Texpatriate endorses for District Attorney

For years, Harris County was run by a brutal and harsh District Attorney, Johnny Holmes, who turned the office into the nation’s busiest source of death sentences. As this board has opined in the past, we think that the death penalty is tantamount to unjustified killing. In addition to the outright cruelty used in depriving a fellow human being who is not actively threatening you their life, the penalty has been carried out arbitrarily and capriciously. Black defendants are targeted more frequently by prosecutors, and sentenced to death by juries with even more reliability.

While, sadly, both candidates for District Attorney support this appalling practice, only one actively trumpets her support of the penalty and even appears proud of it. Furthermore, only one candidate supports the status quo on the racially biased policies that have contributed to many of this county’s problems regarding criminal justice. That candidate is the incumbent, Republican Devon Anderson. Her policies have failed Harris County, and they should be wholeheartedly repudiated.

Anderson was first appointed about a year ago by Governor Rick Perry to this post following the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, in the post. Devon Anderson, however, also had a illustrious career as both a prosecutor and a Judge. Sadly, she has continued the misguided policies of her predecessor. Be it the death penalty, the elimination of the DIVERT program to deal with driving while intoxicated, illogical grand jury systems or policies on marijuana, Anderson is just not the right candidate for Harris County.

Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for this post, is completely different. She has a record as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor, being able to see both sides of the courtroom in an honest and noble manner. As the longtime director of Crime Stoppers, she also has the capacity to examine crime from a more objective point of view, seeing it as something to be prevented rather than just punished.

Ogg is also a little less eager on the death penalty, and she advocates for reforming the venal grand jury system, which allows the political buddies of Criminal District Judges to recruit their friends. This has reduced the grand jury system into little more than a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. Under Ogg’s purview, combined hopefully with certain Judges (such as Susan Brown) being defeated for re-election, hopefully this system can be reworked into an effective check and balance once more.

Perhaps most importantly, Ogg has taken bold stands on the need to reform asinine policies on drugs within Harris County. She would rescind the so-called “trace case” policy, which prosecutes residents with felonies for even mere residues of cocaine in dramatically capricious fashion. She would also take advantage of an obscure state law to cite-and-release all those caught with small amounts of marijuana, then work out pre-trial diversion programs that would dismiss all charges if a small amount of community service is rendered. This board supports the full legalization of marijuana, but given that the District Attorney cannot change the law, we believe Ogg’s program — known by the acronym G.R.A.C.E. — is the next best thing. Anderson has only offered a lackluster imitation.

More so than almost any other election at the local level, Harris County voters have a very clear choice this November. They can go with another predictable Republican, trigger happy with putting people to death and complacent with a horrifying status quo that is corrupt, racist and ineffective. Alternatively, voters could rightly repudiate these realities and choose a candidate with an actual plan to shake up the DA’s office for the better.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kim Ogg for District Attorney.

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 voting board.

Texpatriate endorses in District Criminal Courts

In addition to the 15 County Criminal Courts that cover all level of misdemeanor offenses throughout the area, Harris County is also represented by 22 Criminal District Courts, all with jurisdiction over felony offenses. Of those 22 courts, 13 are up for election this November for four year terms. Among those courts, 8 featured contested elections. Much like our deliberations with the lower-level criminal courts, this board is skeptical of the total dominance that longtime Judges who are overwhelmingly former prosecutors have on the judiciary. Simply put, these courts need more individuals with backgrounds in defense work to be on the bench. It offers a fresh perspective but it also ensures we have arbiters of the law who indeed still believe in the presumption of innocence.

We also have some big problems with the way that many — if not most — of these Judges handle their grand jury systems. Using the venal “key man” option, these grand juries often serve as little more than rubber stamps for the prosecution. The Judges have failed in reigning in or otherwise regulating these processes at all.

Furthermore, we would be remiss if we opined in these elections without reiterating our total opposition to capital punishment. The barbaric, inefficient and capricious procedure is a stain upon our criminal justice system. Recognizing its continued popularity, we have been hard-stretched to find any candidates willing to openly stand against it. However, we believe that — on the whole — the Democratic challengers are more reasonable on this issue than the incumbents, all of whom are Republicans. We think that the Democratic candidates would be more prudent in allowing the penalty to be administered, though we recognize this power is largely delegated to prosecutors and the jury.

The issues of the most importance to us are neutrality, fairness and the compassion of the jurist. Like the county courts, we are looking for candidates who would not intend to prosecute from the bench, so to speak, or otherwise meddle in agreements between parties.

In five courts, the Republican incumbent Judges are unopposed. In the 228th District Court, Judge Marc Carter is seeking a third term. Carter has been a remarkably talented and commendable jurist, neutral and fair. Voters should feel particularly accomplished voting to re-elect him. Judges Jeannine Barr (182nd District), Vanessa Velasquez (183rd District), Mike McSpadden (209th District) and Mary Lou Keel (232nd District), meanwhile, have been qualified and experienced Judges, though we maintain some reservations about the partiality of their record in office. We recommend votes of confidence for them nonetheless, despite our misgivings.

180th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Catherine Evans, a Republican and a longtime prosecutor, is a relatively new sight on the bench. Appointed by Governor Rick Perry to office last year, she is running for her first term in office. Accordingly, Evans’ record is a little too short to examine with much rigor. What we do know is that she would bring the same trite mindset of a prosecutor to yet another bench. She has been a pretty good Judge. However, we think her opponent is also particularly well qualified for this post.

Rand Roll, a Democrat, served as a Criminal District Judge from 2009 to 2013. He won and lost both elections as a result of partisan winds, which is a real shame, because he proved himself time and time again as a laudable Judge. A former defense attorney, he ran a tight ship, often working around the clock to reduce his docket in any way possible without sacrificing the integrity of his court at all. More specifically, this board has been impressed with actions he took to respond to new technology regarding DNA testing. Nearly every candidate and stakeholder we talked to regarding this discipline of law agree that DNA testing is a very important issue for felony courts, one that they will have to face in new ways in upcoming years.

Thus, we are left with two good candidates in Evans and Roll. On the balance, we believe that Roll’s proven judicial record is preferable to taking a chance on Evans, and we think Harris County would be better served with a former defense attorney, not a prosecutor, on the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Randy Roll for the 180th District Court.

184th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Jan Krocker was a prosecutor for many years. As far as we’re concerned, she’s practically still one. In a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, Krocker noted that she believed the role of a judge was to fight crime. Not interpret the law, not be a fair and neutral decider, but to fight crime and keep the public safe. Cursory observers of her courtroom will know that these troubling words have translated into even more troubling actions on the bench. After 20 years on the bench, Krocker all too often treats defendants with contempt and a presumption of guilt. It is a bad attitude for a judge to have, and definitely not the right one for Harris County.

While Krocker, a Republican, may tout her dedication to judicial economy, this is often done at the expense of the public’s interest in seeing fair trials and due process. On one such occasion, Krocker hurried a jury on a capital murder case to reach a verdict on a Friday afternoon, rather than allowing for a fair and more open-ended allocation of time for deliberations the following week. This is just one specific example of a long tradition of Krocker’s shenanigans in office.

Mark Thering, her Democratic opponent, is a defense attorney with a long record helping the public in Harris County. He would certainly be a qualified judge, but he would also be a compassionate and fair judge. Before Thering’s long record as an attorney, he served as a Probation Officer with the county. Such experience allowed Thering to approach complex criminal justice issues from a point of empathy, not contempt. Harris County could sure use another judge like that.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mark Thering for the 184th District Court.

185th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Susan Brown, a Republican, has almost everything going for her that lead us to not endorse Krocker in the aforementioned contest. The only difference is, she is not so brash as to utter her true feelings in public. But make no mistake, we believe Brown’s tenure as judge has been marred by prosecuting from the bench, unfairly entangling herself within deliberations and maintaining a worldview of contempt toward defendants in her court. She’s not right for Harris County, and the county indeed deserves better.

We also take exception with Brown’s method of grand jury selection. Brown, more so perhaps than any other Judge, is a passionate advocate for the corrupt “pick-a-pal” system, in which a Judge appoints a friend who in turn selects more friends to empanel a grand jury. These grand juries serve as glorified rubber stamps for prosecutors, and completely neglect their constitutional responsibility to consider the evidence against the accused to prevent frivolous persecution. It was also in Brown’s court that the infamous “Runaway Grand Jury” was seated that inappropriately and dishonestly defamed District Attorney Pat Lykos in the midst of her re-election campaign.

Her Democratic opponent, Mack McInnis, is a fine defense attorney who desperately needs to be elected to the bench. Harris County would benefit from his nearly unmatched legal acumen, as well as his compassionate and well-tempered ideas on both grand juries and pre-trial release programs. He would be tough, but fair and reasonable. Harris County would gain an invaluable asset with a Judge named McInnis.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mack McInnis for the 185th District Court.

208th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Denise Collins, who has served in office for more than 20 years, has a positive record as a Judge. We have some hesitation regarding certain parts of her record; overall, though, she’s been a good asset for the county in office. A former defense attorney, Collins, a Republican, brings a unique perspective to the District Courts. She is fair, knowledgeable and often works together with both prosecutors and defense attorneys to craft consensus benefiting the entire community.

Collins is part of an old guard of attorneys, one who is not merely obsessed with scoring points at Republican fundraisers or the like. She actually cares to serve the county that elected her, working diligently and honestly often under the radar.

Additionally, Collins’ Democratic opponent is not a good fit for Criminal Courts. Chuck Silverman has very little experience in criminal law and, while he has some good ideas, we are uneasy about supporting such a novice. While it is true that we endorsed a candidate in a similar predicament yesterday, the District Courts are simply a whole different animal. Rather than being a court with a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail, these courts quite literally deal with matters of life and death. It is just too risky to take a chance on someone without the requisite experience.

Accordingly, this board endorses Denise Collins for the 208th District Court.

230th DISTRICT COURT
First appointed to the bench by Perry last year, Judge Brad Hart has barely been in office a year. In that capacity, he hasn’t quite developed a reputation one way or another. Yet another former prosecutor, we will give him the benefit of the doubt that he has been fair and ethical while in office. If you are merely concerned about keeping calm in the courtroom and minimizing change, vote for Hart. If you think that Harris County can raise its standards though, there is another option.

Greg Glass is Hart’s Democratic opponent. A magnificent defense attorney, all those who have ever spent any time whatsoever at the Criminal Justice Center will be familiar with his abilities in and out of the courtroom. Experienced, qualified and compassionate, he would arguably be one of the best Judges Harris County has if elected. He strongly urge the voters of this county to make that a reality.

Accordingly, this board endorses Greg Glass for the 230th District Court.

248th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Katherine Cabanaiss, much like Evans and Hart, has only been on the bench for about a year. A former prosecutor, she has done a passable job on the bench and voters should definitely be hard pressed to pass her up for another term. But, not to sound trite, much like all of these other benches, Harris County would be well-served with a Judge who has experience on the other side of the courtroom.

Shawna Reagin, the Democratic opponent, delivers on these qualities. A longtime defense attorney, she also has years of experience both teaching the law and helping the representation of the indigent. Reagin also served as Criminal District Judge from 2009 to 2013, where she ran one of the more impressive benches in all the courthouse, a model of efficiency, ethics and compassion. She would be a great Judge, just as she already was for a quadrennial.

Harris County has an easy choice. Either more of the same or a throwback to one of the more impressive chapters of Harris County Criminal law in recent memory. Yet another prosecutor or a defense attorney. Another politician seeking to move up the ladder or a dedicated public servant striving to make the community a better place by providing justice for the accused. We think the choice is crystal clear.

Accordingly, this board endorses Shawna Reagin for the 248th District Court.

262nd DISTRICT COURT
Judge Denise Bradley, a Republican first appointed to this post in 2011 by Perry, will be seeking her first full term in November. All in all, we think that Bradley has been a pretty fair judge. She tries to adjudicate cases neutrally and pragmatically, without any of the politics. On most issues of law, our concerns have largely been placated.

Contrarily, our valid concerns with Bradley stem from a big ethical issue a couple years ago. In 2012, a good friend of hers, Mike Anderson, who at the time was running for District Attorney, filmed a commercial in her courtroom. He did this after “asking her,” not going through the legal mechanism needed for non-official use of a courtroom. The kerfuffle lead to David Jennings, a prominent conservative blogger, among others, opining she had perhaps violated state judicial conduct rules. While perhaps her interpretation of the law have not been marred by politics, we have some serious questions as to her ethics as a Judge.

Jules  Johnson, the Democratic opponent, would stand apart as a very ethical and sensible alternative. A one-time prosecutor who then went into private practice, he has seen both sides of the criminal justice process in a unique way. Furthermore, when speaking on his campaign priorities, Jules argues that the role of a Judge is to be a “neutral and fair arbiter of the law.” We completely agree. All those who personally know or have practiced alongside Jules can attest that he would, indeed, be such an arbiter.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jules Johnson for the 262nd District Court.

263rd DISTRICT COURT
Herb Ritchie served as a criminal district judge from 2009 to 2013, when he was regrettably defeated for re-election because of partisan sweeps. He was, in our opinion, the best Criminal Judge without exception in Harris County during his terms of service. With unmatched intellect, problem-solving abilities, ethics, pragmatism and compassion, Rithcie presents all of the qualities desperately needed in a criminal judge. Harris County made a huge mistake losing him as a judge, one they desperately need to correct.

Ritchie, a Democrat, seeks out rehabilitation and not just punishment for those accused before his court. He has worked tirelessly in reducing the overcrowding of jails and keeping all those possible out of them. He has been an effective advocate for competent representation for the indigent as well. Ritchie has even been one of Harris County’s best advocates for saving taxpayer money while in office.

For all these reasons, it is most important that voters absolutely restore Ritchie to the bench. But the decision is easier given that the Republican incumbent, Jim Wallace, has a reputation for prosecuting from the bench. Compared to Ritchie, Wallace simply lacks the compassion or mindset to be that good of a judge. He is obviously not the right choice.

Accordingly, this board endorses Herb Rithcie for the 263rd District Court.

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.

Democrats battle incompetence in race for DA

After the incumbent District Attorney, Mike Anderson, passed away this last August, Harris County began preparing for a Special Election in November 2014 to fill the remaining two years of his term. In the interim, Mike Anderson’s widow, Devon Anderson (hereafter, “Anderson”), was appointed by Governor Perry to fill the vacancy.

Anderson, a former Judge, will be running for re-election, though one should probably expect a challenger in the Republican primary. Meanwhile, the Democrats already have a good candidate announced: Kim Ogg. She is from a prolific political family, has extended expertise in both law & criminal justice (former director of Crime Stoppers) and will make a great candidate who stands a good chance of winning the election. Contrary to public opinion, the DA should not simply be the high executioner who shows no mercy, it is a position about justice and equity. In other words, perfect for a progressive person such as Ogg.

But these are the Democrats we are talking about, which naturally means adding a tablespoon of incompetence. Since we are talking about the Harris County Democrats in specific, probably two tablespoons to be safe. And I do not mean the leadership of the County Party, I mean the people who show up and vote in the primaries.

Click here to read who the Democrats must fight in their battle against incompetence!

Devon Anderson appointed D.A.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Governor Perry has appointed Devon Anderson, former Judge and widow of previous District Attorney Mike Anderson, has been appointed the new District Attorney of Harris County.

Yesterday, Jared Woodfill (Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party) wrote an open letter to the Governor recommending Devon Anderson (hereafter, “Anderson”) to the post. Anderson has a longtime prosecutor over the years, and served as a Judge in a Criminal District Court for one four-year term.

My colleague David Jennings at Big Jolly Politics has some words to say on this topic earlier today, back before Governor Perry made the official appointment. Jennings, who reminded everyone that Woodfill actually supported Pat Lykos (Mike Anderson’s primary opponent last year), published an open resolution from the Harris County Republican Party’s Executive Committee that showed they definitively took no stance on who should be appointed by the Governor. I will give him credit for pointing at the Chronicle article yesterday, which insinuated the “Harris GOP” was behind the push, was somewhat misleading. It was Woodfill in an individual capacity, not on behalf of the larger party.

This, however, begs the question of what about Anderson, a former Republican officeholder, is so offensive to the Republican establishment. Jennings insinuates that Anderson is pro-choice, which I have no information on.

I did not have much of a preference on the new District Attorney, given that all of them were Republicans. In fact, I was completely unaware of the candidates other than Belinda Hill until yesterday. I suppose I would have preferred one of the Lykos allies such as Rachel Palmer (she got exonerated today, by the way) in the office, but it is all a moot point now.

I assume Anderson will be running for the remainder of the term in 2014, so the Democrats need to find a new candidate. The Democrats fell on their sword last year when it came to selecting a nominee, and yet that nominee received 48% of the vote. Just think what we could do if someone who wasn’t a maladjusted perennial candidate had been nominated?

Another Anderson for DA?

The Houston Chronicle reports on the growing draft movement of Devon Anderson for Harris County District Attorney. Devon Anderson is the widow of Mike Anderson, the late District Attorney who passed away last month after a battle with cancer. Shortly thereafter, the first assistant DA, Belinda Hill, became the official Acting District Attorney. It is the ultimate responsibility of Governor Perry, of course, to appoint a replacement to serve until a Special Election may be held next November.

Jared Woodfill, the Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, made the official suggestion in an open letter to Governor Perry. As the Chronicle reported, Woodfill said: “The person who would be the best to fill Mike’s shoes, and they’re big shoes to fill, would be his wife. I’m hopeful that the governor will appoint her to carry on Mike’s legacy. She’s very, very qualified for the position.”

Devon Anderson is not just the widow of the previous officeholder, she is a very experienced attorney and jurist in her own right. A longtime prosecutor herself, Devon Anderson served as Judge of the 177th District Court (Criminal felonies) for one term, from 2005 to 2009. At that time, she was defeated by Kevin Fine, a Democrat (Fine later resigned mid-term; his replacement, Republican Ryan Patrick, was re-elected in 2012).

Reportedly, (acting DA) Belinda Hill is also interested in maintaining the office permanently. KTRK notes a list of four other candidates being discussed by local Republicans. Given that Perry makes the call, it is a forgone conclusion that a Republican will get the nod. The other names include Marc Carter, the Judge of the 228th District Court (Criminal felonies).

Jim Leitner, a key Lykos aide, and Rachel Palmer, both prosecutors, were other names mentioned. Palmer has some skeletons in her closet relating to being investigated for criminal wrongdoing and pleading the fifth. Leitner was also involved in this controversy.

The last name mentioned by the KTRK article is Ted Poe. Being a Congressman with unbelievable job security, and being a mere 65 years of age, I cannot understand why Poe would consider leaving Capitol Hill for this job.

When all is said and done, it will be Perry’s decision. In the State’s largest County, Perry (& his advisers) probably have quite a few opinions of his own, so I do not think recommendations from the local level will affect the outcome all that much.

Mike Anderson, 1955-2013

Mike Anderson

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County District Attorney, Mike Anderson, has died early this morning at the young age of 57. As you may remember, Anderson disclosed last May that he had cancer. It must have been very aggressive, and it is a shame, because Houston truly lost a legend among men.

Anderson, a former District Judge and prosecutor, defeated the previous District Attorney, Pat Lykos, in last year’s Republican primary. After his opponent was incompetent in ways only imaginable to the incompetency of Texas Democrats, Anderson got plenty of bipartisan support in the November election, including mine.

I was never really a fan of Anderson’s politics, but I did see plenty of glimmers of hope in the meantime. But whatever your ideology, today is a day to put aside partisanship and see Anderson for who he really was underneath all the politics. Anderson dedicated his life, whether that be as a Prosecutor or a Judge, to upholding the law and making sure justice always prevailed. Serving for many years as one of the big felony court prosecutors, Anderson spent his days putting the worst of the worst in jail–where they belong.

Anderson was a longtime contemporary and colleague of my father’s, and despite their political disagreements, he always believed Anderson was a man of tremendous integrity and a great public servant.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Anderson’s family, especially his young children. It is a heartbreaking day for those who knew him. While I feel absolutely terrible discussing the political implications at a time like this, it is worth noting that the vacancy in the DA’s office will be filled by a nominee of Governor Perry.

Off the Kuff and Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center have more.

Get well soon, Mike Anderson

As much as I may have had some political disagreements with the District Attorney, Mike Anderson, I did vote for him, and I have tremendous personal and professional respect for him. Accordingly, when I heard that Anderson revealed he had cancer, I was saddened.

I had heard from a number of attorneys I know that Anderson had seemed slimmer and slower than usual around the courthouse. According tot he Chronicle, Anderson stated in an email to employees: “I have great doctors and am undergoing treatment. I fully intend to beat this…”

I wish a speedy recovery for the District Attorney. Off the Kuff has more.