When Hurricane Harvey wiped out the Harris County Criminal Justice Center (for the third time), the Criminal Bar showed up at the Civils' doorstep like Cousin Eddie at the Griswolds'. We had no place else to go and the Civil Court judges welcomed us in. That couldn't have been easy. Imagine if someone came to you and asked you to vacate your office for a group of relative strangers.
The vast majority of the Civil Judges have been more than gracious hosts. For those that didn't outright give up their courtrooms to bunk up with other judges, the rest have been very generous in sharing their space with criminal court dockets. On those occasions when the Civils have needed their courtrooms back for their own trials and hearings, they have been pretty accepting of the Criminal Courts working their dockets in the front foyer.
I'm sure news that the CJC would be closed for
Judge Kyle Carter
125th Civil District Court Judge Kyle Carter has been sharing his courtroom with the 208th and 209th Criminal District Courts since the flood. This week, the 208th was in trial, so the prosecutors and defense attorneys with cases in the 209th relocated to the kitchen area behind the courtroom. On Monday, when Judge Carter's staff came to use the kitchen area, they were apparently none too pleased to find the area occupied.
Shortly after this, Judge Carter (who, keep in mind, was not the Judge in trial) appeared and wanted to speak to the prosecutor in charge. When the Felony Two responded to the Judge that he was a prosecutor, Carter is reported to have dressed him down in front of his court staff, admonishing him that the next person who was "loud" in the area would be held in contempt.
I'm not exactly sure what the grounds would be for holding a prosecutor in contempt. There was no indication that the prosecutors were disturbing any court proceedings. It sounds much more like Judge Carter was just appeasing his staff who wasn't happy about having their lunch space invaded. Apparently, Carter lost sight of the fact that these are taxpayer-funded public buildings, not personal property belonging solely to him and his staff.
The prosecutors of the 209th made the decision that discretion was the better part of valor, however. Rather than inform Judge Carter that his threats of contempt weren't, shall we say, legal, they elected to move today's docket to a spot in front of the windows at the end of the hallway.
For those of you unfamiliar with the layout of the floors of the Civil Building, please be aware that this is a small alcove at the end of the hallway. It blocks no doors or elevators. There are no violations of the Fire Code. It is simply a table and chairs set up in an area where people are free to congregate in hopes of not offending the delicate ears of Judge Carter.
Problem solved, right? Not so fast.
Enter, Judge Ravi K. Sandill of the 127th Civil District Court . . .
Judge Ravi K. Sandill
This morning, Judge Sandill was walking down the halls of Civil Building and saw the 209th's set up in the hallway. Apparently, it didn't sit well with him. He inquired as to what exactly the prosecutors were doing in the hallway. They explained the situation to him and he left.
He returned a short time later and began taking pictures of the prosecutors. Shortly thereafter, Clay Bowman, the District Courts Administrator showed up to express his displeasure.
So, to recap, the 209th can't be in the courtroom because there is a trial going on. They can't be in Judge Kyle Carter's break room because he will hold them in contempt. They can't be in the hallway because it makes Judge Sandill uncomfortable. I'm genuinely curious to see where the Fighting 209th will be tomorrow. Perhaps District Attorney Kim Ogg can requisition a Justice Trolley that just slowly makes circles around the Civil Building.
Again, I'd like to point out that the vast majority of the Civil Judges have been nothing less than completely welcoming and cognizant of the fact that the Criminal Justice System is currently operating under emergency conditions.
By the way, it is also worth noting that the Judge of the 209th District Court is Judge Michael McSpadden, who has been on the bench for over 35 years. That's longer than Judges Sandhill and Carter have even been attorneys . . . combined.