Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Blizzard of Confusion

Okay, maybe calling the small ice storm a "blizzard" is a mild exaggeration, but it works well for the title. 

In all honesty, it probably doesn't even qualify as a "storm," but it is cold outside with precipitation and we all know that tends to confuse Houstonians.  It's kind of like having a successful pro sports team.  We hear that those exist in other parts of the country, but it's been so long since it happened here that we don't know what to do with ourselves.

Most governmental agencies in Harris County tend to err on the side of caution and just shut everything down.   With the weather forecasters predicting a freeze coupled with precipitation, the Houston Independent School District had announced school closures by mid-afternoon yesterday.  With that announcement, those of us with kids (who were now slated to stay home from school) turned our attention to what was going on with the criminal courts.

County Judge Ed Emmett was the first to speak on the topic by indicating that Harris County buildings would remain open.  By doing this, he basically punted to the different elected officials who resided within those buildings to determine whether or not they would be open.  I can understand why Judge Emmett would punt.  He didn't want to be the guy who singlehandedly gave the entire county a paid day off.

But by punting, he caused all of us who work within the Harris County Criminal Justice System to require 38 different answers from 38 different elected judges.  Complicating matters was the fact that Monday was Martin Luther King. Jr. Day, so none of those elected judges were at work to give definitive answers.

Fortunately, through the District Courts' website and Facebook page, the answers became available quickly for some of the felony courts. 

Additionally, Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel was quick to announce that jury service for Tuesday was cancelled.

While this was certainly a substantial number of courts, it wasn't all of them.  There were several District Courts not on the list of closures, not to mention none of the sixteen County Courts had made a formal announcement.  Two of the County Court Judges (Judge Mike Fields and Judge Jay Karahan) took to their Facebook pages to announce that they would be closing their courts.  This morning, word was informally shared that ALL of the County Courts would be closed.

But there were still a couple of District Courts that had not spoken up yet, and there was total confusion as to whether or not the male and female Jail Dockets were being held.  One of the District Courts had a recorded voice message stating that the office was closed due to inclement weather, but the judge of that court had announced that he planned to have his afternoon docket as scheduled.  He ultimately relented and cancelled his 1 o'clock docket, but not until noon.

I'm sitting second chair on a case in that court with my good friend, Korey Huff, and the advice we gave to our client this morning went like this:

Call 1 -- "We haven't heard anything.  You probably need to come in."
Call 2 -- "The voicemail for the Court says they are closed, so you don't need to come in."
Call 3 -- "Nope.  Wait.  Sorry about that, they are now saying Court is open.  You need to come in."
Call 4 -- "Sorry again, now they are saying you don't need to come in."

It was embarrassing.  Nothing instills confidence in a client like decisiveness from his or her attorney.

Criminal Defense Attorneys on Facebook were blasting the lack of consistency and advance notice from the Judges.  That wasn't really fair to the judges who had made the effort to give quick notices of cancellations, but I understand the frustration. 

Believe me, I understand.  I was one of a handful of attorneys who drove in this morning for a jail docket, only to be told that they weren't able to bring over prisoners because the jailers were short-staffed.

It would seem to me that there should be a pretty simple solution to this confusion.  Both the District Court and County Court Judges have a presiding judge.  The individual judges should just vote to bestow power to those presiding judges to make the uniform decision of whether or not to shut down the courts.  They can make a decision the day before and they can publish that on a unified web page.

I get that the decision to shut down court is not one to be made lightly.  A missed day in court can lead to people being incarcerated longer than necessary.  But at the end of the day, sometimes public safety demands just that.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ryan Patrick Swearing In

Happy belated New Year, everyone.  I'm glad to be starting the New Year with some good news.

Former 177th District Court Judge Ryan Patrick is being sworn in tomorrow, Monday, January 8th as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.  Although a ceremonial investiture will be taking place in February or March, he will formally begin his job by being sworn in tomorrow at 8:45 a.m.

He is being sworn in in the courtroom of Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal (in the Federal Courthouse at 515 Rusk, Courtroom 11B) and all are invited to attend.

Ryan was a great prosecutor during his time at Harris County and a great judge.  I know he'll do well in his new position, and I'm proud to call him my friend.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The 2018 Finalized Election Field

As many of you know, the filing deadline for candidates running for office in the 2018 Election ended at 6 p.m. on Monday, December 11th.

Without commentary from me (at this point),  below is the finalized field of candidates running for Harris County judgeships.  It is complete to the best of my knowledge, after looking at the Harris County Democrat and Republican websites, the Secretary of State's website, and running it by candidates on both sides.  If I inadvertently left anyone off, it is unintentional and I'll fix it if you let me know.  Also, if you are missing a link to your campaign website, let me know and I'll add it.

The 180th District Court
REP:  Catherine Evans (I)         
DEM:  DaSean Jones

182nd Distrct Court
REP:  Jesse McClure                 
DEM:  Danilo "Danny" Lacayo

183rd District Court
REP:  Vanessa Velasquez (I)     
DEM:  Chuck Silverman

184th District Court
REP:  Renee Magee  vs. Antonio Benavides               
DEM:  Abigail Anastasio
185th District Court
REP:  Stacey Bond vs. Maritza Antu             
DEM:  Jason Luong vs. Brennen Dunn

208th District Court
REP:  Denise Collins (I)              
DEM:  Greg Glass

209th District Court
REP:  Michael McSpadden (I)   
DEM:  Brian Warren

228th District Court
REP:  Marc Carter  (I)               
DEM:  Frank Aguilar     

230th  District Court
REP:  Brad Hart (I)                   
DEM:   Chris Morton

232nd District Court
REP:  Kristin Guiney  (I)           
DEM:  Josh Hill

248th District Court
REP:  Katherine Cabaniss (I)   
DEM:  Hilary Unger

262nd District Court
REP:  Tammy Thomas             
DEM:  Lori Chambers Gray

263rd District Court
REP:  Justin Keiter vs. Charles Johnson             
DEM:  Amy Martin
313th District Court (Juvenile)
REP:  Glenn Devlin (I)           
DEM:  John Stephen Liles vs. Natalia Oakes vs. Tracy D. Good

314th District Court (Juvenile)
REP:  John Phillips (I)                 
DEM:  Michelle Moore

315th District Court (Juvenile)
REP:  Mike Schneider (I)       
DEM:  Leah Shapiro

County Court at Law # 1
REP:  Paula Goodhart (I)             
DEM:  Alex Salgado

County Court at Law # 2
REP:  Bill Harmon (I)                 
DEM:  Harold Landreneau vs. Ronnisha Bowman

County Court at Law # 3
REP:  Natalie Flemming (I)           
DEM:  Erica Hughes

County Court at Law # 4
REP:  John Clinton (I)                 
DEM:  Shannon Baldwin

County Court at Law # 5
REP:  Xavier Alfaro                   
DEM:    David Fleischer vs. Armen Merjanian vs. Aaron Saldana

County Court at Law # 6
REP:  Linda Garcia                     
DEM:  KelleyAndrews

County Court at Law # 7
REP:  Pam Derbyshire (I)           
DEM:  Andrew A. Wright vs. Danval Scarbrough

County Court at Law # 8
REP:   Jay Karahan  (I) vs. Dan Simon         
DEM:  Franklin Bynum

County Court at Law # 9
REP:  John Wakefield                 
DEM:  Toria Finch

County Court at Law # 10
REP:  Dan Spjut (I)                     
DEM:  Lee Harper Wilson

County Court at Law # 11
REP:  Aaron Burdette vs.  Lori Botello                 
DEM:  Gus Saper vs. Sedrick T Walker II 

County Court at Law # 12
REP:  John Spjut                         
DEM:  Juan Aguirre vs. Cassandra Y. Holleman

County Court at Law # 13
REP:  Jessica Padilla                   
DEM:  Raul Rodriguez vs. Mike Renfro

County Court at Law # 14
REP:  Mike Fields                       
DEM:  David Singer

County Court at Law # 15
REP:  Roger Bridgewater           
DEM:  Kris Ougrah vs. Tonya Jones

Additionally, I wanted to point out that there are a few races involving some Harris County folks who are running for some other additional benches.

339th District Court Judge Maria T. Jackson is running as a Democrat for Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. (Statewide Race)

338th District Court Judge Ramona Franklin is running as a Democrat for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 7. (Statewide Race)

Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reeder is running as a Democrat for the 234th District Court (Civil Bench).

Former Assistant Public Defender Frances Bourliot is running as a Democrat for the 14th Court of Appeals.

Assistant Public Defender Sarah "Sorcha" Landau is also running for the First Court of Appeals, Position 6.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Couple of Blog Awards

I was very pleasantly surprised over the past couple of weeks to be notified that Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center had won a couple of legal blog awards.

The American Bar Association Journal named the blog as a Top 100 Legal Blog at the end of November with this write up.

And, as if that wasn't enough of a huge honor, it was followed up with an award from Feedspot as a Top 60 Criminal Justice Blog.

I'm not real sure how I got nominated or who is actually voting on these awards, but I'm extremely honored and grateful for the awards.  It's easy to write when you are surrounded by interesting things happening all around you.  Under normal circumstances, the Harris County Criminal Justice System is an fascinating place to be.  In the post-Harvey World, it has been taken to a whole new level.  

I started this thing back in 2008 with the expectation that it would probably last a couple of weeks and then I'd be so embarrassed about it that I'd take it down.  Those of you who have read it (and more importantly, commented on it) have truly given it a life of its own.  I'm keenly aware of the fact that the majority of y'all read it strictly for the comments!

For whatever reason you check in on this blog, I appreciate it. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Vice News Appearance

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Vice News on HBO about Life in the Harris County Criminal Justice world in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  If you missed the segment when it aired, you can catch it by clicking here.

They also added a little bit of bonus content on their website that wasn't included in the original.