Paul Quinzi Candidate Questionnaire
1. What actions have you taken to improve your community?
I consider my most significant role to be my work as a steering committee member of the Austin Lawyers Guild, our local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. We have coordinated jail release and pro bono representation of peaceful protesters since the Occupy movement, and have more recently set up a system to train and provide legal observers at these actions, at the request of local and national activists. I also volunteer at UT School of Law as the founding partner of the Pro Bono Expunction Clinic, where I and other lawyers train law students how to determine eligibility and draft petitions for our clients. I regularly accept cases from Volunteer Legal Services as well. I also raise and handle therapy dogs, and visit twice a week at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services of Austin State Hospital and North Austin Medical Center with my wife Patty and our three basset hounds, Buddy, Betty, and Ponyboy.
2. Have you advocated for judicial reform previously? If so, please explain.
I have been a board member of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association for the last four years, two years as treasurer. Among other things, I have advocated for more oversight in the court-appointed attorney system, and hourly wages to prevent some of the perverse incentives in that system. This has required many meetings with judges and members of commissioner’s court, who have a great deal of influence in what policies are followed in our courthouse and in the Capital Area Private Defender Service (CAPDS), which is one of the reasons I’m running.
3. Please explain in what ways have you worked for domestic violence prevention?
While in college at New Mexico State University, I was the first male sexual assault advocate at La Piñon Sexual Assault Recovery Services in Las Cruces, NM in 1995, and was honored with Advocate of the Year in 1996. I also helped to found a sexual assault prevention peer education group called ISSUES (Informed Students Standing United Educating Students), at NMSU, and presented our recommendations for groups at other campuses at a conference at UC Santa Barbara in 1998. Because of my background and my heart for these survivors, I know my limitations when it comes to zealous advocacy. In my private practice I have always declined any cases involving child abuse or sexual abuse, and only accept domestic violence cases in the most exceptional circumstances. I don’t represent bullies.
4. Do you have any concerns regarding gun violence in our state and community?
Many. I absolutely disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s consistent glossing over the “well-regulated militia” clause of the Second Amendment. Based on my experiences with some heated protests in the Trump era, I fear that the law of open carry in Texas is sure to lead to casualties. More guns in the home and in public mean more risk to public health, never less. I try to be as aware as possible of my many privileges, but I have never understood the need that some people sincerely feel that they must have ready access to a deadly weapon at all times to feel safe. I suspect it is because they have been taught to fear by a government that does not adequately provide for its most vulnerable people, and has many vested interests in keeping them afraid.
5. Have you advocated for criminal justice reform in the past? If so, please explain.
At every opportunity. I have been a member of the NORML Legal Committee for 11 years, and have always done everything I can to fight the War on Drugs. I teach several free CLE’s a year on the topic of criminal record expunction to local attorneys, and am very liberal with my materials and work product. This is because I believe it is important for other attorneys who are petitioning for this relief to do it properly and thoroughly. A lot of my work with ACDLA, such as helping draft of a client’s bill of rights, advocating for in-person visitation at our jail, and helping to sue Securus Industries, the for-profit communications company contracted with the jail, are other examples. I have also volunteered a good bit of time working with lobbyists and activists from Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and even TPPF to draft and testify on bills at the Legislature to expand people’s eligibility to seal and expunge arrest records.
6. What state policies would you like to see in place to address racial justice? What actions have you taken on racial justice?
I’d like to see real action and accountability for racial profiling and police violence. I was reviewing the Sandra Bland Act the other day, and the version that ultimately passed is some of the most toothless lip service I can recall in terms of legislation. I’m all for additional training and reporting requirements, but without clear measures of accountability things will never change. I disagree with state law that allows a district attorney’s office to investigate police officers in their jurisdiction for misconduct, and gives them the discretion to make a half-hearted effort to indict, or worse, no effort at all. Because of the clear conflict of interest, and to foster the trust of the community, I believe the state law should direct the DA to recuse in these cases, and at the very least appoint a non-conflicted special prosecutor.
Access to courts has also been an issue for minority members of our community. There is a system called the “jail reduction docket” in Travis County. This is for people who are either too poor to make bond or for whatever reason cannot qualify for a personal bond. The people on this docket are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. They are often held in jail until they have no option but to plead guilty in order to get out. The concept of money bail affects the minority community in the same ways that most other things in the justice system do, disproportionately negatively. I have both participated in Black Lives Matter protests and represented some of the BLM folks who allegedly shut down I-35 in September 2015. I also regularly attend events sponsored by United We Dream, Grassroots Leadership, and others, and represent protesters of SB4 and the repeal of DACA pro bono. I consider this fight to be the most important civil rights issue of our time, and it is my honor to do this small part.
7. Are there ways the justice system disadvantages workers? If so, what changes would you advocate for?
My highest priority is to make our courthouse more accessible and fair for working people. People who can afford a high-dollar lawyer rarely have to appear in court. I think this should be uniform for all people, especially at the misdemeanor level. A person who is represented by counsel should not have to take off of work and appear in a misdemeanor court unless something significant is going to happen with the case. Currently in Court 3 there is an entire docket that is comprised primarily of possession of marijuana and driving while license invalid cases, in which people are required to come in and visit with the judge each month at 4pm. These people have lawyers, and I am for letting lawyers do their jobs with minimal collateral consequences for people who are presumed innocent.
Another thing that disadvantages workers is saddling them with arrest records in the first place, for petty offenses that can prevent them from advancing or getting another job. Our cite and release policy here in Travis County is a nice idea, but it still has the effect of giving people lifelong arrest records unless they can get their cases expunged or sealed. And these are for some of the most minor misdemeanors on the books, such as possession of marijuana, driving while license invalid, and trespassing, which largely affect people who are poor.
8. In your view should there be any change to the role of corporate funding in our elections?
Yes. There shouldn’t be any. I am for public financing of campaigns. When I was appointed by Greg Casar to serve on the City of Austin Ethics Review Commission, I volunteered for the campaign finance work group, because I think those are the most important and impactful regulations that can have an immediate effect on our politics. Incidentally, my opponent has rejected the limits of the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, which means he intends to raise and spend more than $200,000 on this race. I’m not sure whether rejecting those limits has ever been done by a Democrat in Travis County, and it definitely sets a bad precedent.
9. What are some policies you would implement to make our election system more democratic?
Eliminate Voter ID entirely. In-person voter fraud does not and cannot happen in any significant way to affect an election. Voter ID in my view is intended to disenfranchise those who have barriers to obtaining ID’s, and also frighten minority voters with threats of felony convictions for even trying to exercise their right to vote. There should also be more programs to inform the formerly incarcerated that they regain their right to vote once they have completed their sentence. I regularly do voter registration outside the criminal courthouse, because that’s where the “convicted felons” are. Anytime I hear someone say, “I can’t vote,” I try as delicately as possible to explain that if it is because of a felony conviction, that they can register if their sentence is complete. Last year I registered 7 formerly incarcerated people to vote, and they were my favorites. I also have occasion to speak to lots of lawyers and judges while I’m doing this, and am always amazed at how many of them don’t know this.
10. What’s your solution for gerrymandering?
I really don’t know. I’m terrible at math, and whenever I hear things like “efficiency gap” and “single member/multi member districts” it makes my brain hurt. I could Google and cut and paste some of the things I’ve read about as solutions, but I’m going to be honest and admit I don’t have an answer for everything.
11. How are you funding your campaign?
I had originally intended not to accept any money from anyone who could have any business before the court – defense attorneys, prosecutors, or bail bond agents. Then I got the campaign budget. If I am to have any chance of winning under the circumstances described in Answer 8 above, I cannot run with self-imposed limits that would effectively be one hand tied behind my back. Therefore, I am reluctantly accepting donations from attorneys, but so far they tend to be lower contributions from lawyers who know and trust me. Some of the highest-volume criminal defense firms in town, on the other hand, have not donated to my campaign because they fear that my reform policies, which will seek to divert people from arrest and incarceration, will be bad for their businesses. And they are absolutely correct.
12. Have you advocated for the rights of undocumented immigrants? If so, please explain.
Yes, especially recently. My first legal gig ever was an unpaid internship at Southern New Mexico Legal Aid, where I put up flyers to notify immigrant farm workers of their rights under the FLSA. I have been a sustaining member of Workers Defense Project for years, and represented their members pro bono last year after they were charged with offenses during their march protesting the Hutto detention facility in November 2015. I am currently representing 3 separate groups of activists who have participated in civil disobedience regarding SB4 and the repeal of DACA earlier this year, including 4 DACAmented young people who put their status and liberty on the line for this cause.
13. Are there ways the justice system disadvantages or discriminates against women? If so, what changes would you advocate for?
On the issue of sexual assault, when I was in college working with ISSUES, we used to caution students against victim blaming. It is disheartening to read things in the wake of the recent Trump, Cosby, and now Weinstein cases, that confirm to me that not much has changed since then. I fear that if our politics do not change, and soon, that policies like Betsy DeVos’ gutting of Title 9 sexual assault investigation procedures could creep into our criminal justice system as well. I would also advocate for the Sheriff to assign inmates in the jail based on sexual identity, not on sex at birth or what’s on a person’s driver’s license. Being in jail, even for a short time, is punishment enough. I can only imagine the harassment and assault transgender women must be subject to when being housed with men in the jail.
14. If there were one thing you could accomplish immediately, what would it be?
If I’m elected, I intend to immediately create a docket of cases to ensure the automatic sealing of records of first-time offenders that was authorized by the Legislature in HB 3936 in 2015. This law took effect September 1, 2015, and it still has never been followed in Travis County. So I would first get caught up on the backlog of the eligible cases from the last two years, and then ensure that all of these orders are signed for eligible people going forward. It was my hope that making this a campaign issue would get things rolling faster, and that it would start to be worked on by the time I was elected. But now three months into this campaign, I have not heard any word from judges or probation or anyone that anything is being fixed. That’s why we need new judges.
15. What is your campaign strategy for winning in November?
Work like hell. Tell the truth about what goes on at our criminal courthouse. The more people I talk and listen to about things like giving people arrest records for possession of marijuana, refusing to dismiss these cases without a clear urinalysis (a policy specific to my opponent), denying them their right to have their records sealed, and keeping them in jail because pretrial services cannot verify their address, the more confident I am that justice will prevail.