Sunday, May 20, 2018

Judge Frank Price


Judge Frank Price passed away today after a hard-fought battle with cancer.  He was a wonderful man and judge.  I had the honor of trying cases in front of him and appearing before him on many occasions. 

He was 79-years-old at the time of his passing, but I would venture to say that Judge Price had more street cred than probably any lawyer appearing before him.   He knew the law, but more importantly, he knew people.  He knew how to treat people and he did so with kindness and fairness. 

Judge Price's legal career spanned decades although those of us in our mid-40s or younger knew him mainly through his time as a visiting judge.  His obituary tells of an amazing and storied life.
Frank started his legal career as a prosecutor, serving 5 years as a Harris County assistant district attorney, followed by private practice as a criminal defense lawyer. Frank's exhaustive attention to every case and his strong commitment to justice did not go unnoticed. In 1974, Frank became the youngest appointee in history when he was appointed by Gov. Briscoe to serve as the judge of a criminal court, the 209th District Court. Frank was truly born to be a judge. His gracious temperament, knowledge of the law and sense of fairness made people in his court feel that the system of justice was indeed just. Prosecutors and defense counsel both state that they left Judge Price's courtroom wishing that they could try every case in the level playing field of his court. 
Judge Price presided over some of Houston's most famous criminal trials, such as the trial of Lilla Paulus who was convicted of being a co-conspirator in the "Blood and Money" murder of Dr. John Hill in River Oaks. He stood firm in his convictions and guarded the integrity of the system without compromise or regard for self-interest. He had the courage to make the very unpopular decision to grant a new trial in the front-page case of a man who was convicted of abducting and killing his own niece. Judge Price had learned that evidence had been withheld from the defense. In the end, the new trial served the system well, and also brought a second conviction. Judge Price presided in the trial of the notorious "Candyman" who killed Halloween and his young son with poisoned pixie sticks he handed out to five neighborhood children, seeking to gain $31,000 in insurance. In 1981, Gov. Clements appointed Judge Price to serve on the First Court of Appeals, starting his years of service on the appellate bench. Eventually he served as a visiting judge in both trial and appellate courts, serving over 30 years in the Texas State Judiciary. Judge Price personally wrote every appellate opinion himself, with hundreds of published opinions to his credit. His writing beautifully reflected his goal of perfection in both language and reasoning. He was known for mastering tough issues and cutting quickly to the heart of a case by asking a single insightful question. 
Judge Price was also known to know a little bit about magic.
As a judge, he was reserved and shunned attention. It is impossible, but true, that this same man was guilty of trickery and deceit – he was among the greatest practitioners of sleight of hand and close-up magic, performing routinely as a professional magician at Magic Island and many other venues. Training his hands to betray the closest scrutiny took the kind of discipline that was his forte. He took immense pride in the craft of magic and considered it a noble art, his "other" profession. He served as President of the Texas Association of Magicians and occasionally hosted local meetings at night in his courtroom. He kept separate his two professions, with few exceptions. An attorney who had once recognized Judge Price at Magic Island needed an emergency ruling, so he raced to the club, paid the admission and asked Frank if he could turn a magician into a judge. Frank did. On another occasion, Frank finished sentencing a convicted con-artist and then had him deal Three-Card Monte for 2 hours so Frank could study his reveal.
He was absolutely a character, and an honorable man.  He will be greatly missed.   I am very glad that I got the opportunity to practice in front of him, and I'm proud that I tried a case to him.

A celebration of his life will be held at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, 11612 Memorial Drive, Houston 77024, on May 24, 2018, at 10:00 am. Those desiring to honor Judge Price's memory are welcome to make a donation of choice or to The American Cancer Society.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another bit of tragic news. He was one of the great ones in Harris County. I remember in 1983 I was trying an attempted capital murder of a police officer as a prosecutor in front of him. I and several others were up for promotion to District Court Chief to several new open slots at that time. One of the HPD crime scene officers had called Bert Graham expressing some doubts about my handling of the case. I remember Bert called Judge Price who told Bert I was doing just fine and that was the end of that. It was always great to practice in front of him. If I recall wasn't he Judge Bill Harmon's brother in law?
Sid Crowley

Ted Wilson said...

Today’s memorial service was a fitting tribute to a fine man. He will be missed.

Roland Moore said...

At the service yesterday a thought occurred to me about Judge Price's many varied interests.
He was the only person I'd ever come across who, as was I, a magician, a handball player, and a participant in the criminal courts. (At the outset, let me say that I would defer to him as my superior in all three.)
I did spend a lot of time trying to master all three areas, before I met Judge Price, so that I can say that there is a common thread: No camera can do any of the three of them justice.
Coach Tyson at Texas always said that handball would never be televised because the ball was too small and moved too quickly to be followed by a camera. All the magicians hated what TV did to magic, since people could only assume that what they did on screen was accomplished by trick photography and not by the art of sleight of hand. And finally, anyone who's practiced trial law knows that the cameras do not do justice to the atmosphere of and the trial itself, and that their presence may be injurious to the process. And only rarely are cameras allowed in trial courts and never to my knowledge are they in appellate courts.
So for a guy who knew a lot about show business, and sports and the law, all of which are the hourly grist of television, and movies, yesterday was the first time I had seen him on screen.
All three of these great pursuits have to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. And as for Judge Price, if you hadn't seen him in person in action, in any of the three of them, (which I had the privilege to do in trial, appellate and handball courts and at Magic Island), you would have thought someone made him up, because he was really that good at all three.
Roland Moore III

Anonymous said...

At the service yesterday a thought occurred to me about Judge Price's many varied interests.
He was the only person I'd ever come across who, as was I, a magician, a handball player, and a participant in the criminal courts. (At the outset, let me say that I would defer to him as my superior in all three.)
I did spend a lot of time trying to master all three areas, before I met Judge Price, so that I can say that there is a common thread: No camera can do any of the three of them justice.
Coach Tyson at Texas always said that handball would never be televised because the ball was too small and moved too quickly to be followed by a camera. All the magicians hated what TV did to magic, since people could only assume that what they did on screen was accomplished by trick photography and not by the art of sleight of hand. And finally, anyone who's practiced trial law knows that the cameras do not do justice to the atmosphere of and the trial itself, and that their presence may be injurious to the process. And only rarely are cameras allowed in trial courts and never to my knowledge are they in appellate courts.
So for a guy who knew a lot about show business, and sports and the law, all of which are the hourly grist of television, and movies, yesterday was the first time I had seen him on screen.
All three of these great pursuits have to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. And as for Judge Price, if you hadn't seen him in person in action, in any of the three of them, (which I had the privilege to do in trial, appellate and handball courts and at Magic Island), you would have thought someone made him up, because he was really that good at all three.
Roland Moore III

Anonymous said...

Knew him when he was at the First Court of Appeals. Me, C.J. Moran, and Armando Tello bailiffed for them and the 14th. First class gentleman and a good judge. RIP, sir. - Erik Larson