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John Lipscombe, Race for Travis County Court #8
1. Why are you running, and what is your vision for your office?
My vision for the new court comes from decades of service in the County Attorney’s office and on the Criminal Appeals Court. After 17 years in the County Attorney’s office there are two target groups of non-violent misdemeanor drug or alcohol offenders that are increasing and in need of help. One such group, who will be the subject of a pilot program I have helped to start this spring, are individuals who are repeat misdemeanor DWI offenders, with at least two non-injury DWI’s on record.
2. Latinos For Texas's vision is to unite communities by bridging networks of Progressive groups and Latino/Hispanic interests so that we can be better united in direct action for the community. How do you see your role in office as helping to advance this vision?
I have worked with other stakeholders from Travis County, and we have learned how to create and run a specialty court for repeat offenders. I intend to use my experience to create a new specialty docket for the second target group I have identified: Young people between the ages of 17 and 21 whom I have labeled as "Gappers". A Gapper is a person who is too old to be legally treated within the juvenile system but for reasons of youth should not be treated in the same way a 35 or 45 year old would be treated. I have envisioned and planned out how to create, organize, and run this specialty court docket.
The young people who voluntarily enter this year-long program will work through three phases of more individualized counseling. They will be held accountable for their own sobriety and will be given a greater degree of support from their peers, their counselors, even their judge. They will, over this period of time, learn that destructive behavioral habits can be modified in a more healthy and positive manner. They will not be alone; they will be part of a whole group whose members are seeking a better life, and in most cases whose families want to help but don't know how.
Gloria Souhami, the Director of The Underage Drinking Project in Travis County has said that such a program as I envision is overdue and its time has come. I have received offers of assistance from teachers, counselors, professionals from all walks of life, parents eager to help, and representatives of law enforcement who recognize that only by concerted effort can we stem the increasing flow of non-violent youth drug and alcohol offenders into the criminal justice system.
I envision my role as being judge of a progressive court emphasizing rehabilitation over jail sentences. The newly created court must be dedicated to helping the economically and socially disadvantaged youth in our society.
At the present time, about 40% of our non-violent misdemeanor cases involve Hispanic defendants. Latino/Hispanic youth make up a large part of the misdemeanor DWI and drug docket as non-violent offenders who will directly benefit from a new treatment focused program. As a prosecutor I have spoken to parents in need and they have been universally enthusiastic about my "Gapper" court. I see the new court providing a place for other progressive groups to focus their manpower resources in helping the youth-in-need find and embrace new habits and establish new goals for their health and their economic prosperity.
There is no reason that programs directed at helping youth find employment, finish their education and the like can't be of substantial impact on the clients of this specialty court. I envision that they could make an impressive impact on these kids by coming to the weekly court, talking with the clients, and showing them that there ARE doors which can be opened!
At the same time, these groups can be very important in educating the judge and the judicial system in any particular problems that may be unique to these clients and offering varied solutions. If there is a two-way street where the ideas can flow unfettered, it can only be beneficial to the kids we are trying to help.
3. How does a vote for you affect or improve my everyday life?
Specialty courts for repeat offenders have been successful in drastically deducing the number of repeat offenders in other jurisdictions.
There is every reason to believe that a specialty court dedicated to helping the lives of youthful non-violent offenders will have the same success. Less dependence on drugs translates to less crime where the offender is stealing or breaking into cars or buildings or homes to get money for more drugs.
Change in irresponsible drinking behaviors translates to fewer impaired drivers on the road, making for less property damage and safer driving conditions for all who use the roadways. The person we save today may well be the person who solves a problem or makes our lives better down the road after he or she has become a more productive citizen. And finally, but certainly not least, my vision has the possible effect of helping to re-establish the bond between family members that is often lost through addiction and abuse. Family is extremely important to me.
My client's families will play a large role in support and rehabilitation where it is viable and in place. Bringing strength through support to the family unit will benefit our clients, their families and our society.
4. Would you pledge to abide by the Clean Elections guidelines developed by Common Cause?
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