District judge candidates offer choice of firsts

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Oct. 21, 2012 at 5:21 a.m.

Sandra McKenzie is running as the democratic candidate for 24th District Judge.

Sandra McKenzie is running as the democratic candidate for 24th District Judge.

Voters will be confronted with two candidates for 24th district judge who possess different views on how the court should be run.

Either Republican Jack Marr or Democrat Sandra McKenzie will replace Judge Joseph P. Kelly, who is retiring from presiding over Victoria, Calhoun, Jackson, DeWitt, Goliad and Refugio counties.

Marr brings his 35 years of family law expertise to the bench and said he does not foresee advocating major procedural changes in how the court is run, likening it to a well-oiled machine.

"We have historically had good judges. ... I want to see that legacy continued," Marr said.

He said he'll rule promptly and study diligently the issues that prevent one from doing so.

He's written and presented more than 60 articles at many seminars throughout his career.

"I've kind of just lost count," he said, referring to the research he's done about evidence procedure, such as how to handle admitting sometimes-incriminating Facebook status updates in divorce proceedings. "Becoming a lawyer should not be the end of your study of the law."

He believes he'll be the first judge in the district to come from a family law background.

McKenzie said she also would be a first - the first female judge to serve Crossroads' residents.

The year she was born, 1955, was the first year women could serve as jurors.

That's why avoiding jury duty last week was simply not an option, even in the midst of campaign chaos.

"If you have six people or 12 people putting their heads together, they're going to find the truth," she said. "It takes people volunteering. It takes people taking time out of their day to make our court system work."

She's well-versed, too, with some of her experience coming from cases around the country.

Some of her clients are from New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana and Virginia. She recalls fondly one of her first area cases out of Calhoun County in 1993. Ranchers asked for help against a Formosa Plastic Corp. in Point Comfort. They believed their home values were declining as a factory leaked chemicals into the air. It morphed into a two-year-long endeavor involving 67 homes. Some were eventually purchased by the company to create a larger barrier.

As judge, the fifth-generation Texan would encourage implementing cost-saving measures at the court, such as one she's picked up from U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey, who conferences with attorneys in civil cases so they don't have to make a trek up and down U.S. Highway 59.

She referred to the current docket protocol as a "cattle call."

"What we could have instead is, 'Your case will be heard at 9 o'clock. Your case will be heard at 9:30. Your case will be heard at 10,' so there's no reason for people to stand and mill around. They can have an appointment," she said.

And she'd recommend, like it's required in counties with more than 150,000 residents, there be settlement days when mediators would volunteer to hear disputes for free or a $50 fee.

She and Marr argue over how much of the docket is comprised of family law cases. McKenzie said Marr has too narrow of a scope and may be disqualified from all the cases his practice, Marr, Meier & Bradicich L.L.P., handles.

Marr said he would leave his practice should he ascend to judge and any cases they'd worked on before January 2013 would be reassigned, which is a practice all new judges must undergo.

He said he believes family law cases account for about 75 percent of the docket after averaging those from January to April of 2011 and in August of 2012.

It's an important fact as family dynamics shift and more and more unmarried couples become parents, he said.

McKenzie found that 10 percent of the cases filed in this jurisdiction were divorces, 5.3 percent were family law and 20 percent involved children dealing with social services, the latter of which would rarely be handled by a district judge.

"I'm qualified because of my diverse experience," she said.



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