Saturday, September 27, 2008

The 176th District Court Judicial Race

Okay, I got a little sidetracked on my election profiles by some dude named Ike. But, I'm back again.

Back in January, I posted an article making note of the fact that if it weren't for the Rosenthal e-mail scandal (and subsequent D.A. Race), that the race for the 176th District Court would have probably been the spotlighted race for this election season in Harris County. (NOTE: When I said that it was before the Obama phenomenon had occurred).

I'm sure that every large county has it's judge that everyone dreads appearing before.

In Harris County, that judge would be Republican Judge Brian Rains of the 176th District Court, and in November, he will be challenged for his bench by Democratic Candidate and Defense Attorney Shawna Reagin.

In my January article, I pointed out that Rains' short temper, angry outbursts, and overall rudeness to attorneys were some of his major flaws. In reality, those things are just the tip of the iceberg. I think most voters could easily forgive a judge who was rude to arrogant prosecutors and defense attorneys that were practicing in front of him. However, Rains' anger, arrogance and stubbornness go way beyond the bounds of a lawyer's hurt feelings. They often bleed over into his rulings and how he handles his court in ways that create very troubling results.

For instance . . .

-over the years, Judge Rains has been the only one of the 22 Criminal District Court Judges who has done everything in his power to prevent probations or deferred adjudications from happening in his court. I'm sure that might sound really "tough on crime" to Joe Citizen, but the reality is that it is really taking away a viable alternative for people charged with crimes worthy of probation. His official position is that he never opposed probation, but standard conditions of his probations were often significant amounts of jail time. The jail time condition made it much more preferable for a Defendant to take a 12.44(a) sentence for a shorter amount of jail time that resulted in a final felony conviction. This was what led to the joint D.A. Office/Dick DeGuerin alliance that I mentioned in the earlier article.

-in a Capital Murder trial last year, the prosecution entered into evidence a video tape of the murder occurring (during a convenience store robbery). Rains allowed the admission of the tape, but refused to allow it to be shown to the jury for some reason. Both defense counsel and the State requested that it be shown to the jury, but Rains decided better of it. The State had to play the tape during closing arguments, rather than during testimony.

-in a recent Aggravated Robbery case, Rains refused to even entertain the idea of putting lesser included offenses in the jury charge, even though the evidence may have called for it. Failure to do so could potentially end up in a reversal.

-in another Capital Murder trial, Dang v. State, Rains had a capital murder case reversed because of his refusal to grant the defense more time to argue.

-several years ago, Rains granted a bond to a man named Neville Sapp. Sapp had picked up an attempted sexual assault case in a very violent episode against his ex-girlfriend, Ella Marie Broussard. The State, rightfully, requested that Sapp be held without bond (as he was a true habitual offender). Rains disregarded the State's pleas to keep a violent defendant in jail until trial, and let him out on bond. Days later, Sapp brutally murdered Ms. Broussard.

Rains' Democratic opponent is Defense Attorney Shawna Reagin.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about her qualifications and her ideas about how to run a court, as well address some concerns that I had previously had about her being very "anti-D.A. office".

Shawna has been practicing criminal law since 1989 and has a deep background in both criminal trial work and in appellate work. In my opinion, that kind of balance makes for a great potential to be a good judge.

She told me that her philosophy is that a good trial judge is one that sits back and lets the attorneys try their cases. As a trial attorney, that's pretty much music to my ears. If we are talking about a judge that knows the "ins and outs" of trying a criminal case, the appellate knowledge to what the current state of the Law actually is, and that same judge will let me try my case, we just might be talking about attorneys wanting to return to the 176th for a change.

In addressing my earlier addressed concerns about Shawna being "anti-D.A. office", she responded that her role of a defense attorney was to be an adversary to the State, and she prided herself on being a very zealous advocate for her clients. She pointed out that if elected to the Bench that her role would be drastically different from the one she currently holds. She also stated that, if elected, she would take her Oath to Administer Justice fairly and neutrally ever bit as seriously as she currently takes her Oath to defend her clients. She stressed that Assistant District Attorneys should not have any concerns about her ability to give the State a fair trial.

I think she makes a good point, and I enjoyed meeting with her.

Shawna Reagin has my vote in this race.


elDiabloCaballo said...

The incredibly unfortunate thing about this race and many, many other down ballot races in a Presidential election is that too few people will have read this article or any article or gather ANY information regarding these positions. They will make a completely UNinformed vote. Shame. True Shame.

Mark Bennett said...

Yep. Good argument for non-partisan election of judges.

jigmeister said...

Rains reminds me a lot of Lykos.

Seer said...

It was my privilege to work for an excellent judge just out of law school. We have discussed this subject many times, and her position is that elections are, ultimately, a good way to pick judges. She had tried for appointments to the bench several times but always been outdone by others with more political stroke. She finally ran against one of the appointees and won. She is smart, fair, amiable, and stern. And it took a partisan election to get her on the bench.

Mark Bennett said...

Seer, if she is smart, fair, and amiable she should have been electable in a non-partisan election, right?

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:

I am contemplative on this court.

I do not know Ms. Reagin personally - only know of her through associates and that knowledge is limited so I can not attest to her abilities firsthand.
I did view her website but did not find it overly informative.
I have always said the only choice to make is an informed one, so I will continue to gather info.

All I can say in regards to Judge Rains is this: Complacency destroys credibility. Attitude adjustments come in many forms...even loss of a bench.

Hope you had a nice wkend, AHCL!

Seer said...

Well, as much as they try to have non-partisan elections for some functions in our state, they still seem pretty partisan to me. Call it what you want.

Tenderfoot said...

Perhaps Judge Rains has gotten a God complex.

Anonymous said...

Judge Rains is by far the worst judge in Harris County. If you videotaped his court, it would be a demonstration of how now to act like a judge.

That being said, I don't think many non-lawyers know it, so he is going to get re-elected.

Anonymous said...

Rains is a disgrace to the bench he holds. I am a long time Republican who I will be voting for Shawna Reagan for the 176th. I have no problem voting D in this race. I have seen first hand, time and time again, how Rains conducts himself in court. It is unethical and disrespectful to everyone involved and to the entire process. Go Shawna! I can't wait to see leopard print on the bench!!!

Shawna L. Reagin said...

I welcome questions from Jagjo or anyone else who might be unfamiliar with me, my background and my experience. My email is and my phone is 713-224-1641. Better to ask than to just guess.

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:

I wanted to follow up on this particular court to say that I am no longer contemplative in my decision. I took the time and put forth the effort to learn about Shawna Reagin and will vote for her with total confidence. I would not have voted for Rains for obvious reasons, but would also not have voted for Shawna due to lack of knowledge, had she not taken the initiative to post here and offer to share her credentials. By opening the door for discussion, she gained my vote.

Anonymous said...

I must disagree. Each time I've visited Judge Rains' court (many times over the last five years or so), he has conducted himself and requested that those in the courtroom conduct themselves with dignity and proper courtroom behavior. The single time I saw his "temper" was when a young, fresh-out-of-school lawyer (who was apparently unfamiliar with respectable court procedure) approached the bench unannounced and proceeded to ask 3 times for the same thing, each time ignoring his response and speaking over him. His response was calm but fierce, not at all an "outburst". Can you blame a judge for correcting these courtroom taboos?

I do not affiliate with the Republican party but have seen the decency with which Judge Rains conducts his court and the fairness which he applies to all hearings.

Also, I must say, he has held up very well against the slander campaign begun last year by his opponents. All his decisions are founded in the law, and are not subject to the temper-tantrums and whims of lawyers looking to climb up the ladder.

Anonymous said...

I was once in Judge Rains court in the 90's. I don't know that Judge Rains that I've read about in these horrible comments. He was to me a blessing and an awesome Judge.