By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
Much was made of who was not at the Monday Night Politics hosted by the Dallas Examiner on Jan.22, who was there, and why.
Suggestions – if not outright allegations – of dirty politics are flying in all directions between the candidates in the District Judge’s races in Judicial Districts 68, 160 and 193 (as well County Court 4, not presented Monday night).
Moderator Mercedes Fulbright addressed a question to the candidates concerning whether allegations of an organized effort to challenge specific white male judges with minority female opponents are true; and whether or not a slate of white female candidates then entered the race on behalf of incumbents, to intentionally dilute the female vote. This comes following assertions made in a recent news article.
The second half of that equation was never denied, primarily because the other women in question were not present at the forum. Jim Jordan and Carl Ginsberg, the incumbents in Districts 160 and 193 respectively, represent two of the races involved in the four-way, judicial campaign spat. Incumbent Martin Hoffman of District 68 was also present.
However, in that race, his only challenger attending the forum was one of the female candidates whose motives for running were questioned in the media. The female African-American challenger in the race – Kim Brown – was not at the forum.
Ginsberg in the District 193 race, was the most direct, telling the audience that the issue stems from a legal team which lost an NFL-related case in his court. He defended his ruling in the case, and said the losing party’s legal team – or at least some its members – is looking for revenge.
“I’m going to be as diplomatic as I can,” Ginsberg said. “There’s a reason I was targeted. I had a case and the lawyers lost it. And they were furious. I dismissed the case. And those lawyers specifically went out looking to recruit someone to run against me to punish me. That is nothing shy of an assault on the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
“It has tried to bully and intimidate judges. The message is if they succeed, then all my colleagues, ‘Hey you know what happened to Ginsberg? You’re next.’ And a lot of my lawyers that I’ve talked to who are absolutely friends, (were) absolutely appalled and offended at that. And some of them said, ‘You know, we will not let that happen.’ And so the truth is, these down-ballot races can often be a crapshoot. You all are informed voters (but many are not). Long story short, some people decided that they didn’t want to reward those lawyers … for doing their tactics.”
Jordan did not name a specific “recruiter” moving in on his race, but said the filing of at least one of the women in question was a reaction to an unusual move by his opponent. When asked whether or not he had anything to do with the other two female candidates in the race, Jordan said, “One of them I’ve had no discussion with before or after,” Jordan said. “The other one, Bonnie Wulff is a good friend of mine.”
Responding to the earlier article, Jordan said there were inaccuracies in the story and that he had been misquoted. He said Wulff got in the race as a result of challenger Aiesha Redmon switching from running for County Court at Law to the District Court race with only five days left in the filing deadline, suggesting the make-up of potential opponents might have been at least part of the equation. As to whether or not Wulff is a legitimate candidate, Jordan said that from his conversations with her, she will continue the campaign if she wins the nomination.
Redmon said it only made sense for her to make the move from a basic career standpoint.
“The county commissioners are trying to get rid of those courts,” Redmon said, noting they had seen a 68 percent drop in caseloads. “It has nothing to do with me not wanting to face an opponent.”
Redmon said she chose the 160th District Court because, “The insurance companies and big businesses get what they want out of this court and I’m running to give it back to the people.” As for her commitment to the office, she pointed out that she had already made a professional sacrifice to be able to run.
Bridgette Whitmore, who is challenging Ginsberg for the seat in District 193 took special exception to the suggestion she had been “recruited” for the race by attorneys from a lost case.
“Well after I read the article it was very clear that there was some recruitment of attorneys to run in the race, to dilute the vote so my chances would decrease,” Whitmore said. “That is the absolute truth. And this idea that somebody put me up to running against him; I ask this question, ‘What about an Ivy League-educated, 20-year attorney, a former partner at a law firm, been a DA for six years, worked for the state, has traveled all over the country … why would anyone think I would need to be put up, to running for judge?’ I am qualified.”
Later she further asserted, “No one encouraged me,” and went on to say that Ginsberg had received low marks for “impartiality,” while Ginsberg shook his head in rebuttal behind her.
In District 68, the only two candidates at the forum were the incumbent, Hoffman, and Amanda Ghagar, who were linked together as allegedly part of a vote diluting plan in the article.
Ghagar made it clear she feels she is qualified to hold the position, having litigated civil claims of up to a half-billion dollars in her nine years of practice. She said she is dedicated to providing access to judicial services regardless of gender, religion, race, wealth, sexual orientation or political affiliation.
“My personal experiences in addition to my professional experience advocating for a wide range of clients – both plaintiff and defendant – I think makes me uniquely qualified to serve you in a fair and impartial way,” Ghagar said.
Hoffman stood on his record, as ultimately all three of the embattled judges did. He emphasized experience that preceded his time on the bench with 13 years specifically in civil litigation. His Democratic Party service goes back to the Ann Richards campaign in 1990.
Ginsberg and Jordan as well, have many years as judges and in legal practice, and both are also part of a very few on the bench who are board certified. Both were also part of the effort to “Turn Dallas Blue” in 2006.
But their opponents – Whitmore and Redmon – feel it is time for a change, not only in those specific offices, but across the board to have more women of color in judicial positions.
Redmon’s legal experience spans both civil and criminal cases in private practice and the DA’s office. She is also the chair of the Dallas Chapter of Women in the NAACP. Whitmore is a “born and bred Dallasite” with a Yale education and experience partnering at a private law firm in between periods of public service at the DA’s office.
Add into this mix the optics which have developed in these particular races, and the Democratic down ballot in the primary is sure to get a little more attention this time around.
Jones vying for District 203
Raquel “Rocky” Jones is the challenger in the race for District 203. She is looking to defeat incumbent Teresa Hawthorne. Jones was the only candidate to attend in that race.
“I do have the background,” Jones said in her closing remarks. “I do have 21 years of legal experience. I have been a defense attorney as well as a prosecutor. And more importantly, I think it’s important when people walk in our courts that they see someone that they believe will understand the culture and the situation and circumstances they live in.
“I have been doing that for nine years at the Dallas County DA’s office this time around. The same thing that I’ve done every day as a prosecutor, whether I think the case should go forward, or if I think a case should be dismissed; or whether I think a person just needs a second, third or fourth chance. I’ve done that for nine years in Dallas County, I now want to do that on the bench.”
Duplantis challenging Kemp for District 204
The final race of the night also featured a white male candidate running against a Black female, but this time there were no extra women on the ballot, and the white male is the challenger.
Steve Duplantis is looking to unseat Tammy Kemp as District Judge in Judicial District 204. In a far cry from the sentiment displayed in earlier contested positions, Duplantis often deferred particular questions, saying Kemp’s answers were “absolutely right” and shared by him as well.
In closing, Duplantis said he recalled the fake drug scandal in Dallas, and asking, “Where are the riots?” In his perspective, he didn’t think there was enough outrage over that incident in the community and he has been looking for a way to contribute ever since.
“I want to thank you all for coming out tonight and staying with us,” Kemp said in closing. “It’s been a little warm in the room tonight.”
In terms of the underlying sense of inequality toward defendants, Kemp reminded the audience of an apprenticeship program she has operated through the AFL-CIO, giving non-violent offenders a chance to turn around their lives after an initial run-in with the courts.