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Texas BlogWire

Judge Susan Criss Interview

by: Matt Glazer

Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 09:43 AM CST


Judge Susan Criss, a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, sat on the 212th District Court in Galveston County in 1998.  She directed the Gulf Coast Task Force on Jail Diversion for the Mentally Ill, a group that seeks to secure treatment for non-violent mentally ill offenders in the community while saving taxpayers money and freeing up jail space for violent criminals. The Gulf Coast National Alliance for the Mentally Ill named her their top honoree for 2003 for her efforts.  

Judge Criss earned a BA in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and her law degree from the South Texas College of Law in Houston.  

She earned a reputation as the blogging judge after she began her site, As the Island Floats, earlier this year.  

Judge Criss was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about her race, experience, and what she wants to do for Texans.  

Check out the interview below the fold.

Matt Glazer :: Judge Susan Criss Interview
What separates you from your Democratic Primary opponent Linda Yanez? What makes you the better choice for voters in the Democratic primary?

My opponent and I have a lot in common. We are both good Democrats and good judges. There are two major differences. The first is my experience in the courtroom as a trial judge and a former prosecutor. I have both tried and presided over hundreds of trials. My primary opponent never served as trial court judge. Her judicial experience is on an appellate bench.

You do not have to be a former appellate or trial judge to be qualified to sit on the Texas Supreme Court.  I believe ideally the Court should include lawyers, trial judges and appellate judges. Each group brings an important type experience to the Court. Appellate judges bring a scholarly ivory tower approach to the high Court.  Lawyers and trial court judges bring their real world, in the trenches trial experience to the Court. Most of the Court's work involves reviewing trials and determining whether those trials were conducted fairly and according to the law. With the right to trial at risk now it is critical that a democratic trial judge and trial attorneys get on this court.

The second is our campaign styles. I am known for how incredibly hard I work on my campaigns. When I commit to run for elected office I commit to do everything within the law and ethical rules necessary to win. I believe in making all personal, emotional, financial and physical sacrifices demanded by the campaigns. I don't take vacations during campaigns.   I believe that there is a high price to be paid financial and otherwise to run for office. I have seen too many candidates who want the job but want to get it at a discounted price. I pay the full price. I cannot imagine breaking through to win a statewide race by doing anything else.

Texas Democrats haven't won a statewide race in over a dozen years. One argument is that we haven't won because our candidates who had the name ID and/or money to compete spent too much time playing to moderates. Let's assume you win the primary. How do you intend to reach out to enough moderates and independents in Texas to win in November without losing the grassroots support of progressive Texas Democrats?

The answer to this question is based on the answers to the first question.

The decisions by this Republican court have incrementally been compromising our right to trial by jury. The Texas Supreme Court needs justices committed to preserving our constitutional right to trial by jury. While the court needs both trial and appellate judges right now the greatest need is to put a Democratic trial judge on there.

The justices meet in a conference room to discuss and vote on cases. Since 1994 there have not been any Democrats with trial court experience in that room. That needs to change before it is too late. I have spent years looking jurors in the eyes as I have received their verdicts.  For the reasons listed above in my answer to question 1 I am the best candidate for the Texas Supreme Court in this race at this time.

This is the year that Democrats can break through and win statewide races. But it will still take a tremendous amount of work. I am relentless when it comes to campaigning. One of the things that makes me good at campaigning is that unlike most candidates I love doing it. No one has ever been able to outwork me in a campaign. Once I committed to this race I hit the ground running and have not stopped. Nothing short of that is going to cut it. Every campaign and race is unique. While we learn from prior races we must focus on what is going on now. This race is going to be won by moving forward not by looking backwards.

I have always enjoyed the support of progressives, moderates independents and even from cross over Republicans. I have been able to do that without being inconsistent. I believe that my conservative support comes from my history of law enforcement support , record  from being a child abuse prosecutor and from being known for being fair.

Why should Texans vote to replace Current Justice Phil Johnson?

Johnson has gone along with the rest of the Texas Supreme Court in favoring big business and corporations and throwing out jury verdicts at an alarming rate.

Do you think it matters that Justice Johnson has never been elected to the high court before?

Johnson did win against a Libertarian candidate statewide. But the fact that he has not had a contested statewide race against a Democrat is very significant.  He has only been on the court a couple of years. There is no name ID. He has no real incumbency advantage.

You are known as the blogging judge.  You started "As the Island Floats" earlier this year.  What made you start blogging and how has it impacted your outlook on campaigns and the bench in general?

I began blogging because I love to write and I enjoy reading other blogs. I also saw this as an opportunity to teach people about what really happens in court and in government.  As a judge I have been able to use blogs as a source of research and information about the justice system. I also enjoy some of the humorous ones as a source of entertainment. Blogs are an important source of information about government, campaigns and elections.

I believe in using all forms of available communication in a campaign and that includes blogs. I think blogs are going to engage younger voters.

We know you aren't allowed to discuss how you would rule on cases, but can you discuss what makes a good judge, the values you would use to decide cases in front of the court, and the general way you approach a case?
First and most importantly judges take oaths to PROTECT and DEFEND the Constitution. That means more than just do not violate it ourselves. Also judges must be fair and use common sense and follow the law.

What is your greatest political regret?

I do not spend a lot of time second-guessing myself. Campaigns involve thousands of decisions. I spend my time and energy looking forward not backward.

What is your greatest political success?

The first time I ran for district court I won a Democratic primary against two very strong Democratic activists without a run-off. Then the next month the judge who held the seat I was running for stepped down early due to severe illness. Gov. George Bush appointed my Republican opponent in May.  Most people assumed the race was over for me at that point. Consequently most of the funding for the race dried up. I decided the race was far from over. I cashed in my D.A. office retirement and my divorce settlement and went deep into personal debt. I worked even harder. I beat that George W. appointee by 54%.

How has the Texas court system changed over the years? Is that a good thing or not? What would you do to continue or stem the changes you see?

The right to trial by jury has been compromised. As a result lawyers and citizens have lost confidence in the justice system. This is sad and shameful.

You have just won the race and been sworn in, what does your first week look like?
First I plan to hang up my pictures of LBJ, Barbara Jordan, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Minnie Fisher Cunningham in my chambers. Then I anticipate doing a lot of reading.

What is the biggest change the Texas Supreme Court needs?

The Texas Supreme Court needs justices committed to protecting and defending the Constitution.

Tell the story of what inspired you to run for higher office?

My inspiration comes from so many places. Much of my inspiration comes from the acts of sacrifice and political courage of women like Minnie Fisher Cunningham who fought for and gained suffrage in this state. When the women won the right to vote they only had a few weeks to register the women before the state primary. Cunningham knew that if there was not a high turnout the legislators opposed to suffrage would use the low turnout to justify repealing suffrage. She convinced Anne Blanton to run for the state education board as an incentive for women to vote. In those few weeks without the benefit of TV, cell phones or the internet they registered over 360,000 women and had a high enough turnout to affect the outcome in the gubernatorial election.  Annie Blanton became the first woman to be elected to statewide office in Texas. When I think about what these women did and the obstacles they overcame so I could participate in the process then all of the obstacles I encounter seem insignificant.

What else would you like to tell the readers of Burnt Orange Report?

Much has been written, debated, blogged and discussed about the fact that two Democratic candidates are running for the same spot on the Texas Supreme Court.

I do not disagree with most of what I have read or heard. But at this point I want to be clear. My campaign is focused on moving forward. We are where we are. This race is not going to be won looking backwards to this summer or to the last time Yanez ran.

Of course I wish I did not have a primary opponent.  But the fact that we do have contested primaries with strong candidates is the surest sign the Texas Democratic Party is coming back.

I love this state and I love the Texas Democratic Party. I see better days ahead for both.

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Excellent interview (0.00 / 0)
Thank you for posting.  

Go Judge Criss (0.00 / 0)
Only met her once and visited for about 10 minutes.

Working extremely hard and keeping a ridiculous schedule.

Good luck Judge Criss.


The "conservative Democrats" (i.e., Republicans maybe?) are paying (1.33 / 3)
close attention to this race:

Conservative Democrats for Johnson.


WTF? (0.00 / 0)
Were I to have his/her problem with the current Democratic candidates, I think I'd really think hard about putting up a blog supporting the Republican, while still trying to pretend to be a Democrat.  

Interesting link.  Thanks.


[ Parent ]
I have seen some of those cases before. (0.00 / 0)
I can see why someone would object to the Hearst Newspapers gag order or the Healthmark judicial disqualification issue, but I suspect that twice as many Texas voters would cheer Judge Criss's decision in the Durst bail setting as ACLU types (like me) would object to that decision.

Likewise, I think Judge Yanez was clearly correct in the Duenez case and some of the Judges on the Texas Supreme Court clearly agreed with Judge Yanez.

I think "conservative Democrat" has a definite agenda.


[ Parent ]
I really like Justice Linda Yanez (0.00 / 0)
but I think either Justice Yanez or Judge Criss would be an improvement over Justice Johnson (the Justice Republican incumbent).

I checked out the pro-Johnson blog mentioned above.  While it makes a fair case that Justice Johnson might be more moderate than some of his fellow Republicans, it completely fails to show that he'd be half as good on the court as Justice Yanez or Judge Criss.


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