Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The P Slate: local judicials

Harris County has a justice system that rivals those of some small countries.  There are 26 state district civil courts, 22 criminal ones and 11 family law courts, and that doesn't count the 18 justices on two state courts of appeal, the 16 justices of the peace, and the judges who serve on the probate and juvenile courts and the county courts at law.  (Recommendations for the highest courts in the state -- the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- will appear in a later post.)

If you live in the nation's third most populous county, about half of those various judgeships show up on your ballot every two years.  And in a deep purple, virtually 50-50 county like Harris, that means straight Democratic ticket voters in presidential years tend to wash out the Republicans on the bench, and in off-presidential years they get swept back in by the same straight-ticket voting phenomenon... coupled with the fact that so many Democratic voters sit out the midterms.  This doesn't even take into consideration all the voters who stop voting after the top handful of races, especially when you consider that Harris County has one of the longest ballots in the nation.

So many of the county's judicial races are decided by their party's straight ticket voters.  I personally agree with many others that straight-ticket voting is a pox on the democratic process, and not just because it gives so many participants a somewhat arrogant sense of satisfaction that they have completed their biannual citizenship requirement in thirty seconds or less.  But it's the reality of how we elect judges in Harris County, and in Texas and other states as well.  If you want more evidence besides the numbers, just note that some Republicans think 2014 is going to be a blue year, and some Democrats don't.  It's all about who turns out their voters.

(I don't do endorsements per se; I just take my secret ballot and roll it out online for your perusal.  It's your prerogative, of course, to agree or disagree with my picks.  I offer them to voters who wish to carefully discern which judges might be most inclined to interpret the law with fairness and in a progressive perspective, as opposed to a conservative one.  In the evolution of assessing judges and judicial candidates for suitability, I've gotten to the point where I can no longer vote for Republicans.  I simply don't think that anyone who aligns themselves with the appalling extremism of the Republican Party of Texas has the appropriate temperament and corresponding jurisprudence to merit my consideration.  YMMV.)

Before I run down a few of my favorites on the ballot this year, I wish to acknowledge Judge Al Bennett of the 61st Civil District Court, who has recently been nominated to the federal bench by President Obama.  Judge Bennett is one the most exemplary men I've had the fortune of meeting in politics, and that has only a little to do with his outstanding qualifications to serve.  I first came to know him several years ago, when he ran for House District 146, a contest that also featured current-Rep. Borris Miles and former Rep. Al Edwards.  Bennett made a point of seeking my support, and as I had already committed to Miles, I asked him to run in another race so that I could do so.  Well, he did and I did, and the rest is history.

Now on to my recommendations.

-- Judge Kyle Carter, of the 125th Civil District Court, seeks election to Chief Justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals.  A no-brainer, as there are NO Democrats serving on the Fourteenth, and five of the nine Republican justices currently serving were first appointed by Rick Perry.  Carter is challenging the incumbent Chief Justice, Kem Frost, who was appointed to the court by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

 This court needs some balance.  Similarly...

-- Justice Jim Sharp of the First Court of Appeals seeks re-election.  He's the only Democrat on that court.  He's also as progressive as they come for a judge.  Yes, he's gotten himself in a little hot water over his conduct in recent years.  And conservatives have gone after him hammer and tong.  Frankly, his eccentricities have endeared him to me.  Sharp gets my vote and my support.

Texpatriate endorses both Carter and Sharp today as well.

-- Barbara Gardner, running for the 234th District Court. In her words, paraphrasing...

I am running for the 234th because I am considerably more qualified than the person Rick Perry appointed to serve one year ago. In observing Governor Perry's judicial appointments, I have noticed that he most often appoints a person who -- in the words of Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet -- is aligned with the governor's judicial philosophy, which is pro-defendant, anti-consumer, and "unabashedly conservative". This is contrary to our state constitution, which provides for election of judges by citizens, and it is contrary to our concepts of fairness and justice."

That's it in a nutshell.  Kuff has a Q&A with Gardner today.

-- Steven Kirkland, running for Judge, 113th Civil District Court.  Kirkland was ousted from the 215th in 2012 in one of the uglier homophobic demonstrations in Harris County that managed to incorporate a little racism as well.  He's been a fine municipal and state court judge and a friend of the family.

-- Similarly, these three judicials: Tracy Good for the 313th Juvenile Court, Harold Landreneau for County Criminal Court at Law #2, and Tanner Garth for the 281st Civil are acquaintances of mine and come strongly recommended.

-- In addition, Ursula Hall, running for the 189th Civil; Farrah Martinez, running for the 190th Civil, and Scott Dollinger, running for the County Civil Court at Law, #2 get my vote.

And all of the judicial candidates listed here are worthy of yours.

No comments: