Harris County Judge Selection Process

The office of Harris County Judge is up for grabs in a sense. Current Judge Robert Eckels is resigning and the behind-the-scenes negotiations can officially begin, Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more on the selection process for a successor.

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There are two Republicans and two Democrats on the Commissioners Court. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who is a Republican, essentially casts the tie-breaking vote. But it seems the decision for a successor may already be made. At least three members of the court appear to favor local consultant Ed Emmett, including Commissioner Steve Radack.

"He's very talented, very intelligent from Rice University, graduate of Rice University. A number of people have talked to me about him and I've yet to hear one negative word about Ed and I think he'll be a -- you know if Robert does go and Ed gets the vote of the Commissioners' Court -- I think he'll be an excellent county judge."

One hold-out on the court could be Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who says she'd like to see someone fill the role as a caretaker who would promise not to run for election when the term expires in 2008. But she's likely to be out-voted. University of Houston Political Science Professor Dick Murray says Ed Emmett has support from both political parties.

"To the average voter he's an unknown person, but he served with Robert Eckels and with El Franco Lee in the legislature so he's known to two of the five votes on the court pretty well and apparently is a well-liked person. And it looks like he may be an acceptable compromise to the members of the court that have to make the replacement."

Whether Emmett or another candidate makes the cut, Eckels' successor will be stepping into a position that holds high visibility but little power. The county judge presides over the commissioners court with a small budget and no independent territory to govern. The single largest responsibility for the position is director of Homeland Security -- a role that launched Eckels into the national spotlight during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"It was Judge Eckels finest moment, his most visible moment. He's living office, ironically, at sort of the height of his public standing. That will be a real test of the new county executive because we're coming off the storms two years ago or a year and a half ago, where Judge Eckels was very highly visible and considered to have done a very competent job. So it's kind of like batting after Babe Ruth, you've got a high level of expectations there."

Whoever the replacement is, Murray says it will be a challenge to live up to the legacy left by Eckels if and when we get another emergency that falls in the county judge's lap. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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