Family law caseload main subject of District 24 judge debate
Oct. 23, 2012 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Oct. 24, 2012 at 5:24 a.m.
District 24 judge candidates continue to disagree about how prevalent family law cases are in a jurisdiction that spans six counties.
Republican Jack Marr and Democrat Sandra McKenzie debated about this and other issues Tuesday morning at the Victoria Advocate.
Voters must choose one to replace Judge Joseph P. Kelly, who will retire from presiding over Victoria, Calhoun, Jackson, DeWitt, Goliad and Refugio counties on Dec. 31.
Marr has said throughout his campaign that his family law expertise is unprecedented for a judge in this area and makes him uniquely qualified for the position in a time when household dynamics and technology are evolving.
"This is something that is endemic throughout the United States," Marr said of the trend after the 11 a.m. face off.
McKenzie found though that about 42.2 percent of the cases filed in the six counties from Sept. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012 were related to family law after researching it on the Texas District Courts' website.
She used a pie chart to illustrate her evidence.
McKenzie also said some family law matters, such as those related to child support, which accounted for 1,927 cases, weren't even heard by a district judge, but an appointed associate judge.
Overall, she contended she's more well-rounded after starting her 27-year law career as a federal judge's clerk and more recently offering her Spanish-speaking skills for the indigent.
"And that's what you need for this court. This court is of general and civil jurisdiction," she said. "I am dedicated to public service. I'm very dedicated to making sure each side has an even handed ability to present the facts of their case."
Marr argued family law cases take up anywhere from 70 to 75 percent of the docket.
"It's not what's filed, it's what the courts are hearing during their eight-hour day (that matter,)" he said.
He came to that figure after scouring the Victoria District Clerk's civil dockets from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, 2012, a heavy stack of papers. He said he repeated his efforts in the other five counties and found the numbers to be about the same.
Marr also added that associate judges are a part of the district court, and lawyers can appeal their decisions to a district judge.
Another contentious issue was how McKenzie said she'd try to help reduce the burden to taxpayers at the district court, which she estimated had more than a $1 million budget in Victoria alone. She said she'd do this by encouraging settlement weeks, which is when mediators volunteer to resolve disputes at discounted rates.
Marr said that was unlikely to happen.
McKenzie also favors scheduling appointments over what she calls the current "cattle call" docket where lawyers may charge their clients for simply milling around, waiting for their name to be called.
Marr said the current system sets up an environment where deals are quickly struck.
"Being on the lip of having to go to trial forces people to think seriously about settling their cases," he said.
A search of the Victoria County District Clerk's records revealed Marr has represented two people in Victoria accused of criminal offenses since 1990 in county court-at-law 2 and the 24th district court. Both of his clients pled guilty.
McKenzie represented a person charged with speeding in Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 court in 2001.
Also, since Sept. 1, 2011, Marr has worked on 18 family law cases.
McKenzie has worked on four civil cases related to injury, damage and the condemnation process during that time.
Marr said most area judges come from a civil background.
Both candidates have said they've tried cases throughout the Lone Star state and beyond.
Corrected Oct. 26 2012
Victoria County District Clerk’s office free online case records database only show those cases that are filed by the attorney, and does not include the ones they have responded to or assisted others on. Victoria County District Clerk Cathy Stuart said her office tries to add attorneys as they come onto a case to the database, but it’s difficult because sometimes the proper paperwork is often not filed.