Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates features candidates running for Criminal Court, Court of Appeals, Sheriff and Constable

Monday Night Politics Meet the Candidates
Monday Night Politics Meet the Candidates

The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner, returned Feb. 19 to the African American Museum with candidates running for Criminal Court, Court of Appeals, Sheriff and Constable positions.

The forum began with highlighted guests for Criminal Court No. 10 incumbent Roberto Canas and Etta Mullin. Mullin was not present.

Canas introduced himself to the crowd and presented the accomplishments he has achieved since taking office in the domestic violence court.

“My court has been [recognized] as a Domestic Violence Mentor Court by the U.S. Department of Justice, which means that we exhibit the best practices when it comes to domestic violence cases,” the incumbent said.

After the introductory segment, Canas participated in a Q&A session with audience members about his practices.

Queston: Why should voters vote for you?

CANAS: Well I would like to think No. 1; my experience. As I’ve mentioned before, domestic violence isn’t like other types of crimes. You do have to have a certain type of training and experience to handle these types of courts. I’ve been asked to train judges on domestic violence all around the country. I’m going to Michigan in April. I’ve been as far away as India and Columbia to train judges on domestic violence. So I would like to say No. 1; my experience, my knowledge and my willingness to bridge those gaps where the system is not working, like batter’s intervention and things like that. My innovativeness is another reason I would ask you to vote for me and you can ask people around the courthouse that I can be tough but never disagreeable or rude. I’ve always shown respect because everybody that comes into the courtroom deserves respect. So you can check my bar polls. I get 96 percent approval on demeanor and that’s a big part of this court as well.

Q: What innovation have you brought to combat mass incarceration and keep the community safe?

CANAS: You identified the issue exactly right because, especially with domestic violence, there’s always a safety issue. But jail time just doesn’t work with domestic violence. Offenders don’t get a chance to learn anything and don’t get a chance to make different decisions once they’ve learned a little something. I mentioned the study that we did at my court about the results that [showed] jail time does not work. Jail time is really just the last straw if the offenders just doesn’t want to be held accountable and go back to their old ways of using violence. That’s really the last straw, but incarceration just doesn’t work. So in the big picture we judges have our struggles. We know it has to change, but just not the same way as we normally done it.

Q: What are you doing to help the people being battered?

CANAS: In my court, if you hold offenders accountable, you’re also doing something about victim safety. They are two sides of the same court. My court often is the first point of contact for victims. They maybe did call the police but they didn’t necessarily seek services. I’ve got grant money to get a victim advocate specifically just for my court – they don’t work in any other courts. They are there to help seek services, if that’s what she wants, and help guide her through not only the court process but also after the court process to make sure those services are continually going on. I have relationships with the victim advocates and agencies in town. I was given the Champion of Human rights award by the Mosaic Family Services. I have relationships that are very unique as a judge.

Shortly after, Criminal Court of Appeals No. 1 candidates took over the platform: incumbent Kristin Wade and Marty Jo Taylor.

Wade kicked off the segment elaborating on her core issue and how she has tackled it since taking office.

“What I really want to talk to you about is reformative justice,” she said. “I don’t just talk about reformative justice; I practice it. In 2004, I started one of the first misdemeanor mental health jail diversion programs in the United States…. Since I’ve started that program I have gotten 1,300 people out on my mental health PR bonds.”

Audience members then questioned each nominee about their motives for the district and their judicial ideologies.

Q: How much do you get in grant funds and how many people have you assisted over the years?

WADE: I am dealing with 40-60 people in my misdemeanor and felony set program. It could be 70 [and] that’s at any one given time. So, over the course of the year it has turned out to be a lot. I am grant funded. I get grants from the Governor’s office and the Texas Commission on Inmates with Mental Health and Physical Disabilities. I’ve gotten in the past grants from the Dallas Bar Association and the Swanson Family Trust Foundation. So I pursue many in a lot of different ways. I have a partnership with the Coppell High School Tennis Team who every year collect about $1,000 worth of McDonald’s gift cards for me to give out to folks in my program who might need it.

Q: What do you use the grant money for?

WADE: We have some limitations on what we can do with our grant money. The main portion of our grant money goes to case management and it is funded directly through MetroCare. It funds case managers who work one-on-one with the people in that program. They are all fabulous. They would do things such as drive people to the Social Security office, help them get their SNAP cards, hook them up with an AIDS resource center and anywhere they need to go. So I have a wonderful relationship with those. I have another grant that specifically pays for inpatient drug treatment which is very unusual on the misdemeanor level, and that is a federal-funded SAMHSA grant so they can get inpatient drug treatment. I believe that it is the only program at the courthouse where – a misdemeanor offender – we can pay for them to get inpatient drug treatment, which is huge. It pays for quite a bit of time. I partner with Nexus and Homeward Bound on those programs.

Q: Teachers and students are being bullied and children are committing suicide because of it. What will you do about the bullying issue?

WADE: I think bullying is wrapped up in the issue of mental health. There are people who are endanger of committing suicide. That is a mental health issue. I am the candidate and judge that is qualified in mental health. I have three very strong mental health jail diversions. The jail population today is just at 4,900 – close to 5,000 people in jail. Forty percent of those have some degree of mental illness. Twenty percent are a priority population. So I worked my mental health programs three full days a week and I am committed to that subject. It is all wrapped up and we have to look at these issues and address them.

Note: Taylor was late and wasn’t present for questioning. But she was allotted time to answer the previous question.

TAYLOR: Hello, I’m Marty Jo Taylor, candidate for Judge Criminal Court of Appeals No. 1. I’m going to use some of my time to tell you about myself. I have over 17 years of expensive practicing law. I received my law degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and I have a bachelor’s of arts degree from Grambling State University. The court I will be in once you all elect me deals with mental health, mental illness and traffic ticket appeals. It doesn’t deal with bullying but I am against bullying. Anything I can do in the community to be against bullying I am more than welcome to do that and I will do it because I’m a big community activist. I can name a whole list of things that I’ve done in the community. You may have seen on Channel 4, Channel 11 and Channel 8 news in which I along with other judges and community leaders took the whole Hulcy Middle School to see Black Panther because we wanted them to know that there are people that look like you that can do great things and inspire them.

Contenders for Criminal Court of Appeals No. 2 followed with their introductions at the halfway point of the event: Bruce Kaye, Johnny Lanzillo, Marilyn Mayse and Pamela Luther. Mayse and Luther were not present.

Kaye began with his reasoning for running for office.

“I’m running for the simple reason; I feel that somebody needs to still scream out loud that the court system and the mass incarceration system are a continuation of systematic institutionalized racism that started when the country was founded and [it] has not ended,” he said.

Lanzillo then indicated his intention for the district to the audience.

“I want to make sure that people know that the system is not built for those with money,” he stated. “[It] should be equal to everyone whether you’re rich, poor or in the middle class. The court system should treat you exactly the same and that’s why I’m running for judge.”

After, the candidates were challenged on their plans as well as their responses to controversial scenarios in the courtroom by audience members.

Q: What role do you believe judges play in educating the community?

KAYE: I think judges need to go into the community and be a part of [it]. As an example, I have started the Dallas Gospel Boys Choir. It’s in its beginning stages. We’ve filed all of our paperwork with the state. We will be [receiving] our 501(c)(3) nonprofit information soon from the government. We’re going to take mostly boys who are in the juvenile justice system. I know from being down there that a lot of them are great singers, great beatboxers and are into music. We’re going to have auditions and put together an awesome boys gospel choir. We’re going to get Mark Cuban to let us perform at his sporting events and we’re going to make the city of Dallas a showcase by showing them all you have to do is give kids a chance and quit taking their role models away and putting them in jail and tell these kids they’re good at something. Don’t just tell them they’re bad. They hear that all the time. Tell them what they are good at. Give them a platform and let them rise up through their talent. That’s one of the things I think you need to do, is getting into the community and roll up your sleeves.

LANZILLO: As far as what we can do, we’re doing it right now. You all are coming out, listening to us talk and we’re getting to explain things about what we’re trying to do in the court system. This doesn’t have to be something that we do only during election season. It would be great if organizations and judges work together to make this a monthly thing where you can come and ask questions about what’s going on in a judge’s court and the criminal justice system. The only things you shouldn’t hear about are when the counties get sue because they’re holding people in jail. That’s when you hear judges talk about it. So I think what we are doing right now is actually what we should be doing and we should be doing it yearlong every year not just two or four years when election cycles are going on. So you all are helping us do it. So thanks for coming out.

Q: If you see someone being poorly represented by an unprepared or ineffective lawyer, how would you handle it?

KAYE: Good question. Call them out is what you do. I do that right now. I’m the rid master. The rid master is a person that is appointed by the judge to take on the cases where someone has already been found guilty. [The defendant] writes a letter and says ‘I had a terrible lawyer. They were ineffective and didn’t do [anything]. They did zero on my case.’ I take that, look at the facts and then appoint a lawyer to represent that person. Then, I hold a hearing and I listen to it. It’s kind of fun because I get to have that power. I get to determine whether or not that person gets to have a new trial or not. I’m just in the process right now of reversing a guy that got 15 years, [which] is what he is suppose to get. The prosecutor pulled the plea after he was already done. [They] said ‘Oh, you didn’t testify fairly,’ but he wasn’t supposed to testify at all. It wasn’t a part of the plea at all and she dismissed those cases, refiled them and he got 45 years. Thanks to the work I’m doing he will more than likely be getting out of jail within the next couple weeks because I am going to reverse it. I don’t want to have people with poor representation. If you can’t do a good job as a lawyer, then go find a new line of work.

LANZILLO: I can’t disagree with anything that was just said. I think we do need to call out attorneys. The first thing you do as a judge is take that attorney back to your chambers. Maybe they have issues going on that you don’t know about. Sometimes people get a lot of stuff going on and you can talk to them and determine if they need to actually still stay on as representation. If they don’t need to stay on or if they can’t stay on, You take them off the case and appoint someone new who you know could handle the job. So you don’t just call them out and put them under the bus because everyone has things go on in their lives. [Therefore], you have to find the root of the problem. Now there are some attorneys who are just that bad and if they continue to be a problem that’s when the judges are required to report those issues at the state bar. That’s just what we do. So that is what you do to make sure attorneys are giving good quality representation to their clients. You make sure you know exactly what they’re doing and what issues they are handling. If they are a problem attorney that’s when it goes to the state bar and the bar determines if their license needs to be suspended or if they need to be reprimanded. There is a functional place for judges to do that.

Q: You opened up talking about systematic racism, mass incarceration and a boys choir, which sounds good. But, what are you going to do to bring back economical and educational resources to those disadvantaged people and to young boys who have lost their fathers to the system?

KAYE: The reality is it is a misdemeanor court position so there isn’t a ton that we can do from a courtroom position to make change happen. But being elected official gives you a bully pulpit that opens you up so that you can speak at places. You can go into the community, educate and let people know what’s going on. Again, I want to have the boys choir as a matter of fact. It’s not just because they like to sing. I want to show them that they can do good. When they do good it gives them pride in themselves and they’re going to continue in school and not be in the crowd that doesn’t care about school. They’re going to have mentors – other men who are doing well in the community – around them. So it’s just going to lift them up. I guess it’s just leadership by example is all I can tell you. In a court, not putting up too many of their parents in jail and messing up their family is a start but you can only do so much from that bench other than expanding knowledge to other people.

LANZILLO: There’s already a program in place that solves this problem. It’s called “Project Phoenix.” Project Phoenix is an organized program that comes to the Dallas AFL-CIO through waiver. What it does is people who have convictions [and] generally have trouble getting a job can go through this program and learn a trade. They can become electricians and plumbers and become a part of the labor union. So there’s programs in place and what I want to do as a judge, if elected, is I want to be one of the judges that partners with Project Phoenix, because I think the best way to help people out is to make sure that they can work through a program and there’s a job available to them at that point. There’s plenty of judges currently already using that program and I think it is working great.

The forum shifted gears and opened up with the highly anticipated section for candidates running for head of the Sheriff’s department: Marian Brown, Eland J. Sigler and Roy Williams Jr. Sigler was invited but not present.

Brown set the tone detailing why local residents should vote for her.

“I am a 30-year law enforcement veteran; I have spent 25 of those years managing police personnel, processes, policies and operations, which means I have worked in the trenches,” she said. “I ask you tonight, if you would, would you listen to me? Would you consider voting for me? Because I think that when we are done you will find that I am the candidate of choice for such a time as this.”

Williams followed discussing his experience as current Precinct 4 constable as it relates to his potential position.

“Since I’ve been in elected office, I’ve completed a number of leadership classes,” he said. “I’ve been a Texas Commission of Law Enforcement instructor for 20 year. So the very people that my opponent supervise I train.”

Audience members took advantage of asking each officer questions about the problems within local law enforcement and their solutions for these issues.

Q: What are some of the biggest issues facing Dallas County and your solutions?

BROWN: When we look at tags, there seems to be some issues there. When you go to find out where to get your birth certificate there seems to be an issue. I’ve received calls to my office from people who have gotten somebody who sent them to me and they were look for something else. So I think that one of the issues that we firmly need to address as a county is we need to make sure we are providing good services to people and we’re not giving people the run-around. We’re not sending people over here and over there. We need to take responsibility and say ‘this stops here with me and if I don’t know the answer then I’m going to find the answer for you.

WILLIAMS: I think one of the biggest challenges is trust in law enforcement. I think it’s not just specific to Dallas County but [it’s] the problem and the issue that we have nationwide. But keeping specific to Dallas County, one of the worst nightmares came true to [the city] and that’s when we had the shootings a couple of years ago. We knew it was coming [but] we just didn’t know when. So I think personally what we have to do is find a way to re-establish that trust with law enforcement in Dallas County. There was a lack of transparency with my predecessor Lupe Valdez where they were real slow to release the information about the person that died on the lobby floor. There has to be more transparency. That’s what we want. That’s the society that we live in today. People want to know what’s going on and so as elected officials in charge of that, it’s something I have been doing for the last seven years.

Q: What would you change compared to the previous sheriff’s position?

WILLIAMS: One of the things I spoke about is the transparency issue. Here, lately, I have been very critical of the job that the former sheriff did. I do not feel like [they were] very transparent with the society. Again, it’s something that I’ve done. People miss the point that I have been in charge of a law enforcement agency as constable of Precinct 4. The other thing is morale. Morale is one of those things where we kind of talk about it and it depends on if it’s a team, cultural, agency or a person in charge. But what we have to do reflects leaderships and my job. What I’ve done in precinct 4…when I pass the keys off to someone else I’m giving them the keys to a Bentley. What I want to do is go in, take the sheriff’s department, redo it and retool it so that we are held accountable. It’s all about accountability. One of things I’m going to do [is] I’m going to bring accountability to that department.

BROWN: What I’ve already done since I’ve been in office for the last 4-5 weeks is I have changed the management structure such that we have decentralized the decision making position. So the decisions are not just being made at the top by one primary person. The decision making authority is happening across the board. I changed that because when you have people in leadership positions you ought to empower them with the authority to make some decisions. So you ought to develop them and teach them how to make decisions and once teach them how to make decisions, if there are issues, then that’s where you talk with them and develop them into being leaders. The other thing that I have done is I have stressed to our management how important it is that we communicate across the board. The department being split into two major bureaus [makes] it hard to get information from one side to the other side. So what we have done is we have changed the structure such that now everybody understands my phrase; “Communication is key.” We communicate across the board with one another so that everybody knows where we stand.

Q: What would you do during your tenure to ensure all inmates have access to quality research engines and resources for their case defenses?

WILLIAMS: I haven’t worked detentions in years [but] I have received information that those law books are vastly outdated. We need to make sure that those books are updated annually and not only that we need to make sure that if an individual sends in a kite or something that they need to do research on their cases. Because let’s face it a lot of people do research on their own cases and that gives them value. That gives them the chance to say ‘You know what this is what I’m looking at.’ We need to make sure that they send that kite, a request for services, in If they do send that kite in and do need access to a law library then we need to be sure that we’re giving them full access and everything that they need, even if they need assistance. We need to make sure that the law library is up to snuff and that the books are up-to-date.

BROWN: I agree with my opponent. Those books are out of date. They always have been. They always will be and the reason is because you have to wait until you get an updated version of the book. S what we already implemented [is] we just recently moved from Westlaw – what most agencies use – to Nexus Lexus. [This] means it is electronic [and] we now have kiosks that are being moved into our facilities so that people can go to those kiosk and have people who are available to assist them when they get [there] so they can help them navigate and use the kiosk.

The court race resurfaced as justice of the peace nominees for Precinct No. 5 Place 2 took the stage: incumbent Juan Jasso and Andrew “Bundy” Goldsmith.

Jasso presented his resume and disclosed new information to audience members.

“Our court for 2017 was recognized by the county, the auditors themselves and Commissioner’s court as the top justice of the peace court for Dallas County,” he said. “That’s not just an empty accolade. What that means is we have a staff [that] has worked tirelessly for the people of Dallas County.”

Goldsmith took advantage of his time to specify his desire to have night court and free marriage ceremonies accompanied by donations to local charities.

“I love working with people and that’s why I’m running,” he said. “If you elect me, I will be a civil servant. I’ll learn to be a judge and I will give back tens of thousands of dollars to the community.”

Each candidate then answered inquiries from the audience in hopes of swaying their votes.

Q: What do you think is the role of this court in the public’s understanding of the process and ensuring equitable representation of opportunities?

JASSO: This is commonly referred to as the people’s court. In that regard, people can come in and file their own cases and represent themselves without having to hire an attorney, which is great and is fine. But as the judge you have to apply legal reasoning to your decisions. You can’t just shoot from the hip or feel like that person and that person should wait. You have to base t on legal reasoning and you have to have legal knowledge to do that. My past experience has brought me to this point in my life. I thoroughly enjoy what I am doing and would like to continue doing that as well. Also we’ve initiated these lunch and learn seminars during the course of the month, maybe once or twice a month. We go out to schools or neighborhood groups to explain to them what is the role of the justice of the peace, what does the justice of the peace court do and provide them access to the courts.

GOLDSMITH: I’ll begin with the last question. If a landlord has a lot of apartment buildings or property, the landlord is going to be well versed on eviction. He [Jasso] brought up it’s the most efficient court of 2017. It boils down to if he brings in more money. So are the people served by bringing in more money? I don’t have have a law degree, but I’ve talked to many attorneys and they told me that when they graduate from law school they’re not prepared to be an attorney. They have to go through training to be one. So therefore I was trained in real estate. I’m a community liaison and a certified teacher. I’ll be trained to be a judge.

Q: What are your general judicial philosophy?

JASSO: My philosophy throughout my tenure has been giving each side an opportunity to be heard and give their side of their story. 50 percent of the people that leave your court may be satisfied; The other half may not because one has to win and the other has to lose. But as long as you’re given the opportunity and are treated with respected that’s what counts. Our courts are the first level of courts that a lot of these people have to deal with and have to deal with themselves without the need of an attorney. So my general philosophy has been treating everybody with respect and dignity and you can’t go wrong.

GOLDSMITH: If I’m elected, my philosophy would be to bend over backward for the people. In other words, I know that evictions cases are pretty cut and dry. I’ve talked to attorneys and they told me the only thing I can do as a judge is talk to the landlord and explain to [them] the situation is this. [Can you] have some mercy on the tenant and explain to [them] there is an appeal process? Furthermore I will include how the court works on the notebook in the court’s office so that they can explain the process of the justice of the peace court.

Q: Why should voters support you instead of your opponent?

GOLDSMITH: I think voters should support me because I’m going to have night court. Night court is very important because people work during the day and they shouldn’t have to lose work. I think it is important to have a social worker in the courtroom. I think we have to elect democrats and incumbent judges who are comfortable on their position. Don’t campaign after the primary. It is imperative that you use your judgeship to campaign for the Democratic party. It’s detrimental when we have incumbents for 22 years and voting turnout is poor in their neighborhoods.

JASSO: Besides the basic legal experience that I have, [which] is important in being a judge because if you’re going before a judge that doesn’t know the law you’re going to be at a disadvantage. You’re going to be affected. Now, as far as why I believe you should vote for me or put me back in office, I’ve been a resident of Precinct 5 for 32 years. My opponent just move in about seven or eight months ago. He lived in Irving, which is Precinct 4. He could have ran in Precinct 4 but jumped and rented out an apartment in Precinct 5. His homestead is Irving. What commit does he have to our community? I’ve been here; I’ve been out in the community, been involved in all sorts of things and contributed to other candidates. When I didn’t have an opponent I contributed to other candidates so that they can run their campaign. I’ve also donated a lot of the monies to scholarships and people around the community.

The forum concluded with prospects running for Constable Precinct 1: incumbent Tracey Gulley and Alvin “A.J.” Johnson.

Gulley has broken racial and gender barriers as the current constable but ensures voters that she provides more qualities to the position.

“I was elected as the first African American female constable Dallas has ever had but I don’t want you to just dwell on that,” she said. “My legacy I want you to know about is I’m going to be one of the best constables that Dallas County has ever had.”

Johnson followed by giving his personal reasoning for running in the race.

“Precinct 1 is special to me and near and dear to my heart,” he said. “This is where I grew up. This didn’t come by luck. This was a vision God gave me and I’m simply acting on that vision.”

The event closed with a final Q&A segment delving into the candidate’s campaigns and opinions on serious issues.

Q: With the amount of attention on police institutions and their aggressive response to people of color, what policy changes and opportunities would your department work toward creating to build trust within communities of color?

GULLEY: I’ll tell you what we’re already doing. We’re educating our younger generation. That’s where we need to start. We’re going out to the schools and we’re speaking to our students. At least once a month we have different officers that are going out and speaking to them. We need to go out and educate not only our students but we need to educate our entire community. You would be surprised as to who knows and who does not know the things about what a constable does or the importance of the things we have to do as being a constable. So my thought is to definitely educate our community about what’s going on so that you’ll be knowledgeable and aware of how to deal with a police officer.

JOHNSON: I would have to agree with Ms. Gulley. Education is by far the most important thing when it comes to building that trust with the community. One of the things that I’ve learned and realized while campaigning is a lot of people simply do not know what the constable office does and that’s a problem for me. That’s a problem for me because you see the news daily and you see an unarmed Black man get shot by police and things of that nature, which only tells me that there is a disconnect when it comes to law enforcement and the Black community. I can’t [talk] about what was just spoken about, but I would like to say I work in Lancaster and I have not seen very many outside agencies come in and speak to our children. Our children learn a lot about law enforcement by dealing with myself and people from our department. But like I said, that is near and dear to me. I have two daughters and I’m just trying to simply make the community better than I found it.

Q: What areas of growth does your department need to improve on?

GULLEY: I’ll tell you what we’re doing now and what we’re going to continue doing. We have a [segment] called “One-on-One with Precinct 1” and this is where we’re working with KHVN radio station. This is giving you, as a community, a chance to call into the radio station and ask us questions [such as] ‘what does a constable do,’ ‘what’s going on,’ and [etc.] That’s something we’re doing at the constable’s office as well. Another thing we have started is we’re reaching out to our seniors. So once a month we’re going out to the senior citizens residence and we’re engaging with them, informing them and letting them know how important it is to have a living will. The thing is people are preying upon our elderly so that’s another thing we’re also doing. We’re forming a lot of different programs. Something that has never been done. The most important thing we’re having now is night court. We have two courts that we’re serving. So this is a convenience for our workers that are working through the daytime. We’re open until 8 p.m., once a month, every Monday.

JOHNSON: One of the things that I do now is I have a truancy and dropout prevention program. It’s simple. We take your kids from our district to basketball games and professional sporting events. Just last May I personally rented a limo and took 20 of our seniors to Pappadeaux’s for lunch. [We] made them dress up and write an essay about what they plan to do in college or as they go onto higher education levels. It’s important to me to take these students to professional sporting events because as a child I wasn’t fortunate enough to do those type of things. I wasn’t able to [go] to professional sporting events until I became an adult. If you empower these kids and give them something to look forward to it brightens their spirits.

Q: What would you do during a school shooting situation as constable and how will you make sure the campus is more safe?

JOHNSON: I believe in having a working relationship with overlapping jurisdiction that being Lancaster Police Department, Lancaster ISD Police Department, Dallas ISD Police Department and each city municipality police department – Wilmer, Balch Springs, Seagoville and Hutchins. We would have a working relations

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