Texas Democrats unveil 2018 slate for top state courts


All five Democratic candidates are from Houston — four district court judges and a lawyer.

The last time a Democrat was elected to the Texas Supreme Court or Court of Criminal Appeals was 1994.

Texas Democrats on Tuesday unveiled their slate of candidates for the state’s two highest courts — a prize the party has not captured since the 1994 election.

Four are state district judges in Houston, one is a lawyer practicing in Houston, and all five face an uphill battle in 2018 as they vie for seats on the important, though little-known, Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals — particularly with Democrats still lacking a well-known candidate for governor to lead the ticket and stir attention.

“We all know it’s a stretch goal,” said District Judge Steven Kirkland, running for the Supreme Court.

Still, the Democratic slate represents an increasingly diverse state, said Kirkland, who introduced himself as a gay man while standing at the Democratic Party’s state headquarters in downtown Austin with his fellow candidates, two African-American women, a woman born in Taiwan and man of South Asian descent.

“Our population is getting younger, it’s becoming a more diverse population, and we appeal to that,” he said. “There is a tremendous energy and tremendous hunger amongst Democrats across Texas. You can see it. I think Democratic turnout is going to be bigger this year than you’ve seen in many years.”

READ: Christmas at the Capitol: Trees arrive at the House and Senate

District Judge R.K. Sandill, also running for the Supreme Court, attributed much of that energy to actions by Republican President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We have a bully in the White House; we’ve got a governor who is a bully,” Sandill said. “Texans stand up to bullies.”

The Democratic candidates are:

• Kirkland, a state district judge and municipal court judge for 12 years and an advocate for affordable housing. He said he created the state’s first homeless recovery court designed to help homeless Houstonians stay out of jail and return to a productive life. He also admitted that he is the only Democratic court candidate with a criminal record — a driving-while-intoxicated conviction that led to more than 33 years in recovery from alcoholism.

Kirkland will vie for the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Don Willett, whose nomination to a federal appeals court bench is awaiting a vote by the U.S. Senate. Abbott announced Monday that once Willett is confirmed, he will appoint his general counsel, Jimmy Blacklock, to fill the vacancy.

READ: Herman: Is the Abbott campaign running an illegal gambling operation?

• Sandill, a district judge since 2009. He said the Supreme Court has become extremist, issuing opinions that have blocked government transparency and failed to correct the state’s school finance system. He will face Republican Justice John Devine, who is seeking a second six-year term.

• Kathy Cheng, a lawyer who focuses on civil and commercial litigation. She was born in Taiwan and said she was inspired to run for the Supreme Court after seeing how the legal system treats minorities and immigrants differently. She will face Justice Jeff Brown, a Republican.

• Maria Jackson, a district judge since 2009. She is seeking to be presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, a job held by Republican Sharon Keller. Jackson said the death of a 6-year-old girl in a DWI wreck prompted her to implement reforms, including breathalyzer tests at least three times a day, that were adopted by Harris County when probation is given for DWI.

• Ramona Franklin, who was elected as district judge in 2016 and is a former assistant district attorney. She said she wants to ensure that justice is given without regard to wealth, social status or other factors. She filed for the seat held by Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey.

No Democrat has filed for a third seat up for election on the Court of Criminal Appeals that is held by retiring Judge Elsa Alcala.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine
George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

Former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized Sunday after “experiencing low blood pressure and fatigue,” spokesman Jim McGrath announced in a Twitter post. Bush was taken to Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, Maine. “He will likely remain there for a few days for observation,” McGrath said. “The former president...
Kyle police investigating dead bicyclist found along I-35
Kyle police investigating dead bicyclist found along I-35

Kyle police say they are investigating the death of a bicyclist who was found along Interstate 35 by a passing motorist. According to a news release, the roads in that area, the I-35 southbound exit ramp at exit 210 and Highway 81 west access will be shut down temporarily while investigators are on the scene. The victim is an adult male and police...
Man injured in North Austin stabbing, EMS says

NORTH AUSTIN EMS: Man injured in stabbing A man in his 30s was injured early Sunday after a stabbing in North Austin, officials said. Austin-Travis County EMS and Austin police responded to reports of stabbing at Rutland Drive and N. Lamar Blvd. shortly after midnight. Medics took the victim to Dell Seton Medical Center with serious, not expected to...
Man arrested after firing gun in crowded Sixth Street area, police say
Man arrested after firing gun in crowded Sixth Street area, police say

Austin police arrested early Sunday a man accused of firing a weapon in a crowded area on Sixth Street, according to an arrest affidavit. Officers responded just after 2 a.m. to the intersection of Sixth Street and San Jacinto Road after reports of shots being fired in the area. Police say the shooter, identified in the affidavit as 22-year old Keshawn...
Texas Digest: Officers say man brandished handgun before they shot him

SOUTHEAST TEXAS Officers kill man they say had gun Texas Rangers are investigating the fatal shooting of a 51-year-old man in Southeast Texas after authorities said he threatened officers with a handgun. Authorities said police from Silsbee and Hardin County sheriff’s deputies made a traffic stop Saturday and the man emerged from his truck carrying...
More Stories