Collin County voters will head to the polls for the July 31 runoff election in which two local Republican races are hotly contested.

In the 2012 Texas Primary runoff election, local candidates Barnett Walker and Sharon Ramage are facing off in the Republican race for judge of County Court at Law No. 2. Candidates Ben Smith and Terri Green are squaring off in the Republican race for judge of the 380th District Court.

Voting Details:

If you voted in a party’s primary, you may vote only in that specific party’s runoff election. If you did not vote at all in the primary, you may vote in any party’s runoff election.

  • • Early voting is July 23-27.
  • • Election Day voting is July 31.
  • For information on early voting locations and hours for the July 31 runoff, go to the Collin County Elections site.
  • For information on July 31 election day polling locations and sample ballots, go here.

McKinney Magazine asked each candidate the same five questions. The County Court at Law No. 2 race is spotlighted this week, while the race for 380th District Court was highlighted last week. To read about the 380th District Court candidates, click here

Question: Why are you best suited for the job?

Answer from Barnett Walker: County Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all criminal Class A and B misdemeanor cases. A misdemeanor is any offense that is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $4,000 fine. Examples of misdemeanor offenses include: driving while intoxicated (1st and 2nd offenses), terroristic threat, assault family violence, theft up to $1,500, unlawful carrying of a weapon, prostitution, evading arrest, and gambling. Civil cases may be filed in either the District or County Courts, but if the amount in controversy exceeds $200,000, then only the District Courts have jurisdiction. Therefore, most civil cases are filed in District Court to avoid having to transfer it later if the amount of damages exceeds the County Court’s limitation. Many of the civil cases filed in County Courts are more administrative in nature, such as bond hearings, default judgments, and requests for occupational driver’s licenses. On average, only one or two civil trials are heard in each of the County Courts per year. Approximately 90 percent of the trials heard by these courts involve criminal offenses; therefore, it is imperative that the judge have a thorough understanding of criminal law.

My opponent is a skilled attorney but her practice focuses on family law and education law, neither of which is heard in the County Courts. The County Clerk’s records show that in the past 12 years, she has handled a total of 25 misdemeanor cases in the County Courts and only one of those cases occurred within the past nine years. (Source: http://apps.collincountytx.gov/cccasesearch/).

As a former Collin County assistant district attorney, I have prosecuted approximately 1,500 criminal cases ranging in severity from shoplifting to murder. As the chief prosecutor of two County Courts, I handled over 1,000 misdemeanor cases and received the highest performance rating given by the District Attorney’s Office. In private practice I have handled an additional 200 criminal cases, served as a mental health magistrate, and was elected by my peers to serve as president of the Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.  My knowledge of the law from practicing on both sides of the court room, coupled with my reputation for being fair-minded, has earned me the overwhelming support of local prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement, the three groups that take part in every criminal case.    

Answer from Sharon Ramage: I have been a lawyer for 20 years (compared to seven years for the other candidate in the race).  I also have a depth of experience that is unmatched in that I have practiced in the areas of criminal, civil and family law, as well as appeals. It is because of this experience that I received 61 percent of the vote of the lawyers in the Collin County Bar Association’s Judicial Preference Poll as the most qualified candidate in this race (compared to 27 percent for my opponent). For the last nine years, I have presided as a hearing officer for the State of Texas. This means that I have been doing what judges do for nine years – hearing cases, applying the law and making rulings that affect people’s lives. 
I am the only candidate in the race who has the necessary experience in 100 percent of the court’s docket. I have prosecuted, defended and appealed every type of criminal case from theft to murder, and have practiced criminal law for all 20 years of my career. One-third of the cases filed in the county courts at law are civil matters, and I have handled civil and family litigation matters while in private practice for the last 15 years. I believe we need judges who have length and depth of experience because it is this experience that shapes the judgment and wisdom our courts need. Judges should listen to people with patience, firmness and an even temperament. I have maintained a private practice and counseled clients in a variety of stressful situations. A broad practice experience has helped me to be a well-rounded lawyer and enabled me to provide a better service to my clients. It is this broad base of experience that will help me to be an effective judge.

Question: What professional experiences have made you the right candidate?

Answer from Sharon Ramage: It is the totality of my experience that has made me the right candidate.  In our county, we require our judges to handle criminal and civil matters. We do not have specialized courts. That is why it is important that we have judges who have a broad base of experience prior to being elected. I am the only candidate with a broad base of experience in this race. My experience as a hearing officer has prepared me for the bench. The transition from being a trial lawyer to being a judge is difficult because the skills are so different. I made the transition nine years ago when I began working as a hearing officer. It is through this experience that I have learned and applied the most important attributes as a judge – the ability to listen patiently and fairly, evaluate people and their legal problems, and to be firm in one’s decisions. That is the experience I will take to the courtroom.

Answer from Barnett Walker: I joined the United States Air Force when I was 17 years old. The military instilled in me a tireless work ethic, discipline, leadership and the importance of teamwork. They emphasized education, problem solving, integrity and a commitment to serving others. During my 22-year career I performed classified missions around the globe, led troops in the Gulf War, and supervised a $100 million dollar nuclear detonation detection program. I was promoted to the rank of Senior Master Sergeant, which Congress limits to the Top 3 percent of all enlisted personnel. I graduated first in my class with a degree in criminal justice, was selected as the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, and was decorated a total of 47 times. While attending law school at Southern Methodist University, I participated in a national competition that pits some of the brightest law students in the country to argue complex criminal cases before the California Supreme Court. Our three-person team won the national championship and I was named “best oral advocate” from among the 100 competitors.  The Collin County District Attorney’s office recruited me to participate in an internship program that allowed law students to try criminal cases under the supervision of experienced prosecutors. After graduation I was hired as an assistant district attorney, where I went on to supervise other attorneys, investigators and staff members. In private practice I have handled civil, juvenile and family law cases, but the focus my practice remained on criminal law and was elected president of the Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. This group provides continuing legal education courses to our members, performs public services for the community, and works with the district attorney and judges to improve the justice system. I also serve as a magistrate over mental health cases, when the State of Texas is requesting that the Court commit someone to a mental hospital or authorize the use of medication against the person’s will. Collin County spends approximately $115 million dollars annually on the various departments that make up our judicial system. I plan to use my familiarity with the courts, different programs, and budgeting experience to implement ways to reduce these costs without sacrificing justice. 

Question: What one statement do you most want to tell voters?  

Answer from Barnett Walker: During this race there has been a lot of discussion about experience. Experience is important, provided that the experience is both recent and relevant to the types of cases that the court will hear. While my opponent has been licensed the longest, over the past 12 years she has handled a total of 78 criminal cases in Collin County; 25 cases in the County Courts; and 53 cases in the District Courts. My relevant experience includes prosecuting approximately 1,500 criminal cases (1,000 in the County Courts, and 500 in District Courts); and defending an additional 200 cases while in private practice. Equally important to being a judge is the ability to be fair to all parties, which is why I am honored to be endorsed by over 125 prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as the Collin County Deputies Association, Plano Police Association and the Frisco Police Association.

Answer from Sharon Ramage: I encourage citizens to carefully study the length and depth of experience of judicial candidates. Judgment is developed over many years of helping people with different legal problems. I have 20 years legal experience with a diverse background in family, civil and criminal law that has required me to counsel people under stressful life situations and analyze their legal problems from a broad perspective. My experience has provided me with the temperament and wisdom to handle the varied matters that come before this Court and I will do so with integrity to the law and respectful treatment for the parties. 

Question: Plans for office if you are elected?

Answer from Sharon Ramage: (1.) At this time, we have six county courts at law, and as the population grows, the dockets in those courts will become increasingly burdened. It is important that our judges have the experience to manage both the civil and criminal dockets efficiently. I plan to address this by separating the criminal and civil dockets so lawyer, litigant and court time can be used more efficiently and by establishing early dockets so lawyers and parties can appear and move onto other courts and clients can return to work. I will diligently manage and move the court’s jail docket and will set the expectation in my courtroom that all cases will be disposed of expeditiously. I will also support the existing alternative sentencing programs, such as in the DWI/Drug Court program and Mental Health docket, to help reduce the rates of incarceration and recidivism and the burden on the court’s docket. I believe my experience in criminal and family law will also be an asset because I understand the impact actions taken in the criminal court can have on the docket in the family court and would like to coordinate efforts by establishing a domestic violence court.

(2.) The Legislature recently doubled the jurisdictional limits of the county courts in civil matters, so I would expect the number of civil cases to increase. I have the experience in civil litigation to handle these cases competently and efficiently and will make ongoing management of the civil docket a priority in my courtroom without neglecting the criminal docket. I plan to designate one to two afternoons a week to deal exclusively with the civil docket to keep it out of the way of the criminal docket. I will use pre-trials to pre-admit evidence in civil matters and will give civil cases a priority at least one week per month.

(3.) The population in this county is relatively young, with an increasing teen and young adult population. I would expect that this would create an increase in the number of young offenders (17 and older) appearing before the county courts at law. I believe my background and experience in family, juvenile and education law will be an asset to the bench. I have represented many families and youth in crisis and understand the ramifications of criminal conduct on families, youth and schools. While I believe in firm consequences for criminal conduct, I also intend to support and explore alternative sentencing programs for young offenders in order to educate and deter youth from future criminal conduct, as well as reduce incarceration and recidivism. 

Answer from Barnett Walker: (1.) Interpreter DVD Library – Before someone is allowed to represent themselves, the law requires that they be warned about the “dangers and disadvantages” of acting as their own attorney. Some defendants are unable to read, even in their native language. The courts have dealt with this issue by hiring interpreters to read the warnings to them. Interpreters charge up to $100 per hour, with a four-hour minimum. Interpreters are prohibited from answering questions or explaining the warnings because that could constitute giving legal advice. Therefore, they simply read the document verbatim. I propose having the warnings recorded on DVDs in various languages to eliminate the need to hire interpreters for this task. It would also provide a record to demonstrate that the proper warnings were administered.

(2.) Mental Health Hearings – Judge Weldon Copeland is both the probate court judge and the magistrate for mental health hearings. When he is unavailable, the county hires an attorney who is trained in presiding over mental health cases. If elected, I would continue to volunteer my services as a mental health magistrate in his absence. This would eliminate the costs of hiring an attorney and provide greater continuity.

(3.) Flexible Trial Scheduling – County Courts often schedule two trials per week. The District Attorney’s office maintains a list of when police officers will be unavailable due to training or planned vacation. I would propose expanding the list to include the officer’s normal days off. This would enable us to take their schedule into consideration when deciding which case will go first and which will go later in the week. I would only make scheduling accommodations with the consent of all parties. This would help reduce the amount of overtime paid by the police departments (and eventually the tax payers) and decrease the number of times that officers have to work 12 days in a row before receiving a day off. 

Question: Please tell us a little-known fact about yourself -- something that most people don’t know and would find interesting.

Answer from Barnett Walker: I was interviewed earlier this month for an upcoming television series that will chronicle unusually deceptive criminal cases from across the country. I prosecuted Albert Sterling, an affluent business man and world-class con artist who lived in Allen, Texas. Mr. Sterling was having an affair with a school teacher when his wife became pregnant with their second child. He hired a hit man to kill his 8-month pregnant wife and unborn child so that he could collect on her insurance policy, avoid child support and start a new life with his unsuspecting girlfriend. Despite audio and video evidence of his involvement, Mrs. Sterling testified on her husband’s behalf and still maintains that he was wrongfully convicted.

Answer from Sharon Ramage: I love home improvement projects and last year designed and redecorated my children’s bathroom to make my child’s favorite color orange work with the royal blue lockers in the room. The end result was fabulous and I enjoyed getting in touch with my inner artist!