Texpatriate endorses for Juvenile Courts

Juvenile Courts are very special places within our society. The entire process is deemed civil, and not criminal. Rehabilitation — and thus not punishment — is the main priority. The accused are not defendants, but respondents. They are not convicted or found guilty, but rather adjudicated delinquent. And sentencing is not levied for merely punitive measures; rather, the court finds a solution that teaches the respondent what he or she did was incorrect while still trying to rehabilitate the person back into society as a productive citizen.

Basically, more than any other court, it is absolutely imperative that Judges are found who are not trying to prosecute from the bench, who are not merely attempting to woo the Pachyderm Club with their “tough on crime” stances and who are willing to ensure society continues being there for the troubled youths among us. It is not enough to find Judges who want to teach right from young. We need to find Judges who will work with these young people in hope that they can truly turn their lives around.

There are three Juvenile District Courts up for election this year, but only two feature contested elections. The unopposed Judge, Mike Schneider of the 315th District Court, is an adequate jurist who deserves a vote of confidence. In the other races, we endorse the Democrats.

Judge Glenn Devlin is a longtime officeholder at the Juvenile Justice center. On the bench since 2011, this freshman Judge has already left his mark upon the courts. A former defense attorney for juvenile matters with more than 30 years of experience, Devlin, a Republican, has the right temperament for the bench. Respondents before his court are dealt with fairly and nobly, and are given a fighting chance to reenter society a better person.

We also like Devlin’s Democratic opponent, Tracy Good. He has a good plan to modernize the courts, as well as address some of the equitable concerns they face. Be it the cultural problems that causes what he calls the “cradle to prison pipeline” or the bureaucracy that blocks much proposed change, Good has a grander plan at hand. Rather than faulting any specific actions of the incumbent, which we think have been admirable in most cases, Good seeks to improve the entire juvenile court system.

He wants to reform the inept ad litem procedures, which we have opined against a plethora of times. He also wants to increase collaboration between the courts and the Public Defender’s office, as well as greatly reform elements of how the courts do business. They are ambitious goals, and will require a lot of work to achieve. But we agree that they are good goals to set, and we think a Judge who would work toward them is worthy of support. Perhaps even more than a fair and balanced Judge who we still believe in. This was one of our toughest decisions.

Devlin is a tried and true choice, the safe bet to be a compassionate and fair adjudicator. But Good represents those who still want to do more, those willing to take a chance. Both are good options. Personally, we are going with the latter.

Accordingly, this board endorses Tracy Good for the 313th District Court.

Judge John Phillips, a three term Republican incumbent, has a mixed record. Harris County just deserves better. His Democratic opponent, Natalia Oakes, is a spectacularly well qualified attorney who simply needs to be elected to the bench. All around better qualified and better tempered to deal with these unique and important types of disputes and issues, Oakes would be a great asset to Harris County.

Oakes has, in the past, pointed to the incumbent’s high rate of reversal by higher courts for terminating the parental rights, 31 times in all. She contends that she would not be quite so eager to enter an order that irrevocably ends the legal relationship a parent has over their child, and would instead engage in more judicial restraint. As an attorney with a long resume in cases of children’s welfare, Oakes undoubtedly knows the serious consequences of such an action, would be far more tempered on the bench. She’s the better choice, without a doubt.

Accordingly, this board endorses Natalia Oakes for the 314th 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 opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Natalia Oakes

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

Natalia Oakes, Democratic candidate for the 314th District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
NO: Natalia Oakes

T: What office are you seeking?
NO: Judge, 314th Family (Juvenile) District Court

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.

T: What is your political party?
NO: Democrat

T: What is a contentious issue that you belief the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
NO: The court continuously faces the problems of effective rehabilitation for young offenders so as to not recycle into the adult system. It’s important to break the cycle of crime. One solution is to update probation programs, track the success of the programs and get more community involvement in the crime centered neighborhoods.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
NO: The Judicial Code of conduct prevents me from answering this question.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
NO: The incumbent has been reversed 31 times for the same issue of terminating parental rights (permanently taking children away from their parents), one case as recently as August.  He either does not follow the law or procedure.

T: What role do you think a Juvenile District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Juvenile District Courts should have as a whole?
NO: A judge should be patient and respectful to the public, lawyers and witnesses. The Courts should give due process to all who come before it.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
NO: I have the proper judicial temperament.

T: Do you believe that the way Courts address minor drug and alcohol offenses should be changed? If so, how?
NO: Judges must follow the law and cannot legislate from the bench.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
NO: In a large county such as Harris County, the voters cannot know all 80 judicial candidates. The party label of D or R gives the voters some guidance of what the candidate stands for.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
NO: Important issues are:

1) effective rehabilitation of young offenders. As a defense lawyer, I try to craft a recommendation for services specialized to the child’s needs.

2) to limit change of placement (movement) of children who come into CPS custody. As a children’s attorney I consistently urge this to the court.

3) to run an efficient courtroom so as not to waste the public’s and the lawyers’ time. Many parents miss work to come to court for the juvenile offenders and for CPS cases. It is a burden to make them wait all day to get their case heard.