District Judge, 9th Judicial District
Phil Grant ✔
Kate Shipman Bihm
TPP recommends Phil Grant
The 9th District Court is in serious need of a judge who is an expert in criminal law and has the work ethic to clear up the backlog of cases that have developed during Judge Kelly Case’s disastrous time on the court. There are three good candidates in this race, however, we believe that Phil Grant is the most qualified candidate who brings the stronger guarantee of stability and fair judgement to the court. Phil Grant is the only candidate in this race who is board certified in criminal law, and who, as a prosecutor, devotes his entire profession to the practice of criminal law.
As the First Assistant District Attorney in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, Phil Grant is the most experienced criminal prosecutor in the county. Prior to his work in Montgomery County, Mr. Grant worked in the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and the Attorney General’s Office. He also has taught criminal law courses at Texas State University and Lone Star College – Montgomery, and briefly served as a criminal defense lawyer.
Mr. Grant says that the main reasons he is running for this position is that the 9th District Court has been disgraced, and he wants to restore trust and respect to the court. He says that the court needs a judge who will follow a strict interpretation of the Constitution; the Constitution is not a living and breathing document, he says, that can change at the whim of a particular judge, but instead is a fixed anchor by which a free society is governed. Mr. Grant says that a return to adherence and faithfulness to the rule of law is desperately needed on the court. Mr. Grant also says that the court is in need of an engaged judge who will step up courtroom access and jury trials to move the docket along at a reasonable pace and efficient manner. He says the court is currently completing about 20 jury trials per year, whereas it should be completing 40.
Mr. Grant says that the 9th District Court is not effectively fulfilling its role, as the current judge has created a backlog of cases and has engaged in the type of judicial activism that has gotten him mandamused 5 times. He says the three biggest challenges facing the court are:
- Reducing the jail population. Mr. Grant says that as of October 1st, the 9th District Court has the largest percentage of pretrial felons awaiting trial in the county jail. At a conservative estimate of $50 a day to care for these inmates, this is $12,500 a day that could be significantly reduced by simply having weekly trial dockets and everyday settings for pending cases. He says that as judge, he will move cases through dockets and trials to reduce the jail population, not simply because it is fiscally responsible to do so, but because the defendants and victims deserve efficient justice.
- Court Appointments. Mr. Grant says that many defense attorneys have told him that they believe the county does not adequately screen defendants to ensure they are indigent when they claim that they are. He says that other counties have hired investigators to check if defendants deserve indigent status, or if they should be appointed an attorney and have found that up to 40% of defendants claiming indigent status are fully capable of hiring their own attorneys. Mr. Grant says he will push to have the county hire an investigator.
- Wasted jury weeks. Mr. Grant says that the 9th DistrictCourt has had more mistrials and dismissed jury panels that all of the other district courts combined. He says that jurors’ time and county money is wasted when a judge fails to manage their courtroom.
Mr. Grant is the only candidate in the race board certified in criminal law. Board certification is a level of expertise and recognition only approximately 25 lawyers in the county have attained. To be qualified, candidates must have handled a minimum level of trials and appellate matters and be recognized by lawyers they have practiced against. Candidates must also pass a rigorous test that demonstrates their knowledge of the entire criminal field including federal, state, and juvenile law. This expertise, and Mr. Grant’s experience as the First Assistant District Attorney – where he has demonstrated a passion for justice and fairness - makes him more qualified and knowledgeable of the court position he is seeking than any other candidate, and we believe he is the candidate who is best suited to the task of cleaning up the court and are proud to support his candidacy.
Eric Yollick is an attorney who owns his own law firm. He graduated from Princeton University and SMU law school, and has obviously run a successful law practice and developed a name for himself. He previously served on the Montgomery County Hospital District board where, by all accounts, he was instrumental in cutting waste and reforming the board into a more conservative and efficient governing body.
Mr. Yollick says the primary reason he decided to run for the position is that he sees too much politicization of the court system – the defense attorneys versus the prosecutors. He says that judges should follow the law, not politics. Mr. Yollick says he wants to take his knowledge and work ethic to the 9th District Court to clear the backlog and “make our court great again.”
Mr. Yollick says the court is currently not fulfilling its duty effectively. He says that the court should be a general jurisdiction court, rather than only hearing criminal cases, and vows to hear as many criminal cases as the court currently hears plus a full family and civil docket. Mr. Yollick says that backlog of cases is unfair to defendants, victims, and the populace as a whole to delay justice. Mr. Yollick ranks the three biggest challenges to the court as:
- Courthouse politics. Mr. Yollick says that the politics inside the Courthouse among our judges is so intense that it has boiled over with harsh words at public meetings. He says that there are at least two factions among the judges when they should all work together to the extent necessary. He says the courthouse will be strong again if: the 9th District Court is turned into a general jurisdiction court, and takes on a much larger docket; and the 9th District Court gets along administratively with the judges, the District Clerk, the staff, and the public.
- Courtroom politics. Mr. Yollick says that as a judge, he will follow the law and not try to make the law or social policy. He says he will give litigants and their attorneys a fair playing field.
- Growing dockets. Mr. Yollick says the number of cases is growing but our courts have not kept up with them. He says we need courts that move these cases along as efficiently as possible while maintaining fairness and thorough substantive treatment. Working hard, working regularly, and providing consistent administrative and judicial practices in a court with a large docket will show others how we can serve the needs of our community. He pledges to work 50 – 51 weeks per year.
There is no doubt that Mr. Yollick is a very smart man with a great work ethic. He is involved in a multitude of organizations and personal endeavors – far too many to list here. While we respect Mr. Yollick’s success and intelligence, we believe that Mr. Grant’s expertise in criminal law makes him the best choice for a court that hears criminal law cases. Mr. Yollick pledges to hear just as many criminal cases as the court already does and add more; while we would give Mr. Yollick the benefit of the doubt for accomplishing this monumental task, we still believe the importance for clearing the criminal docket can best be solved by Mr. Grant, given his expertise in the field.
KATE SHIPMAN BIHM
Kate Bihm has been an attorney in private practice since 2007. Prior to this, she worked as a prosecutor for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for three years, and at a law firm in Amarillo for a year prior to that.
Mrs. Bihm says that she is running for office because she has a desire to serve Montgomery County, she has had people encouraging her to run for a number of years, and she believes people desire a change to the 9th District Court. She claims that as the only candidate who has represented both the prosecution and the defense of criminals, she is more likely to be a fair judge.
Mrs. Bihm believes the court is not currently fulfilling its duty effectively, as the State believes it is not being treated fairly and a backlog of cases has been developed. She ranks the top three challenges facing the court as:
- Lack of faith. Mrs. Bihm says that the public needs to have renewed faith in the court, and that her rulings will reflect conservative principles.
- Backlog. Mrs. Bihm believes that the only way to solve the backlog is to work hard. She also believes that her impartiality will make the court more efficient.
- Lack of communication. Mrs. Bihm says that the District Attorney’s Office has no faith that it will be treated fairly in the 9th district court. She says there is a breakdown of communication between the DA’s office and the court, and she will renew this bond by opening the lines of communication and being impartial and fair in her rulings.
By all accounts, Mrs. Bihm is a fine attorney. However, she does not have the years of experience of Mr. Grant, nor the level of expertise, as she is not board certified in criminal law.