On Monday, January 29, 2024, AOL reported that a hearing was held at the Harris County Civil Courthouse in Houston over a lawsuit challenging a judicial candidate’s eligibility.
The lawsuit was filed by incumbent 152nd Civil District Court Judge Robert Schaffer against TaKasha Francis, who is listed on the ballot running against Schaffer for his seat. Judge Schaffer claims in the lawsuit that Francis should not be a candidate as she does not meet the eligibility requirements under the Texas constitution of having actively practiced law or served as a judge for the past eight years.
Francis has worked as an attorney for 20 years and has spent the last eight years serving as the City of Houston’s Director of Department of Neighborhoods. She states that she considers herself an active practitioner of law as her role involves providing legal advice. However, Schaffer’s lawyer, John Raley, argued that the lawsuit is not about Francis’ qualifications but solely whether she fulfills the explicit constitutional mandate.
A decision on Francis’ eligibility will be made by a judge following this initial hearing. Francis expressed surprise at the challenge to her candidacy. Her lawyer, James Pierce, alleged the suit was brought to remove a black female candidate from the race. In response, Raley denied these claims of targeting and stated Francis’ situation differed from Judge Schaffer’s past opponents, who were not similarly challenged.
With early voting for the election beginning on February 20th, Francis’ team is seeking to avoid a bench trial on the matter next month, as she is not directly part of the lawsuit. There has also been wider commentary about challenges faced by other black female judicial hopefuls. The head of the local Democratic Party maintained candidate challenges of all backgrounds are a regular facet of elections.