Sunday, December 22, 2013

Top 10 Tips for the Texans to Boost Attendance Next Season

As my son and I get ready to our final home Texans game of the season (mercifully), I noticed on the ticket that today is "Fan Appreciation Day" at Reliant Stadium.  Every year for the last game, they call out a few rows around the stadium at random and those folks win a prize.

So, it got me to thinking about what exactly the Texans will need to do to show enough fan appreciation for people to want to buy tickets for next year.  So, I came up with this:

Top 10 Tips for the Texans to Boost Attendance Next Season

10.  New head coach:  Ryan Secrest

9.  Player of the Game gets the Game Ball.  Worst player of the game must enter Thunderdome.

8.  Two Words:  Open Bar

7.  J.J. Watt continues his involvement with schools by doing every kid in H.I.S.D.'s homework all year.

6.  Team members valet park all season ticket holders' cars.

5.  Every halftime show involves a member of the coaching staff being voted off the island.

4.  Show newly released movies on the Jumbo-Tron while the game is on.

3.  For every game, a lucky will fan will be selected to be Offensive Coordinator.

2.  Arian Foster leads pre-game yoga class to help deal with the stress of upcoming game.

1.  First Round Draft Choice:  Miley Cyrus


In the meantime, I just wanted to thank Luke for being a good sport and going to all the games with me this season!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Dedication of the Mike Anderson Memorial Courtroom

As I mentioned a while back in this post, the Harris County Commissioners' Court unanimously voted to name the Drug Court's courtroom after late District Attorney Mike Anderson.

Today (December 17th) at 2 p.m., the official celebration of the dedication of the Mike Anderson Memorial Courtroom will be held in Room 14144 on the 14th Floor of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.

Mike Anderson devoted a lot of heart and soul into the STAR Court program and I'm so glad to see that the Commissioners are honoring and recognizing all that he did.

Please come by for the ceremony if you can.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Judge Catherine Evans Investiture

The formal investiture of Judge Catherine Evans will be held on Monday, December 16th.

The ceremony begins at 2:00 p.m. in the 180th District Court on the 18th floor of the CJC.  Everyone is invited to attend.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Victor Blaine

I was very sorry to hear of the passing of defense attorney Victor Blaine today.

He was an extremely distinguished lawyer that I had the honor of knowing since I was a baby prosecutor in 1999.  He had been around just a little longer than I had.  According to the State Bar website, he graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1952 and had been practicing in Texas since 1955.

I don't have any specific war stories about the man that I always called "Mr. Blaine."  He was a constant presence around the CJC and was always the model of a true Southern Gentleman.

He embodied all that was honorable about the legal profession.  He was polite, knowledgeable, and professional at all times.  There was nothing flashy about him, yet his presence conveyed a formidable opponent through the entirety of his career.  When I was a prosecutor, setting a case for trial against Mr. Blaine was not something I took lightly.

Up until a few weeks ago, Mr. Blaine was still a regular at the courthouse, and I had no idea that he was ailing.  Despite his age, he moved easily and comfortably.  His mind was as sharp as ever.  He was friendly and always had a smile on his face.

Victor Blaine was a reminder of attorneys from the past and a sterling example to attorneys of the present and the future.

Rest in peace, Mr. Blaine.

The 2014 Election Field

NOTE:  I believe this is a complete listing of the candidates on the Republican side.  I'm not 100% positive that the Democratic website is fully up-to-date at this writing.  I have linked those websites that are readily available on the Republican Party website.  Unfortunately, the Dems didn't link to anyone.  I will add links if you send them in.

Yesterday, December 9th, at 6:00 p.m. was the filing deadline for all candidates wanting to be on the ballot in 2014.  There were a couple of minor surprises here and there, but for the most part it looks like primary season will be relatively quiet in 2014.

Here is what we've got:

Harris County District Attorney

Republican Devon Anderson- for the first time since 2004, the Republican nomination for District Attorney is uncontested.

Democrat Attorney Kim Ogg will be facing semi-lovable goofball Lloyd Oliver in the battle to be on November's ballot.

NOTE:  Nobody should be surprised by Lloyd running again for District Attorney after he stunned us all in 2012 by getting the Democratic nomination over the vastly more qualified Zack Fertitta.  Lloyd, who likes hopping from party to party between elections, may have finally decided to stick with the Dems since he got so much love from them last year.  I did note that the Dems' website has added Lloyd's middle name of "Wayne" to his official listing.  He's now "Lloyd Wayne Oliver" on the ballot -- kind of like John Wayne Gacy.



In all seriousness, Kim Ogg is the clear choice in the primary.  This contest is a referendum on whether or not Democratic voters pay attention.

The District Courts

With the exception of the 263rd District Court Republican race (see below), none of the primaries for Criminal District Court Judge are contested on either side of the ballot.

180th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Catherine Evans will be facing off against Democratic candidate and former-Judge Randy Roll.

182nd District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Jeannine Barr currently does not have a listed opponent according to the Harris County Democrats' website.  I don't know if that is accurate or not.  I'll keep you posted.

183rd District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Vanessa Velasquez also does not have a listed Democratic opponent.

184th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Jan Krocker will be running against Democratic candidate, defense attorney, and all-around good guy, Mark Thering.

185th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Susan Brown will be running against Democratic candidate Garland "Mack" McInnis, who ran as a Dem for the 351st District Court in 2012.

208th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Denise Collins will be running against Democratic candidate Chuck Silverman.  I had never heard of Silverman and so I did a little research.  He appears to be a civil attorney who ran for a civil court bench in 2010.  I don't know why in the world he's running for a criminal bench.

209th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Michael McSpadden also does not have a listed Democratic opponent.

228th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Marc Carter also does not have a listed Democratic opponent.

230th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Brad Hart will be running against Democratic opponent and defense attorney Greg Glass.

232nd District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Mary Lou Keel also does not have a listed Democratic opponent.

248th District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Katherine Cabaniss will be running against Democratic candidate and former Judge Shawna Reagin.

262nd District Court Incumbent Republican Judge Denise Bradley will be running against Democratic candidate and defense attorney with the Public Defenders' Office, Jules Johnson.

263rd District Court The only contested District Court primary is between Republican Incumbent Judge Jim Wallace, who has drawn a primary challenger with defense attorney Robert Summerlin.  The winner of the primary will face off against Democratic opponent and former Judge Herb Ritchie in November.

The County Courts at Law

The County Courts are also going to be relatively quiet during the primary season, with the exception of County Court at Law # 10, where longtime Republican Judge Sherman Ross has chosen not to run again.

County Court at Law # 1 Incumbent Republican Judge Paula Goodhart does not appear to have a Democratic opponent according to the Harris County Democrats' website.

County Court at Law # 2 Incumbent Republican Judge Bill Harmon has drawn a challenger in Democratic candidate and defense attorney Harold J. Landreneau.

County Court at Law # 3 Incumbent Republican Judge Natalie Fleming also does not appear to have a challenger.

County Court at Law # 4 Incumbent Republican Judge John Clinton will be facing off against Democratic candidate Nikita "Niki" Harmon.  I'm not familiar with Ms. Harmon, but it appears that she is a City of Houston Municipal Judge from what I can tell from the Web.

County Court at Law # 5 Incumbent Republican Judge Margaret Harris will be running against Democratic challenger and defense attorney Ramona Franklin.

County Court at Law # 6 Incumbent Republican Judge Larry Standley will be running against Democratic challenger Linda Geffen.  I'm not familiar with Ms. Geffen, but found this interesting story about her when I looked her up on the web.

County Court at Law # 7 Incumbent Republican Judge Pam Derbyshire will be running against Democratic challenger and defense attorney Sheila Acosta.

County Court at Law # 8 Incumbent Republican Judge Jay Karahan will be running against Democratic challenger and District Court Chief Assistant District Attorney Kelli Johnson.

County Court at Law # 9 Incumbent Republican Judge Analia Wilkerson does not appear to have a Democratic challenger.

County Court at Law # 10 As noted above, with the retirement of Judge Ross, there are a host of candidates who will be running to fill an open bench.  On the Republican side, four candidates will be running:  former prosecutor and defense attorney Tonya Rolland McLaughlin, Deputy Constable Ken Wenzel, attorney Dan Spjut and defense attorney Mary Heafner.  On the Democratic side, two candidates will be competing for the nomination:  George Barnstone and John Connolly.

NOTE:  There will be a lot more discussion about this race in the days to come, but I'm going on record early as saying Tonya Rolland McLaughlin is the best candidate here.  She's going to need a lot of help in running against the politically active Spjut, so if you've got the time and the resources, Tonya's campaign is a good one that could use your help!

County Court at Law # 11 Incumbent Republican Judge Diane Bull does not appear to have a Democratic challenger.

County Court at Law # 12 Incumbent Republican Judge Robin Brown also does not appear to have a Democratic challenger.

County Court at Law # 13 Incumbent Republican Judge Don Smyth will be facing off against Democratic challenger, former prosecutor and defense attorney Jason Luong.

County Court at Law # 14 Incumbent Republican Judge Mike Fields has drawn a challenger in Democratic candidate, former prosecutor and defense attorney David Singer.

County Court at Law # 15 Incumbent Republican Judge Jean Spradling Hughes has a challenger in Democratic candidate and defense attorney Raul Rodriguez.

The District Clerk

Over the past several years, the position of District Clerk has become more and more relevant in the daily lives of defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges.  Republican incumbent Chris Daniel will be challenged by Court Koenning, a former Harris County Republican Party Executive Director.  The winner of this battle will face Democratic candidate Judith Snively.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman

Although not directly related to the business of the CJC, the leadership of the Harris County Republican Party under incumbent Jared Woodfill has a huge effect on who runs and wins in Harris County.  In my opinion, Woodfill and his friend Gary Polland have been running it into the ground at an alarming pace.  Challenger Paul Simpson is running against Woodfill, as is Wendy McPherson Berry.  Paul ran a good campaign against Woodfill last time and I'm glad to see him running again.

If Republican voters want to make some positive changes in their party, starting at the top is a good place.  I hope you'll support Paul Simpson if you are voting in the Republican Primary.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Of Chemo and Diapers

So, tomorrow (Monday, December 9th) is the filing deadline for the 2014 elections, and I imagine that things are about to get hopping around the blog again with the different candidates.  Before we get into the grind of that, I thought I would do a quick update on why things have been so quiet here for the past couple of months.

Although I've posted very brief posts here and there on a couple of occasions, I've been pretty neglectful over here.  I've had several outstanding reasons, I promise!

As I posted here back in September, I had a brief and successful battle with leukemia over the summer.  I was officially declared to be in remission when I wrote that post.  However, as part of the complete treatment, I had to do eight follow up weeks of treatment with a drug called Rituxan to help ensure that the leukemia didn't come back.

The follow up treatment was no big deal, whatsoever.  I had about a three hour IV drip that I did on eight consecutive Mondays.  Since Rituxan sometimes causes an allergic reaction, the nurse would administer an IV drip of Benadryl prior to the Rituxan, and the Benadryl would usually put me right to sleep.

I've often thought that my life seems to play out like a long-running TV series.  I get done with one season of drama and roll straight on into the next one.  This was going to prove to be no exception:  My last scheduled treatment was on Monday, October 28th, which was a good thing since my wife was due to give birth on Wednesday, October 30th.

The week preceding the 28th only added to the drama.  I tried a week-long murder case in the 185th and the jury had found my client guilty that Friday (October 25th).  When we broke for the weekend, my client was testifying on his own behalf under my direct examination.  Judge Susan Brown had told the jury to come back the following Tuesday, so that I could make my Monday afternoon chemotherapy appointment.

My oldest son's birthday was that weekend and we had scheduled a costume party in the backyard at his mom's house.  The party was on Sunday and Luke's grandfather spent a large amount of time setting up tables and decorations outside in the yard all day Saturday.  Everything was set up for an easy start to the party the following day.

Of course, on Sunday morning at 6 a.m., I woke up to the sound of a torrential rain storm that seemed just slightly less ferocious than Hurricane Ike.  In all of our planning for the birthday party, none of us had bothered to check the weather.  That was a really really big oversight.

Miraculously, the rain started to taper off around 10 a.m., and Luke and I went to his mom's house to begin the world's fastest clean-up operation.  By that, I mean he watched television and ignored requests to clean his room while Sylvia and I frantically dried off every item in her backyard and moved it to the dry land of her driveway.

Amazingly, we pulled it together in time for the party and we had a successful celebration.  By Sunday night, I went to sleep exhausted, but proud of the effort.

On Monday morning, I had to be up before the crack of dawn to travel to Brazos County for a quick case setting.  The prosecutor and Judge Travis Bryan were more than accommodating as they let me reset my case quickly and get back on the road to Houston in time for my afternoon chemo.

My wife had a routine check up with her OB/GYN in anticipation of being induced into labor two days later on Wednesday.  Her appointment coincided with my chemo treatment, so I couldn't accompany her.  I went to the Oncology Consultants and started the Benadryl drip.

And that's when things got interesting.

Shortly before zonking out, my wife sent me a text saying that they wanted to move up the induction date to Tuesday and she was not happy about it.  I didn't blame her -- we still had a lot of stuff to do to get ready for a new baby.  I didn't have much time to respond before I fell asleep.

When I woke up two hours later, there were a lot of text messages piled up in my inbox.  That was a bad sign.  As it turned out, her blood pressure was high and the doctors were keeping her for observation.  She was optimistic that she might get released.  I wasn't.  There was no way the doctor was going to send her home when her due date was so close.

By the time I finished the chemo drip, I had marching orders to go straight home, pack our bags and come back to the hospital immediately.

In the space of two hours, I was able to drive home in Houston traffic, pack our bags, text Judge Brown and the prosecutors (telling them that I might not be able to make it to trial in the morning), pick up dinner and get back to the hospital.  Once we ate dinner, they began giving my wife the induction drugs.

We were both up pretty much all night and active labor started around 4 o'clock the next morning.

Right around 8:30 a.m., my wife delivered a healthy 9 pound, 4 ounce boy.  We named him after her late father.

About an hour later, I got a call from the 185th District Court wanting to know when I was going to be there for trial.  In all the excitement, I hadn't confirmed that I wouldn't be coming in.  Oops.

Luckily, everyone understood.

So after a few bumps in the road, it looks like everyone in my family is healthy and happy.  Luke loves his new brother, Smith, and Smith seems relatively content in life.  He's growing exponentially and seems to love sleeping -- as long as it isn't at night.

I don't know if it was the leukemia or just the fact that I'm 8 years and 3 days older than I was when Luke was born, but this parenting stuff is EXHAUSTING!  My energy level was much higher during chemo than it is with our little bundle of insomniac joy.

All in all, however, life is fantastic.  I'm tired but still grateful and happy for all the blessings in my life.

I know this post doesn't have anything to do with the CJC, really, but now you know where I've been lately.

I'm sure the new election season will have me writing much more frequently.





Monday, November 25, 2013

Rise of the Machines: The E-Subpoena Edition

Back in 2010, when Chris Daniel ran against my friend and then-incumbent Loren Jackson for the job of District Clerk, I was not a supporter.  Loren had done such an amazing job in such a short amount of time with the technology in the Clerk's Office that I felt there was no way Daniels could continue at such a pace.

Although it took some time, Chris has won me over.  He and his staff have worked very hard at bringing so many records online for easy viewing.  They have also made exponential leaps in making E-Filing more and more convenient and accessible for attorneys.

As much as I love all the new technology, there are still a couple of kinks in the system that have to be worked out -- for instance, if you need a quick Motion for Continuance in a Court and they only accept e-filings, how do you get that done when you are away from your computer?

Today's complaint is about the E-Subpoena -- not so much about how the District Clerk's Office handles them, but how the Sheriff's Office does.

I've only filed an E-Subpoena on a handful of occasions.  The first one I did was pretty straight-forward until I got to the portion that asked how I wanted the subpoena served.


In my case, I had a subpoena duces tecum (a subpoena for records).  I wasn't expecting a problem, so having the subpoena served by standard channels was fine by me.

I selected "Peace Officer" and got this response:


Well, I wasn't requesting personal delivery.  Mailing the subpoena or however they wanted to do it would have been just fine with me.  So ultimately I clicked "Private" and just had my investigator pick up the damn subpoena and serve it.  

A few weeks later, I had a case where I decided that I needed personal service on it.  I'll change the facts up a little for Attorney-Client privilege purposes.  

Let's say that the client was accused of stealing something at a place of business where there were security cameras around.  One of those security cameras is right where the crime was allegedly committed.  So, I send a subpoena to that business asking for the video footage.

I ask for the Sheriff's Office to file it.

I never hear anything back from the business, so after a few weeks, I call them for a follow-up.  The very nice lady on the phone tells me that she had already contacted me and let me know that there was no such video footage.  She insists that she e-mailed me at the listed e-mail address on the subpoena.

I asked her if she would mind forwarding that e-mail to me at murray@murraynewman.com and she agreed to do so.

As she noted, she very dutifully had notified the e-mail address on the subpoena:


Now, there are two problems with this e-mail she sent.  First of all the "name written on the subpoena" was my client's name.  The Defendant's name is always on the subpoena.  My subpoena had requested film footage.  It wasn't specific to a person -- it was specific to a place.  The business clearly misunderstood and did a records search for my client and found nothing.  That was no surprise to me, since my client would not have any legitimate purpose for being there.

The second problem is that they weren't e-mailing me about the problem, they were e-mailing the Sheriff's Office.

That could have been handled easily if the Sheriff's Department had forwarded along the e-mail.

Instead, they did this:


Um, yeah, the ADA (Assistant District Attorney) didn't subpoena those records.  The Defense Attorney did.  Additionally, it wasn't an incorrect filing.  It was perfectly fine.  It was just misunderstood.

None of this information would have ever been learned if I hadn't called the business and asked what was going on with my subpoena.

This is definitely a kink that needs to be worked out between the Sheriff's Office and the District Clerk.  If subpoenas are going to be issued solely by E-Filing, then they need to be reliable.  If I had been issuing a subpoena for a person's attendance in court (rather than records), I would have been asking the Judge of the Court to issue a Writ of Attachment for the missing witness.

I don't know that a Judge would have been comfortable in doing so with such an unreliable system in place.

I'm all for the E-Filing and E-Subpoena System.  It is so much easier to issue subpoenas from my office rather than handwriting them out in court.  Chris Daniel and the Clerk's Office are headed in the right direction with it.

There are just some things that need to be fixed and fixed quickly.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The 248th Breakfast Invitation

Judge Katherine Cabaniss and the staff of the 248th District Court are hosting a Holiday Party: Coffee with the Court tomorrow morning, November 22, 2013 from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

Everyone is invited to stop by for kolaches and coffee and kick off the holiday season!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Results of the Softball Game

As I mentioned last month, the second softball match up of the year between members of the Harris County Defense Bar and the Harris County District Attorney's Office was held on October 19th.  One of the added features of this particular game was that five generous donors had agreed to donate $100 per run to the Harris County Drug Court in the name of Mike Anderson.

I'm happy to report that the results of the fundraising were a tremendous success and raised a whopping $12,500!

Those donors (Chip Lewis, Paul Doyle, Will Womble, Walter Umphrey and Kristi Schiller) all combined for an outstanding tribute to an outstanding cause in the name of an outstanding leader and man.

In a related story, the County Commissioners unanimously voted to name the Drug Court's courtroom earlier this month.  It has now been officially named the Mike Anderson Memorial Courtroom.

Congratulations to everyone involved!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Veterans Day


Happy Veterans Day to all those who served in our Nation's military.

A few years ago, I wrote this post which included a letter that my grandfather wrote to my father, Louis M. Newman III, when Dad was just a baby.

As I mentioned in that post, Dad went on to serve as a United States Marine who completed three tours of duty in Vietnam between 1967-1969.  He won two Purple Hearts, one Bronze Star and a Silver Star.

For those of us who have never served in the military and earned the title of Veteran, the idea of being in an actual combat situation is something that we cannot begin to comprehend.  It should not be lost on us that the reason that we cannot comprehend combat is because of the men and women who fought for us.

My Dad is proud of his time in the Marine Corps and the men he fought alongside in Vietnam.

But he isn't nearly as proud of his service as I am of being his son.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Candidate Signing Gathering on Wednesday

There will be a signing get together this Wednesday, November 6th for four Republican Judicial candidates at the Hotel Icon main floor bar.

Please join us from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. to sign petitions for Justice Marc Brown and Judge Catherine Evans, as well as Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown and Civil District Court Judge Grant Dorfman.  Justice Ken Wise will also have petitions there.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Petition Signing for Justice Marc Brown Today (11/1/13)

Since Justice Brown has recently switched jobs over to the 14th Court of Appeals, he is required to gather signatures for his petition to be on the ballot next year.

As always, our friend Edward Porter has volunteered to lend a helping hand in gathering those signatures.

Edward will be in front of the CJC today from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Please make it a point to catch Edward in front of the CJC today and help out Justice Brown.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reasonable Doubt Returns Tonight (10/24/13)

After a lengthy hiatus due to numerous factors (including the City Elections), Reasonable Doubt returns tonight at 8 p.m. with me and Todd Dupont.  Our guest tonight will be HCCLA President Elect Carmen Roe.

As always, you can catch us live streaming by clicking here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Softball Game is ON

Coach Detoto wants everyone to know today's charity softball game is ON.  The field is in good shape, and he looks forward to seeing everyone there at 12:00 p.m. for a softball game rematch.

The game will be at Memorial Park -- Field # 1, which is the large stadium field by the park's pool.

There will be barbecue provided by the Smoken Bandit Kookers, as well as a DJ and a keg of beer.

The best part of the game is that five generous contributors have agreed to donate $100 per run (the total combined score) to the Harris County Drug Court in honor of Mike Anderson.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fundraiser for Judge Catherine Evans

Everyone is invited to a fundraiser and reception for the CJC's newest judge, Catherine Evans.

The event is being held tomorrow at the Cyclone Anayas at 1710 Durham Drive, Houston, Texas 77007 and is being hosted by Chip Lewis and Paul Doyle.  The event is scheduled to run from 5:30 - 7:30.

Please join us and welcome Judge Evans to the bench and help support her as she gets ready for the 2014 election.

Softball for a Good Cause

Players from the Defense Bar and the Harris County District Attorney's Office are taking the field again this Saturday, October 19th at 12:00 p.m. for a softball game rematch.

This time, the game will be at Memorial Park -- Field # 1, which is the large stadium field by the park's pool.

There will be barbecue provided by the Smoken Bandit Kookers, as well as a DJ and a keg of beer.

The best part of the game is that five generous contributors have agreed to donate $100 per run (the total combined score) to the Harris County Drug Court in honor of Mike Anderson.

The last game was a blast and had a great turnout.  The Defense Bar won that game and we're already talking smack about winning this one too.  So, come on out and have a great time with friends for a great cause.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Catherine Evans Appointed to 180th District Court Bench

Congratulations to my friend Catherine Evans on her appointment to the 180th District Court Bench to replace Judge Marc Brown.

I've had the pleasure of knowing and working with Catherine since she first started at the Harris County District Attorney's Office.  She has always held an excellent reputation as a hard working, honest, and fair prosecutor.  Over the past several years, she has been the head of the Vehicular Assault Team, investigating auto fatality cases, particularly focusing on offenses involving alcohol.

Governor Perry seems to be on a hot streak with his selections in the Harris County Criminal Justice World, lately, and I know that Catherine is going to be an outstanding judge.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tonight's Cold Justice Episode (10/8/13)

As you guys know, earlier this year, I had the fantastic opportunity of working on the filming of TNT's Cold Justice with Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary.

Tonight's episode is probably the most gripping case we worked on all season and it deals with the murder of a young mother in Thatcher, Arizona in 1995.  It is one of the scariest cases I've ever worked on.

If you only watch one episode this season, this is the one to catch.  Tonight at 9 p.m. on TNT.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Judge Marc Brown Appointed to 14th Court of Appeals

I just received word that 180th District Court Judge Marc Brown has been appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the 14th Court of Appeals.

It is an outstanding choice by the Governor, but it is bittersweet for those of us around the Harris County Criminal Justice Center who have gotten to practice in front of Judge Brown.  Although only having been on the Bench for the past few years, he quickly became one of the most highly respected judges in the building.

Most members of the Defense Bar are dubious when a prosecutor leaves the District Attorney's Office and immediately takes a Bench, but Judge Brown had an excellent reputation coming out of prosecution that helped him win a tough election in 2010.  Since taking the Bench, he has been one of the favorites of both prosecutors and defense attorneys with his even-handed demeanor, courtesy and knowledge of the law.  Time and again, Judge Brown has shown that he was not "a prosecutor in a black robe" as he followed the letter of the law without fail.

The 14th Court of Appeals gain is most definitely the CJC's loss, but the promotion couldn't be more well deserved.

It is my understanding that he will take over in his new position at the end of this week or the beginning of next week.  There is no word on who may be replacing him in the 180th.

Congratulations to Judge Brown!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fundraiser TONIGHT for Jani Jo Wood

All are invited tonight to a fundraiser for my friend and attorney for the Public Defenders' Office, Jani Jo (Maselli) Wood.

Jani is running for Place Four on the Court of Criminal Appeals, and would be an outstanding addition to the Court.

The event is at Addix, located at 33 Waugh, Houston, TX 77007 and begins at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Small Item of Interest - Jim Leitner Edition

I learned today that Jim Leitner is going to work full time at the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

I haven't heard any of the details other than that.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Blog Spammers [UPDATED]

When I first started blogging, I realized very quickly that I could not run a blog that had no filtering process for the comments.  Back then, there was some Pat-Lykos-supporting-jackass named Kimberly Ann White that kept attempting to post Kelly Siegler's home address on my blog and Mark Bennett's blog.

Over the years, there have been pros and cons to moderating comments.  I try to post everything that people write in as long as it isn't personal and it isn't flat-out lying.  One of the other things that I don't publish is blatant spamming.

Not a day goes by when I don't get some attempt to publish a comment on the blog that reads like it was written by a graduate of Don Hooper's School of Spelling & Grammar.
For example:

Usually, the spamming author will have a link back to an attorney or bail bond company that is nowhere near the Houston area.  The attorney web sites will generally be some sort of mass marketing "DWI lawyer" from Chicago or something or other.  It is annoying, but not really a big deal.

Recently,  I've been getting bombarded by spam blog comments (including the ones shown above) that link back to a local attorney.  I e-mailed both Mark Bennett (who has consistently waged war against attorneys who outsource their advertising) and Paul Kennedy to see if they had been getting similar e-mails.  Paul said he had not, but would be excited to get an additional reader of his blog besides just me.

Mark encouraged me to both publish the comments as well as do a post on the lawyer.  I was torn, because I don't like rewarding bad behavior or giving publicity to somebody who is just shamelessly trying to get some free advertising.  However, Mark correctly pointed out that the idiocy of the website needed to be exposed.

UPDATE:

So I wrote a post about that attorney and it got very mixed reactions.  Some said I went over the top.  Others said it was the only way to make a point.  I spoke with the attorney in question, and ultimately he fired the company that was doing the blog spamming.

I was glad to hear that, so I took out the part of this post that criticized the content of his website.  I'm sure that will get mixed reactions, as well.  Oh well.  That's my call.

In the meantime, I hope that all attorneys who read this blog will remember that our profession takes enough hits in the reputation department as it is without the help of internet marketers who engage in spamming.  

Kim Ogg announces Candidacy for District Attorney

Former prosecutor, CrimeStoppers head, and attorney Kim Ogg officially announced her candidacy for Harris County District Attorney today in a press conference at the 1910 Courthouse.  She will be running as a Democrat.

As most of you know, since District Attorney Mike Anderson's term was not completed, the election will be in 2014 and the position of District Attorney will be on the ballot again in 2016.  As of this writing, the only other candidate who will be running is Interim District Attorney Devon Anderson.

Although I don't know Kim Ogg very well, I like her.  On the few occasions we've had to talk, I have found her to be very smart and is someone who cares about the Criminal Justice System very much. (NOTE:  yes, I know that I just used the word "very" three times in a row, but I'm very rushed for time at the moment.)  She will make a great candidate for the Dems.  She has already stated her opposition to the filing of trace cases and is developing a platform.

The idea of having two candidates running a clean race against each other where they just debate the issues is something that would be a refreshing change of pace from our D.A. elections of the recent past.

Of course we are early on in the election season and I'm sure both Devon and Kim could draw opponents from within their own parties.  That would be a shame.   Last year's surprise Democratic primary win by Lloyd Oliver was an embarrassment to all involved.

Ultimately, I think next year's race is going to be decided by factors that have nothing to do with the D.A.'s Office, so for the moment, I'm just happy that we have two candidates in the race who actually care about Criminal Justice.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Channel 13 Interview with District Attorney Devon Anderson Tonight

Tune into Channel 13 tonight at ten o'clock as Ted Oberg has the first interview with newly appointed Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Devon Anderson appointed Interim District Attorney

I'm away for my computer, so excuse the short post from the iPad, but . . .

Congratulations to Devon Anderson on her appointment as interim District Attorney of Harris County!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Search for the Interim District Attorney

Both the Houston Chronicle and ABC Channel 13 are posting articles on their websites this afternoon about the search for the interim District Attorney to lead the office after the passing of Mike Anderson.

The Chronicle article, written by Brian Rogers, focuses on Republican GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill voicing his support for former 177th District Court judge and widow of Mike, Devon Anderson.  Although I always cringe whenever Jared Woodfill or other Republican Party "leadership" dabble into the world of Criminal Justice, I can't disagree with Jared on his vote.

Devon was an All-Star prosecutor before taking the bench.  One of my earliest memories as a baby prosecutor was watching her, along with Lyn McClellan and Johnny Holmes, try the notorious Railcar Killer, Rafael Resendez Ramirez.  Although Mr. Holmes and Lyn were outstanding in the jobs they did, this case was Devon's and she did a phenomenal job as lead prosecutor.

The Channel 13 article was a little more interesting as Deborah Wrigley reports that in addition to Devon Anderson, other possible candidates who want to be considered for the position are Judge Marc Carter, Congressman Ted Poe, First Assistant Belinda Hill, former First Assistant Jim Leitner and . . . wait for it . . . seriously . . . you aren't going to believe this  . . . Rachel Palmer.

Now, let's look at that list of candidates real quick.

It is my understanding that Judge Poe has already stated that he has no interest in the job.  I don't know why he would, actually.  He's a United States Congressman and if he wanted to be the District Attorney of Harris County, he could have easily taken it in 2000 when Chuck Rosenthal first ran.  He could have also taken it easily in 2004 when Chuck Rosenthal ran again, or in 2008 when Pat Lykos ran.

Judge Marc Carter is a fantastic judge and would be an excellent candidate for District Attorney.  I do a lot of work in Judge Carter's court, and I would be very surprised if he wanted the job, though.  He enjoys being a judge, and those of us who practice in his court are glad that he IS judge.  We all hope he stays on the bench for a very long time.

First Assistant Belinda Hill is also a phenomenal candidate.  She's highly respected by both the Defense Bar and the Prosecution.  She's already received the unsolicited endorsement of the Houston Police Officers' Union.  However, it has never been clear whether or not Belinda actually wants the job.  Although she had been elected Judge of the 230th District Court for several terms, there is a big difference on the campaign trail when one is running for judge and when one is running for District Attorney.  It is an unfortunate fact of life that politics plays a tremendous part in keeping your job as District Attorney.  A person may love the job description of being District Attorney but (rightfully and sanely) have no desire to hit the campaign trail for it.

Now the fun candidates . . .

Jim Leitner?  Really?  You're putting your name in the running for this?  You were first assistant for a very mean Pat Lykos and yet you still got the label as her "evil henchman."  Why on earth would Leitner be a consideration for Perry?  Thus far, the only thing that Leitner has proved politically adept at is running as a spoiler candidate and then giving his support to a candidate who will give him a job.  Perry wants somebody who can run in 2014 and win.  If he wants somebody who can go in and take a dive for personal gain, maybe Jim has a shot.

And finally . . . Rachel Palmer.  Sigh.

I heard late last week that Rachel's beloved husband Don Hooper was trying to get his wife appointed to District Attorney.  At some point, I have to wonder if he even consults with his wife before trying some of his harebrained schemes.

It's been a couple of years now since Rachel invoked her 5th Amendment rights in front of a Grand Jury.  Time heals old stains to the reputation provided they are given the opportunity to fade away.  Thanks to the Donner and his relentless blogging, however, he keeps her unfortunate incident in the forefront of his limited readership's mind.  Hooper and Palmer have a blog that is legally owned by Rachel and can be found under her name.  That blog celebrated Mike Anderson's cancer (and mine), and calls into question whether or not Hooper is fit to serve as First Lady of the Harris County District Attorney's Office.


Not to mention the fact that Rachel has still yet to rise above the level of Felony Two in the Office.  The idea of her being appointed to District Attorney is nothing short of preposterous.

In the end, the natural candidates for the position do seem to be Devon Anderson or Belinda Hill.  Both have been outstanding public servants and prosecutors in the past and hopefully will continue to do so in the future.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Key to Successful Co-Parenting

One of the things I'm proud of in my life is the fact that Luke's mom and I maintain a good friendship and work together in our co-parenting of our son.  One of the keys to that is making sure that both parents do all they can to support the child's relationship with the other parent.  One example is making sure that the kiddo has gotten a present for the other parent's birthday.

For instance . . .





Yep, co-parenting is most successful when both parents do their best to be thoughtful.


Happy birthday, Sylvia!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Belinda Hill's Letter to the Editor

In today's print edition of the Chronicle, Harris County District Attorney's Office 1st Assistant Belinda Hill responded to the paper's tasteless editorial of last Thursday.

You can read Belinda's letter here.  It does an excellent job of not only illustrating just how much Mike Anderson accomplished during his tragically short tenure in office.

It also shows the leader that she is and why all of the prosecutors at the Office (as well as the Defense Bar) are hoping that Governor Perry will do the best thing for Harris County and appoint her interim District Attorney.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Eternally Grateful

As most of my friends and family know by now, I've spent the past several weeks being treated for a pretty rare, yet highly treatable form of leukemia called "Hairy Cell Leukemia."

Yeah, go ahead and insert the hair jokes.  It's okay.

As a blogger, I'm an "over-sharer" by nature.  However, when I was first diagnosed, Emily and I made the decision to keep the news off of the blog and the internet, in general -- until the ordeal was over with.

Today, I became one of the very blessed individuals who got to hear the words "in remission" from my doctor.  Obviously, it is a very happy and emotional day and I wanted to write about it for a variety of reasons.

First off, I need to give the obligatory Public Service Announcement.

I was diagnosed with this illness and caught it very early by going to a simple physical.  Emily had been pestering me to go to the doctor for a physical despite the fact that I felt perfectly healthy.  It had been a while.  An abnormal blood test is what caught everything.

Public Service Announcement Part Two -- make sure you have medical insurance. Too many of us solo practitioners don't have it.  It took a few months, numerous doctor visits, and a bone marrow biopsy before getting the formal diagnosis.  Once I got the diagnosis, I got to spend five days straight receiving chemotherapy, followed by six days in the hospital after developing a fever, and then another bone marrow biopsy.  Without insurance, I'd be in trouble right now.

The more important reason for me writing this post is that I have some people to thank that I am eternally grateful for.

First off, I want to thank my friend and doctor, Sam Siegler.  Sam has been my doctor for years and he was the one who caught the abnormal blood test and referred me to an oncologist.  But Sam went above and beyond being just my doctor.  He took my phone calls and text messages at all hours of the day and night when I had questions.  He reviewed all of my blood test results and explained them to me in terms that even an Aggie could understand.  He came and hung out with me at the hospital and even smuggled in some breakfast tacos.  As much as I appreciate Sam as my doctor, I appreciate his and Kelly's friendship much more.

I would also like to thank my oncologist, Dr. Charles Manner, who attacked this illness quickly and efficiently.  There were a lot of times that I didn't understand what he was telling me but I never doubted for a second that he was on top of everything going on.  He told me that everything was ultimately going to be okay and everything that would happen during my treatment.  He was correct about everything he told me would happen and I felt like he was genuinely excited with every positive improvement.  He called me himself today to give me the good news, and I will never forget that.

My family and friends have also been amazingly supportive.  My mom and sister both came in from out of town to sit with me through chemotherapy treatments and then came back the following week to visit when I was unexpectedly put in the hospital.  Luci Davidson and Carmen Roe not only visited me in the hospital, but they also helped me keep up with my caseload.  I was also honored to be visited by two of HPD's finest -- Sgts. Ryan Chandler and Roger Chappell.

Nothing cheered me up more than being visited by my best friend, Luke.  Sylvia took time out of a busy day to bring him to the hospital to hang out with me for an hour and it made my day.  Just getting to hug your kid is the best medicine in the world, and I'm thankful for him and Sylvia for the visit.

I'm also greatly appreciative of all the phone calls, texts messages, e-mails, and Facebook wishes from fellow defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, coordinators and friends both near and far.  They really do bring a bright spot to a dreary time.

But out of everyone I have to thank, the one person that I will never ever ever -- in a bazillion years -- be able to thank enough is my wife, Emily.

To put it plainly, she is a saint.

Most of you know that Emily is currently in her third trimester with our son due in October.  She puts up with me on a daily basis under the best of circumstances.  Now is the time when she deserves to have me waiting on her hand and foot.  Instead, she has spent her third trimester dealing with a cranky cancer patient.  She sat with me on every chemo that my sister or mom couldn't attend.  She worked full days in the hot summer and then came to hang out with me in the hospital.  She was an absolute rock of stability and support through it all.  She's one of the strongest people I know, but I don't think I knew just how strong until we went through this together.

I would need countless lifetimes to begin returning the unconditional love and support she gives me.  I can't begin to tell her enough how much I love her.

Finally, I thank God for getting me and my family through this.

The type of cancer that I had was the equivalent of a hangnail when compared to what so many other of our friends and family members have gone through.  I am, without a doubt, one of the lucky ones.  I don't know of anyone else who was fortunate enough to only go through one round of chemotherapy and be declared in remission six weeks after official diagnosis.

Cancer is absolutely as horrible as everyone says it is.  There is no way that can ever be overstated.  The faces of strangers taking chemotherapy beside me are sights I will never forget as long as I live.  The common stories and words of encouragement from cancer survivors like Johnny Bonds and my favorite bartender, Mike Shapiro are reminders of how lucky I am.

Nothing, however, serves as more of a grim reminder of how fortunate I am than those friends and family members who didn't survive the disease -- from my grandfather to my friend and mentor Buzz Hamilton to Mike Anderson.  Cancer is synonymous with the catastrophic destruction of everything a person and a family are.  It is something intensely personal yet you need the support of all of your family and friends to get through it.

Sorry for running on so long with this post, but when you are feeling so incredibly fortunate, loved, and blessed for your family, your friends, and your health -- well, sometimes no amount of words will ever adequately express how eternally grateful you are.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tasteless Journalism

I've had my issues with the brain trust that runs the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle over the past years.  I've disagreed with them over endorsements.  I've disagreed with them when they've published uneducated opinions on issues they failed to adequately research.

However, I have never been more floored by their lack of judgment than I was today in reading the thoughtless, insensitive, and ill-timed editorial regarding the death of Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson.  Today, on the day before Mike's funeral, the Chronicle's editorial board saw fit to write such things as:
"With his premature death from cancer at 57 last week, Anderson has been denied the opportunity of carrying out his tough, some would say harsh, prosecutorial agenda as head of the state's largest district attorney's office."
I understand if the Chronicle disagreed with some of the policies of the Anderson Administration, but is a critical editorial really appropriate in the same edition as the man's obituary?

To add insult to injury during this sad time, the editors also decided to criticize Mike and his family for not choosing to share every last detail of his illness with them:
"While respecting that he was diagnosed with an illness that turned out to be terminal, we cannot help but question how he reconciled his desire for privacy against the public's right to know about an official they elected . . . Weren't county voters entitled to know a little more about the DA's personal circumstances?  We think so."
Reading that last paragraph again is infuriating beyond words.

Mike made the announcement that he had cancer many months ago.  He continued to work to the best of his ability right up until the time he died.  He also had help running the Office in the extremely capable hands of First Assistant Belinda Hill.

What more do the morons at the Chronicle feel entitled to know?  Did they want to know how chemotherapy was going?  Did they want to know how he was coming to terms with his own mortality?  Did they want to know how his family was taking the news?
"We think so."
The arrogance of those three words is mind-numbing to me.  Regardless of whether or not Mike Anderson was an elected official, some things fall unquestionably under the category of privacy.  Terminal illness is probably at the top of that category, and the author's claim that voters were "entitled to know a little more" is just whining that the paper didn't get the intrusive story that it wanted.

The editorial did get one thing correct in encouraging Governor Rick Perry to appoint Belinda Hill as interim District Attorney, but they still managed to cheapen that endorsement by basing it on her race.
"We encourage Gov. Perry to appoint former Judge Hill, an African-American with a strong background in the criminal justice system.  Doing so would be a welcome acknowledgment of the need for diversity on the prosecution side in a system where so many defendants are persons of color."
So, at this point, this farewell to an elected official and long-time public servant has turned into an appeal for diversity, which manages to insult Belinda Hill in the process.

Belinda Hill should absolutely be appointed the interim District Attorney.  She should be appointed because she was a long-time prosecutor before becoming a highly respected judge who served on the 230th District Court for years.  She should be appointed because she has helped implement the policies of the Anderson Administration and kept the Office running in its time of crisis.  She should be appointed because she has the respect of the prosecutors she supervises and the equal respect of the Harris County Defense Bar.

In his short time in office, Mike Anderson pulled the Harris County District Attorney's Office out of a downward spiral that was destroying morale across the board.  He recruited then-Judge Hill to join him as his First Assistant, and I have no doubt that he had faith in her ability to lead the Office in his absence.

These are the things that "county voters are entitled to know" and these are the things that should be remembered as we prepare to say goodbye to Mike Anderson tomorrow.

The Chronicle Editorial Board should be ashamed of what it wrote in today's paper.

It is no wonder why no individual signed his or her name to it.

Mike Anderson's Obituary

In case you missed it, the Houston Chronicle has Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson's obituary in it this morning.  You can read it here.

Please note that the funeral will be on Friday, September 6 at 2:00 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church at 5300 Main in Downtown.  I know that many of us will be taking the Metrorail because parking will probably difficult.

Also please note that the Anderson family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Harris County Drug Court Foundation.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pulling Together

As I was driving back to Houston Monday afternoon after a weekend at the lake with my family, I received a text message from Bert Graham.  An impromptu get-together to remember and mourn Mike Anderson was being held at Cottonwood on Shepherd and he wanted me to know I was invited.   I dropped off my family and drove straight there.

The place was wall-to-wall with current prosecutors and former prosecutors from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s.  There were a lot of tears.  A lot of hugs.  A lot of fond remembrances of a good man by people who loved him dearly.

The occasion was unprecedented, obviously.  The type of gathering, however, was not.

Ever since I first started in 1999, former and current members of the Harris County District Attorney's Office have gathered together in good times and bad to either celebrate or mourn.  It is one of the remarkable things about that place that has always made me regard it with such affection.  Outside of the job description of being a prosecutor, an investigator or an administrative assistant, there has always been a bond between the people who worked there.  Whether we were current or former employees, we celebrated each other's victories and achievements in life and we mourned each other's losses and tragedies.

As I was leaving the gathering yesterday, I got a chance to talk to First Assistant Belinda Hill and give her a hug.  Through everything the Office has gone through the past few months, she has risen to the occasion to see them through it all.

"This place is a family," Belinda told me.  "Even if it is a little dysfunctional sometimes."

I smiled and agreed with her and pointed out that it was usually more "functional" than a lot of families I knew.

Belinda's point was right on and hearing her say it made me grateful that she was there for the Office in its time of need.  She embodies what families do when tragedy strike.  They pull together and they step up their efforts to get through the tragedy together.

Even though it's been awhile since I was an employee there, the sense of family remains.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mike Anderson

As most of you in our courthouse community have probably heard by now, Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson passed away overnight after a battle with cancer.  As someone who practiced in front of him, campaigned for him, admired him, and considered him a friend, I don't think I can adequately express how heartbroken I feel.

I know there are so many other attorneys and friends of Mike who knew him much longer and much better than I did, but I looked up to the man ever since I met him.  When you're a young baby prosecutor, it is very easy to be intimidated by judges, but Mike was always the friendly judge.  He conveyed to you that he was glad you were as interested in criminal law as he was, and his enthusiasm was contagious.  

Mike's enthusiasm was contagious because he was a born leader.  

I know that I have told the story here before about the first time I ever really had a conversation with Mike, but I'll tell it again.  We were attending the funeral of Harris County Sheriff homicide detective Jim Hoffman, and he drove me, Dan Rizzo, and John Jordan to the church for the service.  John and I were first time felony threes, I think, and we knew of Mike as not just a District Court judge, but a legendary former prosecutor.  We thought he was awesome.

Yet, Mike spent the drive telling us how we, the new generation of Assistant District Attorneys, were the awesome ones.  He talked about the camaraderie of the Office and how it was a proud tradition and he was so glad there were still those who wanted to carry on the torch.  To have been that young in our careers and to hear that from somebody we admired so much was so meaningful that I remember every word ten years later.

He loved working in the Criminal Justice System and he very much reminded me an old school Texas Lawman.  Before he shaved off his moustache, he actually always reminded me of Sam Elliott.  Prosecutors loved having cases in his court.  Defense attorneys . . . well, maybe not so much.  Mike definitely had a reputation for being tough on crime, which unfortunately overshadowed the work he did on Drug Court and other rehabilitative efforts.  

After the 2008 election, as the morale in the District Attorney's Office plummeted, he was approached by many, many people (myself included) who begged him to run for District Attorney.  He had announced that he wasn't running for re-election in 2010, and that only intensified the speculation that he might do so.

When I first approached him, he didn't seem to think he was going to be running for office again.  He had his retirement planned out and was looking forward to it.

But, I could tell he was struggling with the decision.

As time went by and things got worse at the D.A.'s Office, he ultimately changed his mind.  I highly doubt that any one person convinced him to run.  I think it was his love of the Office.   As I get older, the idea of a peaceful retirement off in the country somewhere sounds more and more attractive.  The thing that I think so many people fail to realize about the 2012 election was that Mike had that retirement in his hand when he decided to run for District Attorney.

The job of Harris County District Attorney needed Mike Anderson much much more than Mike Anderson needed the job of Harris County District Attorney.

But when duty calls, true leaders rise to the occasion.  Despite the fact that he had a well-deserved retirement in his clutches, Mike returned back to public service.  I don't know how many others would have done the same.  The world of politics in the Harris County arena is nasty and brutal.  Some of his political enemies have (tastelessly) wondered aloud if Mike knew he had cancer when he was running. 

I don't know if he did or didn't, but if he did and kept running, that makes him even more heroic in my book.  People going through cancer treatment usually don't have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, let alone make five campaign appearances a day.  Mike knew that Office needed him and he did everything in his power to live up to the expectations of those who asked him to run -- even at the expense of his own health.

Mike did accomplish what he set out to do and that was evident at his swearing-in ceremony on January 1st this year.  The Office may still be far from perfect, but that morning it was very evident that the enthusiasm was back.  Mike's inaugural speech reminded me so much of that conversation we had ten years earlier.  The prosecutors there were so pumped about their jobs again.  Even though I wasn't one of them, seeing their enthusiasm did my heart good.  To witness true leadership in action is an inspiring thing.

I last talked to Mike about two weeks ago.  He called me about my blog post on the overcrowding in the CJC mornings and said he was committed to doing something about it.  He said he agreed it wasn't fair for people to have their bonds forfeited when it wasn't their fault they couldn't get to the courtroom in time. He told me he wanted to work with the defense bar on finding solutions. Mike was definitely still "on the job" and he sounded great.  During our conversation, I mentioned to him that I was going through some medical issues at the moment.  In typical Mike fashion, he wanted to know what he could do for me.

I am so very glad that I was able to have that last conversation with him.

The loss of Mike Anderson the leader and District Attorney is a tragedy.  The loss of Mike Anderson the husband and father is heartbreaking.

Mike had the all-American family and the love he had for Devon was so evident and inspiring.  He never missed an opportunity to talk about how lucky he was to have her and how in love he was.  It was only rivaled by the love and pride he had in his children.  Nothing makes me sadder than to think of all his family is going through during this horrible time.  My heart goes out to them all.

My condolences go out to his family at the D.A.'s Office as well.  He was so proud to lead that Office and he was made proud by you all.  

I am proud just to have called Mike Anderson my friend.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cold Justice Premiere Watch Party

Everyone is invited to the Ragin Cajun/LA Bar (4302A Richmond Avenue) on Tuesday, September 3rd for the official Houston watch party for Cold Justice.

The show doesn't begin until 9:00 p.m., but the party starts at 7:00 p.m.  Kelly Siegler will be there and there will drink specials and appetizers.

If you can't make it to the party, please don't forget to watch the show on TNT!   Tell your friends and family, too!

Hope to see you Tuesday.




Tuesday, August 13, 2013

STAR Drug Court Fundraiser

On Thursday, August 15th from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., there will be a fundraiser held to raise money for Harris County STAR Drug Court.

The event will be at the Parador, 2021 Binz, Houston, Texas 77004 and will feature the entertainment from the Writ Kickers and admission is $30 a piece.

I will admit that when STAR Court was first created, I was very skeptical about how effective it would be.  Over the past years, I've been absolutely amazed by what a positive, life-changing program it has been for so many people that I would have never thought had the ability to succeed.

The STAR Court works and programs like it deserve our full support.

For more information, please click here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Cold Justice Promo

As most of you know, the premiere of Cold Justice starring Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary premieres on September 3rd at 9:00 p.m. on TNT.  TNT released this extended preview today, showing snippets from the first three cases we worked on.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Simple Solution on Bond Forfeitures

As we have addressed time and time again on the blog, the Harris County Criminal Justice Center -- as a building -- is horrible.  It is the classic definition of poor design and architecture.  Whichever brain child came up with it never comprehended the mass of humanity that would be trying to cram into twelve elevators every morning.  From the floor layout and selection (i.e., having the courts on the top floors and all the other offices below them) to the lack of stair or escalator access to the lower floors, there is pretty much nothing right about that place.

Throngs of people are routinely lined up around the building, futilely hoping that they are going to make it inside, past security, and up the elevators in time for their 9:00 a.m. docket call.

Obviously, a large chunk of them fail to get there on time.

Many (if not most) courts call docket at 9:00 a.m., and if a Defendant's name is called with no answer, a prosecutor will dutifully call out: "State moves for bond forfeiture, your Honor."

And, depending on the Judge, that motion for bond forfeiture will usually be granted.

Now, the reality is that the Defendant who has been stuck waiting at the elevator banks for the past thirty minutes won't actually have his bond forfeited.  Usually, the Judge will call up the tardy defendant and admonish them with something that sounds a lot like this:

"Now Mr. Bynum, you know what time court starts and you know that you have to travel through traffic and long lines to get here.  In the future, you will need to plan to leave earlier to arrive here on time.  I'm going to make a notation on the docket sheet and the next time you are late, I'm going to grant the State's motion to forfeit your bond."

To truly avoid large amounts of people being late for docket call, the majority of them would need to camp out at the CJC overnight like they were waiting in line to get tickets to a Springsteen concert.  Even then, the doors to the building don't open to the public until 7:00 a.m., so those early arrivers would still have to wait before the flow of traffic into the building got started.

Some judges will have the late defendant sit in the jury box for a period of time as their punishment. Usually they have to sit their until their lawyer shows up and is able to relay their tardiness explanation to the judge, who will then release them to the general audience.  For some reason, that has always cracked me up.

Is the goal to publicly shame them by putting them in the penalty box?  If so, shame them to who?  Are we really expecting someone in the front row who is also charged with a crime to be judgmentally thinking: "Man, I may have shot a stranger in a road rage incident, but at least my happy ass wasn't late to court!"

Some more practical judges don't bother calling docket until they are satisfied that the crowd has died down.

In essence, the whole thing is like a big game of musical chairs.  The clock ticks, just like the music plays, and when it reaches 9:00 a.m., everybody needs to have their butts in a seat, or they lose the game.

Those judges who would defend the calling of the docket, despite the clearly visible crowd control issues, say that to not do so would be to get taken advantage of.  The guy who didn't roll out of bed until 10:15 in the morning before leisurely driving to court isn't held accountable.  I get that, but in most cases, that person probably isn't coming into court at all that morning.

So, after all that ranting, here's my simple solution:

What if the Harris County District Attorney's Office initiated a policy across the board where NO prosecutor in ANY court will move for bond forfeiture until the massive crowds in front of the building are gone.  The judge can call a defendant's name repeatedly, but if no prosecutor says anything, there will be no motion.

The execution of such a plan would be pretty easy, if you think about it.

At 9 a.m. every morning, have someone from the Office walk over to the balcony on the 2nd floor that looks down into the entry lobby of the CJC. (NOTE:  Maybe Mike Anderson could make that new McShan guy do it as part of his initiation.)

If it is absolute chaos (as usual), send an office-wide e-mail that says "Due to a large backup in the security and elevator area on the first floor, all Assistant District Attorney's are instructed to refrain from moving for bond forfeiture until notified."

Then have that same person monitor the situation until the crowd clears out.  Once the crowd has actually dissipated, go back and send an office-wide e-mail that says, "All prosecutors are now instructed to move for bond forfeiture on all defendants who have not yet reported to court."

It could be just that simple.

There are other efforts by the judges, as we speak, to make the overcrowding situation more bearable through docket management.  But for now, something this easy could be the solution.




Saturday, July 27, 2013

Reviewing How We Select Judges

I had a moment to sit down with a cup of coffee and read the print edition of the Houston Chronicle this morning when I came across this editorial, supporting Rep. Justin Rodriguez's bill that would change how Texas selects judges.

I usually get my information on criminal law-related Senate and House bills from Grits, so I was surprised I hadn't heard about this one.  If Grits wrote about it, I totally missed it.

Those of us who practice criminal law know that partisan politics have no place in the judiciary.  In addition to opening the doors to the influence of party hacks who have no understanding of how the criminal justice system works (i.e. Terry Lowry & Jared Woodfill), partisan elections for judges contradict the ideals of Separation of Powers.

What good is a judge if he or she is more loyal to following party lines rather than interpreting the laws of Texas and the United States?

I've said before that I don't believe that we will ever see our judges selected in non-partisan elections.  The Republican and Democratic parties are machines that rely on all candidates to help raise money for their respective parties.  They will never voluntarily agree to just waive the earning potential of all the judges who are running on any particular election slate.

Rep. Rodriguez's bill becoming law may be doubtful in my pessimistic opinion, but I hope Scott Henson over at Grits will chime in with a more educated analysis than I have.

Either way, the idea of steering judges away from partisan politics has my full support, as well as the support of most prosecutors and defense attorneys I know.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Todd Keagle Departs

There is a going away party this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. at OKRA Charity Bar (924 Congress) for Vehicular Crimes Chief Todd Keagle.

After nine years with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, Todd and his family are moving to San Antonio.  Todd's departure is a very big loss for the Office.

I didn't know Todd very well during my time at the D.A.'s Office, but I've worked with him extensively on the defense side on an extremely complicated case that seemed like it went on forever.  He knew what he was doing when it came to the intoxication offenses that he investigated and he always seemed about three steps ahead of everyone else.  He was professional and no nonsense when it came to handling the facts of his case.

However, Todd didn't let the strength of the State's case lead him to making unfair decisions on his recommendations.  He was fair and he was willing to hear out anything I brought to him on behalf of my client.

He turned over every last bit of evidence he had before I could even ask for it, and he checked into everything that he didn't have in his possession.  He was very clear on what his duties were on both Brady and Discovery, in general.  He stayed ahead of the curve by turning them over early and as additional evidence came in.  He also didn't subscribe to the idea that "prison is the only answer" and he was open to working on a rehabilitative solution that could make positive changes for all involved.

More importantly, Todd had integrity in how he handled his job and he didn't let a questionable administration (circa January 1, 2009-December 31, 2012) change that.  He was very clear that he would handle his cases the way he believed was right and if the Administration didn't agree with it, they could fire him.  Under the the former District Attorney, that was always a distinct possibility.

A good prosecutor who does his or her job in a professional, efficient and ethical manner is one of the best things that can happen to a defense attorney on many cases, and I'm sorry to see Todd go.

I wish him the best of success in whatever the future holds for him in San Antonio.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

No Respect for the Elders

CLIENT:  That gun doesn't even work.  It was my grandfather's from World War II.  It's older than I am!

ME:  Okay.

CLIENT:  It's probably even older than you are.

ME:  "Probably??"

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bucknoid

A conversation between me and a client in the holdover today.

HIM:  I need you to call my girl, man.  She's gone bucknoid.

ME:  Bucknoid?

HIM:  Yeah.

ME:  You're saying "buck" and "noid"together?

HIM:  Yeah.

ME:  Like a combination between "buck wild" and "paranoid"?

HIM:  Exactly.

ME:  Alrighty then.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict

Unless you went to bed at sundown last night, I'm sure that by now you have heard or read that George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the Trayvon Martin murder case.

If you are on Facebook, I'm sure that your computer screen is completely full of your friends expressing outrage over the verdict and declaring it to be racist.   To read these types of statements coming from the general public is completely understandable.

To read them coming from criminal defense attorneys is completely inexcusable.

The fundamental principle in criminal law is that before a person accused can be convicted of a crime, it must be proven, by the evidence, to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt -- public perception of said crime and any other factor outside of that evidence be damned.  Criminal defense attorneys celebrate that principle and hold out Atticus Finch as our role model of the lawyer who stood and fought for an unpopular cause he believed in.

The public will rant and rave against the verdict as they are wont to do, but any defense attorney who has ever tried a case involving a self-defense statute should understand.

We all know from high school civics or government class that before any jury can return a verdict of guilty, the case must be proven to them beyond a reasonable doubt.  To many, the phrase "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is just a string of words told to a jury that mandate them to simply go figure out whether or not they think a person did what they are accused of.  For those of us who practice criminal law, we know that those words set forth what is supposed to be a theoretically-near-insurmountable challenge to the Government to prove a case.

A person can't be convicted because a jury thinks the accused is "maybe" guilty, "probably" guilty, or even if they are "clearly convinced" of their guilt.  The level of proof has to be so amazingly strong that the individual juror should be left with not a single reasonable doubt over whether or not the accused is guilty.

If you stop and think about it for a second, that's a huge burden for a prosecutor.  At least, it is supposed to be.

In the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, there was no dispute that Zimmerman had fired the fatal bullet that ended Martin's life.  The question was whether or not he was acting in self-defense.

What many non-criminal lawyers don't know about criminal law and self-defense is that a person accused of an assaultive offense (from simple assault to murder) does not have to prove self-defense.

Process that for a minute before we go on.

A person accused of murder who claims self-defense does not have to prove that he acted in self-defense.

Rather, a person accused only needs to raise the issue that self-defense may be involved and then it becomes the prosecution's job to show that self-defense does not apply and to do so beyond a reasonable doubt.  And if you think proving that a murder happened beyond a reasonable doubt is a difficult job for a prosecutor, it is simple compared to disproving self-defense.

As a prosecutor, I lost a case where a man claimed self-defense after running over and killing two alleged gang members in a parking lot.  I tried the case against Eric Davis, who is an outstanding criminal defense attorney (NOTE:  I didn't realize quite how outstanding until after he beat me in this case).  I thought that Eric's claims that his client acted in self-defense were ridiculous.  How could the driver of a truck claim he was acting in self-defense when he runs over and kills two unarmed men?

But at the end of the day, Eric raised the issue of self-defense and it was one that I could not successfully disprove beyond a reasonable doubt.  His client was found not guilty.

In Eric's case, he didn't have a lot to work with (in my opinion) but he made it work anyway.  I think that any defense attorney would have probably been much more comfortable to work with the self-defense factors that Zimmerman was able to claim.  The fact that Zimmerman had injuries on his face and head are a tremendous piece of evidence of self-defense that a prosecutor has to overcome.

If one could remove the racial overtones of this case from it and assume for a moment that Trayvon Martin had been a white 17-year-old kid, I don't think any defense attorney I know would have shied away from trying it.  I also can't imagine a prosecutor who would have wanted to try it.

But this trial was infused with racial tension from the start by the media.  Was there racial hatred in George Zimmerman's heart when he walked out his door to confront Trayvon Martin?  I have no idea.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Did he walk out that door just to gun down a 17-year-old, unarmed kid without provocation?  I have no idea.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I kind of doubt it.

My personal belief is that George Zimmerman initiated a situation that rapidly got out of hand in a manner he had foolishly not anticipated.  Is he morally responsible for what happened?  That's a completely different question.

Under the Criminal Justice System, however, people aren't tried for their moral responsibility.  They are tried for what can legally be proven against them.  If at the end of testimony, the jury cannot figure out whether or not the self-defense claim was legitimate, then the legally correct verdict is "not guilty."

Unless the prosecution disproves it beyond a reasonable doubt, that is what they are bound to do.

Moral outrage is to be expected, but if anyone understands why the verdict happened, it should be lawyers.

Otherwise, we are just feeding into the same mob mentality that we are supposed to be fighting against every day.

NOTE:  For additional reading, check out Brian Tannebaum's outstanding blog post this morning on The Embarrassment of the George Zimmerman Verdict.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Well . . . Crap

Yesterday, the Houston Chronicle reported in this story that the personal identification information of all county employees who were working in 2005 and 2007 was unlawfully misappropriated by an outside source.  Names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers were among the information taken.

You can read the story by clicking the link, but I've heard that the information stolen was being tracked to locations as far away as Vietnam.  I've also heard that the County Attorney's Office has known for quite some time (possibly years) that all of our information had been accessed but was sitting on the info to avoid any legal unpleasantness.

As of this writing, I've yet to be offically notified by any the County that my information has been stolen, and to my knowledge, none of my former co-workers have been either.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Docket Management

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct displeasure of having a flight home re-rerouted through Chicago's Midway Airport.  It had been raining all day in Chicago and most flights had been significantly delayed.  The airport was packed from end to end with people waiting on their delayed flights.  Finding a place to sit down was out of the question, and at one point, I texted my wife and told her, "I don't even have room to get out of the way!"

Luckily, I was prepared for these type of conditions because of the daily training we all receive at the elevator banks of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.  This Tuesday morning around 9:45 a.m., I was stuck at the elevator bank on the 10th floor for 30 minutes waiting on an elevator that wasn't already filled past maximum capacity and I found myself actually appreciating the spaciousness of Midway Airport.

The CJC is (and always has been) ridiculously overcrowded and the poor design of the facility aggravates that crowding to the umpteenth degree.  This is not news.  I've been writing about it for years.   So have other bloggers.  News media has covered it.  The Fire Marshal has inspected.

Nothing changes.

So far the only thing that the building management has done in an attempt to "control" the massive crowds in the morning trying to cram into elevators is have the already inept security guards yell at people to move out of the hallways leading to the elevator banks.  As far as I can tell, the only effect that has had is making an already angry crowd even angrier.

Unfortunately, since the CJC is a relatively "new" building, we are stuck with it (and the moronic security guards) for the foreseeable future.

If any meaningful change to the ridiculous (and dangerous) crowding situation is going to take place, it is going to have to be done by restructuring the scheduling of people who are ordered to come to court. As it currently stands, the vast majority of all persons charged with crimes in Harris County must report to court once a month at 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning.

Some judges (like County Court at Law # 6's Judge Larry Standley) are much more flexible about arrival times.  Many more judges are not.

Earlier this summer, County Court at Law # 8's Judge Jay Karahan issued a new standing Order for his court that was designed to reduce the frequency that a person charged with a crime in his court must make an appearance.  While in most courts, defendants must report once a month for settings that are more-often-than-not pointless (i.e., "Has the case been indicted yet?  No?  Then reset it for another month."), Judge Karahan's new docket order is designed to make those required settings be productive ones.

The docket order is one page long, but offers several common sense changes designed "to promote the efficient use of judicial resources."  Some of the highlights include the Discovery Order being signed off on at the first setting.  This gets the ball rolling early and forces both the prosecutor and the defense attorney to actually start getting the case together from the beginning, rather than waiting until it is time to decide if both sides want to go to trial.

More significant (and progressive, in my opinion) is that the Judge allows "complex" cases to be reset for up to 120 days before the next setting where the defendant's appearance may be waived.  This is huge, because the County Courts handle the majority of all DWI cases and the results of blood alcohol tests can often take several months to arrive.

If all of the other 36 courts in the building followed just those two orders, we would be well on our way to doing something significant about the overcrowding.

Earlier this month, it was learned that some other changes were being made that could help, as several misdemeanor courts announced that they were going to start experimenting with 1 o'clock p.m. dockets.

The idea of the 1 o'clock docket is going to be controversial, because neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are going to like it.  Both sides are accustomed to the idea of being in court all morning handling normal dockets, but we usually rely on our afternoons being free to meet with our clients and witnesses or work on our cases.  A regularly occurring 1 o'clock docket will throw a hugh wrench in that schedule.

Unless it is done correctly.

A 1 o'clock docket could be extremely effective if it is used for two primary purposes:

1.  For First Appearance/"To Hire Attorney" (THA) Settings -- Any client that makes bond after being arrested is given a date to report to court and receive any statutory warnings that he may not have received before bonding out.  If he doesn't have an attorney, he is reset to hire one.  Usually, most misdemeanor defendants who bond out are scheduled to make their first appearances.  Therefore, Fridays are usually the most crowded day in the courthouse.

The courts that are considering doing afternoon dockets are talking about making these 1 o'clock settings for those first appearances.  Defense attorneys wouldn't be required to be there (because they haven't been hired yet) and each court would only need to send up one prosecutor (to read Probable Cause, if necessary).

In the meantime, the elevators won't be flooded with hordes of people in the morning who have very little chance of doing anything other than being reset.

2.  Contested Motions/Revocation Hearings --  One of my pet peeves practicing in Harris County (and probably any other county) is when court comes to a standstill during morning docket while a Motion to Adjudicate or Motion to Revoke Probation hearing is being held in court.  The prosecutors get tied up in the hearing.  The judge is tied up.  It is not entirely uncommon to have to wait for a couple of hours just to get a judge's permission to set a case for trial if they are in a hearing. Some courts won't even let you walk through the courtroom to get to your client in the holdover.

These hearings are different from jury trials, because only a judge presides over them.  The same applies on Motions to Suppress and other pre-trial hearings.  I understand when the judge is trying to be more expedient with a trial because there are twelve jurors waiting, but there is no good reason why making contested hearings in the afternoon can't be done.

The morning dockets would move more quickly and efficiently.  Cases wouldn't be reset because the prosecutor was unavailable to talk because he or she was tied up in a hearing.

I'm glad to see that some of the judges are beginning to do what they can to alleviate the situation at the CJC.  The building's structure isn't going to be changing any time soon.