Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Lack of Civility

It isn't difficult to empathize with the Civil Judges and lawyers who regularly practice at the the Civil Justice Center located at 201 Caroline.

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 six months, wait, I mean a year, no two years, make that two years at a minimum, didn't help the Civils maintain a cheery outlook about the current situation.  For two of the Civil Court judges, things reached a boiling point today.

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.


Anonymous said...

Maybe Judge Sandill was concerned that Judge McSpadden was trying to cut into his wedding business. The following is from his Twitter account. The better part of valor keeps me from posting the picture of him buying flowers today to decorate his courtroom for the occasion

Judge R.K. Sandill
Judge R.K. Sandill
Ready for #ValentinesDay in the 127th. If you’re looking to tie the knot, stop by. All #weddings are on the house!!

Good thing that Karahan is not sharing his floor tomorrow. They’d have to arm wrestle to see who got to do weddings

Eddie Cortes said...

I know Judge Carter although I've never practiced in front of him. He's always been a stand up guy & very polite. Frankly, I'm surprised at this story. I'm wondering if this isn't a staff issue & he's just trying to keep them happy. As we all know, sometimes staff can get "black robe fever". Nonetheless, it is something that he should address.

Anonymous said...

The civil judges have motions to compel discovery and motions for summary judgment in auto bangers to ignore. They need peace and quiet.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Ravi “RK” Sandill thinks that doing free weddings on Valentines Day will enhance his election chances in Nov to The Texas Supreme Court

“R.K. Sandill is the judge of Texas District 127. He was re-elected to a four-year term in 2016. Sandill is a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court in 2018“

Michael said...

The difference between God and a judge is God doesn't walk around heaven in a black robe thinking he's a judge.

Anonymous said...

I have it on good authority that the 209th asked King Carter's permission to bring their own table and operate in the hallway. I believe they were told that was up to Precinct 1.

Lee said...

Murray? Why did we need so many district criminal courts anyway? Cant we start condensing? With 14 county criminal courts the mass litigation seems to have gotten out of hand.

Anonymous said...

Having worked directly in the environment, here is some insight:

We did our best to accept our new guests - making room for them, showing them the logistics of our building, inviting them to events, etc. Our guests have been less than cordial. Our "guests" regularly use loud & profane speech which creates a hostile work environment. When we politely ask for them to lower their volume or not use profanity, we are met with a higher degree of profanity. Our guests do not pick up after themselves. When we ask them to do so, we are cursed at like dogs.

This is more than a staff issue - we do not have "black robe fever" - we deserve a civil and non-hostile work environment.

Murray Newman said...

Anon 1:56 pm,
I’m going to. Go out on a limb here and guess that you were part of the disgruntled staff who didn’t like having your lunch area taken over . . .

While it is true that criminal attorneys tend to use “profane speech,” I highly doubt that anyone cussed at you or refused to pick up after the self. Sounds like you are just very sensitive to having your work space invaded. By the way, don’t get too wrapped up in this guest/host dynamic. We are talking about county property which makes everyone both an owner and a guest.

You should learn to play nicer with others.

Christopher Carlson said...

This is going to be a long 2 years

Anonymous said...

As a civil litigator, I just wanted to chip in that Carter and Sandill are two of the nicest judges on the bench. I sense Carter was being over-protective of his staff (which is not an excuse with the circumstances) and while I appreciate the ingenuity of the prosecutor in the hallway -- there has to be a better place for them to do their business. I can only imagine that if Sandill knew all the circumstances he would have merely laughed it off.

Anonymous said...

-"I appreciate the ingenuity of the prosecutor in the hallway -- there has to be a better place for them to do their business."

Why don't you spend less time appreciating his ingenuity and more time actually coming up with a place. Yours is a disingenuous attempt to appear reasonable without actually offering anything of substance.

-"I can only imagine that if Sandill knew all the circumstances he would have merely laughed it off."

The reason you can only imagine that is because when Sandill was informed of all of the circumstances in reality, he reacted like a petulant teenager.

Anonymous said...

For all of you people that think you know - I too am part of this environment - as we do not have issues like that on every floor because most ignore it, there is a lot of loudness, cursing, and no one picks up after themselves. There is no room and you can see how quickly and rundown the courts have gotten in a short period of time. Sure, where can they go? What is the solution? That is why everyone is sharing! But if someone opens up a room at their house for you, wouldn't you follow their rules and not destroy or disrespect their home! Sure public buildings and nothing belongs to the employees or judges. But does that mean it's a free for all to do what you please with the space? Then let's have a party on Saturday. Everyone is trying to make the best of a bad situation! How about CC not worry about $ from FEMA and take care of the higher floors in the criminal building and reopen and move some of these people back to their homes with funds available. It's all in perspective and also how you all want to put what happened on Tuesday out there. Everything and nothing is black or white. Two sides, two stories get your facts! Stop making a bad situation worse with all this nonsense! Do something about it! Stop being children! I am so appalled at how lawyers, judges, ADAs, and people can just continue to bicker about everything and point finger and insult as opposed to growing some ***** and doing something about it!!!!!!!!

Jason Truitt said...

Like 12:54, I also know Judges Carter and Sandill and have found them to be two of the most even-tempered judges in the building. I do not know them on a personal level, but know them well enough on a professional level to wait and hear what they have to say before believing whatever the rumor mill says they did.

And that's before we even really put this whole situation in context and discuss what a burden this situation has been on their dockets. I've known what a mess the criminal courts are, and knew that letting the criminal courts in would mean bringing in all the ADA's and the ridiculous crowds of defendants and their wives and moms and kids; but it was a shock to most in the civil building. If this is the worst that ever happens, I'd say we're in good shape.

I mean, it's not like a civil judge threatened to arrest a criminal judge and bum-rushed her with a bailiff in tow. Now that would be a lack of civility--be sure to let me know when anyone other than a criminal court judge has done it.

Anonymous said...


Kyle Carter is an idiot who gets reversed a lot. He was asked about this and said, "It's good for Judges to get reversed so that they can know what the law is."

Ravi Sadill is bully, even more than most judges. Ask people how he treats them in and out of the courtroom. The answer is, "bad"

The civil districts shared space with the Family Judges grudgingly, Family court is so beneath them. Now they have, gasp, criminal lawyers and criminals in their building and courtrooms.

God save us.

Jason Truitt said...


I don't need to "ask people" how they're treated in these courts. I'm in them on a regular basis.

And the civil courts don't "share" space with the family courts. The family courts have their own courtrooms. It's true we're (speaking for some lawyers, not the judges) not happy with having them in the building, but that's primarily because the way the family courts run their dockets is wasteful and contributes to the abuse of the building.

I know y'all have a chip on your shoulder because we have (had?) a working courthouse that isn't abused on a daily basis, but in reality nobody thinks they're above the other judges or other cases. They just don't like the general disrespect with which the criminal and family courts treat everyone else in the courthouse. There are much better ways for the family and criminal courts to run their dockets--and I'm not the first to mention this (God forgive me for referencing Fickman, but he's led that charge for years). So far the family court judges refuse to budge on that. Out of necessity the criminal courts are having to change their ways to some degree, but as soon as they can they'll be right back to their old ways. A federal judge can make them let people out of jail, but can't make them stop setting every single case for a setting every 30 days for absolutely no good reason at all. If those judges respected the lawyers and litigants as much as the civil judges did, there would be a lot fewer issues all around. The civil judges aren't perfect, but from a systems perspective they waste a lot less time and make better use of their resources than either of the other two sets of judges in the county. If every civil case had a setting at which we had to have our client present every 30 days, our courthouse would look a lot like yours, and I suppose our lawyers would be cussing at the staff a lot more often too.

Jason Truitt said...

Is this some of that civility you're talking about?


Murray Newman said...

Mr. Truitt,
You know what's really uncivilized?

Inviting someone to lunch and then saying you can't go as soon as they accept.

Murray Newman
Hungry Blog Owner

Anonymous said...

CC should have gotten some space at the George R. Brown.