Saturday, February 27, 2016

Paul Motard

My first "official" foray into the world of Criminal Justice was my Junior year at Texas A&M when I got an academic internship at the Brazos County District Attorney's Office in April of 1994.  I started working there after my dad had happened to bump into Bill Turner, the elected D.A. back then, and told him that I was really interested in becoming a prosecutor.  Bill offered me an internship with the office and put me under the supervision of his one and only D.A. Investigator,  retired HPD Homicide investigator Gil Schultz.

For the next two and a half years (right up until I left to go to law school in Houston), I worked for Bill and Gil.  Gil became like a second dad to me and he took me to crime scenes, autopsies, witness interviews, and trials.  He told me war stories about his days with HPD -- a career where he served ten years in patrol before serving sixteen in homicide. Whenever Gil talked about his days in Homicide, he would talk about his old partner, Paul Motard.

They had worked on the infamous case profiled in Daddy's Girl and Cold Kill together, as well as countless others.  Gil, who redefined the term "outgoing personality," described Motard as much quieter and more straight-laced than Gil was, but as a phenomenal investigator.

Gil and I would come down to Houston every couple of months for one reason or another.  He even took me apartment hunting when I moved here for law school, because he was worried I'd move to a dangerous part of town.  Every time we came to Houston, I'd ask him when was he going to introduce me to this Paul Motard guy.

For two and a half years straight, I never met Motard.  Every time we'd come to Houston, he was either out of town or in the middle of an investigation.  I began to think that he was a figment of Gil's imagination.

I came to Houston for law school in August of 1996 and started at the Harris County District Attorney's Office in August of 1999.  I worked there for about three years before attaining the rank of Felony Two, which is when a prosecutor finally gets to start trying murder cases.  I had been trying murder cases for a couple of years when I moved to the 185th District Court under Judge Susan Brown.

Judge Brown's court is a very "high trial" court, and there were plenty of great murder cases waiting for me when I arrived.   One of the cases was the high profile murder of a TSU student on campus, and the other involved two murders that had occurred around the Roadrunner and Red Carpet Inn.  The investigators on the cases were C.P. "Abby" Abbondandolo and the elusive Paul Motard.

I had worked on several murder cases with some great homicide cops prior to getting to work with Abby and Motard, but these two set a new standard for me.  The amount of detail and work they put into their cases was extraordinary.  On the TSU case, the case had initially been handled by another law enforcement agency that had alienated almost all of the witnesses at the scene.  When Abby and Motard came in, they had the difficult task of reestablishing trust with those witnesses and tracking down a killer who had ended the life of a completely innocent victim.  They did so with ease.  

They were able to develop enough leads to track down the shooter's cousin, who led them to the shooter.   He was identified and a very solid case was built.  However, it wasn't solid enough for Motard and Abby.  The one thing that they had not gotten was a confession -- the suspect had invoked his right to an attorney.  Despite the fact that I didn't need a confession because of the great work they had done, Motard and Abby kept telling me "next time we'll bring you a better case."  That was just their standard and work ethic.

These guys were Old School Homicide cops, and damn, they were good at what they did.  

Abby retired a few years ago and moved out of state.  I got to work with him on a couple of episodes of Cold Justice last year, and he is still just as awesome as he ever was.

But getting to try those cases with Motard felt like I had come full circle.  With as close as Gil and I were, I was so excited to be able to tell him I tried some cases with his old partner.  It was a great experience and I'm very honored to say that I tried cases with a guy who is truly a legend of HPD Homicide.

Paul Motard retired this week.  He'd been a cop since 1974.  I believe that 36 of those years were in Homicide.  At his party, the guys from Homicide gave him his "field notes" from his first case.  It was a stone tablet engraved with the words:

      VICTIM:  Abel
      SUSPECT:  Cain
      WITNESSES:  Adam & Eve
      WEAPON: Rock

A lot of the legendary names from the Homicide Division's past came to wish Paul well, including old Gil.  It was a great time, and I was happy to be invited to attend.

Back when I was interning for Gil, he told me that I had to get out of Brazos County and go work in Houston.  Harris County had the best prosecutors, defense attorneys, and cops in the country.  He was right about that.  And one of those best cops finally took a very well-deserved retirement.

Congratulations, Paul!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Sgt. Bobby Roberts Retires

I'm happy to announce that my friend, Sgt. Bobby Roberts of Houston Police Department, is taking a well deserved retirement this week after 30 years as a police officer.

I first met Bobby when I was at the District Attorney's Office.  He was the lead Homicide detective on the one and only Death Penalty Capital that I ever went to trial on (okay, I was just second chair with Lance Long, but it still counts).  As we prepared for trial, I got to be good friends with both Bobby and some other dude named Roger Something or Other, and we've stayed friends ever since.

Bobby went on to work in the Narcotics Division and I went on to work at the, um, well not at the D.A.'s Office anymore.  I got to deal with him on the Defense side of things it was always great to get to work with him on this side of things.

There will be a retirement party for Bobby on Friday, February 26th at 11 a.m. at the Houston Police Officer's Union (1600 State Street, Houston, TX 77007).  

Congratulations, Bobby!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Early Voting Begins Today

Election season seems to be moving quickly this year -- probably because of the entertaining (and frightening) sideshow in the Presidential race -- and early voting for the primaries snuck up on me.  It begins today and I hope everyone will get out and vote.  Those folks working Downtown can quickly and easily vote over at the Harris County Administration Building.

Remember, you can vote at any polling location during Early Voting, but on Election Day (Tuesday, March 1st), you can only vote at your designated polling spot.

There aren't too many contested primaries in the Criminal Justice elections this year.  I'm going to break them down by Party, although I covered all of the races earlier in this post.  I won't be mentioning the non-contested races.


County Attorney -- yeah, I know that the County Attorney isn't really part of CJC life, but since Jim Leitner is running, I've got to talk about it.  Leitner is facing off against Chris Carmona.  Leitner has been touting his experience as 1st Assistant under Pat Lykos at the D.A.'s Office, but he's neglecting to mention how widely disliked and distrusted he was in that position by those he supervised.  He also apparently neglected to mention how he's not really all of that strong of a Republican -- having worked for Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia (before being terminated by Republican Sheriff Ron Hickman) and supporting Democrat Kim Ogg's campaign for D.A.
Recommendation:  Not Jim Leitner  Chris Carmona

178th District Court--four candidates are running on the Republican side:  Xavier Alfaro, Phillip Gommels, Nile Copeland and Bash Sharma.  Really, only Alfaro or Gommels should be considered.  Copeland appears to be a Lloyd Oliver in training, as he tends to hop between Democratic and Republican primaries, and position to position.  Copeland also does not seem to practice any criminal law.  I'm not real sure who Bash Sharma is.  His name and face are not familiar so he must not do an overabundance of criminal practice.
Both Alfaro and Gommels practice exclusively criminal and both are qualified for the job.  Alfaro is generally well known and has been around longer than Gommels.  He has the edge when it comes to experience.
Recommendation:  Xavier Alfaro

339th District Court--two Republican candidates are vying to challenge Democratic Incumbent Judge Maria T. Jackson in November:  Assistant District Attorney Mary McFaden and defense attorney Antonio Benavides.  Both have been licensed approximately the same amount of time, but Mary has been a prosecutor and exclusively handling criminal law her career, while Benavides seems to cover many different aspects of law.  Mary is also a chief prosecutor which gives her the edge on experience.
Recommendation:  Mary McFaden

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2 --  232nd District Court Judge Mary Lou Keel is running for the Court of Criminal Appeals.  She has two opponents, and quite honestly, I'm not even familiar with their names.  I do know Judge Keel, though.  I've tried cases in front of her as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney.  She defines being fair and "by-the-book."  Her knowledge of the law and her unbiased application of it make her an excellent candidate for any judicial bench.  I'd hate to lose her in Harris County, but she would be outstanding at the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Vote for Judge Keel and get the word out to your friends in other counties to vote for her.
Recommendation:  Judge Mary Lou Keel


Harris County District Attorney -- Former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Morris Overstreet is running against Kim Ogg.  Oh yeah, and of course, Leaping Lloyd Oliver.  Based on his past experience and positive campaign message, I would recommend Overstreet over Ogg.  Ogg, who ran for District Attorney in 2014 has had some troubling issues in her campaign and her legal practice that concern me.  Kim seems to adopt that Pat Lykos-style of campaigning of jumping on and supporting every bandwagon that she believes plays to her political advantage, regardless of the legality of that bandwagon.  Although pandering has become an expected activity in political campaigns, promises of prosecutions to get votes is a scary trait that she exhibits often on the campaign trail.
Recommendation: Morris Overstreet

174th District Court -- current Democrat, Judge Ruben Guerrero is not running for re-election and three candidates are running to replace him on the Dem side:  Garland McInnis, former-Judge Hazel Jones, and Raul Rodriguez.  Jones lost her bench in 2012 after serving only one term.  Her reputation on the bench wasn't extremely bad, but it wasn't very good, either.  She had strange policies on attorneys working out of court hours on their clients' cases and her knowledge of the law wasn't considered to be strong.  I've known Garland McInnis for a long time now.  He is smart and would make a good judge, but he has been out of the criminal law loop for awhile now while working at the County Attorney's Office.   Raul Rodriguez has maintained a steady criminal law practice for as long as I can remember and I believe that experience with criminal law is what matters.
Recommendation:  Raul Rodriguez

176th District Court -- former 176th judge Shawna Reagin is running to retake the bench she lost in 2012.  She's running against Niki Harmon, a municipal court judge.  Although Reagin was a controversial on the bench for her demeanor, I never had a personal problem with her and generally found her to be a good judge.  She is most definitely qualified and has vastly more experience with felony cases than her opponent.
Recommendation:  Shawna Reagin

177th District Court --  two candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to most likely get crushed by run against Republican Incumbent Ryan Patrick.  David Singer and Robert Johnson are both defense attorneys who practice regularly at the CJC.  Singer has the edge in this case based on tenure and devotion solely to criminal practice.
Recommendation:  David Singer

178th District Court --  with sitting Democratic Judge David Mendoza not running for re-election, Assistant District Attorney Kelli Johnson is running against Democrat Lori Gray,  As I've said before, I'm biased because Kelli is a friend, but her experience speaks for itself.  She's been a prosecutor practicing exclusively criminal law since 1999.   She would make a fantastic judge.
Recommendation:  Kelli Johnson

179th District Court --  former-Judge Randy Roll is running to retake the bench that he lost in 2012 after serving for one term.  His opponent is Assistant District Attorney Stephen Aslett.  It is very telling that Aslett got the Houston Chronicle's nomination over the former judge, and I've had some serious questions about the validity of some of Roll's campaign claims about his judicial record.  Roll was known for being a little over-aggressive in encouraging plea bargains in his court during his time on the bench, which raised eyebrows from both the defense and the prosecution.  Aslett, on the other hand, seems to have the right mentality for running.
Recommendation:  Stephen Aslett

351st District Court -- defense attorneys Greg Glass and George Powell will be facing off in the Democratic Primary to see who will be taking on longtime Judge Mark Kent Ellis.  I know both Greg and George and consider them both friends.  They are both equally qualified to be judge in my opinion.
Recommendation:  Both choices are good

That may be the shortest write up I've ever done in the primaries, but that's probably a good thing.  I'm looking forward to the fields for November getting settled.  I think that whoever ends up as the Republican nominee will pretty much decide what happens here in November.

Now Go Vote!!!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Donations for Kirby Taylor

As most of the CJC Community knows, Kirby Taylor, a friend and defense attorney, was the victim of a brutal attack that badly injured him, and killed his son.

HCCLA's Rand Mintzer, Andrew Wright and JoAnne Musick are running in the Woodlands Marathon on March 5th to raise money to help Kirby with his medical bills.  You can help by donating by going to this website and donating through Paypal.

I've known Kirby since I've been a lawyer.  He is one of the kindest souls down at the courthouse.  He has a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh.  The idea of someone want to cause him harm defies reason.  All of our thoughts and prayers are with him during this tragic time in his life.

Please donate if you can.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Help for Our Friend Lenny

I just learned yesterday that Lenny Villavicencio, the Spanish translator in the 209th District Court and a fixture at the CJC for as long as I can remember, suffered a sudden and unexplained medical incident last week.  From the information that I have, it seems that the doctors don't know exactly what happened, but he seems to be having great difficulty breathing and his liver is in distress.

He is currently in a coma.

Lenny is married with two young children.  Any help that can be provided to his family would be greatly needed and appreciated.  Below is a GoFundMe website that has been established to help in this time of need.

Please give if you can.

Episode Seven: The Voters Awaken - A One Act -Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Death Star orbits over Downtown Houston. [INTERIOR] The Imperial Council Chambers. EMPRESS OGG sits at the head of a long table ...