CASA holds judicial court forum Brumbelow, Martin & McDonald debate court issues

 

CASA for Kids of East Texas held a 294th Judicial Court candidate forum Tuesday, Feb. 6 at Silver Spur Resort in Canton. Judicial court candidates Tina Brumbelow, Chris Martin and Randy McDonald participated in the forum.

Assistant Program Director for CASA Joni Lunsford said the purpose of the forum was to “learn more about each candidate running for district judge, so voters can make a well-informed decision in the upcoming election.”

Lunsford pointed out that the district judges’ seat is important to CASA because “it is the deciding factor on how child protection dockets will be run in Van Zandt County.”

Candidates answered questions that were coordinated by CASA of East Texas.  

What is your vision for the 294th District Court?

Martin

“It is simple, one that is going on right now under the leadership of Judge Teresa Drum who has been serving for 16 years. To continue being a fair, impartial and consistent forum. That is what a court should be, an institution that serves the people. To provide a venue and a chance for people who have legal issues … to let people walk into the court and know they are going to be treated fairly, equally and consistently. I also want to prioritize criminal cases that have extreme violence and crimes against children. I believe we can have prioritize those because those cases need quicker resolution. I also want to make it more effective and efficient, by introducing technology to make it better for the people accessing it and to keep citizens informed about what is going on up there.”

McDonald

“I believe the 294th District Court is a leadership position. It sets the tone. I would like to see the district court be used to help resolve conflicts that exist within the county. There are forums available through the community justice panel that have statutory members that are on it. It’s a format that can be used to systematically address problems. I have committed to convene that quarterly. I would like to see the court used to educated children. I have had three mock trials in the courtroom and I would like to see the district court courtroom for every school district in the county to witness a DWI trial and warn them against the dangers of drunk driving.

Brumbelow

“My vision for the 294th district court is consistent with what I have said tonight. I want to be able to knock on someone’s door four years from now if I am elected and tell they they’ve made a difference. My mission is to make everyone feel like they have the sense of being heard. That the court system is open to each person regardless of race, religion, gender or socioeconomic status. I would like to restore judicial integrity to provide fair, impartial and cost-effective system by implementing programs and continue what Judge Drum has done.”

What changes in the court do you feel are warranted? 

Brumbelow

“I believe warranted changes are to restore judicial integrity and the confidence of the citizens of VZC in the court system. Cases are being resent and not being heard. I think that one of the things we can do is put time limits on family law related matters. I have practiced all over the state of Texas and it has allowed me to acquire a wide range of knowledge of how the other court systems operate.

Martin

“I am going to disagree with Mrs. Brumbelow, I don’t think there is a need to restore judicial integrity to the 294th District Court. Judge Drum has had that for 16 years. I think there are a few management issues such as docket management. I believe we should take our violent crimes and crimes against children and classify them, much like CPS does. We will find the cases with the most loss, the cases where the family has been affected the most and get them to court to give them some type of legal healing or legal resolution, so they can move on with their lives.”

McDonald

“I think it is a matter of what is needed at this time. Maybe there is a different emphasis needed, such as more unity, more discussion among county leaders about intractable problems that are not being resolved. Working on bringing unity to the court and making sure the sheriff’s department has a voice on what cases are going to be tried can be a warranted changed, making decisions in the court on what cases are going to be tried.”

What court-ordered services are most effective for children who have been removed from the home due to abuse or neglect?

Brumbelow

Court appointed services are set out in Chapter 264 in the Family Code. It lists what the court-appointed services are that you can provide to the parents of the children. The problem is that is some services that would be effective for one parent, may not be the services effective for another parent. I think it is a case by case basis, you have to figure out what works for that particular individual, have a fact pattern and situation. You have to do what is best for those parties while safeguarding their rights, constitutionally, while also doing what is best in the interest of the children.

Martin

In prosecution of CPS cases, CPS is going to design the service plan. The programs and services that they are going to provide men and women as parents are programs such as intervention programs to assess anger management, anger counseling, drug assessment, drug counseling, drug testing, parenting, group or individual counseling ... What that seems to do is to try to get into the home and determine where the family unit is lacking … It is the judges’ duty to make sure the service and program plans set up by CPS are followed.”

McDonald

It could be a situation where a drug program is needed, or a baseline needs to be established. Typically, when a person says ‘I’ve stopped the drugs,’ you can do a hair follicle analysis and see if the drugs decrease. Psychological testing might need to be involved. Counseling could be involved. I don’t think forced counseling is very effective, but I think that counseling can be effective if the parties want it and they are eager to do it.

Why should voters support you?

 Martin

“Voters should support me because I am invested in this community. This is where I was raised and where I am raising my family. I am invested in this community and want to use my education and experience to be a constructive leader in the district court. A district court that handles the most serious offenses which I have been prosecuting for the last 11 years. I am prosecuting capital murders; my opponents are not doing that … I like to be involved from the public education standpoint and have my thumb on the pulse of what is going on. Because of my commitment to the community, I can assure you that through my experience and education, I am going to be the constructive leader over the developments here in Van Zandt County.”

Brumbelow

“You should support me because I believe having a diverse legal experience enables me to handle both the civil, criminal and family law cases. Most importantly, I have the energy to handle this demanding docket. I think that one of the most important reasons for the court is we need to restore judicial transparency. I want to be the judge that allows for everyone to feel like they have had the opportunity to be heard, the court system is fair and partial and cost effective and does not waste tax dollars.

McDonald

“I would hope you would support me because I am balanced, and I am a proven conservative. I have had proven experience. I have done the job. I have a track record and that is something that can be examined and looked at. I have the experience to do the job and I am ready from day one to do it.”

Please describe a situation where you took a controversial position that angered or offended people and explain how you handled it.

McDonald

“When I first became a judge, I read some provisions in the Texas Family Code where it said a judge can delay a divorce if he felt like it was a reasonable expectation for reconciliation. I gathered the pastors in the area and I tried to send each case for counseling to see if there was any hope. The attorneys did not understand it and balked at it. I learned from that though. I met a lot of pastors in the area and learned what resources where out there. We are more selective about what we do now, but the attorneys know that if there is a difficult situation where one party does want a reconciliation, they know resources are available.”

Brumbelow

The one that stands out the most for me has to be the time that I prepared my client in my office and my client told me they were going to answer a question a certain way. They got on the stand in front of the judge and lied to the judge. I asked the judge for an opportunity to talk to the client, told my client either they would let me withdraw from the case or I would have to disclose misrepresentation and fraud that was being perpetrated to the court. My client was not happy about that. But, I had to take a stand, our code of conduct requires us to operate within ethical obligations. I feel like that is something my client did not like but as an attorney, I owed it to the judicial system.”

Martin

“As prosecutors, we are under oath to see that justice is done. We are not supposed to do what the police officers or victims want. We are supposed to do what we believe justice is. There is no coincidence that there are a lot of sheriff’s officers here tonight (Feb. 6.) An issue that has recently faced me is the prosecution of a young deputy. A good person who made a tragic error and decision and she took the life of someone else. It was a difficult decision, because I work with law enforcement on a daily basis, but I felt like I had to follow my oath, see that justice was done and prosecute this young lady. At the same time I am prosecuting her, law enforcement believes I am being too harsh on her, and the people in the county believe I am being too light on her. But, to be aggressive on crime and fair on people, I had to bring about a just plea bargain for her.”

 

 

 

 

How would you would handle parties in a case that are belligerent or disrespectful?

McDonald

“You have to handle it with a light touch. You don’t want to escalate the situation and match it emotion for emotion. Keep a calm composure and have the attorneys come back into the chamber, take a break and let emotions calm down and resume the matter.”

Brumbelow

“I think you need to look at the situation and find out the circumstances as to why someone is belligerent and disrespectful in a court system. A lot of times, people are very unfamiliar with the court system and it is an uncomfortable setting that they are in. Emotions are very high. I believe you can treat them with kindness and respect, while demanding respect for the court at the same time. But, also be conscious about what they are going through.”

Martin

“I think you have to understand from what standpoint the parties are coming from to understand why they have that attitude and expressing that behavior. It is important that you have a leader in the courtroom. If someone is being disrespectful or belligerent, that could create safety concerns, an issue in the courtroom to where other people don’t feel safe. As a judge, you should be direct on how to handle that. Whether you do like Judge McDonald said to take them into the chamber or allow them vent in the courtroom, it is important that you are direct, and a judge should express that leadership in making people understand it is a court of law, it is a part of law and order and respect should be given. Not necessarily to the judge, but to the court and the institution that it serves so people can understand that this is a safe place and you are not going to allow emotions to take over.”

What forms of voluntary professional and community service have you been involved in?

Brumbelow

“That is a hard question for me to answer because I haven’t kept tabs on all the voluntary work I have done. In 2017, I was recognized by the Pro Bono College by the State Bar of Texas for the amount of time that I contributed to low-income litigation. I provided services for a reduce fee or no fee at all. I have been involved extensively with community organizations, international ministries and I teach pre-k through second grade and my church.

Martin

“I don’t identify myself as a lawyer. I identify myself first as a Christian, then a father and then everything else. In my volunteer time, I teach my Sunday school class at First Baptist Church, where I have been a member since I was 17. I have actively been involved in the Awana program and the youth program. I go to the youth camp in the summer. As a father, I am involved in youth sports such as Canton soccer, Canton basketball and baseball. I want to be there for my kids in their activities. Professionally, I go into the schools talking about sexting, drugs and crime.

McDonald

“I have six kids ranging in age from 26-10. A lot of what I have been involved in past years has been with my kids. I have been involved in other organizations such as the Boy Scouts where I was made a regional leader in the Southwest United States. We went out and assisted individual and service opportunities particularly involving disasters. I have been to Joplin, Missouri after the tornado and Hurricane Ike in 2008 with my boys to help individuals.”