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Why Am I Running?

I’m James S. Horwitz, and I’m running for the Judge, Harris County Probate #4, because I think Houston deserves better. Here, on this website, I answer a few questions in order to explain my philosophy and why I'm best qualified to represent you.

What is a Probate Court?

Unfortunately as we all learn sometimes too soon, life is finite and Will ultimately end in death. Additionally, age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient. Our society, as represented by our legislature, determined that for these reasons, all of us could use assistance in managing some or all of our daily affairs and ultimately our estate after our death. These activities are often managed by the intervention of Probate Courts. The Texas Constitution grants the Texas Legislature the authority to determine which court handles probate matters.

As a result of the efforts of our Texas Legislature, 10 of the 15 largest counties (specifically including Harris County) have Probate Courts. These Probate Courts handle matters of:

(i) probate,
(ii) guardianship issues,
(iii) issues regarding trusts; and
(iv) the determination of involuntary commitments of individuals to mental health institutions

What are the responsibilities of the Judge in Probate Court?

As I mentioned above, Probate involves the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died) according to the laws of descent and distribution if one has died without a Will such as by granting an Order of Administration giving judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate, determines the validity of Wills, makes orders concerning the provisions of a valid Will (by issuing the Order Admitting a Will to Probate), rules on issues of breach of fiduciary duties by executors and administrators of estates.

In contested matters involving probate with a Will, a Probate Court examines the genuineness of a Will and/or whether the Will was made under duress or that the Will is not the last Will written by the deceased person. It is the job of the Probate Court to decide which Will is authentic. Once that determination is made, the Probate Court appoints an Executor to fulfill the terms of the Will. In many cases, an Executor is named in the Will and the court appoints that person. The Executor then executes the Will according to the deceased person's wishes as stated in his/her Will. When age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient, the establishment of a guardianship can occur. A guardianship is a relationship established by a Probate Court between the person who needs help – called a ward – and the person or entity named by the court to help the ward. This person or entity is known as a guardian.

In Texas, a person does not have a guardian until an application to appoint one is filed with the court, a hearing is held and a judge then appoints a guardian. When the court appointment is made, the person the guardian cares for becomes the ward. There are different types of guardianships available in Texas. They are: They are:

• Guardian of the person, full or limited
• Guardian of the estate, full or limited.
• Guardian of the person and estate.
• Temporary guardianship.

In addition to individuals, entities and guardianship programs can be appointed guardians. Guardians have legal responsibilities and are required to perform certain tasks and make reports to the Court while providing assistance to their wards.

The Probate Court should look at the individuals and programs willing to be guardians and base the appointment of guardians on several factors including: a preference to appointing a qualifying family member as guardian rather than guardianship programs or court appointed attorneys.

The Probate Court also should establish how much freedom a ward may have to make his/her own decisions. The Probate Court should decide limitations on a guardian's authority.

Why does it matter who the Judge is?

The Judge must be very familiar with the law and able to rule on legal matters including the admissibility of evidence and the procedures required to conduct trials and hearings. Uncontested matters Will be heard by a judge. Contested matters will be heard by a trier of fact, either the judge alone or by a jury.

If a matter is solely before a judge, the judge is the ultimate decision maker as to the credibility of the evidence presented. In that case no one else has more power than the judge as to the believability of the facts presented. In those instances, the judge is the Supreme Court of the facts and the law of the case since the judge must decide whether testimony is credible. As a judge, that person is an officer and representative of the government. He or she cannot allow personal or religious views to cloud one's judgment. He or she must uphold the law and apply them to all citizens equally.

What makes you different and better qualified to be the Judge?

There are no short cuts to experience and wisdom. I have practiced law for thirty seven (37) years, more than twice as long as my opponent. When I began my legal practice, my opponent hadn't even begun first grade. Experience counts. For thirty-seven years, I have represented thousands of clients in estate planning and probate court as well as at all levels of the civil, criminal, family, and juvenile courts in Harris County, Texas, including also a multitude of other jurisdictions in Texas. Wisdom counts. My sound judgment has been gleaned from nearly four decades of work providing assistance to individuals and their families through my dedication to quality, my understanding of the foibles of people, and my understanding of the law.

My experience and wisdom is the result of many decades of working with the grieving, the divorced, the criminal, and the incompetent - all of which provides me with a unique perspective to understand and address the needs of those that come before me as a judge in probate court.

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About James S. Horwitz

Before law school, while James Horwitz was in college at the University of Houston, and later in graduate school, he was a leader in the youth services field for many years developing half-way houses for runaway and throwaway kids in the greater Houston and Texas area. This resulted in his participation in the creation of national legislation that developed the National Runaway Youth Hotline, as well as funding for community centers throughout the United States.

During law school, also at the University of Houston, James created a number of tax exempt organizations servicing the needs of families in distress in Houston. His experience in working with youth service oriented organizations resulted in his frequent attendance in juvenile court on behalf of children and their families as well as being a resource for juvenile court judges on many cases. Hence his foundation in juvenile, criminal, and family law.

After completing law school more than 35 years ago, James Horwitz built his law firm with a single focus: representing business owners as their general counsel. The experience he has gained from operating his organizations as well as his own law firm for decades has given James Horwitz the unique perspective and sound judgment that a business owner needs and should seek on a day to day every day basis in order to be successful.

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"Harris County Deserves Better"
- James S. Horwitz for Judge,
Harris County Probate Court #4

© 2014 James S. Horwitz, All Rights Reserved

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