Texpatriate’s Questions for James Horwitz

Editorial note: This is the twenty-fourth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
JH: Two issues-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
JH: (1) I bring knowledge and information to the general public about estate planning and the probate court. To that end, I have spoken to many groups on this topic. As I mentioned above, I want individuals to use self reliance and simple actions in order to maximize their decision making on their own well being and estates so that the government role’s is minimized as to determining the most personal decisions in a person’s life.

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

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

Texpatriate’s Questions for Barbara Gardner

Editorial note: This is the twenty-third 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/Gardner%20Photo%20%231.jpg?accountId=2153885000000008001&msgId=2153885000001466001&filePath=2153885000001466001_attach_1&isOutbox=false&mode=mail

Barbara Gardner, Democratic candidate for the 234th District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
BG: Barbara Gardner

T: What office are you seeking?
BG: 234th Civil 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.
BG: For three years I was elected President of the Harris County chapter of the Texas Democratic Women (“TDWHarris’). In 2009 I single-handedly revived TDWHarris, which had become defunct, and I am still a member of TDWHarris. The mission of TDW is to encourage more women to take leadership roles in society, to provide education on women’s rights, and to encourage women to become involved in the political process, wherever it best fits their personal circumstances. President of TDWHarris is not necessarily a public office, but it is political and therefore relevant to this question.

T: What is your political party?
BG: Democrat

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
BG: There are quite a few cases with which I disagree with actions taken by my opponent, based on my review of the Harris County District Clerk’s records. The most blatant mismanagement of his docket is the continually resetting of trials. This wastes both the parties’ and taxpayers’ money. It is exceedingly time-consuming to prepare for trial. Every time that a case is reset, the lawyers go back to their other cases. When the trial setting again draws near, the lawyers must re-learn and “get under their belt” all of the details of the case that was re-set, which is repetitive, wasteful, but necessary work. One striking example is case number 2011-17650, which has eleven trial settings. That is almost unheard of. Case #2009-79721 was filed in 2009 and will not go to trial until February 2015. There are other cases that have been pending for years in the 234th District Court.

Another problem is that too frequently when requests for action by the court are filed (called “motions”), usually pertaining to interim disputes in the case, my opponent orders the lawyers to “go work it out” in the hallway. My opponent often begins by telling the lawyers that “someone is going to have to get out a checkbook,” a veiled threat of sanctions. One lawyer told me about this practice, and so I sent a paralegal to observe a morning of motion hearings. My opponent did just what I described. Lawyers generally attempt to work out their disputes, based on the rules of procedure. When they cannot, they turn to the judge for assistance. It is then the Court’s responsibility to issue a ruling on the dispute to get the case back on track and moving toward a trial date.

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?
BG: Based on the Texas Ethics Commission’s (“TEC”) regulations, I am prohibited from answering this question, as it could indicate how I might rule on an issue which could come before me as a judge.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
BG: I do. As indicated above, my opponent resets trials much too frequently, often with no reason. In one case that I reviewed, one lawyer even filed a motion to transfer to another court (which was denied) in an attempt to get his client’s case set for trial.

I was a law clerk (briefing attorney) after law school for US District Judge Carl Bue. I learned from Judge Bue how to manage a heavy trial docket, at the “knee of the master.” I will not reset trials over and over and over. While a party may need a continuance, I will not arbitrarily reset trials just because, after sufficient time for discovery, the lawyers “are not ready” – or for no reason. One or two continuances, maybe three depending on the circumstances, may be reasonable – but not ten! I learned from Judge Bue that issuing docket control orders and scheduling cases for trial with a definite, predictable trial setting causes the lawyers to get their cases ready for trial. When the cases are ready for trial, frequently the parties will settle – saving everyone money and resolving the dispute amicably.

Also as discussed above, my opponent is unable to deal adequately with interim disputes. A trial judge is something like an umpire in baseball: His/her job is to call the balls and strikes fairly. A trial judge’s job is more difficult, however, because the trial judge must study, read, and be prepared to make rulings on disputes. I will make rulings correctly, fairly – and promptly. Additionally, this removes the “gamesmanship” that frequently accompanies repetitive discovery motions. I will study; I will be prepared on the law and the facts; and I will make rulings quickly on all matters that come before me, from interim discovery disputes to motions for summary judgments. I will not impliedly threaten the parties that “someone is going to be getting out a checkbook” and send the lawyers out into the hall to “work it out.” I will issue docket control orders that are meaningful. I will not permit discovery motions to go on and on for years, wasting the parties’ and the taxpayers’ money. I will resolve the disputes and issue rulings promptly by applying the wisdom gained from my many years of trial experience and my knowledge of the rules of procedure and applicable case law.

Trial judges must spend their days at the courthouse; that is their job. District judges have no one monitoring their whereabouts, no one to account to for their time, no one to question long or frequent vacations. I will be at my desk working diligently, and I will serve the voters who elect me by holding hearings and trials as needed, ruling on motions to move the cases along, doing legal research to remain current on the law, and writing the orders and opinions needed to dispose of issues that come before me. The goal is that each party, even though he or she may lose on an issue, feels that justice has been done.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponent?
BG: My opponent first applied for appointment to the bench in 2003. He was only a five-year lawyer. For the next ten years, my opponent continued to plead for appointment until he finally obtained Perry’s favor in 2013. This is so even though my opponent had tried very few jury trials as first chair attorney. (I have my opponent’s entire file from the Governor’s office.) As the Houston Chronicle has noted, “[Governor Perry] has grown too accustomed to getting his way when it comes to making sure that virtually every key position in state government is occupied by a Perry loyalist.”[1]

Governor Perry has “staunchly pro-defendant and anti-consumer” ideals. Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett explained that “[Governor Perry] has chosen judges who reflect his judicial philosophy, which Willett described as ‘unabashedly conservative.’ And he said that Perry understands the importance of judicial appointments. “[2]

My opponent has the solid conservative credentials that Governor Perry requires for his judicial appointments. My opponent was a member of and chaired the membership committee for Houston’s “R Club.” The R Club is a political action committee whose members are committed to “taking individual and collective responsibility for promoting a conservative agenda in Houston and the State of Texas.”[3] He was a member of the Maverick PAC, which also “promotes conservative principles.”[4] In 2012 he was a “surrogate speaker” for Governor Perry in Iowa when Perry attempted to run for president. Then – finally my opponent was named judge in November 2012.

Everything I have, I have earned through my own hard work, while my opponent became a Perry loyalist to receive his judicial appointment in return. Governor Perry continues to ignore the constitutional requirement that state judges be elected, thus stacking the bench with Republicans. As a result, our citizens do not have the balanced courts that ensure fairness. We need fair and even-handed judges to achieve justice in Harris County.

Among my opponent’s contributors are the Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC and Texas Conservative View PAC. Support by these conservative PACs further underscores the conservative bent by my opponent – in keeping with Governor Perry’s appointment requirements.

Writers say that this trend of money spent by PACs is being bolstered dramatically by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. “The real takeaway here is that we’ve turned the word bribery into the more respectable word, contribution.” [5] A study in Time magazine reported:

“Much is said abouthow much influence big-money interests have with the White House and Congress. But people are not talking about how big money is also increasingly getting its way with the courts, which is too bad. It’s a scandal that needs more attention. A blistering new report details how big business and corporate lobbyists are pouring money into state judicial elections across the country and packing the courts with judges who put special interests ahead of the public interest.”

Cohen, “Judges Are For Sale – and Special Interests Are Buying,” Time Magazine, October 31, 2011.[6]

All of this further emphasizes the problem with Governor Perry’s system of appointing judges who then become the “incumbents.” Lawyers and law firms tend to support an incumbent, no matter his/her qualifications. Lawyers in Harris County have told me outright that it is their firm’s policy always to support the incumbent. This makes a challenge by an outsider – again, no matter the qualifications – extremely difficult.

Harris County citizens should vote for me because, one, I am considerably more qualified and experienced for the position of civil district judge than my appointed opponent; two, I am more organized and experienced in trial matters and can better manage the caseload than my appointed opponent. (I know this because I have studied my opponent’s docket of cases online in the Harris County District Clerk’s records.) And, three, I have the patience and judicial temperament that it takes to be a good trial judge.

T: What role do you think a Civil District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Civil District Courts should have as a whole?
BG: As stated above in more detail, the job of a district judge is to preside over the interim disputes while the parties are preparing for trial. This disputes generally involve disagreements between the lawyers as to how the rules of procedure should be applied. Also, the district judge rules on dispositive motions, such as motions for summary judgment, which would prevent the case from going to trial. Those are critical rulings because granting a dispositive motion is inherently denying a party his/her 7th Amendment right to a trial by jury. Those motions should be granted only in exceptional situations.

After the discovery of facts has been accomplished, the case is set for trial. During the trial the judge rules on what evidence is relevant for the jury to hear and what is not. Incorrect rulings on evidence sometimes will prevent the jury from ever hearing true facts of what occurred. Judges can sway the outcome of the case in these rulings. The trial judge also rules on motions by the parties to take certain actions, such as to dismiss the case without the jury ever getting a chance to deliberate. I have seen many incumbent judges dismiss cases in the middle of the trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge summarizes the law for the jury to follow in its deliberations in a document called the “Court’s Charge to the Jury.” This is another very critical point at which the judge can sway the jury’s decision by how he/she words the explanation of the law, or even omits important points of law that the jury should know.

Rulings by the Judge of the 234th District Court and other district courts affect all Harris County residents, even those who are never involved in a lawsuit. Decisions by these courts are the beginning of binding precedents that other Texas courts must follow. If a district court case is appealed, the appellate court can affirm or reverse the ruling.   The appellate court’s written opinion, which started in the district court, then becomes binding law throughout the State of Texas. An appellate court often can be influenced by how the decision was written by the district judge. So, the decisions of our district courts form the crucial starting point of the civil justice system for Texas citizens.

Only when a judge applies the law correctly, fairly and equally will the parties receive justice. After 30 years of trying cases, I can say that justice is sorely lacking in our Harris County courts. We need a change. I promise that when I am elected, I will apply the law correctly, fairly, and equally to everyone because – justice matters.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
BG: Since our State Constitution requires election of state judges by our citizens (which is one reason why I oppose Governor Perry’s established appointment system), the election of judges likely will continue for the foreseeable future. It would be possible to convert this into a non-partisan election similar to our municipal elections or, similar to other states, place judges’ names on a separate ballot at election time without a “D” or “R” beside the names. This process would encourage voters to research the qualifications of judicial candidates and elect the most qualified. That would have to come from the Texas Legislature, however. Based on past history, the Republican-dominated Legislature likely will not make any changes.

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?
BG: As above, I cannot give any indication on how I might rule on any issue, based on the TEC regulations. However, I can comment on improvements that are needed in the 234th Civil District Court.

First, Perry’s appointment system has gone “under the radar.” Voters have no idea that Perry is placing his “loyalists” on the bench, many who are not particularly qualified to be judges but who are very difficult to unseat. This system is well planned and thought-out, and it defeats our State’s mandate to elect the most qualified jurists. To the detriment of consumers and small business, we continue to see “Perry loyalists” who are pro-defendant, anti-consumer, and stalwart conservatives. This must change.

Second, as discussed more fully above, my opponent has demonstrated that he does not have the experience in the courtroom to manage a heavy trial docket. Trials should not be reset over and over, especially for no reason, as my opponent does. Delay benefits the large corporations. I know because I have represented corporations, and their mantra generally is to delay any progress of the case. That is because over time critical witnesses, who may testify against the corporation, forget, become disinterested, move – or worse, die. This has happened to me, and so I know of this process firsthand. Also discussed above, the motion practice should be more organized, with reasonable deadlines for filing any discovery or non-dispositive motion. I learned from Judge Bue that issuing docket control orders and scheduling cases for trial with a definite, predictable trial setting causes the lawyers to get their cases ready for trial. A reasonable docket control order will have deadlines for all critical events in the case, including a deadline for any discovery motions. Lawyers and their clients need to work diligently to prepare their cases for trial, which includes gathering the relevant facts through the discovery process. They also must have reasonable time periods and deadlines for completing the discovery process, deadlines that are enforced by the judge. Then when the cases are ready for trial, frequently the parties will settle – saving everyone money and resolving the dispute amicably.

Third, too many Harris County District Judges grant the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, which is documented in the District Clerk’s records. This is to the distinct disadvantage of the consumer and small business person, and benefits the large corporations. Granting summary judgment should be the absolute exception. Every party has a right to his/her “day in court,” which means a trial decided by a jury of their peers. That is our Constitutional right, and it should be held sacred.

CITATIONS

[1] http://www.chron.com/opinion/editorials/article/Abuse-of-power-5692132.php

[2]   http://www.texastribune.org/2011/08/12/supreme-court-elected-bears-perrys-stamp/

[3]   http://www.rclub.us

[4] https://www.facebook.com/MaverickPACHouston/info?ref=page_internal

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roseanne-barr/campaign-finance_b_1860855.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=090612&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

[6] http://ideas.time.com/2011/10/31/judges-are-for-sale-and-special-interests-are-buying/

 

 

Texpatriate’s Questions for Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez, member of the Texas House of Representatives

Texpatriate: What is your name?
MP: Mary Ann Perez

T: How long have you held this post? What number term are you seeking?
MP: Since 2012 – 2 years. I am currently seeking my second term.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
MP: HCC Board Chair – 2009 to 2012
State Representative of District 144 – 2012 to current

T: What is your political party?
MP: Democrat

T: Please describe a bill that you have introduced, which has later become law. What did it accomplish, what were its purposes? If no such bill exists, please do the same for an amendment.
MP: I authored HB 2712 which relates to energy storage and can be utilized to alleviate air pollution by reducing emission excursions within the petrochemical industry. Today, electrical power grids distribute electricity throughout the refineries. During peak usage, refineries experience electrical frequency fluctuations and at times total black-out periods, which in turn cause the facilities to release emissions. Storing electricity during non-peak times will allow the grid sufficient energy to distribute during peak times with less frequency fluctuations to reduce emission excursions. Energy storage is a relatively new technology and is rapidly expanding in other areas of the country. I strongly believe this bill will serve as a great benefit to our district and the well-being of the individuals of southeast Harris County. Governor Perry signed HB 2712 into law, effective January 1, 2014.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
MP: I hope my first term in the Texas Legislature has earned me the support of the voters of District 144. As a freshman I was able to pass legislation and used key committees assignments to improve the economy of East Harris County.

T: What role do you think a Texas Representative should have?
MP: The Texas House of Representatives is the people’s voice in state government. We represent the smallest district and are elected every two years — we’re the closest to the voters and it’s up to us to voice the concerns of our constituents.

T: Would you support the continued speakership of Joe Straus? Would you support Rep. Scott Turner’s candidacy?
MP: Given the choice between Speaker Straus and Tea Partier Turner, I would vote for Straus.

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?
MP: 1.Public education – voted to increase funding to public schools

2. Workforce training – working with local industry and education leader to match skill-training with available jobs.

3. Affordable healthcare – voted for and continue to fight to take advantage of federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid.

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’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.

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>.

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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’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.