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Texas judge who questions death penalty won't seek reelection

Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala, a Republican, said the main reason she won't run is because of the “random and unreliable” results from partisan judicial elections.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala.

A Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge who is well known for her criticism of the death penalty announced on Thursday that she will not run for reelection when her term ends in 2018.

Judge Elsa Alcala, a Republican who was appointed to the court in 2011 by then-Gov. Rick Perry, said the main reason she won't run is because of the “random and unreliable” results from partisan judicial elections.

“I have seen too many qualified judges lose their bids for election or reelection, and I have witnessed the converse situation too,” she said in a posted statement on Twitter Thursday morning.

Voters tend to pay little attention to judicial elections, which reside lower on the ballot. Candidates running for open seats on the court in last May's runoff said they doubted most Texans know the court even exists.

Alcala added in her statement that a statewide campaign would require too much time away from her family, including three teenagers in high school. The personal cost was “too high,” she said.

The judge is known for her lengthy dissents. In a June opinion, Alcala argued it was time for the court to look at the constitutionality of Texas’ death penalty. Some arguments against its constitutionality are a nationwide decline in capital punishment, racial discrimination and lengthy stays in solitary confinement on death row, she said.

In her time on the court, the death penalty has become more publicized, and she thinks she played a role in that, she told the Tribune shortly after her announcement.

“I got some folks to think about things that maybe they weren’t thinking about before, so I’m proud of that,” she said.

The court, the highest in the state for criminal proceedings, is comprised of all Republicans and generally in favor of the death penalty. One other judge, Larry Meyers, said in September that the Legislature should make life without parole the harshest punishment, but he lost reelection in November after switching parties to become a Democrat.

Before being appointed to the court, Alcala served on the state’s First Court of Appeals and worked as a state district judge in the 338th District Court in Harris County, according to the court’s website. She also served as an assistant district attorney in Harris County, a county that has handed down more death sentences than any other state aside from Texas.

Alcala said in her statement Thursday she was unsure of what she would do after her term ends at the end of 2018, though she clarified she was not “retiring.”

"I have spent the last year pondering what my next step will be after I leave the court, and I am undecided about that," she said.

Read more on the Court of Criminal Appeals:


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Courts Criminal justice Death penalty