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Wood says she would add new outlook to court of criminal appeals

By Glenn Evans
Oct. 12, 2013 at 11 p.m.


A public defender who specializes in appeals hopes to bring that perspective to a state court where all nine members are former prosecutors.

"The perspective I bring is one that no one on the court has," Republican Jani Jo Wood said of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. "When you have a court that is almost totally comprised of people who are prosecutors, or were prosecutors, the perspective is a little skewed. One person can't sway the entire court, but what they can do is say, 'Let's look at it this way.' "

The Court of Criminal Appeals is the final stop for all criminal charges. The panel is destined for a significant turnover in 2016 with three open seats created by retirements.

Wood, 49, is seeking the Place 4 seat being vacated by Judge Paul Womack. The term is for six years.

Filing for the 2014 party primaries doesn't begin until Nov. 9, but one other candidate, Kevin Yeary of San Antonio, has designated a treasurer to raise funds for the Place 4 seat.

Wood also is a board member on the Texas Innocence Project, which uses DNA technology breakthroughs to overturn wrongful convictions.

Just because she brings a defendant's perspective to the race doesn't mean Wood is soft on crime, she added. It means she's hard-line on following the U.S. Constitution.

"It's not conservative or liberal - the constitution demands that people be defended," she said. "I'm as conservative as (U.S. Sen.) Ted Cruz on the constitution, because I want it followed right down the line."

The U.S. Supreme Court justice with whom Wood most closely identifies is Antonin Scalia, hardly a liberal jurist.

Before joining the Harris County Public Defenders Office in February 2011, Wood was in private practice for 12 years. She clerked for the court she hopes to join before that, has argued before the court multiple times and has two cases pending there now.

This year she was named Harris County Criminal Lawyer of the Year and Texas Criminal Defendant Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year. The latter award arose from her success at getting a medical examiner to reverse testimony and admit a baby's injuries were consistent with being either abused or accidentally dropped.

"And the Court of Criminal Appeals granted my client a new trial," she said.

Wood also is in her 22nd year teaching advanced legal writing at the University of Houston Law Center.

"In fact, I have a whole briefcase full of papers to grade as I travel around," she said. "I still work a 40-hour week."

Wood is running a modest campaign from her car, having visited El Paso, Denton, Lubbock.

"What I can provide is a different perspective," she said.

She and her husband, Ted, are parents of three grown children. The couple had planned a trip to Paris for the wife's upcoming 50th birthday, but the campaign will put a stay on that motion.

"He goes, 'Maybe Paris, Texas,' " she said.

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