Normally I would have my recommendations in the Criminal Justice Races out before early voting starts, but I'm running a little late this election cycle. Early voting began on Monday, and if you haven't done so already, you need to get out there and do it. As I remind you every election cycle, it is so much easier to vote at any of the available early voting locations in the two weeks leading up to the election than to be limited to your one and only polling place on election day.
My early prediction on this election cycle is that there will be a Republican sweep. I base that prediction entirely on what I've seen with the past several non-Presidential Election years. I could be wrong.
So, here are the races that affect the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.
Harris County District Attorney - Devon Anderson (R) vs. Kim Ogg (D)
When Ogg first announced that she would be running against District Attorney Devon Anderson, I thought it would be a good campaign between two qualified candidates. Although I still don't doubt that Kim Ogg has the intellectual capacity and legal knowledge to be District Attorney, her actions on the campaign trail have called into question her character to some degree. Ogg has made a habit of grandstanding on issues and attempting to mislead the general public on very standard procedural issues regarding special prosecutions (as I wrote about here). The move of making misleading statements for public approval is something straight out of the Pat Lykos playbook, which is no surprise since Ogg was a contract employee under the Lykos Administration.
Additionally, Ogg's pandering to voters with her recent statement about forbidding probation on any and all Burglary of a Habitation charges illustrates a dangerous outlook for a D.A.'s Office led by Ogg. Any experienced prosecutor or defense attorney can tell you that there are all types of factors that go into assessing the appropriate punishment for any criminal case -- burglary is no exception. Under Ogg's theory, if a 17-year-old kid with no criminal history wanders into an open garage and steals a rake, she wants him to go to the prison. That's just stupid and the aspiring D.A. should know better.
If the public isn't concerned about how Ogg treats defendants, perhaps they might be interested in her dealings with victims of crime.
Yesterday, the Houston Police Officers' Union issued a statement expressing their concern about Ogg's fitness to serve as District Attorney, citing an incident where Ogg had released identifying information about the victim of a crime when Ogg was serving as the head of CrimeStoppers.
On a more positive note, District Attorney Devon Anderson has been continuing to do an effective job since taking over the Office. She continues to work on new programs and courts such as deferring prosecution on recreational marijuana use and a court dealing with prostitution cases. She's also leading her Office from the front, having recently successfully prosecuted the Capital Murder trial of Harlem Lewis.
Recommendation: Devon Anderson (R)
180th District Court -- Catherine Evans (R) vs. Randy Roll (D)
Since being appointed to the 180th bench to replace Judge Marc Brown (who was appointed to the Court of Appeals), Judge Evans has gotten rave reviews as a fair and smart judge. She has proven to be fair to both the prosecution and the defense and runs an efficient and pleasant courtroom.
Randy Roll is a former one-term judge who lost his bench to Judge Kristin Guiney in the 2012 election. I like Roll as a person, but Evans is the better choice in this election.
Recommendation: Catherine Evans (R)
184th District Court -- Jan Krocker (R) vs. Mark Thering (D)
Although I anticipate a Republican sweep, I hope that this particular race proves me wrong.
Longtime judge Jan Krocker has long been regarded as a controversial judge. Early last year, her behavior led to her removal from the Harris County mental health court by her fellow judges. She aggressively tried to block her opponent's candidacy by way of a lawsuit, which failed. Most concerning, however, were her statements to the Houston Chronicle editorial board this year:
"My job is to protect the public from dangerous people," Krocker said. "Same as being a prosecutor."Um, no. Not even close. Krocker's unbelievable statement to the Chronicle is mindnumbingly foolish. She basically stated that she was a prosecutor. How does a defendant get anything resembling a fair trial with that mentality? Krocker's statement to the Chronicle has already led to one Motion to Recuse being filed against her due to her bias. I have no doubt that there will be many more to come.
Mark Thering, on the other hand, is a highly respected, long time attorney who is known as one of the nicest guys in the courthouse. He has a strong background in Criminal Law and would make an outstanding judge. This one is a no-brainer and I hope even my "die hard" Republican voter friends will cross party lines in this race.
Recommendation: Mark Thering (D)
185th District Court -- Susan Brown (R) vs. Garland McInnis (D)
Judge Brown has been on the bench for as long as I've been a licensed attorney. I've tried cases in front of her as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and have felt like I received fair trials from both perspectives. Judge Brown stays up-to-date on all current case law dealing with criminal cases and can name those cases off the top of her head. Although I'm not as big of a fan of the new docket management system as she (and other judges) are, I have to commend her for working on creative solutions to make the CJC a more efficient institution. Not only is she managing her own caseload, as presiding judge, she has worked hand-in-hand with both the D.A.'s Office and the Defense Bar to make the CJC a better place.
I have nothing negative to say about Garland McInnis. He's a nice guy and a smart guy. If he were in a different race, I would probably vote for him. However, in this race Susan Brown is the much better candidate.
Recommendation: Susan Brown (R)
208th District Court -- Denise Collins (R) vs. Chuck Silverman (D)
Judge Denise Collins has been presiding over criminal cases since 1992. Her opponent is a corporate lawyer who seems to run for any open bench is available. I've stated time and time and time again that the Criminal Justice System is absolutely no place for people who have no experience in the criminal justice world. The audacity of a non-criminal attorney even seeking a bench where he has no experience is offensive.
Recommendation: Denise Collins (R)
230th District Court -- Brad Hart (R) vs. Greg Glass (D)
Since being appointed to the bench in 2013, Judge Brad Hart continues to earn rave reviews from both the Defense and the Prosecution as a kind, fair and intelligent judge. He is courteous to all who enter his courtroom and he works hard to make sure that his court is continuously in trial. I know I'm biased, but Judge Hart has proven to be just as good of a judge as I predicted he would be back in 2013.
Again, I have nothing negative to say about his opponent, Greg Glass, but Judge Hart is too good of a judge to vote against.
Recommendation: Brad Hart (R)
248th District Court -- Katherine Cabaniss (R) vs. Shawna Reagin (D)
The race for the 248th District Court also has two qualified candidates for the position. Judge Katherine Cabaniss was appointed to the Bench last year and has done an excellent job in doing everything she can to improve the Court she inherited. She has actively worked at making her court more efficient and also goes to trial quite often. She has sought input from both the prosecution and the defense on how to improve the system.
Surprisingly, I have not seen former 176th Judge Shawna Reagin since she left the bench at the end of 2012. As I wrote during the 2012 campaign, I think Reagin was a good and smart judge. Her demeanor and commentary from the bench earned her some enemies during her tenure as judge. In another race, I would probably still vote for Reagin, but in this case, my recommendation goes to Judge Cabaniss.
Recommendation: Katherine Cabaniss (R)
262nd District Court -- Denise Bradley (R) vs. Jules Johnson (D)
On a personal level, this race is tough to make a recommendation on, because both Judge Bradley and Jules Johnson are personal friends. I like them both immensely and I almost didn't do recommendations at all this year because I didn't want to make a public statement on who I would pick in this race. The danger of blogging on elections is that you are guaranteed to anger 50% of those whom you write about.
That being said, when it comes to qualifications, Judge Bradley has far more experience that my friend Jules. She was a longtime prosecutor and has been a judge for several years now. She's done a great job on the bench and is well liked by both the prosecution and the defense. There is no reason to vote against her. I know I keep saying this, but in a different election, Jules Johnson would definitely get my vote.
Recommendation: Denise Bradley (R)
263rd District Court -- Jim Wallace (R) vs. Herb Ritchie (D)
Again, we have two qualified candidates running against each other with Judge Jim Wallace facing off against former 337th Judge Herb Ritchie. I have practiced and tried cases in front of both men, and both are excellent judges who know the law and provide fair trials to the accused. They are both to be commended for running a very clean campaign against each other.
Judge Wallace has more experience as a judge and he has done an excellent job in his years on the Bench. While I have nothing negative to say about Ritchie, this is a very easy recommendation.
Recommendation: Jim Wallace (R)
County Court at Law # 2 -- Bill Harmon (R) vs. Harold Landreneau (D)
I think that Judge Bill Harmon has been on the Bench since dinosaurs roamed the earth. He was consistently re-elected during his time as a District Court Judge and now as a County Court at Law Judge. There's a reason for that: he's a good judge. Although his strong ties to MADD have occasionally drawn the ire of the Defense Bar, at the end of the day, he is considered to be a fair and smart judge. He is also one of the best personalities on the Bench.
I have nothing negative to say about Mr. Landreneau, although I don't know him very well.
Recommendation: Bill Harmon (R)
County Court at Law # 4 -- John Clinton (R) vs. Nikita "Niki" Harmon (D)
I will admit that I had some reservations about Judge Clinton (due to his not practicing criminal law) when he ran for the bench four years ago. I have been pleasantly surprised with my experiences with him during his first term as judge. Judge Clinton has proven himself to be a fair judge, and more importantly, a kind one.
I don't know anything about his opponent, other than she is a municipal court judge, I believe. There is a big leap from trying traffic tickets to the job of County Court Judge.
Recommendation: John Clinton (R)
County Court at Law # 5 -- Margaret Harris (R) vs. Ramona Franklin (D)
I was the Chief of County Court at Law #5 back when Janice Law was on the bench and now-Judge Margaret Harris was running against her in the Republican Party. I was so relieved when Judge Harris won that race and she hasn't disappointed during her years on the job since then. Judge Harris has used her appellate experience from her time at the District Attorney's Office to become an effective and knowledgable judge. She is highly respected and well liked by both the Defense and the Prosecution.
I have nothing negative to say about Ramona Franklin, but her level of experience is nowhere near what Judge Harris brings to the Bench.
Recommendation: Margaret Harris (R)
County Court at Law # 6 -- Larry Standley (R) vs. Linda Geffen (D)
In today's day and age of politics and partisan rules, Judge Larry Standley has proven time and again to be a judge who isn't afraid to rock the boat when it comes to doing what is right. His occasionally gruff demeanor can hide an extremely compassionate jurist who is willing to think outside the box when working on creative solutions in his courtroom. Judge Standley is known for his knowledge of the law and his firm neutrality in deciding all cases. He is active in the community and absolutely is the kind of judge that all people should want on the Bench.
I don't personally know Linda Geffen, but this bizarre story from 2012 calls into grave question whether or not she should be the person in charge of making important decisions that affect peoples' lives.
Recommendation: Larry Standley (R)
County Court at Law # 7 -- Pam Derbyshire (R) vs. Sheila Acosta (D)
Judge Derbyshire was the first judge that I practiced in front of as a prosecutor. She was great then and she is great now. Described by the Houston Chronicle as having a "sterling reputation," I could not agree more. I have nothing negative to say about Sheila Acosta. She, too, has a great reputation, but Judge Derbyshire should stay on the bench.
Recommendation: Pam Derbyshire (R)
County Court at Law # 8 -- Jay Karahan (R) vs. Kelli Johnson (D)
Sometimes I wimp out on making a recommendation. This will be one of those times. Judge Jay Karahan has done a great job on the bench during his tenure. Kelli Johnson is one of my oldest friends from the District Attorney's Office. Our kids are friends and I adore her as a family friend. She would also make a great judge. Either one of them would deserve your vote. I cannot fairly make a recommendation in this one. Both are great.
County Court at Law # 10 -- Dan Spjut (R) vs. George Barnstone (D) vs. Brad Walters (L)
I didn't know until earlier this week that this was a three party race, with Brad Walters running as a Libertarian. As anyone who read this blog knows, I was a big supporter of Tonya Rolland in her bid for the Republican nomination in this race. My issue with Spjut was that he doesn't practice criminal law and neither does Barnstone. Barnstone appears to be a joke of a candidate who has never set foot in the CJC. He doesn't deserve anyone's vote.
During the primary, the Chronicle described Rolland as the only qualified candidate when it came to the candidates running as a Democrat or a Republican.
Since then, Brad Walters has announced his candidacy as a Libertarian. Brad Walters doesn't stand much of a chance running as a Libertarian, but he's a criminal defense attorney and knows the material. He gets my vote.
Recommendation: Brad Walters (L)
County Court at Law # 13 -- Don Smyth (R) vs. Jason Luong (D) vs. Clint Davidson (G)
If you thought Brad Walters running as a Libertarian was unusual, you gotta admire Clint Davidson running as a member of the Green Party. Too many of our criminal candidates are not eco-friendly.
I like Clint a lot and he's a damn good lawyer. So is Jason Luong. Both are legitimate candidates who would make great judges.
But Don Smyth has done a great job during his first term on the bench and his years of experience at the D.A.'s Office make him the best candidate in this race.
Recommendation: Don Smyth (R)
County Court at Law # 14 -- Mike Fields (R) vs. David Singer (D)
My recommendation in this race was a hard one to make because I've known Judge Mike Fields since I began my legal career in Houston back in 1999. Judge Fields is a great guy and a funny guy, but his behavior of late has just been wrong. HCCLA (an organization of which I'm a former member) brought to light the fact that Judge Fields was taking pleas from unrepresented defendants and there have been other tales of him doing bond revocations on defendants without hearings, as well as interrogating defendants without their lawyers being present. As much as it pains me to say it, I can't support a judge who is doing such things. He's a nice man, but he has been on the bench long enough to know he can't do those kind of things.
David Singer is a former prosecutor and defense attorney. He's running against Judge Fields because he knows that type of behavior just can't be allowed.
Recommendation: David Singer (D)
County Court at Law # 15 -- Jean Spradling Hughes (R) vs. Raul Rodriguez (D)
Judge Jean Hughes has served as the Judge of County Court at Law # 15 since long before I became a lawyer. To say that she is highly respected in the way she runs her court would be a vast understatement. She has my utmost respect and the respect of almost all who practice in front of her. She is knowledgable, courteous, and fair. She embodies all the qualities that a judge should have and she deserves your vote.
Raul Rodriguez is a great guy and a good lawyer. He falls under the category of "if you were running against someone else, you would totally have my vote."
Recommendation: Jean Spradling Hughes (R)
Harris County District Clerk -- Chris Daniel (R) vs. Judith Snively (D)
You know I can't leave out Chris Daniel when it comes to election time. He's done a great job as District Clerk and he deserves to remain on the job. Chris remains a very progressive District Clerk who is open to input from anyone willing to give it. He strives everyday to make his office better and as technology progresses, so does his office. Even though he's a T-Sip, he's got my vote. He should have yours too.
Recommendation: Chris Daniel
AND DON'T FORGET ------ David Newell
I normally don't make recommendations on the Appellate races, because I don't do Appellate work. However, voters need to make sure that they remember to vote for Harris County Assistant District Attorney David Newell for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place Nine. Not only is he a great guy with great legal knowledge and a great sense of humor, his knowledge of James Taylor music (and his willingness to cite it at the Bench) will make him a fantastic Justice.
Whether you agree with my selections or not, please remember to get out there and vote.