The candidates for Judge of the 378th Judicial District Court of Ellis County includes Republicans Stacy Auvenshine, Williams "Doug" Wallace, Ed Jendrzey, and Shani Flemins.
1. What areas of law have you practiced and to what extent? What separates you from the other candidates?
Ed Jendrzey: From 1994 – 2004, I was an Assistant Criminal District Attorney. At the time I resigned, I was a felony prosecutor and supervised the prosecutors handling Misdemeanor, Juvenile, and Child Protective Services cases. I also handled some appeals. I resigned in 2004 so I could broaden my experience and start my own law practice. I moved the practice to Ellis County in 2009 for my wife’s job – we were part of AT&T’s Corporate relocation. My private practice consists of representing individuals accused of offenses and some family law. My family law experience includes representing individuals in divorce, child custody disputes, child support disputes, and serving as the attorney or guardian ad litem for children in Child Protective Services cases. While running my private practice, I have also served as a Criminal Law Magistrate, and I currently serve as the Presiding Judge of the Waxahachie Municipal Court.
I am the only candidate that already has experience as a judge. I am also the first candidate to publicly state what I plan to do if elected, something I stated early in my campaign and have not wavered. That plan includes exploring options with the other district court judges to save taxpayer dollars – see answer to Question No. 2.
Stacey Auvenshine: My professional experience has been as a trial lawyer. For the past six years, I have represented the Department of Family and Protective Services as an Assistant County & District Attorney. All of my trials during this period have involved abuse or neglect of a child and include such issues as establishment of parental rights, termination of parental rights, protection of children, child custody, parent-child visitation, and child support. From 2005-2011, I operated a successful law firm handling all aspects of family and criminal law. I served as sole trial counsel for my clients in family matters, juvenile matters and all types of criminal offenses from Class C misdemeanors to first-degree felonies. From 2003-2005, I practiced toxic tort and insurance defense litigation.
My family was in part created in family court through the gift of adoption. That experience is the source of my passion for and dedication to legal issues pertaining to children that sets me apart from the other candidates. I am the only candidate who has completely dedicated his or her legal practice to matters involving children and families. I am the only candidate whose knowledge of legal issues pertaining to children has been nationally recognized by the National Association of Counsel for Children through certification as a Child Welfare Law Specialist. I am the only candidate who has exclusively served the citizens of Ellis County for over six years.
Shani Flemins: I began my career by litigating federal bankruptcies and complex civil litigation in 1991, working for a mid-size Dallas firm. One of the Family Law partners needed help and I assisted him on large scale property division divorces. That experience later led me to opening my own practice. As a sole practicing attorney, I have litigated thousands of family and criminal law cases. It is my experience upon which I am running for this important bench. I have more legal experience, litigation experience, family and criminal law experience than any other opponent in this race. When quick and efficient decisions need to be made on vital family matters, I believe it is my experience; my many decades of living and working in this county; my wisdom gained over the years, and my personality that will continue and even improve the relevance of the 378th District Court to the citizens of Ellis County.
William D. Wallace:I have practiced family law, civil law, complex civil litigation, and criminal law (prosecution).
I have handled family law cases since graduating from law school. It has been my passion as a pro-bono practice for soldiers, sailors, veterans, police and firefighters because I served for 8 years in in the military reserve and I am dedicated to the public servants who protect us.
I have always been a trial attorney and I have tried civil actions in counties all over Texas to include contract, liability, product liability, subrogation, and coverage lawsuits. I have tried complex civil litigation including the Bastrop Wildfire Complex Case which included over a hundred parties, a half-billion dollars in damages, and more that 125 depositions.
I am presently a felony prosecutor in the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office where I prosecute white collar cases involving insurance fraud, financial crimes, and elder fraud including the underlying violent offenses such as arson and murder.
I am the only felony prosecutor in the race and the only veteran in the race. Beyond those factors I have always let compassion drive my desire to practice family law, not money. My clients have been people that serve us, and it has been a privilege to provide the required divorce or modification at no cost to them. I have been a law professor for nine years at Texas Wesleyan and Texas A&M Schools of Law and am an experienced arbitrator in the area of intercompany arbitration.
Additionally, I am the only candidate in the race that has expressed a plan to help move the case dockets along and to make an impact in the backlog of cases awaiting trial.
Finally, I believe that the citizens of Ellis County deserve to have a judge on the bench who can handle any kind of case that the 378th is tasked to take on. I am the only candidate with the breadth of experience necessary to fill that need.
2. One issue that often faces the district courts is a heavy court docket, which delays the judicial system. Are there any plans to help move cases along at a faster pace to ensure a person’s right to a speedy trial?
Ed Jendrzey: The 378th currently holds court all day Monday-Thursday, Friday mornings, and Monday evenings. I will start adding cases on Friday afternoons as well to increase opportunities to get cases resolved. I also plan to allow hearings for Temporary Orders to take place several days a week instead of the one day a week arrangement in place. Currently, each side only gets 20 minutes to present their side for Temporary Orders which can be difficult in more complicated cases. More changes will take place on the family law docket, but these are the changes I will make immediately. The goal is to maximize courtroom productivity and minimize courtroom downtime.
While keeping family cases the priority in the 378th, I will explore options with the other district court judges to speed up resolution of criminal cases when the accused is in our county jail. The 378th was created in 1995 to help ease the backlog of all District Court cases in Ellis County, not just family law cases. It costs the county about $59 each day to house one inmate, and we have up to 165 inmates at any given time with pending felony charges – a total cost of up to $9,700 per day that is ultimately paid by taxpayers. Beside the cost factor, people in custody deserve a speedy trial, and the law mandates that priority be given to inmates with pending criminal cases. All three District Courts are busy, but sometimes minor changes can make a significant improvement and I believe we can work together to enhance the efficiency of the courts and save taxpayer dollars.
Stacey Auvenshine: The 378th District Court is Ellis County’s family district court. The docket of the 378th District Court is larger than the other two district courts combined. The Office of Court Administration has reported to date for 2017 that the number of cases pending in the district courts of Ellis County is as follows: Civil 1,065; Criminal 1,309; Family 2,650. The 40th District Court and the 443rd District Court share the 2,374 civil and criminal cases between them, but the 378th District Court has all of the 2,650 family cases. Some families have had to wait up to two years for their day in court. The incoming 378th District Judge must ensure family law cases remain in the family court and focus on plans to further increase the efficiency of the family court. This will protect the access of families and children to the courts, ensure consistency and promote efficient resolution of family cases. It will also prevent the family docket from flooding and stagnating the dockets of the other two district courts.
As the family court docket is the most crowded district court docket, efficient management of court time is a priority. If elected, I will make decisions promptly and sign orders timely. I will require strict compliance with punctuality, scheduling orders and deadlines to keep cases moving. I will require mediation prior to a contested trial to promote the efficient disposition cases through a procedure that allows parties to choose a final result that will work best for their families, which will further decrease enforcement and modification actions because litigants are more likely to be satisfied and comply with a result they have chosen. I will require a caucus prior to contested temporary hearings, set time limits on temporary hearings, and handle trial exhibits and objections at pre-trial hearings. I will schedule hearings every day of the week. I will make myself available for prove up hearings on agreed orders as needed. I will always be prepared for court. I will make consistent decisions to allow attorneys to appropriately advise their clients.
Shani Flemins: The term “right to a speedy trial” is guaranteed by the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution in all criminal cases. However, a speedy hearing on temporary orders and/or final hearing is equally important to maintaining the civility of a family court. When family units break down, most people need guidance to direct their conduct through the process. Therefore, those families need expedient access to their Court. Otherwise, it is a recipe for disaster.
My goal as Judge of the 378th would be to hear uncontested matters EVERY morning at 8:30, with bench trials and/or temporary hearings commencing each morning by 9:00 am. While not a final decision, achieving temporary orders for families early in the litigation is tantamount to calming the storm of the breakdown in a family unit.
My hope is to listen, to give consideration and to rule on matters quickly and efficiently. I do not agree with routinely taking matters under advisement; thereby, causing a delay in ruling after a hearing. People need closure, even if it’s not the decision for which they are hoping. As Judge, it is imperative that I am knowledgeable and prepared to readily resolve family law cases in Ellis County.
I support special Pro-Se (without counsel) dockets, because they are more time consuming when people who cannot afford lawyers for their family law case attempt to navigate the judicial system on their own. As a family lawyer for many years, I appreciate Judges who give special consideration to the valuable time of clients who retain their own counsel for this process. Pro-se dockets can be done one time per week, in the late afternoon or early evening.
Another great tool for resolving family law matters has been court-ordered mediation. A majority of cases are compromised and ultimately resolved during the mediation process, so it is imperative that each litigant be afforded the opportunity to mediate their case. Barring extraordinary circumstances, as Judge, I trust that I will Order mediation as part of a Standing Pre-Trial Order to limit the long line of family law matters waiting to be adjudicated by the Court. As stated earlier, family matters go to the core of our being. The 378th District Court is comprised of good people, at a very bad time in their lives. My desire is to make that tumultuous experience as efficient and comfortable for the parties, their counsel and the Court as possible.
William D. Wallace:One issue that often faces the district courts is a heavy court docket, which delays the judicial system. Are there any plans to help move cases along at a faster pace to ensure a person’s right to a speedy trial?
Yes. First, the Family Docket will remain the priority and focus of the 378th Judicial District Court. Mondays on the court docket presently are reserved for temporary orders hearings, with family lawyers receiving less and less time over the years to make their arguments. I would create a special setting docket for attorneys who know they will require additional time to make their arguments so that the Monday docket can move more quickly and the special setting docket will provide the requisite time for families who need to make their case. Second, I would examine the unscheduled time on the court’s docket which presently includes Friday afternoons and determine if there is time to add jury trial weeks to the 378th’s court calendar in order to permit backlogged trial cases in the other two district courts to have an option to try their case.
3. If you became aware of unethical conduct or actions were taken by an attorney in a case you were presiding how would you handle it? Also, should judges be required to report attorney misconduct?
Ed Jendrzey: Rule D(2), Texas Rules of Judicial Conduct, requires a judge to inform the Office of the General Counsel of the State Bar of Texas, or take other appropriate action, if the judge has knowledge that a lawyer has committed a violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects. Unethical conduct or actions falling short of this can be handled in a variety of manners - monetary sanctions, referral to a peer assistance program, and jail time for contempt. I can’t comment on how I would handle the situation in advance of it happening, but this answer states what a judge is required to do, and what a judge may do.
Stacey Auvenshine: In the event that a judge has information clearly establishing a lawyer has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer, the judge should follow Texas Judicial Code of Conduct Cannon 3D and report the violation to the General Counsel of the State Bar of Texas or take other appropriate action. If I suspect unethical behavior by a lawyer in my court, I will directly address it with the lawyer. If I suspect a lawyer in my court has a substance abuse problem, I will make the appropriate referral to an approved peer assistance program. If I have information clearly establishing a violation of the rules that falls within Texas Judicial Code of Conduct Cannon 3D, I will address it directly with the attorney and report it. I believe that judges have a responsibility to ensure public respect for the legal profession and the justice system by maintaining the highest ethical standards.
Shani Flemins: I will follow my oath as an attorney that each of us took to be an officer of the Court and to report egregious behavior by a member of the bar. Having said that, Judges and lawyers alike, recognize we work in an adversarial system, that often lends itself to perceptions of unfairness and unethical conduct. As with any manner of conduct in life, there are different approaches, for different situations and levels of misbehavior.
William D. Wallace: Unethical conduct or actions by an attorney should be addressed by the court immediately as soon as it comes to their attention. A District Court Judge then must determine if the allegations merit further review and what actions or remedies are appropriate to resolve the matter.
Yes. The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3.D.2. requires that a judge with knowledge that a lawyer has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct should take appropriate action. Specifically, if the information raises a substantial question as to the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to practice law the Judge shall inform the Office of General Counsel of the State Bar of Texas or take other appropriate action.
4. Are there any changes that you are looking to make to the court? If so what are they and how do you plan to implement them?
Ed Jendrzey: I will make changes that I believe benefit those who appear in the court and the taxpayers - please refer to my answer on Question No. 2.
Stacey Auvenshine: I will require mandatory mediation before a contested final hearing, a caucus prior to a contested temporary orders hearing, time limits on temporary hearings, and a scheduling order for each case. All of the above will be ordered at the beginning of each case. I will require of myself punctuality, prompt decisions, timely orders, hearings every day, availability for agreed prove up hearings, preparedness on every matter set each day, and consistent decisions made in within the parameters of the law and always in the best interest of children. I will require of attorneys in my court punctuality, appropriate dress, and strict compliance with deadlines and scheduling orders. I will have periodic meetings with attorneys handling family law matters in Ellis County to ensure the family court is serving the needs of their family law clients.
Shani Flemins: No substantive changes about the types of cases heard by the 378th can be made without the agreement of ALL of the district court and statutory court (county court at law) Judges. The decision that the 378th would hear family law cases was initially decided at the inception of the court in 1995 and has continued to this date. Any decision to change the structure of the court, or the type of cases over which it presides, must be made by a majority of the presiding Judges.
In addition to the above, I recognize everyone’s time is valuable and my intention is to make readily available the court’s entire docket and the ability to request hearings or other relief, to everyone online and through the court staff. I believe transparency is key to motivating efficiency and streamlining movement of legal matters that are assigned to the 378th District Court.
William D. Wallace: Most importantly, I propose to keep the family docket as the focus and priority of the 378th Judicial District Court. I propose to increase the efficiency of the court by holding the “Dismissal for Want of Prosecution” (DWOP) docket more than once a year to make sure cases that are not being pursued are removed from the docket after a hearing on the matter. I propose addressing the slow-down in the temporary order docket by creating a special setting docket to assure that those matters are getting the time they need to be heard. Finally, I propose to eliminate the down time that is built into the court’s schedule to permit adding jury trial weeks to the court’s calendar.
Specifically, getting the family court docket moving and eliminating cases that are not being pursued, will get the family court docket decrease the number of pending cases. The resulting time created by such action combined with using the unscheduled Friday afternoons will permit the addition of jury trial weeks to the court’s calendar.
Failing to examine the court and to act on those areas that can be improved will cause Ellis County to add a fourth District Court at considerable expense to the Ellis County Taxpayer. WE SHOULD ASK MORE OF OUR COURTS, AND NOT MORE OF OUR TAXPAYERS.