Saturday, February 22, 2014

Primarily Speaking, Part III

We’re going through the long ballot for the Texas Primary, where we vote for judges, in addition to the more typical elected positions. In Part I, we got through the statewide races. In Part II, we covered the statewide judicial races and a few local races. I expect we’ll finish today, with district (Harris County) judicial races and whatever we’ve else is left (county party leadership). Today covers a few of the more interesting races I’ve been wanting to think through. We’ll go in order, however, rather than just most interesting first.
Gaahhh!!! This additional avalanche showed up
in the mail while I was writing Part III

District Judge 246th Family Court:
This is an open bench (no incumbent) with two candidates, Angelina Gooden and Charley Prine. I heard both of them briefly. Gooden has 24+ years of experience in family law, appointed by the court to represent children. Prine has been an associate judge in the county, for Judge Sheri Dean. His work as a grassroots Republican go back to working for Phil Gramm, and campaigning for Reagan. Both candidates get 50% support from CCHC. Prine gets the nod from TCR, HRBC, DA, and PC. Considering his judicial experience, I’m going with Charley Prine.

District Judge 247th Family Court:
This is also an open bench, and one of the most difficult to decide—because there are good choices. We’ve been hearing from the candidates for this position since last spring, and they’ve been coming faithfully, so that we feel like they’re part of us. I’m not going to endorse, because I want to be open to change my mind up until the last, but I’ll give you some info about each. Melanie Flowers and MLWalker are both African American women—not what you’re told you find at Tea Party meetings. (If I recall correctly, Angelina Gooden fits that demographic as well, as does Governor candidate Lisa Fritsch.) Walker has been functioning as associate judge in this court for some time. Flowers has a certification in family law (the only candidate with this credential, but it isn’t a requirement to do the job).  John Schmude is the third candidate (there used to be a fourth, who dropped out). When he came to our Tea Party to introduce himself, he gave one of the best 10-minute speeches on Constitutional philosophy that I had heard. It was impassioned and memorable. If I were going just by my first impressions based on those 10-minute talks, he would have earned my vote. But there is more. Walker is currently doing the job, for example. And she gets support from my DA friends, as well as one of our regular Tea Party members who has a family law practice. She also has continued to come to our meetings, to become one of us. Only Melanie Flowers has done that more. I see her everywhere—she hands out flowers to remind voters of her name, and I’ve gotten a bouquet-ful.  

I got a heads up to ask the question about long-term conservative principles. Only Schmude voted against Obama in 2008. He has always been conservative. I asked Walker about her vote at a Tea Party meeting, and she answered with considerable grace. Up until that point in her life, she wasn’t political, didn’t pay attention to politics. She voted for Obama, caught up in the hype about it being a historic moment. But shortly into 2009 she realized what a mistake that was, started paying attention, became a Republican and hasn’t looked back. Someone asked Melanie Flowers that question at a forum elsewhere. She admitted she voted for Obama in 2009 (not 2012), because it was historic. She was at that time a GOP precinct chair, which strikes me as unacceptable. Disqualifying? Maybe. But I didn’t get to talk with her about it, and I don’t know of anything else I disagree with her on. Of all the candidates, I think I’d feel most comfortable going to lunch for fun with her, and I think she’d probably do well as a judge. But in this close race, not realizing what a disaster Obama would be is a significant problem. 

Schmude gets 89% support from CCHC, my guess is because conservative philosophy is his native language. He also gets support from PC. Walker gets support from DA, TCR, and HRBC. I hope this is enough info to help you make a decision. Fortunately, it looks like you can’t really make a terrible choice.

District Judge 263rd Criminal Court:
The candidates are Jim Wallace and Robert Summerlin. Wallace has been the sitting judge on this court since 1994. DA as well as TCR support him. But Summerlin gets 100% support from CCHC, plus HRBC and PC. Hmm. I don’t know if the challenge is just because he’s been there so long. It’s odd to challenge a sitting judge. It does appear the challenger has conservative bonafides. He has experience as both a felony prosecutor and defense attorney. I’m not sure which way I’ll go, but the CCHC recommendation has me leaning toward Robert Summerlin.

District Judge 269th Civil Court:
Dan Hinde is the sitting judge on this bench. He was appointed by Governor Perry in 2008 and was a number 1 target of democrats in 2010, but stayed put. He has reduced his docket backlog by 27%. His opponent is John Wittenmyer. All my resources except TCR are behind Hinde (including 100% from CCHC), which means he’s perceived as doing well as the sitting judge. Dan Hinde suggests you remember, “Be kind, vote Hinde, for 269.”

District Judge 311th Family Court:
This is an interesting if confusing race. As an outsider, I’m uncertain if I have all the facts. Denise Pratt is the sitting judge. She has four challengers from her own party. That suggests there’s a problem in that court. The Houston Chronicle agrees the court has problems. In December, hundreds of cases were dismissed without a ruling. Pratt explains that the lawyers had been detaining and then failing to follow up and reschedule—some for years. She insists that she considers the child individually in each and every case. When she spoke at our Tea Party meeting, she seemed sensible, although I wondered about the defensiveness about not being pressured to rule, because we’re all aware of how inefficiency is a huge failure for justice. She was impressive enough that she won our straw poll by a single vote (a snapshot opinion of those attending that day, including candidates and their helpers if they choose to vote). I saw later one of her supporters citing that victory as if it were an endorsement from us. Not true. And we do not, as a group, endorse any candidates. She did not win the next straw poll. Denise Pratt got 65% from CCHC, which is not an endorsement, but a response to specific questions, which relate to conservative principles, not to orderly running of the court. I can see how that could happen in the absence of additional information. 

I had heard about this court previously, but I didn’t immediately make the connection, since there are so many courts, and we’ve met so many candidates, in pretty random order. But what we hear from people dealing with this court is that it’s a huge problem. They say the judge comes in late, leaves early, and simply fails to make rulings. Some have speculated either unadmitted health issues or mental issues, although I don’t see evidence of that from Judge Pratt in person. But there’s enough rumbling that I think it’s fair to say she isn’t doing a good job of managing her court. The challengers have gone as far as to say, “I don’t even care which one of us you vote for; we just have to get someone who will do the job.” Wow!  

So the challengers are Donna Detamore, Alicia Franklin, Philip Placzek, and Anthony Magdaleno. I tend to lean toward whomever I’ve heard from lately. Donna Detamore is supported by PC. Alicia Franklin is supported by DA (which might sway me) and TCR. Anthony Magdaleno is also supported by PC. In straw polls I’ve voted once for Detamore and once for Magdaleno. And there’s a good chance I’d support Franklin as well. Without additional info or support for Placzek, I guess I’ll eliminate him. But otherwise I think the choice is anyone but Pratt.

Judge County Criminal Court 10:
There are four candidates for this open bench. Dan Spjut brings experience from 27 years at the Houston Police Department with 14 years as an attorney. (He doesn’t seem old enough, so I’m not sure if the attorney years are included in the other.) Mary Heafner has been a private detective, and worked for the FBI, and in real estate, plus 30 years as a defense attorney. (I’m often amazed at the impossibly long careers of judicial candidates, and wonder if I’ve gotten numbers wrong. Similarly, I fail to understand billable hours.) Tonya Rolland McLaughlin has been a Harris County prosecutor and defense attorney. She points out that she has been through hundreds of trials, while her opponents combined have tried less than 10 cases. The other candidate, Ken Wenzel, I have not met. Spjut gets support from TCR and HRBC. But McLaughlin gets 60% (less than an endorsement) from CCHC, plus DA and PC. I think I’ll go with Tonya Rolland McLaughlin. She suggests you remember, “Tonya for the 10th.”

Justice First Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3:
The candidates for this bench are Dan Linebaugh, Chad Bridges, and Russell Lloyd. Lloyd has been an assistant DA and has 31 years of civil practice before becoming a civil district judge. He was first vetted by Phil Gram for appointment by Governor George Bush (not approved by the then-liberal legislature, however). David Linebaugh is appeals board certified, and was name a Texas Superlawyer every year since 2008. He has spent 15 years on the jury charge committee, training judges on how to give jury charges. He did litigation for 18 years. Chad Bridges spent 11 years as a prosecutor, and has experience in both small and large counties, covering a large variety of cases.  CCHC gave 90% support to Lloyd, and NRBC, DA, and PC also support him. Linebaugh got support from TCR. I think I’ll go with Russell Lloyd.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 2:
A justice of the peace does not have to have a law degree, but it helps. This bench just came open after 30 or so years, so this opening is a great opportunity. The candidates are Lena Engelage, Layssa Korduba, Nasir Malik, Dean Combs, and Louis Guthrie. The first three have come to our Tea Party to introduce themselves. Both Engelage and Korduba have returned and made themselves at home. Korduba also showed up at the King Street Patriots judicial candidate forum.  She has ten years of practice, and 5 years as a judge—in the City of Tomball since 2008, the first woman judge there. She seems to understand the way this court is run, and has ideas for improved efficiency. Nasir Malik is running as an outsider, claiming the other candidates are party insiders. He’s a businessman. I’m unconvinced about his claims of conservatism. I liked Louis Guthrie when he ran for Sheriff last time around, but I don’t think he has any judicial experience, and he hasn’t campaigned anywhere I’ve seen him. Lena Engelage teaches criminal justice at a high school. She has 5 years’ experience with the FBI and 18 years’ experience as an attorney (and doesn’t look old enough). Her background is diverse, which helps with the variety that comes up before a justice of the peace. All of my sources go with Laryssa Korduba (CCHC gives 90% support), and I will too.

Justice of the Peace Precinct 5, Place 2:
The two candidates are Jeff Williams and Erik Hassan. Williams is the incumbent. He has 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, plus three years as a judge. His opponent doesn’t have a law degree. Again, a law degree isn’t required, but it helps. He handles a staff of 40, with 9,000 new cases a month. It’s not a good place for on-the-job learning. All of my resources support Jeff Williams, and so do I.

Harris County Republican Party Chair:
Jared Woodfill is the six-term (12-year) incumbent for this unpaid position. He is being challenged by Paul Simpson. His challenger complains that he’s a corrupt trial attorney, but I’ve hunted and there’s surprisingly little evidence of corruption, so I’m unconvinced. Simpson, by the way, is also an attorney, just not a trial lawyer. Simpson is claiming that things have gone downhill with Woodfill there. Actually, that’s debatable as well. Precinct chairs need to be filled. Both candidates agree on that; I’ve seen Woodfill acting on it; maybe there should be more action, though. Simpson says he will do something about it; but I didn’t catch exactly what he would do. There’s a third person on the ballot, but if she can’t even make herself known to people like me, she doesn’t know how to spread the conservative message for the party in this key county, so I’m not even giving her a mention. 

Simpson claims to be both a longtime Republican grassroots activist, and a party outsider. I’ve also heard that Simpson is part of a group working to move out the most conservative elements of the party. Seriously, I don’t know what to believe. But at our Tea Party, while Simpson was impressive enough, when he said the reason we have Obama is because “Mitt Romney wasn’t the best candidate to talk about conservatism,” he lost me. He was listening to the enemies of Romney and believing them, instead of vetting the candidate himself. Truly I understand how difficult that is—for someone like me. But I found it pretty easy to find the truth about Romney and always wondered why so many ON OUR SIDE failed to see, and failed to support the best candidate in my lifetime as a result. We simply can’t have someone that obtuse running the party for the county. I don’t actually know Woodfill’s personal opinions about Romney, but when it counted all I saw coming from him was appropriate support. 

Woodfill got 78% support from CCHC. Other sources went for Simpson. I’m open to hear more, but for now I’m staying with Jared Woodfill.

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