Texpatriate’s Questions for Scot Dollinger

Editorial note: This is the seventeenth 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>.

Scot Dollinger, Democratic candidate for County Civil Court at Law #2

Texpatriate: What is your name?
SD: Scot Gibbons Dollinger

T: What office are you seeking?
SD: Judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
SD: None

T: What is your political party?
SD: Democrat

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by your incumbent?
SD: In Cause No. 1050447 Williams Apartments v. Tiffany Franklin the judge improperly allowed the Plaintiff (a legal entity) to be represented without an attorney. This practice is ongoing in other cases. As well, the judge is not properly following the rules for setting supercedeas bonds on appeal showing a bias in favor of landlords and not properly following the rule of law.

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?
SD: Improperly allowing legal entities to represent themselves without lawyers in county court at law. It is important because the rule of law requires legal entities in county court at law to have lawyers. As well, the law of supercedeas bonds needs to be followed. I would solve the problem by requiring all legal entities to have a lawyer absent clear authority authorizing action without counsel and I would follow the law governing supercedeas bonds.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
SD: Yes. The law is clear for not allowing legal entity representation in county court at law without counsel. Even the judge acknowledged in our Houston Chronicle interview that it was an improper practice. She said she advises legal entities that they have to have an attorney and re-sets the cases. However, in reviewing eviction court files from January 1, 2014 to date, I can find no such practice in eviction cases. I found no re-sets. I found no admonition to non-represented entities. I found no such statements in the court’s procedures. As well, there are cases where the court is ignoring pauper affidavits which directly impact the filing of supercedeas bonds. By so acting, the court is demonstrating a landlord bias against tenants. No judge should be biased. If the court is biased here, one wonders in what other ways the court is biased.

As well, the court tells lawyers in general they have 15 to 20 minutes to pick a jury in her court. Any experienced trial attorney will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury. As was stated by James Madison – “In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
SD: We need a different judge with my administrative and trial background. I have been representing individuals of all races, religions, sexual orientations and genders in civil matters my entire 25 plus year career. My opponent has not had this kind of experience. Instead, she has worked for Harris County or the City of Houston (institutions) her entire legal career giving her a certain level of bias in favor of establishment institutions. This bias is manifested in Judge Chang’s improper practice of allowing legal entities to represent themselves in County Court without a lawyer and not following the law when it comes to fairly setting supercedeas bonds in eviction cases.

This court handles eminent domain cases involving Harris County. I do not think this court should have a judge that used to work for Harris County and was appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Currently, the four civil county courts at law work independently of each other in the sense of having different procedures in each court. If elected, I would work with all the other judges to strive to have uniform procedures in all four courts to bring uniformity of procedure to all four courts and to increase predictability of outcomes.

Currently, the county courts at law are not under the JIMS computer system that manages access to county documents. All the District Courts are under JIMS. The civil county courts at law and probate courts have their own computer system for viewing documents. This method is duplication of effort. It should be noted that the criminal county courts at law are under the JIMS system. So, there is no reason not to move the rest of the county courts at law over to JIMS. As well, the county court database is not being properly used to establish a set of metrics to study the caseload of these courts. One sets metrics or gathers data in the database to measure levels of productivity. The current computer system either needs to be properly used at the encouragement of the judges or the county courts at law need to fall under the JIMS system and authority of the District Clerk in terms of case management. There is no reason for the county courts at law to be separately managed unless they are being managed in a much better way which they are not. The judges play a role in helping to cast the vision for management of these courts. Currently, the judges’ vision is lacking in my view.

Currently, the sitting judge tells lawyers via her procedures that she generally gives them 15 to 20 minutes to conduct voir dire (pick a jury). http://www.ccl.hctx.net/civil/2/procedures.htm#motions Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury to determine if they are biased or prejudiced against the case. It is illegal for lawyers to strike jurors based on race. Lawyers need the time to properly test for this problem under the Batson case law. An experienced trial lawyer like me is more sensitive to Batson violations and the need to properly question a panel and spend the time necessary to properly pick a jury.

I believe I am the person who has the best combination of administrative and court room trial skills to run an excellent court. I have handled large case loads, written programs to handle large caseloads, created database systems, tried over 40 trials and worked on over 10 appeals. This court needs an excellent administrative judge and also an excellent trial judge to be properly run so that everyone is treated fairly: Fair access to a fair forum.

T: What role do you think a County Civil Judge should have individually?

SD: Individually, a County Civil Judge should be fair minded and desire to treat everyone fairly and lead by example. He should have good temperament and be approachable. He should be decisive and efficient and at the same time be willing to give people the time they need to properly present their case. These two goals are constantly competing: 1. Resolving disputes quickly, 2. Taking the time to properly resolve disputes. We can never forget that right outcomes (justice) matters. A quickly made, wrong decision is no good. I think Leviticus 19:15 sums things up nicely: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”

T: What role do you think the County Civil Courts should have as a whole?
SD: There are four civil county courts in Harris County numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4. The county civil courts handle the following caseloads:

– 60% debt collection/contract disputes

– 17% injury cases

– 15% eviction cases

– 4% occupational licenses

– 3% eminent domain

– 1% tax and tow

All four courts should work as a unit. The judges should work together to have common practices and procedures so that the parties have common procedures regardless of the courts. These courts should be models of efficiency and due process. They should shine. Unfortunately, in my view, these courts are under-performing because they do not work as a unit and have little administrative vision to improve.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
SD: Justice is not about Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Justice is about right outcomes. Justice is about consensus building and resolving disputes fairly without bias, sympathy or prejudice. Though I am running as a Democrat, I certainly know and believe that I can and will be fair to all people regardless of their party and regardless of their political philosophies. Is the debt owed or not? Is not a political issue. Is an eviction proper or not? Is not a political issue. Therefore, I would prefer the non-partisan election of judges. But I also think with the right kind of judge, a judge can be fair whether Democrat or Republican. In my life, I have seen both.

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?
SD: Legal Entities Not Having Lawyers

I have brought attention to the issue of improperly allowing legal entities to not have lawyers in county court at law. I have brought this problem to the attention of the Houston Chronicle and bar leaders. I have documented the improper practice. I am running for office to fix this problem. I will put an end to the practice if elected.

Allowing Only 15 to 20 Minutes to Pick a Jury

I have brought attention to the issue of only allowing 15 to 20 minutes to select a jury. I have brought this problem to the attention of the Houston Bar Association. I am running for office to fix this problem. I will put an end to the practice if elected.

Under-utilization of Database Management Systems

I have also retrieved database information from the county court at law database managers and confirmed that the software is being under-utilized. I am prepared to move forward with a better system: either shift over to the District Clerks office JIMS system or improve the county court at law’s system by entering metric data. I also have discussed these issues with past clerks of the court to confirm that there is a better way. Fundamentally, one has to ask whether one wants a caretaker like the present judge with limited vision or an innovator like me with my skill set and vision for making these courts shine. I have the gift for administration and excellent trial skills. I am very comfortable in a court room. My website is www.dolli4judge.com Thank you for taking the time to read these materials and consider voting for me.

 

Texpatriate’s Questions for Kim Hoesl

Editorial note: This is the sixteenth 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>.

Kim Hoesl, Democratic candidate for Harris County Probate Court #1

Texpatriate: What is your name?
KH: My name is Kim Bohannon Hoesl.

T: What office are you seeking?
KH: I am the Democratic candidate for judge of Harris County Probate Court No. One.

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

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

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
KH: I cannot answer this question for a number of reasons. First, in the probate courts, the actual filings in cases have only become publicly available in the last few weeks. Prior to that, it was simply not possible to readily access all the written pleadings and orders in a case, even if they were all publicly available. Second, as a judicial candidate, I cannot prejudge situations. Until the facts are presented to me in accordance with the law, I cannot state what my decision would be in any given situation, other than to say I would follow the law. Similarly, I cannot state whether I would rule differently in a given situation.

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?
KH: I see a significant issue on the horizon with the subject of ad litem appointments. In our probate bar, there is a definite impression of what some may call “cronyism.” In other words, the small probate bench and the small probate bar are very familiar with each other.

Harris County probate courts employ an appointment system for the appointment of ad litem attorneys in certain cases. The informal nature of the system and the familiarity of the bench and bar do not promote much confidence in the impartiality or fairness of the system. Instead, this situation invites the perception that the judges and the attorneys are too cozy, often using the appointments as rewards. When a litigant sees the attorneys in their dispute in cozy conversation with the bench, or learns that the opposing attorney handles many appointments from the court, it is not surprising that the litigant may believe the deck is already stacked against them.

Regardless of whether actual favoritism exists, it is the appearance of favoritism that is a problem. I bring independence to the bench because my background is from outside the probate bar. I stand apart from those attorneys and from the alliances among them. I intend to fulfill the role of the impartial justice, beholden to no lawyer or firm, relying solely upon the law and the facts. For appointments, I will endeavor to develop a selection system based on the needs of the litigant and the qualifications of the attorney, and nothing else. I believe that is the only way that justice can be served.

When I worked in the Administrative Office of the District Courts in the 1990s, one of my job functions was to implement and run a system to qualify attorneys for criminal appointments. At that time, the District Courts were concerned with having qualified attorneys available for indigent defendants and with eliminating the perceived, and perhaps real, bias in using appointments to reward judicial supporters.

This is a very real problem in the family courts even today, and the probate courts are not immune to these same concerns. I intend to develop a database-system, hopefully in conjunction with the other probate Courts, where information on attorneys seeking ad litem appointments can be maintained in a way that the Court can access randomly-selected, qualified attorneys for any particular case.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
KH: I am running for judge of Probate Court No. One because I have the experience, skills, independence, and knowledge needed to bring fairness and justice to the probate bench. I am not running against the incumbent; I simply believe I am the better candidate for the job.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KH: I have practiced civil and commercial litigation, including in the probate context, for over ten years. My practice involves a diverse range of cases including fiduciary litigation (for example, suits against corporate officers and directors, suits by and against executors and trustees), contract disputes, intellectual property disputes (trade secrets, copyright infringement), business divorce, personal injury, and, of course, probate and trust litigation.

My experience includes the full range of litigation activity, beginning with investigation, drafting pleadings, managing discovery, conducting depositions, working with experts, selecting juries, managing trials, and following through with appeals. I have argued legal issues before trial courts and probate courts, before the First Court of Appeals, and before the Texas Supreme Court. Finally, my practice includes transactional matters such as business filings, will drafting, probating wills, and working with executors and trustees.

In my experience, the first thing a client wants is an estimate of their chances of winning in a particular dispute. As their attorney, one of my jobs is to evaluate the facts and the law as they apply to the dispute, and then provide some information on the client’s position so that the client may make an informed decision in their case. In order to do that, however, I have to assume that the judge will listen to the facts, will know the law, and will fairly and justly apply the law to those facts. In practice, this assumption is far too often wrong. I am running to correct that, and to provide a fair forum for litigants to have their cases heard.

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?
KH: When a litigant comes to the probate court, they are usually dealing with very intimate and personal family matters that involve loss, grief, and pain. Perhaps a loved one has recently passed away and their estate needs to be settled. Perhaps a beloved parent has reached a point where they can no longer take care of themselves, and a guardianship is needed. These events in our lives are difficult enough, even when there is no dispute involved.

However, if there is a dispute, such as a family member contesting the will or claiming that an executor breached a fiduciary duty, we end up with a very different scenario. Now, the pain of this family loss is drawn out in a legal battle that strains family relationships and drains family budgets. Here is where the kind of judge on the bench can make a huge difference in the justice that the litigants receive. An experienced probate judge can shepherd the dispute effectively, ensuring that the law is upheld and that justice is served in a timely and efficient manner. A judge with little litigation experience, on the other hand, can prolong the already-too long process, increase the family trauma, and essentially deny the litigants any effective resolution.

I also believe the Court should keep open lines of communication with the community. There is a need to ensure that all people know the justice system belongs to everyone, not just a chosen few. It is important that people understand the need to execute wills and other documents to protect their interests. To the extent permitted, I would like the Court to be a resource for information and education in this area.

T: Would role do you think mandatory mediation should have in Probate law?
KH: Because mediation can be a very useful tool, saving litigants both time and money, I would encourage litigants to consider mediation. However, I am not likely to require it in all cases because there are some cases where mediation simply will not be effective.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
KH: I am a fan of the election of judges. Our democratic process depends on the involvement of our citizens. Electing judges is one way to get them involved. However, I am also a supporter of term limits for judges. Every practicing attorney has at least one experience with a judge who has been on the bench so long that the judge has decided he or she knows better than the law. Once a judge has turned cynical, he or she is no longer capable of hearing the facts with unbiased ears. When a judge is unwilling to listen to the facts of a case, or is convinced of their own knowledge as to which side should win or lose, there can be no justice.

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?
KH: I presume that the scope of this question is not limited to the bench or even to the practice of law. One issue very important to me is education. Education was my saving grace, giving me opportunities I otherwise would not enjoy. I want all children to have the same opportunities. To that end, I try to be involved in my children’s education, and to share my career with them as much as possible so that they will see the law as a possible future for themselves. For example, I participated as a judge in a debate competition at my daughter’s high school last year. In the past, I have arranged for children to visit the courts, meet the judges, and learn about our justice system. While in law school, I arranged for the international law students to do the same.

In a similar vein, I have great concern for a relatively unknown population of children in need – adolescents in CPS custody who age out without ever having been adopted. These kids generally spend their teen years bouncing among foster homes and youth shelters. They have little in the way of quality family support. Then, on their 18th birthday, they are expected to become productive citizens overnight. The HAY Center (part of CPS) works with these kids to transition them into adulthood. I have been involved with the Houston Bar Association committee that provides assistance to the HAY Center. This year, I am co-chair of that committee.

Finally, I believe very much in the virtue of tolerance—tolerance for differing opinions, tolerance for differing backgrounds. Personally, I strive to remind myself that not everyone has to agree with me on all things, and that we can disagree civilly with each other. This ability is critically lacking in much of society today. To combat that deficiency, my husband and I work on modeling tolerance for our children, something that we had many opportunities to do during the 2012 election season because my husband is a life-long Republican and I am a stalwart Democrat. Yet, we can maintain our respect for each other even when we discuss our differing opinions as we did while helping our daughter understand the substance of the presidential debates for her social studies homework.

There are many other opportunities to practice tolerance as well, such as defending the rights of the LGBT community, combating the still pervasive systemic racism in our society, and protecting the rights of women to make their own health and life choices. In my circle of friends and family, we do not all have the same opinions on these issues. But we learn to respect the right of people to hold whatever opinions they choose, as long as those opinions do not interfere with the rights of others. This is, I believe, the heart of the Democratic Party – we are the Big Tent, welcoming all, even those who disagree with us, because all people are created equal, entitled to hold whatever opinion their conscience dictates, with the understanding that the mere pinion of one person can never justify abrogating the rights of another.

 

Texpatriate’s Questions for Mack McInnis

Editorial note: This is the fifteenth 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>.

Mack McInnis, Democratic candidate for the 185th (Criminal) District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
MM: Mack McInnis

T: What office are you seeking?
MM: Judge, 185th Criminal District Court

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for which years you held them.
MM: None

T: What is your political party?
MM: Democratic Party

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
MM: My opponent’s Grand Jury selection method. My opponent uses an archaic and notorious method of selecting Grand Juries. She uses the “Key-man” a.k.a. Pick-a-Pal system which almost all Texas counties have abandoned. This old practice employs three to five Commissioners selected by the Judge. These Commissioners then select the Grand Jury.

In the case of Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos, a “Runaway” Grand Jury launched an investigation of the DA’s use of breath test results obtained using mobile Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) vans. This protracted investigation revealed no wrong doing by Lykos, but it did serve to smear Lykos causing her to lose the Republican primary. My opponent acting both as a Judge of the 185th Criminal District Court and as presiding Administrative Judge over the Harris County Criminal District Courts ordered that the names of the July/August 2012 Commissioners and Grand Jurors be sealed until “further order of the Court.”

In recent months many articles in the Houston Chronicle and in the Washington Post have decried the use of the Pick-a-Pal selection process and the sealing of Grand Jury records.

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?
MM: Pretrial Release. In the past, Harris County had an active Pretrial Release program that used a risk scoring system to determine whether or not an arrestee was a safe risk for a low cost pretrial bond. Because of the strong law and order slant taken by the Harris County Criminal Courts in recent years, the practice declined and the Pretrial Release Agency made fewer and fewer bonds.

As a consequence, our jails are flooded with low risk offenders who could be paying a low cost bail fee to the County as was done in the past. I would solve the problem by urging my colleagues on the Criminal Judge’s Board to revitalize the Pre-trial Release program. In support of this approach, I will extend inexpensive Pretrial Release bonds to appropriate candidates based on the risk scoring system.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her job? If so, why?
MM: Yes, she has. As stated earlier, she has sealed the Grand Jury records in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Judicial Administrative rules. In 2010, she put an innocent woman in jail for three days for saying “Thank you, Jesus.” when her husband’s not guilty verdict was announced in court. Putting this innocent, religious woman in jail was an unnecessarily cruel over reaction demonstrating a lack of judicial temperament.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponent?
MM: I am more balanced in experience and temperament. I have served as a civil prosecutor for over eight years prosecuting termination cases in order to protect children from abusive parents. I also served as a criminal defense lawyer for 32 years. I have been the lead counsel in capital murder cases, multi-defendant federal cases, and I have around 300 jury trials under my belt. I also served as an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Trial Advocacy. I am Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I will be decisive and fair.

T: What role do you think a Criminal District Judge should have individually?
MM: At the sake of sounding redundant, I believe that a balance of experience and personality makes for a good judge. A good judge cannot inaugurate sweeping changes. A good judge becomes an example by thoughtful rulings in individual cases.

T: What role do you think the Criminal District Courts should have as a whole?
MM: A judge should rule based on the law and the law should be tempered by reason and mercy in appropriate cases. A Criminal Judge’s influence is limited to his or her contribution to the policy decisions of the Criminal Judge’s Board and to his or her individual rulings.

T: What role do you believe a Judge should have in plea bargains?
MM: Very limited. I think that Judges sometimes refuse to allow plea agreements based on some iron clad or punitive policy mandate.

T: Do you think a Judge should ever veto an agreement between the District Attorney and Defense Attorneys?
MM: I can envision rare cases where a plea agreement should not be followed. For example, a burglar is offered a mild punishment and it is later discovered prior to the scheduled plea date that he/she is a serial killer and has committed multiple other crimes and perhaps should stay in jail to permit a more thorough investigation.

T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
MM: I am a strong believer in rehabilitation. I have seen it work in multiple cases. One of my former clients was a repeat drug offender and he and his wife (also a former repeat drug offender) have operated very successfully for many years one of the best prison rehab ministries in Texas.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
MM: I think it is a mistake. Judges should be elected based on personal experience and qualifications and should serve for only two four-year terms. Unfortunately, we have to run in partisan elections. I do not believe that judges should be appointed by the Governor.

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?
MM: 1) The Pick-a-Pal Grand Jury System which I have advocated against it for years.

2) A bail-bond-company dominated bonding system which I have also advocated against for many years.

3) Wrongful convictions caused by a failed Crime Lab and evidence storage system which is illustrated by the deplorable history of the HPD Crime Lab. The new Michael Morton Law is a step in the right direction. I have advocated for an independent quality controlled Crime Lab and a reformed biological evidence storage system. Additionally, I believe that all expert witnesses and crime scene investigators should be trained under the NIJ Eyewitness Evidence Guide.

Texpatriate’s Questions for David Rosen

Editorial note: This is the fourteenth 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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David Rosen, Democratic candidate for Harris County Treasurer

Texpatriate: What is your name?
DR: David Rosen

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
DR: I am a challenger to an incumbent. I do not hold this post, and I am seeking what would be my first term.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
DR: I have never held an elected or appointed political office.

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

T: What do you think the role of the County Treasurer should be?
DR: You deserve to know where your money is going. As your Harris County Treasurer, I will create an online portal where anyone with an internet connection can see money going in and out of our local government coffers in as close to real-time as possible. This data is currently uploaded once a month by the incumbent in the form of a gigantic PDF file. I want to make this data searchable and user-friendly, similar to how former District Clerk Loren Jackson made the data flowing in and out of that office more navigable. This information should be available to any person at any time for any reason. If elected County Treasurer, I will act as if I was the Chief Transparency Officer of Harris County.

Harris County government is in desperate need for more transparency. In the last six years, three of our Constables have been indicted and a County Commissioner and County Budget Officer both resigned their offices, all because of alleged financial improprieties.

In other counties, the County Treasurer may also have some finance, auditing, forecasting or budgeting responsibilities. The office of Harris County Treasurer has largely been relegated to serve in an accounts payable/accounts receivable function. I would like to see Commissioners Court restore some of the responsibilities to this office that were stripped from the County Treasurer in the mid-1990s, when Don Sumners held the position.

I also want to use this office to do some social good – to partner with local non-profits that teach basic personal finance and financial literacy to young people in Harris County’s roughest neighborhoods.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
DR: The longer my opponent remains in office, the less relevant and the less visible this office becomes. Most people have never heard of the County Treasurer unless they received a check for serving as a juror. So far as I know, in my opponent’s eight years in office, he has only publicly issued two official opinions: first, he spoke up against interest rate default swaps (years after the interest rate default swaps went sour), and secondly, he said the scrolling marquees on Metro buses should not display the words “Go Texans!”

I would challenge anyone who is thinking of voting for my opponent to go to the County Treasurer’s new website and see for themselves how our monthly expenditures are displayed.

You deserve better. You deserve to know where your money is going.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
DR: I am a lifelong Houstonian, the son of two local public schoolteachers and a former Student Body President at the University of Houston. I work in communications at an offshore engineering company and at night I am earning my MBA from the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business. I am set to graduate in May of next year.

I am the only candidate in this race who is campaigning on a specific platform of changes to be made to this office and to local policy. I am running with the support of hundreds of Democrats, independents and Republicans from across Harris County.

My opponent is an entrenched part of the system that I am trying to change.

I am the only candidate in this race who has not been sanctioned by the Texas Ethics Commission on four separate occasions. I am the only candidate in this race who has not run for office ten different times for four different positions. I am the only candidate in this race who is not named Orlando Sanchez.

T: There has recently been talk of abolishing this office, much like the former position of State Treasurer. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
DR: Former Republican primary candidate for County Treasurer Arnold Hinojosa and former Democratic County Treasurer nominee Richard Garcia have both publicly said that they support abolishing this position. I believe that such criticism from both sides of the political spectrum is more of a reflection on the guy who holds the office rather than a reflection of the office itself.

We need more people, not fewer people, watching our public money. If used properly, this office can be a powerful tool to shine a light on local government spending.

The office of State Treasurer was abolished in 1995 and its duties were absorbed by the State Comptroller, a similar office that is directly answerable to the voters. There is no similar public elected office in Harris County that would absorb the duties of the County Treasurer if the position was abolished.

Abolishing the County Treasurer’s office would require an amendment to the State Constitution. It is not as simple as pressing a button or flipping a switch – it would be a long, expensive process that would require a statewide vote.

The office of County Treasurer has been abolished in eight Texas counties, but none since the 1980s. In the past, Commissioners Courts around Texas have threatened to abolish the office when those Commissioners have clashed politically with the person holding the office of County Treasurer. This happened in Fort Bend County in 2005, for instance, in Harris County in the 1990s when Don Sumners was County Treasurer, and again more recently in 2007. All three of those attempts failed.

T:  The Democratic nominee for this position has advocated creating same-sex partner benefits for the employees of Harris County. Is this desirable? Furthermore, is this an appropriate issue for the County Treasurer (if so, why)?
DR: My parents are the reason that I got involved in politics. They taught me that if I had three meals a day to eat and a roof over my head, that I should consider myself lucky, and that I owed it to my community to try to make things better for other people.

My parents retired last year after working for more than 70 combined years as public schoolteachers in the Houston area. They have been together 28 years and they are married, but because of their sexual orientation they are still not able to share health insurance. This is a tremendous financial hardship that was placed on my working-class family for no reason other than because my parents are gay.

I have been calling for marriage equality and insurance equality since long before I ever became a candidate for County Treasurer, and I will continue talking about this issue until couples like my parents are finally treated equally under the law.

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?
DR: 1)      Equality for my GLBT friends and family members – the fight for GLBT equality can only be described as my generation’s civil rights movement. This is an issue that is also tremendously important to me and my family, since I was raised by two Moms. Earlier this year, I released a campaign video featuring my gay parents and touting my support for gay rights – so far as we know, this is the first time that an American political candidate with GLBT parents has featured their family in an advertisement. From the outset of this campaign, I have called for same-sex partner benefits to be offered to the employees of Harris County. In May, I had the privilege of sharing our story in OutSmart Magazine. Later that month we appeared as a family on KPFT’s radio show Queer Voices. 

2)      Getting the next generation of activists involved in local politics – I am thrilled to campaign alongside volunteers from the Lamar High School Young Democrats, the Rice Young Democrats, and a group called West U for Progress.

3)      Mentoring young people in my former neighborhood of Alief – joining the debate team in 7th grade at Killough Middle School changed my life for the better. My former coach, Mrs. Sandra Jones, was one of the most important people from my childhood and she is still a good friend. I have mentored students on the debate team at Killough as a volunteer debate coach, 15 years after I was captain of the same debate team.

 

Texpatriate’s Questions for Wesley Ward

Editorial note: This is the thirteenth 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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Judge Wesley Ward, 234th District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
WW: My name is Wesley Ward, and I serve as Judge of Texas’ 234th District Court. The Court is a trial court handling a broad docket of civil disputes, and my district covers all of Harris County.

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
WW: I have served as Judge of the 234th since 2012, when I was appointed to replace the previous retiring judge, and was confirmed unanimously in a bi-partisan vote of the Texas Senate. I am seeking election to a four-year term.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
WW: This is the first time that I have ever held a political office. Before becoming a Judge, I was a civil litigation attorney here in Houston, and I held several significant positions in legal and charitable groups:

Chair – Houston Bar Association Litigation Section

Co-Chair – Houston Bar Association Professionalism Committee

Co-Chair – HBA Fun Run Committee benefitting The Center serving persons with developmental disabilities

Chair – HBA Mentor-Protégé program

Life Member – Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Captain – HLSR Team Penning and Ranch Sorting Committee

Chair – Associate’s Roundtable, Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy

T: What is your political party?
WW: I am a Republican. With my qualifications and track record of running a fair and efficient courtroom I have also attracted significant support from attorneys and citizens of all types of political affiliations, backgrounds, and law practice & business types.

T: Please describe a notable case you have presided over while on the bench. What rulings did you make? What were the implications of the case?
WW: In the time that I have served as Judge, I have presided over more than 50 trials, the second-most of any Harris County Civil District Court in that period. Every one of the cases was significant in its own way. From a jury award of $550.41 in chiropractic bills to a dispute over $50 Million in oil and gas damages, every party, attorney, witness, and juror who comes into the 234th can expect a courteous, civil, prompt, and fair resolution of their dispute, in accordance with the law. For each and every one of those cases, it is probably one of the most important events in their lives at that time, and I pledge to treat each case accordingly as long as I am the Judge.

T: Have there been any high profile cases in which the Court of Appeals or the Texas Supreme Court reversed your ruling? What were the parameters of the case?
WW: There have not been any significant reversals of any of my decisions.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
WW: I am highly qualified, have a proven successful track record, and am supported by a broad bi-partisan cross-section of the legal community.

My qualifications include being an acclaimed civil litigation attorney, a Certified Public Accountant, Eagle Scout, National Merit Scholar, Graduate with Honors from UT Law School, leader in the Houston bar, and active leader in community and charitable events.

During my time on the bench, I have performed as one of the top civil district judges in our county in terms of number of jury trials, number of bench trials, total trials, total days in trial, and lowest case/docket backlog. My hard work has been rated positively in the HBA judicial polls where I received “Outstanding” marks in all categories: follows the law, rules decisively and timely, demonstrates impartiality, is courteous and attentive toward attorneys and witnesses, works hard and is prepared, and uses attorneys time efficiently.

In the HBA Judicial Qualification poll, I was rated “Well-Qualified” by a more than 2-to-1 margin over my opponent.

Supporters of my campaign include 14 past Presidents of the Houston Bar Association and hundreds of local attorneys representing every kind of practice area, background, firm type and political affiliation. More than 100 local law firms are supporting my campaign. A list of my endorsements and supporters is on my website: www.wesleyward.com.

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?
WW: My role as a Civil District Court Judge is to provide fair and efficient justice to every party who comes before the Court. Every day when I take the bench, there are 3 signs on the door that I pass through: The first reminds me of important values that I hold – “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” The second is a checklist of areas that judges should be mindful of in doing their jobs: “Follows the Law, Rules Decisively & Timely, Demonstrates Impartiality, Is Courteous & Attentive Toward Attorneys & Witnesses, Works Hard & Is Prepared, and Uses Attorneys Time Efficiently.” The third on is a mantra that a wise and experienced judge passed on to me when I first started: “Be quick to rule and slow to judge.”

In response to the last part of the question, Judges must work together without regard to party affiliation or other differences to ensure that our Harris County courts continue to work for the good of our justice system and our community. I have been very gratified to experience the bipartisan collegiality of our Harris County Civil District Courts, working together to provide the best justice we can.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
WW: In Texas, our legislative process, with citizen input, has decided that judges should be elected in periodic partisan elections. As the current law of the State, I support it. I also believe that judges should be accountable to citizens, and I very much enjoy discussing my service with voters. I do support an open dialogue of various proposals to modify our judicial selection process, but as long as it is the law of the State of Texas I will be a willing participant.

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?

  1. Efficiency – Since I became the Judge, the 234th is one of our county’s leading courts in terms of working hard to reduce our case backlog by staying busy with bench trials and jury trials. I have also created and started using a powerpoint presentation for my instructions during jury selection, to improving comprehension, streamlining the jury selection process and providing more efficient use of jurors’ time.
  2. Fairness – Running through a lot of cases doesn’t mean a thing if the cases aren’t handled justly and fairly. I and all of the staff of the 234th are always conscious of the importance of every case to the parties involved, and we work hard to get all parties the fair hearing they deserve. Polls of attorneys who practice in our Court indicate that we are doing a good job of handling our cases fairly and impartially.
  3. The Future – I think that Judges should do all they can to make sure the future of our civil justice system is in order. Before I took the bench, I was very active in programs to encourage mentorship of newer attorneys in how to act with civility and professionalism. Since becoming a Judge, I have continued my interest in mentoring law students. This summer, I located 5 outstanding students from our local law schools (University of Houston, South Texas College of Law, and Thurgood Marshall School of Law), and from UT Law School, who worked as interns. With all of those students back in school, I am once again looking for law students to help out with the Court and to show them the importance of a fair and efficient civil court system.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Chip Wells

Editorial note: This is the twelfth 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>.

chip

Texpatriate:What is your name?
CW: Clinton E. “Chip” Wells, Jr.

T: What office are you seeking?
CW: Judge, 247th Family 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.
CW: None

T: What is your political party?
CW: None

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
CW: I believe that the previous Court administration has maintained a concern regarding the best interests of children whose interests are the subject of matters pending before the Court. I would continue to maintain that concern from the previous Court’s administration. I would end the previous administration’s mandatory participation in “parenting class” and the manner with which the Court dealt with failure to attend
the mandatory parenting class.

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?
CW: There is a growing issue arising out of the number of pro se! litigants seeking relief in the Family Courts of Harris County, Texas. The already crowded dockets are further clogged by these individuals who choose to represent themselves, yet are often ill-prepared to proceed or to proceed efficiently.

There should be some docket accommodation for those individuals who choose to represent themselves that provides for their right to self-representation but does not otherwise impair the flow of the docket for litigants with counsel. I propose the creation of a “pro se!” docket which pro se! litigants will be directed to that is especially created to accommodate their needs. Information regarding that docket (or
dockets) would be published on the website and pro se! litigants would be directed to those docket settings.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
CW: [no answer]

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
CW: Experience. I bring over 37 years of legal experience to the Bench. In addition to my 37 years of legal experience I have 62 years of life experience which provides the foundation for a well-reasoned, well-rounded application of the law, a reasonable application of the Rules to effect a just and right resolution of disputed matters and a predictable outcome for lawyers practicing in the 247th Family District Court. My
opponent is a much younger man without the benefit of similar life experiences to equip him for a position on the Bench. His five years of legal experience minimally exceeds the four years experience required by State Law to serve as a State District Court Judge.

T: What role do you think a Family District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Family District Courts should have as a whole?
CW: I believe that a Family Court Judge should be predictable in his or her application of the law and the rules of procedure. The Judge is obliged to apply the law and the rules in a manner calculated to obtain a result that is just and right. I do not believe that Family Courts are a place where Judges should legislate or force their own personal values or views on families and individuals that come before it. To the
extent reasonable Courts should allow parents to make decisions regarding their children and rely upon the lawyers and the individuals before the Court to make the best decisions for individuals involved.

T: What role do you believe that mandatory mediation should have in Family law cases?
CW: I believe that mediation should be mandatory in Family Law cases unless, the lawyers for the litigants have good cause to believe and do believe that mediation would not be successful. I do not believe that the Court should require mediation when counsel for the parties file a joint objection to mediation.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
CW: The partisan election of Judges is an inefficient and undesirable process for the creation of a Judiciary. However, I have not heard a method proposed which is more suitable for the creation of a Judiciary.

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?
CW: The three most important issues to me include maintaining an open court that provides equal access to justice for all who come before the Court, protection of the best interests of the children whose lives are impacted by the Court and ending the partisan favoritism that has characterized many of the Courts in recent years. I promise to maintain a Court without bias or prejudice to an individual’s gender, race or sexual orientation. I will promote the best interests of children whose lives are affected by the Court. There will be an end to the favoritism in appointments made to a favored few. Appointments should be made based on merit, need and experience suitable to assist the Court and/or provide for the benefit of individuals for whom appointments are made.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Greg Glass

Editorial note: This is the eleventh 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>.

Greg Glass, Democratic candidate for 230th District Court (Criminal)

Texpatriate: What is your name?
GG: Greg Glass

T: What office are you seeking?
GG: Judge, 230th 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.
GG: Democratic Precinct Chair, Precinct 34, Harris County, Texas (2000 – 2002).

T: What is your political party?
GG: Democrat. Always a Democrat.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
GG: My opponent was appointed by our esteemed governor after he ran against and lost to Judge Maria Jackson for Judge of the 339th Criminal District Court in the 2012 general election. I have had no experience with my opponent as Judge of that court.

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?
GG: The dockets in Harris County continue to grow larger each year with no additional courts being created to handle the ever burgeoning population in over 28 years. I will support requests for the creation of more criminal district courts, and for the creation of Associate Judge positions to handle routine matters such as pleas. I would also prioritize cases for trial, starting with those who are jailed and seek speedy trials, and those on bond who seek an early trial because of the nature of the charges being so problematical to keeping or maintaining employment, etc. Lastly, we need to make sure that all non-violent offenders can post bail so they can keep or obtain a job, support their dependents, and hire their own attorneys. If a drug offender tests positive while on bond, I would require him or her to enroll in an out-patient drug treatment program rather than revoking and having them go to jail and post a higher bond, as is the common practice nowadays.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
GG: I have not handled any cases in that court since my opponent was appointed. Thus, I have no knowledge of either his job success or failure.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponent?
GG: A great education, and forty plus years as a criminal trial lawyer, while my opponent has half the experience and no experience in criminal defense. My qualifications are as follows: U.T. Arlington honor graduate (B.A. 1970, with honors; Phi Alpha Theta Honor Society); U. T. Austin law School – J.D. 1973; First Place in Appellate Advocacy competition for freshmen (Spring, 1971); employed as an associate in a Houston civil law practice (1973 to 1975); private general practice (1975 to 1977); partner, Ritchie & Glass, Law Firm (1977 to 2008); private criminal defense practice (2008 to present); experienced in both civil (three jury trials) and criminal cases and appellate procedure; have tried well more than 100 felony cases (some federal, mostly state) to verdict; have tried several dozen criminal misdemeanor cases to verdict; have briefed and argued cases before both Texas Courts of Appeals and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1983 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; member: Houston Bar Association, College of the State Bar of Texas, Texas Criminal Defense Association, Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association; Licensed to practice in all Texas Courts, Southern, Western and Eastern District of Texas, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court; almost forty-one years experience as a practicing lawyer.

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?
GG: The role of a criminal district judge is to assure that the law is followed, all rights are respected and the court’s business, from plea-bargaining through trial, is conducted fairly, impartially and expeditiously. A judge should conduct himself with unquestioned integrity and fairness, which generates confidence both in the bar and for the public, in absolute impartiality. Respect for the judicial system lies in fairness and courtesy, as well as respect no only for the law, but for all who come before the court. The bottom line is that I have a wealth of legal
and life experience, years more than my opponent.

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?
GG: Plea bargaining, by and large, is a process between the prosecutor’s office and the defense. Normally, a judge does not get involved unless the parties cannot agree and both sides wish to approach and explain the problems which are preventing an agreed resolution, and determine if the judge will agree to a particular outcome (or a particular range of outcomes), and thus take responsibility for the outcome. This is a common
practice. I do think it is important for a judge to inquire as to why a particular plea bargain has been reached if it seems out of the ordinary, or unfair to one side or another, and for the judge to understand the dynamics behind the agreement. The only time I feel a judge ought to reject an agreement is when it is unconscionable under the circumstances; otherwise, the plea bargain should be followed.

T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
GG: Rehabilitation for drug offenders is should be a priority, even for repeat offenders, provided that the offender has decided to make a change in his or her life. The first step in rehabilitation is to admit that one has a problem, and the second is a decision to change. Both are required for success. My general philosophy is that prison is a last resort for the non-violent offender, and that only after the offender has been given every reasonable opportunity to do what is required on probation, leaving the Court no viable options.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges? I believe in the partisan election of judges. The appointment system used in many states makes it all but impossible to remove undeserving judges, even if it is justified. Second, judges serve the people, who ought to have a say as to who their judges are. Third, the bench should not be a destination for political payoffs from the governor’s office. Fourth, in counties the size of Harris, most voters do not know the individual candidates, and party affiliation can at least give the voter an idea of the attitude and dispositions of the whole slate of candidates, rather than enticing a vote for a common-sounding name. Fifth, non-partisan elections would allow smaller power groups to exert a disproportional (and dangerous) hold over judicial elections; Sixth, the political parties honestly make an effort to screen and recruit the most qualified candidates for the general election through the process of endorsements. Political “sweeps” can cause problems by removing some qualified judges, but most often they are replaced by others equally or more qualified. The parties themselves will often screen out unqualified candidates through various party group endorsements and primary contests. Ultimately, though, it is a good thing for a jurist to know he or she is answerable to the public for outrageous or substandard conduct.

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?
GG: First, it has been almost thirty (30) years since the creation of a felony court in Harris County, while the population (and dockets) have tripled and more. Paring state and county budgets by hampering the efficient administration of justice is unwise, but the norm. We need more courts but are not getting them. Second, it is important to implement a system of associate judges like that which exists in Fort Bend County, where those judges handle arraignment and other non-contested dockets and take pleas, leaving the presiding judge to conduct trial and deal with weightier issues. Third, connected to the foregoing issues is the issue of jail overcrowding in Harris County, a situation that immediately got worse after several democratic judges were defeated in 2012. This put several immediate ex-prosecutors on the bench, who have a “lock’em up” attitude. The more non-violent inmates who can be released on bond and hire their own attorneys, the more this county benefits administratively and monetarily. The jail space was saved for violent offenders who were a danger to themselves or others (the community). While I know you asked for just three important issue, there are a couple more, so here goes. Fourth, many Republican judges refuse to grant state jail credit for diligent participation which discourages good behavior in state jail and increases the expense to the state. Fifth, it is important to stop the appointment of inferior attorneys who get appointed only because they support the incumbent judges with sizable contributions. This displays a lack of integrity of many jurists, who refuse to adequately employ the resources of the Public Defenders’ Office for that very reason. Finally, having not been elected before, I have been unable to address any of these issues.