After the Vote: Veteran Judge Parker Out, Newcomer Treviño In

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Judge Laura Parker informs a Crossroads participant that she is being detained and will be receive a GPS tracking device. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Judge Laura Parker informs a Crossroads participant that she is being detained and will be receive a GPS tracking device.

On Dec. 31, Judge Laura Parker will serve her last day overseeing the 386th Juvenile District Court, the court she helped build and has led since its creation in 1999.

Since then, Parker had been re-elected four times, handling more than 29,000 juvenile cases and presiding over three specialty courts that deal with young victims of sex trafficking, adolescents with mental health issues, and drug-dependent youth in the justice system.

On Election Day last week, Parker was voted out of office and replaced by Arcelia Treviño, a former teacher and private practice attorney who will officially assume her first position as an elected official on Jan. 1, 2017.

Parker, a Republican, knew her job was at stake during this year’s election. The race between Hillary Clinton and president-elect Donald Trump was one of the most divisive in recent history, and Parker feared that national politics would likely have an effect on local partisan elections.

Straight-ticket voting – when constituents vote solely by political party all the way down the ballot – can often mean all the hard work, commitment, long hours, and money down-ballot candidates dedicated to their tenure and campaigning for re-election goes to waste.

That is what Parker, a committed public servant for 17 years, feared most.

“With the unpopularity of Donald Trump in Bexar County, you know, it was concerning,” she said. Parker lost by a 4% margin.

Her concern is shared by many local officials who hold elected office and are committed to and knowledgable about public service, but get swept out of office due to straight-party votes.

District judges, who seldom are household names, are particularly vulnerable. Many voters find themselves guessing inside the voting booth or simply voting by party affiliation, regardless of an incumbent’s established record or the qualifications of the challenger.

“The judicial races are where it has its biggest impact because people don’t always take the time to work their way down an 11-page ballot,” said Sen. José Menéndez (D-26).

Straight-ticket voting is only allowed in nine other U.S. states besides Texas, and its popularity has declined over time, according to the Washington Post. A number of everyday citizens as well as insiders, such as Menéndez, say such voting patterns unjustly put partisan preference over qualifications.

“It’s unfortunate because, personally, I don’t believe judges should be voted on (on) partisan ballots anyway. They’re supposed to be impartial and judges that are going to be judges for everyone,” he said. “They’re going to be judging things on merit, on facts, and evidence, not based on their partisan nature.

“It sets up a scenario where good judges based on whichever party or year they’re up for election could be swept out based on nothing that they did wrong.”

Parker doesn’t doubt Treviño can carry out her legacy, she said, but she hopes that she maintains the same amount of passion and commitment to the court that has been at the forefront of her career.

Treviño, whose campaign focused on “protect(ing) our youth through justice, education, and rehabilitation” has more than 10 years of experience in practicing family and immigration law.

Parker isn’t driven by politics. She was appointed to the position when it was created. Running for re-election every four years has been the least favorite aspect of her work. It’s especially frustrating, she said, since her political affiliation with the GOP has little or nothing to do with her day-to-day work at the courthouse.

Judge Laura Parker interacts with a Crossroads Program juvenile. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Judge Laura Parker interacts with a Crossroads Program juvenile.

“It’s a huge loss in this community that she didn’t win, and it’s such a sad day when the partisan elections really take control of what’s going on in the courthouse,” said 289th Juvenile District Court Judge Daphne Previti Austin, who worked with Parker earlier in their respective careers when both were prosecutors in the district attorney’s office.

Parker has always been regarded as a leader, both in the courthouse and in the community, Austin said. Parker has served on the executive board of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, as the local administrative judge for the Bexar County District Courts, and is the chair of the Bexar County Juvenile Board.

She also started the three specialty courts that have provided much-needed assistance to at-risk youth and have cut back the County’s incarceration costs, Austin said.

Austin and 436th Juvenile District Court Judge Lisa Jarrett, Parker said, will take over the courts when she leaves at the end of the year.

The Crossroads Girls Mental Health Court, which Parker started in 2009, was one of five programs in the country to receive the 2016 National Criminal Justice Association Outstanding Criminal Justice Program in the western region of the United States.

Her influence in the local community is just as strong, Austin said, as Parker serves on the board of directors for Communities in Schools, the ChildSafe Advisory Council, and also is involved with SA 100 and Impact San Antonio.

“The judge’s job is to come in and handle the docket everyday from 8-5, but it’s really much larger than that,” Austin said. “We go out into the community. We care about the kids who come in front of us.

“She’s done a lot of things above and beyond.”

Parker said she will welcome Treviño to the bench and help make the transition as smooth as possible, not only for the new 386th court judge but for all of the youth she will oversee.

She doesn’t know exactly what she will do after she officially leaves her bench at the end of the year, but imagines she will take some time to decompress and not rush to find another job. She’ll probably sign up to be a visiting judge, she said.

Looking back on her time in the juvenile justice system, Parker said her work was a combination of true passion and obligation for helping at-risk youth.

“It’s been an opportunity,” she said “But I also feel like it was really my responsibility.”

Treviño did not respond to multiple efforts to interview her.

2 thoughts on “After the Vote: Veteran Judge Parker Out, Newcomer Treviño In

  1. Sadly, this is not the first time a highly-experienced, extremely knowledgeable and fair judge has been removed from office as a victim of straight-ticket voting. Partisan voting of judges is ridiculous, as this unsettling story attests. In the first election after I moved to SA, as a life-long Democrat (and one very distrustful of Texas Republicans in general — I’m talkin’ about you, G. Abbott, D. Patrick & K. Paxton, you scoundrels!), I voted straight Dem. ticket. To my horror, I learned AFTER election day that I was responsible for ousting a fine, dedicated, long-standing judge who happened to be running as the Repub. candidate from his bench to be replaced by a young, totally inexperienced lawyer who happened to be running as the Dem. candidate. After that, I vowed I would never help unseat a very good judge regardless of his/her party affiliation.
    Since that election, I have done my best to research the judges. I checked out the record of the incumbent and tried to get info on the challengers. I got advice from someone (a pro-choice liberal Democrat) who knows these races very well and she often endorses the Republican incumbent. I am pleased to say I voted for Judge Parker’s re-election. I voted for a few other Republican judges in the last election, too.

    To prevent this loss of expert, fair, dedicated judges in the future, in my opinion, there are three possible solutions:
    1. TX must eliminate straight-ticket voting, as most other states have (I, as a life-long Democrat, can’t believe I am advocating against straight-ticket voting!). If a voter wanted to vote for only candidates of one party, s/he can do that for each race on the ballot, rather than with one straight-ticket “lever” at the top of the ballot.
    2. Judicial races are to be nonpartisan. The voters are to make their decisions based on the candidates’ qualifications & experience, which has nothing to do with party affiliation.
    3. Voters are to take responsibility for investigating judicial candidates before voting. This would be greatly enhanced by more thorough endorsements from non-partisan sources. Rivard Report would do a great service to the electorate by publishing articles on each judicial race introducing the candidates with details on each one’s experience, especially identifying revered incumbents.

    Another option: If you, as a voter, don’t know anything about the candidates for a position, then don’t vote for that position. Just vote for the candidates you KNOW would be best in your opinion for the office.

    We have lost some excellent incumbents — Dem. & Repub. — in primaries as well as general elections — due to “thoughtless” voting. I am reminded how the only qualified member of the SBOE, who had served multiple terms and was extremely effective in countering the rampant damage the right-wing SBOE members are intent on wreaking on our children’s education, lost the primary re-election to someone who filed to run on the last possible day and did no campaigning. In fact, after the primary, the winning candidate was silent and could not be located to request a comment. This uninformed voting is a big problem with our democracy and robs it of its vitality.

  2. Judges running for office as a member of any political party is a pet peeve of mine.

    Check out the system that Colorado employs for judicial elections. “Judges of the Colorado County Courts are each appointed by the governor with the help of a commission, except in Denver, Colorado. In Denver, judges are appointed by the mayor rather than the governor.[2] Judges are initially appointed to two-year terms and then run in retention elections for four-year terms afterwards.[5] To serve on this court, a judge must be a qualified elector and resident of county and licensed to practice law in the state. Some small counties only require a high school degree or equivalent but require judges to attend an institute to learn about county court duties”.

    At general election periods a “blue book” is sent to all voters with reviews from appropriate committees to assess a judge’s performance. Then the voter can vote to retain the judge or not. By this method the voter can make intelligent decisions about whether to keep or retain a particular judge.

    Texas judges should not have to run political campaigns and should be evaluated on their job performances. How the heck is the voter able to truly evaluate judges in Texas?

    I also admit to voting a straight Democratic ticket even know I realized that there were possibly worthy Republican judges because I wanted to send a message that this system of judicial elections STINKS! I don’t think straight ticket voting should be eliminated. I do believe that we can develop a better system of judicial selection and retention in Texas.

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