Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Race for Harris County District Attorney

It's been over six months now since Judge Pat Lykos defeated Kelly Siegler in the Republican Primary for the District Attorney's race, leaving her to face Democratic candidate and former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford in the November election. The last time I wrote anything definitive on the race was immediately on the heels of the run-off vote.

Many things have changed over the past six months. Time has passed and life has settled back down to a large degree -- just in time for everything to get all stirred up again for November! In the meantime, I'll try to take a little less emotional look at what is probably the most important race affecting those of us in and around the Criminal Justice Center.

In the wake of the Republican run-off, I, along with several other prosecutors had a sit-down meeting with Chief Bradford. I was impressed by his easy-going demeanor and his very apparent earnestness at explaining the direction he wanted to take the Office. He was very nice. He answered the tough questions about his past with HPD, and he stayed as long as we had questions. At the end of the meeting, I realized that he was a charismatic leader and I liked him very much.

The flak that Chief Bradford largely gets obviously comes from his time as Chief of the Houston Police Department, with the DNA Lab Scandal and the K-Mart Raid being the Top Two marks against him. It is true that some of the blame of those two events rests with Chief Bradford, but I don't think they should be the factors that are necessarily fatal to his campaign.

The crime lab was already in disarray long before he took over the helm of HPD. It is true that he didn't give the problems the proper attention that they deserved, but I think that he has gotten the lion's share of the blame without being the one most responsible for what happened there.

As for the K-Mart raid, you can count me as one of the citizens of the county that thought the motorcycle racers that regularly hung out at the K-Mart on Westheimer were a bad nuisance to the community. There was more than one occasion that I was driving on 610 when those bikers would all leave the parking lot and go jetting down the highway, causing chaos on the pavement. That raid needed to happen, and if it had gone as planned, it would have been loudly praised. Unfortunately, it got out of hand at the scene for whatever reason. Chief Bradford wasn't at that scene, and I think that we all know that sometimes the best laid plans can often go awry.

No, Chief Bradford's past with HPD does not concern me when looking at his ability to be District Attorney. There is also something to be said for his ability as a manager of large amounts of people in a major law enforcement entity in a large county. Those are relevant skills.

What does concern me about Chief Bradford as the elected District Attorney is that everything I hear him talking about on the campaign trail seems to have more to do with being well liked than creating an effective District Attorney's office. Yes, it would be great if the Harris County District Attorney's Office was the most beloved of all D.A.'s offices throughout the country, but unfortunately, that's not really the job description.

Bill Turner, the elected District Attorney in Brazos County (and someone I consider to be a mentor to me) once told me that "being the District Attorney is the slow alienation of your community". What he meant was that the District Attorney and the prosecutors under him or her have to make tough decisions, and those decisions are often unpopular with the people they affect. But that's part of the job. Everybody cheers the traffic cop who saves the citizen trapped in a burning car, but we'll be cussing his name the second he writes us a traffic ticket, won't we?
(As a side note, if you are reading this in Brazos County, please vote for Bill Turner. He's one of the greatest prosecutors I've ever seen and he makes my old hometown very proud).

The bottom line is that a person doesn't become the District Attorney to be loved. They are there to do a job and it is a job based on tough decisions that have to be made. Often times public opinion has to be set aside to do what is legally correct. Over-exerting yourself trying to be well-loved will set a leader up to doing the wrong thing in the name of popularity. I would rather hear from a candidate who is talking more about being tough on crime than talking about building a public defender's office. That's not the D.A.'s job, and Bradford's devotion to community relationships and public perception greatly concerns me.

The lack of familiarity with what the job entails for him concerns me greatly.

Judge Lykos actually does have that familiarity with the job description. It is also my firm belief that (all campaign slams against Kelly Siegler during the primary campaign aside) she knows that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is the best damn D.A.'s Office in the Nation. While Chief Bradford is talking about a complete dismantling and rebuilding of the Office, she knows that it is an Office filled with the most talented Public Servants in the world. It may need some tweaking, but it doesn't need the massive overhaul that Chief Bradford is promising.

She knows from her experience as a judge how the Criminal Justice System works from inside the courtroom. She knows that the basic structure of the Office is a pretty amazing system that day in and day out meets the needs of a very crime-ridden community. She knows the difference between cases that can be legally proven and those that can't. She also understands that being the District Attorney often means doing the unpopular thing in the name of Justice.

There is also the high likelihood that she will be bringing along Jim Leitner as a part of her upper-Administration. Awhile back, I took some pretty serious potshots at Jim, when I was feeling angry and disappointed with him over his endorsement of Lykos.

For that, I'm sorry. Jim Leitner is a good attorney and a good person. If a Lykos Administration brings Leitner with it, then that's a definite positive.

So, I'm caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here.

On a personal level, I like Chief Bradford a lot, and I would gladly work for him. On the flip side, I think that the way that Lykos ran her primary campaign drug our Office through the mud and it ran one of the greatest prosecutors in the Nation out of public service.

I spoke out about it then, and I don't regret that. I stood by my friend who I believed to be the best candidate for the job and I did it wholeheartedly. I wouldn't be the kind of person I want to be if I had handled it any different.

I would imagine that Pat Lykos will probably fire me (uh, if I actually work there) if elected.

That would be her Right.

But the election isn't about what's best for me. It's about what is best for Harris County.

You can pick at and blast me all you want, but I'm proud of being a member of the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Chuck Rosenthal was not a representation of what we stand for or how we conduct ourselves on a day to day basis. From the top to the bottom, that Office is filled with people that I'm proud to say I work with every day. What was needed to restore the reputation of that Office was for Chuck to leave, which he did. Look at how well the Office has done under the few short months that Ken Magidson has been in charge there.

Ultimately, I think that Pat Lykos is the better of the two choices for Harris County, as much as it pains me on a personal level to say.

The next four years are going to be really interesting, no matter what.

If it gets too bad, just remember this slogan:

AHCL in Twenty Twelve!

The Chronicle's Judicial Endorsements

The Chronicle made its judicial endorsements in today's newspaper on the 9 races up for grabs in the CJC.

I disagree with them on their endorsement of Reuben Guerrero over Bill Moore for reasons I've stated here, but other than that, I was kind of amused to see that we agreed on eight of the nine races.

I'm glad to see that the Chronicle editorial board has some sense.

But on the other hand, I feel like I've totally lost my street cred.

Happy Birthday to My Best Friend

On a personal note, today is my little boy's third birthday.

In a world that is often very dark, he is truly a Bringer of Light.

I wish a very Happy Birthday to my Reason for Being, my Best Friend, and, pretty much, just my Everything.

I love you with all my heart, Little Man.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The 351st District Court Judicial Race

The race for the 351st District Court has Republican incumbent Judge Mark Kent Ellis facing Democratic candidate and defense attorney Mekisha Walker Murray. In this instance, my personal knowledge of Judge Ellis is only in passing, but Mekisha is a former prosecutor and a personal friend of mine.

Judge Ellis is an 8-year veteran of the District Attorney's Office, which he followed with 3 years of private practice. He has been on the bench since 1997. He has handled numerous death penalty Capital Murder trials and brings to the table eleven years of experience on the Bench. He is known as a very capable and intelligent judge who truly loves the law.

If anything, it could be said he might actually love the law a bit too much, as he is well known for spending upwards of about four hours during his portion of voir dire educating the jury panel on the "ins and outs" of how criminal law works. Now, this is often times rather aggravating to the prosecutors and defense attorneys (who are already quite familiar with the law), but Judge Ellis regularly gets compliments and thanks from the jurors who listen to his lecture. I don't think that anyone could make an argument that Judge Ellis is cutting any corners when it comes to ensuring well-educated jurors will end up on juries in his court.

In addition to his regular duties in the 351st, Judge Ellis is a former-member of the STAR Court judges dealing with defendants with substance abusers. In 2006, however, he switched from working in the STAR Court to being one of two judges supervising the Harris County Mental Health Court, which is a specialized court dealing with Defendants suffering from mental health issues.

I think that both prosecutors and defense attorneys alike can agree that dealing with mental health issues in the criminal court system is a complex and often troubling prospect. Everyone agrees that the criminal justice system and the way it is currently set up is ill-equipped to deal with persons accused of crimes who also suffer from legitimate mental illness. There is a line that must be walked that balances fairness to people who don't fully grasp the consequences of their actions and still takes into account the safety of the general public.

It's not an easy task, but it is one that Judge Ellis has volunteered his time to help work through.

Mekisha Murray, as I mentioned before, is a former prosecutor and current defense attorney. I like Mekisha and I think she has a brilliant legal mind and is an extremely hard worker.

When she was in the Justice of the Peace Division, Mekisha was known for doing legal research on Class C violations and case law regarding the traffic code. She was known for being an extremely intense prosecutor who worked very hard on her cases, often very late into the night. She served at the D.A.'s Office for somewhere around five or six years, I believe, before leaving as a Felony Two.

For those of you not familiar with the Office, the position of Felony Two is one of the most difficult positions in the Office. A Felony Two carries an enormous case load of serious felony trials ranging from high amounts of narcotics to Aggravated Robberies to Aggravated Sexual Assaults to Murders. Pretty much the only case that a Felony Two is not considered qualified to try is a Capital Murder case. A prosecutor will spend anywhere between four to five years in the position of Felony Two before being considered for promotion to Felony Chief. If the prosecutor has been able to survive those years of being a Felony Two, they can pretty much handle anything.

Mekisha left the Office fairly early on into her tenure as a Felony Two and didn't rise to the level of Felony Chief.

I don't say this to disparage Mekisha, because I think that at some point she will gather the credentials to be a good candidate for Judge. But as it stands now, she has been attorney for slightly less than six years. There's something to be said for experience, and she is still in the process of acquiring it at this point. I, myself, have only been a lawyer for almost ten years now, and I don't consider myself qualified to be a judge at this point based on my years of experience. I have a hard time thinking that Mekisha is quite there yet, either.

In the case of Judge Ellis, you are dealing with a long-standing judge who, not only has experience, but also is trying to make a difference in the community. His work with both the STAR Court and now the Mental Health courts clearly illustrate that it would be in the public's best interest to keep Judge Ellis on the bench.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The 339th District Court Judicial Race

In all of the political contests involving the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, there is probably no greater disparity between the candidates' qualifications and ability than there are between Republican Incumbent Judge Caprice Cosper and her Democratic opponent, Municipal Court Judge Maria Jackson.

As I've written before and my friend, Mark Bennett has written, Judge Cosper is the best Judge in the Criminal Courthouse. Please keep in mind that although Mark is one of my very good friends, he and I seem to disagree on damn near everything. But we are in agreement here that Judge Cosper is an amazing Judge and the thought of her losing her bench to a judge that tries only traffic cases is both nauseating and sad.

I've mentioned previously that there are four judges who comprise the supervision of the STAR Court Program. All of their roles are equally important in the success of the program, but (call me biased) I would describe Judge Cosper as the heart and soul of the program. She was one of the founding judges who helped start it, and she takes personal pride in the program.

When the STAR Program was first established, I'll admit that I was skeptical over the possibility of really making a meaningful change in the lives of hard-core addicts. I was very wrong about that. Under the guidance of Judges Cosper, Thomas, Anderson and Wilkinson, I've seen some amazing stories of recovery and redemption. I've also seen the pride and happiness in the faces of people who are winning their fight with their addictions.

That type of meaningful change couldn't have happened without judges like Judge Cosper.

When not working in the STAR Program, Judge Cosper is even better on the bench in the 339th District Court.

Trying a case in front of Judge Cosper is like trying a case in front of a Westlaw data base. She keeps up to date on all of the latest case law and legislation. During a tricky (from a legal standpoint) case in many courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys often are having to take "time out" to do some last minute legal research. It doesn't happen in the 339th, because the Judge knows the law off the top of her head.

As far as her judicial demeanor, she approaches each case with an open mind. Somehow she manages to tackle her job with a combination of compassion and toughness that is difficult to describe without seeing it in person.

Those defendants that appear before her on non-violent offenses that deserve a second chance will get them. But, Judge Cosper will order them into a treatment program that will do everything possible to ensure that defendants won't find themselves back in the criminal justice system again. She is the Judge who won't let a young person take a final felony conviction on a first time drug case, if she feels that a deferred adjudication will give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves and avoid a final conviction.

On the other hand, she will hand out the maximum sentence to violent offenders without batting an eyelash when appropriate. She knows the difference between people with legitimate problems and those who are just grasping on to any excuse that they can find for their behavior. She can cut through the difference and administer true justice.

She consistently does the right thing over and over again. She plays no favorites with either the State or the Defense, and I doubt that anyone could find a defense attorney who has practiced in front of her that would describe her as anything less than completely fair.

Like I said, she is the best Judge in the Courthouse.

Her opponent is a municipal court judge that has been a lawyer for less years than Judge Cosper has been a judge. Municipal court judges serve an important function in government and I do not mean to diminish that. But the bottom line is that the municipal courts handle only Class C Misdemeanors. For those of you who read this that aren't familiar with criminal law, a Class C misdemeanor is only punishable by a fine.

That basically translates into the fact that Maria Jackson has never had the power to sentence a person to a day in jail and now she seeks to hold a position where she would be handing down life sentences and signing death warrants. Her experience is primarily with traffic violations and now she seeks to deal with Capital Murders?!

The disparity between the two candidates is beyond enormous and is probably the best illustration why Judicial elections should have absolutely no ties to partisan politics.

Sadly, there is a real danger that those people who are still foolish enough to vote "straight ticket" on their ballots could remove from office the Best Judge in the courthouse in favor of a person who isn't even remotely qualified. I've never voted "straight ticket" in my life, nor will I. If anyone is so weak-minded that they can't put individual thought into who they are voting for, then they shouldn't be voting in the first place.

Folks, do me a favor and get the word out to all of your friends who might possibly be voting straight-ticket Democrat and tell them about the mistake they would be making.

Unless Judge Cosper is re-elected, everybody loses on this one.

In case you missed it the first two times, she's the Best Judge in the Harris County Criminal Justice System.

The 338th District Court Judicial Race

The 338th District Court Judicial Race has two candidates that I can actually say were still working as prosecutors back when I started at the Office. The Republican candidate is incumbent Judge Brock Thomas and the Democratic Candidate is former prosecutor (on both the State and Federal levels) Hazel Jones. (And, as a side note, I have to commend both candidates for having extremely well-done websites!).

Although I worked in the Office with both candidates, and was just a lowly Misdemeanor Three, they were both extremely nice and helpful to everyone in the entire Office. Hazel was much more quiet while Judge Thomas was more of a leader. They were both very kind to me as a young prosecutor,

Judge Thomas has presided over the 338th District Court since 2002, and in my opinion, has done an exemplary job. He has presided over tough, and at times, tedious cases (such as the Priscilla Slade trial) and he has done so efficiently and in a professional manner. Although I have not practiced in front of him, Judge Thomas is said to have held himself to an extremely high standard when he was a prosecutor and he holds the prosecutors in his court to the same high standard.

Although some cynical folks like to sarcastically refer to the Harris County District Attorney's Office as a "Judicial Finishing School", I've never heard any complaints from the Defense Bar about Judge Thomas being anything but professional, fair, and intelligent.

In addition to his duties in the 338th, Judge Thomas is also one of the four judges who presides over the STAR Court, helping people charged with crimes and suffering from drug addiction to confront and beat their addiction. It is an extra duty that he has also handled with professionalism, and more important, compassion.

In short, Judge Thomas is an excellent judge.

As I mentioned earlier, I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Hazel Jones. She is an impressive, intelligent, and kind attorney with a very stunning resume. She is a native Houstonian who cares very much about her community and has excelled in the legal community. She has been on both sides of counsel table - as an Assistant District Attorney and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. She currently has her own defense practice.

I would vote for her in different circumstances, but in this case, I think that Judge Thomas has done too good of a job for too long to see him depart from his job.

The Chronicle Endorses Pat Lykos

I got an e-mail bright and early this morning from my old friend/arch-Nemesis (kidding!)Alan Bernstein checking to make sure I had seen that the Chronicle had endorsed Pat Lykos for District Attorney. Alan was bringing to my attention my comments earlier this year (under one of my more conspiratorial days) where I predicted that the Chronicle folks were supporting Lykos during the primary so that they could turn around and endorse Bradford in November.

He wanted to make sure that I knew I was wrong!

Well, this whole "being wrong" thing isn't something that is all that new to me, but I am more than willing to address the topic for old times' sake.

I'm still thinking out the D.A.'s race and I plan on addressing it in the next day or so, once I'm done with my analysis of all the Judicial Races. But there were a couple of things that I found interesting about the Chronicle's endorsement.

Although endorsing Lykos, the article seems to give her a bit of criticism on her personal skills and demeanor. The endorsement notes "She has been criticized privately and officially for poor listening skills and brusqueness with colleagues and subordinates".

At the same time, they never really list what exactly they have against Clarence Bradford, other than noting [regarding the crime lab scandal] that "the corruption and ineptitude in that lab began before former Police Chief Bradford took office, but his under-aggressive responses have weakened his leadership credentials".

They also list several ideas that Bradford had as part of his platform and they stress that they hope that "Lykos should take them seriously".

I guess what I'm getting at here is that although the Chronicle gave Lykos the official nod, they sort of seemed rather half-assed about it, and they surely didn't really come out with guns blazing against Bradford. About the only thing the editorial is decisive about is pointing out the District Attorney's Office's "long-standing dysfunctions".

Like I said, I'm still in the middle of a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to the D.A.'s race, but I'm still feeling pretty solid in my dislike of the Chronicle editorial board (which Alan is not a part of). The folks there just seem to have a really solid dislike of the D.A.'s Office and those who work there.

But, for the meantime, Alan, I will admit that you were right and I was wrong.

Kind of.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Magidson Editorial

District Attorney Ken Magidson provided an editorial piece to the Chronicle in today's Sunday Edition, which outlines the positive changes made in the D.A.'s Office during his short tenure.

One of the things that Magidson doesn't list, but I wish he would, is the leadership job he has provided to those he has supervised. This year, without question, has been the most tumultuous year the Office has ever experienced, and Ken has provided cool leadership in the Storm. For those of us that were initially concerned about him as an "Outsider" taking over the Office, he won us over in about the period of two weeks.

He saw us through both Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Chuck.

Whoever wins the D.A.'s race has got some really big shoes to fill.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The 337th District Court Judicial Race

Back to Business today.

The race for the 337th District Court Judicial Race has Republican incumbent Judge Don Stricklin running against Democratic Candidate and defense attorney Herb Ritchie. I checked the Net and could not find a website for either candidate's campaign.

Back when I first started at the District Attorney's Office, Don Stricklin was the First Assistant under Johnny Holmes. He was the man who called and offered me the job there, so I will always have a pretty high level of fondness for the man. Apparently, I must have run him off or something, because not too long after my arrival, he was appointed to the 337th District Court. With me being a brand new Misdemeanor Three and him being First Assistant, I never dealt with him on a professional level.

I never served in the 337th District Court and I've never tried a case in their, either, so my knowledge of how the Judge runs his court is based solely on reputation and word-of-mouth.

Judge Stricklin is known for running a fast-paced and efficient court. He holds the State to a high standard and doesn't have patience with delays or mistakes made the prosecutors in his court. Cases are set for trial and actually go to trial in an efficient and timely manner. The State not being ready on trial day is unacceptable to the Judge, and that can often lead to some job stress for the prosecutors assigned to his court.

However, you don't hear the prosecutors complaining much about being in the court. One of my best friends at the Office spent a significant amount of time in there as a Felony Three, and thoroughly enjoyed the court and practicing in front of the Judge. According to him, the Judge was professional, businesslike, intelligent, and fair.

It is also worth noting that you don't hear the Defense Bar complaining about Judge Stricklin either. I'm sure those of you outside of the legal fields will be shocked to know that all attorneys tend to gripe and whine on occasion (especially over a beer or two). But I never hear the Defense Bar griping about Stricklin.

It sounds to me like Judge Stricklin is doing a good job and running a good court.

As little personal knowledge as I have about Judge Stricklin, I have even less knowledge about his opponent, Herb Ritchie. I've been around awhile and I've heard his name and I've seen him, but I honestly can't say that I've ever dealt with him. I know for certain that I've never had a trial with him, but I don't recall ever having a case with him at all.

I'm not claiming to know all of the defense attorneys in the courthouse, but I'd like to think that I know the vast majority of them. Maybe it's just a fluke, but I am honestly at a loss for words on what to write about Mr. Ritchie. I just don't know him.

So I'll have to turn it over to the commenters for their take on him.

However, he'd have to bring some pretty strong recommendations for me to think he'd be a better judge than Judge Stricklin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Things You Pick Up Along the Way

Every once in a while, I will sit down and write about things that have absolutely nothing to do with the CJC. Kind of self-indulgent topics, I suppose, that I'm not really thinking are relevant to what I usually write, but I just need to get off my chest. I'm not looking for commentary really and I'm not thinking it has anything to do with our jobs . . .

I just want to write them.

And so I will.

I grew up in a relatively small town. It had it's advantages and it's disadvantages, and it had many small town stereotypes that it lived up to -- some negative and some positive. One of the positive stereotypes that Small Town Life embodied was that it fostered some very close-knit relationships that I have carried with me throughout my life and have been very happy and proud of.

My family friends growing up consisted of about five families where all the Dads had gone to high school together and their friendship had carried on into their adult years. They were all friends. Their wives were all friends. Their children were all friends with each other. In fact, my best friend in the world came from this great part of growing up. I was Best Man in his wedding, and he's been a groomsman in a couple of mine!

When I was a little kid, it was just assumed that every Saturday evening we would be at the home of one family or another. The kids all playing together while the parents talked, laughed, and drank wine. Many of my most vivid memories of growing up go back to those Saturday nights. Thinking about them now still brings back a smile and thoughts of a much more innocent and naive time.

Out of our little group of families, the children were taught to be respectful. The parents were usually called "Mr." or "Mrs." by the kids.

The exception to this, was the one dad that I think was the leader of this little group of friends -- to everyone, even the kids, he only answered to "Buzz".

In high school, Buzz had been the good-looking, witty, and cool guy. As a parent, he was the absolute favorite of all the kids that were running around his house on any given Saturday night. While the other Moms and Dads would be having a drink and watching the football game, Buzz was the one who would come up to make sure the kids hadn't set anything on fire while they were all playing together.

He'd check in on us, and he usually stayed awhile. He took a lot of joy in what I like to refer to as the Majesty of Being a Child. He easily held the status of "favorite parent" from the group -- I know he would have won that title if only the kids had voted, but I'm pretty sure he would have won it if the adults had voted too.

In the late 1970s, Buzz developed testicular cancer and it was supposed to kill him. All of us kids were between eight to twelve years old, and I don't think any of us had ever dealt with the concept of death before. We suddenly had it rushing at us in the most heartbreaking of all forms. The thought of losing Buzz was about the most devastating thing you could put on a ten-year-old's agenda.

Buzz, in typical fashion, soldiered through it like the Fighter and Man that he was. He endured brutal chemotherapy and radiation to the degree that the doctors just told him it was a race between him and the cancer to see who the treatment killed first. He threw a huge "going-away" party for himself at the local country club, assuming his estate would ultimately be covering the bill.

But then something happened that was the origin of my personal belief in miracles.

Buzz beat that goddamn cancer. And he beat it completely.

Buzz went on to watch his daughter and son grow up into successful young people. He got to watch them marry and ultimately give him three grandchildren. Hell, he even finally paid off his "going away party" some time in the 90s, I think.

He got a second lease on life, and he savored it. Not only was he a good parent to his own children, he was like a Dad to the rest of the kids that they grew up with.

The first time I ever went hunting, it was a trip that Buzz had organized for the fathers and sons. I remember how he solemnly told us kids that we'd have to drink the blood of the first deer we shot. I think it was when I was starting to turn green at the idea of that thought when he finally started laughing and admitted he was kidding.

When I graduated from college, Buzz took me to lunch just to talk about what my plans in life were. He wanted to know and the reason he wanted to know was that he cared so much about his friends and their families.

A couple of years ago, Buzz's son got married, and all the fathers and sons went to Las Vegas for the bachelor party. It was a reunion of family from across the country, and for one fantastic weekend, it was like being kids again. It was truly an awesome experience.

It's kind of a funny thing between fathers and sons, in my opinion. I think as boys grow into men, they end up imitating their fathers -- their mannerisms, the way they talk, their attitude, and often times, even their general outlook on life. I told Buzz once that I knew the kids in our group all imitated our fathers, but upon further reflection, our fathers were all just imitating him.

He was single-handedly the coolest person I ever met in my life.

He was also the Origin of the compliment of calling someone a Good Man, that I've mentioned here before.

Because God knows if there was ever a Good Man on this Earth, it was Buzz Hamilton.

The wisdom and the values and the lessons I have learned from that man could fill volumes, and he taught them all to us by example, not lecture.

Twenty five years after they first met, that goddamn cancer came back for Buzz.

And he fought it just as hard as he did the first time.

But, I learned at 3 a.m. this morning that the cancer won the battle this time.

Buzz fully appreciated every minute of his life on earth. He celebrated in it and basked in it. He had a beautiful wife, beautiful kids, and beautiful grandchildren. He was a devoted family man and a cherished friend.

Last Monday, my Dad and I went and had the opportunity to say goodbye to Buzz at MD Anderson, and I don't think I could ever adequately describe what that was like. All I can say is that I'm glad I got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me.

So, in memory of Buzz, I'd like to pass on a couple of things that I've learned from him. I may not have been able to follow all of the advice as well as I wish I could have, but these are the things that I learned from knowing the Ultimate Good Man:

-Celebrate every moment that God has given you to spend on Earth.
-Always keep your word.
-Repay every debt you ever have, and don't complain about it.
-Be the kind of person who would get up in the middle of the night, at the drop of a hat, and drive across the country to help a friend.
-Don't brag about yourself.
-Listen and let other people talk.
-Hear the whole story before weighing in with your thoughts.
-Laugh and smile every time you possibly can.
-Learn to separate those things in life that don't matter away from those things that do.
-Be the most intensely loyal friend a person could ever have.
-Love truly and love deeply.
-Always cherish the Majesty of Youth. Spend every minute that you possibly can with your children.
- Never miss an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to you.

I don't think of myself as a particularly religious man. But I thank God for knowing Buzz. I thank God for the extra 25 years we all got to spend with him. I pray that I don't turn into a blubbering mess at the funeral. I pray for Buzz's family and friends.

And I pray that some day, maybe I might have just turned out to be a Good Man, too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The 179th District Court Judicial Race

The race for the 179th District Court features 20 year veteran Judge Mike Wilkinson as the Republican Candidate against Democratic challenger Randy Roll. (NOTE: There were some technical difficulties when I tried to link to Judge Wilkinson's website, so I just linked to the District Courts page. I think that stat photo was taken in 1982).

I served as a Felony Two in the 179th District Court for several months, and I got to know both Judge Wilkinson and his court staff. It was a great court to work in.

Judge Wilkinson is one of those folks that has such a brilliant intellect that it is almost frightening. He is actually quite amazing in his knowledge of the law and when considering a legal ruling, it seems like you can actually see him going through the data banks in his head for the right answer.

Do you know the kind of smarts I'm talking about here? Like one of those types of guys that could play a chess match entirely in his head.

During trial, he keeps his own detailed notes of the testimony in "real time" as it is occurring. And I mean really detailed notes.

And Judge Wilkinson has a sense of humor. That may not seem like the most valuable asset that for a Judge on a Criminal Court bench, necessarily, but when a prosecutor is assigned to a court every day, it is certainly a bonus to have a pleasant work environment.

He's a great judge, not to mention a great person.

Unfortunately, Judge Wilkinson has suffered through some criticism over the years due to the time table he keeps on running his docket. It is true that he rarely gets to court before 10:00 a.m. or later.

And that has always been the single largest criticism about him.

The counter-point to that criticism is that Judge Wilkinson will also work late into the night and stays later than most judges. Around the Office, when a Judge is needed to sign a warrant or a dismissal in the late afternoon or early evening, the most likely person to be found will be Judge Wilkinson.

Was it annoying on occasion to deal with the Judge's time-table? Sure, it was.

Was it annoying enough to negate what a great judge he is otherwise? Not even close.

In addition to his regular duties on the 179th bench, Judge Wilkinson is also one of the 4 judges who volunteers his or her time with the STAR Court Program.

He is a compassionate man and an excellent judge.

His Democratic opposition in this race is Defense Attorney Randy Roll.

Randy has run for Judicial election in what seems like every election year since I've been working around the CJC (much like Lloyd Oliver). His own website mentions that he's "gained voters over the past 3 elections".

I suppose that is one way to look at it. Another way of looking at it is that he's been rejected for the possibility of judge now three times.

My dealings with Randy Roll as a defense attorney were quite some time ago, and were not impressive. There are a great many defense attorneys that have the respect and admiration of prosecutors in the D.A.'s Office.

Sadly, Randy does not enjoy that reputation.

Under the idea of "not saying anything when you have nothing nice to say", I will just leave it at that.

Just suffice it to say that if there is a voter out there who think that Judge Wilkinson's schedule is a problem, please believe me in saying that Randy Roll is not the solution.

Judge Wilkinson is an excellent judge and he's getting my vote. This one shouldn't even be close.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Blog Link

I got an e-mail from R.J. MacReady today, mentioning his blog, The Court of Criminal Appeals Blog. I wasn't aware of it until today (some days I'm just a really bad blogger in the Blawgosphere).

Here's the link to it:

And I've added to my blog roll.

I look forward to reading it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Brian Coyne Mastercard Commercial

Rose-tinted Sunglasses - $120
Fashionably Questionable Tie - $150
Ostrich Skin Briefcase - $900
Messing With Prosecutors - Funny
Forgetting Your Umbrella - Priceless

Monday, October 6, 2008

The 178th District Court Judicial Race

The race for the 178th District Court has the newest Judge in the CJC, Republican candidate Judge Roger Bridgwater, defending his bench against Democratic attorney David Mendoza, Jr. (who does not have a website listed for him on the Harris County Democratic Party webpage).

I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here, because I don't know the first thing about Mr. Mendoza. I've checked out the internet for information with no luck, and I actually don't recognize him from his picture on the Democratic Party's website. I will say that after having been around that courthouse (in one form or another) since 1996, that it would be somewhat unusual for me to not recognize an attorney who practices there regularly.

But, stranger things have happened, and I don't mean to sell Mr. Mendoza short. If you know him and have dealt with him, please let us know your thoughts on him.

Judge Bridgwater, on the other, I have known pretty much since I first started working in Harris County. However, for the vast amount of time, obviously, I knew him as a member of the Defense Bar.

My experience with Roger Bridgwater as a defense attorney is one of great admiration and respect. He was one of the members of the Defense Bar that you could take every representation that he made to the State as the 100% truth. He was honest as the day was long, and he was a formidable adversary in trial. He was very soft-spoken, but prosecutors knew that they had better listen when he spoke.

There was actually something very Judicial about Roger Bridgwater long before he became a judge.

Judge Bridgwater has only been on the bench since July of last year. As the "rookie" Judge, he was virtually guaranteed an opponent, which is shame, because I expect great things out of Judge Bridgwater in his continued tenure.

I don't have much to report on his first year in Office, which is to be expected.

He hasn't had any major high profile cases or rulings that he's tackled quite yet, and he is probably considered to still be "transitioning" from the role of "attorney" to "judge".

If Judge Bridgwater is still in a "transition period", it is one that I expect he will come through with flying colors.

He's got my vote, and I hope to see him on the Bench for many more years to come.

Jolanda Jones' Survivor Challenge

City councilwoman, Defense Attorney, and part-time Super Hero Jolanda Jones, along with Houston Mayor Bill White (who after everything he's done through Hurricane Ike is a Super Hero in my book, too) are hosting the Houston Survivor Challenge on Saturday, October 25th.

The event is giving the opportunity to 20 local contestants to compete against real contestants from the TV show "Survivor" in "Survivor-esque" challenges designed to test your mental and physical talents. For those folks who don't quite have the guts to actual compete (which would probably describe me!), the event will give you a chance to cheer on your favorite contestants from the show.

For more details, CLICK HERE.

The deadline to apply is October 15th, 2008.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The 177th District Court Judicial Race

Before Hurricane Ike, I had a plan to write one profile a week on the Judicial Races. Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a time crunch. I'm trying to double up here and cover all of them before the Early Voting starts, so forgive me if the quality of the profiles suffer.

The 177th District Court Judicial race pits Republican Incumbent Judge Devon Anderson against Democratic challenger Kevin Fine.

This particular race is interesting to me, because I know both candidates, and I like them both very much.

I first met Judge Anderson when she was still a prosecutor with the D.A.'s Office, and she was prosecuting the infamous Railcar Killer, Rafael Resendiz Ramirez. She was trying the case along with Lyn McClellan and then-District Attorney, Johnny Homes. In watching that trial, even amongst those "Old Dogs", Judge Anderson was the most impressive attorney in that heart-breaking and terrifying trial.

I was thrilled when Judge Anderson was elected to the bench in 2004 and I knew she would represent the Harris County Criminal Justice System well.

In my opinion, she has lived up to, and exceeded those expectations.

Judge Anderson is a smart, tough, and fair Judge who manages her docket in a no-nonsense manner that is efficient and timely. Her docket is always one of the Top Two lowest dockets (the other one being her husband, Judge Mike Anderson's docket) of all the 22 District Criminal Courts. I agree that "numbers aren't everything", but the low numbers are indicative of a Court that is moving at a very effective rate.

To be fair, I know that there are some complaints from the Defense Bar about Judge Anderson, and I think they need to be closely examined. Some have complained of her brusque demeanor with Defendants. One highly respected defense attorney (who asked to remain anonymous) stated to me: "She has never been anything but courteous and respectful to me, and she's never screwed me over on a ruling, but she's pretty rough on my clients."

Fair enough, but let's take a look at that.

An example of that which I heard from a (different) member of the Defense Bar was the following story:

"I had a guy charged with a Third Degree (NOTE: Punishable by 2 years to 10 years in TDCJ) dope charge, and the State had offered him a year in the county jail. My guy turned it down, and asked for his trial setting. When [Judge Anderson] learned what the offer was and what he had turned down, she just went off on him about how stupid it was that he was turning the offer down."

This particular attorney was relatively aggravated about the Judge going off on his client, but when asked what ultimately happened to his client, the story comes into perspective: He was found guilty and got 8 years in TDCJ.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think everyone who enters into the CJC should be treated respectfully, but if this particular defendant had listened to Judge Anderson's brusque criticism, he'd be out of jail by now. She was trying to scare some common sense into him, and he didn't listen to her. Ultimately, his feelings may have gotten hurt, but she was right. If I were in his shoes, I'd have taken a little berating in exchange for not having to serve an additional seven years of incarceration.

The bottom line is that the Defense Bar complaints about Judge Anderson have always seemed a little hyper-sensitive to me. I think this is a Judge who is doing the right thing and following the law. As a voter, and as a lawyer, I think being a little bit brusque is called for from time to time.

Her opponent, Kevin Fine, is a respected, skilled, and very intelligent defense attorney. And he's also a hell of a nice guy.

He's a member of the law firm of Stanley Schneider and Troy McKinney, who are also some extremely smart attorneys. I wish that his website had a little more background information on him, because I would gladly include it here. I really do think Kevin is a great guy. He's also a brilliant lawyer.

But when it comes down to it (although I know Mark Bennett and crew will probably be blasting me for this statement), there's nothing wrong with a "tough" judge on the bench, and I think that is pretty much what Judge Anderson exemplifies.

Does she hurt some feelings? Perhaps.

But does she call them like she sees them and still provides a fair trial? Yep.

To me, that makes a great judge.

[NOTE: I forgot to mention in my earlier posts that Judge Anderson (along with Judges Cosper, Wilkinson, and Thomas) also volunteers her time to preside over the STAR Court program, which provides meaningful help to defendants with drug addiction.]

A Bit of Good News . . .

In a year that has pretty much roundly stunk, I did get a little bit of good news last weekend when I got an e-mail from my friend, Jim, who I had previously written about here and here.

He told me that he had been in lockdown and had, subsequently, "gotten scared straight" and was clean and sober.

Being a natural skeptic, I was glad to hear from him, but wondering how much reality was behind it.

And then I got an e-mail from Jim's dad, saying that Jim was doing really well and was looking and feeling better than he had seen him in many years.

I remain cautiously optimistic about Jim. I'm thankful for all the thoughts and prayers that he received from people that he has never met. And I'm very glad for the fact that Jim has a family that could show him "tough love", without ever losing the "love".

There are way too many people out there that don't have that type of support network out there to make this a possibility.

I'm hopeful that Jim's story does ultimately have a happy resolution.

In the meantime, please keep him and his family in your prayers.

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 ...