Draper appointed to replace late Harris County criminal court judge
Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday appointed public defender Genesis Draper to fill a vacancy on the criminal court bench left by the unexpected death of Judge Cassandra Hollemon earlier this month on Feb. 11.
The court unanimously approved Draper to the County Criminal Court at Law 12 position until 2020, at which point she has the option to run for the remainder of Hollemon’s term, which runs through 2022.
“Your commitment to public service is clear, and I believe that Judge Holleman would have endorsed your candidacy,” County Judge Lina Hidalgo said to Draper, who sat in the audience with her husband.
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Draper, a Longview native, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She served as a public defender in Nashville, Tenn. and the U.S. District Court in Houston before joining the Harris County public defender’s office in 2017.
Hollemon, who died after a brief illness Feb. 11, was one of 17 Democratic African-American women calling themselves Black Girl Magic who were swept into office last November. All 55 judicial seats on the ballot in November went to Democrats.
Draper said any lawyer would find replacing Holleman a challenge. Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting praised Draper’s work ethic and vigorous representation of defendants.
“All I can say is that I will work tirelessly to do (Holleman’s) legacy justice,” Draper said. “I’m excited to serve the residents of Harris County.”
Draper is the sixth current or former lawyer to join the bench from the county public defender’s office.
“Public defenders provide diversity to the bench,” Chief Public Defender Alex Bunin said. “They have life experience helping the poor and speaking for those who cannot advocate for themselves.”
The new judges have indicated they intend to rely on the public defender’s office more heavily, and as a result Commissioners Court has agreed to roughly double the size of Bunin’s staff.
The five other public defender alumni who have ascended to the bench are Justice Sara Beth Landau, First Court of Appeals; Justice Francis Bourliot, 14th Court of Appeals; Judge Danilo Lacayo, 182nd Criminal District Court; Judge Leah Shapiro, 315th Juvenile District Court; and Judge Franklin Bynum, County Criminal Court at Law No. 8.
Zach Despart covers Harris County for the Chronicle. You can follow him on twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .