Democratic incumbent Maricela Moore of Dallas County’s 162nd District Court faces a challenge in this year’s election from Republican Jordan Montgomery Lewis, in-house counsel and Texas Area President for First Guaranty Bank, which is based in Lewis’ home state of Louisiana.
Moore was first elected to the bench in 2016. In addition to her day-to-day duties in the 162nd District Court, Moore serves as the presiding judge of jury services. She is currently spearheading the effort to reopen the George Allen Courthouse to safely resume civil jury trials in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Moore has consistently received high ratings since she took the bench in 2017. Most recently, in the Dallas Bar Association’s 2019 judicial evaluation poll, 66% gave her an excellent grade in her overall rating. Her approval rating, which consists of “excellent” and “acceptable” grades by practitioners, is 87%. Last year, she was also named the Dallas Trial Judge of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Before she became a judge, Moore’s private practice career spanned from working at big law firms to operating her own firm and representing individuals and companies in matters ranging from small employment cases to large, complex commercial litigation.
Lewis says he’s running because he was bothered that almost no conservative lawyers ran for the numerous open judicial seats in 2018. His Christian faith has anchored his rhetoric on the campaign trail, and he believes that serving as a judge is the next step in his ongoing commitment to community service.
Before going in-house, Lewis’s practice heavily focused on bankruptcy law, work that he says took him to both state and federal courts and other nonbankruptcy litigation tied to adversary proceedings. His pro bono work has involved a wide range of the law, including family, probate, criminal and civil matters.
His wife, Jessica Voyce Lewis, is also on the Dallas County ballot, running as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Eric Moyé of the 14th District Court.
The Texas Lawbook sought to learn more about both candidates. Moore did not fill out The Lawbook’s questionnaire before press time, but Lewis’ responses are below.
Q: What led you to practice law?
A: I did not want to practice law. My sister, father, stepfather, grandfather and cousin are all lawyers, and it so it seemed a bit unoriginal. However, by my late twenties it was clear that I had a knack for understanding people who were poor communicators and enunciating the arguments for their position that they themselves could not. When called upon to help, I often found myself able to obtain justice or success for people who otherwise would have lost out. Many times I was called upon to handle tough situations and reached positive, win-win outcomes. It finally dawned upon me that I was wasting the gifts that God had given me by running away from the legal profession. I chose to take the bar and get licensed in both Texas, my adopted home, and Louisiana, the state where I was born. Since then, I have always strived to use my law license to help those in need, regardless of whether they could pay.
Q: What led you to enter this race?
A: I was bothered that there were almost no conservative lawyers running for the many open judicial seats in 2018. For me, conservative judges inspire the most confidence that the constitutions of our state and country will be considered and the law applied. In 2019 I reached out to my friends in the conservative and/or Christian legal communities. After communicating the need for judicial candidates in Dallas county to hundreds of lawyers, it became clear that no one was going to step up, often because of a stated fear of reprisal. While I had hopes of better lawyers running to represent the conservative legal community in 2020, it came down to my running or the seat going open.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your career and how your previous experience would help you during your service on the bench.
Having worked as a judicial law clerk, I spent time in a court and worked for a federal judge known for his excellent judicial temperament. My subsequent practice in bankruptcy law was akin to a general practice, handling both state and federal issues according to the needs of the client and litigating regularly through adversary proceedings. I worked in diverse other areas of law on a pro bono basis as well, including family, probate, criminal and other civil matters. On a volunteer basis, I have performed work for several nonprofits, including those that fight against sex trafficking in Dallas (e.g., New Friends New Life, where I serve on the Men’s Advocacy Group Boar) and another that works to transform communities through churches, HOAs, community policing and the use of legal action in Dallas civil district courts against drug houses and houses of prostitution.
Q: What do you wish you’d been taught in law school that you were not?
A: I wish I could have learned more trial advocacy in a classroom setting rather than in the real world. Lawyers often make that general statement, so I will elaborate: I wish a law professor had taught me how to draft a transactional document or a motion, or the legal standard a motion needs to satisfy to prevail, or what a final judgment is or is not. Had I not been a judicial law clerk I would have made so many more errors out of ignorance, as during that time I had the opportunity to see many lawyers make those errors I later avoided.
Q: What are one or two of the most significant cases you have handled in your legal career?
A: Both as inside and outside counsel I represented a community bank in litigation which began in bankruptcy court and eventually spread out across three different district courts in the states of Mississippi and Utah and included an appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. I personally prosecuted the appeal.
I commonly represented Chapter 7 trustees in the bankruptcy courts for the Northern District of Texas on numerous cases involving fraud or the Texas fraudulent transfer statute(s). I also represented many small-business owners, including a family-owned masonry company that had a massive judgment against it prior to my representing it which had increased by a multiple of 10 in large part because of translation issues between English and Spanish. I was able to reach an important and fair resolution of that matter without my clients having their livelihoods destroyed.
Q: How often do you practice before the civil courts in Dallas County?
A: Rarely. But my representations almost always involve state law issues.
Q: How many cases have you tried before a jury in your career?
A: None. I have served on juries and engaged in mock trials with juries, but all of my trials have been before judges.
Q: Have you ever practiced before your opponent? If so, what was good and bad about the experience?
Q: What kind of change would you like to see in the courthouse, and what would you do to promote change if elected?
A: I would like to see infrastructure put in place to safely open the courthouse up for litigation in the court and use remote video conferencing technology to allow members of the public to attend or view remotely. Additionally, I would like to promote access to justice initiatives, especially a pro bono program involving young lawyers, and help empower the public with some basic legal and governmental tools to help deal with problems in their communities.
Q: What kind of feedback do you hear from fellow lawyers about your opponent and how would you do a better job?
A: I would have a different approach in my application of the law. Moreover, I believe the people of the community need to be engaged with our courts, and I would provide what I believe is greater leadership in pushing what happens in the courts out to the community through educational programs, technology and the aforementioned low bono initiative. My opponent enjoys a high rating among the bar and I have nothing specifically negative to say about her.
Q: What else sets you apart from your opponent?
A: As a conservative, I would look to the original intent of the legislature in my application of the law, and I would consider the constitutionality of each law or governmental order before me in light of both the U.S. and Texas constitutions before enforcing it.
Q: One of the biggest challenges civil courts are facing right now is the backlog of jury trials due to COVID-19. What would you do to combat that challenge?
A: I would take up jury trials as soon as it could be done safely, which I believe is immediately with the right preparations. Delay of trial is the denial of justice or restoration for many in our city. It is often dangerous and sometimes deadly. Moreover, I would attempt to promote the use of remote technology for selecting jury pools and for voir dire, though I would certainly include an in-person component to ensure the integrity of the process.
Q: There is a significant problem with (a) jury attendance and (b) jury pool diversity. Less than one in five people summonsed to jury service shows up. Those who do show up do not seem to be a representative cross-section of the community. How is this impacting the administration of justice in Texas and what can be done about it?
A: The rules on showing up for jury should be enforced more strictly both with employers and jurors and the role should be better paid. My experience is that those who want to avoid jury duty often find it rather easy to do so. Since that is the case, employees often feel pressured by their employers. I might suggest a greater fee charged to litigants of higher amounts in controversy, with waivers for indigent/pro se litigants. As it is now, it is potentially devastating for many people to take off for a month from their work to serve on a jury.
No matter what you say here, some voters will vote against you simply because they’re straight ticket voters and you’re on the wrong side of their ballot. There is another group of voters who are inclined to do the same, but could be convinced otherwise. What would you say to them? Why should they vote for you even if your political party doesn’t match their values?
A: I’ve been involved in serving the people of the Dallas County community since moving here in 2010. I’m an average citizen who wants to ensure the people of our communities get justice, have the tools to build up their communities, can raise up their families in safety and can continue to pursue their dreams. I spent a portion of my childhood in homelessness and poverty, and am thankful to have become a success story through hard work, education, faith and amazing people who took me under their wings. I am a follower of Christ, and I believe that we need peace in our cities and that such can only be obtained by repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
For these reasons, people should vote for me regardless of party.
Q: Is there anything else you would like voters to know?
A: Part of my goal in running is to ensure we have impartial, ethical judges in power and to make the courts a tool that everyone can use to deal with issues in their community. People can learn more by visiting www.lewis4dallas.com or following me on Twitter at @JMLewis4Dallas.
Editor’s Note: Candidate responses may be edited to comply with Texas Lawbook style guidelines.
Publisher’s Note: This coverage of the 2020 judicial elections by The Texas Lawbook is being made available outside our paywall courtesy of Thompson Coburn and Carter Arnett.