As Early Voting begins tomorrow, I suddenly realize that I never got around to writing the lengthy endorsements that I have in the past about all of the judicial positions in the CJC that are on the ballot this year. So, here we go with my recommendations:
Harris County District Attorney-Judge Mike Anderson (R) vs. Lloyd Oliver (D)
If you aren't clear on who the best candidate for this position is by now, you've been sleeping under a rock for the past year. Judge Mike Anderson is the easy and obvious choice for the position. He is a former prosecutor and District Court Judge with integrity and honesty. His opponent has demonstrated that he would turn Harris County into a complete and total joke.
Recommendation: Mike Anderson
174th District Court-Judge Ruben Guerrero (D) vs. Robert Summerlin (R)
This is a tough race for me to issue a recommendation in, because I've never practiced much in Judge Guerrero's court. My friend and fellow blogger, Mark Bennett, has expressed that he is not a big fan of the Judge in several posts on his blog and he articulates his reasoning well. I can say that I have not heard too many glowing recommendations of him inside the CJC.
Robert Summerlin, on the other hand, is an old friend of mine from the D.A.'s Office. I endorsed his opponent, Joe Vinas, in the Republican Primary because I believed (and still believe) that Joe had more experience in criminal law and had a better temperament for the Bench. I like Robert, although we lost touch several years ago, but I have some concerns that make it impossible to issue a recommendation for him.
176th District Court-Judge Shawna Reagin (D) vs. Stacey Bond (R)
This race is also a tough one for me to make a recommendation on, but for the exact opposite reasons as the ones I have in the 174th race -- I think both candidates are great.
I didn't know Judge Reagin well at all when she took the Bench in 2009, but I have thoroughly enjoyed practicing in front of her over the past years. Don't get me wrong, she can occasionally be cranky as all get-out on the bench and has been known to dress both lawyers and defendants down. However, I've also seen her give second chances to some decent people that I doubt any other judge in the courthouse would have taken a gamble on. I have one client in particular who had the opportunity to turn his life around on a serious case only because Judge Reagin was willing to let him try. He's a success story that would not have existed if not but for her.
Stacey Bond is also an outstanding candidate with plenty of experience. She served as a prosecutor for many years and has served as a defense attorney for many since then. I have known Stacey and her family pretty much since I started in Harris County back in 1999, and they are some of the nicest and outgoing people you could possibly meet. Her experience on both sides of the bench and the fact that she is so knowledgable on the law make her a very formidable candidate, as well. She also has the right demeanor to exercise excellent judicial temperament.
The idea of writing this recommendation has stressed me out ever since I learned the two candidates were running against each other, because I think so highly of them both. So, I'm wimping out on making a recommendation.
177th District Court-Judge Ryan Patrick (R) vs. Vivian King (D)
This race is going to generate some controversy, as two candidates vie to replace former Judge Kevin Fine. Judge Fine stepped down over the summer and Judge Patrick was sworn in to replace him. So far, he has been getting good reviews from his time on the bench. The main concerns that are usually expressed about Judge Patrick are his youth and lack of experience as a lawyer. However, I worked with Judge Patrick when he was a prosecutor and I can attest that those concerns aren't valid. He exhibited a solid record of good judgment and fairness that will translate to him being a good judge. He rose quickly through the Office and was a Special Crimes prosecutor at the time he left to be sworn in.
Vivian King is a local defense attorney and friend of mine who has run for judge in the past. She is also the host of her own talk show on Houston Media Source (the same channel that airs Reasonable Doubt). She is an outstanding criminal defense attorney who puts her money where her mouth is and goes to trial (and wins) often. The primary concern of most prosecutors that I talk to is that she is so deeply committed to being a criminal defense attorney that she couldn't be a neutral judge.
Recommendation: Ryan Patrick
178th District Court-Judge David Mendoza (D) vs. Roger Bridgwater (R)
I didn't know Judge Mendoza at all prior to him taking the bench in 2009, and I had supported Roger Bridgwater in the 2008 election. After four years of getting to know both men a little better, I will now proudly endorse Judge Mendoza as the much better candidate for Judge of the 178th District Court.
Having practiced in front of Judge Mendoza, I can attest that he is a soft-spoken and attentive judge who runs his court with dignity. He follows the law and educates himself on any portions of it that he doesn't know off the top of his head. Everyone is treated equally and with respect in his courtroom and no one gets any special treatment.
Roger Bridgwater, on the other hand, has exhibited terrible behavior over the past four years that speaks directly to his ability to be a judge. As much as I am encouraging my Democrat friends to cross party lines and vote for Mike Anderson, I'm encouraging my Republican friends to cross-over and vote for Judge Mendoza.
For Republicans who hate the idea of a judge who "legislates from the bench," please remember that Bridgwater was the creator of the not-so-legal-DIVERT program for the District Attorney's Office, which gave a form of pre-trial diversion to first time DWI defendants. Furthermore, he showed a lack of respect towards courtroom proceedings by refusing to answer some questions about the program when called to testify. Additionally, he showed a lack of respect toward his female co-workers when he initiated baseless disciplinary charges against senior prosecutor Donna Goode.
Roger Bridgwater used to have my respect and quite a bit of it, actually. That's gone now.
Recommendation: David Mendoza
179th District Court-Judge Randy Roll (D) vs. Kristin Guiney (R)
The decision on who to vote for in this race is also a very easy one to make. Kristin Guiney is one of the best candidates running in any of the races this year. She's a former Chief Felony prosecutor and a highly respected criminal defense attorney who has been impressing people since the day she first stepped in the CJC. Unlike many rookie prosecutors, Guiney exhibited very careful and rational decisions when it came to handling her early cases. She resisted the urge to jump to conclusions at first glance and waited to hear all of the evidence before passing judgment on anything. Once she made her decision, she was a zealous advocate for her position. As a defense attorney, she has been equally diligent, and someone whose opinion I value when looking for advice. She'll make a great judge.
In regards to Randy Roll, I like him as a person and he's always been very kind to me. I appreciate that, but unfortunately that does not always translate into being a great judge. Although he has brought down the docket numbers in his court significantly since first taking the bench, his methods in doing so have raised some eyebrows. He has been known to make statements encouraging defendants to plead guilty in ways that have not sat well with the defense bar, amongst other things. I don't like speaking ill of him, but Guiney is just simply the best candidate in this race.
Recommendation: Kristin Guiney
337th District Court-Judge Herb Ritchie (D) vs. Renee Magee (R)
DISCLAIMER-I have to refrain from giving an endorsement in this Court, because I have a case set for trial in it and another case that will be set for trial in there soon. As much as I like sharing my opinion, I won't do it at the expense of clients.
Additionally, it's a tough call. I've tried a murder case in front of Judge Ritchie and he gave me a very fair trial. He had the guts to suppress my client's confession, and then he also subsequently denied my request for a Self Defense charge. He made his decisions based on the law and impartial reasoning which I admired.
I have every expectation that Renee Magee will be equally qualified. I've known Renee since 1998 when I first interned at the D.A.'s Office. She's the person who got me an interview with the Office and I will always be eternally grateful to her for that. She's a senior Felony Chief prosecutor who has tried every case there is to try in the Penal Code.
Recommendation: No Decision
338th District Court-Judge Hazel Jones (D) vs. Brock Thomas (R)
Like the race for the 178th, this race is also a rematch of the 2008 election. All the things that I said back then, I still believe. Brock Thomas was a great judge then and I was sorely disappointed to see him swept out of office in the Obama Tidal Wave. He is smart and has excellent judicial temperament. He set a high standard for the prosecutors who tried cases in his court and he wasn't afraid to call balls and strikes as he saw them. I was very glad to find out that he was running to reclaim the bench. I wish several other judges from 2008 would do the same.
I don't have anything personal against Hazel Jones. As I noted in 2008, she was always nice to me when we were prosecutors. Her tenure as judge has been pretty quiet, as well. However, she hasn't exactly dazzled anyone either. Her policy of making attorneys get pre-approval before earning out-of-court hours has led to many lawyers not being willing to work in that court (i.e., "Before I talk to your alibi witness, Mr. Client, I'll need to get the judge's permission first.")
Recommendation: Brock Thomas
339th District Court-Judge Maria Jackson (D) vs. Brad Hart (R)
Although my stance on Judge Jackson has softened quite a bit since she was running against Judge Caprice Cosper back in 2008, my recommendation this year still goes to the Republican challenger, Brad Hart.
Brad Hart was my first Chief at the Office and since the day I met him, he has been the kind of lawyer I always hoped to be. He has amazing integrity and intelligence. He will listen to everyone's argument down to their last word and then make decisions based on the law and the facts before him. He makes his recommendations as a prosecutor based on what is truly in the best interest of justice -- never looking to ruin a young defendant's life, yet never jeopardizing public safety, either. He is respected by his peers within the Office and his opponents in the Defense Bar, equally. He will be a fantastic judge.
I don't have anything negative to say about Judge Jackson. She's a very very nice lady, but that is not the same thing as being a good judge.
Recommendation: Brad Hart
351st District Court-Judge Mark Kent Ellis (R) vs. Garland "Mac" McInnis (D)
Judge Ellis was the one surviving Republican criminal court judge after the 2008 Democratic sweep. I supported him back in 2008 and I continue to support him now. He's just a solid judge. I don't know him on a personal level at all, but he has always been professional and judicial whenever I practiced in front of him.
Garland McInnis is a good guy and an attorney I've known since I was a baby prosecutor. He used to be a defense attorney, but I believe he is now with the County Attorney's Office. Although he is a very intelligent man, he hasn't been around criminal law in quite some time and I believe he is running more out of loyalty to the Democratic Party than he is because he wants to be judge.
Recommendation: Mark Kent Ellis
As a side note, I normally don't make any recommendations in the Civil Court World, because I don't practice over there. However, there are two specific races that I am watching for Criminal Law-related reasons.
Both Civil District Judges Al Bennett (61st District Court) and RK Sandill (127th District Court) came across the Criminal Law Radar over the past year. Both candidates are Democrats and I don't know anything about their opponents. Both Judge Bennett and Judge Sandill have garnered very high marks in how they handled some pseudo-criminal law issues recently.
Judge Bennett, you will remember, presided over the Motion to Recuse Hearing regarding the Rachel Palmer, Judge Susan Brown, and the 185th Grand Jury Scandal. I had never seen him before, but he ruled swiftly, decisively, and without playing favorites. I thought he was very impressive and after talking to several friends who practice Civil Law, learned that he has an excellent reputation as a Judge. He'll be getting my vote.
Judge Sandill has gotten some attention from the criminal law world because he handles asset forfeiture cases that arise out of criminal cases. If someone gets stopped driving a Mercedes and the cops try to seize his car because they think he is using it to sell drugs, it ends up in Judge Sandill's court. Prior to his arrival, the common practice was that if the State wanted to seize an asset, they got to. I'm hearing time and time again that Judge Sandill is actually taking the extraordinary step of making the State prove that the money or item they want to seize was used in a criminal act. Good for him.
So, those are my recommendations; feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.