Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Of Babies and Bathwater

With the certainty of Barack Obama being the Democratic Nominee for President of the United States becoming clearer and clearer every day, the biggest underlying theme of political discussion around the CJC is "will there be a Democratic sweep in Harris County come November?".

I'm too young to have been around when the "Republican Sweep" of the 1980s occurred, but I've heard the stories of some (not all) good judges losing their benches in Reagan-era fervor.

To me, the idea of a sweep illustrates why I really and truly wish that the words "Republican" or "Democrat" didn't have to appear next to a candidate for a position involving criminal justice. Honestly, I think it is fundamentally inappropriate that it happens that way.

The statue of Lady Justice shows a lady with a blindfold, holding the Scales of Justice. If our judges are to be politically partisan, than how can we really claim that Justice is still truly blind to anything but the law? Leave it to your partisan legislators to write the law, but when it comes to enforcing criminal laws, a judge's position on taxes, abortion, and immigration don't have any relevance to their job description.

The reason I'm writing about this is that there are some damn good Republican Felony District Court Judges on the ballot this year that I don't think anyone who works in the CJC wants to see go. Now, I'm sure that my friend, Grits for Breakfast will speaketh from the Holy Temple in Mt. Austin that "Change is necessary. Change is good.", but I don't agree. Sometimes you do get people in elected positions that are so damn good at their jobs that you really don't need a change, and change would most definitely not be good. (As an aside, my analogy to counter Grits' argument is that if change is always so freaking good, why aren't we encouraging more skilled heart surgeons to go into podiatry?)

An example of why change is not always good could probably not be more clear in the case of Judge Caprice Cosper of the 339th District Court, who is on the ballot as the Republican candidate this November.

Judge Cosper is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) Felony District Court Judges in the CJC. She is one of the founding judges and heart and soul behind the STAR program, which focuses on rehabilitating defendants with drug addiction problems. She will argue with Defendants who opt to take the "easy" route of a quick 12.44(a) conviction for Harris County jail time, rather than try to get their lives together through a deferred adjudication with drug treatment. She is known for her compassion and willingness to take risks on people who need help.

She's also not afraid to be tough when toughness is called for, and has no problem with sentencing a violent offender to Life in prison if that is what the evidence demands.

She is a legal bookworm who remains constantly up-to-date on the latest court opinions, which she has memorized. She is friendly and pleasant to both members of the defense bar and the prosecution.

In short, she's a model judge.

Her opponent on the Democratic side is a City of Houston Municipal Court Judge. I've tried to find her name on the internet, but my Googling skills seem to be lacking this evening. To date, her most significant case may be a really big speeding case, or perhaps a huge "no seatbelt" case.

She specializes in traffic tickets, folks. The thought of her taking over the 339th bench due to a Democratic sweep is saddening.

Judge Cosper isn't the only Judge that I hope keeps his or her bench come November. As a matter of fact, I hope the vast, vast majority of them do. I know there will be some disagreement from the Defense Bar over how many of them should stay or go (and yes Mark, I'm rooting for Shawna in this one), but in my personal opinion, when you look at the Judges on the ballot (Judge Devon Anderson, Judge Roger Bridgewater, Judge Mike Wilkinson, Judge Brock Thomas, Judge Mark Ellis, and Judge Cosper), you have included 4 out of 4 of the Judges who spend their extra time in the STAR program, and a group of good men and women who are trying to make a positive change in the Justice System.

A sweep of them all simply because of partisan politics would be a miscarriage of justice, not to mention incredibly foolish of the voters.


Muck said...

I'd settle for running judges on a non-party ticket the way Houston's Mayor and City Council does.

Failing that, it'd be nice to see a removal of the straight party voting option. Is it too much to ask people to go through race by race and make a decision?

Oh, and my guess is you may see a Democratic sweep depending upon who's on the Presidential Ticket. If Obama is the Democratic nominee expect a huge african-american turnout which traditionally means good things for Democratic candidates.

Not a racial note, lest anyone get offended, just a statement of fact. African-Americans overwhelmingly vote democratic (something like 88% last I looked).

Hamburglar said...

Wow, it is so funny to hear prosecutors in the CJC grumbling over how change might be taking place. Why would prosecutors be upset with change from Republican to Dem? Because they have had it so easy over the last 14 years, that there are literally times when the judges try the cases for them. Now, they might have to prepare response to motions and be ready to argue it instead of relying on the Repub judge to rubber stamp DENIED on everything.

I never heard these complaints about judges being politicians before. There were no prosecutors out wringing their hands at the thought that EVERY bench in Harris County was filled with church-going, god-fearing Republicans that just left the prosecutors office to take the bench. None, not one complaint, I even went back to look over this blog from the beginning and could not find one time this topic was brought up while Ceasar ruled.

All hail for some CHANGE, vote Dem!

Anonymous said...

Interesting checking out the tags on your post.

I agree that most of the Republicans running for judge are great. I personally believe that Judge Brian Rains is someone I'd prefer to see off the bench, but I haven't checked to see if he has a challenger.

In my opinion, Judge Rains is a distinctly unpleasant, disrespectful, impolite person to both sides of the bar, and if you didn't like Pat Lykos' demeanor on the bench, I am guessing you are not a fan of Judge Rains.

Anonymous said...

i have to agree on judge brian rains. Having had dealings with him - I've found him rude and dishonest. Harris County can do much better.

Anonymous said...

I would question whether a Judge that is not re elected and returns to the DA's office wouldn't be considered a conflict of interest? i.e., Brock Thomas who now will rejoin "Country Club" and will be buddies with those prosecutors he had in his court.