The four County Civil Courts at Law in Harris County constitute special places. The arbiter of civil disputes ranging from $200 to $200,000, they serve an interesting role in the legal system. Above Justice of the Peace courts and other small claims divisions (to which they serve as an appeal setting), they often represent monetary disputes that could make or break a person’s livelihood. But below the hefty price ceiling set, they mostly involve disputes between people and not huge corporations. Like their brethren across the street in County Criminal Courts, these Judges’ courtrooms are truly where the rubber meets the road of government.
Both the Republican incumbent Judges and the Democratic challengers are qualified to serve in the role. However, the courts consist of far more than simply a rosy, romanticized setting for citizens to bring their individual monetary disputes to court. Debt collection is a common feature, as are eviction hearings. Eminent domain hearings, as well as the proposals to receive an occupational driver’s license (almost always after the forfeit of one following a DWI) are also covered by the court. For these issues, in addition to qualifications, Judges are needed with the right temperament. Judges are needed who will be, in a word, compassionate.
Things such as board certification, age, law school and political campaign viability are not criteria that any reasonable person should ever prioritize in making these selections. With very few exceptions, the individuals recruited by the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, to run for judicial posts are qualified attorneys. Their distinctions do not materialize themselves on their resumes, but upon their policy records.
For these and other reasons, we have decided to go with the three Democrats running in contested races. While the incumbents are well-qualified, we simply believe that their opponents are better poised to oversee a courtroom of compassion and equity, in addition to law and justice. Judge Debra Mayfield, a Republican incumbent running unopposed for County Civil Court at Law #1, is a qualified jurist who deserves your vote as well.
COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #2
Judge Theresa Chang has had a unique background before getting into the judiciary. A Republican, she served briefly as the Harris County District Clerk from 2007 to 2008. Indisputably qualified, we have concerns nonetheless about her compassion and temperament on the bench. Furthermore, numerous attorneys who have practiced in her court have voiced concern about rather nonchalant practices that limit voire dire, otherwise known as the selection of juries. For the invaluable component of all trial work, it has been alleged that Chang sometimes limits these sessions, often known to take entire mornings, to less than an hour. Such a move for expediency’s sake is not one any court in Harris County should ever make.
The Democratic candidate, Scot Dollinger, would be — in our opinion — a far more compassionate alternative. He would not merely make choices on the basis of “judicial economy,” but would look out for the individual interests of those with business before his court. In speaking with the editorial board, Dollinger outlined an ambitious plan to consolidate much of the work of County Civil Courts, allowing them to work together in what he calls a “unit” to solve the more complex problems. We certainly think it is a good idea, one that deserves full consideration.
Moreover, he would be far less likely to impose his ideology into court proceedings. For example, state law allows for those with forfeited drivers licenses following DWI arrests to receive occupational licenses, that is allowing the operation of a car in limited circumstances, after a brief hearing. While some judges make a point of using the bench as a soapbox for lectures on moral values, we think Dollinger would simply follow the law and competently provide due process –without the fanfare.
Accordingly, this board endorses Scot Dollinger for Harris County Civil Court at Law #2.
COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #3
Judge Linda Storey is seeking her third term in office, representing this all-important court. A Republican, she has done an adequate job on the bench, and if your number one priority is protecting the court system from any bumps or transitional pains, we recommend a vote for the incumbent. She knows the law, usually applies it within her legal bounds and effectively manages her docket.
However, like the above contest, we simply think that her Democratic opponent, Gloria Minnick, is far better situated to deal with the issues arising in this court with compassion and pragmatism. Minnick is obviously also well-qualified to be a Judge; she has practiced law in both the public and private sector for more than two decades.
In courts such as this one, it is not uncommon to hear dozens of eviction hearings in one sitting. On this issue and others like it, our first choice is obviously who would be well-suited to rule on the law. But, given that both candidates would be well qualified in that distinction, we have decided to go with who would maintain a humanistic approach to the issue rather than just one of black letter law. Texas has made the choice to elect its judges because, among other reasons, we have decided as a state to allow all voters — and not just attorneys — to choose who should make legal rulings on our behalf. To represent the people and the law, the choice is clear.
Accordingly, this board endorses Gloria Minnick for Harris County Civil Court at Law #3.
COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #4
Judge Roberta Lloyd is likewise seeking her third full term in office. A longtime attorney with the Harris County Attorney’s office, she is uniquely qualified to be in this position. Serving multiple times as the administrative judge for these courts, Lloyd, a Republican, demonstrably knows the intricacies of this type of law. However, much like the other contested contests, we think that the citizens of Harris County would be nominally better off with change.
Lloyd’s husband serves as an adviser to County Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Precinct 4), an individual on the body charged with overseeing these courts, the same body that even originally appointed Lloyd to the bench (Editorial note: Com. Cagle was not serving at the time that Judge Lloyd was first appointed). Alone, this tidbit would be a rather venial offense, but it is part of a greater pattern for Lloyd. Recent bar association polls rated her poorly and lawyers who do business before her court often complain.
The Democratic candidate, Damon Crenshaw, seeks to be the polar opposite. He has been endorsed by active bar association groups, such as the Mexican-American Bar Association and the Association of Women Attorneys, which have tended this election cycle to cautiously endorse Republican incumbents. Crenshaw has more than 25 years of experience as an attorney, making her qualified to serve much like Lloyd. However, unlike the incumbent Judge, this board strongly believes that Crenshaw would be a powerful force for compassion in the courts and pragmatism on the bench.
Accordingly, this board endorses Damon Crenshaw for Harris County Civil Court at Law #4.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.