Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Nasty Battle for Court Eight

The vast majority of judicial races that I've observed during my time in Harris County are relatively dull events.  The candidates tersely refer to each other as "my opponent" and tout their dueling resumes, but that's the extent of the battling for the most part.  Things can be a little more heated during a contested primary, but those races rarely get as ugly as "Top of the Ballot" races like District Attorney or Sheriff, etc.

The lack of viciousness in the judicial races is probably due to the fact that there are so many races to run in at the judicial level.  In the 2018 election in Harris County, there are 15 criminal county court benches up for grabs and 13 criminal District Courts (plus 3 juvenile District Courts).  There are so many different races available to those who want to be judge, that most of them don't even have contested primaries.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes judicial races do get a bit nasty in the primaries.

Especially in the Republican primaries.

The reason that the Republican primaries are more susceptible to nastiness is directly attributable to what all aspiring candidates refer to as "The Slates."  When speaking of the Slates, one is typically addressing the "Big Three" of publications put out by self-anointed Republican moral spokespersons Stephen Hotze, Gary Polland, and my personal favorite, Terry Lowry -- the lizard who's assessment of how Godly a candidate is seems to directly correlate with how much money that candidate donates to Lowry's publication, The Link Letter.  Don't get me wrong, all three of them take pay-for-play money before making their endorsements.  Lowry's just appears to be the most-unapologetically mercenary and the hit pieces he writes on his non-endorsed candidates are far more below the belt than Polland and Hotze.  Usually.

For Republican candidates, to get the "endorsement" of all three of the Slates is an almost insurmountable advantage.  They use the money they collect from candidates to generate mailers that go out to voters who have a history of voting in Republican primaries.  The mailers have a check list telling the reader who to vote for.  Sadly, the Sheeple who read their garbage take those mailers to the polls and vote accordingly.  I've worked a couple of polls on election days over the years and the amount of voters who carry their mailers in to vote is truly distressing.

The climate that Lowry, Polland and Hotze have created within the Harris County Primary is that to win in the GOP primary, you simply have to be the candidate who is the furthest to the Right.  There is no room for moderation.

Which brings us to the Republican Race for Judge of Harris County Court at Law # 8, a bench that has been held by Judge Jay Karahan for the past 14 years.  Traditionally, an incumbent with so many years under his or her belt would never draw a primary opponent.

Unfortunately, Judge Karahan has run afoul of the Slates by <gasp> officiating over a same-sex marriage.  For some of us (who were raised in Republican families and have historically voted in every single Republican primary since 1992), Judge Karahan's decision to officiate over a same-sex wedding is a good thing.  Republican views on homosexuality are stupid, homophobic, and self-destructive.  NOTE:  I could write an entire post on the Republican platform on Gay Marriage, but suffice it to say that I know a large amount of gay men and women who are very dear to me and that is not a topic that is debatable here.  If you want to bash gay marriage, feel free to go over to Lowry's website.  He exists because you feel the way you do. On my website, judicial qualifications aren't based on who can be the most hateful.

But I digress.

Because Judge Karahan ran afoul of the Far Right within the Harris County Republican Party, the Slates summoned a pre-approved candidate to run against him.  That candidate is former-prosecutor and now a defense attorney, Dan Simons.

Now, before we go on, I want to be clear about something.  Dan is a controversial candidate to some, but he has never been anything but professional and nice to me.  I don't know him particularly well, but when I dealt with him as a prosecutor, he was reasonable, heard me out, and took the time to listen to my client's side of the story in a felony case.  I appreciate that.  But I want to acknowledge that there are others who know him far better than I do.

When I first heard that Dan had been recruited to run against Judge Karahan, my first thought was "that's a shame."  Not because I had anything against Dan.  I just felt that his recruitment was an utterly ridiculous thing to happen.  Judge Karahan is an excellent and very active judge.  He is well liked amongst the prosecutors and the defense attorneys who appear in front of him.  Regardless of how one feels about him performing a same-sex marriage, it is completely immaterial to the job he does as a criminal county court at law judge.  

The next thought I had about Dan running was "how many years has he been practicing?" If I recall correctly, Dan hadn't been at the office all that long before going to work for my friend, Mark Thiessen.  He served for over three years at the D.A.'s Office (which is the "gentleman's agreement" that incoming prosecutors sign up for) but Judge Karahan has been on the Bench since long before Dan even entered law school.

It didn't take long for things to get ugly.

Both Team Karahan and Team Simons came out swinging.  Much like in the Han Solo/Greedo debate over "who fired first," I'm not exactly sure who fired the first shot.  Dan gave a speech at a Republican function that blasted Karahan for the amount of weddings he performed, as well as the amount of money in Karahan's campaign war chest.  At some point along the line, Simons was arguing that he needed to be elected to "restore integrity" to Court Eight.  The obvious implication being that Court Eight was somehow lacking it.

Team Karahan responded with a website entitled "Never Dan Simons" and held nothing back.  A highlighted list of negative evaluations from Dan's time at the D.A.'s Office and some spotlighted cases that questioned his judgment as a prosecutor were the lead off.  It went deeper after that with some pretty personal mudslinging.

Judge Karahan posted on Facebook, encouraging his Democrat friends to cross party voting lines in the primary for him, and Simons blasted his disloyalty to the party.  The back and forth continues even as of this writing.

The situation dismayed me from a personal standpoint, and I made the comment on a friend's Facebook page that I was sorry to see it getting to that level.  That friend properly called me out for my own hypocrisy considering how many times I've gone negative here on the blog on people I considered to be unqualified candidates for benches.  It was a fair point.  Consider this paragraph my mea culpa on that.

In the final analysis, Judge Karahan deserves to be re-elected.  He has an amazing resume leading up to his time on the Bench, and he's been a damn good judge on the bench.  That's nothing against Dan.  It's just that I believe that good judges should keep on judging.  I wish this race hadn't gotten to the point that a Never Dan Simons website had popped up, but that's because I personally like Dan.  I don't think he has the resume and qualifications that Judge Karahan does, but I don't think that he's the demon portrayed on the campaign sites, either.

It will be interesting to see how powerful the Slates are in this particular battle.  Judge Karahan has some big name endorsements outside of the Slates, including but not limited to County Judge Ed Emmett.  The winner will face off against Democratic candidate (and my former roommate!) Franklin Bynum in November.

My write up on Franklin will probably be contingent upon how well we are getting along on the day I write it.  He's like the little brother I never had.  I love him to death, but we fight all the time.  I do need to point out that this picture makes him look like he should be showing kids how to do a science project on PBS.

Those are just my random and disjointed thoughts on the Race for Court Eight.  Whether you are Team Karahan, Team Simons or Team Mr. Wizard Bynum, please just remember to get out there and vote.


Anonymous said...

I know you won't publish this comment, but I bet Lowry is a closet bisexual who smokes marijuana, dances to rap music, fathered a child with a black prostitute and can knock back Crown and Coke like nobody's business!

That's how these self-righteous do gooders always turn out.

Murray Newman said...

Why wouldn't I publish that comment? You're entitled to your opinion!

Erik said...

I want to point out that if any Democrats do, in fact, vote in the Republican primary, they will be barred from voting in the Democratic primary this year. And there are plenty of primary decisions that need to be made for the Democratic candidates.

Anonymous said...

What's so pathetically funny about the gay marriage issue is the fact that a sitting Republican long-time civil judge performs them all the time and boasts that he can perform them in Spanish.

He did not get a primary opponent because he is steady backer of the slates.

What a load.

Anonymous said...

What hasn't come up, which surprises me, are the friends who get ridiculous deals, suppressions and dismissals in Karahan's court. I bet if you look at his supporters numbers of dismissals and acquitals in court eight versus their own record in other courts, you'd see a disparity.

Dan is underqualified, but Karahan is not the fair and balanced judge his financial supporters want you to believe he is.

Anonymous said...

I think Judge Karahan is a fair and consistent jurist. And he is certainly more qualified than Dan, whom I also like.

I also think that if Judge Karahan didn't allow his entire staff to treat every individual who walks through the door to his court like shit, he probably would have less of a challenge being reelected. Presumption of innocence doesn't live in that court.

Those are his people and it is reflected upon him

Anonymous said...

Not everyone in Judge Jay's court is rude - I think there is a single female who takes that prize all on her own - the coordinator.

Anonymous said...

Be interested to know who, 4:45. I don’t know of any long time Republican Spanish speakers on the civil side.

Anonymous said...

Anon7:12 my guess is that 9:45 is referring to Jeff Shadwick. I don’t know about Spanish but I know he performs a lot of same sex weddings.

Anonymous said...

None of this is going to matter. Democrats are more energized than ever before. If this election turns out the way I think it will, there will be several Kevin Fine's riding a bench.

Murray Newman said...

If Kevin Fine is your poster child for a bad Democrat Judge, you clearly haven’t seen a few of the new ones around the CJC.

Anonymous said...

Huh. Shadwick is one of the best and smartest judges in Harris County. One of the few R's I'll vote for.

Anonymous said...

8:45 I do not think anybody said Shadwick is a bad judge. People are just pointing out that like Karahan he performs same sex weddings.

Anonymous said...

I was at the DA's Office when Karahan ran for election, and during his election, he was literally in Court 8 every day, every docket, while Richardson was still on the bench, acting all territorial-like as if he were already Judge. It was weird. I've never seen a candidate do that before. He was a successful, practicing defense attorney at the time, so how he had the time to spend just sitting in Ct. 8 everyday (when he did not have cases on the docket) is beyond me. I won't go into details, but he made some unethical and unjudicial calls in a particular case I handled while he was Judge in Ct. 8. When I brought it to his attention in the most discreet and professional way possible, he treated me horribly, and he went a step beyond that: he treated my associates horribly as well. It eventually got so bad that we stopped taking cases in his court. I think he's a petty, mean-spirited, man. So does it surprise me that he created his website and made it personal? Not at all. That's how he rolls. I don't know his opponent, but I have long thought Judge Karahan one of the worst cases of black robe disease ever.

Anonymous said...

Judge karahan is not true conservative as he claims. If you're going to ask for democrat votes then run as a democrat. I strongly believe in term limits why not get off the bench and mentor the next generation.

Anonymous said...

Not being a member of the local legal community, I find it difficult to know whom to believe. Sadly, the "NeverDanSimon" attack website was counter-productive and more offensive to me then the opponent. My next thought was who will the Democrats candidate, so thanks for providing that information at the end of your blog. Favoritism is my major concern with any Judge. I have seen it first hand and it does not take much for a Judge to leap across the line with a corrupt or unfair courtroom decisions, lest a verdict. Old quote about power: Even a benign or benevolent dictator eventually becomes corrupt.