Answers Submitted by Ben Smith, Candidate for 380th District Court
Candidate Name: BEN SMITH
Position Running For: 380TH DISTRICT COURT
City of Residence: MCKINNEY
1. What makes you the most qualified candidate?
The 380th district court is a death penalty court, and it presides over the most heinous crimes that occur in our county. I am the only candidate in this race who has handled serious felonies like murder, capital murder, and aggravated sexual assault of children. Two of the other three candidates in this race do not possess the minimum qualifications to be appointed to represent someone accused of a misdemeanor; yet if either of them is elected, he/she will be presiding over death penalty cases. I am also the candidate with the most trial experience, including jury trials, and I have the most experience trying cases in Collin County.
2a. What are 1-3 issues the courts must prepare for as Collin County continues to grow in population?
As the population grows, I believe that the crime rate will increase. This will increase our jail population, which currently has a daily average population of 1,000 inmates at a cost of $62 per day per inmate. That is $62,000 per day, and over $22 million per year. We may also see an increase in the presence of Mexican drug cartels, which already operate in Collin County. In general, as the population increases, the size of the court’s docket, both civil and criminal, will likely increase as well.
2b. What plans do you have to address these issues?
Inevitably, new courts will have to be established to properly manage the growth. Until that time, courts must find ways to manage their cases more efficiently while still ensuring fairness to litigants. The single best contribution I can make is to be present and accessible. Each day, I will work as long and as hard as necessary to ensure that my cases are given the attention they require.
Criminal cases are the only cases that directly implicate tax dollars. Tax dollars pay for indigent criminal defense (the criminally accused are the only litigants that get court appointed lawyers paid for by the taxpayers if they are unable to afford to hire their own) and for the costs of housing inmates in our jail. Many of these inmates are awaiting trial on felony charges. Trials for these inmates are commonly delayed between 1-2 years. For those who will be found guilty, the state penitentiary is their ultimate destination, which unlike our jail, is not air conditioned and does not provide three hot meals a day. There is little incentive for these inmates to seek a speedy disposition. Having the most criminal law experience, and the only candidate with extensive felony experience, I can more efficiently move through and prioritize criminal cases which involve inmates, because I won’t require on the job training. Prioritizing these cases will ensure optimal fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers and speedy trials for the accused, whose liberty is at stake.
3. Why do you want to have this position?
I am seeking this position because I respect the rule of law, love the courtroom, and believe I can make a significant and positive contribution to the judiciary and to the administration of justice in Collin County. Growing up, I loved legal dramas and comic books. I resented the injustice and unfairness in the world. The courtroom is special because it is the one place where justice and accountability can be imposed on someone who might otherwise never be held accountable in this life. Doing the work of a district judge would provide me with the opportunity to ensure that Collin County citizens would continue to have such a place: where the law and constitution are followed as written, and where every party can receive a full and fair opportunity to be heard and considered free from favoritism or political bias.
4. How long have you been working in the legal arena?
5. What do you want citizens to know about before voting for a judge?
Citizens should take an interest in judicial races and learn about the candidates. Many people do not think that what happens in the courthouse affects them. However, these races are important. A district judge has tremendous power. By the stroke of his pen, a district judge can terminate a parent’s rights; give police the authority to kick down a citizen’s door, seize his property, and place him in jail; by the stroke of his pen, a district judge can sentence someone to death. It is incumbent on us to know in whom we are entrusting that kind of power, and we have an obligation to elect a person of integrity who has the necessary temperament and experience.