Texas is divided into 14 geographic
areas, or districts. Each district has a
Court of Civil Appeals. Two courts, District 1 and District 14, serve Harris and
adjoining counties. Each court has one
Chief Justice and five Associate Justices.
Their salaries are $50,700 and $50,200
The 14 Districts set up for the courts
of civil appeal are not the same as judicial
districts. The geographic boundaries of
our judicial district coordinate with Harris County. There are 48 district courts
serving Harris County, 18 criminal district
courts, 18 civil district courts, and 12
family district courts, nine family and
Criminal district courts hear felony
cases, crimes for which the punishment
ranges from two years and a $5,000 fine
up to a maximum of capital punishment.
There are over 17,000 felony cases expected to come through the 18 district
courts this year. Approximately 90 percent of those cases will be disposed of
through the controversial system of plea
Civil district courts handle disputes
where the amount of money in question
is $500 or more. District judges earn
$54,700 a year and are elected for a four-
There are eight contested judicial district races. Alice A. Bonner (D), named
"worst civil judge" by Houston City magazine, is being opposed by Jerry McAfee
(R). "He's worse," is a standard remark
from attorneys asked about this race. One
woman attorney expressed her feelings
this way, "It's a hard race to say much
about. A lot of people can't go either
way. There are complaints about Judge
Bonner, but her opposition is also inadequate. At least Bonner is sympathetic to
women and minorities, if you show her
the law. We don't often have the opportunity to have leanings in the direction of
women and blacks. In the majority of
courts the prejudice goes the other way.
There are complaints that Bonner doesn't
know the law, but she knows more about
civil law than Zimmerman does of family
People never run out of nice things to
say about Miron A. Love (D), Judge,
177th Judicial District, running against
John A. Woodard, Jr. (R). "He is a prince
among men," gushes one attorney. The
only rumblings about Love come from
the prosecutors who timidly call him
"soft." Love's admirers retort, "He leans
toward the defense. That's the way the
law is supposed to be."
County judges earn $59,900, which
makes them the best paid justices in the
state, with the worst reputations. "I don't
expect much of county court," an attorney said recently, "I try to get a client
in and out of there without too much
There are 10 criminal and four civil
county courts. The county civil courts
hear cases involving amounts from $200
to $5,000. County criminal courts have
primary jurisdiction in all criminal actions
of a misdemeanor nature, where punishment ranges from a $200 fine to a maximum of one year in jail, a $2,000 fine, or
both. These are cases such as theft under
$200, assault, driving while intoxicated,
carrying weapons, possession of small
amounts of marijuana, prostitution, and
promotion of pornography. Thirty-four
thousand cases went through nine criminal courts last year. Compared to the district courts, that's twice as many cases in
half as many courts.
The 10th criminal court was created
January 1, 1980. The bench is being
sought by incumbent Pat Lykos (R) and
Carroll Weaver (D). Judge Lykos, a former policewoman, was rated number one
by the Houston Post for time spent on
the bench. Lykos stresses that she is an
innovative judge, ordering testing, therapy, and restitution more than any other
judge. As proof of what she terms her
"fairness and impartiality," Lykos points
to her endorsements by both the Gay
Political Caucus and the Houston Police
Lykos has refused to follow in the
tradition of strong-arming attorneys into
supporting the incumbent. "I am not
actively soliciting support from attorneys.
There is an inordinate amount of pressure
on attorneys and I think it's horrible and
unethical and I don't intend to indulge
Carroll Weaver, a criminal trial lawyer
with 27 years experience, does not believe Lykos to be as innovative as she
claims and feels the public would not
approve of the cost of ordering therapy
and testing for misdemeanors. Weaver
feels, "Ninety percent of the cases go
down by plea-bargaining. A judge and the
citizens ought to look to the District Attorney to be innovative in the reaching of
Justice courts are the lowest level
courts in the county. There are eight
Justice court precincts in Harris County
and each precinct has two Justices
of the Peace. Each justice is elected for a
four-year term by voters of the precinct.
A JP is not required to be a licensed
attorney, so in Precinct 1 incumbent
Judge Kenneth M. Pacetti (D) is running
against Republican restaurant owner Z. Z.
JP's do much more than marry people.
They have jurisdiction over misdemeanors with fines up to $200 and in all civil
cases where the amount involved is $1 to
$500. But the most meaningful service
they perform for the general public is presiding over small claims court. This court
is the public's opportunity to take some
individual or business to court and tell
their story to the judge without the
expense of hiring a lawyer.
The $150 limit on small claims court
cases ($200 in the case of wages) is the
lowest in the nation. Larry Wilson (D) of
Precinct 8 advocates increasing small
claims court jurisdiction to $500.
Once a voter knows the court system,
how does he or she select the best candidate for each court? The men and women
who work in the courts every day have
some basic advice for voters.
Look at a candidate's background and
experience. A judge should have courtroom and bench experience appropriate
to the court he or she is running for. If a
candidate is a former prosecutor, he or
she may tend to favor the state. "They
get an attitude that everyone is guilty,"
sniffs one defense attorney. General
community involvement is also considered important for knowledge of community services and for an understanding
of the varied backgrounds of the individuals who appear before a judge.
Talk to the candidates. Ferret out a
candidate's prejudices by asking his or her
opinions on issues close to your heart,
like the ERA or the right to choose abortion. "Don't look at the party, look at
the person," advises one attorney.
Check out organizations such as the
Women's Political Caucus, the Gay
Political Caucus, the Houston Police
Officers Association, or the Association
of Women Attorneys and see who they
are supporting, and why. You'll be able
to go to the polls as an informed and intelligent voter.
for DISTRICT ATTORNEY
urge you to JOIN HANDS with a WINNING TEAM!
Vote a straight ticket! Pull the big lever and vote
* DEMOCRATIC *
Tuesday, November 4th!
Paid for by Mickey Leland for Congress; 3333 Fannin, Suite 203; Arlington McRae, Treasurer.