Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just an Idea

Co-written by Tyler Flood.

Well, it doesn't look like the Fire Marshal's Office or anybody else in control of safety, order, or reason at the CJC is going to be doing anything to help the nightmarish situation that occurs at the elevator banks every weekday morning.

Here's a view from last week at the bank:

And here:

I've been saying somebody would get hurt with all the crowding, and someone finally did. Attorney Mary Moore got one hell of a bruise on her arm by a defendant slamming his way into an elevator that was already filled to capacity. According to Mary, the defendant was unapologetic, but pointed out he couldn't be late for court.

The Commissioner's Court and the Fire Marshals aren't doing too much investigating in the mornings because they are most likely terrified of what the results of that investigation would show:

That the Harris County Criminal Justice Center is a poorly designed and poorly created multi-million dollar building that requires drastic structural changes to make it safe for the public. That would cost millions of dollars that the County just doesn't have to spend right now -- not to mention the havoc that would be created while construction to fix the problems was taking place.

They need about four more elevators on each side of the building and a floor plan that doesn't create the insane bottleneck that we all know and love every morning.

Or, we could re-evaluate some docket scheduling matters that might help it as well.

Why do Harris County Criminal Courts at law make all people on bond come to court every 2-3 weeks? Why don’t the courts give the defendant’s lawyers enough time to investigate the case and then come back to court when they are ready to do something on the case, like plead or go to trial?

This is completely unnecessary and a monumental waste of time for lawyers, defendants (people who have real lives and real jobs yet people who are being forced to take off work for almost a full day while their case is pending, people who are “presumed” at this point to be innocent. Why can’t Harris County follow proper manners and etiquette and extend a little professional courtesy to the people charged with an offense and the lawyers representing them and allow the parties to appear at mandatory court dates less frequently?

In Galveston County, they actually let you come to court about once every 6 months so you can actually have time to work on your case. Montgomery County will give you a 3 month reset. Fort Bend and Brazoria also show the same courtesy. Harris County, however, will make a person come to court about 5 times in a 3 month period.

Why does Harris County do this?

One reason is there are a few judges that are hyper-concerned with the number of cases pending on their docket. There has become a competition between courts to see who can plead out the most cases and have the lowest number of pending cases on their docket. How do you encourage more people to give in and just plead guilty? Make them take off from school and work so many unnecessary times that they risk losing their job or getting kicked out of school. That way, the defendant comes in, throws their hands up and says to their lawyer, “Let’s just get this over with, I’ll plead guilty because I cannot take off any more time to come to court for these settings.”

You know why the court building is unable to handle the number of people there each day?

Because it wasn’t designed to have 15,000 misdemeanor defendants coming to court every 2 weeks. Longer resets would save money on human resources and reduce overcrowding in the mornings. It would also give lawyers time to work on their client’s cases and give the case a long enough reset date to actually matter.

Also, by spacing out the dockets for your on-bond defendants, there is more space to bring in those defendants who are still in custody and having their freedom actually deprived at the moment. These are the ones who need to be working more quickly towards a resolution of their cases.

I know that docket numbers are important to the judges, but have we really examined why? In most instances, a high docket isn't a reflection of poor management by a judge. A judge has to do their job regardless of whether there are 100 defendants on their docket or 1,000. If a case gets reset, it may be because a prosecutor doesn't have some "to do" done, or it could be that a defendant just doesn't want to work out their case.

That's not something to blame on the Judge of the court, is it?

Anyway, it's just an idea.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Any portions of this post that were written with poor spelling or grammar or that were in any way offensive to a judge were written by Tyler Flood. All the good stuff with immaculate spelling was written by Murray Newman).


Anonymous said...

What about optional afternoon dockets a few days a week. All the surroundinG counties have afternoon dockets.

Anonymous said...

I'd say afternoon dockets or staggered docket calls. However some judges rarely stay in the building after lunch.

Anonymous said...

If jackass judges wouldn't revoke bonds for being a few minutes late then maybe there wouldn't be such a problem. Revoking bonds for tardiness is bs an simply a way to coerce pleas and manage the docket size.

Anonymous said...

If I ever ended up in a situation where a judge revoked bail for being late due to elevator issues, I would likely be spending a fair amount of time locked up for contempt after pointing out that the judge is a f*****g buffoon with the mental capacity of a half brained baboon. Followed by many motions for transfer to a different court. Jeez, how about some justice at the Justice Center?

Anonymous said...

I won't say the name of the judge, because I don't want repercussions on any clients, but a district court judge revoked the bond of one of my clients for being an hour late. Now that sounds terrible, but it was after Ike, and it was due to a traffic jam that was so horrendous it made the national news. The only time traffic has been worse was during the Rita evacuation. Nothing I nor my client said would change the judge's mind, because it was his "policy."

jigmeister said...

Too bad the judges don't have to use the public elevators like in the old building.

Anonymous said...

It's marshal, not marshall!!!!

Instead of griping here, try griping to the fire marshal! DUH!!

Murray Newman said...

Oops! I figured Tyler would have misspelled something.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see any immaculate spelling. Did see one parenthesis that wasn't closed, and lots of possessive/plural errors.

Good thing the criminal courts are paperwork-averse.

Anonymous said...

Back in 1993 Johnny Holmes put me on the new CJC building committee with responsibility for the D.A. portion of the new building (not the courtroom portion). In the mid '90's I drafted a letter to Commissioner's Court which Johnny signed pointing out the need for more elevators than had been designed. No changes were made. Again in approximately 1998, I drafted another similar letter to Commissioner's Court at Johnny's request which he signed and sent. The architects insisted again that the number of elevators was sufficient and Commissioner's Court made no changes. When the building opened , it was clear the first day as lines of people stretched out onto the sidewalks that the architects had miscalculated. The elevators are perfectly sufficient after mid- day and at night and on weekends but not at peak times like weekday mornings when 90% of the work in the building is done.

The crowded elevator conditions have been a constant source of irritation for prosecutors, private attorneys, witnesses and defendants since the building opened. Facilities and Property Management people did what they could through the years with tweaks to the system which helped but has not yet solved the problem.

Chuck Rosenthal made elevator system improvement one of his priorities in the latter years of his administration. He offerred to use Asset Forfeiture funds to pay the entire cost of adding 3 elevators to the southeast corner of CJC. One thought was to use them only for jury panels and anyone who officed in the building, thereby taking much pressure off the other elevators for attorneys and their clients. The new elevators would be added to the outside of the building with the doors opening at the edge of the current building's outer skin. Riders would then step out of the elevator and into what is now a small lobby leading to the door to the judges' chambers. The 2 north corners of the building were not acceptable because the first 6 floors of corners are blocked by the D.A. offices. The southwest corner was not acceptable because of various obstacles under ground that would prevent building a tower. However, the architects presented a plan that at least at the time seemed to make the southeast corner uniquely suited. The tunnel already entered at that corner so it seemed the idea of using those elevators for jury panels would dovetail nicely into the plan to rebuild the jury assembly room below ground just across from that corner. I saw an architectural drawing of the proposal and was frankly surprised how unobtrusively the addition blended into the building. The only concerns I remember at the time were: 1) the sheriff's offices in that corner of the basement would have to be relocated as well as the building security office on first floor 2) the judges in the southeast corner would be inconvenienced somewhat by prosecutors and jurors using their lobby. But, they would still be able to lock their doors leading to their chambers hallways. 3) The jurors deliberating in the southeast jury deliberation rooms might be botherred by the noise of elevator people. But sound proofing could solve that, and how often does a jury deliberate in a southeast corner deliberation room? Maybe 15 times a year per floor?

I am not certain of this but I think the judges were opposed to this idea as well as Dick Raycraft. Dick frequently mentioned solving the problem by using staggerred dockets. I think Dick thought the new tower would not mesh well enough with the new jury assembly room. Maybe further and more detailed architect work revealed more problems with the plan than I was aware of. I know Dick is an honorable and bright public servant so he probably knows something about the issue that I don't. At any rate - I had hoped with that much money offerred to throw at the problem, there would be a solution found.

Bert Graham,

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bert Graham, Citizen.

Those all sound like good ideas and sounds like you worked hard on it...maybe someone will read this blog and pick up where you all left off?

Anonymous said...

What about the miniature jail and sally port at the corner of Commerce and San Jacinto? Heard it never could meet State Jail Standards.
It is used now for RHIP parking for Sheriff's brass and other top brass.
What's up with that?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bert but don't forget to include the design the courtrooms, the lack of witness waiting rooms, poor design for court staff, basically the complete disaster that is the Criminal Courthouse. Just remember, the Commissioner's Court did not listen to Bert and Johnny and the public did not listen to ADAs in 08 and look what it got us-The Harris County Criminal Courthouse and Pat Lykos.

Anonymous said...

When a judge revokes a persons bond because they had to wait 45 minutes for an elevator is crazy.....revoking a defendant's bond is not simply putting them in timeout. They are now locked in a cage. Don't worry about simple things like if the person has a job, family, kids to pick up from school, etc etc...just revoke the bond so they will plead guilty and get one more case off the docket.

thank you for bringing up this is time for the Commissioners court to address this issue.

BLACK INK said...

Bert Graham is a class act.
He always did the right thing BECAUSE it was the right thing to do.

Jim Leitner---You are no Bert Graham.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Graham,

While you are blogging, I would love to hear your thoughts on the manner in which the Gang has used funds and what they have done to the budget? I was told that you offered your services to assist Leitner in managing the budget and those services were declined. In all the years you were at the DA's Office, have you ever seen such a misuses of funds?

What do you think the current adminstration has done wrong to cause the budget issues they have now?

Anon: Not a Citizen (Yet)

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:58 am :

Yes I did offer to stay on in some capacity but the new administration wanted to start fresh I think. I wished them well and I have been happy in my new life. I don't know all the facts of how they are handling the budget so won't comment on that. Hope you make it to "citizen" if that is your goal. Bert.

Anonymous said...

Nobody worked harder than Bert Graham, and I emphasize nobody, did to attempt to put the Criminal Justice Center in a condition that was not only acceptable to the blessed and most worshipful judiciary, but also the peons - the prosecutors, the defense bar, the witnesses, and the defendants. Unfortunately, apparently the smart ass, highly educated architects with their theoretical graphs, slide rules, and scholarly text books did not realize how the real world functioned. Bert tried to contribute in making the CJC functional with Johnny's endorsements, but the Commissioners and their associated regal hierarchy obviously thought they knew better or were just too cheap - I suspect the latter is the probable - maybe they can now repossess the new floors in Johnny's old office and start building steps on the exterior - at least that is one way the current DA would be of some benefit to the tax payers, assuming the floors are not too cigarette burned.
Calvin Hartmann

Anonymous said...


The best thing they could do is implode the entire building along with the abandoned 1301 county jail, hire some top notch architects and start over.

Anonymous said...

Get Quannel X to organize a protest around the courthouse, including blocking the entrance to the parking garage.
Time to get some attention.

Anonymous said...

It should not take 6 months to investigate a typical DWI case. You know this, Tyler.

Jason said...

Good points but remember the basic factor is an unapologetic defendant who thinks only of himself. That's probably why he is a defendant to start with!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Murray! It's aobut time someone took a no-nonsense look at the traffic jam that takes place here every morning.

The sad thing is that it is only going to get worse as time passes and I highly doubt that Harris County Comm. Ct. will do anything until some terrible event happens and it will take a lawsuit to change it.

Perhaps taking on client like that will allow soome of us to escape the wrath of what is left of a great DA's office... Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

There is a simple and cost effective solution. The judges just need to get off their high horses and allow all court staff to use their elevators. Absent that, nothing is going to change in the near future.

It has always amazed me that it is okay to interact with clerks, probation officers, deputies and prosecutors in the court room. It is even okay to interact with them at venues outside of the workplace. e.g., court luncheons, parties. But it offends the judges' sensibilities to be on an elevator with the same people?? But then you will hire a clerk or CLO to be your coordinator and they magically become good enough to be on the elevator with you? Or a prosecutor is elected judge and magically becomes good enough to share an elevator with you?

Give me a break and get over yourselves!

Anonymous said...

Why don't they switch out the Courthouses....they built Civil after they understood all the mistakes in the CJC. Civil DOES NOT get the people traffic our building does. I've heard it's been suggessted on more than one occasion.

Anonymous said...

Unless I am mistaken, Civil does not have holdovers. So switching buildings may sound good but...

Anonymous said...

What's that big hole they're digging in front of the courthouses?
Surely it's not another courthouse?

Murray Newman said...

Anon 8:33 p.m.,
The hole is going to be a bunker with a hatch where Desmond will have to punch in the numbers . . .

Oh wait, actually, that's going to be a new jury assembly building.

Anonymous said...

There is great merit to the suggestion that resets need to be longer than 2-3-4 weeks, which result in every lawyer's entire docket appearing in some court every 2-4 weeks. If we simply extended resets to 6 weeks, the daily grind of people would be cut by one-third to one-half. Of course, such simple solutions have little to no chance of ever being implemented by all because they might upset the desire of some judges to run the show their way rather than in a way that benefits the greater good. Plus, most courts have gotten so used to resets only being 2-3 weeks that the thought of 6-8 week resets is sneered at just because "that is not how we do it." Solutions are seldom found in the pot of "that is not [or just] how we do it."

I wonder about the origin in Houston and Texas of the idea that criminal defendants had to appear by a certain time on each date the case is set. If the purpose is for them to be available if needed, isn't this goal served so long as they are there when or if their lawyer needs them to be? I'd bet the requirement to appear or go to jail was also born out of a desire for control rather than anything really meaningful.

Few counties or courts outside of Harris County actually forfeit or revoke the bond of someone who appears at some time during the docket. Few Harris County Criminal Courts at Law do so either -- though some are famous for doing it on trial day to coerce a plea and avoid a trial, a practice that mocks the idea that the building is a justice center. The real problem seems to be in some (not all) felony courts where the revocation is used as tool of oppression and to coerce a plea to get out of jail.

Aside from the courthouse crowding issue, lawyers and defendants waste a lot of time appearing on cases just to reset them: time that lawyers, at least, could use to more efficiently work on cases rather than needlessly appear in court for no real purpose. But, I know that no one really give a crap about using lawyers time efficiently: it is only the court's time that has any need to be used efficiently.

Almost no case can be thoroughly investigated, researched, and evaluated in just a few weeks. Typically, it takes three to four months for an average DWI case to get to the point of having all of the information necessary to make meaningfully informed decisions -- at least by those lawyers who really do something to work up their cases and do not just bleed 'um and plead 'um. Many felony cases will take many months to a year or more to fully investigate. The point is that cases are as different as the time needed to work them up. The one size fits all resets fail to recognize that reality.

All of that said, I have found most judges in Harris County most of the time to be accommodating to me when I request more time. But, I also hear regular and routine horror stories where the denial of time is more about the ego battle than anything making sense. In most instances, it should not take having to seek special attention and permission when both parties agree that there is more work to be done. Judges who routinely get in the middle of such discussions need to seriously reexamine that their job is as a judge and not as a participant: that is, unless the real goal is just to move the docket.

I would love to see some solution to the first floor overcrowding that would also solve other problems, but I am not holding my breath if that solution has to come from the judiciary.

My cynicism cup runeth over.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 8:35 pm :

There is another side to your argument. I was once assigned as a prosecutor to a felony court many years ago that had over 800 cases set for trial and about 2,000 total cases under arrest. If you wanted a trial, the quickest date was 2 years off. By that time the state was at a big disadvantage with witness evaporation of self and memory. That's great for the defense but bad for justice and truth.

If you let the defense attorneys only go to trial when they decided they wanted to, you wouldn't dispose of enough cases because many of them (or their clients)wouldn't seriously plea bargain until faced with the prospect of a trial. Hence the judge's role of setting deadlines.

I realize it works both ways. If a prosecutor is unreasonably high in his/her recs, the trial docket will grow out of control anyway. And some judges take the desire for a low docket to an extreme.

Maybe you are only talking about a few extra weeks of resets but they add up with the volume of cases in a court and all attorneys may not be as conscientious as you in investigating their case in a reasonable amount of time.

As usual, although seemingly unpopular in today's society, moderation to both extremes is probably the answer.

jigmeister said...

That's my recollection of Lykos docket in those days. All 3 prosecutors had a total of 50 cases set for trial every Monday with no idea what was going. What a zoo.