Houston-area courts are expecting an influx of new Democratic judges, and one law enforcement group is worried they will be too lenient on criminals.
Voters in November cleared Harris County's courtrooms of all Republican judges in 59 courts, The Houston Chronicle reported . The judicial turnover includes the election of 17 African-American women who were part of a viral "Black Girl Magic" campaign.
But Jim Wallace, a Republican judge who is retiring at the end of the year after not running for re-election, said he's concerned that some incoming judges "know nothing about what they've signed up for."
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Republican Judge Marc Carter was ousted after presiding over a felony court for 15 years. Carter, who is also a former Army military intelligence officer, said judges can't be prepared for "the mental torment" that comes with some decisions, such as signing death warrants.
"I guess the question is: Is (signing death warrants) something that the new judges have considered and are willing to own, if they should have to," Carter said. "Because it's the most hollow feeling and it's something that they're most likely to spend the rest of their life asking for forgiveness for."
Carter will be replaced by Frank Aguilar, who has more than 30 years of criminal law experience. Aguilar said that while some of the incoming judges don't have a lot of judicial experience, most have had lengthy careers as lawyers and will improve the system.
Many of the incoming judges campaigned on the goal of reforming the criminal justice system, which could include approving more personal recognizance bonds.
Houston Police Union President Joe Gamaldi said the group will wait to see what changes will be enacted, but there is concern that bonds could be set too low and guilty people will get probation that allows them to have offenses removed from their record.
"We had a lot of experienced judges who were removed in one fell swoop," Gamaldi said.
Cheryl Irvin, who's been a criminal defense lawyer since 1980, said the court system has been through many transitions but the outcome stays the same.
"Nobody's going home who should be going to prison," Irvin said. "Nothing like that is happening and anybody who says anything like that is just immature."
Dedra Davis, who was elected to civil bench in November, said the new judges also hope to appoint attorneys randomly instead of having judges selecting attorneys they know.
"A little more fairness, a little more impartiality, and a little more equality is coming," Davis said.