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.]


jigmeister said...

I know nothing about Fine. He came along after I left. How long has he been practicing? What cases has he handled?

Unknown said...

Did you know Judge Devon Anderson also volunteers her time to preside over one of Harris County's four felony drug courts??

Anonymous said...

Under the federal rules, judges are specifically precluded from interfering with plea negotiations -

The reasons for this bright line rule have been expressed in a number of cases decided by this court. “First, it diminishes the possibility of judicial coercion of a guilty plea, regardless whether the coercion would actually result in an involuntary guilty plea. Second, the judge's involvement in the negotiations is apt to diminish the judge's impartiality. By encouraging a particular agreement, the judge may feel personally involved, and thus, resent the defendant's rejection of his advice. Third, the judge's participation creates a misleading impression of his role in the proceedings. The judge's role seems more like an advocate for the agreement than a neutral arbiter if he joins the negotiations.”

United States v. Rodriguez, 197 F.3d 156, 158 -159 (5th Cir. 1999)

Anonymous said...

Even the 5th Circuit gets it right ever now and then.

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:

This one is very easy -
Judge Anderson.

Anonymous said...

BTW, when you google Kevin Fine, this link appears -

Would anyone really trust him to preside over a child sexual assault case?

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, I saw Fine give a very long and detailed opening statement describing his defendant's version of the events. I later learned that the defense did not present a case at all - meaning that Fine essentially got to testify for his client without allowing the prosecutor cross-examination. Underhanded to say the least. And yes, the jury found the Defendant guilty.

Thomas Hobbes said...

This is not to take sides, but to make two observations:

1. I'm always a bit concerned when judges (and others) appear to assume that efficiency and effectiveness are the same thing. I wouldn't be nearly as concerned if a realistic performance measure of justice was the speed with which one moves his/her docket.

2. As one of the pther commenters suggested, judges should stick to their assigned role in the system. In the situation presented, the judge only possible role is to assure that the defendant was aware of the possible consequences of his choice. Judges have no business "going off" on any defendant for making an informed choice (I assume that's why the defendant was represented by counsel).


Anonymous said...

Not to mention - if that defendant had nothing to lose...then several years in TDCJ might seem a lot nicer than one year in the same Harris County Jail that seems to have a problem keeping all of its prisoners alive...

Anonymous said...

With regard to being brusque, the code of judicial conduct says the following:

(4) A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and should require similar conduct of lawyers, and of staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control.

Berating, cajoling or going off on Defendants with regard to plea bargains is neither patient, dignified nor courteous. If that is how a judge achieves an effective rate, then give me an >impartial< judge with an ineffective rate who cares more about justice than some blind obsession with numbers.

That being said, Judge Anderson appears to be a genuinely nice person off the bench. Draw your own conclusion from her behavior on the bench and vote accordingly.