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Dallas County Criminal District Judge, Court No. 7

CHOOSE TWO CANDIDATES FROM BELOW TO COMPARE
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    Mark Watson (Dem) Attorney

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    Heath Harris (Dem) Attorney

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    Chika Anyiam (Dem) Attorney

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Biographical Information

PERFORMANCE & EXPERTISE: Please outline your legal experience, including any specializations and peer review status. Describe any public reprimands or suspensions you have received.

EFFICIENCY: What methods do you support, if any, to increase the efficiency of the District Court to provide swift justice?

ACCESS TO JUSTICE: What, if anything, should be done to improve access to justice for low income residents in criminal cases?

OTHER ISSUES: What other issues do you believe will be most pressing in the criminal courts and how would you address them?

Age 61
Education Tulane University, B.A., Tulane Law School, J.D.
Campaign Phone (214) 912-8181
Licensed to practice law for thirty plus years. Board Certified Criminal Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization, 21 years. Death Penalty Qualified for appointment in First Administrative Region. Practicing criminal law since 1989. State and Federal Criminal Defense, AV Rated, Martindale-Hubell. I worked for one year at the Dallas County Public Defender's Office. I have been a solo practitioner since 1990. I represent individuals charged with criminal offenses throughout Texas. I have been part of a legal team on two death penalty cases. I represented an individual in a three hundred million dollar fraud case. I have an extensive pro bono practice. My cases range from murder to neighbor's traffic tickets.
I will start by reviewing the bond amounts of individuals in jail. When appropriate, I will lower the bonds or allow the defendant to be released on a personal bond requiring no money from the defendant. Providing an appointed lawyer adequate resources to defend a case increases the likelihood the lawyer will be ready for trial or that the case will be disposed of in a timely manner. When both parties consent I will decide a criminal matter myself (trial before the Court). Often times this is a faster method of trying a case versus a jury trial. I will have periodic status conferences with the Defense and State to encourage early resolution of non-violent cases.
Low income individuals should not stay in jail because of their inability to pay for a bail bond. In appropriate cases, individuals should be allowed to post a personal recognizance bond, when the safety of the public is not an issue and the individual is likely to appear in court in a timely manner. Ensuring that indigent defendants have quality appointed lawyers is a major step in improving the justice system for low income individuals.
When an individual has a criminal history it is very difficult for him/her to join the workforce or to rent an apartment. Many jobs are not available to someone who has successfully lived out a criminal probation case. I will begin a 'Second Chance" program with cooperation from the District Attorney. This program will allow SOME non-violent offenders to work at a job for two years. If the individual stays out of trouble and works at a job or furthers his/her training and education for two years, that individual's case will be dismissed in a manner that can be quickly expunged. With a clean record in hand, the individual can stay in the workforce and become a productive member of society.
Age 52
Education Lubbock Estacado HS Texas Tech University., BBA, Marketing TSU, Thurgood Marshall School of Law
Campaign Phone (214) 742-0708
Licensed State Bar of Texas, May 1996 Admitted to practice in the United States District Courts of the Northern and Eastern District First Assistant to Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins Administrative Chief Felony Division/ Grand Jury Intake Division Chief Prosecutor Gang Unit Prosecution Texas District and County Attorney's Association, Former Board Member Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association, Former Board Member Law Office of Heath Harris, Sole Practitioner Criminal Trial Lawyer National Criminal Justice Use of Force Training Legal Analyst: Fox 4, WFAA, CBS 11, NBC 5, CW33, Nancy Grace, Sean Hannity, CNN, K104 FM, Heaven 97 I have completed over 100 jury trials from death penalty cases, all level criminal cases.
I have tried felony cases in several different counties throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Some venues have what they refer to as rocket dockets. This forces the State and the defense to work together to ensure that both sides have meet their obligation to be prepared for trial or disposition of the case as soon as possible. Status conferences on every case will that there are no unnecessary delays. This is the best way to ensure efficient, effective, and swift justice for all parties.
I believe we already have the necessary resources to provide access to justice for low income residents. We just need more Judges demanding that all criminal practitioners that work in our criminal justice system are held accountable and provide the quality service that victims and citizens accused deserve.
We need bail reform. Poor people remain jailed for weeks, months, sometimes over a year because they cannot afford to pay their way out, while wealthier people can quickly bond out of jail regardless how severe the crime. Though defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence, the cash bail system effectively coerces guilty pleas and longer jail and prison sentences for poor people. I have had defendants that I did not believe were guilty accept reduced plea bargain agreements just to get out of jail because they could not afford bail and were not given personal recognizance bond. Our pretrial service system needs to include a risk assessment evaluation and reevaluate our bond schedule.
Age 50
Education 1997-Admitted to the Texas Bar, 1988-Admitted to the Nigerian Bar, 1987-LL.B (Bachelor of Laws).
Campaign Phone (214) 221-3414
I am a criminal defense attorney with over twenty years of extensive felony trial experience, trying cases ranging from misdemeanors to first degree felonies to the jury in all the felony and the misdemeanor courts in Dallas County. In 2014, 2015, and 2017, due to my excellent trial skills, the Dallas County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association selected me as one of their best. In 2016, the Dallas Committee for a Qualified Judiciary deemed me qualified to serve as a judge. I negotiate alternative sentences, diversion programs, dismissals, plea bargains, and lower/personal recognizance bonds. I obtain Expunctions/Nondisclosures of criminal records and Occupational Driver’s Licenses. I have never been reprimanded or suspended.
Competent attorneys should be appointed to eligible defendants quickly, so they can consult and determine options. Prosecutors should be required to contact both law enforcement, the victim, and send discovery to defense counsel immediately a case is filed, so counsel can have meaningful discussions with the defendant early on in the process, for timely preparation. There should be a limit to the number of times cases are reset, so inmates don’t sit in jail unnecessarily, losing their jobs, apartments, benefits and costing taxpayers money. Eligible defendants who qualify for release on probation should be subject to post-plea evaluations for conditions of supervision, so they don’t sit in jail for several weeks waiting for the evaluation.
The Public Defender’s Office, Indigent Defense System and Legal Aid need more funding and offices in high poverty areas where residents lack basic resources. Educational videos/classes on the criminal justice system, the resources available in the community and video/teleconferencing should be offered in those offices, so residents, attorneys, and court personnel can communicate towards disposition of cases. The courts need a better system of determining true indecency, so that indigent funds are not squandered on those who can afford to hire counsel. Attorneys should be appointed quickly, and defendants should only be required to appear in court on the pretrial and/or disposition date to avoid too many days off their jobs, schools, etc.
Repeat criminal behavior after offenders have been sanctioned/rehabilitated for prior offenses is a problem. Overly burdensome conditions of probation for non-violent offenders is counterproductive, leads to inability to comply and more sanctions. As a judge I would focus on mentoring programs that are proven to rehabilitate rather than propagate criminal behavior. Bail reform is a major issue as most inmates are indigent. I would release low risk inmates on low/ personal recognizance bonds pending resolution of their cases. Similar diversion programs can be merged to maximize efficiency. I will work with other judges, the District Attorney’s office and the Commissioners Court to generate policies that will improve access to timely justice.