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Victoria GOP judge candidates debate DWI courts, creative sentencing

By Melissa Crowe
Feb. 17, 2014 at 8:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 16, 2014 at 8:17 p.m.

Forum Candidates

• Republican county judge incumbent Don Pozzi and candidate Ben Zeller

• Republican county treasurer candidate Lisa Hernandez and incumbent Sean Kennedy

• Republican county court at law incumbent Travis Ernst and candidate Leslie Werner

• Democratic justice of the peace incumbent Richard Castillo and candidate Mary Ann Rivera

• Republican justice of the peace candidates Jennifer Zeplin and John Miller

Republican candidates for Victoria County Court at Law No. 1 agree on the benefits of creative sentencing and the DWI courts, but when it comes to experience, their expectations differ.

During two political events Monday - one hosted by Victoria Advocate and another by the League of Women Voters-Victoria, a nonpartisan political organization - the candidates, incumbent Judge Travis Ernst and attorney Leslie Werner, outlined their plans for the court and why voters should pick them in the March 4 Republican primary.

Ernst, who was appointed by the commissioners court last March after Judge Laura Weiser retired, said his 15 years practicing private law help him "maintain the honor and integrity" the court is known for. He has handled a wide spectrum of cases from traffic tickets to capital murder.

He said the court is running as smoothly, if not more so than when Weiser left it.

However, his opponent, Werner, said her education and experience, which includes being licensed to practice in Texas for 27 years - 22 of those years with board certification in appellate court - make her the best candidate.

Where the two differ is on juvenile experience and the issue of expanding the court's role to have concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts.

Ernst said juvenile law has been a primary focus of his practice. He called it "one of the most rewarding areas of law" he deals with.

Werner said her experience in Harris County included representing juveniles as an appointed attorney, as well as representing their interests outside the criminal courts and being an advocate before they get to the justice system.

Werner has supported the subject of expanding the courts, saying it would allow the docket to include more civil law cases. Ernst said it could take the heat off the district court, but for practical purposes, he could not see it happening.

Ernst said he is proud of maintaining the traditions and level of expertise in the court.



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