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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bernstein's Article on the D.A. Debate

Alan Bernstein wrote an article today recapping a debate between D.A. Candidates Pat Lykos and Clarence Bradford. (NOTE: Thanks for the head's up on that, Muck.)

We are rapidly approaching the election, and I was glad to see that the candidates were finally getting down to some substantive issues, and they argued their positions on them.

Issue # 1-The Selection of Grand Jurors-Bradford's position was that the method of selecting grand jurors should be done like it is on the Federal side, where there is actually a true jury selection. I tend to agree with Bradford's position that this method of selecting the grand jurors would assist in restoring faith in the grand jury system, as I pointed out a while back. That being said, I continue to believe that the issue of time will always be an issue in the selection of Grand Jurors who are willing and able to serve.

I would also like to point out that I think our grand jurors who serve under the current method of selection are doing their community a great service, and I believe that they serve with honor and distinction. They donate a significant amount of their time and they take their jobs very seriously. The problem lies with the perception of how they are selected, and not in the actual jobs that they do.

Issue # 2-The Public Defender's Office-on this issue, I agree completely with Lykos. While Bradford is in favor of the PD office, Lykos recognizes that our current system of court appointed attorneys doesn't get the recognition it deserves. I agree with her position that excellent attorneys are appointed to represent the indigent defendants on a daily basis, as I also pointed out awhile back.

I know that this a hotly debated topic and will probably get some arguments here, but I think that our current system continues to provide excellent representation to people who can't afford it. I don't think that the quality attorneys that I listed in my earlier article would be willing to find themselves suddenly working for a government agency. The PD's office would be getting the vast majority of its staff from attorney's fresh out of law school -- they may become great attorneys in time, but it would take years for them to rise to the level of Skip Cornelius, Alvin Nunnery, Tyrone Moncrief, Robert Morrow, Charlie Brown, Ricardo Rodriguez, and others.
And, by the time they rise to the level of these guys, they will probably realize that private practice is more lucrative and provides more personal freedom.

Just a thought.

Lykos was also very correct in pointing out that this particular issue is out of the District Attorney's hands.

The only other point of contention which is listed in the article is that Bradford supports the issuance of citations on low-level non-violent offenses. I'm not really sure what the specifics are on what Bradford was suggesting, but I would assume that he was addressing the possibility of issuing citations on some marijuana cases.

From a logistical stand-point, I think Lykos was correct in describing this idea as "too unwieldy".

So, the bottom line is that I think the debate was a split-decision on who had the "right" idea on the issues.

But it was very nice to hear actual issues were being debated.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

For those Who Need Help . . .

In addition to the mind-numbingly short-sighted policy regarding the Administrative Assistants, the employees of the CJC also got a warning today not to utilize county e-mails as a way of soliciting help for any person or cause that might need it in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Apparently, somewhere in a government code or something similar, that's prohibited, regardless of how stupid the policy is.

So, that being said, I would like to cordially welcome anyone who wants to post something asking for help (or just pointing us in the direction of someone who might need help) to post it here in the comments.

I'm not looking for a blasting of the policy to not allow the e-mails (I think that policy pretty much speaks for itself).

Let's just use the comments here as a message board for anyone who needs help.

Fire away --

Catch-22 and the Administrative Assistants

One of the often overlooked positions within the Harris County District Attorney's Office (absurdly) is the position of the Administrative Assistant (aka the Secretary). Sadly, the Administrative Assistant is often underappreciated in most offices across the world, when those of us who rely on them all know that we could not function without them.

At the District Attorney's Office, the Administrative Assistants have to deal with the overbearing egos of the prosecutors they assist, the overbearing egos of the attorneys that call to speak with said prosecutors, annoyed and often clueless witnesses, angry defendants, and bereaved victims. In between, they keep their fingers on the location of every file handled by their prosecutors, arrange meetings, type grand jury agendas, and basically play the parent role to everyone in their court.

In a word, they are all priceless in the positions in which they hold.

In return, they get paid what you might expect that a county employed administrative assistant might get paid.

In the face of Hurricane Ike, these irreplaceable members of the D.A.'s Office got caught in a Catch-22 that was not fair to them, and did not treat them with the respect that they all deserve as valuable members of the District Attorney's Office.

Before I go on, please realize that I am not criticizing Ken Magidson, because these decisions were not his. The sad reality is that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is a cog in the Harris County Bureaucracy.

As Hurricane Ike approached on Friday, the powers that be within the County declared a "Floating Holiday" that allowed all county employees to be off, in order to prepare for looming disaster. The concern on the "front side" of the storm was nice.

After Ike came through over the weekend, one of the biggest problems it created within the Harris County Criminal Justice Center was a back up of raw sewage that pretty much permeated the first floor of the building. Trust me on this one, folks -- it was freaking NASTY!

Nevertheless, the order came that employees were to report to work on Monday, or to take a Vacation Day or use their Compensation Time (which employees were strongly encouraged to do). The big problem with that is that while the prosecutors and investigators may easily accumulate "comp time", the Administrative Assistants do not. They work an 8 to 5 job, and earning "comp time" for them is virtually impossible. Sure, they could dip into their vacation time, but most of them were carefully saving their time for the upcoming Christmas holidays.

They were faced with the decision to either come into work in unsanitary conditions, cut short their upcoming Christmas vacations, or have their paychecks docked. In the alternative, employees could "work from home" (which is no problem for a prosecutor, and perhaps not an investigator), but the Adminstrative Assistant's job description requires their presence at the Office.

There was no "work from home" scenario for the them.

The bottom line was that the Administrative Assistants had to come to work, or lose money or vacation time.

That doesn't sound all that fair, does it?

Think that isn't fair? Wait a second.

This story gets worse.

After arriving at the Office on Monday, as told to do, a memo went out that the sewage back up on the first floor of the CJC had created a "Safety Hazard". The result of this "safety hazard" was that all "non-essential personnel" had to leave the building immediately.

Guess who qualifies as the "non-essential personnel".

If you guessed the Administrative Assistants, you would be guessing correctly.

Yep, the Administrative Assistants who came in -- burning preciously scarce gasoline -- were told to get out of the building almost immediately.

And so they did. They weren't allowed to work on Monday, nor on Tuesday.

That's all fine and good, until the Edict came down from the Commissioner's Court today, stating that there would be no more "floating holidays" added to the one given for the previous Friday.

What does that translate to?

It means that the Administrative Assistants weren't ALLOWED to work on Monday or Tuesday, yet they aren't being paid for the days that they were ORDERED to be absent from the job. It means that if they want their full paychecks on the next payday that they will have to cut short their long-planned vacations in December.

What part of that sounds fair, exactly?

I understand that the County Officials have a lot of things that they are dealing with at the moment. This Hurricane has affected us all.

But the policy signed off on by the Commissioners today really screws over the folks that are probably the most overworked and underpaid members of the District Attorney's Office.

And folks, that just ain't right.

I hope that at some point, our County Commissioners will reconsider how short-sighted their decision was and make this right for some of the hardest working employees that the County has to offer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Update on the CJC - Tuesday 9/16/08

Sorry I haven't been updating regularly. I've been having trouble getting a wireless connection which is kind of necessary when you've got no power or cable.

Here's the deal for tomorrow for those of you who work at the CJC.

Everyone is expected back tomorrow and it is requested that you arrive early for a massive docket pulling festival. There will be four days worth of cases to pull the docket for. In addition, Marie Munier sent out the following e-mail:

Intake will be pulling each court's new PIA/PACA docket and dividing them by courts for tomorrow. Each court will get the cases filed since last Thursday. The volume is not as much as one would expect because during the storm, nothing was filed and only essential cases have been filed since then. An issue for the courts tomorrow will be getting the bodies from the jail to the courts because some elevator in the jail is not working at this time, and the inmate walk can't be used, so they will need to use the old chain system or something else.

In addition to the PIA/PACA dockets, the DA's in each court will need to pull up the Wed. docket like any other day to get those cases to court. The felony courts plan to have two dockets tomorrow, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Take all cases to court in the morning.

Misdemeanor coordinators have been resetting a lot of their bond cases. PIA/PACA dockets for these courts will be pulled as usual by Darla Simpson on Wednesday morning. Run your usual morning dockets and take thoses cases to the courts along with your PIA/PACA dockets.

I hope this information is helpful to you. If you have any questions, just post them, and I will try to get to them.

Tomorrow is going to be a really long day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

News from the CJC - Monday (9/15/08)

Since there's no official site that appears to be updating CJC employees on what's going on, I will keep posting what I know. Hopefully it will be of some help to somebody.

This morning, about 15 to 20 District Court Chiefs reported for duty at the request of Judge Don Stricklin in the hopes of moving some of the more minor cases that would be on the docket the morning. Apparently, some members of the Defense Bar have also volunteered their time to help out, as well.

The big problem with the plan is where in the hell to run these dockets.

The CJC building at the moment is considered to be a health hazard, and all non-essential personnel have been ordered to leave. If you are saying to yourself "Hey, wait a second! I thought we were ordered into work!", you would be correct in your interpretation. We've got a full blown Catch-22 here.

My optimistic side is hoping that the County (once it is done doing search and rescue) will start issuing some Floating Holidays for those caught in the middle here. However, personnel is being told that they can work from home. That's all well and good for prosecutors and even investigators who could take a file home and work on it, but it kind of screws the Administrative Assistants.

Right now, there is no projected time for the building reopening. It may be tomorrow. It may be next week. I don't think that it will be a "Tropical Storm Allison typed of situation". But, then again, I didn't think that Tropical Storm Allison would be a "Tropical Storm Allison type of situation", so take that for what it's worth.

I will keep you posted as news develops.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bert's E-mail Regarding Work Tomorrow

For those of you who can't access your work e-mail or don't have a BlackBerry (c'mon and join the 21st Century folks), Bert Graham sent the following e-mail out to all DA Employees:

Regarding tomorrow (Monday), Ken asked me to tell you :

If you are essential employee (Ken has designated as Intake and the 10 prosecutors who have already volunteered to handle Judge Stricklin’s general docket for all courts, and some IST people) you must come to work at the CJC.

All others may take vacation , comp, or if you have none of those you can be docked OR you can work at home only under the following conditions:

If you already have office work at home you may work on it at home.
If you have no work at home you may come to the office Monday morning and gather work and take it home and work at home.

Dress code: Those at CJC who are working a docket should wear Court attire; others can wear “Casual Friday” attire.

Any questions, call Intake.

Thanks – Bert.

Notice to D.A. Employees (UPDATED)

Apparently Judge Don Stricklin is asking for 10 felony District Court Chiefs (or above) to report to intake tomorrow at 8 a.m. dressed for court (NOTE: Not real excited about the "dressed for court" part). They are needed to do emergency PIA.

Alma Martinez is currently at intake trying to get volunteers to comply with Judge Stricklin's request. If you read this and can help, give her a call at Intake.

The official word at the moment is that no one is required to be there tomorrow if they don't have to be, but unless something changes, you will need to take comp time or vacation time if you do not go in. This may change, but the Commissioners keep acting like there are other important things going on and haven't really discussed this particular issue.

The bottom line is that the Commissioners and other higher up county officials are up to their eyeballs in disaster relief, and probably the last thing on their minds at the moment is whether or not to give county employees the day off. Ken Magidson doesn't have the power to promise a paid day off to his employees until the Commissioners tell him to do so. So, he's in the unenviable position of having to tell everyone that they have to come in tomorrow (unless you want to take vacation or comp).

So, therefore, the official position at the moment is that employees have to come in tomorrow.

If I get any more updates, I will post them here.

Well, that was No Fun (AKA The CJC in the Aftermath of Ike)

Hurricane Ike has come and gone now.

As a trained speaker and communicator, I would like to issue my following description of the experience in two words:

Holy crap.

I'm from a nice little landlocked county over 100 miles from any coastline, so this was my first hurricane rideout, and I've never seen anything like that before. I've never seen anything so frightening, depressing, and mesmerizing at the same time. Good Lord, that was just mind-blowing.

As I write this, there is not even really an initial count of the total lives or property lost. I know that those numbers are about to rise to probably an astronomical and horrifying figure.

The damage to Downtown was crazy.

The damage to the CJC, in the big picture of things, was relatively minimal. Two of the front doors shattered in the early hours of the storm. Of course, that led to resulting water in the front lobby.

At some point, there was a sewage back up, that led to additional water on the ground in the back of building -- really really nasty water.

A leak developed on the 7th floor over the large meeting room for the Defense Bar. That leak promptly dripped down to the 6th floor, near the mail center.

The elevators stopped running at some point, and at last I checked, it sounded like there was a waterfall running down the shafts of the one elevators that go up to the 20th floor.

Throughout all of the Hurricane Ike, a lone maintenance worker was in charge of the CJC. He was a one-man show, and dammit, I wish I knew his name. He ran from place to place with plywood here, or a shop-vac there. He was overworked, and undoubtedly, underpaid. This guy was a true unsung hero.

I've been getting a lot of e-mails about whether or not the CJC will be open on Monday.

Frankly, I really doubt it.

But I'm not Ed Emmett or Ken Magidson (despite what some people who write to me seem to think).

My best guess is that it probably will take at least a week to get the elevators running again (if not longer). Not to mention the fact that there was no water pressure either. I think that it would be cruel and unusual punishment for us not to be able to use the restroom, don't you?

And speaking of cruel and unusual punishment, the vast majority of us haven't been able to take a shower for the past couple of days . . . Well, you get the picture.

I've heard from an unofficial source that there will be no court on Monday, but that doesn't necessarily mean that prosecutors and court staff won't get the call to come on up. If I hear anything official I will obviously post it.

I know that this whole process really sucks, but on the other hand, I know that I'm very lucky, fortunate, and blessed to be able to be sitting here with my family all in one piece.

In the days to come, we are going to be hearing more and more about our fellow attorneys, investigators and support staff who weren't as fortunate. And our CJC family, as always, will do everything that we can to help each other.

(NOTE: I'm still not quite willing to "out myself" on the blog, but enough of you know who I am. If you need anything, call me. I don't have much in the way of money these days, but I can offer help with pretty much anything else!)

And as for you, Hurricane Ike, on behalf of the Men and Women of the CJC, you can kiss our butts.

We're still standing.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Well, of course there's a Freaking Hurricane . . .

Okay, let's just put it all out on the table here -- the year 2008 has freaking sucked.

From the Rosenthal scandal on down, there hasn't been a dull moment for those of us whose lives tend to center around the good old CJC. And sadly, most of those damn "non-dull" moments have been bad ones.

It only stands to reason that 2008 wouldn't have been a completely disastrous year without a full blown Hurricane coming up the freaking Ship Channel. Consider it Mother Nature's way of putting her Stamp of Approval on a horrible year.

Well, Hurricane Ike, come on down, I suppose. I think we've all been through worse. We ain't scared.

Bring it on.

You guys all be careful out there. I look forward to seeing everybody back at the CJC next week, hopefully none the worse for wear.

And Ike, don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The 174th District Court Judicial Race

The race for the 174th is the one race in this year's round of Judicial Elections that doesn't have an incumbent involved. Judge George Godwin is retiring from the bench after a long and distinguished career. If you've read this blog for awhile, you know I'm a big fan of Judge Godwin's, and whoever ends up taking the bench will have some mighty big shoes to fill, in my opinion.

The Republican candidate for the 174th is Assistant District Attorney Bill Moore, a 20 year veteran of the D.A.'s Office, and the current District Court Chief of the 232nd District Court (Judge Mary Lou Keel). Bill spent a large amount of his career in the elite Special Crimes Division of the Office before returning to the Trial Bureau a few years ago. Bill won the Republican nomination out of a field of four other Assistant D.A.'s who were vying for the job.

I have to admit that I don't know Bill very well on a personal level, but I've always considered him to be an extremely outgoing and nice man. His credentials as an ADA certainly give him a good basis of knowledge that would be required of a Judge, having tried over 100 felony cases, including murders and capital murders.

Bill has also taken the unusual step of refusing to take any campaign donations from anyone who might potentially be practicing in front of him, which is, obviously, a very admirable position.

Personally, I think he would make an excellent judge.

The Democratic candidate for the 174th is former-Judge Ruben Guerrero (thanks to JAGJO for providing the website link. Also, Charles Kuffner over at Off the Kuff posted this brief interview with Ruben awhile back).

Ruben comes from a very politically active background. He was appointed by former-Governor Ann Richards to the 263rd District Court where he served a term before being defeated by Judge Jim Wallace, who still holds the Bench. He was also very active in the Democratic Party, being appointed to be the administrator for the Small Business Administration for the Southwestern States of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico.

He is a trial lawyer, although I've never seen him in trial. I do see him around the CJC quite a bit, but I've never personally dealt with him on any cases. His time on the Bench of the 263rd were before my time, so I'm going to have to rely on some of my older commenters to fill in some gaps here. He currently offices with my friend, Pat McCann, who speaks very highly of Ruben, and he has always been very nice to me.

In this particular race, I don't know enough about Ruben's experience in criminal law to fully analyze his candidacy. I do know Bill Moore, though, and I personally think he would make an excellent Judge.

Let me know your thoughts . . .

Before I Begin . . .

Before I start off on my court by court previews of the Judicial races in Harris County, Texas, I think it only fair that I go ahead and admit some of my biases on the front side.

I've been working in and around the CJC for over ten years now, and I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of the judges and people running for the benches. I have to say that I think that the vast majority of the judges on the bench as we speak range from good to outstanding. I like them personally and I like them professionally.

Recognizing my own biases, I've sought out some opinions of members of the Defense Bar (whom, at their request won't be named in the posts) and gotten their perspectives, too. I also have added the links to each candidate's web site (where I can find them).

I welcome your input in the comments section.

CrimeStoppers Happy Hour

Recently, I've gotten two requests from friends to do a notification to our little Criminal Law community, which I'm more than happy to do! If anyone has a event or something big that affects us and we're all invited too, please feel free to let me know.

My good friend Amy Smith e-mailed me yesterday wanting folks from both the Defense Bar and the State to know that they were cordially invited to the CrimeStoppers Happy Hour on Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at the Post Oak Grill Midtown (located at 3017 Milam, Houston, Texas 77006) between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

There will be appetizers, drinks, and live entertainment. A $20 donation also includes Crime Stoppers Membership.

Sounds like a good time for a great cause.

(NOTE: Regarding the other announcement I have, it's a really cool event that Jolanda Jones is putting together in October. There's a big attachment and application that comes with it, and I'm still trying to figure out how to post it within the blog. I haven't forgotten, Jo! And if anyone can throw me some technical advice on how to add a link to a two page document in Adobe Acrobat format, it would be greatly appreciated).

Monday, September 1, 2008

My Hometown

Over the long Labor Day weekend, I had the opportunity to go back to my hometown and spend some quality time with my family -- both extended, nuclear, and otherwise.

Now, I've always considered myself to be an amateur philosopher, albeit, an incredibly poor one. I've yet to come up with that snappy phrase that will ever end up in a quotes book.

But, there is something about going back to your hometown that makes you philosophical. You can't help it.

I'm from a small town in Texas (I won't name it, on the off chance that you are one of the three people who still haven't figured out who I am). It's a great town, and it is one that I'm glad that I grew up in.

But, it's an extremely innocent town, and in turn, growing up in it, I was a very innocent kid.

It was a town that revered it's law enforcement officials. I can remember a police shooting where the local paper ran an article talking about how there was no controversy over the shooting and how we should all be very proud of the fact that we have the officers who would so bravely face off against bad men. (NOTE: Not that I disagreed with that position, but I can't imagine the Chronicle ever running anything similar).

It was a town where the policeman was the guy that made sure all the kiddos got home safely at night. It was a town where every crime was the most serious violation of public trust and needed the most severe of punishments. It was a town where everyone believed in their public officials (unless they had been rude at a dinner party you were throwing). You married that first girl you ever loved -- that marriage lasted forever, and if (God forbid), it went south, that was the biggest scandal you could possibly imagine.

Anybody else recognizing their hometowns in this description?

The reason I'm going into this rather self-indulgent rambling is that it was very strange for me to return to it this weekend.

I've been involved in the Harris County Criminal Justice System for well over ten years now, and part of me felt . . . well, dirty . . . returning to a town that always seemed so pristine in my childhood memories.

I'm clearly not the same person that I was when I left there in 1996.

I'm more cynical. Angrier. Uglier (both physically and emotionally).

Being at home, having a drink with my family -- it made me wonder, would I have been better off if I had never ventured into the Big City known as Houston? Would I have been a happier person if I didn't know that there are people that kill when their pride is slightly wounded? People who think it's okay to abuse children (sexually or otherwise). Where the crack head who lives on the corner really ain't no big deal?

Am I a better person for having come here and engaged in the seedier side of life?

Am I a step above my brethren who stayed there and lived their lives, happily oblivious to the ugly part of life -- the poverty, the drug addiction, the violence.

Honestly, I don't know.

One of my closest friends (who posts under the name of Pro. Victims) recently said that a high school of friend of his had been forced to point out to him that the vast majority of people in the world are good people and that the vast majority of children grow up without ever being abused.

It was something that my good friend Pro. Victims had, understandably, lost sight of due to his job.

If you are looking for a definitive position out of this particular post, you may want to just skip on to the next one. Because, I will be damned if I know what would have been the best course of action (staying home versus having your mind expanded to the point it breaks your heart).

But I do know this, I think that all of us who come to the Big City and experience it in all of it's Beauty and Disgrace, have a step up on those who never ventured off their home turf.

We've seen something that so many people never see, and that is the fact that there are, very often, more than two sides to every story. Some excusable. Some explainable.

Some not.

But, at the end of the day, I'm kind of glad that I have a more grounded insight into the world in which we live in. Sure, it would be nice to go at bed night believing that the majority of the world was like Ward and June Cleaver.

But it isn't.

In a perverse way, I'm kind of glad that I shook off that innocence a long time ago.

But, in other ways, it was kind of nice to go to sleep in a town where you don't have to lock your doors at night --

And where marriages did, in fact, last forever.

Perhaps Some Just For Men would Help

Ah, poor Mark Bennett.

The polls closed on the "Guess the Age" vote I did in honor of his birthday last week, and the majority of you (29%) guessed that my friend was older than 46 years of age, while only a solitary vote thought he was 35 years old (for which, Mark would probably like to thank his lovely wife, Jennifer).
Well, folks, the gray hair actually disguises the fact that Mark is a relatively youthful 38 years of age. Yes, I was a little shocked, myself. Here I was considering Mark to be some sort of aged speaker of wisdom (much like Yoda), and I find out he's barely two years older than I am!
Somehow, I'm thinking Mark needs to incorporate his age into the portion of his voir dire on Reasonable Doubt, for future reference.
In the meantime, Happy Birthday Mark!

Episode Seven: The Voters Awaken - A One Act -Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Death Star orbits over Downtown Houston. [INTERIOR] The Imperial Council Chambers. EMPRESS OGG sits at the head of a long table ...