Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Man Trap

Christine Haas is continuing her investigation into the CJC and the overcrowding it experiences every day. In this piece (which I believe aired yesterday), she gets County Judge Ed Emmett and the Fire Marshal's Office to finally weigh in on what's happening there.

I was disappointed to see both men give a soft-sell to what was happening with the building. Emmett notes that he's sure that sometimes the capacity of the building goes over 350 people? Dude, I'm totally voting for you in November, but seriously, "sometimes"????

But Emmett's quotes are nothing compared to Assistant Fire Marshal who called the problems at the CJC that they've addressed to be "minor", and notes that the reason there hasn't been follow up at the building since 2008 and was because nobody called in to complain.

What? Let's analyze that for a moment.

1. Is he seriously stating that the Fire Marshal only responds to inspect public buildings if there has been a complaint, and never for any other reason? So, basically, it isn't their fault, it's been the community's fault for not complaining?


2. Is he really trying to say with a straight face that there actually hasn't been a complaint since 2008.

Kind of reminds me of the old phrase about pissing on someone's head and telling them it's raining.

At least Judge Emmett has some ideas in mind, but he's looking at the one that will be the most inconvenient while saving county money. I'm not sure how I feel about the ideas of staggered dockets. I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if they did all felony in the morning and all misdemeanor in the afternoon (or vice versa).

But if you have to start keeping track of different random courts with different random hours, I think you are going to have some chaos going on for Judges, Attorneys, and Defendants.

Either way, a major thanks goes out to Christine Haas for keeping on this story and hopefully changing that damn building for the better!

The best part of the clip is the Fire Marshal acknowledging that the CJC is actually a "Man Trap".

If that doesn't give you an idea of how dangerous the building is, I don't know what will.


Anonymous said...

"sometimes excedes 350"...
37 courts x 9 (judge, bailiff, process server, court reporter, 2 clerks, 1 coordinator and 2 ADA's)=333

If 9 Defendants and their lawyers show up for court, there goes the capacity.

Ed, if your math is REALLY that bad, I don't know if I want you as County Judge.

Ron in Houston said...

I'm still shocked the capacity of that building is only what 350?

I know a lot of people don't want staggered dockets but that appears to be about the only cheap solution.

Architect Chris said...

Its hard to believe the building capacity is 350. That doesn't pass the sniff test. Perhaps a room, lobby, or a floor has that capacity, but I doubt its for the whole building. One 36" door (standard size) has an exit capacity of 165 people. 4 stairs per floor would mean 660 people per floor on the upper floors. If all stairs discharged inside the building, which generally isn't allowed by code but perhaps the codes for this building type are a little different, you'd be limited by the ground floor's egress capacity. (clear door width in inches when open 90 degrees / .2 occupants per inch--assuming the doors are freely available for emergency exits.)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the capacity size of other downtown buildings is?

Anonymous said...

You know, of all the issues facing Harris County justice (tm), this is the least important. Sure, it's an inconvenience. But that's it.

Overcrowding in the jail and the constant push to build an expensive new one, eyewitness procedures, and the crime labs are far more deserving of time, effort, and money.

Too bad those won't be fixed any time soon, either.


Anonymous said...

Actually Rage, the poor design of the Criminal Justice Center has an impact on jail capacity. More than one client of mine has had their bond revoked for being just a few minutes late.

Anonymous said...

"The Man Trap" sounds like a late night TV infomercial for single women. Sorry, back to the issue at hand.....

Thomas Hobbes said...

Just a couple things:

1. Referring to a situation as a "man trap" overstates the case. ensuring doors that (under the Fire Code) shouldn't be locked aren't locked was done a couple years ago.

2. The sign that the friendly (but clueless) folks at KHOU continue to focus on does not say anything about the building occupancy limit. Signs like that must be placed adjacent to the exits in assembly areas (like the CJC lobby) and usually reflect only the occupancy limit of the adjacent assembly area. To ensure everything is clear, you likely will see occupancy limit signs posted in a number of areas in the CJC in the near future.

Roxy said...

I happen to know that before Chuck Rosenthal self-destructed, he was on a mission to add employee elevators to the CJC. He had a plan to add a bank of elevators somewhere on the south side of the outside of the building. And here's the best part - he offered to pay for them out of the DA's discretionary funds - forfeiture $ - NOT the county's general fund. At the time, he had around $20 mil. Don't know how much is in there now . . .It seems like people always try to cast blame on the judges for things like this not happening @ the CJC - but the judges did not veto it - didn't even weigh in. It just died somewhere in the budget office or Art Storey's empire.

Anonymous said...

More than one client of mine has had their bond revoked for being just a few minutes late.

Which is due to an asshat judge. I know that's a problem too, but it's far more fixable with just a policy change or two, whereas the other problems are far more systemic.

The building sucks, there's no doubt. And there's no way that staggered dockets will do the job alone. Lawyers with any amount of volume (this includes prosecutors) would have to spend all day every day in the courthouse, and would have little office time. That just won't cut it.


Anonymous said...

Some rocket scientist put the generators in the basement. Even after that building had flooded during the big storm, Commissioner Radack said that it was still cheaper to fix it than to have built it right the first time.

They just wasted an acre of land downtown building a useless park with a jury assembly room in the ...wait for it............basement!

Way to go Steve!

Anonymous said...

The staggered docket idea had been tested for 20 years by Judge Mike Wilkinson and was not well received by the media.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:01
You can add at the very least another 37 people to that number.
Thanks for forgetting the CLOs. Proves what I have always thought... CLOs are the bottom of the totem pole and only aknowledged when someone needs something from them.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 9/8/10 10:01 a.m.

DAMN I love how the CLO is ALWAYS forgotten. We truly are the step-children in the CJC world. Let's stop doing probation & see how much worse the dockets & the Man Trap get....about x10 worse I'm sure!