In the Nov. 6 general election, UT alumna Latosha Lewis Payne made history as one of the 17 African-American women who ran for judgeships in Harris County — and won. Of the 19 women in the campaign, 17 women won their races by double digits, according to the Houston Chronicle. The other two lost their bids for positions on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but will maintain their Harris County judgeships, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I’m still pinching myself,” said Payne, judge-elect of the 55th District Court. “Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime. I’m in awe of the amazing feat of electing all 19 of us … and the awesome responsibility and opportunity voters have given us to show we can change the justice system in Harris County.”
Payne is the second woman and the first African-American to preside over the 55th District Court. She and the other 16 women are among the 59 Democratic judges who were elected in Harris County, which has a population of more than 4.5 million and includes Houston. About 70 percent of the population is non-white, according to United States Census Bureau data.
After filing to run in December, Payne said leaders from the Democratic Party held an event to bring together the Democratic candidates in Harris County. Realizing there was an unprecedented number of African-American women on the ballot, Payne said party leaders brought the women together under the campaign slogan “Harris County Black Girl Magic.”
“After the primary election, we started campaigning and attending church together,” Payne said. “We received a powerful and positive reaction from the community, which encouraged us to show up at as many places as we could. It became obvious that the community was encouraged by what they saw as ‘Black Girl Magic.’”
Through the campaign, Payne said she has gained an appreciation and “growing love” for the diversity in Harris County.
“The election of such a diverse group of individuals is something the courts in Harris County have never seen,” Payne said. “Many of the courts have never been held by an African-American, or even a woman, but we wanted to change that and ensure the county’s leadership reflected the community.”
Payne said her life experiences will bring a fresh perspective to the courtroom.
“My experience representing poor and disadvantaged clients in civil court will allow me to have compassion, empathy and a greater understanding of the various litigants who come into the courtroom,” Payne said. “My hope is to help them walk away from the system with a sense that they were able to obtain justice in the court.”
Payne said she believes the judge-elects of the campaign will make a profound impact on the county’s justice system.
“I am inspired by the other women and all the Democratic candidates coming in,” Payne said. “I’m confident they will not only change the face of justice, but also change the
culture of the courthouses in Harris County.”
Payne said she hopes the campaign encourages young people to follow their passions and never give up.
“I encountered a number of folks and obstacles that told me I can’t do something or I shouldn’t do something,” Payne said. “But I remained true to my inner voice which told me, ‘Do it anyway.’ Regardless of circumstance or where you come from or how many hurdles you have to jump, listen to your inner voice and keep pushing forward. You can accomplish whatever it is you seek.”