Politics

Meet the primary candidates running for Harris County’s justice of the peace seats

Here’s why candidates say they’re running to serve as the judges who preside over evictions, truancy cases and small civil disputes.

Jen Rice/Houston Public Media
People wait for eviction cases to be heard at a Harris County courthouse in January 2022.

Monday is the first day of early voting in the Texas March 1 primary election. On the ballot this year are half of Harris County’s justice of the peace seats. Known as JPs, these are the judges who decide matters like misdemeanors, small civil disputes and truancy cases. They also decide eviction cases.

During the pandemic, JPs have been in the spotlight as more than 63,000 eviction cases have been filed in Harris County over the past two years. Filings have now returned to pre-pandemic levels, causing some crowded courtrooms despite continued concerns about COVID-19 spreading.

Harris County is divided into eight justice of the peace precincts, with two elected judges in each precinct. This year, voters are electing the “place 2” judges in each precinct. In 2024, the “place 1” judges will be up for election. A law degree isn’t required for justice of the peace candidates.

To find out which precinct election you’ll be voting in, you can search your address using this Harris County map.

We asked residents what questions they have for people running for justice of the peace and included some of those questions in a survey we sent to the candidates to learn more about their platforms. Below are the responses we received from candidates who chose to participate in the survey.

[Learn more: Houston-Area Judges Are Evicting Renters Who Could Be Protected Under Federal Order.]

Precinct 1

Incumbent Judge David Patronella, a Democrat, isn’t running for reelection. The Democratic Party candidates are Ron Campana, Steve Duble, Victor Lombrana, Sonia Lopez, Jonathan JP Preston and Chris Watson. No Republican Party candidates filed to run.

Chris Watson

Biographical statement:
Born and raised in Houston, Texas. Graduated of Texas Southern University. Community activist, Political and Business Consultant and mediator.

Why are you running?
I want to continue to serve this community by implementing creative ideas.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
1. Solving small claims cases through creative ideas and compromise. 2. Work to redirect truant youth in a positive direction so that hopefully they don't become a part of the overcrowded criminal justice system.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
I believe the law must be adhere to. However, I believe all resources available should be accessed and exhausted before that finality.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
Yes. I believe it is the fair and compassionate thing to do.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
Expose aid and resources to renters through churches and community organizations. Also, hold public clinics and aid expos in the community.

Steve Duble

Biographical statement:
I have 32 years' experience as an attorney on a wide variety of cases, including representing both individual tenants and landlords in JP courts. I am active in progressive politics, I've worked extensively on voter protection, and I've brought a strong social and racial justice lens to my programming work with Harris County Democratic Lawyers. If elected I'll be the first gay JP in Harris County.

Why are you running?
I understand how the court works and how we can make it better. After representing tenants facing retaliatory evictions in 2019 and 2020, I realized the need to rethink the role JP courts play. I'll create a model court that leads with innovative solutions to the eviction crisis. I will listen to advocates and the people most affected by the issues to achieve the most equitable outcomes possible.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
JPs are often the first point of contact for people who are struggling. They have a unique opportunity to resolve conflicts before they get to county courts. They should be community-centered courts that are accessible and welcoming. They should focus on providing resources and solving problems, not on disciplining, chastising, or punishing people.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
JPs have to follow the law, but they should also do as much as they possibly can to extend eviction protections for renters. For example, Travis County JPs extended eviction protections through March of 2022, pausing eviction trials for unpaid rent for 30 days so renters can seek rental assistance, consult a pro bono attorney, and reach a settlement without the need for an eviction.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
These measures have improved the accessibility of the court, and I am strongly in favor of not only continuing but also expanding them. I want to have free computers and WiFi available, and offer alternative hours such as Saturday and evening court. Evictions are devastating to families and communities, so it's vital that everyone has full access to the protections of the law.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
As the first point of contact in eviction cases, JPs have the best opportunity to refocus the process on avoiding evictions rather than just processing paperwork. This means coordinating with the County and nonprofits to maximize resources for rental assistance and eviction diversion programs that create win-win scenarios for landlords, tenants, and the community as a whole.

Victor Lombrana

Biographical statement:
I was born to a single Mexican-American Mom who is now a family court judge herself. I’ve lived in Harris County for close to 35 years. I graduated from the University of Houston with a BBA. I’m a husband and father. I’ve worked in the legal, financial, and medical fields for the last 15 years. I am a blind/deaf person, I love to run marathons, and coach my boys in little league baseball.

Why are you running?
I am running for Harris County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2, because I want to usher in the new era into this JP court. I am 36 years old born and raised here all my life. I actually live down the street from the court and I want to devote myself more to the community in an elected and judicial role. I want to set an example for my two young sons.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
As a lower level court my role as a JP will be one of compassion, empathy, education, and to bring about a more in touch approach with the demographic of precinct 1.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
No, there are currently many resources now in place for both landlords and tenants alike before they arrive at the eviction process stage. Final decisions should be made once all other resources have been exhausted.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
I would still leave in place all of the accommodating options. Its fair and just. Personally, as someone who has a couple of disabilities I would hope to have these normal accommodation options at all times.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
Meeting with the community landlords and ensuring they’re properly informing their tenants before they arrive at eviction processes.

Ron Campana

Biographical statement:
My name is Ron Campana, and I am running for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 2. I raised my family in Precinct 1, and I have lived in the precinct for more than 30 years. I have practiced law in Houston for more than 37 years, serving Texans in the areas of real estate law, business law, construction law, and government law.

Why are you running?
I am the most experienced person on the ballot. The last few years have been difficult and stressful for all members of our community. This court has been particularly affected. Precinct 1 and the community deserve the most experienced and knowledgeable person to serve as their Justice of the Peace. I am committed to making sure the business of the court proceeds in a timely and efficient manner.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
This court is the most likely law court to be encountered by our citizens. It thereby has the greatest duty to perform at the highest standards of both the law and morality. Nowhere are the basic tenets of democracy more challenged than in the Justice Courts.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
The Justice of the Peace should follow the state and federal law regarding evictions. Should they require a moratorium of evictions the courts should follow.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
I will follow all guidelines and mandates concerning health and safety in public buildings. I will limit the number of persons and hearings by appropriate scheduling to avoid unnecessary close contact.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
The Justice of the Peace has the authority to determine if the claimed violation is material and if the violation should be denied.

Sonia Lopez

Biographical statement:
I am a public servant from the Eastex Jensen area who is a product of HISD schools, an honors graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and South Texas College of Law. Currently, I am the in-house attorney for the Houston Federation of Teachers, the largest union for teachers in the area. I have an extensive legal background as an attorney and former Chief of Staff to Representative Hernandez.

Why are you running?
I am running because it is important to have someone in this position that is competent, and compassionate. My experience as a community advocate and attorney have prepared me to serve our community in this capacity. Having someone in this position that understands the community is key to ensuring that everyone feels comfortable participating in our legal system.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
Justices of the Peace are essential because they are part of most people's introduction to our justice system. This is the court that most people use and thus an important part of their role is to make sure people feel that the justice system is made for them. Justice Courts should be people centered and no one should feel that the legal system is working against them.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
I believe that Justice Courts can help drastically reduce the number of evictions during a pandemic by making sure each case is heard individually and everyone is given their day in court. Eviction petitions must be handled with transparency, compassion, and competence to uphold the law. As a Justice of the Peace, it will be my responsibility to make sure this happens.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
Justice courts played a leading role in dealing with evictions during the pandemic and will continue to do so long after COVID. Transparency is key in making sure evictions are handled in accordance with the law. We have learned from the pandemic that legal aid groups and zoom can and should play a role in our justice system. These pandemic measures can continue to make our courts more accessible.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
Our Justice of the Peace courts can serve as a resource for community members dealing with evictions. Changes I would implement include having a "zoom room" for legal aid and law clinic representatives to meet virtually with those in need. We can use zoom to help bring resources to the Justice of the Peace courts that otherwise might not be possible.

Precinct 2

Incumbent Judge George Risner, a Democrat, isn’t running for reelection. The Democratic Party candidates are Dolores Lozano and Blair McClure. No Republican Party candidates filed to run.

Dolores Lozano

Biographical statement:
Dolores Lozano is a community organizer and advocate. Dolores has spent years organizing for quality education, gender equity, and equitable development throughout Harris County. Dolores is on the founding team of Impact Hub Houston, a locally rooted, globally connected nonprofit organization working to make Houston a role model for how the world solves its most pressing issues.

Why are you running?
Our community has felt the impact of rising eviction rates, a lack of access to social services, and a continuous struggle to close the school to prison pipeline. I am running to reinvest in my community and bring humanity back into the courtroom. Most notably, I am running to have working class people leave my courtroom better than when they left.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
The role of the JP is to be a community leader that understands the needs of the people and use their discretion for maximum community benefit.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
No. Each case should be reviewed on a case by case basis.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
I will keep measures put in place during the pandemic. These procedures should have been implemented long before the pandemic because everyone deserves a more convenient courtroom experience and access to equitable legal representation.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
JPs have the ability to proactively provide legal aid information to tenants as well as coming to agreements on potential payment plans. JPs should also be looking at the living conditions of these rentals to make sure everything is up to code before making a ruling.

Precinct 3

Incumbent Judge Lucia Bates, a Democrat, is running for reelection. The Democratic Party candidates are Lucia Bates, Ashleigh Roberson and Herbert Alexander Sanchez. Denise F. Graves is the only Republican Party candidate in the race.

Herbert Alexander Sanchez

Biographical statement:
My name is Herbert Alexander Sanchez, I am 37 years old, a husband, and a father to 3 children ages 4, 16, and 19 years old. I am the son of two hard working people who taught me the value of hard work, service, and dedication. I am a small business co-founder on the East Side of Harris County and an elected School Board Trustee. There is no greater calling than to be of service to others.

Why are you running?
I have witnessed firsthand the detrimental impacts of inequality in public services. I believe in building bridges, not walls, providing a hand up not a handout, and closing the gap between the public and the officials who serve them. I am running for this bench because I feel that I am the most qualified candidate. I understand the issues our community faces daily. Relevant experience matters.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
Imbalanced public services can be detrimental to our communities. People living in these situations often feel as though public servants are working against them rather than for them. The Justice of the Peace Court can be the first and serve as the final experience for citizens within the justice system. Effective interventions at this level are crucial to avoid progression within justice system.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
I believe that JP Judges should ensure that tenants have all available resources at their disposal that can aid in paying their rent during a pandemic. It is is not in the best interest of our community to just evict a tenant without trying to help them as best as we can legally do so during the worst pandemic of our lifetime.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
Yes. It is imperative that the Justice of the Peace Courts enter the 21st century and use all available technology to provide the best and most efficient service to our community. These emergency procedures should have been available before the pandemic and should continue to be available to ensure a streamlined process where all parties can benefit.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
JP Judges should have strong relationships with non-profit organizations, with all levels of government, and with the private sector to establish programs that can aid tenants and landlords receive the necessary assistance prior to any eviction. Building up coalitions and building up individuals to become more productive citizens instead of erecting barriers ensure safer and prosperous communities.

Precinct 4

Incumbent Judge Laryssa Korduba, a Republican, is running for reelection. No Democratic Party candidates filed to run. Korduba is the only Republican Party candidate in the race.

Precinct 5

Incumbent Judge Jeff Williams, a Republican, isn’t running for reelection. The Democratic Party candidates are Eman Afshar and Roderick D. Rodgers. The Republican Party candidates are Zee Adam Gire, Bret S. Kisluk and Bob Wolfe.

Bret S. Kisluk

Biographical statement:
I am married for 35 years, have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren. I am a former Harris County Prosecutor and am a strong conservative Republican that adheres to the law and the constitutions of the U.S. and Texas.

Why are you running?
I believe I bring a unique skill set to this court. I have 22 years of experience as a municipal court judge. During this time I have developed methods to expedite dockets while providing the public with fairness and confidence in the system. I am the only candidate with judicial experience. I also have a clean record with the State Bar of Texas and with the Judicial Commission.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
A Justice of the Peace should be fair, effective and efficient. By being active with people that come before the JP this improves the over all function of the court.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
I believe judges should follow the law and abide by all emergency orders issued by the Governor.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
I will continue to use whatever measures that are available to keep dockets moving. As a municipal court judge for over 22 years I have proven methods to expedite dockets. This will allow more dockets for evictions and small claims.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
I am trying to team up with rental assistance programs to assist people with sources to help pay their rent so that they can remain in the homes/apartments.

Eman Afshar

Biographical statement:
I graduated with my JD from South Texas College of Law and received my LLM in International Law from University of Houston. I currently have my own practice where I deal with business law, construction law, and personal injury matters. I have practiced in JP Courts handling small claims matters as well as landlord tenant matters. When I am not practicing law I am spending time with my family.

Why are you running?
My goal is to transform this process into one that is more transparent. I believe that JP court justices should play a part in helping to distribute information to the public on the process. I think we can have a more efficient process that will help to speed up case processing times. Houston has 3 law schools with excellent clinical programs that courts should encourage people to use.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
Justice of the Peace courts have more of an impact on peoples every day lives than most know. Especially now that the limit for civil cases has been raised to 20,000. It is also the court where most parties are attending without the help of lawyer. The JP should strive to eliminate confusion and provide information to help people make reasoned decisions before proceeding.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
I believe the pandemic created a situation that no one was expecting and as a result extenuating circumstances existed that should be taken into consideration before allowing an eviction.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
Absolutely, technology has improved and our justice system needs to adapt. The use of video conferencing is long overdue. I would also want to see if we could institute night court either physically or online a few days a week for those who cannot afford to miss work and come to court. The legal process should not be cryptic we should encourage people to have access to legal advice and mediation.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
I believe JP’s can encourage mediated settlements that will allow for other opportunities to come about between landlord and tenant. Unlike a regular contract violation an eviction could potentially put people on the street and have future impacts on ability to rent and as a result the JP should attempt to get parties to resolve their issues before even having to get to the eviction stage.

Roderick Rodgers

Biographical statement:
I am an Arkansas native, military veteran, and have lived in Texas for over 30 years. Currently I’m employed with Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office. I am a resilient and passionate individual who will fight for community safety but at the same time ensuring equality and fairness for all who come before my court.

Why are you running?
I am running to bring a fresh new perspective with a wide range of personal and professional experiences. Harris County faces many challenges. I want to use the skills I learned professionally to keep Harris County safe and the community thriving.

What is the role of the JP in trying to improve the justice system?
To answer this question would be a violation of the Judicial Canons.

Do you believe tenants should be evicted for nonpayment of rent during a pandemic?
To answer this question would be a violation of the Judicial Canons.

During the pandemic, JP courts have implemented a number of emergency procedures that changed the eviction process, like access to virtual hearings via Zoom/phone, allowing legal aid attorneys to provide assistance to tenants during court proceedings, and limiting the size of eviction dockets. Would you continue to implement any of the emergency measures after the pandemic? Why or why not?
Yes, I will continue to abide by all orders of the Texas Supreme Court and the CCA.

How can JPs play a role in helping to reduce the number of nonpayment of rent evictions in their precinct?
To answer this question would be a violation of the Judicial Canons.

Precinct 6

Incumbent Judge Angela Rodriguez, a Democrat, is running for reelection. The Democratic Party candidates are Luis Garza and Angela D. Rodriguez. No Republican Party candidates filed to run.

Precinct 7

Incumbent Judge Sharon Burney, a Democrat, is running for reelection. Burney is the only Democratic Party candidate in the race. No Republican Party candidates filed to run.

Precinct 8

Incumbent Judge Louie Ditta, a Republican, is running for reelection. No Democratic Party candidates filed to run. Ditta is the only Republican Party candidate in the race.

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