Texpatriate endorses for the Court of Appeals

In 1981, the State Legislature changed the relevant laws to allow for the the only intermediate judicial body in Texas, then known as the Court of Civil Appeals, to consider criminal cases as well. Until then, instead of reaching mandatory review by one of fourteen separate bodies, the cases all went to the sole, statewide Court of Criminal Appeals. This little tweak in the judicial system greatly transformed and strengthened the checks and balances for the accused. By raising points of error in a significantly more accessible setting, the accused would have more protections; at least, they should have.

Unfortunately, in the last twenty years, as Republicans have maintained their stranglehold on the two Courts of Appeals with jurisdiction over Harris County (as well as the surrounding counties), the 1st Court of Appeals and the 14th Court of Appeals, these protection for the accused have been all but eviscerated. Intent followers of the proceedings will know that the court affirms, with very, very, very few exceptions, every single criminal conviction that comes before them. Go ahead, look online. You’ll have to search back months to find a single reversal. An appellate body should be inquisitive and scrutinizing, not a rubber stamp! County and District Judges are good at ruling on issues of law, but they are not that good.

Of course, the Court of Appeals, like their original name suggests, also deal with civil disputes. Once again, since the Republicans took over this court, they merely transformed it into a bottleneck that combats suits against large entities. Time and time again, the Courts have become a perilously unfriendly setting for plaintiffs and the damages they seek.

In the three contested races, we endorse the Democrats. In two more races, incumbent Republican Justices will ascend to re-election unopposed. We recommend votes for these Justices, Marc Brown and Laura Higley, because of their undisputed experience in the law. They are capable jurists, we just think their political philosophy is misguided.

14th COURT, CHIEF
Chief Justice Kem Frost will be seeking her third six-year term this November. By all accounts, she’s heavily favored for re-election and is unmistakably qualified to hold the position. When it comes to administration, the 14th Court runs like a well-oiled machine. However, as our previous comments would suggest, we sharply disagree with the political philosophy espoused by her and her Court and the unfortunate reality it has caused, both for plaintiffs who have been wronged and those convicted of crimes but with legitimate legal grievances.

Frost’s Democratic opponent, in addition to our sincere hope that he will transform this unfortunate reality, is also a qualified jurist. Judge Kyle Carter has been a Civil District Judge in Harris County since 2009, and was re-elected to the post a couple years ago. If the concern is that the replacement of Frost would need on-the-job-training, so to speak, those fears are remarkably unfounded. Carter would make a great Chief Justice, both in management style and judicial philosophy. He maintains the temperament to be pragmatic but stick to his core principles.

A civil-trial lawyer by trade, Carter is admittedly not quite as well-versed in matters of criminal law. But perhaps familiarity numbs a certain compassion our jurists needs. Certainly, retaining the same 20th century philosophy prevents our region from allowing complex issues to be solved by a new set of eyes, a new generation.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kyle Carter for the 14th Court of Appeals, Chief Justice.

1st COURT, PLACE 3
Justice Jim Sharp was elected in 2008, amid the Democratic landslide that accompanied Barack Obama into the White House. A Democrat, Sharp is the only of his party among the 18 justices on the Houston area’s dual Appellate bodies. On his website, he proudly advertised that fact, and urges the voters of the region to recognize the need for some balance. As off-putting the partisan cliche may be, Sharp sort of has a point. More so than the need of balance for balance’s sake, the Court simply needs others who share Sharp’s judicial philosophy, prioritizing the legal rights of defendants and plaintiffs over expediency. It is a commonsensical approach, but ironically has not been very commonly implemented.

Sharp is not without his skeletons, however. In 2012, he was sharply rebuked for improperly meddling in local criminal matters. The incident, which has been overplayed and generalized all too often, involved him uttering profanity and possibly threatening language to local detention officers after a family friend’s minor daughter was incarcerated. Contrary to some allegations, he never followed through with threats or took any truly ignominious action, and he quickly issued an apology, received a punishment and moved on. We’re doing the same.

And far more important than anything else, just about, is the aforementioned judicial philosophy of a candidate. Russell Lloyd, the Republican candidate, is a good attorney who would make a good judge; we endorsed him in his primary election. But, we fear, he would be another voice against the “little guy,” another concurrence to our all-too-sad status quo.

Accordingly, we endorse Jim Sharp for the 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3.

1st COURT, PLACE 7
Justice Ken Wise was appointed just last year by Governor Rick Perry, followed the elevation of Jeff Brown from this court to the Texas Supreme Court. Wise is now running for a full term. A Republican, he has climbed up the political ladder rather expeditiously and has been an adequate jurist. We still think, however, that — like our previous comments — he ascribes to a bad political philosophy, one that the region would be best advised to steer away therefrom.

Wise’s Democratic opponent is Gordon Goodman, an attorney in Houston. Goodman has never been a Judge before, but he is certainly qualified to be one. He would not require much initial training; we are confident that he would quickly get into the hang of things, to borrow the colloquialism. We believe that Goodman was best illustrate the ideals of capably inspecting all legal challenges brought by those convicted of crimes. We also believe he would never show deference to the bigger side in a lawsuit, inadvertently or not.

Heavily favored in November, we think that Wise has a bright future ahead of him in the judiciary. But this board simply respectfully disagrees with him on much of his philosophy. On that question, the choice to go with his opponent, also qualified, is simply abundantly clear.

Accordingly, we endorse Gordon Goodman for he 1st Court of Appeals, Place 7.

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 of the voting board.

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Texpatriate’s Questions for Ken Wise

Editorial note: This is the sixth 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>.

Ken Wise, Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Texpatriate: What is your name?
KW: Justice Ken Wise

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
KW: I will have been in office over a year at the time of the election. I was appointed to this position in October, 2013 and am seeking my first full 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.
KW: Judge,152nd District Court: 2002-2008; Judge, 334th District Court: 2011-2013.

T: What is your political party?
KW: Republican

T: Please describe a majority or concurring opinion that you have written in the most recent term. What were the parameters of this case? Why did you come to your conclusion?
KW: I have written many opinions during my time on the Court. I always work to write opinions that are clear, thorough and easy to understand and apply. Each opinion gets my full effort, no matter the size of the case or the status of the parties.

T: Please describe a dissenting opinion that you have written in the most recent term. What were the parameters of this case? Why did you come to your conclusion and disagree with the majority?
KW: I have yet to dissent from an opinion of a panel to which I’ve been assigned.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KW: The most important quality of a good appellate justice is experience. I have over ten years of experience as a judge. My opponent has no judicial experience and has not, to my knowledge, even practiced law.

T: What role do you think a Justice of the Court of Appeals should have individually? What role do you think the Court of Appeals should have as a whole?
KW: An individual justice should be thoroughly prepared when participating on his or her panel. The justice should review opinions carefully before voting. The Court as a whole has a responsibility to rule promptly, which is the reputation of the 14th Court of Appeals.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
KW: Partisan election is the way the legislature has decided judges should be selected. As the law of the State I support it. I also very much enjoy discussing my service with the voters and being accountable to the citizens. There are challenges with such a system, of course, 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?
KW: During the entirety of my judicial service I have had multiple opportunities to serve in leadership roles. I co-chaired a State Bar of Texas task force that conducted the first top-to-bottom study of the Texas court system since 1894. I was in charge of the judicial committee overseeing the construction of the first new civil courthouse in Harris County in over 100 years. I served as the Local Administrative Judge, overseeing the state district judiciary in the third largest county in the United States. In these and other leadership roles I have had the opportunity to address a tremendous number of issues including infrastructure, juvenile justice, judicial administration, technology and many others. I’m tremendously proud of my service to date and look forward to the opportunity to serve the citizens of Texas into the future.

Musings on the election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Council
Martin wins without a runoff.

Discussion comes later.

Endorsements: Civil District courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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