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Five LGBT Harris County Officials Sworn In

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Four judges and a district attorney from the community join the celebration of November’s blue sweep of Harris County.
Story and photos by Brandon Wolf

Democrats in general are still feeling the sting of last November’s election loss. But in Harris County, the presidential upset was matched by a stunning countywide upset, in which all open countywide offices were won by Democrats.

The entire group of 26 judicial races was won by Democrats—23 of the 26 were endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and three of the judicial winners are openly LGBT (Steve Kirkland, Daryl Moore, and Kelli Johnson). A fourth LGBT judge, Jim Evans, was appointed as an associate judge in family court by the winner of the family court race—Julia Maldonado.

The appointment of Evans was historic—the first openly-gay Family Court judge in Texas. (A profile of Evans will be published in the February 2017 issue of OutSmart.)

Johnson, an assistant district attorney for the past 17 years, made history as the first openly-lesbian District Judge in Harris County. She was sworn into the District Criminal Court system.

Kirkland returned to the District Civil Court bench, after an absence of four years. He ran in 2012 and 2014, but ran up against campaigns of distortion that characterized him as an alcoholic. Kirkland has been transparent about this issue—which he conquered more than two decades ago. The campaigns were funded by an angry litigant against whom Kirkland ruled.

In addition, Democrats swept the top four countywide positions: openly-LGBT District Attorney Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, County Attorney Vince Ryan, and Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett. All four sought and won the Caucus endorsement.

82 percent of the 51 Caucus-endorsed candidates won. The losses were in areas where positions are voted on by district, not countywide.

District Attorney Ogg was sworn in on January 1, 2017, at the historic and restored 1910 Harris County Courthouse. An hour later, 27 new members of the local judiciary were sworn in at the Ceremonial Court on 17th floor of the Harris County Civil Courthouse.

Democrats celebrated the stunning sweep at a special celebration and ceremonial swearing-in at NRG Park’s West Stadium Club on January 2, 2017. County Commissioner Rodney Ellis noted the vast diversity in the room—African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, LGBTs.

For a day that started out with a deluge of a downpour, the afternoon was sunny and bright. The smiles on faces matched the glow of the sun outside. Ellis noted that “Harris County was as stunned with the blue sweep as it was by the Clinton loss.” Clinton won the presidential vote in Harris County by over 160,000 votes — up from the 971 votes with which Obama took the county in 2012.

Many locals can remember when Republicans had a solid lock on Harris County positions—and the entire judiciary. Political experts analyzing the results offer various factors—changes in demographics, Clinton’s coattails, and a strong Hispanic rejection of Trump.

Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Fran Watson told OutSmart she is looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, and hopes to see a repeat of the blue sweep. “There are 12 family court and four probate court positions open during the next midterm, and we hope to win them all.”

Harris County Family Court, dominated by Republicans who have refused LGBT adoptions, has forced LGBTs to take their cases to Bexar or Dallas counties to get past the anti-LGBT discrimination. Watson feels the family and probate courts are the important courts to now get LGBT and LGBT-friendly candidates on to the bench.

In other court news, Barbara Hartle, the presiding judge of Municipal Court, has resigned to take a position in Ogg’s office. Also, openly-LGBT Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lane Lewis has stepped down after five years in the position.

Republicans still control the top Texas offices and the legislature. But formerly red Harris County has turned purple because of the 2016 general election. The 2018 midterms, which usually favor the party out of power in Washington, offer another opportunity for another blue sweep that could turn the county light blue.

And the local LGBT community now has more LGBT-friendly officials in Harris County than before. For Houstonians, the 2016 presidential loss has been buffered with a joyful blue sweep of their county, and a much more diverse local government.

  • The judicial winners were sworn in on January 1, 2017 at the Harris County Civil Courthouse in downtown Houston.
  • The Harris County Civil Courthouse was built in 2006, to handle the constantly increasing case loads.
  • The swearing in of the new judges was on the 17th floor, in the Ceremonial Court.
  • Guests arriving for the ceremony got a magnificent view of Houston from 17 stories up.
  • One hour earlier, our new openly-LGBT District Attorney Kim Ogg was sworn in, at the historic 1910 Harris County Courthouse.
  • The event planners underestimated the size of the crowd that would show up.  Some guest stood against the walls, others in the center aisle.
  • From left, new openly-LGBT judges Daryl Moore, Kelli Johnson, and Jim Evans chat before the swearing-in ceremony.
  • Judge Steve Kirkland arrives with his husband.  After four years from the district judiciary, Kirkland was once again taking the bench.
  • Judge Johnson poses for a photo with Judge Robert Schaffer, who emceed the event.
  • Judge Johnson meets one of the four young men chosen to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Judge Moore talks with a supporter as the crowd gathers.
  • Judge Kirkland is greeted by a supporter.
  • Judges Moore, Kirkland and Evans wait for the ceremony to begin.
  • B.Y.O.B – bring your own bible.   The book was optional for those being sworn in.
  • By random chance, three of the new openly-LGBT judges ended up in a row in the program – Judges Moore, Kirkland and Johnson.
  • The judicial winners look through the souvenir program.   The crowd so exceeded expectations, the supply ran out and the booklets were at a premium.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • The Swearing-In Ceremony program.
  • Judge Schaffer welcomes the guests to the ceremony.
  • Four young men chosen to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • A multi-tasking judge proves one can pledge allegiance and take a photo at the same time.
  • United States District Judge Alfred Bennett spoke to the new judges and then administered the oaths.
  • All 26 judicial positions that were voted on county-wide went to Democrats.   23 of the 26 were endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
  • The judges listening to Judge Bennett’s remarks.
  • The judicial winners take their oaths.
  • Friends and family applaud the newly sworn-in judges.
  • Each new judge is introduced to the guests.   Judge Moore acknowledges the applause.
  • Judge Kirkland waves.
  • Judge Johnson waves.
  • Judge Julia Maldonado won the open Family Court position.  Because of caseload, she was allowed to appoint an associate, and she chose openly-LGBT attorney Jim Evans.
  • The judges stand for a group photo.
  • A family member uses a selfie stick to get a photo.
  • The new judges are bathed in a flood of light from a photographer.
  • Judge Kirkland asks if the court photographer is speaking to him, as she re-arranges the group.
  • The Civil Court judges are just about in place.
  • Judge Johnson fields a question as the photographer sets up the Criminal Court judges.
  • The row of photographers is three deep, so people get resourceful.
  • A tablet captures Judge Moore picking up his written oath to sign, and also to receive the key to his new office.
  • Family Court winner Julia Maldonado, and her associate judge Jim Evans. Ashton Woods, a chief organizer of Black Lives Matter Houston, looks on as a photographer snaps their picture.
  • A bouquet for Judge Maldonado.
  • Judges Moore and Evans get ready to share a hug.
  • Judges sign written copies of their oath, for the Texas Secretary of State.
  • Judge Johnson signing her oath.
  • Judge Kirkland takes a photo for Judge Johnson.
  • Judges Maldonado and Evans sign their written oaths.
  • A closed-circuit camera displays the event on a huge monitor.
  • The new openly-LGBT judges (from left) – Kirkland, Moore, Johnson and Evans – gather for a group picture.
  • And they present an image of a vastly more diverse Harris County judiciary than has ever existed.
  • Judge Johnson with a happy supporter.
  • Longtime community ally, Ella Tyler.
  • Judge Kirkland shows the key to his new office.
  • On January 2, 2017, Democrats celebrated the 2016 Harris County blue sweep at NRG Park’s Stadium West Club.
  • Guests walk to the celebration.
  • Guests waiting to cross Kirby Drive and enter the NRG Stadium.
  • The entrance to the Stadium West Club.
  • Elected officials sign in.
  • A name tag for Judge Daryl Moore.
  • The complimentary coffee bar included a small mountain of whipped cream.
  • Guests gathered in the club area, waiting for the ceremony to begin.
  • Hot appetizers like these mini-empanadas were popular with the guests.
  • Guests chat in the club area.
  • A table topper displays the name and date of the celebration.
  • The club overlooks the Texans football field.
  • The program for the Community Inaugural Celebration.
  • The program for the Community Inaugural Celebration.
  • Judge Kirkland listens as State Senator Sylvia Garcia welcomes the guests.
  • It was a good day to be a Democrat.  Openly-LGBT Kim Ogg, in blue, is the county’s new District Attorney.
  • Longtime Texas State Senator John Whitmire – brother-in-law of former Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire – greets the guests.
  • It was a packed room, with guests standing on the stairs to balcony above.
  • Other guests looked down from the balcony.
  • Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza offered an invocation.
  • Rabbi Samuel Karff offered a second invocation.
  • After the speakers finished, the new officials lined up to take a ceremonial oath.  Judge Evans smiles, as District Attorney Ogg  waits for the oath.
  • It was a scene of amazing diversity as Judge Johnson and Precinct 7 Constable May Walker prepare for the oath.
  • The officials laugh as Mayor Turns jokes about how many times some of them have taken an oath in the past two days – “We’re going to be SURE you’re all properly sworn in!”
  • District Attorney Ogg was a media favorite during the ceremony.   The first Democrat to hold the office in recent memory.
  • Officials always laugh when the oath gets to the point where they state their office, because it breaks up the unison sound of the rest of the oath.
  • Community photographer Dalton DeHart was there to record the event.
  • Sheila Jackson-Lee wasn’t present, but her assistant Ivan Sanchez filled in.
  • A special hug for District Attorney Ogg from Judge Kirkland.
  • And another hug from Judge Evans.
  • Ogg was probably the most hugged person at the event.
  • From left, openly-LGBT officials Judge Evans, District Attorney Ogg, and Judge Kirkland.
  • Texas State Representative Carol Alvarado paid tribute to the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.
  • There were as many women in law enforcement uniforms as there were men, at the event.
  • Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis paid tribute to the enormous diversity represented in the room.
  • Patrick McIlvain, gets his phone camera ready.
  • McIlvain shows off his group photo with District Attorney Ogg and Judge Kirkland. The strong backlight from the huge windows played havoc with cameras.
  • Ogg is happy to oblige supporters asking for photos.
  • Houston GLBT Caucus President Fran Watson was all smiles.  82% of the 51 Caucus-endorsed candidates won in the Harris County blue sweep.
  • Watson with Judges Evans and Maldonado.
  • Barbara Hartle poses with friend Randall Stanger.   Hartle resigned her position as presiding judge of the Municipal Court, to take a position in District Attorney Ogg’s office.
  • A supporter of Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen wears a message on his shirt.
  • Democrats are eager to claim another blue sweep in the 2018 mid-term elections, making the face of Harris County government much more diverse than it has ever been.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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