Election forum flare-up results in official complaint against Dallas judge

Texas

Southwest / Texas 76 Views

(Left to right) Mark Watson, Heath Harris and Chika Anyiam faced off in a forum for Criminal District Court 7 during Monday Night Politics on Feb. 5, moderated by Mercedes Fulbright (at right). The race saw a heated exchange between Ayiam and Harris, but nothing approaching the first forum in Criminal District Court 6. (Photo: David Wilfong / NDG)

By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer

Defense attorney Alison Grinter is one of the numerous challengers seeking to unseat an incumbent judge in the upcoming local races. Vying for the seat in Criminal District Court 6, Grinter addressed the audience gathered at Monday Night Politics (MNP), presented by the Dallas Examiner and held each week in the African American Museum in Fair Park, and said it was time for a change.

“You want somebody who is going to apply the law, and know the law, and use compassion and respect for all people,” Grinter said in her closing remarks. “That’s why I’m running for CDC6.”

It only took a few minutes for the “compassion and respect” side of that equation to come into question with her opponent. When incumbent Judge Jeanine Howard stepped up to the microphone to make her closing remarks, her eyes affixed on a member of the audience and she asked the person in the audience to confirm her identity, by name.

The audience member did not appreciate it. After a short burst of angry words, Howard was allowed to once again attempt to give her final remarks. Taking the microphone, Howard began by telling the audience, “her boyfriend was sent to prison for assaulting her numerous times.”

After MNP moderator Mercedes Fulbright instructed her not to talk about the case, Howard was once again allowed to try to finish her closing remarks, this time limited to 30 seconds. Howard was reduced to listing her endorsements and finished by saying, “I may have the courage, I said earlier, to make tough decisions and when you have to do that, you don’t please everybody.”

Keisha Nixon identified herself to Dallas media on Tuesday, saying she has filed a complaint against Howard with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. Nixon called it inappropriate for a judge to call out a victim of domestic abuse publicly, and is calling for Howard to resign.

This is not the first incident Howard has faced for remarks made about the victim of a crime. In 2015, the commission reprimanded Howard for comments she made in an interview when she said a 14-year-old female sexual assault victim “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be.”

That was the first of five races highlighted at MNP on Feb. 5. It also continued a series of hard-fought judge’s races that have raised tension heading into the judicial elections.

Criminal District Court 7

The second race of the night featured three candidates for Criminal District Court 7, in which Chika Anyiam, Heath Harris and Mark Watson are running for an open judge’s seat.

Anyiam took the offensive in the second segment, directing her criticisms toward Harris. Anyiam first criticized Harris for continually resetting a case and having a client waiting three years for trial. She then challenged his legal integrity.

“I do question the judgement of someone who would dismiss a case when an investigator in the District Attorney’s office took a bribe and influenced a prosecutor to dismiss … someone who was charged with a sexual case, dismissed it after they were bribed and influenced,” Anyiam said.

Harris responded that he held his defendant up in order to gain more favorable court conditions for his client and avoiding a lifelong listing as a registered sex offender. “That’s called being a good defense attorney,” he said.

In regards to the other charge, Harris responded to it in his closing remarks.

“OK listen, on this bribery stuff, the case was dismissed on its merits,” Harris said. “If you look, no one’s ever said anything that the case wasn’t supposed to be dismissed. The man had been no-billed before. It was brought to my attention, so I dismissed it, and it wasn’t by the investigator. The bottom line is that anyone who being held against their will on a case that should be dismissed, I’m going to urge those prosecutors to move that case along a quickly as possible.”

Watson was spared most of the barbs in the exchange and recalled a case of “cultural misidentification” he encountered in his early days as an attorney. On a “Hail Mary” move before the trial, he had the witness look at the defendant before the case started and upon a closer look, the witness retracted her earlier identification. He said he was looking forward to bringing this to the attention of the 80 people in the court from North Dallas when the trial started, but it didn’t happen.

“Do you know what the judge did? He sent them home,” Watson said. “He didn’t want those 80 North Dallas white people to know that it was truthful. ‘Cause he didn’t want that story to get out in North Dallas. He told them the case got settled. And I’ve been doing that for 25 years.”

Family District Court 302

The race in Family District Court 302 features two candidates, Thelma Clardy and Sandra Jackson, running for an open seat. Both come to the table with many years of legal experience. Jackson also has experience working for the federal government, and Clardy has additional experience on the DeSoto City Council, including as Mayor Pro Tem.

Clardy said she is looking for an expansion of the pro bono attorney program, and wants to be able to hold night court on a regular basis, though she admitted how regular that might be could be determined by factors outside her control.

She drew a much-needed chuckle from the audience when closing with, “I’m Thelma Clardy, the hardy one and I won’t be tardy.”

Jackson said care needs to be taken to ensure there are enough lawyers to adequately handle the caseload and said she would be seeking to increase attorneys’ rates to ensure proper representation.

“I believe that families in crisis need compassionate justice,” Jackson said. “And that passion leads to purpose. There is a purpose that goes on inside of law. Families are fundamental to our society … We need to keep our families together as much as possible.”

Family District Court 304

The race for Family District Court 304 features incumbent Judge Andrea Martin being challenged by attorney LaDeitra Adkins.

Adkins challenged Martin on the way she runs her court, bringing forward large photographs showing a mattress on an office floor used by a court reporter, and a photo of Martin’s son behind her at the bench during a hearing. She also claimed Martin had been criticized by others for not having good attendance in court.

Martin flatly rejected that she had been absent, challenging anyone to check the records. She said she is happy to bring her son to work, and countered that Adkins had brought her child to work as well. As far as the mattress on the floor, she remarked, “I have pictures of her sleeping on it if you really want to see them.”

Dallas County Court at Law 2

The final race featured for the night was Dallas County Court at Law 2, where Melissa Bellan and Dorotha Ocker are vying for the Democratic nomination. Both candidates have backgrounds which exemplify hard work, Ocker having started her own practice on a laptop after leaving the Department of Justice after the Obama administration’s term. Bellan worked her way through school from a working-class family where her father dealt with layoffs at every recession.

Both are also enthusiastic Democrats, Ocker having been a part of the effort to turn Dallas Blue in 2006, and Bellan having been a Democratic Volunteer of the Year.

“Of all of the endorsements that have been done so far, I have received all but one of them,” Bellan said, naming a few. “And that is because of the work I have been doing since 2006 when we flipped the county. I have been knocking on the door for the folks who ended up being judges when we flipped this county, and I want to do that again for you.”

“I’ve been a Democrat my entire life, which where I’m from is probably the most controversial stance I’ve ever taken,” Ocker said. “I was a precinct chair up there in Carrollton where we flipped our precinct Blue. I ran last time, 2016, against Matt Rinaldi (in a race for Texas House District 115). I increased the Democratic share of the vote from 39 percent to 49 percent … So I do have the commitment to the Democratic party and I do have the commitment to justice because it’s what I decided to do ever since I graduated law school.”

MNP will continue on Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Early voting begins on Feb. 20, with the Primary election day on March 6.

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