By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
Avid election watchers in 2018 noted a surge of female candidates running for office in Dallas County, especially in the judicial races. The trend continues in the 2020 round of voting, and the Monday Night Politics forum held at the African American Museum in Fair Park featured three women vying for statewide judge’s seats (though invitations were extended to the other candidates). The Dallas Examiner hosts and gives candidates across all offices the opportunity to make their case directly to the public.
The first segment was dedicated to the race for Justice Supreme Court, Place 7. Staci Williams was the only of the two Democrats running for the bench to appear at the forum. Williams is currently presiding over the 101st District Court, a position she assumed in 2014. Williams says that “experience matters” and says she has a distinct advantage over her opponent in terms of background work leading up to the position.
“Besides 27 years of legal experience and being a two-term district court judge, I’ve been an arbitrator for DART, the U.S. Postal Service, NASD Center, Washington Metropolitan Airport Board, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” Williams said. “I’ve been in-house corporate counsel in the telecommunications, retail, and defense industry. I’ve been a municipal court judge for the City of Dallas, and an administrative judge for the EEOC. I tell you all that so you know that I have the depth and breadth of experience to start tackling those issues at the Texas Supreme Court.”
Williams is running against Brandy Voss in the Democratic Primary. The winner of the primary contest will face incumbent Republican Jeffrey S. Boyd and Libertarian William Bryan Strange in the general election.
Boyd has held his position on the Texas Supreme Court since 2012. Williams told the audience that the seat matters, as the U.S. Supreme Court has said it is kicking districting and gerrymandering issues back to the state courts. The debate will come up after they redraw the districts after they complete the 2020 census.
“And if you look at the make-up of the Texas Supreme Court, and if we don’t change it, we’re in trouble,” Williams said. “Right now the Texas Supreme Court it, there are nine justices, and all nine of them are from the other party. There is no one that looks like a majority of this audience on the Texas Supreme Court, and in the 174-year history of the Supreme Court, there has never been an African American female.”
The second presentation came in the race for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3. Democrats running for the position include William Pieratt Demond, Dan Wood, and Elizabeth Davis Frizell. Frizell was the lone candidate appearing before the attendees at Monday Night Politics. Frizell’s most recent appearance at the forum came in her unsuccessful bid for the job of Dallas District Attorney. She noted she was running for a statewide office this time and needed the help of her supporters to get the word out throughout Texas.
Noting the bench she seeks is the conduit for appeals ranging up to the death sentence, Frizell said it was essential to have a responsible judge in a position to review the actions of the lower courts throughout the state. She also said Dallas was at the top of the nation in terms of wrongful convictions.
“I know in Dallas we have become a lot more progressive than we were when I first started practicing law,” Frizell said. “I’ve been doing criminal law for 26 years. But there are a lot of smaller towns that haven’t caught up with the time yet, and it would be a pleasure for me to be able to review the papers and say, ‘Yes, judge you did a great job,’ or ‘No, you’re going to have to do that again, we’re going to reverse or remand.’ And I can do that as a Texas Criminal Court judge. I want to catch it before we have someone who serves 16 years in a penitentiary for something they didn’t do.”
The final presentation of the night was the race for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. Tina Clinton was the sole candidate appearing at the Monday night event. She currently serves on the Dallas County Criminal District Court 1 and faces Steve Miears in the primary contest. The winner will face off against incumbent Republican Kevin Yeary in the general election.
Clinton recounted the case of a death row inmate scheduled for execution being found mentally disabled by a lower court. For the case only to have the current Court of Criminal Appeals disregard the lower courts’ finding twice, requiring the intervention of the Supreme Court to avoid execution.
“You deserve better,” Clinton said, accentuating her desire to serve in the position.
Clinton told the audience the current court only hears about 10 percent of the cases appealed to them, and she believes they should hear a lot more.
“And so I can tell you that with the power that I would have on this court, there would be a couple of priorities,” Clinton said. “Number one, increase the level of review across the board on discretionary review. That’s number one.
“Number two is leadership because it doesn’t require us to do a case level review to go to the legislature and talk to them about where there are gaps in the law. For example, when I went as a sitting judge now, to go down to Austin and talk about pre-trial division as well as money for bail reform, and how cash bail needs to be reformed. That wasn’t because I was trying to be a legislator, but because I’m a judge, I’m supposed to inform. And part of the people I’m supposed to inform is the Texas legislature so that those gaps can be filled in on the law.”
The Democratic primary election is on March 3. Early voting has already begun and will continue until Feb.28.