One of the major downsides to writing this blog comes around election time when I have multiple friends running for the same bench. I experienced it in 2008 in the 174th District Court race when we had Kevin Keating, John Jocher, Bill Moore, and Terrance Windham all running for the same bench, and all four of them were my friends. Not to mention that all four of them would have all made great judges.
So, the same phenomena is happening now with the Republican Primary election for County Court at Law # 1, which pits defense attorneys Peyton Peebles and Paula Goodhart and former-179th District Court Judge Mike Wilkinson against each other. All three candidates are people I like and respect, and all of them have the requisite intelligence and demeanor to be good judges.
The CCL # 1 bench is currently occupied by Judge Reagan Helm, who has decided not to seek re-election.
Former 179th Judge Mike Wilkinson spent many years on the bench before losing in November 2008 to Democrat Randy Roll. As I posted back then, I think Judge Wilkinson is one of those freakishly intelligent people who made a very good judge when he was on the bench. The problem with Judge Wilkinson was that he had erratic hours that left both defense attorneys and prosecutors complaining about his schedule. He is certainly capable of being the Judge of Court 1, but his hours are going to be his biggest drawback. Not too many prosecutors and defense attorneys are going to look too forward to returning to the days of backlogged dockets and the judge not arriving until after 10:30 every day.
Former-prosecutor and now defense attorney Paula Goodhart is also an extremely intelligent and capable candidate for CCL # 1. She was a prosecutor for many years, and finally left the office as a District Court Chief assigned to the Special Crimes Division. She has tried multiple serious and violent cases and she knows the law. She has been on the defense side now for about three or four years, and knows both perspectives.
Paula is a friend of mine, and her husband, Craig Goodhart, was my Division Chief at the Office. I consider them family friends, and I think that a lot of the criticism that she has gotten on the blog regarding her attempts to implement a flex time program at the D.A.'s Office are unfair and irrelevant to whether or not she would be a good judge. She tried to make more flexible hours for prosecutors that needed more time to accomodate their family schedules. Some people disagreed with it, and ultimately flex hours weren't implemented, but I hardly think she should be faulted for trying. It does NOT speak to her work ethic, and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not she would make a good judge.
Paula had initially set out to run for County Court at Law # 4 and she had my whole-hearted support. Prior to the filing deadline, she switched to the CCL # 1 race. Personally, I wish she hadn't done so, because it put her running against Peyton Peebles.
Peyton Peebles announced that he would run for the bench long before any of the other candidates did, and also before Helm announced that he wouldn't be running again. If you ask me, it takes guts to run against a long-time sitting Republican judge. But Peyton has guts, and he believed that he would be a more effective judge than Helm, when he announced his candidacy.
I've known Peyton since I came to Harris County back in 1999. He had started at the Office a little bit before I had and he spent some time in and out of the Trial Bureau before going full time into the Appellate Division. For those of you who don't know how the Office works, the Appellate Division not only handles responding to cases that are appealed -- they also spend a large amount of time answering frantic phone calls from prosecutors in trial who had a legal issue pop up that needs resolving. The folks of Appellate, like Peyton, Eric Kugler, and Kevin Keating (amongst many others) were like Godsends for us trial attorneys who suddenly had to do some legal research. I can't even begin to count how many times Peyton bailed me out of a crack during trial once he was in Appellate.
Peyton left the District Attorney's Office several years ago and has spent that time doing criminal defense. He still spends the majority of the time doing appellate work and he keeps up on all of the current case law. Peyton's temperment, work ethic and knowledge of the law make him the ideal candidate out of the three running, in my opinion. I promised him my support when he first announced he was running, and I stand by that promise.
Peyton is a good man and would make a great judge.