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.

Texpatriate endorses in County Criminal Courts

Harris County’s fifteen county criminal courts are truly where the rubber meets the road of government. Thousands upon thousands make their way through the system every year, for all variety of misdemeanor offenses. The most common of these are driving while intoxicated and possession of small amounts of marijuana. No one’s idea of hardened criminals, these courts should be more about rehabilitation than punishment. And the Judges who oversee them should be willing to fight to that effect.

Among the most obvious differences between the fifteen incumbent Republican Judges and the ten Democratic challengers facing them is the career background. The Republicans, with only a couple exceptions, are former prosecutors while the Democrats consist of more defense attorneys. While we think that both careers should be represented on the bench, this board simply believes that the criminal courts could use quite a few more defense attorneys as Judges.

The rationale is rather straightforward. Simply put, Judges need to believe defendants are innocent until proven guilty, much like a defense attorney does. A prosecutor is the only exception to this rule, maintaining the opposite viewpoint all too often. For a courthouse stacked full of former prosecutors, one does not need to think much to realize how this could be problematic for defendants.

We also look to those Judges who, in our opinion, have been on the bench for far too long. Between racist emails, despotic rulings and callous attitudes, the Courthouse is unfortunately full of these types. We specifically have looked unfavorably upon those who “fight crime from the bench,” by attempting to usurp the prosecutorial authority of the DA.

We first recommend a vote of confidence for the five unopposed Republican Judges on the ballot this November: Paula Goodhart (Court #1), Natalie Fleming (Court #3), Analia Wilkerson (Court #9), Diane Bull (Court #11) and Robin Brown (Court #12). All these Judges share some of the troubling characteristics that we outlined above, but none have committed the truly egregious actions that would warrant a simple vote of no confidence.

For the remaining ten benches, we support 7 Democrats and 3 Republicans.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #2
Judge Bill Harmon, a former prosecutor first elected in 2006, is the epitome of the Judge who believes his courtroom is a fiefdom. An experienced jurist, the Republican made headlines a few years back when he unilaterally decided to ignore a program by the District Attorney to focus on rehabilitation and treatment for first-time DWI offenders.

The program, the DIVERT program, was spearheaded by former District Attorney Pat Lykos, a fellow Republican. Working together with pertinent stakeholders far and wide, Lykos unveiled this new program, which allowed for a form of pre-trial diversion (DA’s probation) to be completed by a first-time defendant in exchange for the dropping of charges. The program included some pretty tough provisions, arguably tougher than normal probation. It kept countless individuals out of prison and, in effect, from a life of recidivism. But the zealots came out in force against the sensible program, which allowed for a defendant’s life to be redeemed rather than ruined. Harmon took advantage of this criticism, and pathetically grandstanded against the program, inviting the news media to his press conferences.

When Lykos was defeated for re-election, the program went away. But in Criminal Court #2, it was already an ancient relic. Unfortunately, this is not the only occasion of Harmon prosecuting from the bench. He sees it fit to examine pleadings and meddle in the agreements between prosecution and defense.

Fortunately, the difference between Harmon and his Democratic opponent, Harold Landreneau, are night and day. Landreneau would respect the process, and not attempt to improperly inject himself into it for political benefit. A criminal defense attorney, Landreneau understands the proper role of a Judge and would strive to represent it. He has the pertinent experience needed, and the mentality to be a fair, understanding and impartial adjudicator of the law. We sure know that County Criminal Court #2 could use one.

Accordingly, this board endorses Harold Landreneau for County Criminal Court at Law #2.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #4
Judge John Clinton, a former police officer, represents business as usual in the Criminal Courts. He has a compelling story, a beat cop who rose up through the ranks, attended law school and got elected to the bench. But, like so many other Judges, he has a tendency to conflate the prosecutorial or police desire to be tough on crime with the Judicial responsibility to be fair on crime.

Clinton, a Republican, has done an satisfactory job on the bench, but Harris County can do better. We think that his Democratic opponent, Niki Harmon, could fill that role. Harmon is uniquely qualified to both understand the complex nuances of judicial management as well as the criminal justice system. She has served as both a defense attorney and as a Municipal Judge for the City of Houston. Serving in both of those roles for roughly the past 25 years, she poses the ability to both be ready on day one and serve as a superior Judge. Harmon is truly a gem of a candidate, and voters should reward her with a spot on the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Niki Harmon for County Criminal Court at Law #4.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #5
Judge Margaret Harris, yet another former prosecutor, is another jurist who is not right for Harris County. A Republican, she has been on the bench for nearly a dozen years, and has been a consistent ally for the State against the people. Despite being an ethical Judge, she is not the correct Judge for the job. Harris, like many of her colleagues, has a reputation for unnecessary harshness in some situations. What the county simply needs is a neutral arbiter, one who will act as a fair intermediary between the DA and the defense. This board is simply not satisfied that Harris has done or will do any of that.

Instead, we look toward Ramona Franklin, the Democratic challenger. A defense attorney, she has the expertise and the mindset needed to be a better Judge. But as an adjunct professor and a former prosecutor, Franklin is also well rounded in ways that her opponent simply is not. Franklin, we believe, would not ever torpedo agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Nor do we think that she would try to prosecute or defend from the bench. Rather, she would do what a judge should do: interpret and apply the law.

Accordingly, this board endorses Ramona Franklin for County Criminal Court at Law #5.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #6
Judge Larry Standley should not be on the bench. It is a travesty and a testament to the failures of his party and the county that he still remains in power. Standley, a Republican, first got in hot water a couple years back for controversial emails that he had sent, from his work account, to fellow Judges. The emails contained slurs against blacks, Hispanics, gays and women, to name a few, and were addressed to both female and African-American Judges, among others. The controversy, which is preserved in meticulous detail by the Houston Chronicle, prompted Jared Woodfill, then the Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, to demand Standley’s resignation. He refused, got re-elected anyways and is now looking to remain on the bench. Voters should not make the same mistake again.

And lest you think that Standley’s prejudice has subsided, he’s just gotten smart enough to conceal it from work emails. Any casual observer of his courtroom will all too often be appalled by what one finds. Standley runs his courtroom like his own fiefdom, willy-nilly vetoing agreements and making callous remarks. He has even turned his courtroom into a makeshift church on one occasion and conducted impromptu prayer and bible sessions from the bench in open court. Any individual with even a grade school familiarity with the 1st Amendment should see the problems with that.

Fortunately, Standley is not unopposed. His Democratic opponent, Linda Geffin, is remarkably well qualified in her own right. A longtime prosecutor, Geffin is familiar with every nook and cranny of the county criminal courts; though she still maintains a good respect for the process. We think she can take all the positives of prosecutorial experience without the negatives of “fighting crime from the bench,” so to speak.

In more recent years, Geffin has transitioned to a leadership role in the Harris County Attorney’s office, prosecuting Public Nuisance cases. In this role, she has put herself at risk and was even viciously attacked in an incident that was likely related to an ongoing case. Still, Geffin soldiered on, doing what was right above all else. This board is simply in awe of her dedication to the ideals of justice. She stands in stark contrast to her opponent.

Accordingly, this board endorses Linda Geffin for County Criminal Court at Law #6.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #7
Judge Pam Derbyshire, yet another Republican former prosecutor, is somewhat different from many of her colleagues. First, she fairly adjudicates the cases before her, and never seeks to become an activist judge who prosecutes from the bench. Nor does she ever improperly entangle herself in agreements between defendants and prosecutors. She calmly and consistently applies her legal touch to the cases before her on her docket.

Derbyshire also has an admirable trait of seeing the good in her defendants. She regularly works with defendants, particularly young ones, to come up with programs designed not for punitive purposes but for turning one’s life around. In a courthouse where there are all too many relics of yesteryear intent upon law and order above all else, Derbyshire is a refreshing change, particularly for a Republican. Additionally, voters would be wise to keep her in office given the breadth of her legal knowledge.

Sheila Acosta, the Democratic opponent for this bench, has been nowhere to be found throughout this campaign. With no website, no Facebook and minimal campaigning, we have little idea what she stands for, but that isn’t even the problem. Derbyshire is simply too good of a judge to not recommend retention thereof.

Accordingly, this board endorses Pam Derbyshire for County Criminal Court at Law #7.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #8
Judge Jay Karahan, a Republican, began his career — like so many others — as a prosecutor. But he later changed courses and become a defense attorney before being elected to the bench in 2002. Throughout that time, Karahan’s unique resume has become readily apparent, as he often approaches issues in a far different manner than his proseuctorial colleagues.

Like we said above, sole experience as a prosecutor can sometimes warp one’s opinions on the criminal justice system, causing a deviation from normalcy, so to speak. This adulteration of the “innocent until proven guilty” maxim is just not present in Karahan. He is a thoughtful, fair and impartial Judge that Harris County is lucky to be represented by.

Karahan’s Democratic opponent is Kelli Johnson, a prosecutor. In this mirror of the typical setup, we believe that Johnson is an experienced and qualified candidate for Judge, but we are quite concerned about the prospect of replacing the sole former defense attorney on the bench by yet another prosecutor. She would make a good Judge, but Karahan already is one.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jay Karahan for County Criminal Court at Law #8.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #10
After many years on the bench, Judge Sherman Ross is retiring at the conclusion of this term. Residents of Harris County should breath a collective sigh of relief, as Ross’ many years were maligned by improper prosecutions from the bench.

Unfortunately, the Republican candidate to succeed him is not much better. A former police officer, Dan Spjut would likewise seek to be a crime fighting Judge. We also have some major misgivings about the strategy Spjut used to secure the Republican nomination, banking on the unethical pay-to-play slates of local Republican powerbrokers.

The Democratic candidate, George Barnstone, also presents some concerns. A grand political activist in his own right, Barnstone has very limited knowledge of the inner-workings of criminal law and even admits he does not practice it. However, he pledges to learn quickly and to be a compassionate advocate for the everyman while in office. We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a Judge Barnstone would not be an obstacle to defendants seeking justice. We think, on the balance, Harris County voters should take a chance on him. It might not be smooth at first, but it’s a chance we’re willing to take.

Accordingly, this board endorses George Barnstone for County Criminal Court at Law #10.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #13
Four years ago, Judge Don Smyth was first elected. Another Republican and another prosecutor, it would be easy to dismiss him as more of the same, but that simply is not true. For a lengthy portion of his tenure in the DA’s office, Smyth lead the Public Integrity Unit, putting him face to face with all those public servants who betray the public’s trust. It also taught him, we think, something about fairness.

Smyth is a vociferous conservative to those who know him, but his politics end right at the courthouse door. On the bench, he is fair and open-minded, and always strives for meaningful collaboration between defense attorneys and prosecutors. It would be against every fiber of his being to improperly meddle or second-guess their mutually agreed upon decisions, particularly since his court has worked so hard toward a goal of more efficient judicial economy.

A longtime Scoutmaster, sometimes to underprivileged children, Smyth also has an ability to see good in everyone, namely the young people who come before his court. Second-chances are sometimes given, but generally only as a result of a tough probationary program that truly requires defendants to turn their life around. Smyth doesn’t just do what would be best for his docket, or for his popularity at the next Pachyderm meeting; he does what is best for the community.

Jason Luong, the Democratic opponent, is a great attorney himself. He is a qualified, well-mannered and would serve the public remarkably well in office. We truly wish he could have run for another bench. But we just think that Smyth already embodies all the qualities we are looking for in a Judge.

Accordingly, this board endorses Don Smyth for County Criminal Court at Law #13.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #14
Judge Mike Fields, a longtime Republican Judge, will seek yet a fifth term in office this November. We think voters would be wise to ask him to retire. A notorious prosecutor-from-the-bench, Fields has torpedoed agreements between the DA and defense attorneys in the past for little reasons other than the supposed autocratic powers that a Judge has over his own courtroom.

Furthermore, Fields has developed a terrible reputation as a promulgator of so-called “shock probation,” where mutually agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys are not rescinded per se but are often added with mandatory 5 day jail sentences for little reason other than pure punitive vitriol. If Fields is so serious about revenge, perhaps he should have never left the DA’s office.

David Singer, meanwhile, the Democratic candidate, prompts some questions about his seriousness. His involvement thus far in any type of campaigning has been lackluster at best. But on the issues, Singer, a defense attorney, is clearly the superior choice. He would adjudicate issues fairly and respect agreements between parties.

Accordingly, this board endorses David Singer for County Criminal Court at Law #14.

COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT AT LAW #15
Judge Jean Hughes is a staple of the Criminal Courthouse. A Republican and a former prosecutor, she has served in office for nearly twenty years. While undoubtedly a bright and experienced jurist, she is simply not right for Harris County. Her mindset, like many of the other Judges, is simply not the correct one.

Raul Rodriguez, her Democratic opponent, is a criminal defense attorney with a prolific background in misdemeanor cases in particular. He would be a wise Judge, ready to go on day 1, and would also have the right mindset. He would not prosecute from the bench, nor would he attempt to fight crime from there. Rather, with the assumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, he would preside over neutral and fair adjudication of cases. Throughout his 22 year career, Rodriguez has earned our respect. He has earned our vote as well.

Accordingly, this board endorses Raul Rodriguez for County Criminal Court at Law #15.

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.

An election for District Attorney

The Houston Chronicle reports that Kim Ogg, a longtime prosecutor and former director of CrimeStoppers, will run for the District Attorney’s office as a Democrat in 2014. Devon Anderson, the newly appointed District Attorney, wasted no time in noting that she will run for a full term herself in 2014.

The only policy issue that the Chronicle noted of Ogg was the previous District Anderson, Mike Anderson’s, reversal of the precedent in drug “trace cases,” where a nearly negligible amount of drugs such as crack cocaine would still constitute a felony.  The policy was reversed during the tenure of Pat Lykos from 2009 to 2013, but reinstated upon M. Anderson taking office.

Ogg is the daughter of Jack Ogg, a political legend from a previous generation. The senior Ogg, also a Democrat, served in the State House from 1967 to 1973, and in the State Senate from 1973 to 1983. During his last legislative session in the upper chamber, Ogg served as the President Pro Tempore.

Considering how viscerally negative the response of many in the GOP have been to D. Anderson’s appointment to the DA’s office, it is not a forgone conclusion that she will win the primary. I am not a betting man (Editorial note: That’s a damned lie, Noah), but I would reckon that next year’s GOP DA Primary would feature something of a three person race, between Anderson, a Pat Lykos backer and someone to the very far-right.

When it comes to the Democrats, all bets are off. For those who remember, last year the Democrats defenestrated themselves by nominating a complete loon for the post. That primary season was especially painful for Democrats, however, as our US Senate nominee couldn’t even clear a primary against literal no-names.

This news should also open up the conversation about our Countywide contests. As far as I know, Ogg and David Rosen for County Treasurer are the only Democrats running for all of Harris. The Clerks & County Judge still need candidates. Ann Bennett talked about running for one of the Clerkships last summer, but I have not heard anything recently about.

Big Jolly Politics & Off the Kuff have more.

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?

Lykos, Anderson, and DWI

Starting my junior year in High School, I began clerking at my father’s law office. He mainly practices probate law and does estate planning, but this particular year, for some reason, saw an unusually large amount of criminal cases, specifically DWIs and POMs (possession of marijuana). The District Attorney at that time, Pat Lykos, had concocted a program called the “DIVERT” program (it is an acronym for something, but I don’t remember), for first time offenders. In order to complete the program, offenders would be required to complete a number of conditions beforehand, sort of like “Probation-Plus”. If all went well, the charges would be dropped and the records could be expunged, sort of like a mixture between “pre-trial diversion” and “deferred adjudication probation.” I saw these programs in action, and I saw that they worked.

Anyways, enter Mike Anderson, and the firebrand of conservatism that loathes anything that could be deemed “soft on crime.” Anderson campaigns against the DIVERT program, wins the primary, and then goes virtually unopposed in the general election. On January 1st, the day of Anderson’s inauguration, every Criminal lawyer I knew received the same email: that DIVERT would stop, effective immediately.

Then, a ray of hope. The reason the DIVERT program existed in the first place was because deferred adjudication probation for DWIs was banned by the State Legislature. Now, Anderson is lobbying the legislature to change that law. He wants deferred adjudication probation to be restored for first-offender DWI defendants. Oddly, the Chronicle, in its lousy article on this subject, implies that deferred adjudication probationary convictions may be expunged, but that is not even a little bit true. One may, however, prevent the general public from ever knowing of the conviction, but in the eyes of the government, it most definitely still happened.

In defense of a Democratic District Attorney

I voted for Mike Anderson. It pained me, and my father threatened to stop talking to me because of it, but I could not bear the thought of someone like Lloyd Wayne Oliver becoming DA, even more than I could not bear the thought of someone like Anderson becoming DA.

I expected most of my (Democratic/Liberal) friends & colleagues to come to a similar decision, albeit as painfully as I did. However, while most did, in fact, vote for the Republican candidate, the rationale was absolutely appalling. Far too many of my contemporaries, who otherwise vote liberally, have been duped into this folly of believing a District Attorney is about exacting punishment and revenge, and therefore it is perfect for the GOP. The DA is not about punishment, it is about equity and fairness.

In England, there once existed an institution named the Court of Chancery. Its main purpose was to be an equitable companion to the aloofness and harshness of Common Law. While the Court of Chancery did not, per se, deal with much of the same material as a  District Attorney would deal with, the concept was still, in my opinion, pretty much the same.

Great Britain, once upon a time used these equitable remedies to straighten out the de facto injustices caused by their legal system, both in criminal and civil cases. Today, in the United States, we have things like punitive damages and (with the exception of moron Texas) no loser-pay laws in litigation, meaning the courthouse doors are open to everyone. Finally, we have the modern District Attorney.

Again, I am familiar with the history of the law, and know that the District Attorney, in its modern day prosecutorial role, is not intended to be an equitable figure, but that is what has occurred. I realize, in many ways, the prime function of the DA is to persuade juries to the side of the State, but that does not mean the DA is a figure of the vigilante mobs, elected on promises of exacting retaliation “for the victims” or “for justice“. Rather, like just about everything else in our common law system, the position is about the accused, and not the attacked.

The District Attorney, in its modern embodiment, is invaluable in cuing plea deals, and deciding exactly which course of action to take on a case. Thus, the idea of “prosecutorial discretion.” For example, even though a [first time] DWI is considered a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas, and the punishment is 180 days in jail, many defendants can get off without doing any jail time, and some can even see their records expunged after the completion of a pseudo-probationary program (the DIVERT program, a creation of Ms. Lykos).

The DA, in this capacity, is the arbiter of equity. The law is cold, black & white, and aloof. But the DA, who is human, should be warm, grey, and involved. If extenuating circumstances are involved, the penalty will often be mitigated. This is why a lunatic who murders a police officer, and a woman who strangles her abusive husband in his sleep, are not charged with the same crime, even though it may seem the law would warrant such action. It is the same reason Jean Valjean’s petty larceny does not warrant the same penalty as post-Hurricane electronic store looters.

Therefore, my heart cries when I find my otherwise-liberal friends talking about how they want a “hard on crime”, “law & order” DA, but will stick with Democratic Judges. In fact, it is this type of cross-ticket voting that kept Bradford out of the office to begin with. The DA is not, and most definitely should not, be a bully pulpit for modern day public punishment. It should be the keepers of equity in an otherwise inequitable system. One in which first time offenders may be channeled into probationary programs instead of being locked up like hardened criminals, in which drug addicts may be treated for their disease, rather than punished for their infraction.

Politicians should be the true retaliatory figures, and the true “law and order” types. For they are the ones who write the laws. If the public truly wishes for blood, than the legislatures would be the ones to stiffen the penalties. As the keepers of the grey in a black & white world, the DA should not be seen as the inquisitor.

Yes, I voted for Anderson, but if given another option, I wouldn’t have. For the DA is not about punishment, it is about protection.

Endorsements: Civil Court at Law & Countywides

Civil Court at Law 1
I break with the Chronicle to endorse the Democrat, Erica Graham. The paper did call her a “well qualified candidate”, and I general break with the Republican line on Civil affairs.

Civil Court at Law 2
I  break with the Chronicle to endorse the Democrat, Damon Crenshaw, for the same reasons as above.

County Attorney
The Chronicle has not endorsed in this race yet. I choose the incumbent, Democrat Vince Ryan. Vince Ryan, since his service many years ago at City Hall, has consistently been an advocate of the people. The County Attorney of Harris County does a very limited job, as opposed to say Travis County, but I believe that Vince Ryan has served in this limited role quite well.

Sheriff
The Chronicle has not endorsed in this race yet. I choose the incumbent, Democrat Adrian Garcia. Another City Hall veteran, I believe the Sheriff has done a tremendous job since taking office nearly four years ago. No reason to cast out this officeholder.

District Attorney
I make no endorsement. I would have voted for Lykos over Lloyd Wayne Olliver (not even a real Democrat), but Mike Anderson is just too radical for me. The Chronicle endorsed Anderson.

Tax Collector
The Chronicle has made no endorsement yet. I choose the Republican, Councilmember Mike Sullivan. I had the honor to work with Councilmember Sullivan for three years on Bagby Street, and he devotes an integrity and sense of justice to the job that is simply unparalleled. He will routinely give up his weekends to go on patrol with HPD or have dinner with our firefighters. While I don’t agree with his politics, I consider him to be one of the most honorable politicians in this city, and look forward to voting for him.