Tuesday, January 29, 2008

CCA incumbent faces strong GOP primary challenge

Of the three incumbents up for re-election to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, only two face opponents, and only one faces challengers in both the primary and the general election: GOP Judge Paul Womack, who faces off in March against Dallas District Judge Robert Francis. (The winner faces perennial Democratic candidate J.R. Molina in the November election.) Reports Chuck Lindell in the Austin Statesman ("Statewide judge race raises heat," Jan. 29), Francis is:
a state district judge in Dallas who says Womack is ripe for defeat because he was fined $20,500 by the Texas Ethics Commission and sanctioned by a judicial ethics agency for failing to file seven campaign finance reports during the 2002 elections.

At the time, Womack blamed the lapse on attention-deficit disorder and a problem with procrastination. That explanation — made in a 2003 closed-door session of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct but revealed when the agency issued its sanction — was not widely discussed at the time beyond a few newspaper articles and Internet forums used by lawyers.

Francis, however, said the episode raises questions about Womack's continued tenure on the state's highest criminal court.

Womack now says the ADD prognosis was incorrect, that he just didn't fill out the correct paperwork. Whatever the case, to my mind his greater sin has been to be a reliable vote for Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, under whose leadership the court has become a national disgrace.

I don't know much about Judge Francis, a Dallas district court judge, though I'm pleased to see that he was an organizer of a Dallas symposium on re-entry issues in January. His website informs us that he created and operates a "re-entry court" in Dallas, which appears to be a version of strengthened probation for low-level drug offenders:
Judge Francis has moved over 15,000 cases through the Dallas County court system. Although his daily court schedule keeps Judge Francis extremely busy, his commitment to finding new ways to deal with the ever increasing crime rate led to the formation of the first Re-Entry court in the State of Texas.

The Dallas SAFPF Re-Entry court is designed to stop crime by preventing addicts from returning to their addiction. Probationers who complete the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF) program return to Judge Francis’s court for intensive aftercare to ensure compliance with the conditions of their probation.

This program has had one of the highest success rates of any treatment program in the country. The results ensure that people who complete the SAFPF Re-Entry Court curriculum will not return to their criminal behavior and this prevents the citizens of the State of Texas from becoming victims. This court has received local, state and national recognition for its success.

In the Statesman article, though, Francis doesn't seem like he's running on a platform to shake up the court: "I think I'll bring a new personality and dynamic to it," he said. "I think there needs to be a higher degree of collegiality."

Personally I think there needs to be a lot LESS collegiality. I think judges on the CCA need to stand up to Presiding Judge Sharon Keller more often to keep stuff like the Michael Richard debacle from recurring.

OTOH, Judge Francis seems pretty serious about the race, while Womack appears to be barely campaigning, reports Lindell:

In the last six months of 2007, Francis reported raising almost $44,800 in campaign donations. In a race that has traditionally favored the incumbent, Womack raised $103 in the same period.

Francis has been endorsed by quite a few Dallas area Republicans like Jerry Madden, Will Hartnett, Jodie Laubenberg and other prominent names, including GOP DA candidate Toby Shook who barely lost to Craig Watkins in 2006. Texas Eagle Forum even backs his candidacy.

These downballot races are hard to contest, and history shows it's folly to bet against an incumbent CCA judge in a primary (ask Terry Keel), but Judge Francis certainly looks like a serious candidate. Since Dems haven't won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, Francis' candidacy might be the best chance to oust an incumbent CCA judge this year. In a court that desperately needs new blood, perhaps Judge Francis will turn out to be a live one.


JT Barrie said...

Womack suffers from ADD? IF he is being treated he will test positive for Cocaine [Ritalin] or Amphetamines [Adderall]. Having a user of banned substance equivalents on the court must be maddening for "family value" conservatives eager to "get tuff" on crime. If he has severe ADD problems he would be treated with Meth [don't recall that derivative]. However, if it is only mild ADD then pot would work to alleviate his symptoms: I have seen significant improvements in performance from some workers who used marijuana to cope with job stress on the job [mildly stoned keeps focused in fast paced work environment].
My bet is that the drug therapy won't affect his attitudes towards drug users tried in his court. These people have extremely limited thought processes [like connecting the dots]. His drugs are legal - so they must be better otherwise some other authority figure would ban them right? Connecting the dots are not a forte for "tuff on crime" types.

Anonymous said...

There are all sorts of drugs that are only legal to possess by prescription. Should a judge who was prescribed drugs dismiss all cases by people who possess and use them for recreation? Most conservatives only want drugs to be used lawfully, not banned entirely. Unless your position is that all drugs with appropriate medicinal uses should also be made available to all for recreational purposes, then quit being stupid.

JT Barrie said...

when there is really no difference between a "prescription medicine" and a version of a banned drug - it's "being stupid" to point out the difference and justify prison terms. Is it OK to use drugs that affect mood if the intent is to treat emotional/developmental problems like ADD but not OK if it is to experience an alternative reality or mood [aka recreational]? In either case the judge would test positive for cocaine use if he were on Ritalin. That's why drug dogs don't go near the dispensary at our school [I have asked].

Marianne said...

Quite helpful piece of writing, thanks so much for your post.