Election Breakdown 2014: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4
Richard Dean Davis, Jani Jo Wood, Kevin Patrick Yeary

TPP recommends Kevin Patrick Yeary

None of the candidates running for Place 4 have experience as a judge.  So the question becomes what kind of experience would be the best preparation for this position.

There are really only two candidates in this race, there being no evidence that Mr. Davis is mounting a serious campaign.  And there is a clear choice between the two remaining candidates:  broad experience (Mr. Yeary) versus specialized experience (Ms. Wood); prosecutor versus defense attorney.  These are not insignificant choices, and need to be carefully weighed.

Ms. Wood began her career as a staff attorney at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the agency that administers our prisons.  In 1997 – 1998, she had a brief stint as a staff attorney on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where she obtained some inside exposure to the court she now wishes to join.  Following that, she opened her own law firm focused on criminal defense work.  She also accepted an adjunct position at the University of Houston Law Center to teach legal research and writing. Two years ago, Ms. Wood left her private practice and joined the Appellate Section of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office, which defends individuals accused of crimes who cannot afford their own attorney.  Ms. Wood is a board member and Secretary of the Innocence Project of Texas, an organization focused on freeing incarcerated individuals wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas.  She is also a board member of a number of other legal associations and is board certified in criminal appellate law.  There is no question that Ms. Wood is a dedicated and talented criminal defense lawyer.

Mr. Yeary’s experience in many ways is surprisingly similar to Ms. Woods, except his is primarily on the other side of the courtroom.  He served for a year as the Briefing Attorney to one of the judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which gave him inside exposure to the workings of the court he now seeks to be elected to.  Following that, he spent 3 years in private practice, where he did some criminal defense work at both the trial and appellate levels.  His next three years were split between the Dallas and Harris County District Attorneys’ offices working as an appellate prosecutor.  In 1998, he joined the Bexar County District Attorney’s office, where he continues to work, as an appellate prosecutor.  Mr. Yeary also was an adjunct for 8 years at San Antonio College teaching in the criminal law department and doing legal research and writing.  There is no question that Mr. Yeary is a dedicated and talented criminal appellant lawyer.

So how to choose between these two accomplished lawyers?  TPP chose Mr. Yeary because of two factors: 

  1. First, we found his legal experience broader than Ms. Wood’s.  Even though it was for only 3 years, Mr. Yeary was exposed to the criminal defense practice, both at the trial and appellate levels.  Ms. Wood’s resume shows no experience on the prosecutorial side.
  2. Second, Mr. Yeary’s bona fides as a conservative are much clearer than those of Ms. Wood.  Comparisons of the two candidates’ endorsements demonstrate this.  Mr. Yeary is endorsed by known conservative organizations like the Texas Home School Coalition and Texas Alliance for Life.  Ms. Wood shows no such endorsements.  And it is particularly important that Ms. Wood be able to exhibit support from these kinds of conservative groups because, for whatever reason, many people in the criminal defense bar are liberal.  A case in point is the Innocence Project.  The Project was founded by two New York lawyers, Barry Scheck (who was on the O.J. Simpson defense team) and Peter Neufeld.  A review of their political donations reveals that between 2000 and 2014, they only gave to Democrat candidates and causes.  Similarly, of the 15 members of the Board of Innocence Project of Texas, 5 are reported to have made political contributions since 2000 and only one contribution, representing 3 % of the total money given, went to a Republican.  This is not to assert Ms. Wood liberal by association.  It is just to demonstrate how liberal the criminal defense bar tends to be and to explain why it is so important that she be able to establish her conservative bona fides, something she has failed to do. [After we wrote this, we discovered that Ms. Wood made a donation in her maiden name (Maselli) to the 2012 Obama campaign! Case closed.]

For the reasons articulated above, TPP recommends voting for Mr. Yeary for Place 4 on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.