Conroe, January 12 – Candidates Jo Ann Linzer and Kristin Bays discussed judicial restraint and other issues involving the 284th District Court, the civil district court from which incumbent District Judge Cara Wood will retire at the end of the 2018. Linzer and Bays are running against each other in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election.
Bays began the forum by saying, “Sometimes it feels like things are spinning out of control. The lion’s share of the blame lies with the judiciary. Every time a judge puts something in an order, they trample on our freedom to govern ourselves.” Bays explained that she has been a legal scholar doing civil cases for 24 years as well as a community leader.
Linzer introduced herself to the friendly crowd, “I’m an experienced trial attorney who has done over 100 jury trials and disposed of tens of thousands of cases.” Linzer noted that “I’m running for this office because this is where I want to serve. I’ll be trustworthy, responsible, and accountable.”
Renewed conservative political activist John Wertz asked the candidate the first question, “How should civil forfeiture issues be addressed?”
Linzer responded that civil forfeitures are currently codified so “there are laws we have to follow in civil asset forfeitures. As a prosecutor, I’ve been involved in that process for a number of years. As a judge, I’d have to follow the law.”
Bays’ answer was a bit different. She said, “I agree must follow the law…Civil forfeitures were originally intended to deal with contraband.” Bays stressed that “Every judge should evaluate the constitutionality of the actions taken under the statute…Supreme Court Justice Don Willett says that judges must be vigilant to see if the forfeiture passes constitutional muster.”
In response to a question from Sherry Johnston about court overcrowding, Bays said, “The 284th District Court is heading into a dangerous area where the wait time is three to four years for getting cases heard.” Bays said she would work to move the docket of the court forward by staggering hearing times, conducting hearings during breaks in trials, stacking bench trials so the court would hear jury trials all week long, conducting dismissal dockets, and putting into place “some of my ideas about discovery.”
Linzer said she would utilize “resources in our community” to help move cases forward. Linzer criticized the 284th District Court for “not being efficient.”
In response to Linzer’s comments, Bays opted to give a rebuttal in place of her closing statement: “The best way to get cases moved forward is at the beginning of a case. The judge needs to work with the lawyers and parties to set realistic deadlines the parties think they can live with. The parties best know what needs there are for each case and should set a scheduling order with the judge enforcing it.
Attorney Chuck Meyer asked the candidates to explain their views about the role of associate judges. Bays responded by noting, “Associate judges are a judicial officer not elected by the people…The Commissioners Court would have to approve funding for the additional judge…The role can be a little tricky, because the parties can object to an associate judge.”
Linzer said she would support having an associate judge in the 284th District Court, because “it’s a way to make resources available and make share the associate judge with other judges.”
A private citizen asked “As a judge would you perform same-sex marriages?” Both candidates answered, “No.”
The next question came from a gentleman who asked, “What’s the real problem and what are you really trying to fix?”
Linzer answered, “I have a degree in management and train folks in management and leadership. I’m there to serve people…There’s a backlog because the court is currently not operating from 9 to 5 five days per week.” Linzer suggested a dismissal docket to dispose of cases more rapidly.
Bays said, “I own my own law firm and I understand how to manage…I practice in this court now…A large part of the problem is people sitting for two-and-a-half hours waiting and nothing moving…Staggered hearings put time limits on the judge.”
Bays noted that of 1,900 pending cases, in an eight month span ending in October, 2017, only twenty (20) cases were tried.
Linzer agreed, “The 284th needs more trials. That’s why we need a judge who has experience trying cases.” She added, “The rules of evidence apply and I know the rules of evidence.”
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack asked, “Since the County Auditor is selected by the District Judges and oversight falls upon the District Courts, what would you do to provide a more transparent and more codified management of that often controversial office?”
In response to Noack’s piercing question, Bays spoke first,
“Your question, Commissioner Noack, raises some very serious issues that I’ve made central to my campaign. Clearly, the District Court judges need to post the County Auditor’s job on the County website when the position comes up for renewal. Let people apply for it. See what the County gets in applications.
“It should be a requirement that the County Auditor is a licensed CPA. The Occupations Code says auditing services must be done by CPAs but there’s an exception for county auditors. Nevertheless, the last Legislature passed a law requiring Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for County auditing. There are plenty of CPAs who’d be more than happy to do the job or to provide a true independent audit.
“Once selection of the County Auditor is done, the job isn’t over for the District Judges. They need to perform random checks and other oversight and checks for the Auditor’s work. The District Court Judges need to be riding roughshod on the County Auditor. That’s their jobs. (Emphasis added).
“The Montgomery County Auditor has a $2.26 million bloated budget. She has 26 full-time employees. She requires oversight by the people who have the statutory duty to perform that oversight: the District Judges.”
Linzer agreed that “the District Judges need to audit the Auditor’s Office.” She also agreed that the District Judges “need to post the County Auditor’s job.”
Eagle Forum Chair Betty Anderson asked, “Which justice do you respect most and why and which least and why?”
Linzer answered, “Scalia was wise and funny. He would be able to communicate in way people could understand…Ginsburg on other side. She’s way out there for me. She’s liberal and I don’t agree with many of the opinions she’s written.”
Bays answers, “Gorsuch is Scalia version 2.0…American liberals addicted to relying on courtroom judges and lawyers rather than the ballot box to solve problems. Ginsburg shouldn’t be there too much longer. She comes in last. She’s a strong liberal and way too ivory tower.”
In response to a question about court operations, Linzer made the mistake of stating the 284th District’s Court’s jurisdiction is to handle cases in dispute over $200,000. Bays corrected her electoral opponent that “the jurisdiction is not for cases over $200,000. It’s for cases involving $500 up to infinity.”
In her closing statement, Bays said, “When judges start legislating from the bench, that’s when they’ve overstepped their boundaries.” Bays told the crowd that she’s received endorsements from Woodlands Township Board member Bruce Rieser, Texas Right to Life, and the Texas Home School Coalition. “It’s not just a job [to serve as a judge]; it’s a role in our democracy to protect the right of the people to govern themselves.”
Linzer concluded the forum by stating, “Being a judge is not just a job; it’s an opportunity to serve. That’s what I’ve spent my career doing. I’m a good trial lawyer. I’m board certified. I have a reputation as fair and responsible among other lawyers.”