By BEN SMITH
Political campaigns are strenuous. No matter what people tell you, you never fully understand it until you experience it yourself. Many months ago, a dear friend gave me the best advice I’ve received throughout this campaign: “Run your race. Don’t worry about what your opponents are doing or saying. Focus on your race.”
I have done my best to focus on my qualifications, endorsements, and on communicating my message to voters. However, my opponent has recently sent out email blasts that misrepresent the nature of the District Court’s docket and our respective qualifications. As a result, I feel compelled to set the record straight.
In emails dated July 5, 2012 and July 10, 2012, my opponent claimed that “the 380th Judicial District Court currently has 1,900 cases pending, including 850-plus family law, 700-plus civil trial and the remainder criminal.” According to my opponent, then, there are currently 350 criminal cases pending in the 380th.
In a separate email blast dated July 3, 2012, my opponent claimed that the 380th District Court hears approximately 55 percent family law cases, 35 percent civil cases and 10 percent criminal cases. Assuming her numbers are correct, her percentages contradict her own numbers. 850 family law cases is 44 percent, not 55 percent. 350 criminal cases would be 18 percent, not 10 percent. But are her numbers accurate to begin with?
Let’s consider the records of the Collin County District Clerk. The District Clerk is responsible for maintaining the records of each District Court. According to the District Clerk in a report I obtained on July 9, 2012, there are 1,872 pending cases in the 380th District Court. Of these, 777 are family law cases (41.5%), 604 are criminal cases (32.3%), and 491 are civil cases (26.2%).
Back on January 17, 2012, I obtained a copy of this same report. At that time, there were approximately 2,030 pending cases. Of these, 826 were family law cases (40.7%), 617 were criminal cases (30.4%), and 587 were civil cases (28.9%).
As you can see, between January and July, the percentages didn’t change very much, which indicates (to me) that it is both reasonable and accurate to state that in this court, approximately 40 percent of cases are family law cases, 30 percent are criminal, and 30 percent are civil.
At candidate forums, these were the numbers I used – I even stated each time I used the numbers that I obtained them from the Collin County District Clerk’s Office. Even so, my opponent continued to state that only 10 percent of cases in this court are criminal, and 55 percent are family law.
Based on the records of the District Clerk, it is unequivocally clear that her representations are false.
Unfortunately, she continues to make them. While I cannot be certain why this is the case, it appears that she is intentionally downplaying the significance of criminal felony cases, in order to diminish my extensive experience handling them and to compensate for her lack of experience in this area.
In her July 3 email, my opponent also stated that she is “well versed in all three types of cases that are heard” in District Court. However, a search of court records shows that she has handled exactly one criminal case: a misdemeanor shoplifting case that settled and did not go to trial. The truth is that she has never tried a criminal case and has never handled a felony of any kind.
She also claims that she has “prior judicial experience,” having served as a teen court judge for four years. In candidate forums, she has asserted that this “judicial” experience is also “criminal law” experience.
Although volunteering one’s time to serve the community in this manner is commendable, teen court is not comparable to a real court. High school students who are charged with fine-only class C misdemeanors such as traffic violations and truancy forgo their right to real court proceedings in a Municipal or Justice of the Peace court and agree to be judged by their peers in “teen court.”
The juries who decide the cases, and the lawyers, are high school students. The Texas Rules of Evidence and the Code of Criminal Procedure do not apply.
District Court judges make complicated legal decisions that can literally involve life or death. Presiding over high school students pretending to be lawyers hardly prepares one for real life, skilled, and highly qualified attorneys making complex objections and legal arguments.
In her email, my opponent also criticizes me for being licensed to practice for eight years compared to her 23 years. She also asserts that I have never handled a non-criminal case. This is also false.
I have experience handling family law cases, and civil cases such as bond and asset forfeitures, mental health hearings, and I have served as attorney ad litem. I also recently handled a civil lawsuit in county court at law as attorney for the defendant.
Furthermore, I have been licensed to practice law in Texas for nine years, not eight, and in my nine years as an attorney, I have handled over 5,000 cases, more than 100 jury trials, and hundreds of bench trials.
I diligently searched for my opponent’s trial records in Collin, Denton, Grayson, and Harris Counties. The available records in those counties show only one jury trial in District Court for which she was designated as an “active party” by the records clerk – and it was 17 years ago.
The records show no evidence of any trials in Collin County (where she has practiced the last ten years) – civil, criminal, or family. Interestingly, the vast majority of all of the family law cases she has handled involved uncontested prove-ups. Much of her civil law experience is as an ad-litem.
For the past 10 years, she has specialized in probate law, which is not heard in District Court. According to Collin County online records, she has handled approximately 100 cases in Collin County in the past 10 years.
Of these 100 cases, only 22 were in District Court – the court we are both running for – while I have handled thousands. The majority of her cases have been in County Court, with 75 of them being probate cases. That means that 75% of all cases she has handled are probate cases, which are not even heard in District Court.
Most probate cases are not contested. Bottom line: In my nine years as an attorney, I have handled thousands more cases than my opponent and significantly more trials than she has in her 23 years of experience. In addition, I have extensive experience practicing law in District Court, and she does not. Don’t take my word for it, folks. Look at the records yourselves.
I agree with my opponent: know who you are voting for.
I do not begrudge my opponent for trying to make the most of her experience and record. However, the numbers she is citing are clearly wrong.
The claim that she has judicial experience is misleading. I do not doubt that she is a fine attorney and quite skilled at probate cases. That is simply not what District Court is about.
The fact remains that based on a thorough review of our records, I have significantly more relevant District Court experience and am in a much better position to handle the rigors of the 380th District Court. I encourage all voters to research our records for themselves.
I am more than willing to provide documentation for any of my assertions and statistics above. If anyone would like a copy of the reports I obtained from the District Clerk’s Office, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Readers – Collin County Demographics:
http://www.co.collin.tx.us/business/numbers.jsp Shop Amazon’s New Kindle Fire &amp;amp;lt;A HREF=”http://ws.amazon.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&amp;amp;amp;MarketPlace=US&amp;amp;amp;ID=V20070822%2FUS%2Fcollcounhead-20%2F8009%2F0026cd2b-a789-4993-964a-d1bc49180b3a&amp;amp;amp;Operation=NoScript”&amp;amp;gt;Amazon.com Widgets&amp;amp;lt;/A&amp;amp;gt;