Once more Judge Candidates are out in force. I attended the Downtown Houston Pachyderm club meeting on Aug.18th and met at least a dozen. If you haven’t been to the Downtown Pachyderm they are one of the finest groups in the city, meeting at the Spaghetti Warehouse for lunch every Thursday. Randy Kubosh normally runs the meetings and as everyone knows, if a Kibosh is involved it will be fun. Lunch is only eight dollars and the crowd is always friendly and welcoming. If you want to get involved in politics and are unsure where to begin, start with this great club.
I go every chance I get, but it’s a ways from Katy. I‘ve heard David Jennings recommend Leif Olson so when I saw he was going to speak at the Pachyderm lunch, I decided I would go and see what this guy is all about. He seems to have a strong understanding that a Judges job is to follow the law and not to legislate from the bench. He was asked a leading question which he handled well about the Red Light Cameras. Sounds like a man with a plan. He did not walk on water in Buffalo Bayou, but certainty impressed me as being a nice young man. Also speaking was Justice Jeff Brown and Joe Vinas. They sound like the type of Judges we want on the bench, lots of experience and knowledgeable men.
So this got me thinking. How does the average primary voter know who to vote for? Being detail oriented, some Judges give us more detail than we want. It’s confusing about all the different courts. This one is criminal and that one does civil cases above one hundred but below five hundred dollars. Before you know it all you hear is blah, blah, blah. How about going back and reading their rulings or the papers they have filed with the court? Congressman John Conyers (D-Mi) said it best when he said “what good does it do to read the bill if you don’t have two days and two lawyers to explain it to you after you have read it.” Playing ballot roulette is not something most of us want to do, but many of us have little choice, come primary day.
Once we get past the primary it’s much easier. You know my motto “be a star, vote a straight R!” There are a few bad Republicans but even fewer good Democrats. So to get back to vetting candidates for the primary, how does everyone else do it? Any good suggestions out there? In 2010 I attended a meeting where the leader had gone to the web and printed out info on what each court did. It was about to get UGLY. Thank You, Judge Ramos, who was a candidate at the time. He stepped in, explaining the differences in the many courts. So if we, the average voter, don’t even know what court does what job, how are we to pick the best person to be the Judge? What I did in 2010 was meet as many candidates as I could, ask questions and observe their reactions. I also relied heavily on my “gut feeling” when I shook their hand and looked them in the eye. Asking other lawyers will sometimes give you good feedback. By the time I went to the polls I felt pretty knowledgeable. Wow, was I wrong; I didn’t have a clue in race after race. Back to playing ballot roulette, not the only one playing, but not what any of us wants to do. So a Candidate has spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours campaigning, and then some jerk votes for the other person because they have a common name.
Now for the bad news, after reading this you’re probably thinking ‘Great this guy is going to tell us how to do better!’ Wrong, I don’t have a clue. I’m putting it out for discussion. I’ve asked seasoned politicos, people, Judges, Lawyers, candidates and anyone else that will listen to me. They all basically say the same thing, ITS TOUGH! Not everyone has ten thousand sitting around to place an “ad” in a letter and get the golden endorsement. So how do you think we should vet our Judge candidates?
Okay, so that last paragraph was the end, but I didn’t like the way it ended. So I went back to the Downtown Pachyderm and managed to corner three different Judge Candidates and ask their opinion on how to vet Judges. Some of what I heard from each of those candidates was; look at what the court does. A criminal court is very different from a civil court. One Candidate pointed out O.J. was released by the criminal court, but found guilty in a civil court. What has the Candidate done before? If it’s a criminal court, was the Candidate a defense lawyer or a prosecutor? It might make a difference in how they interpret the law. One Candidate says he calls lawyer friends of his who have interacted with the Candidate and gets their opinion. One said if you don’t know don’t vote. But is that better than ballot roulette? One suggested shaking hands and looking the Candidate in the eye. Another man said he had been involved with the law since the 80’s and even he doesn’t know all the Candidates. Another idea is to ask about the Candidates core values. At least make sure they don’t think they are the “greatest” thing in the universe.
So you might say “who cares?” I’m really voting for the President or Senator or congressman. They’re the ones making the laws the Judge has to follow. Yeah, right. Judges in lower courts grow up to be big powerful Judges in higher courts. Who is chosen today to deal with the dope smoker may be deciding if we really need the first amendment anymore. A bad Judge can undo decades of work with a single ruling. Next time you hear about a cross being taken down or phones shut off, remember that Judge started somewhere. Spend the time and do your homework. We need good Judges.