Texpatriate endorses in County Civil Judgeships

The four County Civil Courts at Law in Harris County constitute special places. The arbiter of civil disputes ranging from $200 to $200,000, they serve an interesting role in the legal system. Above Justice of the Peace courts and other small claims divisions (to which they serve as an appeal setting), they often represent monetary disputes that could make or break a person’s livelihood. But below the hefty price ceiling set, they mostly involve disputes between people and not huge corporations. Like their brethren across the street in County Criminal Courts, these Judges’ courtrooms are truly where the rubber meets the road of government.

Both the Republican incumbent Judges and the Democratic challengers are qualified to serve in the role. However, the courts consist of far more than simply a rosy, romanticized setting for citizens to bring their individual monetary disputes to court. Debt collection is a common feature, as are eviction hearings. Eminent domain hearings, as well as the proposals to receive an occupational driver’s license (almost always after the forfeit of one following a DWI) are also covered by the court. For these issues, in addition to qualifications, Judges are needed with the right temperament. Judges are needed who will be, in a word, compassionate.

Things such as board certification, age, law school and political campaign viability are not criteria that any reasonable person should ever prioritize in making these selections. With very few exceptions, the individuals recruited by the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, to run for judicial posts are qualified attorneys. Their distinctions do not materialize themselves on their resumes, but upon their policy records.

For these and other reasons, we have decided to go with the three Democrats running in contested races. While the incumbents are well-qualified, we simply believe that their opponents are better poised to oversee a courtroom of compassion and equity, in addition to law and justice. Judge Debra Mayfield, a Republican incumbent running unopposed for County Civil Court at Law #1, is a qualified jurist who deserves your vote as well.

COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #2
Judge Theresa Chang has had a unique background before getting into the judiciary. A Republican, she served briefly as the Harris County District Clerk from 2007 to 2008. Indisputably qualified, we have concerns nonetheless about her compassion and temperament on the bench. Furthermore, numerous attorneys who have practiced in her court have voiced concern about rather nonchalant practices that limit voire dire, otherwise known as the selection of juries. For the invaluable component of all trial work, it has been alleged that Chang sometimes limits these sessions, often known to take entire mornings, to less than an hour. Such a move for expediency’s sake is not one any court in Harris County should ever make.

The Democratic candidate, Scot Dollinger, would be — in our opinion — a far more compassionate alternative. He would not merely make choices on the basis of “judicial economy,” but would look out for the individual interests of those with business before his court. In speaking with the editorial board, Dollinger outlined an ambitious plan to consolidate much of the work of County Civil Courts, allowing them to work together in what he calls a “unit” to solve the more complex problems. We certainly think it is a good idea, one that deserves full consideration.

Moreover, he would be far less likely to impose his ideology into court proceedings. For example, state law allows for those with forfeited drivers licenses following DWI arrests to receive occupational licenses, that is allowing the operation of a car in limited circumstances, after a brief hearing. While some judges make a point of using the bench as a soapbox for lectures on moral values, we think Dollinger would simply follow the law and competently provide due process –without the fanfare.

Accordingly, this board endorses Scot Dollinger for Harris County Civil Court at Law #2.

COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #3
Judge Linda Storey is seeking her third term in office, representing this all-important court. A Republican, she has done an adequate job on the bench, and if your number one priority is protecting the court system from any bumps or transitional pains, we recommend a vote for the incumbent. She knows the law, usually applies it within her legal bounds and effectively manages her docket.

However, like the above contest, we simply think that her Democratic opponent, Gloria Minnick, is far better situated to deal with the issues arising in this court with compassion and pragmatism. Minnick is obviously also well-qualified to be a Judge; she has practiced law in both the public and private sector for more than two decades.

In courts such as this one, it is not uncommon to hear dozens of eviction hearings in one sitting. On this issue and others like it, our first choice is obviously who would be well-suited to rule on the law. But, given that both candidates would be well qualified in that distinction, we have decided to go with who would maintain a humanistic approach to the issue rather than just one of black letter law. Texas has made the choice to elect its judges because, among other reasons, we have decided as a state to allow all voters — and not just attorneys — to choose who should make legal rulings on our behalf. To represent the people and the law, the choice is clear.

Accordingly, this board endorses Gloria Minnick for Harris County Civil Court at Law #3.

COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #4
Judge Roberta Lloyd is likewise seeking her third full term in office. A longtime attorney with the Harris County Attorney’s office, she is uniquely qualified to be in this position. Serving multiple times as the administrative judge for these courts, Lloyd, a Republican, demonstrably knows the intricacies of this type of law. However, much like the other contested contests, we think that the citizens of Harris County would be nominally better off with change.

Lloyd’s husband serves as an adviser to County Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Precinct 4), an individual on the body charged with overseeing these courts, the same body that even originally appointed Lloyd to the bench (Editorial note: Com. Cagle was not serving at the time that Judge Lloyd was first appointed). Alone, this tidbit would be a rather venial offense, but it is part of a greater pattern for Lloyd. Recent bar association polls rated her poorly and lawyers who do business before her court often complain.

The Democratic candidate, Damon Crenshaw, seeks to be the polar opposite. He has been endorsed by active bar association groups, such as the Mexican-American Bar Association and the Association of Women Attorneys, which have tended this election cycle to cautiously endorse Republican incumbents. Crenshaw has more than 25 years of experience as an attorney, making her qualified to serve much like Lloyd. However, unlike the incumbent Judge, this board strongly believes that Crenshaw would be a powerful force for compassion in the courts and pragmatism on the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Damon Crenshaw for Harris County Civil Court at Law #4.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

Conflicted on the Dome

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

EricEnfermero –

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Astrodome now looks slated for demolition. The Houston Texans and the Livestock Show & Rodeo have both endorsed a $66 Million plan to level the dome and replace the space with some sort of “green space.” The plan, which I recall hearing my friend Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs) discuss at length in the past, demolishes all but the outside skeleton of the dome, then fills in the depression with grass. Thus, an open air structure would stand that would pay tribute to the Astrodome while requiring minimal upkeep. It is a fitting tribute to the dome, though it is significantly more expensive than just paving over it.

As the astute will surely recall, a contentious fight erupted last year when a proposition was put on the ballot to spend over $200 Million renovating the dome into a modern convention center. Texpatriate wholeheartedly supported that proposal, but it ended up failing by a few percentage points. After that, some talk has occurred over designating the structure a landmark, though it is exceedingly unlikely this would actually prevent demolition if the powers-to-be truly wished for it. In the last few months, the Editorial Board has heatedly debated the prospect of another editorial on the topic (e.g., “Tear down the Dome!” or “Not yet, a desperate plea”), but there was not enough support one way or another to write anything.

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Blood tests could become pricey

The Houston Chronicle reports that individuals in Harris County could soon be picking up the tab for their blood tests if convicted DWI (driving while intoxicated). The County, which has spent over $350k on these blood tests in recent years, is seeking to recoup some of these losses from the fines of those convicted of the pertinent offenses.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican representing Precinct 4 (northeast quadrant), seemed supportive of the measure but felt it would be ideal to rather encourage the Legislature to revise the law. The easiest solution, he pondered, would be to make the blood test a standard component of “court costs,” which are normally included in the fines assessed to those convicted.

As the Chronicle article notes, the District Clerk’s office was supportive of the idea, while the District Attorney’s office noted that Judges could already assess the fines if the “arresting agency” requests it. Judge Sherman Ross was tepid about the proposal, however, as were criminal defense attorneys.

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The Harris County GOP Chairman race

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett has endorsed Paul Simpson in his race for chairman of the Harris County GOP, against incumbent Jared Woodfill. Emmett, a Republican, is the highest ranking member of the county party, holding the de facto executive leadership role over Harris County.

The news was broken last night on Quorum Report, where it was also reported that Emmett had donated a generous $10,000.00 to Simpson’s campaign. As the astute may recall, this is Simpson’s –a local attorney– third bid against the incumbent chair. However, unlike a previous race, this year’s election simply features the two candidates, making Woodfill somewhat more vulnerable. Emmett blasted Woodfill as being out of touch and implicit in the recent losing streak of the party. Ronald Reagan would probably not be welcome in today‚Äôs Republican Party. I would like to see the base in Harris County to be 400,000, not 150,000,” Emmett says.

Today, Jared Woodfill hit back by announcing some big name supporters of his own. Two of the three Republican Harris County Commissioners (Jack Cagle and Jack Morman) endorsed Woodfill’s candidacy, as did both Emmett’s predecessor (Robert Eckels) and the Tax Assessor (Mike Sullivan). Given that Woodfill is the incumbent, it would be a waste of time to really dig in too deep as to why an officeholder might support him. Simply put, it is far safer to support an incumbent out of habit then warm up to the challenger (if [s]he wins) than to support the challenger then face a victorious incumbent.

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County panhandling ban?

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Commissioners’ Court will soon consider a ban on panhandling in the middle of streets and intersections. Specifically, the proposed regulations would prohibit all “solicitation activities” from the middle of roads (including esplanades and medians), as well as impose a blanket prohibition on children panhandling.

These regulations would only apply to unincorporated areas of Harris County. The City of Houston already has a ban on such panhandling activities, though it is arguably more strict. Whereas Houston requiring all “fundraising groups” to obtain permits from the City, the draft County rules do not. Houston also maintains a broad exception for firefighters who seek to raise money for their charity Christmas fund.

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Endorsements: Everyone Else

I wrap up my candidate endorsements.

School Board
I endorse the Democrats: Diane Trautman, Siliva Mintz, and Erica Lee. I have thoroughly enjoyed the work that Trustees such as Jim Henley have done to benefit our community. Plus, I think someone mentioned that Roy Morales’s seat (6) was the greatest pickup opportunity for Democrats this election.

County Commissioner 1
I endorse the incumbent, Democrat El Franco Lee. Commissioner Lee has little opposition, and I think he has done a sufficient job in office.

County Commissioner 3
I endorse the Democratic challenger, Glorice McPherson. The astute will remember how I ALMOST ran against Commissioner Radack, so needless to say, I am happy to vote for any sort of competitor. However, I met the Democratic candidate at the State Convention and was pleasantly surprised. I think the Democrats have a strong, commendable candidate. Unfortunately, we have no money to fund these races.

County Commissioner 4
I endorse the incumbent, Republican Jack Cagle. My Kingwood connection tells me that he is truly not as bad as his predecessor.

The JPs seem to all be uncontested races.

Constable 1
I endorse the Democrat, Alan Rosen. I heard quite a few of Rosen’s speeches at the Convention in June and am convinced, quite strongly, that he will be a good constable.

Constable 2
I endorse the Democrat, Chris Diaz.

Constable 3
I endorse the Democrat, Ken Jones.

Constables 4-8 are uncontested. I live in 5, where Camus (R) is running unopposed. I will vote for him, he hasn’t seemed to have done anything especially wrong.