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Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2

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    Audrie Lawton (Dem) Attorney

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    Sharon M. Burney (Dem) Attorney

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    Ray Shackelford (Dem) Account Manager

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    Cheryl Elliott Thornton (Dem) Assistant County Attorney for Harris County

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Biographical Information

The JP courts are frequently described as “The Peoples’ Courts.” As Justice of the Peace how would you ensure that this role is fulfilled in your court?

What changes, if any, are needed in JP court processes and procedures in your precinct to make the court more efficient and effective in fulfilling its duties?

The Justice of the Peace is charged with many responsibilities, what steps do you believe need to be taken to ensure that the JP Courts are adequately funded and staffed to do their job appropriately?

Education/Degrees Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Houston, Texas Juris Doctor – May 2002
Professional Experience Licensed to practice law for 15 years in the State of Texas Presenter on Justice Court practice, TexasBarCle Former, Assistant Attorney General Tx Former, Attorney for State Bar of Tx Private Practice, Attorney Assistant General Counsel, O'Connor
Community Involvement Member, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Sustaining Member, Harris County Democratic Party Member, Jack and Jill of America
Campaign Email
Campaign Phone (281) 756-7457
Twitter @voteaudrie4jp
I believe my platform says it all! I want to Bring Back the People’s Court. That means opening up the courthouse doors to the community in which it serves. It also means providing services, such as educational training, social services, and resources to Pro Se litigants who cannot afford legal representation. My goal is to partner with organizations, businesses and leaders in our community to provide additional services to those in need. Below are five ways, in which I plan to accomplish this goal:

• Enhance courthouse technology by creating a ”Courthouse App” • Hold monthly night court and/or weekend court • Establish an onsite legal library/resource center • Open up the courthouse doors and allow organizations and professionals to host educational seminars on issues such as landlord/tenant’s rights, criminal law advocacy and consumer rights. • Work with the Constable’s office to promote safety in the community
I want to make the courthouse more efficient through use of technology. Most courts in Texas are moving towards mandatory e-filing. Although, Justice courts are beginning to ride the wave, I believe that pushing technology will save the courts money and time. I would also like to develop a "courthouse app" that would enable constituents to do things like reset their court dates, upload documents and check into court. All of these functions would save the court time and money. In addition to technology, I plan on initiating a case docketing system that would group like cases on alternating days so that criminal dockets would be heard on days separate from civil dockets. This will allow for much more manageable dockets and help get people in and out of court in an efficient manner.
The first step would be to evaluate the yearly budget including salaries, costs and other expenditures versus revenue generated by the court. Often times there are areas in any budget where money should be reallocated and or cut. The next step would be to identify other sources of revenue to supplement the court's budgetary needs. As far as staffing, I believe it is important to not only hire good people, but keep good people. I currently manage a staff of 10 and I am proud to say that all 10 have stayed employed with my company during my tenure as their manager. I believe in rewarding employees with incentives. My team sets attainable goals and we exceed those goals each year. I would offer flex schedules, competitive employee benefit packages and a team oriented work environment.
Education/Degrees JD in Law from Thurgood Marshal School of Law 2007 / MS in Future Studies from University of Houston 1997 / BS in Business from University of Houston 1981
Professional Experience 10 years as an Attorney in private practice primarily practicing Probate law. 24 years in Education working as an Administrator, Coordinator and Teacher workimg with highrisk and homeless children.
Community Involvement Works with Shape Community Center to sponsor political, heath, and educational awareness.
Campaign Email
Campaign Phone (346) 267-7135
Twitter @Burney2018
I would provide as much information about the process as possible to make court use easy for the people and aide their understanding of the process. It is against the rules for clerks to provide legal advice even if the clerk is a licensed attorney. There is a thin line between what a clerk is allowed to say to the people. I would provide written information that answers many of the questions that the people may have or need to know available to the people in the the lobby area for their use. I would provide contact information as to where voters can find free legal aide providers. I would also print information about the court that can be found online for people who may not have access to computers I would enhance ease within the limits the new Harris County operational system.
Much of what needs to be done is controlled by the Harris County system and is out of the hands of the JP. I would work to try and increase the budget of the Pct 7 court. Increasing the budget would allow me to hire more clerks and lower the stress placed on the clerks allowing them to be more efficient.
I believe more attention needs to be given to case load. Over the last ten years Pct 7 Place 2 Justice of the Peace has gone from being classified as a small court, to that of a medium court, and is rapidly rising in case load to that of the larger courts. I would advocate that as case load rise, more funding is needed.
Education/Degrees Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration - Finance & Minor in Economics from Morehouse College, Masters of Business Administration from University of Houston
Professional Experience Healthcare Account Manager for Grainger, Business Development Lead for Coca-Cola, Relationship Manager - Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), Outreach Coordinator/HUD Certified Housing Counselor - (HAUL), Math Instructor - WALIPP-TSU Academy for Boys
Community Involvement Independent Police Oversight Board, Emerging 100 Board Member, Southern Region Vice President with National Urban League Young Professionals, Volunteer Organizer with Emancipation Park Re-Opening, and Past President Houston Area Urban League YPs
Campaign Email
Campaign Phone (713) 591-6984
My top priority as Justice of the Peace will be to ensure that citizens are given a voice. I want to make sure that members of the Houston community are able to achieve fair outcomes regardless of their education, station in life, or their ability to afford legal representation.

To ensure that citizens are able to properly utilize “The Peoples’ Court,” I will make monthly presentations to community organizations about the court and its functions. I will also provide tours of the court and develop an internship program open to high school students in the precinct. Finally, where possible, I will open the court’s facilities to civic clubs and community organizations as a meeting place.
Based on feedback that I have received from constituents, we need to ensure that the docket is being called on time. Further, uncontested cases should be heard first, and attempts should be made to mediate contested cases before going to trial to reduce the costs of litigants and taxpayers.

I plan to put a continuous improvement process in place that will actively track performance and efficiency indicators while also incorporating feedback from those who interact with the court to improve their experience and ensure fairness in outcomes.
First, mandated activities should be evaluated to determine if they can be automated or achieved more efficiently. This should lower costs while also simplifying citizens’ interactions with the court.

Next, the court’s budget should be analyzed using a “base-zero” methodology—instead of incremental changes in the current budget, we should understand the needs and costs of each individual function, and each expense must be justified for it to be retained in the budget.

Third, non-mandated activities should be prioritized—the most critical should be considered for potential continuation and inclusion in the budget, while those that provide minimal value to citizens should be eliminated.

The above steps may result in savings, but they could also show a need for an increased budget (of the sixteen JP courts in Harris County, Precinct 7, Place 2 has the fifth lowest budget allocation for FY 2017-18). This analysis will allow us to uncover what is needed for an adequate budget.
Education/Degrees Trinity University, BA St Mary's University, MA Thurgood Marshall School of Law, JD
Professional Experience Assistant County Attorney, Harris County Administrative Law Judge, Tx Workforce Commission General Counsel, Tx Southern U Assist Attorney General, State of Tx Instructor, Houston Community College and Lone Star College
Community Involvement Houston Bar Association, Chair Gender Fairness Comm., Houston Lawyer's Asso., National Bar Asso., World Youth Foundation, University Museum @TSU, W. MacGregor Homeowners Asso., Prect. Chair, UNCF, American Constitution Society, Women Profes'l in Govt
Campaign Phone (713) 304-1046
I believe the JP Court is the Peoples Court. That name is derived because a majority of those citizens that come before a JP are pro se or are representing themselves. In my court the people will always be treated with fairness, respect and deference. I know that most individuals that take their time to be before the court are there because they want to be heard and adjudicated based upon the circumstances presented. I pledge that all peoples before my court will be heard. I further pledge that upon hearing and ruling that even if I do not rule in favor of the individual, they will leave my court believing that their case was judged fairly.
In JP court more up to date electronic filings and ability to review past case information needs to occur. In other words, I believe the same processes already mandated in the County and State courts should be afforded the JP Courts. Simply stated, each person should be able to e-file all documents. Further, each party should also be able to review their case filings without calling directly to the court. These processes will free up the clerks to concentrate on other constituent services which, ultimately, will make the court more efficient and friendly for all. Although I do want these upgrades, I want to be mindful that we are talking about the People's Court and therefore, will still make available the clerks if a constituent has concerns. Further, when e-filing is implemented I would like to have an e-file service on site to assist those who cannot on their own do this level of processing.
The JP Courts responsibilities and oversight are not totally articulated to the public or to the entity which, ultimately, has oversight over the JP Courts. In order to ensure that the JP Courts are adequately funded and staffed the JP courts must better educate Harris County Commissioner's Court, its ultimate oversight body, about its duties and responsibilities. Through better education of the Commissioner's Court, there can be a better understanding as to why more funding is needed and, respectfully, why more funding should be immediately granted to the JP courts.