Texas county swears in 17 black women judges after midterm election

by Kim Boateng Posted on January 2nd, 2019

Houston, Texas: Harris County made history on Tuesday by swearing in 17 black female judges following a massive sweep in the November midterm elections.

The women were part of a local democratic campaign called “Black Girl Magic Texas” which pulled off what is believed to be the largest group of black female judges elected at the same time in the county’s history.

Nineteen African American women in total will be serving on the bench in 2019. The women have more than 200 years worth of experience between them all, the station noted.

“It’s a brand new day in Harris County! Swearing in of the Newly Elected County Officials and Judges,” the group wrote on Twitter. “Today we usher in a new era of representative government and progressive leadership in Harris County.”

Expectations will be high, but for these women, with more than 200 years of experience between them, they’re more than ready.

Erica Hughes is one incoming judge for the criminal courts who says her docket is already filled for her first day. The excitement is more like butterflies for right now, but Hughes says she can’t wait to start.

“I even have my stuff laid out on the bed. Kind of like the first day of school,” Hughes said.

It’s a moment she plans to cherish, although she admits many of the women had no idea of the significance this election would hold.

As she puts it, no one knew the other person was running.

It wasn’t until after they began running into each other at campaign functions that Hughes said, “Wow. There are 19 African-American women on the ballot.”

At the very least, incoming judge Latosha Lewis Payne figured it was worth a photo. It didn’t take long for the image took over social media with the hashtag “Black Girl Magic.” Angela Graves-Harrington says for her, it was about giving people an opportunity to see judges who fairly represent the diversity in Harris County.

“I also wanted to serve as an inspiration for all those people who wondered if they could. Yes you can,” Graves-Harrington said.

“I for one am looking into making sure that every person who has a legal case, has an equal opportunity for justice,” Payne said.

It starts with those already behind bars. Hughes says for those who can’t afford an attorney or bail, it shouldn’t mean a life sentence.

“Most of the offenses are low level offenses and we’ve done research. I’ve looked at research that people need to have rehabilitation,” Hughes said.

Expectations will be high, but for these women, with more than 200 years of experience between them, they’re more than ready.

“I’m ready to roll, we’re ready to roll, I’m excited about it,” Hughes said.

Lori Chamber Gray, who was among the 19 black women to win judgeships, earlier said she hopes the increase of diversity on the bench helps give defendants a better opportunity to have a fair trial.

“I have dealt with a lot of judges in the last 30 years. Many of them were great judges, very experienced. But few were women and even fewer were African American. And because I do a lot of criminal defense work, a lot of my clients are either African American or Hispanic,” Gray, who is now the judge-elect for the 262nd Criminal District Court, told the station.

Latosha Lewis Payne, who was elected to be judge of the 55th Civil Judicial District, echoed Gray’s remarks of the importance of having a more diverse bench.

“I think that having an African American judge or having a female judge — those are the kinds of things we bring to the bench. And we bring an understanding of a person who may come from that similar background,” Payne said.

Harris county, which is mostly Houston, is the largest in the state of Texas and has a population of more than four million people.

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