Sunday, February 13, 2022

The 2022 Primary Elections

It's hard to believe that we're already two weeks into February of 2022.  It seems like New Year's Day was last week.  I'm losing track of time, and the Early Voting is starting Monday, February 14th for the 2022 Primaries (with Election Day being Tuesday, March 1st).

The Republican Primary is a pretty easy write-up -- nothing is contested.  The GOP is in a rebuilding phase at the moment, and they consider it an accomplishment to have had a candidate running in all the positions.  As far as I can tell, most of them are pretty much running to see whether or not the tide has turned back to red in Harris County.  We'll see.  I think it will be closer this year than in years past, but I still think Harris County is firmly blue.  As always, I'll defer to my friend Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff for a more adept analysis of the big picture.  If you aren't reading him, you should be.

The Democratic Primary is a different story, with a great many contested races.  So, I ticked off a bunch of my prosecutor friends with this post back in December, where I suggested that the number of prosecutors running against incumbent judges was tied to a threat 1st Assistant David Mitcham made about there being "consequences for not following Kim's vision."  A couple of those candidates reached out to me to let me know that wasn't the reason they were running and they weren't really excited that I had said as such.

All I can tell you is that I stand by the information that I've received that Ogg and her upper admin did encourage prosecutors to run.  The sources I received that information from haven't backed off that story and neither will I.  If you are running for reasons other than the Administration asked you to, then good for you.  If you are running because the Administration asked you to, that doesn't mean you're a bad candidate.  Take deep breaths, people.

Speaking of taking deep breaths, this write-up is a difficult one because I have so many freaking friends running against each other.  I've been doing this blog for 14 damn years now.  When I first started, doing recommendations was pretty easy because primaries were rarely contested, and the general election was a foregone conclusion.  Times have changed.

As I've said in the past, as much as I enjoy this blog (when I find time to write on it), it's not worth losing a friend over and I'm not going to talk crap about a candidate just because I'm better friends with the opponent.  There is still one person running around out there who decided to unfriend me on Facebook, and give me (and my poor wife!) the silent treatment because I failed to adequately disparage her opponent a few elections ago.   My response to that is I hope that the door didn't hit her in the ass on the way out.

So, yeah, this rundown is pretty much going to be boring for the most part.  I'm just sayin'.  These are the contested races:

183rd District Court -- Judge Chuck Silverman (I) vs. Gemayel Haynes

Four years ago, when Judge Silverman was running against then-incumbent Judge Vanessa Velasquez, I was pretty harsh on the blog about the fact that Judge Silverman's experience was primarily civil, as opposed to criminal.  Shortly after he won the election, I had to go through that awkward first appearance in front of someone I hadn't been exactly kind about.  To his utmost credit, Judge Silverman gave me some good-natured grief and then treated both me (and my clients) very kindly.  In his time on the bench, he has been attentive, compassionate and fair in all of my appearances in front of him, and I don't have anything negative to say about him.

Gemayel Haynes is someone that I consider a dear friend who I've known since he was a baby prosecutor.  We also used to be neighbors back in the old days!  I've watched him grow from the new guy on the block to a very vocal and dynamic leader in the criminal defense world, where he is respected as both a voice of reason and experience in a field of dynamic personalities.  He has experience as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, which is a tremendous asset for a judicial candidate.  More importantly, he is a kind and compassionate man who lives and breathes criminal law and the justice that it demands.

184th District Court -- Judge Abigail Anastasio (I) vs. Katherine "Kat" Thomas

Judge Anastasio is another person who I've known since she was a baby prosecutor.  We even tried a case against each other years ago.  She is a personal friend and I've appeared before her in court on numerous occasions.  She takes her job very seriously and stays on top of her dockets while playing no favorites to either side.  In the cases where I have appeared before her, she holds the State to its burden of complying with Discovery in a quick and efficient manner, but she also expects the Defense to be ready and up to speed on the Discovery that they have already received.  She gives her full attention to the docket and I believe she has done a good job.

Katherine "Kat" Thomas is also a friend of mine and a prosecutor whom I've handled several cases against.  I also think the world of Kat.  She and I have handled extremely serious cases against each other with several of them involving fatalities.  She is smart, fair, and ethical on all fronts.  On multiple cases that I've handled with her, she has heard me out on all of my arguments and taken them seriously.  Even when we could not come to a resolution together on a case, I have always respected her integrity and ability to address my issues and concerns on some very emotional cases.  I think Kat would also make a fantastic judge.

185th District Court -- Judge Jason Luong (I) vs. Katie Ferrell vs. Andrea "Andy" Beall

Judge Jason Luong is (yet another) person that I've known since his time at the District Attorney's Office, and I've always liked him.  I was glad to see him elected to the 185th District Court four years ago, and I've enjoyed appearing before him during his first term in office.  Judge Luong has proven himself to be a compassionate and knowledgable judge during his time on the Bench.  I've had extremely serious cases in his court, and have been grateful that he was the judge that I was appearing in front of.  He takes his time with these cases and is open-minded to arguments from both sides.  He's done a great job on the bench.

Katie Ferrell is a former prosecutor and a highly respected defense attorney whom I've known for several years now.  I've tried cases with her, and I've sought her advice on issues surrounding DWI defense, where she has specialized training.  She's a veteran and single mom and a pretty damn impressive human being all around.  She's one of the bravest people I know when it comes to speaking her mind and standing up for what she believes in, and that makes her a great leader.  I have a lot of admiration for Katie and think she would also make a great judge.

Andy Beall is a current prosecutor and I have nothing negative to say about her or her ability to be a judge.  Although I'm closer to both Judge Luong and Katie Ferrell, I've never had a negative experience with Andy at all.  I haven't dealt with her on too many cases, but on those cases where I dealt with her, I found her to be pleasant and fair.  My only concerns regarding Andy are that I'm not entirely sure she's running in the right primary.  Her platform seems to be more Republican than Democrat (not that this is necessarily a bad thing).   Anyone who reads this blog or follows my posts on Twitter knows that I've got a big issue with the Republican Party scapegoating the judges on the "crime wave" that is happening all around the country, and Andy has jumped on that bandwagon.  

208th District Court -- Judge Greg Glass (I) vs. Kim McTorry vs. Beverly Armstrong

Judge Greg Glass has been around since I was a baby prosecutor, and nothing characterizes him more than the fact that he is a very nice man.  I never tried a case against him when I was a prosecutor and I've only had one or two cases in front of him since he's been on the bench, but it seems like I've known him since the day I started.  He is a friendly, kind man.  On those rare occasions where I did appear in front of him, he was polite, friendly, and attentive.  He took a lot of unwarranted negative press last year in the center of the Republican-led push to villify all of the sitting Democratic Judges, and he was treated ridiculously unfairly.  I felt bad for him, because I think Judge Glass has a good reputation as a fair, honest and considerate judge.  

I had one case against Kim McTorry when she was a prosecutor in child abuse.  If I recall correctly, neither of us stayed on the case very long -- she left the office for private practice and I got substituted out by a retained attorney.  For those few months where we were on the case, I enjoyed working with her.  She was on top of her case, complied with discovery quickly, and was very pleasant to work with.  Although we aren't super close, I consider Kim to be a friend and I think she would also make a good judge.

Beverly Armstrong is one of the few people in this entire post that I don't know at all.  That's partially my fault.  Polk County District Attorney Lee Hon reached out to me to make an introduction, and I failed to follow up with him.  Sorry about that Lee.  The schedule has just been crazy for the past several months, as evidenced by me writing this post at the last minute!  What Lee told me about Beverly is that she has been the First Assistant at the Polk County D.A.'s Office and before that was a Court Chief in Galveston County under Jack Roady.  Lee described her as funny, smart, even-tempered, and considerate.  He gives her the highest recommendation.  

228th District Court -- Judge Frank Aguilar (I) vs. Sam Milledge II

I've known Judge Frank Aguilar since he was a magistrate and I was the PC Chief at D.A. Intake around 2006-2007ish, and I've appeared before him on many occasions since he took the Bench after the 2018 election.  I've handled serious cases in front of him, and I've gone to trial on a very serious case in front of him.  I think he's a really great judge.  He's a very quiet man, and I've never socialized with him, but in my appearances in front of him, he is a neutral and fair man who carefully considers the evidence before him and makes decisive rulings without question.  He calls balls and strikes with impartiality and he gave me a fair trial.  He's worked with me on some unusually troublesome cases and I had enough confidence in his fairness to take a double fatality accident case to him on a Pre-Sentence Investigation Hearing (if you aren't a lawyer that's an example of having A LOT of faith in the judge to be fair to your client, just FYI).  He's a good man and a good judge and I'd try a case to him any day of the week.

Sam Milledge II is well-known and well-liked defense attorney who I have been friends with for several years now.  He is respected as a trial lawyer and someone who devotes his life to the Criminal Justice System.  I think highly of Sam, as well, and think he would make a good judge.  He would be fair minded and work toward making the Criminal Justice System a better place.

230th District Court -- Judge Chris Morton (I) vs. Joseph Sanchez

There is something about the 230th District Court that seems to draw my friends to run against each other for its bench.  Four years ago, it was my friend Judge Brad Hart running against my friend, (now) Judge Chris Morton.  This year, Judge Morton is defending his bench against my friend (and Assistant District Attorney) Joseph Sanchez.  The winner will face off against . . . . my friend, Brad Hart in November.

Judge Chris Morton is a good friend of mine, so saying a lot of nice things about him will probably make it weird the next time I see him.  But Judge Morton is a damn good judge.  He's an Army veteran, smart as a whip and he's brave enough to make a call that he deems to be the correct one -- even when he knows it may turn out to be an unpopular decision with the uninformed masses.  In my opinion, those two qualities, mixed in with a level of compassion, are what define a good judge.  During his time on the Bench, Judge Morton has exhibited all of these qualities and I admire him for that.  He deserves to be re-elected.

Joseph Sanchez is also a friend of mine, and I've dealt with him as a prosecutor on many cases over the past years.  I always enjoy working with Joseph on a case because he is candid, honest and has a great sense of humor.  If he were running in another race (like in 2024, hint hint), I'd gladly support him.  

248th District Court -- Judge Hilary Unger (I) vs. Linda Mazzagatti

Although some of these races are hard to make a call on, the race for the 248th District Court is pretty easy.

Judge Hilary Unger has spent her first term on the Bench defining herself as a problem solver who handles each case before her with the care and consideration that it deserves.  With her extensive experience in criminal law as a defense attorney, coupled with her experience in juvenile law and working in the family court, she has been uniquely qualified to be a judge.  Every time attorneys approach the Bench, Judge Unger takes the time to make sure she fully understands all aspects of the case before her.  She is thoughtful in her rulings and goes the extra mile to work on solutions to some of the trickier cases she presides over.  She has also established herself as a leader amongst the judges in tackling other issues facing the CJC world.  She is a hands-on leader who seeks input from both the Defense and the State in making the System better.

Linda Mazzagatti is a current prosecutor who used to be a defense attorney.  I never had a personal problem with Linda, and she's always been nice to me.  However, during her tenure as a defense attorney, she seemed pretty disorganized and I saw her flustering prosecutors with her needlessly abrasive approach.  I've never seen her in trial and she seems to be tucked away in the Office's General Litigation Division.  Her Facebook website seems to be touting the same anti-bond reform message that seems more appropriate for a Republican candidate than a Democratic one.  Personally, I think she lacks the experience to be a judge.

263rd District Court -- Judge Amy Martin (I) vs. Melissa Morris

I didn't know Judge Amy Martin before her run for the 263rd Bench in 2018, but over the course of her first year, I've had the opportunity to appear before her on many occasions on some very tough cases, and I'm a fan.  I think I actually was the first plea she took in her court, if my memory serves me correctly.  I've gone before her on some tough cases and she is definitely no pushover, but she has a tremendous amount of compassion for the people appearing before her as Defendants.  I've seen her take chances on some Defendants that others might not, and I've seen her lower the boom on others who didn't take those second chances seriously.  She cares about the cases before her and she takes her job extremely seriously.  She's also pretty damn smart, as it turns out. 

Melissa Morris is a respected defense attorney who I only know in passing.  She has always been nice to me, but I don't know much about her other than that, unfortunately.

482nd District Court -- Veronica Nelson vs. Alycia Harvey vs. Sherlene Cruz

The 482nd District Court is a newly established court and this is the first election held for its Bench, which is currently occupied by appointed Judge Maritza Antu.

Veronica Nelson is one of my very good friends (whether she will admit it or not).  I first met her years ago when we tried a case against each other in the 176th.  I only knew her in passing before that case, but I was impressed with the way she handled a tough set of facts and tried them skillfully.  She had a composure and knowledge that showed a confidence in her skills that not all prosecutors have at that level.  I respected the way she tried that case and we became friends (whether she will admit it or not) through that trial.  When she left the District Attorney's Office, she went on to become the Staff Attorney for the Harris County Criminal and Civil Courts at Law.

Alycia Harvey is also a friend of mine whom I like and admire.  Like Joseph Sanchez, if she were running in a different race, I'd be glad to support her (2024 is just around the corner . . . ).  She is a highly respected prosecutor who has been at the District Attorney's Office since my time there.  She's a chief in Major Offenders who is a pleasure to deal with and is reasonable on the toughest cases.  

I don't know Sherlene Cruz personally, but I do know that she is well respected by people whose opinions I value.  She works for the Harris County Public Defenders Office where she is regarded as a valued trial lawyer.  I wish I had more information about her to share, but unfortunately, I don't.

County Court at Law # 2 -- Judge Ronnisha Bowman (I) vs. Jannell Robles

Judge Ronnisha Bowman was elected in 2018 to the CCL # 2 bench.  I think I may have had one case in there at the very beginning of her tenure as judge, but I think it was dismissed and I never actually appeared in front of her.  I don't know much about her or how she runs her court to give an informed assessment of her as a judge.

Jannell Robles works for the Harris County Public Defenders Office.  When I wrote my original list of candidates, I mistakenly identified her as a prosecutor and ended up talking to her on the phone to apologize for my mistake.  I did not know her prior to my phone call, but she was very nice.  She has a definite vision for what she would like to do as a judge and I agreed with her ideas.  She is young and energetic.  In my opinion, she has the right ideas for someone running for judge.

County Court at Law # 3 -- Staci Biggar vs. Porscha Brown vs. Lorenzo Williams

There is no incumbent in the race for County Court at Law # 3, because Judge Erica Hughes (who won the Bench in 2018) went to work as a Federal Magistrate.  

Staci Biggar is an extremely highly respected former-prosecutor and defense attorney whom I've known since I first came to Harris County in 1999.  I am a tremendous fan of hers because during the entire time I've known her, Staci has always been the first person to volunteer when someone needs help.  She has devoted countless hours/days/weeks to helping out in Mental Health Court, Veterans' Court, and just regular Court.  She's a leader that other attorneys turn to when they need advice.  Years ago, when I was dealing with a mentally ill friend, I sought her advice, and she worked with me and my friend's family.  I will always be forever grateful for that.  She would be an amazing judge.  She is knowledgable, compassionate and kind.  I don't know why she hasn't run sooner.

Porscha Brown works for the Public Defenders' Office and I only met her fairly recently.  She seems extremely nice and I have no doubt that she would a qualified candidate.  I just don't know much about her.

I'm not sure if I've met Lorenzo Williams or not.  I apologize if I have and don't remember it.  I'm not entirely sure where he works, either.  His campaign website says that he worked at the District Attorney's Office but it isn't clear if that is where he presently works.  His State Bar profile seems to show that he's in private practice.  I'm not entirely sure what his credentials are.

County Court at Law # 5 -- Judge David Fleischer (I) vs. Carlos Aguayo

Judge David Fleischer is one of the nicest human beings in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.  He and I have been friends for years and I was very supportive of his campaign four years ago.  After appearing in front of him numerous times over the past years, I am glad to see that support was well placed.  Judge Fleischer is a fantastic judge who brings a tremendous amount of compassion, kindness and intelligence to the cases that appear before him.  He's the embodiment of a person who is there to help and we need more people like him on the Bench.

I don't know prosecutor Carlos Aguayo on a personal level, but I've dealt with him on several different cases over the past year or so.  I don't have anything negative to say about him based on my own dealings.  There are some people, whose opinions I respect, however, that have let me know that they do have an issue with him and the way he has handled cases with them in trial.  Although those are not my personal experiences with him, I would probably vote for Judge Fleischer over any candidate that ran against him.  He's a great judge and deserves to be re-elected.

County Court at Law # 6 -- Judge Kelley Andrews (I) vs. Selena Alaniz

I've known Judge Kelley Andrews since she was a relatively new defense attorney and I've always been a big fan of her.  I knew she would make a great judge when she ran in 2018, and I'm glad to say that I was right about that.  It was no surprise to any of us who know Judge Andrews that she would run a good courtroom.  I haven't had any contested matters in front of her yet, but the reviews from others who have are positive.  Judge Andrews was always an unflappable defense attorney who cared about her clients, so it is no surprise to see that she has extended those traits to the Bench.  She's a good judge and deserves to be re-elected.

I also know Selena Alaniz and have nothing negative to say about her.  I worked with her through HCCLA when she did more work in Harris County, but her primary stomping grounds are in the Fort Bend Criminal Justice Center.  I like Selena a lot, and as I've said about several of the other candidates, I'd support her in a different race.  She's a very nice person and it's always nice to see her when I'm in Fort Bend.

County Court at Law # 7 -- Judge Andrew Wright (I) vs. Mauricio Vazquez

Judge Andrew Wright garnered a lot of attention early on in his judicial career when he took the highly unusual move of imposing sanctions on the Harris County District Attorney's Office for a failure to turn over exculpatory evidence.  It was deemed outrageous by the Office, who said that Judge Wright should have just granted a continuance rather than impose financial sanctions, but the message that the Judge was sending was a refreshing one.  Too often the failure to comply with the Michael Morton Act is just glossed over with a continuance rather than imposing a meaningful punishment.  It was refreshing to see a judge who took it for the egregious violation that it was and it signaled that Judge Wright was clearly marching to the beat of his own drum.  During his tenure, Judge Wright has been very clear that he has a direction he wants his court to follow and he intends to follow it, even if it makes others angry from time to time.  I admire that about him and think that's a good quality in a judge.  I wish more judges had the guts to truly hold the State accountable when they don't follow the law.

I don't know Mauricio Vazquez very well, although I had a case or two with him when he was still with the District Attorney's Office.  He's a very quiet guy, but he's nice.  I don't have anything negative to say about him, but my professional dealings with him were very limited.

County Court at Law # 8 -- Judge Franklin Bynum (I) vs. Erika Ramirez

I've often described my relationship with Judge Franklin Bynum as being akin to having a little brother.  I love him to death but we tended to bicker and fight a lot.  We've calmed down with the bickering as we've gotten older, and I find myself agreeing with him more often than not.  Like Judge Wright in Court # 7, Judge Bynum has no fear of ticking off the District Attorney's Office. . . or the police . . .  or me . . .  or anyone, for that matter.  He's an insanely intelligent student of the law who knows what he's talking about when he makes legal rulings.  During his first term in office, he correctly pointed out that the entire procedure that Harris County District Attorney's Office utilized in filing charges violated the Code of Criminal Procedure.  The D.A.'s Office was mildly nervous as Judge Bynum pointed out that perhaps literally all criminal charges should be thrown out for violating that procedure.  They've since painted a large target on his back as he continues to challenge the State and hold them accountable.  That's the job he's supposed to do and it's nice to see him having the courage to do it.

I'm also a huge fan of prosecutor Erika Ramirez.  I've dealt with her on many cases and she is always a pleasure to work with.  She takes her job seriously, but she is also compassionate on cases where compassion is called for.  She has always been very dilligent in turning over discovery and listening to anything the defense has to offer.  I think Erika would also make a fantastic judge.  This is another tough race for me to decide who I am voting for.

County Court at Law # 10 -- Thuy Le vs. Juanita Jackson

Like County Court at Law #3, there is no incumbent in this race.  Judge Lee Harper Wilson is not running for re-election after a tumultuous term on the bench.  Like several of these races, I'm friends with both candidates and I'm having a tough time deciding who I'm voting for.

I've known Juanita since I first started at the Office back in 1999 and she has always been very nice to me.  She is an Old School lawyer who isn't afraid to go to trial.  She definitely has the experience and knowledge to be a good judge.

I'm also a big fan of Thuy Le, who I've known since she was a baby prosecutor.  She is an extremely smart lawyer who has nerves of steel that I admire.  After leaving prosecution, she became a very prominent member of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association where she served as Vice President and also won the the Sharon Levine Unsung Hero Award (which is a tremendous honor).  She also pursued disciplinary action against Judge Wilson for the above mentioned tumultuous behavior and then challenged him by declaring she was running against him (prior to him announcing he wasn't going to run).  Thuy Le is somebody I admire a lot and think would make a great judge.

County Court at Law # 14 -- Judge David Singer (I) vs. Je'Rell Rogers

Judge David Singer is one of the few (if not the only) incumbent Judges on this list that I haven't appeared before since taking he took the Bench following the 2018 election, so I don't have any personal experience to share about him as a judge.   Prior to taking the Bench, he used to comment from time to time on the blog when he disagreed with something I wrote, and I recall in a previous assessment of him, thinking that he had a relatively short temper.  I haven't heard any complaints about his temper, or anything else for that matter, during his tenure on the Bench.  He seems to be doing his job without angering either the State or the Defense, to my knowledge.  That's a good thing.

His opponent is Assistant District Attorney Je'Rell Rogers.  Je'Rell and I are friends who will forever be professionally linked through the greatest case of our respective careers:  the alleged theft of an adult-sized polar bear costume.

Dubbed the "Trial of the Century" by nobody, it was a test of wills and brinksmanship reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis that ended with a dismissal on trial date, after a mental chess match that had stretched out over months.  As any trial lawyer will tell you, you pour your heart and soul into cases like these and Je'Rell's previous experience as a back up mascot for Notre Dame made this fight personal.  

I've worked with Je'Rell on a couple of other, lesser cases, too, and I've always appreciated the way he handles his job as a prosecutor.  He is open-minded, fair, honest, and willing to concede points when negotiating a case.  I think highly of him as both a prosecutor and a friend.  I think he would make a great judge.

District Clerk -- Marilyn Burgess (I) vs. Desiree Broadnax

Although not a judicial race, of equal importance to those of us who practice in CJC is the race for District Clerk.  The role of District Clerk is critical to everyone involved in the practice of law and with the centerpiece of that is the running of the District Clerk's website.  Everything from running a Defendant's record, to filling out plea paperwork requires an efficient and running website. 

District Clerk Marilyn Burgess came in with the Democratic sweep of 2018, replacing Chris Daniel in the position.  Under Daniel, the website had a couple of minor problems that Burgess has somehow managed to exponentially exacerbate.  During her tenure as District Clerk, she seems to be much more focused on making promotional videos (featuring herself) and redesigning her website (with more pictures of herself) than making sure that the website is actually running.  It is a ridiculously common occurence under the Burgess Administration for the website to crash completely in the middle of morning dockets, bringing court proceedings to a standstill.  I cannot stress enough what an absurdity this website has become.  It is a running joke in the legal community that nobody is laughing at.  She is simply not good at her job.

Her challenger, Desiree Broadnax, has been running the District Attorney's Office Intake Division as the Division Manager, since my time at the Office.  Having worked with Desiree, I am a firm believer in her efficiency and ability to take charge and organize the District Clerk's Office.  She understands the demanding and hectic nature of the justice system and she has the experience to manage it.  She isn't a politician -- she's simply someone who can get things done.  She would do a far better job than Burgess has done over the past years.

So, there you have it.  All comments, questions, and criticisms are welcome in the comments section.  

Episode Seven: The Voters Awaken - A One Act -Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Death Star orbits over Downtown Houston. [INTERIOR] The Imperial Council Chambers. EMPRESS OGG sits at the head of a long table ...