Attorney Caitlin Howell is one of three candidates who filed to run for judge of Bexar County Court at Law 5. In the Democratic primary on March 1, 2016, Howell will face off against incumbent Judge John A. Longoria. Republican Linda Molina is running for the post unopposed.
Howell has been making the rounds of local Democratic organizations seeking support for her candidacy. She recently met with the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio and took time to answer questions for Out In SA.
What is your personal background?
I was born and raised here in San Antonio. I went to Keystone for high school and graduated with honors from Trinity University with degrees in Political Science and History. After college I attended American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. While there I had the privilege of working for the United States Commission on Civil Rights as well as the Women in the Law Clinic as a student attorney.
After graduating with my Juris Doctorate degree I came home to San Antonio and opened my own practice with my best friend and lifelong partner. As a partner in that firm I have represented clients in almost every area of the law, but primarily in the realm of criminal defense, particularly for those who find themselves economically and socially disenfranchised. My practice also heavily assists clients in the areas of appeals, small business startup, and family law. My partner and I have tried to create a firm that recognizes that our clients have a variety of needs and ensure that we have the flexibility and experience to provide those clients with an attorney that they can trust as responsive to their individual needs.
What types of cases come before County Court 5?
Currently, County Court at Law 5 exclusively hears misdemeanor criminal cases. These charges include Driving While Intoxicated, possession of marijuana, assaults, shoplifting and theft cases, and cases of prostitution.
Previously, County Court 5 had a tradition of hearing civil cases filed with the County Clerk. These include cases where damages are less than a certain limit, which was recently expanded to allow more cases to be filed in those courts. Considering this expansion and the trend of more cases being filed with the County Clerk, rather than the District Clerk, I feel it is important to restore County Court 5 to managing both criminal and civil matters.
What would you do differently from your opponent, who is the incumbent?
Obviously, as mentioned, I would like to have the court take both Criminal and Civil cases to help the county manage the increasing civil caseload.
In addition, county courts are often the first line of defense, the first time people will have any exposure to the criminal justice system. San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the country. Bexar County is home to over 1.8 million people. It houses a number of beneficial resources that are currently being underutilized or ignored by the county courts. These are resources that could easily help ensure that people not only complete their probation successfully, but also that their first trip to court is their last.
These are organizations like Chrysalis, which assists people from when they are first arrested to navigate the system and complete probation; RUI, which provides people rides home and helps get their vehicle there safely; and the Rape Crisis center, which provides a breadth of services far beyond just rape counseling. I’ve spoken to representatives of these and other organizations, and I’m as excited about getting them involved as they are in their willingness to support the Bexar County community.
Why do you think you’re the best candidate?
Throughout my life and career, I’ve demonstrated a commitment to ensuring equal and meaningful justice regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or economic status. The county courts need someone with the experience and open-mindedness to effectuate real change that helps every member of the community have access to the equality and justice he or she is entitled to under the law. The Supreme Court has recently recognized that, under the United States Constitution, this equality is even broader than courts had previously recognized. Bexar County needs judges that are willing to not just recognize these rights on paper, but through practice by enforcement.
Will you be seeking the endorsement of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio?
Absolutely. The Stonewall Democrats represent an essential community in Bexar County and it would be an honor to receive their endorsement.
Do you have any words for Democratic voters in the primary election?
In no uncertain terms, please go vote! As Democratic voters it is incumbent on us all to consider the candidates in the primary on their demonstrated record. In a political environment being constantly polarized by those who capitalize on fear and intolerance, every election counts. Equal rights cannot just be spoken about by those on the national political scene in the hope that they will “trickle down.” Equal justice also has to be local. This community does not deserve to wait any longer for it.