Judge John Lipscombe Candidate Questionnaire
1. What actions have you taken to improve your community?
After law school, I returned to Austin and have remained an active member of my community. I believe it is important to give back to this community that has so generously given to me. Although we don’t have children of our own, I began coaching youth baseball and mentoring at-risk youth. Throughout my legal career, I have dedicated myself to mentoring young law students and attorneys who are at the beginning of their careers. I have been a lecturer at the UT Law School Criminal Defense Clinic and Prosecution Clinic, the Austin Bar Association Criminal Law and Procedure section, the Austin Police Department Academy, the Travis County Sheriff’s Academy, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I am also a proud, lifelong Democrat and a Sustaining Member of the Travis County Democratic Party. Since the 70’s, I have volunteered and financially supported many, many Democratic candidates and issue campaigns. My wife, Jan Breland, and I are also regular contributors and volunteers for the Texas Freedom Network, NARAL, Blue Santa, Brown Santa, Habitat for Humanity, Austin Pets Alive, the Moose Lodge, the NAACP, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, Annie’s List, the Texas Environmental Democrats.
2. Have you advocated for judicial reform previously? If so, please explain.
In Travis County, we are blessed to have great candidates and Judges on the bench. Our Judges care about and work to ensure that each person in our justice system is treated fairly and we constantly work with each other and prosecutors, law enforcement and the Commissioners to improve the way we deal with persons charged with crimes, as well as victims. I believe that judges, especially criminal judges, can no longer just “call balls and strikes,” but must be involved in developing more fair and efficient ways to conduct our criminal justice system. Indigent persons must have real access to good representation and should not be held in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond.
No one should feel the need to plead guilty to a crime simply so he or she can get out of jail.
I have a weekly after hours docket in my court to provide access for working people and students and also to provide more personal supervision for young offenders. I am working with the County Attorney’s Office to improve the way we deal with persons charged with possessing small amounts of marijuana, in a way that diverts them from the regular “arrest and prosecute” process to a way to keep their records clean, while appropriately dealing with the drug use issues. Rehabilitative justice, keeping people out of jail and positively contributing to their families and our community is my motivation.
3. Please explain in what ways have you worked for domestic violence prevention?
I have always been supportive of prevention initiatives towards domestic violence. Unfortunately, I hear cases involving assault family violence regularly. I believe we need to continuing doing more for the victims and families affected by domestic violence and promote safe and healthy relationships by supporting organizations like SafePlace. Lastly, we need to also ensure our four-legged family members who do not have the ability to speak are also treated safely. That’s why I am a proud contributor and volunteer at SafePlace, Cary Council for At-Risk Youth, and Austin Pets Alive.
4. Do you have any concerns regarding gun violence in our state and community?
Originally from West Texas, I have seen firsthand the extreme sentiments towards maintaining access to guns. Fortunately, our local community does not approve of the measures that are acceptable at the Capitol. Our community needs to demand that our our state and national officials seriously study the growing rise of deaths and injuries involving gun violence. It is imperative that we develop smart solutions to prevent the tragedies we see every day.
5. Have you advocated for criminal justice reform in the past? If so, please explain.
I established an after-hours docket for youth offenders and working families so that they can receive the same access to justice if they are not able to attend court because of work or school. I believe every person who has been accused of a crime should be able to receive proper access and representation. Also, see #2.
6. What state policies would you like to see in place to address racial justice? What actions have you taken on racial justice?
Every person should be treated equally under the law... Equal access to the courts, good attorneys, fair jail release before trial, fair treatment by law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, probation officers... the entire justice system. Sometimes we in
Travis County have tunnel vision. Too many parts of our State seem happy to live in the 1950s. Though not perfect, our justice system is far better than most in the State and I believe that all of the “partners” truly strive to improve. If the criminal justice system in a community works this way, I think there is positive impact on the rest of the community such as, other parts of government, business, schools, social systems, religious groups. Most importantly, we must all work together - constantly seeking to improve.
I believe there should be more attention to education and criminal justice throughout the state. Families and children who are involved and successful in our schools are more likely to live peacefully and work side-by-side with individuals from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and race, as well as less likely to become involved in the criminal justice system. We must have more support for low income families with young children. Early intervention is the key to success in school and success in school is vital to ending the cycle. I have recently become involved in the Avance program, which supports disadvantaged parents in getting their young children ready for school from an early age. These children have shown amazing success in school.
Recently, we have worked to change the way children and families are impacted by truancy to decriminalize unexcused absences. Many of our Justice of the Peace courts have implemented social service programs for families in truancy situations, where social workers from the court interact with the families to connect them with community resources to solve problems that impact school attendance. We need to continue to do more for children in our community who are experiencing hardship as there are disproportionate numbers of African-American and Hispanic children who are affected. One thing we can do immediately is support the actions of the Equal Justice Center, the ACLU and the Austin Justice Coalition. That’s why I also support and signed the petition asking for increased transparency with the Austin Police Department’s policies. For more information, please see #2.
7. Are there ways the justice system disadvantages workers? If so, what changes would you advocate for?
Our workers’ rights have continued to be chipped away, especially under the newest administration. I have been a strong Union supporter and member since 1977 when I started driving UT shuttle buses as a member of ATU 1549 and became the Chief Grievance Arbitration Officer, a member of the contract negotiating team and two term Union President. We need to grow our local Unions and empower our working class so that they will join their local union and are educated in their protected rights. To provide better and easier access to my court for working people, I began an after hours docket. See #2.
8. In your view should there be any change to the role of corporate funding in our elections?
I do not believe any candidate should accept corporate donations, and my campaign will not accept any corporate donations.
9. What are some policies you would implement to make our election system more democratic?
First, Texas needs to be willing to allow online voter registration. Every person needs to be able to register to vote. Thereafter, we need to push for same day voter registration so that even those who were not able to register 30 days before the election would not be turned away to vote. Lastly, we need to ensure every part of Travis County has the same amount of access and voting locations available for every person, regardless of whether voters live in East or West Austin.
10. What’s your solution for gerrymandering?
We need an independent committee to designate the voting districts. When we have partisan groups determining these districts, voter’s voices are stifled and that is unacceptable. Voters should select their representatives, politicians should not select their voters!
11. How are you funding your campaign?
I am funding my campaign through the donations of my friends and supporters.
12. Have you advocated for the rights of undocumented immigrants? If so, please explain.
I believe every person should be able to make the best life they can for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, this nation’s immigration system is broken and does not make it easy for any person to become a citizen, even those who seek refuge like asylum seekers. In my court, I treat everyone with the utmost respect, regardless of status. Most recently, my wife and I donated to the DACA application fundraiser so that we could help two individuals 200% under the poverty line renew their applications.
13. Are there ways the justice system disadvantages or discriminates against women? If so, what changes would you advocate for?
I believe that when discrimination against women in the justice system occurs it is primarily at the hands of individual judges. We must support these victims (and any other victims of discrimination) in filing complaints with the Judicial Conduct Commission against these misogynistic judges, and do whatever we can, within ethical boundaries, to have them sanctioned and/or removed. I have never discriminated against anyone that appears before me in my court, regardless of gender. On that end, I believe our society needs to do more to ensure women, people of color and LGBTQUIA no longer are discriminated against or disadvantaged.
14. If there were one thing you could accomplish immediately, what would it be?
If I could accomplish one thing immediately, I would aim to find a solution for racial justice and equality. I believe we need to treat everyone fairly and equitably. Everyone wins when we treat each other with dignity and respect. That’s why I treat every person who comes into my court with the utmost respect and fairness.
15. What is your campaign strategy for winning in November?
First, I aim to win the primary through direct voter contact & hard work. Thereafter, if I am selected as the Democratic nominee, I will continue to work hard to earn the voter’s trust and support in November.