Before I talk about the candidates in this race, let me explain the purpose of the misdemeanor courts. There are fifteen misdemeanor courts, also known as county criminal courts, in Harris County. These courts hear class a and b misdemeanors, which include the following types of cases:
- driving while intoxicated cases for first and second offenders;
- possession of marijuana;
- theft and criminal mischief under $1,500;
- burglary of a motor vehicle; and
- criminal trespass.
These courts handle thousands of cases each year and serve as the front line in the intervention process. Most capital murder defendants have been guests of these misdemeanor courts before they enter the big boy criminal courts. That being said, it is crucial that these misdemeanor court judges are experienced, thoughtful, good judges of character, and smart.
The two candidates in the County Criminal Court at Law 10 race are Dan Spjut and Tonya Rolland McLaughlin. Both candidates have their own strong points.
These are both good candidates for different reasons. Dan Spjut is a 25-year law enforcement officer who fought through long odds to obtain a law degree. Dan was a highly regarded police officer who worked as an undercover narcotics detective for ten years at the Houston Police Department. Currently, he is a lawyer in private practice has focused his practice on juvenile law. In the primary election, Dan was in first place and came close to winning the election without a runoff.
Tonya Rolland McLaughlin is a former prosecutor and, now, a practicing criminal defense lawyer. Her trial experience is extensive and she has a lot of support at the courthouse from her peers on both sides of the courtroom.
I love the questions that are asked at the Downtown Pachyderm because they reflect the knowledge of the audience and the enthusiasm of the candidates’ supporters. In this crowd, folks are not shy; so, I always try and make these forums.
Of course, this forum, like many before it, included the dreaded slate question. Every candidate who knows anything should be prepared for Ann Lee’s ubiquitous marijuana question. Of course, there are the typical experience and consultant questions. And, certainly, I always ask a question.
Both Dan and Tonya admitted to paying the slates for ads. This is an often-asked question it is rare when a candidate refuses to pay the slates. Anthony Magdelano was the latest to use this as a principle in his campaign. Unfortunately for him, he was unsuccessful.
Neither Dan nor Tonya wanted to see marijuana use expanded though legalization and both wanted reform through decriminalization. There is no reason to ruin people’s lives through convictions and labels.
One of the questions I liked was about punishment. Both candidates expressed that each case needs to be looked at separately and that deferred adjudication is appropriate in certain cases for first time offenders. Repeat offenders should be dealt with more harshly. Both candidates are qualified for this bench.
This race is important and I encourage you to do further research. I know my colleague, Dave Jennings, has interviewed both candidates and will soon publish those interviews.