Answers Submitted by Barnett Walker, Candidate for Collin County Court At Law No. 2
Candidate Name: Barnett Walker
Position Running For: Judge, Collin County Court at Law #2
City of Residence: Prosper
1. What makes you the most qualified candidate?
County Courts only hear civil and criminal cases. It is important that we elect judges who know the law and who have demonstrated the ability to apply it fairly to all parties. I have practiced both civil and criminal law at the Municipal, County, and District Court levels. I am the only candidate in this race who has ever prosecuted criminal cases in Collin County, served as a mental health magistrate, or elected President of the Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
As a prosecutor I handled over 1,000 criminal cases ranging from petty theft to murder. I served as the Chief prosecutor for two Collin County Courts, where I supervised other attorneys, investigators and support staff, and I was awarded the highest performance rating given by the District Attorney’s Office. As a defense attorney I have taught criminal law topics in both Collin and Dallas County and was elected President, of the criminal lawyers association by my peers. Recently, Judge Weldon Copeland selected me to serve as a mental health magistrate in his absence.
Nearly 90% of the cases in this court involve criminal charges. There are three groups that are involved in each of these trials:
- Prosecutor – who represents the State of Texas,
- Defense Attorney – who represents the person accused; and
- Law Enforcement Agency – that made the arrest.
These three groups have had the unique opportunity to observe each of the candidates in this race, and to evaluate their work ethic, temperament, and knowledge of the law. I am honored to have received the overwhelming support of the majority of prosecutors and defense attorneys who practice in Collin County and to be the only candidate in this race who is endorsed by law enforcement.
2a. What are 1-3 issues the courts must prepare for as Collin County continues to grow in population?
a. Demands on the Criminal Justice System – Collin County is one of the fastest growing counties in the country. With increases in population, come increased demands on the courts and increased indigent defense expenses. Our county collects approximately $263 million dollars per year in tax revenue. Over 40% ($115 million dollars) of that money is spent on the various departments that make up the criminal justice system; including the Courts, District Attorney’s Office, Collin County Jail, Probation Department, Juvenile Detention Facility, Clerk’s Offices, etc. We must find innovative ways to reduce the costs associated with these programs.
In every case, either side may request a jury trial or they can choose to waive this right and allow the judge to decide the case. The fact that I have been endorsed by so many prosecutors and defense attorneys, means that they trust me to render a fair verdict. This will allow the court to conduct more bench trials, increase efficiency, reduce costs, and dispose of cases more quickly.
During the campaign I have heard candidates promise to be “be tough on crime.” While that may be a popular slogan, I feel it is a dangerous and inappropriate philosophy. First, judges should focus on being fair, not tough or lenient. Second, a “tough on crime mentality” can lead to unintended consequences for taxpayers.
When someone is arrested a judge sets their bail. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and are unable to post a large bail. This often results in them remaining in jail at a cost of over $60 per day to taxpayers. On average there are 1,000 people in the Collin County jail at a cost of $22 million dollars a year. Additionally, if the person remains in jail they will likely lose their job, qualify for a court-appointed attorney, and if they have a family they may also be entitled to government assistance, all at the expense of the taxpayers.
In “appropriate” cases where the accused does not pose a threat to others, I favor lowering the amount of bail so that the accused can keep their job, hire their own attorney, and support their own family. Most misdemeanor offenses are punished by placing the individual on probation. Therefore, if a person is accused of an offense that will likely warrant probation after they are found guilty, then it makes little sense to spend thousands of dollars to keep them in jail “before” we know if they are guilty.
Additionally, I will work with the other judges that supervise the DWI/Drug court. This program has proven to dramatically promote sobriety and reduce alcohol and drug related offenses. Lastly, I have developed other initiatives that will help reduce the costs of interpreters.
b. Mental Health Services & Veteran’s Court – As a prosecutor, defense attorney, and part-time mental health magistrate, I am acutely aware of the need for mental health services. A 2009 study by the National Association of Metal Illness ranked Texas 49th in the country in mental health expenditures per capita. Research has shown that approximately half of all prison and jail inmates have a mental health problem. On average, people with mental illnesses serve longer sentences than other offenders convicted of equivalent crimes, and cost approximately 75% more to incarcerate. The problems will only get worse as experts predict up to 300,000 military veterans returning from overseas will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bexar County, Texas created a jail diversion program that focuses on getting mentally ill citizens into an appropriate community-based treatment program rather than housing them in jails. The program is comprised of mental health providers, law enforcement, judges, public and private hospital administrators, and youth and adult probation officers to address the mental health needs of those who are arrested. Emphasis is on identifying, treating, and reintegrating people with mental health problems safely back into the community.
Funding comes from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, public/private partnerships, grants, and in-kind contributions. The annual budget is estimated at $9 million dollars, which is considerably less than the economic and societal costs of incarceration and recidivism. Bexar County has received the “National Service Excellence Award” by the National Council on Behavioral Health Care and the “Gold Award” from the American Psychiatric Association.
I would like to work with Commissioners, Judges, and other agencies to develop a program similar to Bexar County.
c. Establish a Veteran’s Court – as a 22 year military and Gulf War veteran, who was decorated 47 times, and named the Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, I know first-hand the stress that those who serve our nation endure. An estimated 300,000 returning veterans will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of them will turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their problems. Several counties have developed a veteran’s court that focuses on the special needs of veterans. I would like to help establish one in Collin County.
2b. What plans do you have to address these issues?
3. Why do you want to have this position?
While serving in the military I was awarded the “volunteer service medal” by the United States Department of Defense, for volunteering thousands of hours to various community programs. Being a judge would allow me to combine two passions; practicing law and community service.
4. How long have you been working in the legal arena?
I was recruited by the Collin County District Attorney’s Office while still in law school and began prosecuted criminal cases for that office in 2004.
5. What do you want citizens to know about before voting for a judge?
My opponents often point out how long they been an attorney or how many years they have spent practicing criminal law, to try and demonstrate that they are the most qualified candidate for this position. But simply doing something for a long period of time does not necessarily make you better at it. If it did, I would be a much better golfer than I am.
If elected I would bring over 25 years of proven leadership, commitment, fiscal responsibility, and a servant’s heart to the bench. I have practiced civil and criminal law at every level and on both sides of the courtroom. I have been endorsed by Collin County Conservative Republicans, the Collin County Deputies Association, Plano Police Association, Frisco Police Association, Coalition for Better Government, Collin County Commissioner, Mayors, Precinct Chairs, and Tea Party Approved by the North Texas Tea Party. Most importantly I have been endorsed by law enforcement and over 100 Collin County prosecutors and defense attorneys; the three groups that have witnessed first-hand the legal knowledge and abilities of each of the candidates in this race. I would be honored to serve you as the next Judge of Collin County Court at Law #2.