Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
• My office has been closed and not working for nearly 2 years
• My autopsy costs have risen 400%
• My court has an inordinate amount of appeals on procedural grounds
• My office never responds to voicemails or emails.
• Because I identify as LGBTQ, have been an LGBTQ activist in the past, and asked to fly the Pride flag at my court, I am obviously biased
I’ll take this in order. First, my lobby has been closed to the public until recently. We have continued to hold court, take filings and payments, and handle the processes of the court from a virtual footing. The lobby is now reopened to the public and is open late on Tuesdays until 7 PM. The court continues to be virtual as our lobby is too small for adequate social distancing for more than 2 people at a time. In short, the work of the court never stopped. I feel like I’ve said this before. Many times.
Two, last year every JP office in the county exceeded their budget line for autopsies. Overall, since I entered office, my autopsy line expenditures have risen over 150%, nowhere near the 400% reported. The reasons for this are complex. One, the actual costs of autopsies have increased both through the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office and through Hill Country Forensics, a local ME. Two, our population has grown and thus there has been an increase in JP death inquests. In 2019, I signed 159 death certificates. In 2020, 189. In 2021, I signed 229. Lastly, the COVID pandemic has had an unquantifiable impact. While the number of deaths attributed to COVID that I have seen is low, since most COVID deaths occur in hospitals, it’s hard to determine how COVID has impacted death rates not attributed to COVID. In 2019, I saw 20 suicides. In 2021, that number was 29, nearly half again as much. Accidental overdoses have increased as well. Whether or not these increases are due to COVID stresses, or if other deaths by natural causes are as well, is impossible to tell.
Three, in the 3 years I have been in office, I have had 29 cases appealed. 25 of those were evictions which are often appealed to give a tenant more time in their residence. 3 were small claims and one was a criminal traffic case. In my opinion, this is not an unexpected number. I also have no way of knowing on what grounds those non-eviction cases were filed. Part of my job as a judge is to let defendants before me know about their right to appeal. Since most of these people are self-represented, they deserve to know how to go about the appeal process. I have no idea if my predecessor informed people the same way, but I feel it is important.
Fourth, responding to emails and phone calls. For a time, we had issues with our phone system and all calls went to voicemail. This made it difficult for people to contact us and we have since returned to an older system and left the third-party vendor that was not correcting issues. This change allowed us to return to live calls. It is has been and continues to be the policy of this office to respond to emails and voicemails in a timely manner.
And the best for last. A lot has been said about my request to fly the Pride flag at my court in 2019. How this somehow makes me unqualified to be a judge because I identify as LGBTQ and have a history of activism. I haven’t spoken before the Texas Legislature since 2017. This doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of heinous anti-LGBTQ proposed bills I could’ve testified against in 2019, it just meant that I was an elected judge and couldn’t. Who I am is certainly a part of what goes into my decision-making process in all things, not just as a judge. I don’t believe it precludes me from being fair, however. In fact, it’s come up exactly once in my court. A defendant with a traffic ticket wanted to be heard using her preferred name and pronouns even though her driver’s license had a male gender marker. I spoke to her using her name and pronouns and let her know that I couldn’t change the ticket to reflect her identity since her driver’s license showed something different. However, as long as she was before me, I had no problem addressing her in her preferred manner. She was ecstatic and we came to an agreement on paying her fine. That’s it. I showed common decency to someone who didn’t expect it. That’s the extent of my “activism from the bench”. Frankly, sexual orientation and gender identity just don’t come into play all that often in the justice court. I don’t hear discrimination cases. I am no more biased towards LGBTQ individuals in my court, especially since I don’t generally know who they are than I am against any other group.
It's the standard Republican playbook - lie and exaggerate. These are just the most egregious lies. I'm sure there are more that I haven't heard about and there will be more to come. I will promise this today. I will not lie about the qualifications of my opponent or attack their character. Right now there are 3 Republicans running in the primary. At least two of them are receiving coaching from other elected officials. They've been given their talking points and it's my job to respond.
I'm far more concerned with being a fair and equitable judge. It's my job to listen, be compassionate when needed, and offer information when appropriate. To make policies that help and do not hinder our constituents within the legal constraints of my office. Above all, I must uphold the law in an unbiased manner.
None of the charges above realistically have anything to do with that responsibility. And neither does the color of my hair.