Judge Denise Pratt, Please Resign; Fellow Republicans, Please Defeat Judge Pratt if She Does Not Resign

Ed Hubbard
Ed Hubbard

Over the last 48 hours, this post has gone through a few drafts, as I have tried to restrain my emotions while I address one of the most important issues that the local Republican Party will face this year.  The final draft you are reading is much shorter and more restrained, but my message is the same.

In my opinion, Denise Pratt, Presiding Judge of the 311th District Court of Harris County, which only hears family-law disputes, should resign immediately and withdraw from the race for re-election, for the good of the families and children whose futures are placed in her trust, and for the good of our Republican ticket in the fall election.

Over the past quarter century since the judicial scandals revealed by CBS News’ 60 Minutes helped to end over a century of one-party Democratic rule in this state, the modern Republican Party in Texas has built its dominant political position on the foundation of its promise to provide an ethical and competent judiciary.  For the most part, we Republicans have kept that promise, and when we have found mistakes, we have done our best to correct them in our primaries.

We now have a mistake of our own making on the 311th District bench, and we must correct it.  Our pay-for-play slate endorsement system elevated Judge Pratt’s candidacy in the 2010 primary for the open seat, and, as the winner of that primary, our party held her out to the public as competent to serve as the judge of that court.  It has become increasingly clear over the last year that our primary-endorsement system produced a regrettable mistake, which is quickly becoming a crisis that requires immediate action.

I do not practice in the family district courts; but I have been a civil litigator in Harris County for over 30 years, know many of the attorneys who practice in these courts, and understand the procedures applicable to the cases in those courts.  The combination of the delayed actions, the failure to come to work, the back-dating of orders, the bizarre dismissals without notice, the abusive use of contempt citations, the grand-jury investigation, and the forced recusals, that have been exposed by practicing attorneys, bloggers and the Houston Chronicle forms an incredible body of evidence of an unprecedented level of apparent incompetence and disrespect for public office.  But most disturbing, is the shear and utter disregard of the rights of family members caught in this court exhibited by Judge Pratt with her recent dismissal, without notice, of almost 300 cases from her docket, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

Think about that development—hundreds of cases involving hundreds of families trying to work through moments of turmoil in their lives, who must now incur more expense and turmoil because of these arbitrary actions.  Regardless of the quoted spin her lawyer put on this latest action, I have never heard of any judge abusing such power in the 30 years I’ve practiced law—including the dismissal of cases in which she had been recused and replaced by another judge, cases set for trial, and cases involving lawyers who exposed and questioned her conduct in public.  Neither her lawyer’s spin, nor her own excuses, sound credible to this lawyer, or to any other lawyer with whom I have discussed this matter.  In fact, all of these actions were taken since the revelations about her conduct appeared in the media and she was no-billed by the grand jury—giving the appearance to the public that she has elevated her conduct from just incompetence to a flagrant payback to the bar for bringing her behavior to light.

In response, there are now four well-qualified lawyers running in the Republican primary—an unheard of level of opposition to a sitting incumbent judge from within her own party.   All four support the Republican Party platform, and all four are qualified in family law.  Any of these four would make an excellent judge on this bench.

While we voters decide who to vote for in this primary, though, the crisis caused by Judge Pratt’s conduct is still affecting families and children every day, and will continue to affect them through the remainder of 2014 even if she loses her re-election bid.  The damage must stop—and not just for the sake of these families and children, but for the sake of those Republican judges who have kept our party’s generation-old promise by serving with distinction every day, and who deserve re-election this fall.  If we Republicans sit back and do nothing in the face of the mounting public record of incompetence of, and damage being done by, Judge Pratt, I have been assured that the Democrats will use Judge Pratt as Exhibit A against the entire Republican Judicial ticket in the fall election.

Unlike those whom Judge Pratt has accused of distorting her record, I think it is pretty clear to any objective observer that I am not now, nor have I ever been a Democrat.  I am a life-long Republican, and I am asking Judge Pratt to do the honorable thing now—to please resign immediately, withdraw her candidacy, and allow Governor Perry to replace her with an interim judge who can address the immediate problems in the 311th District Court between now and the election.

However, if Judge Pratt proceeds with her candidacy, she must be defeated in our primary.  You would think that the wide-spread acknowledgement of her conduct should seal her fate in our primary, but I am not that confident.  Judge Pratt’s election in 2010 was the product, in large part, of the dysfunctional endorsement system in our primaries.  Dr. Hotze, Gary Polland, and Terry Lowry, virtually alone among party leaders, endorsed Denise Pratt for the 311th District Court in the primary against other more qualified candidates; and it was their endorsements distributed through their mailers that played the largest role in her surprising win in the primary without a run-off.  Although Gary Polland has seen the error of his ways and has endorsed one of the other candidates this year, Dr. Hotze has decided to double-down with Judge Pratt.  As for Terry Lowry, I can only hope that he does not use his formidable (and profitable) mailing list to repeat the mistake he made in 2010.  Given the ridiculous influence these men currently have in our primary, the fate of our Republican ticket this fall may literally hang in the balance of the endorsement decision in one race by one precinct chair with a large mailing list.

And that observation leads me to my final point:  regardless of what these three men do now, this episode ought to be the wake-up call to all of us to never again cede control of this party’s primary choices to so few people.  Enough is enough!  This year we have the choice between four better candidates in this primary race:  Donna Detamore, Alicia Franklin, Anthony Magdaleno, and Philip Placek.  Do your homework, and vote for one of these qualified candidates no matter what Dr. Hotze, Gary Polland or Terry Lowry have told you in the past, or will say to you in this election cycle.  The fate of your neighbor’s families and children, of the public’s continued trust in our party’s judicial candidates, and of this party’s continued majority status in this State, is still in your hands if you will take the time to properly exercise your most basic right and responsibility.


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  1. says

    I have been receiving materials from Dr. Hotze and Terry Lowry for years. It didn’t take me long to figure them both out. While an endorsement from either of both of them won’t cause me to automatically vote against a candidate – it will sure cause me to think harder about their opponents.

  2. says

    This is a brilliant, forceful statement of principle.

    I will proudly link to it tomorrow on my website.

    Dr. Hotze’s endorsement along with the others is precisely why the Republican Party is in such perpetual turmoil.

    George Scott

  3. says

    I am a practicing attorney in Harris County, and am Board Certified in the area of Family Law. Ed Hubbard has written one of the best articles yet on Denise Pratt and the absolute train wreck that her tenure as a judge has brought about in the 311th District Court. Ed, you have nailed this one – dead solid perfect!

    I have nothing against Denise Pratt on a personal level. However, as a judge, she represents a real danger to the families of Harris County that come through her court. We can discuss her very bizarre rulings, the fact that she only recently started getting to court before 10:00 a.m. to do her job in the past few months, or the blatant and disgusting abuse by her of the ability to appoint her supporters as amicus attorneys on family law cases – however, none of that makes much sense to the average voter. So let me describe it like this:

    You are in family court, which already means that you are most likely at one of the lowest points in your life. Tensions in your family are high, your stress level is through the roof, and your finances are probably strained by paying your attorney to represent you. After months of dealing with this process, you and your spouse reach a settlement that you both can live with and that you think is the best solution for your family. However, when you go to court, Judge Pratt tells you she is going to take your case “under advisement” and will let you know later whether or not she will approve your agreement. Weeks go by, stress levels get higher, tensions get worse – but there is still no response from Judge Pratt. The agreement which you reached with your spouse becomes strained by this, there is no way to enforce the agreement, and both parties become agitated and turn to their attorneys to resolve the problem. Your attorney goes by the court to check on the judge’s ruling, only to be told by the court staff that you case in one of dozens in the judge’s office that she has not yet looked at. Your attorney asks to approach the judge in order to inquire as to when they might expect an answer, but is told by the staff that “If you ask Judge Pratt about your case, she will get mad and it will take even longer.” Finally, after four months, your attorney gets a letter from the court by fax. It states that the judge has appointed one of her political contributors as the amicus attorney for your child to help resolve your case. The appointment also says that both you and your spouse must each pay this amicus attorney $1,500 apiece, to resolve a dispute that you do not have. A few days later, the judge sends out another order that states you are to go to mediation, with another one of her political friends, even though this “mediator” does not even practice family law. Although there are dozens of qualified mediators that charge reasonable rates, this mediator charges both you and your spouse $750 each for a half day mediation. At the mediation, the court-appointed amicus attorney tells you that she will not approve your reasonable visitation agreement, or that you have to include additional agreements that don’t even make sense to you, or else she will not recommend any agreement to the judge. You and your spouse now cannot reach an agreement, and you are forced to show up on a Monday trial docket to have the court hear your dispute. However, since Judge Pratt cannot effectively manage her docket, there are 157 other cases set for trial on the same day and time as yours. After waiting in court for 3 1/2 hours (and paying your attorneys for 3 1/2 hours), the court coordinator tells you that your case is now going to have to be re-set. Your new trial date is on January 27, 2014. Everyone goes home, stress levels and tensions are still unnecessarily high, your attorney has now billed you over $5,685 on what should have been a $2,500 divorce, and your case has be languishing on the court docket for over a year. Then, just to start your new year off right, your attorney gives you a call on January 6th, and tells you that he has just received a notice from the court that Judge Pratt has dismissed your case on December 30th, without advance notice or a hearing, because it was taking you too long to get it finalized. Your attorney also tells you that you now have to pay him to draft and file a Motion to Reinstate your case, which will cost you another $750. Your $2,500 divorce is now totaling over $8,000 in fees and expenses, and the Court has dismissed it………

    Repeat the above scenario hundreds of times with hundreds of different families – that is the sort of legal efficiency and expertise that Judge Pratt brings to the 311th District Court. She is going around the various Republican groups these days, and telling everyone that she has the courage to make the tough decisions, she is the only real conservative….. What part of the above description sounds conservative or courageous to you? This is the sort of judge that Dr. Steven Hotze thinks we need to keep on the bench for four (4) more long years.

    When you go to the polls in the primary election, I would ask you to be courageous and conservative, and vote Judge Pratt out of office. It is just that simple.

  4. says

    Ed, thanks so much for the information. Your article was extremely informative and enlightening. Even though I have already made my choice for the 311th, I’m glad you brought this information to light. Keep up the good work.

  5. Tom Moran says

    I don’t practice family law because, frankly, I hate it, I hate many of the lawyers who do so and I find many of them engage in unethical or questionable tactics. That being said, I know nothing abut Judge Pratt’s performance in office.
    But it appears to be a perfect example of why the judiciary is too political. I’ve been around the Harris County Courthouse for about 40 years and I’ve seen good Republican judges, good Democratic judges and good judges of both parties beaten in elections by non-enities of the other party.
    Neither party has the ability to enforce any type of quality control of judicial candidates.
    I was heartened this year when several good Republican judges did not draw opponents for the 2014 elections and the 2012 criminal district court elections in which good incumbents of both parties were re-elected while some poorly performing Democrats were beaten.
    If what is being said about Judge Pratt is true, she never should have been elected. She does not appear to have either the temprament or ability to run a family court which can take a person’s kids away and beggar people financially. I feel sorry for both the litigants in her court and her personally. She appears to be in over her head in one of the most delicate judicial jobs around.

  6. T Lynn says

    I would like to challenge some things in your post, as well as
    commentary made to it, and one issue is your stating that there are 4
    “better” or “other, more qualified candidates” for this bench. First
    of all, none of these people has served as a judge, so how do you
    know they will serve well? Some of us did some in-depth research
    about 2 of these candidates when they ran for office in 2010, and I
    know factual things about these candidates that you obviously do not
    know or you would never have said they were more qualified than Judge
    Pratt, or anyone else for that matter. And they certainly did not
    have the service of helping children and families that Judge Pratt
    had–then or now.

    Some of your commentators seem to think that because parties agree on
    a motion, that Judge Pratt’s job is to rubber-stamp the motion, and
    that is not her job. Apparently, many of them do not know that some
    of these agreed-upon motions equate to the joint decision of parents
    allowing a 3-yr. old to climb on the roof. Just because the parties
    agree to that, Judge Pratt is supposed to sign off on it? No.
    Instead, she requires the parties involved to provide good and
    logical reasons for her to do so b/c otherwise, she has just allowed
    the safety of children to be compromised. If these parties cannot
    agree to a better, safer motion regarding their children, then it is
    their own fault if the motion does not get signed. Truth is, these
    people can draw up any motion, the judge can sign it, and then the
    parties can do whatever they want. Maybe some of these parties need
    to agree upon safe decisions for their children, instead of expecting
    a judge of conscience, courage, and care to just “rubber-stamp”
    something that is not only a bad decision for the children involved
    but could maybe even leave her liable.

    BTW, among all these other “qualified” candidates, I can only assume
    that you did not know that Phil Placzek is a Democrat, has run in the
    past as a Democrat, has contributed to the campaign funds of
    Democrats, and when he began his campaign run for this bench, he had
    not one single Republican or conservative group affiliation to his
    name. Therefore, your printing that all four “support the Republican
    Party Platform” is untrue.

    People lauded you for your research, but it appears to be glaringly
    lacking as far as I can see.

    • Robert S. Clark says

      I am a family law attorney, and I personally know all five (5) of the candidates that are running for the 311th District Court. I have had cases with all five (5) of them. I have the resources, background, and experience to unequivocally state that Donna Detamore, Alicia Franklin, Anthony Magdaleno, and Phillip Placzek are each a better choice than Denise Pratt. I would encourage you to quit regurgitating Denise Pratt’s campaign garbage, and to actually talk to those of us who do know all of the facts. Some of us are actually down in the trenches in the Family Law Center, and believe me — it is time to get a judge on the bench in the 311th District Court that will protect Harris County children and families.

    • Concerned Harris County Father says

      I live in Harris county. I was divorced in Harris county in the 311th. I recently sought the advice of an attorney on the NW side of Harris county. I am a father of a 13 year old girl and our relationship is a deep and loving one. I’ve been divorced from her mother since 2001. My daughter in recent years has expressed more and more how she wants to live with me. My ex-wife and I have joint custody, but she has residence. Our case was decided by Judge Warne back in those days.

      In my discussion with a well known family law attorney I was advised to wait to sue my ex-wife for a modification of the custody agreement. Why? Because Denise Pratt is a failure as a judge. He explained to me some of the incredible stories where families have been destroyed slowly but surely and in some cases in 5 minutes by her decisions.

      I listened to Judge Pratt’s interview on 950 KPRC last month. Every example she gave where she acted in the interest of the people involved a man being violent. Every one of her stories were about a man who was a ‘danger’ to his family. I’m certain there are men like this, but lets not forget the women who physically (and mentally) abuse their children and spouses as well. It gave me the impression she hates men or at least has a grudge.

      My daughter wants to make a change. I’m ready to do this for her. She deserves to have her wishes granted. She is pure gold and loves her mother and father regardless of our divorce.

      I took my lawyer’s advice. I’ll wait to see how this pans out in the run-off and/or November. I’ve had to explain to my daughter that we have to wait, because the judge in power in the 311th is incompetent. Her tears are hard to bear. Her heart is aching and she deserves a fair hearing.

      My vote was “for anyone except Pratt.”

  7. says

    Whenever I hear the “he’s a democrat” argument I know that the commentator has run out of valid things to say. I was not raised in the USA and only became a citizen late in life. I had no reference point, so yes I did investigate the Dem side of the street where I found not enough in common with the values and politics so I ventured to the Republican side of the street where I feel more comfortable. Any time you care to have a conversation directly with me I am available after which point you will have a right to an opinion. That having been said both Ronald Reagan and Rick Perry are converts who started out as democrats. That is not bad company.

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