Law and Disorder

In Janice Law's quests for a judgeship, the fourth time was a charm -- and now an alarm for the rest of the courthouse

But Law apparently figured he had two possible weaknesses: He was a Democrat. And he was a senior citizen.

"Let's talk practicality," Law said in a mail-out to voters in that district. "Howard is 64 years old. If he is re-elected, he will be 65 a few days after being sworn in and will be 69 years old if he finishes the term he is now seeking."

Wayland had no history of health problems. Law, who was 50 at the time, told The Houston Post she knew of no problems regarding her opponent's age -- but she still believed it was a viable issue and could be a factor against him.

Law also returned to the courthouse to sue a Republican primary opponent, alleging irregularities in his filing for that election. Her suit was thrown out as too late.

She lost her first race for office in November 1992. It would be nearly a year later that an undisclosed settlement was reached in the suit over the 11-year-old divorce decree.

The conclusion may have had something to do with what happened a month before that ending: Janice Law got married, and not to just anybody. She was the new bride of Donald Jansen, a political heavyweight and partner in the prestigious law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski.

In a paid marriage announcement in the Houston Chronicle, it was explained that "the bride and groom met through political campaigns."

And politics was the dominant theme of the write-up.

About 375 of their closest friends gathered for a wedding conducted by Catholic Monsignor Vincent Rizzotto himself.

It was poetry in motion. Then-state district judge Greg Abbott (now a state supreme court justice) read one poem. Jansen recited Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee."

And in case anybody missed the connections of the wedding cast, that was emphasized in the wedding announcement. Rehearsal dinner courtesy of best man Louis Macey (the announcement gave his years on City Council, 1975 to '79). Matron of Honor was Tony Lindsay, the state district judge married to state legislator Jon Lindsay, a former county judge of Harris County.

There also was GOP chairwoman Betsy Lake and judges Caprice Cosper and Jim Scanlon.

As for the honeymoon, the woman who had fought forever over an ex-hubbie's lump-sum retirement was on her way to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and, oh yes, Russia.

Despite the well-connected nuptial crowd, none of the wedding gifts was a judicial bench. That would have to come later.

In 1994 Law ran against incumbent Jim Barkley for a county court at law criminal bench. She lost. But she gained herself a substitute municipal court position, courtesy of Houston City Council.

Two years later she filed for a more ambitious post: the state Court of Criminal Appeals seat being vacated by Democrat Sam Houston Clinton. She was an also-ran in the field for the statewide office.

But Law hardly seemed to view herself as a three-time loser with the electorate. These were warm-ups. Two years after her last defeat, the Republican tide was surging over the Houston electorate. And Eleanor Janice Law was riding that giddy surf.


The formula for victory in 1998 was simple. Get on the GOP primary ballot, with an endorsement from the Steven Hotze-led right-wing Christian conservatives. Hotze's forces, however controversial, got the voters out. Up to 40,000 God-fearing right-wingers were in the hands of the Hotze team.

And Law was one of them.

She had been a team player, a Republican loyalist for three past elections. And Law was first out on the campaign trail, targeting first one and then another bench being vacated by an incumbent. But those plans clashed with the strategy of Hotze's activists, who wanted prosecutors to run for the vacant judgeship positions so they would not have to resign from their jobs. (District Attorney Johnny Holmes had a policy at the time that prosecutors running for office could retain their jobs only if they sought judicial seats being vacated.)

So Law acceded to the wishes of Hotze and stepped aside from two races so prosecutors could run for those open benches. She set her sights on a challenge of Judge Hannah Chow.

Chow, while no legal scholar, had done nothing to raise the ire of the courthouse crew, much less the electorate. But she had one fatal flaw in 1998: She was a Democrat.

And the only real opposition for Law was another small-time lawyer named Mike Monks. He had the distasteful sideline, at least in the eyes of Hotze's organization, of being a bail bondsman as well.

One attorney closely involved with the Hotze effort explained the endorsement of Law. "She'd paid her dues, and she seemed qualified -- she was a former assistant U.S. attorney." Nobody appeared to notice that she'd been released after holding the job for all of about 30 weeks. It did not hurt that her husband was a politically connected partner in a powerful law firm. He'd served as counsel for the local GOP and had even been a member of the city's ethics commission.

Law got the nod for the endorsement, which gave her the GOP primary victory, thanks to Hotze's minions. And the general election was a slam dunk. Law, like most of the other GOP judicial candidates, prevailed by about 7 percentage points, riding Bush's coattails.

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