In a Texas Politics segment, Judge Jay Karahan, Judge Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law #8, talks about his re-election campaign and what county judges do.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
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Politics is big business in Texas. I tell you what, guys, we try to make sure that you are informed about some of the races going on around the state. We have in the studio Judge Jay Karahan, Harris County judge, criminal court judge in Harris County in Houston. Have him in the studio. He has a primary coming up, and I wanted to give you guys a little flavor of what these guys actually do for the community. I thought it was fascinating, thought you would find it fascinating as well.
I’m your host, Matt Register. Jay Curry had to step out a minute, he’s going to join us here shortly. But in the meantime, Judge Jay Karahan. Jay, welcome to the show, sir.
Judge Jay Karahan: Thank you, Matt, it’s good to be with you.
Matt Register: Talk to me a little bit about the Harris County criminal court system and what it is you actually do for a living.
Judge Jay Karahan: Well, I am the judge of Harris County criminal court at wall number eight, one of 16 misdemeanor courts with countywide jurisdiction over jailable misdemeanors as opposed to the ones that people just pay fines for a traffic ticket. The courts above us are the felony district courts that have those cases where if somebody is convicted, they go to prison or get the death penalty. Our courts handle DWI, domestic violence, shoplifting, property crimes, animal cruelty cases-
Matt Register: Drugs?
Judge Jay Karahan: Yeah, drugs and possession of marijuana, things like that. Maximum sentence in our court if someone is convicted is up to a year in the Harris County jail. Plus there are all sorts of diversionary programs where if someone doesn’t get convicted they go to classes, therapy, et cetera, move on, make better choices in their life.
Matt Register: The goal is always … I don’t say always, but for the most part, if they can be rehabilitated, if they can go from being on the path to being a productive taxpaying member of society, that’s always the best outcome. Right?
Judge Jay Karahan: Absolutely. There are two kinds of criminals, and we all know about this. The folks in misdemeanor court are the folks that we’re annoyed with or maybe angry with, a bit. The folks up in felony court typically are the people we’re afraid of. I deal with the first group and try to help them make changes in their lives so they don’t graduate to the felony district courts to that next level. That’s our work in misdemeanor court.
Matt Register: We were talking during the break, and there were a couple of programs you’ve been pretty instrumental in starting that I thought were fascinating. You know, you get a guy who has multiple DWIs, and clearly he has a problem, right? There are some things that you have done to kind of help get these people the help that they need, because they’re not intending on being criminals, they have a problem. Right?
Judge Jay Karahan: That’s correct. DWIs is one of the top four filed cases in Harris County that ends up in county criminal court at law, misdemeanor court. The first offender DWI is a class b, the second offender is a class a, which is bumped up to a year in jail … the b is six months in jail. If they get a third DWI, they end up in felony court, and they’re looking at two to 10 years in prison. So, what we decided to do 10 years ago was pilot a program called Sober Court, saving ourselves by education and rehabilitation. It’s four phase program that folks who are accepted into the program work through, and from one phase to the next they more privileges, they get their driving privileges back, they have less visits with the judge as they go through the program, and so forth. They earn that by compliance.
What it does is, it’s an interventional program, therapy program, specialty court program that hopefully keeps them from getting that third DWI, but more importantly keeps them from hurting or killing somebody on the road by drinking and driving. We work on getting people sober in that program. Our program has between 75% and 80% success rate in the last 10 years. We graduate somewhere between 100 and 150 people in that program. Five courts have it. I’m one of the five courts.
Matt Register: That’s interesting. You know, giving somebody a fine, taking away their driver’s license, that doesn’t solve their problem. It just puts them back on the street, you know, to go do it again. Right? This is actually doing something to try to solve the problem. Now, you are a Republican running for reelection. You do have a primary opponent. Talk to me a little bit about the campaign going on right now.
Judge Jay Karahan: The voters have a choice on March 6 and early voting February 20 through March 2, between two people, myself and my opponent. I am a 35 year lawyer, I’ve been board certified in criminal law as a specialist for 30 of those years. I was a prosecutor for eight years, a defense attorney for seven years, a mediator for 10 years. I am every year rated in the top four county criminal courts at law and for all the categories provided by the Houston Bar Association in their judicial evaluation polls, which are anonymous. The voters are both prosecutors and defense attorneys. My opponent is a five year lawyer. He’s only been practicing law for five years. He’s not board certified. There are a lot of issues with him as a candidate, that folks can read about and learn about on my website www.judgejaykarahan.com and there’s a link to a separate website with all the data and the documents about my opponent that folks really need to see before even considering him as a choice in this race.
Matt Register: Why in the world our judges have to pick a party? It doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, because it’s not like you can rule differently based on being a Democrat or Republican. Right?
Judge Jay Karahan: That’s correct. Judges don’t have to pick a party. They could run as independents, but they would lose because the parties get behind their candidates, and they have the party machinery and the money and so forth to get behind those candidates. So, one of the two major parties will win a bench the way things are now. You make an interesting point, because judges really, when we are elected and we’re sitting on the bench, we don’t ask people whether they’re a Democrat or Republican, where they’re from, or et cetera. We’re concerned about the facts of the case and the law that applies to the facts of their case only.
By choosing a party, a judge actually selects a party’s public policy platform to marry up with as they go out and campaign. If the judge is going to be a neutral magistrate, think about how you want your judges to be. Now Texans, this is how Texans select their judges, and the legislature has kept it this way for all these years. So, I choose the Republican party because I’m a Republican, and those are my thoughts and my beliefs, and my philosophies are Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative. I’m an originalist and a textualist as it regards how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied to the law and so forth. That puts me more in the Republican box than it ever would in the Democratic box.
Matt Register: No, certainly. And the law is the law. There’s not a version for Democrats and a version for Republicans. The law is the law, and you have to take the law of the land and apply it accordingly, right?
Judge Jay Karahan: That’s correct.
Matt Register: So, judgejaykarahan.com is the website. We’re gonna have a link to it right there from texasbusinessradio.com. Now, your opponent, we were talking very briefly about your opponent. Comparing the two of you guys quickly, this is not a fair fight qualifications wise. Right?
Judge Jay Karahan: It should not be. That’s correct.
Matt Register: Talk to me about how … because I know he has the support of a couple of pay to play guys. How does that play in with the party?
Judge Jay Karahan: The party is not connected to the pay to play slates. They are Republicans, three of them who are sponsors of the slates, they’re Republicans. They have identified themselves within the Republican part. But the Harris County Republican Party has repudiated and condemned the pay to play slates in three executive committee meetings over the years, most recently last year. I don’t pay them money. Many judicial candidates do, and many of my judicial colleagues who run for reelection go to them because it makes it easier for them to campaign. They don’t have to raise as much money. The slates combined raise over half million dollars to support the candidates that they endorse. But they do ask those candidates for contributions for ads and things like that.
Matt Register: If you’re not familiar with it, these pay to play slates are things where candidates can write big checks and be included on a slate of candidates that they will then send out to potential voters. But you have the support of a tremendous amount of other folks, right? Pretty much everybody else.
Judge Jay Karahan: I’m endorsed by all the major police organizations, by all the major grassroots conservative organizations, they’ve all endorsed me. The C Club, the Houston Realty Business Coalition, the Conservative View, all of those endorsements are listed on my website judgejaykarahan.com along with over 50 Harris County Republican precinct chairs and numerous major Republican part officials. Ed Emmet at the top of that list and Chris Daniel, our district clerk. Ed Emmet is our Harris County judge.
Matt Register: Interesting. Judge Jay Karahan, Harris County Court at Law, number eight, running for reelection. Judgejaykarahan.com is the website. We are completely out of time. We’re gonna have to go pay a couple of our own bills.
We’re gonna be back right on the other side of the break with a whole lot more Texas Business Radio. Don’t go anywhere.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.