Chronicle begins Judicial endorsements

The Houston Chronicle‘s Editorial Board has begun its endorsement process for the 2014 general election, making selections in 6 Family District Court races, all of the contested ones on the ballot this November. They appeared unwilling to make any type of pronouncement on the unchallenged campaigns, but for the six ones that were, the paper of record broke overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrats. Five out of the six endorsed were Democratic challengers, three of those being over an incumbent Republican judge. The sixth race, regarding Judge Sheri Dean of the 309th District Court, saw the Chronicle stick it out with a sole Republican.

The editorials, in exceedingly bizarre fashion, appeared to focus on the experience of the Democratic challengers. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Democrats are mostly capable attorneys who would (and, hopefully, will) make good judges, but I find honing in on the candidates’ “experience” to be a rather strange reason to support them, especially considering that the Republicans are all either incumbent District Judges or have some experience as an Associate Judge. Strictly speaking, the Republicans have judicial experience and –since they and they alone control the courthouse– the Democrats don’t. Of course, I don’t think that is the only variable at play when making a judicial selection.

Furthermore, the Chronicle appears to not understand how experience works among attorneys in some important ways. As they always have, the editorial board intently honed in on which candidates were “board certified” in Family law, explicitly mentioning it multiple times. Board certifications are great ways to prove you are knowledgeable enough to seek specialization in your particular field, but the label is not for everyone. You generally are not board certified in multiple disciplines, which disqualifies attorneys wishing to diversify or those who may just functionally have to if self-employed. Accordingly, harping about that point is another poor argument.

Additionally, the editorial board took issue with the Republicans outwardly advertising their support by entities such as the National Rifle Association or anti-abortion and anti-LGBT groups, going out their way to specifically lambast Republican candidates for it on multiple occasions. I certainly agree that such divisive political points should have no place in the court system, but the Chronicle’s indignation appears somewhat overblown.

Just off the top of my head, I know two of the Democratic candidates outwardly tout their arguably non-Judicial endorsements. Barbara Stalder, the Democrat for the 280th District Court, proudly presents her endorsement by the GLBT Caucus on her website. Jim Evans, the Democrat for 308th District Court, does the same with the AFL-CIO. Now, does this mean I disagree with them on seeking and advertising the endorsement? Certainly not. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, meaning the Republicans are similarly justified to advertise their anti-LGBT or anti-abortion views in a campaign.

But this isn’t about experience or outward political positions, it’s about integrity. All too often, it appears that the (all Republican) incumbent Judges set aside justice, fairness and equity. As Greg Enos of The Mongoose has remained particularly vigilant in reporting, far too many Judges are allegedly complicit in handing out lucrative ad litem appointments to their buddies, and some of the Judges once even were on the receiving ends of the sweetheart deals. The old adage may have been that the 1994 election, in which incumbent Democratic judges were tossed out of office in favor of their Republican competitors, merely replaced corruption with incompetence. But now, the Republicans have appeared to create a layer of corruption themselves.

Equivocating ever so slightly in favor of Democrats because of empty platitudes about experience is not the type of wakeup call that the people of Houston need in order to clean house down at the family courts. When the Chronicle editorial board makes an exceedingly asinine statement like “[Judge James Lombardino] has done a fine job in his first term,” it only demonstrates their startling ignorance on any of the activities going on down there. Are you kidding me? Has anyone from the newspaper ever even been to the Family Courthouse?

Speaking with those attorneys who regularly do business before his court, it appears that Lombardino –Judge of the 308th District Court– allegedly holds an unusual prejudice against women, cemented by what has been described as a terribly outdated role of the family. I was referred to one case where Lombardino went out of his way to railroad over the independent judgment of an ad litem (who, by the way, is one of the Democratic candidates for a Family Court) in order to take a child away from her mother (and give her to the father, whom had not seen the child since birth). The apparent offense in this case was that the mother once tested positive for marijuana. Unfortunately, I confirmed this was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger, disturbing pattern.

But you’ll never hear that from the Chronicle.

As for the decision to not highlight uncontested races, I would be a huge hypocrite for being critical of that, but it is worth noting that some of the unopposed Republican judges have muddy pasts as well. Judge Lisa Millard of the 310th District Court is a sterling example of this. She is infamous in many circles for not only placing a murky temporary restraining order on the City’s recent spousal benefits policy, but getting entangled in a rather heartless child support case.

There are some good reasons to vote Democratic for Family Court judges in Harris County this year; hopefully, I have delineated a few. But the watered down platitudes from the newspaper are not among them.

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Chronicle reprimands Cruz

A year ago, the Houston Chronicle endorsed Ted Cruz for the US Senate. While the editorial largely felt like a reluctant admittance that Cruz was guaranteed a win, this did not prevent the paper from endorsing Keith Hampton’s insurmountable and futile bid to defeat Sharon Keller as presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. All in all, the endorsement was the Chronicle’s biggest dabble in unmitigated idiocy in a very long time.

I don’t want to tell the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, ‘I told you so,’ but…well, actually, I do. I told you so. Ted Cruz, who perhaps gets most of his hate nowadays from mainstream Republicans, is the most dangerous Government official who holds office in this country. Accordingly, I was pleased to see a harsh repudiation of Ted Cruz in this morning’s Chronicle Editorial.

The editorial, which is titled “Why we miss Kay Bailey Hutchison,” lambasted Cruz for being “part of the problem.” The editorial also took a swipe at Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, call his lurch to the right “painful to watch.”

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More Chronicle endorsements

About a week ago, the Chronicle fielded its first two municipal endorsements: in District D and the Controller’s race. In the days since, the paper has made selections in seven more races, including three bitterly contested contests, not the least of which is the Mayoral election.

First, the Chronicle endorsed Jerry Davis for re-election in District B, much similar to the Texpatriate Editorial Board’s decision a couple weeks ago. The rationale was somewhat similar, a decision that Councilmember Davis had done a good job in office and should not be replaced without a good reason–one of which was not present.

Next, the paper endorsed Oliver Pennington for re-election in District G, again just as Texpatriate had earlier. The editorial, however, was painfully short on details, and seemed to be lacking a real reason to vote for Councilmember Pennington besides his incumbency. Typically, the Chronicle tries to avoid this.

The paper also continued to lob easy endorsements, such as Al Hoang for District F and Stephen Costello for At-large position #1. Texpatriate made the same recommendations, (Hoang and Costello, respectively) once again. This alignment should not be all that surprising, as all of these individuals are running with very little opposition. Accordingly, nearly everyone making endorsements will come to this conclusion.

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Chronicle endorsements in ‘D,’ Controller

The Houston Chronicle fielded its first two municipal endorsements over the weekend, which included Anthony Robinson for District D and Bill Frazer for Controller.

I have previous interviewed each of these candidates, and was somewhat impressed by their answers. That being said, the Chronicle endorsement of them really surprised me.

Starting with the post of City Controller, it is worth noting that the Chronicle endorsed Green in 2009. Though he ran unopposed in 2011, the paper also was quite content to see Green be re-elected. The similarity of the 2009 editorial compared to yesterday’s is somewhat amusing, as it includes nearly identical language on the role and responsibility of the Controller, with both noting Kathy Whitmire as the gold standard later Controllers should be measured against.

Differing itself from four years earlier, however, the Chronicle scrutinizes the office and all the responsibilities thereof. They allege that incumbent Ronald Green has not been a very effective “watchdog.” Further, the Chronicle lambasts his seemingly endless scandals over the last year. Therefore, by the process of elimination in the very uncrowded race, the Chronicle supports the challenger, Bill Frazer. Specifically, the enjoy his credentials as both a CPA and promise to be more of a watchdog.

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Rejected Letter to the Editor, Houston Chronicle

To the Editor,

In a February 26th article, “Today’s the day: Democrats launch ‘Battleground Texas’ project to end GOP dominance,” this Newspaper forgot to inquire about one perplexity of the new project among Texas Democrats: the lack of feasible candidates for office. Indeed, even if the Texas Democratic Party receives coveted funds and organizational skills from national institutions, it will not help the state party’s dreadful inability to attract and recruit an abundance of strong candidates for statewide or otherwise higher office.

Battleground Texas does not mention any specific dates on its website for the foreseen Democratic victories at the statewide level. However, if they wish to make the 2014 statewide elections competitive, they have been woefully unsuccessful thus far in finding suitable candidates to challenge Governor Perry, among others. Other incumbents such as Greg Abbott, and political newcomers such as George P. Bush, will not be easy opponents for even a well-funded Texas Democratic Party, as long as Texas Democrats are not presenting viable alternative candidates.

Why has this Newspaper not questioned the feasibility of this project, given the current lack of Democratic candidates capable of winning elections? While it is true that state fundamentals are becoming increasingly friendly to Democrats, as we have seen in recent polling which shows Governor Perry losing in a theoretical matchup against former Democratic candidate Bill White, such gains will be squandered if poor Democratic candidates are chosen which, unfortunately, looks to be the case leading into the 2014 elections.

Thank You,

N.M. Horwitz
Boston, Massachusetts

Endorsements: Civil District courts

I am surprised how well my recommendations line up with the Chronicle. Without further wait:

11th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Mike Miller. As the Chronicle noted, Miller goes out of his way to treat those who go before his bench with “courtesy and respect”.

61st: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Al Bennett.

80th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Larry Weiman. My father plays softball with Judge Weiman, and I have always noted his respectful demeanor towards the law.

125th: I break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Democrat Kyle Carter. Judge Carter seems to represent the new generation of progressives in our legal system, and I would find it a travesty of common sense to regress back to more of the old guard.

127th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat R.K. Sandhill.

129th: I  break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Michael Gomez. Judge Gomez, like Judge Carter, is simply too valuable of a new breed of jurists to give up on.

133rd: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Jaclanel McFarland. Good Democrat for a good seat.

151st: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Mike Engelhart. Also a softball compadre of my dad, the amount I have interacted with Judge Engelhart, he seems to bring a sense for rightness and justice to the bench that Republican judges have been bankrupt in.

152nd: I endorse the incumbent, Robert Schaffer. As the Chronicle pointed out, Judge Schaffer commands huge respect from the attorneys in his courtroom.

164th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Alexandra Smoots-Hogan.

165th: I break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Democrat Josephina Rendon. Judge Rendon has done just as good of a job as her contemporaries in fulfilling an honorable term of office. The Chronicle, however, breaks to endorse the old, Republican incumbent who had held office until 2008. Judge Ray was part of the problem, and I do not want to go back.

215th: I endorse my first Republican of the year, Ken Shortreed. This is more of protest vote than anything else, I hold very little respect for Elaine Palmer after the way her campaign treated Judge Kirkland. She didn’t just break the 11th commandment, she DESTROYED it. Since it would be somewhat disrespectful to write-in my yellow dog, I will be voting for Shortreed.

333rd: I endorse the incumbent, Republican Tad Halbach. Judge Halbach seems to have a reputation to lawyers in Houston of being somewhat fair and judicious and his Democratic opponent doesn’t even seem to have a webpage.

334th: I break with the Chronicle to endorse Democrat Donna Roth. Incumbent Ken Wise always seems to be advocating extremist, tea party statements on his facebook page, which I really have no tolerance for. Donna Roth isn’t a newcomer to political campaigns.