As I noted in my election recap last Wednesday, one of the worst kept secrets in the CJC at the moment is that Judge Joan Campbell is planning on retiring from the 248th District Court bench no later than the end of the year. Obviously, her retirement from the Bench necessitates that Governor Perry appoint a replacement.
The field of candidates that the Governor will select from depends on who puts in to be considered. As of this morning, I understand that Brad Hart and Robert Summerlin have publicly stated they are going to put in for the 248th. An e-mail that Roger Bridgwater sent to his fellow judicial candidates seemed to indicate that he would be putting in for it (and if you read between the lines, Roger seems to think he'll be getting the appointment easily).
Others may put in for it, as well; however, the three Republican candidates who ran in the 2012 election are probably the most prime candidates. If I hear of others putting in their names, I'll let you know.
Of the three potential candidates now, here are my thoughts:
Bridgwater is the former Judge of the 178th District Court, where he was appointed by Governor Perry prior to the 2008 election. As we all know, the 2008 election did not go well for him, and he lost his bench to Judge David Mendoza that November.
As a close personal friend of Pat Lykos, Bridgwater was hired as a Bureau Chief at the District Attorney's Office, where he proceeded to heavily damage his reputation with those who had known him previously. He was notorious as the architect of the controversial (and not-so-legal) DIVERT program, and he alienated his co-workers with an ill-advised confrontation with highly-respected Bureau Chief Donna Goode.
ANALYSIS: If part of the Republican mantra is that we don't like Judges who legislate from the Bench, then Bridgwater has got a lot of explaining to do about his DIVERT program. Although the program was popular with members of the Defense Bar, it basically gave first time DWI offenders a chance for a "do over." That can't sit well with Governor Perry, who is going to want a candidate that follows Republican ideals and hasn't done anything that has ticked off Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Additionally, his inexcusable attack on Donna Goode showed a lack of judicial temperament that should leave all attorneys hiding under their desks. He abused his power in accusing her of insubordination and he did everything in his power to ruin her distinguished career at the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Fortunately, Donna landed in a better place as First Assistant in Galveston County.
Also, I'm sure Governor Perry noticed that Bridgwater lost his election by 25,623 votes in 2012. I believe that is the largest margin of defeat by any of the Republican Judicial candidates.
Roger Bridgwater doesn't appear to be electable -- and with good reason.
Summerlin is a former prosecutor who started at the D.A.'s Office when I did. As I've mentioned before we were once pretty good friends. He left the Office shortly after becoming a Felony Two and went into private practice for a few civil firms. He reappeared in the criminal realm a couple of years ago (as a defense attorney) and then almost immediately announced his candidacy for judge. He has close ties to Jared Woodfill who unsuccessfully pushed forward Summerlin's candidacy. He lost to incumbent Ruben Guerrero by 8,919 votes.
ANALYSIS: Summerlin can correctly point out that of the three candidates listed here, he had the most votes in the General Election. However, that isn't saying much when you take into account the fact that his opponent wasn't all that popular to begin with. If you couple that with the fact that all of the Jared Woodfill/Gary Polland-supported candidates faired extremely poorly in the criminal races, Summerlin's political influence tends to diminish. From a practical standpoint, Summerlin never tried any serious cases as a prosecutor nor as a defense attorney that would give him the experience to be a Criminal District Court Judge. His recent return to the Criminal Law realm seems like a disingenuous attempt to merely gain some minor credentials before becoming a judge. Additionally, his demeanor as a prosecutor did not go over well with many of his female peers, who greatly question his potential judicial temperament.
Brad Hart is a Felony District Court Chief prosecutor who is currently assigned to the elite Special Crimes Bureau of the District Attorney's Office. Many moons ago, he actually served as one of my (and Robert Summerlin's) first supervising chiefs. He has the well earned reputation of a prosecutor with the highest integrity and intelligence. He was supported by not just prosecutors, but defense attorneys as well during his run for the 339th District Court. He is known for his calm demeanor, open and fair-mindedness, and solid judgment by everyone he deals with. He is a loyal member of the Republican Party who worked hard to do everything he could for the party during the 2012 races.
ANALYSIS: Hart's loss to incumbent Judge Maria Jackson was devastating to his friends, family and supporters who knew what an outstanding judge he would make. It was also stunning. His hard work and devotion to his campaign had helped so many other Republican candidates who were running alongside him. Unfortunately, Judge Jackson's groundswell of support from her days as a Municipal Court judge in Houston brought an unanticipated result in the General Election. None of that reflects poorly on Hart.
While Bridgwater and Summerlin bring a significant amount of baggage to the table, Hart has nothing short of a sterling reputation. Based on qualifications alone, he should be the clear choice for the appointment. Additionally, he is an active and tireless campaigner who would work hard to make the Republican Party better in every way possible.
Brad Hart is the best choice for the appointment. He needs to be a Judge. The Criminal Justice System needs him to be a Judge.
If you would like to have your voice heard on the appointment process, take a few minutes out of your day and write an actual letter referencing the 248th District Court Judge Appointment. You can send it to:
Governor Rick Perry
1100 San Jacinto
Austin, Texas 78701