HOUSTON, Texas – The recent indictments of Governor Rick Perry has brought attention to the criminal justice system in Texas. The question of who selects special prosecutors and grand jurors, and how a criminal case runs its course through the criminal judicial system, are all in the mind of the public. Tom Delay’s appeal was recently argued in the highest criminal court in Texas, but many voters are not acquainted with that court, or its candidates. More voters are now seeing the significance of their vote in these races where the constitutional issues of life, liberty, due process, and the death penalty are at stake. So who are the candidates seeking to determine these important constitutional issues?
There are nine judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Three of these judges are retiring. There are three non-incumbent candidates who are vying for these positions on the ballot.
In Place 3, is Republican Judge Bert Richardson of San Antonio. Richardson was recently propelled into the public spotlight after he appointed the special prosecutor in the Governor Perry case. He has been serving as a visiting court judge. Richardson was a criminal district judge in Bexar County from 1999-2008 but was defeated in a Democratic sweep. He served as a prosecutor prior to becoming a judge. He faces Democrat criminal defense lawyer John Granberg of El Paso, and Libertarian Houston criminal defense lawyer Mark W. Bennett. Judge Richardson won the State Bar of Texas Judicial Poll.
In Place 4, is Republican Kevin Yeary who is an appellate prosecutor in Bexar County. He has served as a briefing attorney on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and he has practiced criminal defense law. Yeary does not have a Democrat opponent but faces Libertarian Quanah Parker of Abilene, and Green Party candidate Judith Sanders-Castro from San Antonio. Yeary won the Judicial Bar Poll.
In Place 9, is Republican nominee David Newell from Richmond. Newell is an appellate prosecutor in Harris County. Like Yeary, Newell does not have a Democrat opponent but faces criminal defense lawyer George Altgelt, a Green Party candidate from Laredo, and William Bryan Strange, Libertarian candidate from Dallas. Strange does not list an area of legal practice on the Texas State Bar website. Strange and Newell are both from large cities and they had only one vote difference between them in the Bar Poll.
So who will be serving on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in January? Republicans dominate statewide offices and the judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court are all Republicans.
Brian Wice is a criminal trial and appellate lawyer who has practiced for over three decades. Wice represented Tom Delay on his successful appeal to the Austin intermediate court of appeals, and represents him now at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Wice told Breitbart Texas that “it worries me that even I cannot tell you who the Democrat nominees are for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. These are the nine most powerful judges in the state but I will tell you that talent, ability, and character play little or no part, in the process. Democrats have not served in two decades and quite frankly, the Cubs have a better chance to win the World Series.”
Phillip Hilder, a criminal defense lawyer who represented Sherron Watkins in the famous Enron whistleblower case, told Breitbart Texas “The Court of Criminal Appeals has perhaps the most direct impact on the criminal justice system in Texas, yet its members are virtually invisible to voters who elect them. The Judges are elected solely on party label. Other than the Court itself, one would be hard-pressed to find a single voter in the state who could name the full Court let alone anything about them. Voters must educate themselves, because the standard of criminal justice is just too important to blindly elect the Court.”
Judicial races are important, but there are so many candidates, and so many courts, it is hard for the average voter to know who to vote for. When compared to candidates in other statewide races, candidates running for statewide criminal courts do not have a huge war chest. Money for getting the word out is limited. The significance of who sits on these courts has now become more apparent to voters.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a judge and a prosecutor. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.