The runoff race to determine who will preside over the 388th District Court, which has the power to determine outcomes in cases such as divorces, child custody and protective orders, has been wrought with negativity.

Allegations of dirty campaigning in recent weeks between the two Democratic candidates have included improper use of campaign workers, sign removals and social media harassment, among others.

Judge Laura Strathmann

Incumbent Judge Laura Strathmann and her opponent Marlene Gonzalez have no Republican competitor, so whoever receives the most votes will preside over the family court.

The manner in which the race has unfolded has left the president of the El Paso Young Democrats disheartened.

“There’s been a lot of negativity around that race and I understand the competitiveness and the importance of that judicial district, especially because it is a family court, but some of the practices that we have been seeing are just absolutely abhorrent and not reflective of our organization or really the way we should be trying to run for things in El Paso,” said 19-year-old  J.J. Martinez, president of the El Paso Young Democrats.

Martinez said the organization endorsed Strathmann and they still support her, but both candidates need to set better examples for young voters.

Marlene Gonzalez

“We have to just be better as human beings and really elevate the conversation past these petty discussions and we have to hold ourselves accountable not just the candidates in our spaces,” Martinez said. “At the end of the day we all just want what is best for our communities and we want the people that represent us to be the best people for that job — in general we have to do better.”

Strathmann said she has been above board throughout her campaign.

“I think that the campaign style that Mrs. Gonzalez has is a direct result of what we have seen in our nation over the last four years. So with regard to whether either one of us should be on the bench, of course as far as I’m concerned I should be the judge of the court,” Strathmann said. “I don’t think Mrs. Gonzalez should be the judge of the 388th District Court. I will certainly say that if the way that she has conducted the campaign is representative of how she is in court, that is not an appropriate temperament to be a judge.”

Gonzalez did not respond to multiple requests for comment from El Paso Matters.

On the issues

Family court judges wield tremendous power and deal with some of society’s most intractable problems, such as child neglect. In an interview, Strathmann said she would look to available community resources and determine which would be best to utilize given that family’s dynamic and what was the core source for the neglect.

Learn more: Voters Guide to the July 14 runoffs

“It’s a case-by-case basis and generally speaking children are not just neglected, there’s usually something else at work that causes the neglect as a consequence of that underlying act. So that’s what you need to do, you need to understand the etiology of the problem and like I said before you start working with those primary sources of the problem and then go from there.”

Addressing root causes of family instability, such as substance abuse or mental health issues, requires customized plans that meet each unique circumstance,” Strathmann said.

“The rest of the family has suffered from a result of that and also (look at) how to start healing the rest of the family. So you go to the community resources that you have and you figure out which one fits that particular situation, but you don’t just treat one individual you have to treat a whole family,” she said.

Asked why she is the best candidate, Strathman said her judicial temperament, patience, compassion and knowledge of the family code qualify her to be reelected.

“I always listen very very intently to both parents and I make orders for the best interest of the child. Always the idea of the child’s best interest and what parent is better suited to provide a stable environment for a child, routine, stability and that type of thing,” Strathmann said. “With me, two parents are on the same plane. Other factors do not come into play. If I’ve got two people in there and if it happens to be two moms, if it happens to be two dads, if it’s someone who has illegal status and somebody who does not; I don’t judge people differently. I don’t judge people differently based on any outside factors. When people come I just listen to find out which one of those two human beings is in the best position to provide care to the child.”

Early voting continues through Friday. Election Day is July 14.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...