma Phi (Honorary Classics Achievement); past teacher/instructor of Classics at U.T.-Austin and Baylor University; Teacher’s Award Mortgages; third highest grade, Texas Bar Examination; past counsel Texas Real Estate Commission and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., past managing partner, Ritchie & Glass, Law Firm; experienced in both civil and criminal cases and appellate procedure; Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1987 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; member: Houston Bar Association, College of the State Bar of Texas. Licensed to practice in all Texas Courts, Southern, Western and Eastern District of Texas, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court. Elected Judge 337th Criminal District Court, 2009-2012.

T: What role do you think a Criminal District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Criminal District Courts should have as a whole?
HR: Individually a Criminal District Judge should exhibit patience, judicial temperament and demeanor. The role requires the highest degree of integrity and the treatment of all persons fairly, equally and respectfully. The Criminal District Courts as a whole should promote faith, confidence in and respect for the American criminal justice system.

T: What role do you believe a Judge should have in plea bargains? Do you think a Judge should ever veto an agreement between the District Attorney and Defense Attorneys?
HR: The Judge should normally let the attorneys for the State and defense agree upon the appropriate disposition of a case based upon the facts, evidence, and criminal history of the defendant. A Judge should veto a plea bargain only when there appears to be a miscarriage of justice, should the plea bargain be followed.

T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
HR: For the non-violent drug offender, treatment is preferable to incarceration. This saves taxpayer money by reserving prison space for violent offenders such as rapists, child sex offenders, robbers, murderers, etc.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
HR: I believe in the partisan election of judges for the following reasons: (1) appointed judges are often likely to suffer from “black robe disease” or “robitis”, and even with retention elections, it can be difficult to dislodge an unfit, arrogant judge; (2) judges need to be accountable to the electorate rather than be chosen by a few political insiders; (3) in large counties such as Harris, it is impossible to know all the individual candidates, and party label often gives some clue about a candidate; (4) non-partisan elections are more likely to produce winners with common, familiar-sounding or likeable names; (5) the political parties themselves will often screen out unqualified candidates through various party group endorsements and primary contests. While some argue that appointed judges are less susceptible to political pressure, an elected judge of good character will follow the law and not succumb to political pressure or public clamor. I realize that sometimes political sweeps can remove from office some qualified judges, and install some less qualified jurists, but the reverse is also sometimes true. In short this is a difficult and perplexing question; the answer to which, reasonable minds may differ.

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?
HR: (1) The dockets in Harris county have exploded with the burgeoning population, and the last criminal district court in Harris County was created in 1985. I have advocated for the creation of additional courts, and also for the addition of court magistrates to hear uncontested pleas and other administrative matters in order that the elected judges can spend more time trying and disposing of contested cases. Additionally, when judge of the 337th Criminal District Court, I spent long hours on the bench whenever necessary to keep the docket as current as possible.

(2) Jail overcrowding is a serious and dangerous problem. As mentioned earlier, I would give diligent participation credit to state jail prisoners. Additionally, I would try to rehabilitate non-violent substance abuse offenders in appropriate cases. I had at one time, to the best of my knowledge, more defendants on probation and deferred adjudication than any other criminal district judge in Harris County. The jail space was saved for violent offenders who were a danger to the community.

(3) Effective representation of indigent defendants is a great concern, and I used the Harris County Public Defenders Office as much as possible. This would ensure that by and large the same resources would be available to the defense of the indigent as there would be for the prosecution. There needs to be a level playing field for justice to prevail.

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The Harris County lineup

Laziness heralded the day for the Texas Democrats shooting themselves in the foot at the close of the filing deadline, but it is unbridled stupidity carrying the banner for the Harris County Democrats next year. Again, not from the leadership, but from the average people. I will post a full list at the bottom of the post, but would like to talk about a few things first.

There will be six Court of Appeals slots up for election to a 6 year term, between the seats on the 14th Court of Appeals and the 1st Court of Appeals. These elections were remarkably close in 2008, meaning that changing demographics should probably make them just as competitive –if not more– in 2014. But will they be competitive? No. Because the Democrats, once again, were too LAZY to contest half of the slots. One candidate, Jim Sharp, actually won in 2008. He will be running for re-election, and Kyle Carter, a good District Judge, will run for another post. These two men will be great candidates! Another candidate, Gordon Goodman, has filed but I do not have any info on him yet, nor do any of my attorney sources have information on him.

When it comes to District Courts in Harris County, there are a full 36 posts up for election, between Civil, Criminal, Family and Juvenile courts. In 2010, every single one of these posts had a Democratic candidate, and as I recall most every candidate was well qualified and overall competent. Only 27 of these will be contested by the Democrats this time around, including four races where Democrats will be fighting one another instead of the incumbent Republican judges.

Please click here to continue reading!

Musings on the election

First up, Congrats to President Obama! Four more years! The President won Harris County by a few hundreds votes. Democrats expand their majority in the Senate to 55 and lessen the Republican majority in the House. All fantastic news.

Statewides
Republicans keep the Railroad Commission and the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals–no surprise there. However, Keith Hampton got clobbered, which is upsetting.

Courts of Appeals
1st and 14th stay all Republican, which is not surprising.

State Senate
Wendy Davis got re-elected. The composition stays at 19-12. Mario Gallegos re-elected posthumously, which means we will see a special election.

State House
Democrats pick up six or seven seats. Composition is at 95-55. Ann Johnson was defeated, again disappointing.

County Judges
11th–Mike Miller (D) re-elected.
61st–Al Bennett (D) re-elected.
80th–Larry Weiman (D) re-elected.
125th–Kyle Carter (D) re-elected.
127th–R.K. Sandhill (D) re-elected.
129th–Michael Gomez (D) re-elected.
133rd–Jaclanel McFarland (D) re-elected.
151st–Mike Engelhart (D) re-elected.
152nd–Robert Schaffer (D) re-elected.
164th–Alexandra Smoots-Hogan (D) re-elected.
165th–Josephina Rendon (D) defeated by Elizabeth Ray (R).
174th–Ruben Guerrero (D) re-elected.
176th–Shawna Reagin (D) defeated by Stacey Bond (R).
177th–Ryan Patrick (R) re-elected.
178th–David Mendoza (D) re-elected.
179th–Randy Roll (D) defeated by Kristin Guiney (R).
215th–Elaine Palmer (D) elected. Damn.
333rd–Tad Halbach (R) re-elected.
334th–Ken Wise (R) re-elected.
337th–Herb Richie (D) defeated by Renee Magee (R). Again, damn.
338th–Hazel Jones (D) defeated by Brock Thomas (R).
339th–Maria Jackson (D) re-elected.
351st–Mark Ellis (R) re-elected.
County Court 1–Debra Mayfield (R) re-elected.
County Court 2–Theresa Chang (R) re-elected.

Of the nineteen Democratic Judges: 14 win re-election and 5 lose.
Of the six Republican Judges: 6 win re-election.
Final Tally: 14 Demorats, 11 Republicans.

County Officials
DA–Mike Anderson (R) wins. No surprise.
Sheriff–Adrian Garcia (D) re-elected. Again, no surprise.
County Attorney–Vince Ryan (D) re-elected. Great News!
Tax Collector–Mike Sullivan (R) wins. However, it is close and Bennett hasn’t conceded yet.

Referendums
METRO Prop passed, City props passed, and all the Bond measures passed.

City Council
Martin wins without a runoff.

Discussion comes later.

Endorsements: Criminal District Courts

I continue my endorsements:

174th District Court
I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Ruben Guerrero. Judge Guerrero is one of the most respectable Judges I know, filled with a level of integrity almost unheard of today. I spent some weeks last year interning at the Courthouse (not with Guerrero, or for that matter anyone running for re-election this year), and the Judge and DAs I was working under, all right-wing Republicans, had nothing but kind words to say about Guerrero and his abilities as an adjudicator of the law. I am ashamed that the Chronicle endorsed his competitor.

176th District Court
I join the Chronicle in endorsing the incumbent, Democrat Shawna Reagin. Her court is renowned for having a small docket load, sounds like a fiscal conservative to me.

177th District Court
I break with the Chronicle to endorse the competitor, Democrat Vivian King. I have not been all that impressed by Judge Patrick, but this is not an especially strong endorsement.

178th District Court
I join the Chronicle in endorsing the incumbent, Democrat David Mendoza. Judge Mendoza is one of the few Democratic Judges in our county who holds a plethora of Judicial experience, and he has been committed to undergoing a thoroughly just program on rehabilitating youthful offenders.

179th District Court
I join the Chronicle in endorsing the incumbent, Democrat Randy Roll. The Chronicle’s endorsement mentions Judge Roll’s long hours put in to reduce his caseload, but what I find most appealing is his ability to speak fluent Spanish.

337th District Court
I break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Democrat Herb Ritchie. Judge Ritchie has done an adequate job in office, but I am somewhat distressed with his competitor, a former aDA who prides herself upon being quite “law and order”. I have always held the belief that our justice system is built upon the defense of the accused, not vengeance for the victim. Accordingly, I try to rarely vote for someone whose platform involves pre-emptively throwing the book.

338th District Court
In this very weak recommendation, I join the Chronicle in endorsing the Republican, Brock Thomas. Thomas, the Judge in this capacity until 2008, is alleged by the Chronicle to have started the “drug court”, which has done wonders in nipping one-term offenses and preventing someone busted on a few ounces of pot or DWI from becoming a hardened criminal.

339th District Court
I join the Chronicle in endorsing the incumbent, Democrat Maria Jackson. Judge Jackson is yet another Democratic judge with experience, such an invaluable asset today in the courtroom.

351st District Court
I join the Chronicle in endorsing the incumbent, Republican Mark Ellis. Judge Ellis, surviving the 2008 sweep, has made an effort to move to the centre, and for that should be rewarded with another term.