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Judge, County Criminal Court at Law No. 11

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    Lori Botello (Rep) Attorney

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    Aaron Burdette (Rep) Assistant District Attorney

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    Gus Saper (Dem) Attorney

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    Sedrick T. Walker II (Dem) Attorney

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Biographical Information

What are the most critical administration of justice issues facing the court for which you seek election as judge?

What criteria will you use when making the final decision about assigning attorneys to represent indigent defendants? Please discuss selecting attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office vs. the selection of private attorneys.

A large percentage of inmates in the Harris County jail are pre-trial detainees. Other large metropolitan areas in Texas are increasingly using no-cost personal bonds for defendants who are accused of non-violent crimes but pose little flight risk; thereby, enabling them to be released while awaiting trial. Do you support the use of personal bonds and Harris County’s Pretrial Services Department for defendants awaiting trial? Why or why not?

Education/Degrees 2003: Bachelor's of Business Administration in Marketing from The University of Texas - Austin 2006: Doctorate of Jurisprudence from South Texas College of Law - Houston
Professional Experience I've been a licensed attorney since November 3, 2006. I have practiced criminal defense most of my career and currently represent accused citizens in Harris County misdemeanor & felony courts and in the Southern District of Texas in federal offenses.
Community Involvement I am on the Board of Directors of my neighborhood Homeowner's Association and on the Board of Directors for the Harris County Criminal Lawyer's Association (HCCLA). I am also the Editor-In-Chief of HCCLA's magazine, The Defender.
Campaign Website
Campaign Phone (713) 202-9403
Currently, the most critical issue is the bail reform lawsuit underway. Judge Rosenthal entered an injunction that changed the way misdemeanants had their bail set. Previously, a bail amount had to be paid for a defendant to be released. Some would be able to post bond, but others would not. Now, most misdemeanants receive a pretrial release bond, which costs them little to nothing but requires verification of information, or an unsecured bond from the sheriff to be released from jail, which requires nothing. This is a precarious practice because the safety of the community is at risk. While I agree with Judge Rosenthal that some defendants should be released from jail without paying a bond (like those charged with driving while license invalid or theft) others should not (like those charged with assault, unlawful carrying of a weapon, or DWI). I want to help change the system to allow defendants to be released who pose little threat to the community.
The Public Defender's Office only has lawyers to represent mentally ill defendants charged with misdemeanors, so I would have to rely upon the list of approved, private attorneys to represent indigent defendants. I am on this list now and from my experience working in the various courts, I have seen many lawyers do a fantastic job but have also seen some not do much for their clients. I would not want those lackluster attorneys, who I have seen first hand give court-appointed lawyers a bad reputation, working in my court. The current standards to be on the list are rigorous with those wanting to be appointed having to pass a test in addition to having requisite trial experience. I would further require prosecutors recently turned defense lawyers to have trial experience representing defendants since the perspective of a defense lawyer is very different from that of a prosecutor.
I support use of pretrial bonds because the Pretrial Services department confirms information provided by the defendant about where they will live and work. I do not support the use of unsecured bonds currently utilized by the sheriff because those bonds do not require verification, nor do they take into account the risk a defendant may pose to the community based on the charge filed. Those charged with assault, DWI, drug possession cases, or unlawful carrying of a weapon should not receive unsecured bonds but should be eligible for pretrial release bonds since verification is needed before presentment to a judge for approval. It's important to be able to verify where a defendant will live and how he/she can be reached in order to confirm future court appearances.
Education/Degrees J.D. - Tulane Law School; Visiting student - Southern Methodist Law School
Professional Experience Assistant District Attorney: 2007 - present; Felony Chief Prosecutor; Tried 50+ jury trials; Former Chief and Deputy Chief of the Misdemeanor Division
Community Involvement Harris County Republican Party Member; Guest speaker - St. Thomas High School; Guest speaker - Rice University Football; Guest speaker - Rice University Citizens Police Academy
The most critical administration of justice issues are public safety, reducing recidivism rates, and protecting the rights of the victims and defendants.
The Public Defender's Office does not normally represent indigent defendants charged with misdemeanor offenses. The criteria I will use to assign attorneys to represent indigent defendants will be distributed among the list of attorneys eligible for appointment based upon the needs of the court, the individual attorney’s qualifications, and willingness and availability to work during an assignment period.
I support the use of personal bonds and the Harris County Pretrial Services Department for defendants who are charged with a non-violent misdemeanor offense, pose no risk of committing a new crime while awaiting trial, and are certain to appear in court.
Education/Degrees B.A. History Texas A & M 1971 J.D. South Texas College of Law 1974
Professional Experience 43 years as a criminal trial attorney licensed in the following jurisdictions: Texas U.S. Supreme Court 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Southern District of Texas Western Dist.of Texas Eastern Dist.of Texas Northern Dist.of Ohio District of New Mexico
Community Involvement Houston Bar Assoc. 5th Cir. Bar Assoc. Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Assoc. Harris County Criminal Lawyers Assoc. Harris County Democratic Party Harris County Democratic Lawyers Meyerland Democrats Sharpstown Democrats
Campaign Email
Campaign Phone (713) 594-0834
The most critical issue is the loss of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center due to Hurricane Harvey. Courts are doubled up and sharing space. Cases cannot get to trial in a timely fashion. The district attorney's office is spread out around town and communication is difficult. The second critical issue is the current practice among some misdemeanor judges of refusing to appoint lawyers to defendants that have made a cash or surety bond, without a further investigation into a defendant's ability to hire counsel. Some go so far as to revoke bonds and to jail defendants before appointing counsel. Some judges keep resetting cases many times after refusing to appoint counsel. This results in defendants having to come back to court every few weeks, losing time from work or school, further punishing them prior to a trial. Justice is unduly delayed and the cost to both the defendant and the county is increased.
A judge should first determine what kind of case is filed and whether or not it requires some special skill or training. Are there mental health issues, is the defendant a veteran or does he or she have a significant prior criminal record. Finally a defendant's ability to hire private counsel must be considered along with a defendant's desire to hire private counsel and his or her ability to do so.

Currently attorneys from the Public Defender's Office are not generally available for appointment in Harris County, County Criminal Courts. That means that only private attorneys on the approved appointment list may be assigned to a misdemeanor case. I would favor an expansion of the Public Defender's Office if possible.
I absolutely support the use of pretrial personal bonds for most misdemeanor defendants. Federal Judge Rosenthal has ordered that change for Harris County, although its implementation has been somewhat resisted. For misdemeanor defendants that do not have pending felony cases there is little reason to require a cash or surety bond. The use of bonding companies to make bonds is a way for the county to transfer the responsibility and cost for making sure a defendant shows up to court to the private sector. Implementation of Judge Rosenthal's order has been further complicated by by the closure of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.
Education/Degrees University of Texas School of Law - Doctor of Jurisprudence (2008); Texas A&M University - B.S. in Political Science, with honors (2005)
Professional Experience Criminal Defense Attorney (2013 to present); Harris County Assistant District Attorney (2009-2012)
Community Involvement Texas A&M Association of Former Students; Texas Exes; AMVETS
Campaign Phone (281) 410-8995
The most critical administration of justice issues in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 11 are fairness and professionalism to all parties, bail & pretrial bond conditions, the appointment of counsel, and consideration of funds for defense experts. Everyone entering the courtroom should always receive dignity and respect. Release on bail is vital to the accused’s ability to mount an effective defense. Appointment of counsel for those unable to pay for an attorney should be swift and indigency determinations shouldn't be overly inflexible. Requests for defense expert funds should not be limited to predetermined amounts, but instead evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
I would randomly and impartially select counsel from the county’s list of attorneys qualified to accept court appointments. Due to the massive criminal caseload in Harris County, I would continue to use a blend of appointing attorneys from the private defense bar and the public defender’s office. The public defender’s office is a great asset to the community, but at the moment it simply does not have enough attorneys to handle every indigent case. However, in cases where the accused has a mental health issue, I would lean toward appointing counsel from the public defender's office because they have an immense amount of training and experience in regard to mentally ill defendants.
I support the use of personal bonds for defendants accused of non-violent misdemeanor crimes who cannot afford to pay a surety or cash bond. I also support personal bonds for people accused of non-violent misdemeanors who have the financial means to post a surety or cash bond but are willing to wait for the lengthy personal bond evaluation process to finish. The pretrial department must create a reliable system for notifying defendants about their upcoming court dates due to the increased usage of personal bonds. Since it takes longer for release from jail on a personal bond, I do feel that people who can pay the surety or cash bond fees should be allowed to post bail in that manner and not be required to accept a personal bond. We should strive for expedient release from custody so the accused can return to their family, work, and school, and ultimately be better positioned to aid in their defense.