There aren't too many contested primary elections this year for jobs that are actually held within the Harris County Criminal Justice Center. However, there are several races that have direct ties to what we do and I hope you will take the time to educate yourself and vote in these races, too.
Let's start off with the contested races inside the CJC.
The Republican side of the race is uncontested, with no one challenging District Attorney Devon Anderson. The Democrats have Kim Ogg versus Leaping Lloyd Oliver. This is not a real contest. Sadly, because Lloyd miraculously won the Democratic nomination in the 2012 election, we actually have to address his candidacy. Lloyd is a disaster. He uses these elections to get countywide publicity for himself. Kim Ogg is infinitely more qualified than Lloyd and she deserves the vote.
Recommendation: Kim Ogg
Harris County District Clerk -- Republican
The District Clerk's race has incumbent Chris Daniel facing off against challenger Court Koenning. As most readers of this blog know, I supported Loren Jackson when Chris first ran against him. Loren started the ball rolling on modernizing the Clerk's Office with amazing speed and vision. Chris won the election and I was pleasantly surprised to see him keep going forward with what Loren had begun. Over the past four years, Chris has worked hard to make the District Clerk's Office more of an online presence with eFiling and eSubpoenas. It is a huge improvement.
Chris has also worked extremely hard to increase citizens' attendance when they have jury duty.
I don't know Court Koenning, but some of his ideas are extremely alarming to me. First of all, he is singing the inexplicable-Republican mantra of calling for the destruction of the Public Defenders' Office, which ranks very high on my "Stupidest Ideas Ever" list. Furthermore, he wants to make jury duty accessible by on-line check in, which (as my friend Paul Kennedy has already pointed out) is a subtle way of getting lower turnout from the lower income households.
Both Koenning and Daniel are obviously politically ambitious guys, but Chris has been doing a great job in his position. Koenning seems to view this position as just a stepping stone to higher office. His interests don't appear to be those that actually build a better District Clerk's Office as much as they are building a better political resume.
Recommendation: Chris Daniel
263rd District Court
The only contested primary in the Criminal District Courts is between incumbent Judge Jim Wallace and former-prosecutor and attorney Robert Summerlin. As I've written before, I am a big fan of Judge Wallace. The 263rd was the first court I was assigned to in Felony and I have always felt that Judge Wallace is a knowledgable and good judge. Robert Summerlin is a friend and former-co-worker from my prosecuting days. I like Robert, but in this race I feel that Judge Wallace is the better candidate. Although Robert certainly has a background in criminal law, it hasn't been his sole focus during his career. He has also branched out into civil law and admiralty. Judge Wallace has been doing Criminal Law now for as long as I've been practicing.
Recommendation: Jim Wallace
County Court at Law # 10 -- Republican
With longtime Judge Sherman Ross (who is one of my favorite judges EVER) electing not to run again, aspiring judges have come out of the woodwork. The Republicans have four candidates running for the position: Tonya Rolland McLaughlin, Ken Wenzel, Dan Spjut, and Mary Heafner.
Yesterday, the Houston Chronicle endorsed Tonya and went so far as to say:
"Tonya Rolland McLaughlin isn't just the most-qualified candidate in this race -- she's the only qualified candidate."I agree. Tonya has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. She was liked and respected as a prosecutor and she is liked and respected as a defense attorney. Not only is she a trial lawyer, she also works in the appellate field and recently won an appellate decision that will help shape the rules of Search and Seizure in the State of Texas.
In short, Tonya Rolland McLaughlin is the real deal.
The other three candidates in the race don't have her experience. Most troubling to me is Mr. Spjut who doesn't practice criminal law, but seems to feel qualified to be a criminal court judge anyway. He has the backing of some deep pocket contributors that apparently don't know anything about criminal law, either. Tonya needs your support and help. Make sure you get the word out to your family and friends.
Recommendation: Tonya Rolland McLaughlin
County Court at Law # 10 -- Democrat
When the Chronicle said that Tonya Rolland McLaughlin was the only qualified candidate in the race, they meant on both sides. They point out that neither of the two candidates, George Barnstone or John Connolly would receive an endorsement in the race. John Connolly has been a criminal defense attorney for years and knows criminal law. Barnstone appears to be a fly-by-night aspiring politician who has never set foot in the CJC. Although I concur with the Chronicle's opinion that neither are as qualified as Tonya, at least Connolly knows the material.
Recommendation: John Connolly
Outside of the CJC, there are two Harris County Criminal Justice Center regulars that are running for Courts of Criminal Appeals positions and have contested primaries.
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9
Harris County Assistant District Attorney David Newell is running for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9. I've gotten to know David over the past few months, and he's an awesome candidate. He's recently picked up the endorsements of the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the San Antonio Express News. I strongly recommend him as well.
Recommendation: David Newell
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4
My friend and Public Defender Jani Jo (Maselli) Wood is running for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. I've known Jani for several years now and I truly admire her dedication and intelligence when it comes to criminal law. She has also received the endorsements of the Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, and the San Antonio Express, so get the words out to your friends around the State to vote for Jani!
Recommendation: Jani Jo Wood
And finally, although the race isn't directly related to the Criminal Justice System, the race for Harris County Republican Chairman is extremely intertwined with who gets elected in our county.
Harris County Republican Chairman
For quite some time, I've been encouraging people to get rid of longtime Republican Chairman Jared Woodfill. During the last election, challenger Paul Simpson ran a good race but came up a little short. Now is the Republicans chance to start working on fixing the Party.
For years, Woodfill has used his position to peddle influence and get his cronies elected to positions that many of them weren't qualified to hold. Although he has no experience in the CJC world, that hasn't slowed him down from promoting unqualified candidates with his influence (for example, a rather mean-spirited Greek lady who used to be the District Attorney). In his spare time, he has also been able to turn a formerly hard-core Republican county into one that got swept by the Democrats in 2008.
I had the opportunity to meet with Paul Simpson after the last election, and he is the right guy for the job. Paul isn't looking to the position to help himself. He wants to help the Republican Party in Harris County and help it return to the prominence it had before Woodfill took over. Woodfill has had his time and he has blown it. It is time for him to be fired from the job.
Recommendation: Paul Simpson
So, there are my thoughts. Let me know yours.
Most importantly, get out there and vote!