Lisa Michalk was the only one of four candidates in the Texas 221st Judicial Election to take the time to respond to our articles on the election and the candidates. As we’ve seen in person how biased, corrupt, and incompetent courts, particularly those in family law cases, ruin people’s lives and abuse children and parents, we believe it is critical that the American public learn about the problems in the courts and struggle to make better choices in judges. While we still don’t know enough about Michalk to endorse her, we’d like to think that her willingness to participate in our discussion over the issues might have earned her a few votes and put her in first place in the primary election.
The results from the March 2, 2010 primary election are as follows:
|Candidate||Votes||% of Votes|
|Lisa Benge Michalk||9029||26.75%|
It appears that voters had little basis on which to differentiate the candidates given the nearly random choice results for the top three candidates.
It’s our understanding that Michalk will face off against Devine in the April 2010 primary run-off election in which early voting runs from April 5 to 9 and regular voting is on April 13. The general election will be on November 2, but for this race it appears the decision will be made on April 13 given there are only two candidates remaining.
Two of our concerns about candidate John Devine are his making religion a major talking point in his campaign and the controversial use of the title “Judge” in his campaign literature. Although Michalk stayed out of the fray over that ethical question, the other two candidates believe that Devine may have violated election laws by the use of that title when he is not in fact an elected judge.
The TEC’s advisory opinion 171 states that it is not a violation of Section 255.006 of the Election Code for a person who is currently a judge to use the title of “judge” in political advertising or campaign communications.
But, “It would be a violation … for a judge running for a judicial office other than the one he or she currently holds to enter into an agreement to print, publish or broadcast political advertising that suggests the judge is an incumbent in the office sought,” the advisory opinion states.
“Similarly, it would be a violation of subsection (b) for a judge to represent in a campaign communication that he or she holds a judicial office other than the one he or she actually holds.”
The key to interpreting Section 255.006 of the Election Code to determine whether Devine is in violation is if he advertised or printed campaign material “with the intent to represent to an ordinary and prudent person that a candidate holds a public office he does not hold,” both Golemon and O’Neil said.
“I think it’s misleading to the public for him to campaign that he is a judge,” Golemon said. “He is not an active judge, and he doesn’t hold current office. (Voters) may think he is the incumbent.”
With 221st state District Court Judge Suzanne Stovall opting not to run for re-election, none of the candidates is the incumbent in this race.
A judge has to be elected to be current and active, Golemon said.
“Most voters don’t know that justices of the peace don’t have to be attorneys,” he said. “To say you’re a special judge in a JP court … sounds good, but it’s misleading.”
As avoiding the appearance of bias or impropriety is an important task for a judge, these issues are in our opinion legitimate concerns. Separation of church and state is a fundamental concept in American justice yet Devine’s discussion of his religious views raises questions about whether he is capable of maintaining that separation. The ethical questions around the use of the title “Judge” raise similar questions about his ability to avoid the appearance of impropriety.