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Victoria County Court-at-Law No. 1 judge GOP primary questionnaire

Feb. 17, 2014 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 16, 2014 at 8:17 p.m.

County Court-at-Law 1 Judge Travis Ernst

Editor's note: To help voters learn more about the candidates, the Advocate is printing profiles provided by the League of Women Voters in contested races in the March 4 Democratic and Republican parties' primaries. Tuesday's profile spotlights candidates for the Republican Party nomination for Victoria County Court-at-Law No. 1 judge. The winner will face Democratic Party candidate Jennifer Rick Foster in the Nov. 4 general election.

Travis Ernst

Background and Qualifications:

I was born and raised in Victoria. My parents are Dr. and Mrs. Ellwood Ernst. I'm a graduate of Victoria High School, class of '89. I'm married to Jennifer, a former teacher with VISD. I have two sons: Ryan, an operator at Formosa, and Evan, a sophomore at Texas State.

Why are you seeking this office?

I graduated law school in 1997, I went to work as an intern with Victoria Criminal District Attorney's Office under George Filley. In 1998, I went into private practice concentrating on criminal, juvenile and general civil litigation. Upon the retirement of Judge Weiser, I was appointed by the Victoria County Commissioner's Court to complete her term. Since March 4, I have maintained efficiency and integrity that this court is known for. I'm running as an incumbent to continue the work that I've been doing for almost a year.

What would be your 3 top goals if elected?

Three areas of great importance to me and the county courts-at-law are DWI court, juvenile court and probate court. The goals to be reached in the upcoming term are to continue the service of DWI court in such a way that the offenders receive the type of help and monitoring to ensure they won't reoffend. Juvenile court, the goal is to continue to support and rehabilitate Victoria County's youth. I would also continue the integrity of probate court held every other Thursday so that the administration of the loved ones' estates can be handled efficiently and with dignity.

What are specific ways the County Court at Law could improve the trial process under their jurisdiction?

The trial process in County Court-at-Law 1 is to give litigants and criminal defendants access to a jury of their peers. Since taking the bench in March, only criminal defendants have requested jury trials. The civil cases that my court has dealt with over this past year have settled by agreement, been summarily disposed of or dismissed themselves for want of prosecution. However, anyone who has a legitimate claim will get a fair trial by their peers.

What challenges do the county Courts at Law face and what ideas do you have on how to resolve them?

As the judge of County Court at Law 1, the challenges that face the court are the growing number of adult criminal cases. These adult courts handle approximately 30 to 40 criminal cases daily, along with various other cases. Hard work and dedication by all the folks and staff is the key and what is vital for the continued efficiency. Working hand-in-hand and having built a strong working relationship with the county clerk's office, the district attorney's office and the sheriff's department will continue to allow these courts to function effectively.

What are ways the two county Court at Law judges could work together to streamline administration and/or costs?

Having been a sitting judge for more than 11 months, I have developed a close relationship not only with the judge of County Court 2 but also Judge Gilliam's staff. On occasion, situations present themselves for the courts to have to cover for one another; when this happens, it's vital that a good working relationship is in place so that whenever a substitution is needed, be it the judge, court reporter or clerk, a smooth transition can be accomplished in minutes.

Leslie Ann Werner

Background and Qualifications:• Licensed 27 years, including 22 years being board certified

Practiced in Victoria since 2000 in the areas of probate, family and criminal law and general civil litigation • Attorney at two courts of appeals

• Past president/current board member - Northside Rotary

Maintained my own law practice for seven years, employing three people.

Why are you seeking this office?

The citizens of Victoria County should have a choice as to who sits on this bench. Our judiciary should reflect the diversity of the population for whom they serve; currently there are no women judges in this county. Education is crucial. I have a B.S. in criminal justice, an M.B.A. and a J.D. As an attorney, I have exceeded the number of continuing legal education credits that the state bar requires and have more than 520 hours of CLE. Raising two teenagers alone has given me a unique perspective on the issues that face children who may come before the court.

What would be your 3 top goals if elected?• Continue the excellent work established by Judge Laura Weiser in addressing problems and issues with juvenile offenders.

• Work within budgetary constraints to expand the usage of DWI court and drug court.

• To the extent of the court's jurisdiction, grow the civil docket by encouraging attorneys and litigants to take advantage of the faster pace that is available in the county courts-at-law. This would relieve the congestion in the district courts and allow quicker access to the courts.

What are specific ways the County Court at Law could improve the trial process under their jurisdiction?

With respect to civil cases, I would encourage the use of mediation to resolve disputes. This would encourage litigants to resolve their issues without the necessity of court intervention. I would like to see legislation that would allow the County Courts-at-Law to have concurrent jurisdiction in family law cases as happens in other counties. This would allow greater access to the courts in a more timely manner, and again, relieve congestion in the district courts. For criminal cases, I would like to see a quicker resolution to the matters brought before the court.

What challenges do the County Courts at Law face and any ideas you have on how to resolve?

As with any governmental body, the courts are faced with budget constraints that preclude expansion of programs that have proven effectiveness. Many of the offenders who come into the court system have underlying mental and social issues that need to be addressed in conjunction with the criminal justice system. Until and unless there is a broader tax base, there does not seem to be a solution to that problem in the foreseeable future. The large growth in our population in recent years has brought an increase in the use and availability of drugs by our children.

What are ways the two County Court at Law judges could work together to streamline administration and/or costs?

While both courts have joint criminal and civil jurisdiction, I believe it would be more cost effective to have one court handle criminal cases and the other court handle civil cases, the probate docket and any appeals that arise from the JP court's.

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