Thursday, December 14, 2017

The 2018 Finalized Election Field

As many of you know, the filing deadline for candidates running for office in the 2018 Election ended at 6 p.m. on Monday, December 11th.

Without commentary from me (at this point),  below is the finalized field of candidates running for Harris County judgeships.  It is complete to the best of my knowledge, after looking at the Harris County Democrat and Republican websites, the Secretary of State's website, and running it by candidates on both sides.  If I inadvertently left anyone off, it is unintentional and I'll fix it if you let me know.  Also, if you are missing a link to your campaign website, let me know and I'll add it.

The 180th District Court
REP:  Catherine Evans (I)         
DEM:  DaSean Jones

182nd Distrct Court
REP:  Jesse McClure                 
DEM:  Danilo "Danny" Lacayo

183rd District Court
REP:  Vanessa Velasquez (I)     
DEM:  Chuck Silverman

184th District Court
REP:  Renee Magee  vs. Antonio Benavides               
DEM:  Abigail Anastasio
185th District Court
REP:  Stacey Bond vs. Maritza Antu             
DEM:  Jason Luong vs. Brennen Dunn

208th District Court
REP:  Denise Collins (I)              
DEM:  Greg Glass

209th District Court
REP:  Michael McSpadden (I)   
DEM:  Brian Warren

228th District Court
REP:  Marc Carter  (I)               
DEM:  Frank Aguilar     

230th  District Court
REP:  Brad Hart (I)                   
DEM:   Chris Morton

232nd District Court
REP:  Kristin Guiney  (I)           
DEM:  Josh Hill

248th District Court
REP:  Katherine Cabaniss (I)   
DEM:  Hilary Unger

262nd District Court
REP:  Tammy Thomas             
DEM:  Lori Chambers Gray

263rd District Court
REP:  Justin Keiter vs. Charles Johnson             
DEM:  Amy Martin
313th District Court (Juvenile)
REP:  Glenn Devlin (I)           
DEM:  John Stephen Liles vs. Natalia Oakes vs. Tracy D. Good

314th District Court (Juvenile)
REP:  John Phillips (I)                 
DEM:  Michelle Moore

315th District Court (Juvenile)
REP:  Mike Schneider (I)       
DEM:  Leah Shapiro

County Court at Law # 1
REP:  Paula Goodhart (I)             
DEM:  Alex Salgado

County Court at Law # 2
REP:  Bill Harmon (I)                 
DEM:  Harold Landreneau vs. Ronnisha Bowman

County Court at Law # 3
REP:  Natalie Flemming (I)           
DEM:  Erica Hughes

County Court at Law # 4
REP:  John Clinton (I)                 
DEM:  Shannon Baldwin

County Court at Law # 5
REP:  Xavier Alfaro                   
DEM:    David Fleischer vs. Armen Merjanian vs. Aaron Saldana

County Court at Law # 6
REP:  Linda Garcia                     
DEM:  KelleyAndrews

County Court at Law # 7
REP:  Pam Derbyshire (I)           
DEM:  Andrew A. Wright vs. Danval Scarbrough

County Court at Law # 8
REP:   Jay Karahan  (I) vs. Dan Simons       
DEM:  Franklin Bynum

County Court at Law # 9
REP:  John Wakefield                 
DEM:  Toria Finch

County Court at Law # 10
REP:  Dan Spjut (I)                     
DEM:  Lee Harper Wilson

County Court at Law # 11
REP:  Aaron Burdette vs.  Lori Botello                 
DEM:  Gus Saper vs. Sedrick T Walker II 

County Court at Law # 12
REP:  John Spjut                         
DEM:  Juan Aguirre vs. Cassandra Y. Holleman

County Court at Law # 13
REP:  Jessica Padilla                   
DEM:  Raul Rodriguez vs. Mike Renfro

County Court at Law # 14
REP:  Mike Fields                       
DEM:  David Singer

County Court at Law # 15
REP:  Roger Bridgwater           
DEM:  Kris Ougrah vs. Tonya Jones

Additionally, I wanted to point out that there are a few races involving some Harris County folks who are running for some other additional benches.

339th District Court Judge Maria T. Jackson is running as a Democrat for Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. (Statewide Race)

338th District Court Judge Ramona Franklin is running as a Democrat for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 7. (Statewide Race)

Assistant District Attorney Beth Barron is running as a Democrat for the 280th District Court (Family Law).

Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reeder is running as a Democrat for the 234th District Court (Civil Bench).

Former Assistant Public Defender Frances Bourliot is running as a Democrat for the 14th Court of Appeals.

Assistant Public Defender Sarah "Sorcha" Landau is also running for the First Court of Appeals, Position 6.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Couple of Blog Awards

I was very pleasantly surprised over the past couple of weeks to be notified that Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center had won a couple of legal blog awards.

The American Bar Association Journal named the blog as a Top 100 Legal Blog at the end of November with this write up.

And, as if that wasn't enough of a huge honor, it was followed up with an award from Feedspot as a Top 60 Criminal Justice Blog.

I'm not real sure how I got nominated or who is actually voting on these awards, but I'm extremely honored and grateful for the awards.  It's easy to write when you are surrounded by interesting things happening all around you.  Under normal circumstances, the Harris County Criminal Justice System is an fascinating place to be.  In the post-Harvey World, it has been taken to a whole new level.  

I started this thing back in 2008 with the expectation that it would probably last a couple of weeks and then I'd be so embarrassed about it that I'd take it down.  Those of you who have read it (and more importantly, commented on it) have truly given it a life of its own.  I'm keenly aware of the fact that the majority of y'all read it strictly for the comments!

For whatever reason you check in on this blog, I appreciate it. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Vice News Appearance

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Vice News on HBO about Life in the Harris County Criminal Justice world in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  If you missed the segment when it aired, you can catch it by clicking here.

They also added a little bit of bonus content on their website that wasn't included in the original.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Fun with the Houston Chronicle Billing Department

As I was totaling up my end-of-month bills this afternoon, I couldn't help but notice that our esteemed city newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, had taken the liberty of billing me three separate times in the past thirty days.  Now, I'm not proud to admit that I subscribe to the Chronicle on most days, but in my defense, I only get the paper on Sundays.

For a "Sunday Only" subscription, I pay the sum of $14 a month -- in theory.  Assuming there are four Sundays in a month, that comes to $3.50 a paper.  That's not really all that great of a deal for something I can usually work through in the space of ten minutes on the average Sunday.  Not to mention, the newspaper lady routinely forgets to deliver the paper about once a month.

As with most of my bills, I have it on a credit card with autopay.

I noticed today that the Chron had billed me $14 on October 31st, $19 on November 3rd, and another $14 on November 24th.   This seemed to boost my average bill to $11.75 per newspaper, which seemed a tad hefty.

So, I called in to question my bill.  After being on hold for about fifteen minutes, I finally spoke to an actual living person!  The explanation went a little something like this.
Chronicle Lady:  Well, that bill on October 31st was supposed to be on October 15th, but we charged you late.  Don't worry, we did not charge you extra for the late fee.
Charge me extra for a late fee on something that auto-drafts?  Huh?
Chronicle Lady:  The bill on November 3rd is because we bill ten days before your subscription expires and it was going to expire on November 15th.
Wait.  What?
Chronicle Lady:  The bill on November 24 is because your subscription was going to expire on December 10th, so we billed you for it.
I'm completely confused at this point.
ME:  So, why was the November 3rd bill for $19 instead of $14?
Chronicle Lady:  That was because you receive a special Christmas edition paper which is an additional $5.  Oh, wait, I mean, you receive a special Thanksgiving edition paper which is an additional $5.
ME:  Wait, you charge me an extra five dollars because you put extra advertisements in it?
Chronicle Lady:  Yes sir.
ME:  You know, nevermind.  Just cancel my subscription.
Chronicle Lady:  That will be another department.  Let me transfer you.
She then hung up on me.

And they wonder why the newspaper industry is dying.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ira Jones

This evening, I was contact by former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, who wanted to let me know that retired Assistant D.A. Ira Jones passed away over the weekend.

Ira was a senior narcotics prosecutor in Special Crimes when I started at the Office in 1999.  I can't say that I knew him very well, but he had a reputation as a no-nonsense, hard-nosed prosecutor.  In all honesty, I was kind of scared of him the first couple of years I worked there. 

Somewhere around 2002 or so, I ran into Ira at Fogo de Chao and I stopped by his table to say hello.  He had never been there before and he was really enthusiastic about it.  Every time I would see him around the Office after that, he would always stop and talk about Fogo.  Apparently it was a life changing experience for him.  But I always enjoyed talking to him.  As it turned out, that scary, hard-nosed prosecutor was actually a pretty nice guy when you got to know him.

I can't say that I ever got to know Ira well, but every time I would see him, he would always come over and say hello.  It doesn't really seem like it was all that long ago when I last saw him.

But Ira was an icon at the Office.  He was a throwback to the old school prosecutors of eras gone by and everyone knew him as such.

I remember one time being in court and bantering back and forth with the late, great Rayford Carter, who wanted a deferred on a burglary of a building case.  I told Rayford if he could remember the names of five prosecutors, I would give him the deferred.  He immediately named Chuck Rosenthal, but then stalled out on naming another.

After thinking it over for a minute, he made winced and then slowly said: "Ira Jones," as if speaking of his prosecutorial nemesis physically pained him.  I told Ira that story once and he thought it was pretty funny.

Ira had a bout with cancer during his time at the Office, but I don't recall him missing much work.  He lost all of his hair, but it looked good on him.  We bonded over our hair cuts there for a bit, too.

Unfortunately, it looks like his cancer came back.  According to his friends' posting on Facebook, Ira passed away at MD Anderson over the weekend.  Although I wasn't close to him, I find myself very sad to hear the news. 

He was a true character of the Harris County Criminal Justice System.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Precinct Four & The Gift that Keeps on Giving

As I was getting ready to go to court this morning, my e-mail inbox suddenly began lighting up with multiple e-mails from a "No Reply" address from the Harris County District Attorney's Office.  There were seven in total, and they all began with this:

I was surprised.  Although Precinct Four has traditionally been the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to mishandling evidence, I hadn't heard about any new scandals involving them.  I knew they had lost some evidence during Hurricane Harvey, but I was pretty sure that all of the defense attorneys had already been notified on those affected cases.  If I, alone, had received seven notifications, this was a clear indication of a really widespread problem, right?

So, I clicked on the the attachment to read what case was affected.

The first thing I noticed when I read the attachment was that, although the defendant named in the attachment sounded vaguely familiar, I was pretty sure it wasn't a case that I was currently handling.  The next thing I noticed was that the Cause number listed seemed fairly old.  Current felony cause numbers are in the 150000s, and the first notice I had referenced a case in the 135000s.  

So, I searched my records for the case.  As it turned out, it was a case from 2012 where my client had pled to 2 years TDCJ.  So, I checked the next case.  It was also an 2012 Aggravated Assault case, where the client had gotten a reduction to a misdemeanor.  The next was a case from 2009.  All of the cases had been disposed of a minimum of 5 years.

All of the sentences (if the cases hadn't been dismissed) had already been completely served out.

Obviously, the next question that ran through my head was "what exactly am I supposed to do with this information?"

The notice weren't even remotely specific as to what evidence had been lost or destroyed.  Additionally, there was no indication as to when the evidence had been lost.  Was it before the case was disposed?  Would the evidence have been material to the decisions the client made?  Is there a possibility that the plea could be considered involuntary based on this new revelation?

At a minimum, it would seem that attorneys receiving these e-mails need to figure out some of those basic questions.  I'm curious to see whether or not the County is planning on paying the attorney fees for this.  I was lucky.  I only had seven notices.  One attorney I spoke to this morning had received forty-two.  

These cases are going to involve some legwork, but they are also going to involve tracking down old clients.  That's not a small task -- especially not if you have 42 former clients to find.  An investigator is going to be needed and they don't work for free, either.

All of this evidence destruction presumably tracks back to former Deputy Constable Chris Hess, who was fired from Precinct Four in 2016.  Back then, those of us around the courthouse presumed that we had seen the worst of the scandal when the D.A.'s Office dismissed so many active cases.

As it turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

R.I.P. Houston Press

I was very disappointed to learn last week that The Houston Press was ending its printed editions and laying off almost all of its staff.  I had not seen that coming, but apparently the business clientele that traditionally advertised with The Press was the hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.  The loss of advertising revenue caused them to shut their doors.

Ever since I arrived in Houston for law school, I loved reading The Press.  It was a fun paper to read and the writing was great.  As a prosecutor, I often found myself disagreeing with some of the articles, but I had to appreciate the work that all of the writers did on their stories.  I also came to truly love The Press's open contempt for the Houston Chronicle.

Pound for pound, the writers for The Press always seemed to get the Criminal Justice System in Harris County, and writers like Meagan Flynn and Craig Malisow knew that the interesting issues couldn't be written up in a short article.  They took the time to go in depth and research the hell out of stories, and they never accepted any one point of view as the absolute truth.  Their big articles involved weeks, if not months of research before going to print.  They gave everyone the opportunity to throw in their two cents before going to print.

But what I appreciated the most about The Houston Press was that the writers weren't afraid to burn bridges and they absolutely weren't afraid to call bullshit on people and institutions.  They weren't afraid to take unpopular stances, either.  The truth was far more important to them. 

The weekly Houston Press was a tremendous asset to Harris County, especially to the Criminal Justice world.  It had the luxury of lengthy articles written by outstanding journalists.  Without picking on the Chronicle (at least not for the moment) or the television news stations, The Press was just so well suited to explain the stories behind the headlines and provide in depth analysis to what they meant.  Losing that forum is devastating to me.

To my friends that worked and wrote for The Press, I offer you a heartfelt "thank you" for all the times you looked into a story and/or heard me out when I was complaining about something that I hoped you would care about.  More often than not, you did care and your writing showed it.  You provided a greater public service than the public probably deserved.

It just won't be the same without you all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Quick Additional Thought on Indigent Defense

One thing that I thought of after I finished last night's post was the timing of vouchers.

Since I've been practicing on the defense side, the rule was that an attorney could not submit a voucher for payment on a case until that case was disposed of.  Theoretically, an attorney could work on a case for well over a year and never get paid for it until it was over.  Under that same theory, an attorney could have no money in his or her bank account, while the County owed him thousands of dollars in fees.

This made a bit more sense prior to vouchers becoming electronic.  Previously, attorneys would have to handwrite out the case number, name, court, and manually write down all hours and court appearances.  That voucher then got submitted to the Court for approval and then sent on to the Auditor's office (who would presumably enter the dates into a computer).  Once entered into the system, the computer would check to make sure that an attorney had not double-billed or tried to claim payment for too many cases in a single day.

That was a pain in the butt, so it was understandable that the rule was that vouchers only were to be filed once the case was disposed of.

That being said, judges routinely allowed for interim vouchers to be filed upon request of the attorney.  If a case was set for trial, but not for another several months, for example, every judge I ever spoke with had no problem at all with allowing me to file an interim voucher.  All I had to do was ask.

But vouchers are now electronic, which makes life easier for all involved.  Attorney seem to like it better.  Conflicting time entries are caught instantaneously.  Judges can approve them easily and ship them over to the Auditor's office electronically.  It has drastically improved the efficiency and ease of keeping records straight, and it has probably saved a few trees in the process.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, trials are now routinely being pushed into 2018.  Dockets are also staggered further out.   

I would propose that attorneys be allowed to file interim vouchers whenever they need to, without having to first seek judicial approval.  It is my understanding that those attorneys who take appointments on CPS cases get "paid as they go," and there is no reason that can't be the same for criminal defense attorneys.  Electronic filing of vouchers should have eliminated any confusion or logistical argument against that.

If I'm working on a complicated murder case and I spend two weeks straight going over records and interviewing witnesses, it defies logic that I would have to wait months before being able to seek payment for work already done.  I'm not familiar with any other industry that works that way.  There is no real reason that indigent defense should be handled differently.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rethinking Indigent Defense

Tomorrow, the Indigent Defense Committee of the Board of Criminal District Court Judges are having an open meeting to discuss potential changes for "reforming appointed attorney fees."  This is huge news.  Mainly, because I had no idea that there was an Indigent Defense Committee of the Board of Criminal District Court Judges.

The meeting is at 2 p.m. in the Ceremonial Courtroom of the Civil Courthouse on the 17th floor.  Sadly, I will not be able to attend due to a prior commitment, but I did want to share a few thoughts that I had about the way things are currently running in a post-Harvey world.

First, a little background.

The way payment works for attorneys who represent indigent defendants depends on what degree of crime the indigent client is charged with.  Those attorneys representing defendants charged with State Jail and 3rd Degree Felonies get paid $125 for every court setting they appear for, and $40 an hour for all out of court work.  Second degree felony cases merit a $175 fee for court settings with a $60 an hour payment for out of court hours.  First degree felonies get $225 for a court setting and $85 for out of court hours.

The scuttlebutt is the the Indigent Defense Committee (IDC) is strongly leaning toward increasing the pay schedule for out of court hours, but eliminating the flat fee for court appearances.  That is not an unheard of proposition.  It is my understanding that Ft. Bend and Galveston counties do things this way, although I don't know if that is accurate because I don't handle appointed cases outside of Harris County.

My guess is that if this truly is the plan the IDC is looking at, it will meet with some resistance from those who take indigent appointments.  Appointed attorneys tend to like having those court settings because they obviously give larger payouts for less work.  For instance, an attorney can walk into a courtroom on a 3rd degree case, talk briefly with the prosecutor, sign a reset and leave in 20 minutes or less.  Under the current schedule, he or she would make $125.  If he or she was being paid on the hourly scale (at the current rate), he's get paid less than $20.

Just because the appointed attorneys won't be fans of the hourly basis, however, doesn't mean that it is necessarily a bad idea -- especially when it comes to "in custody" cases under the flood conditions.

Right now, things are getting relatively back to normal when it comes those Defendants who are out on bond.  Courts are rescheduling them at intervals similar to those before the flood.  Unfortunately, things are far from normal when it comes to the in custody cases.  Due to safety concerns, all court appearances for "in custody" defendants must be held at the jails.  The males have their appearances at the 701 N. San Jacinto facility while the females are at 1200 Baker Street.

To describe these "jail dockets" as chaotic is a massive understatement.  Due to jail personnel and space constraints, only two courts at a time may operate a jail docket.  Two have a morning shift and two have an afternoon shift.  To make matters utterly confusing, these dockets rotate every several days, so there is no set day of the week when an attorneys knows a certain court will be holding docket. 

The dockets are crowded.  The attorneys typically pool in the infamous Law Liberrry Library, down the hall from the rooms being used as "courtrooms.  In the Library, defense attorneys discuss the cases with prosecutors before stepping out and asking one of the bailiffs to bring an inmate to the courtroom for discussion.  Understandably, there is a backlog.  Only a handful of defendants can be brought out of the holding cells at a time, and the attorneys are not allowed to speak to them anywhere other than the makeshift "courtroom."   Some attorneys wait for hours to talk to their clients.

Attorney Vic Wisner works his triceps in the Law Library while waiting to 
talk to his client.  NOTE:  This was taken before the bookshelves were all 
covered with tarps due to a mold outbreak.

In my opinion, the idea of having regular dockets for in custody defendants at the jail is a foolish waste of time, unless there is a strong indication that a case is going to plead out.  Standing around, waiting to talk to a client, only to reset him is not a productive use of time, nor space.  Unfortunately, due to the bigger payout of a setting fee, attorneys who represent indigent defendants have no financial incentive to reschedule these settings.  Regardless of whether or not anything is accomplished, a setting fee is a setting fee -- even if you are just signing a reset.

If the IDC does change to the hourly fee structure, attorneys representing indigent defendants are more likely to reschedule these non-productive settings, because they will make the same amount of money by working on the case outside of the courtroom.  They can do a jail visit, some legal research, witness interviews, or something that might actually help resolve the case.  Unless a defendant needs to see a judge, there is almost no reason to have them at these jail dockets.

One suggestion, that I do have is that the District Courts have actual settings for these in custody defendants in the courtrooms without the Defendants being thereJudge Velasquez recently scheduled one of my in custody cases on her docket in the 183rd District Court without having my client present and it was extremely productive.  It was not a hectic pace.  I actually had a chance to speak to the prosecutor on my case and go over some evidence that I wanted him to look at.  He had the time to make note of what I showed him and write down some specific discovery requests I had.  

I relayed everything that happened in court to my client later that day, and he was happy to hear about it.  That meeting with the prosecutor never could have happened in one of the jail dockets.  I wish more courts would do this.  If the meeting results in an agreement that resolves the case, it can be set on the next available plea docket.

Back to the fee schedule topic, I do believe that the hourly system will encourage attorneys to do more work out of court to resolve their cases.  It will also discourage attorneys from taking on too many cases for the sole purpose of increasing the number of their appearance fees.

But that may also be a double-edged sword.  

Attorneys who no longer have a financial incentive to increase their court appearances will spend more time in the office, working on the cases that they already have.  As a result, I predict that attorneys will put their names in for new appointments less frequently.  If the money paid for working from the comfort of my office is the same as going to that God-forsaken jail docket, I know which one I would choose.

So, basically, I see pros and cons to changing the payment system.

But, I do hope that the powers that be will consider doing more cases like the 183rd.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Just a Suggestion . . .

Dear D.A. Ogg,

Would you please please please make an office roster that is up-to-date and available on the Harris County D.A. Website?  Those of us in the Defense Bar are doing what we can to reach out to prosecutors off docket, but the people keep moving around.

A nice page added to the website that just stays current with everyone's assignment would be super duper helpful.  If you add e-mail hyperlinks to everyone's name, that would be super cool, too, but I'm not being greedy.

If you could get this up and running as soon as possible, I will be your best friend.

Thanks in advance,
Murray Newman

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fun with Securus

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I sat down and wrote letters to every client that I was representing who was incarcerated in the Harris County Jail.  In my letter, I gave them a brief summary of the current situation with the courthouses, told them of their current court date setting, and I told them that those dates were highly likely to change in the days to come.  I told my clients that due to limited space, there was going to be little opportunity to talk to them during court settings.  It would be far more practical to discuss their cases outside of court, and if it did not appear that anything would be accomplished during an upcoming court setting, we should reset it.  There was no need for them to be inconvenienced by being brought to court, just to sign a reset and leave.

In the letter, I also reminded them of my policy of accepting collecting phone calls from my clients.  I gave them my phone number as a reminder and asked them all to call me prior to their next scheduled court date.

"Creepy" stock photo of me on the phone.  Published in tribute to my 
social media consultant who really really hates this picture.

And it worked.  My phone started ringing off the hook with collect phone calls, provided by Securus, from my clients.  Sure, it was expensive -- $14.99 for up to 20 minutes, but it was more convenient (not to mention cost effective) than driving to the jail, going through security, and waiting for an attorney booth to open.  I could talk to them about evidentiary issues, plea offers, and scheduling.  Pretty much all of my clients seemed very happy to be able to reach me by phone.

The pre-recorded message that began every call started with something along the lines of this:
You are receiving a collect call from [INMATE'S NAME], an inmate in the Harris County Jail . . . 
It then went on to state the price of the call and how long we could talk, and let me hit a button to bill the credit card that I already had on file. As soon as I was done hitting all the requisite buttons, I was connected to my client.  We could talk court settings and logistical issues, but I cautioned my clients to not discuss the facts of the case over the phone.  Securus doesn't have the best record for honoring that whole "attorney/client privilege" thingy that we all find to be so important.

For the first few weeks after Harvey, things were going pretty smoothly.  Almost all of the clients that I had on imminent dockets were calling.  Communication was good.  I had offers to convey from prosecutors.  If it looked like the case could work out, we put it on a plea docket.  If not, we took it off the docket.  The communication helped get some people out of jail and home.  

That's a good thing.

Two days ago, I got a call from the Harris County Jail, and I answered it.  This time, the message was different.
You are receiving a call from [INMATE'S NAME], an inmate in the Harris County Jail.  If you would like to set up a pre-paid account for this inmate, please press 1.
Well, um, paying for an inmate to talk to me, his or her attorney, is great.  Setting up an account for them to talk to whoever they want to . . . not so much.  Quite frankly, in many cases, enabling a client to talk to non-lawyers is very detrimental to that client's case.  Despite recorded messages warning inmates that calls are recorded and monitored, they still go right ahead and say things that screw up their cases on a regular basis.

But I digress.

Initially, I assumed that the inmate must be dialing out wrong, so I hung up the phone to see what the next call said.  The requirements to set up a pre-paid account persisted.  Eventually, I pressed 1 to see what setting up a pre-paid account actually entailed. I was connected to an actual real person to walk me through it.

I asked the lady on the phone why I could no longer accept collect calls.  I told her I didn't want to set individual slush funds for my clients to call whomever they pleased.  She told me that I had the option of setting up a fund for calls just to me, or I could set up a fund on a per inmate basis.  She said that I must have received "too many collect calls" for a time period and that was why I was being required to set up a fund.

Wait.  What?  I was receiving "too many collect calls"?  Says who?  I'm pretty sure they all went on my office credit card, and the good folks at Securus were being paid what was due.  If anyone had a right to complain about too many collect calls, surely that would be me, right?  She mumbled something about company policy and said that a pre-paid account for me "might" save me money.

Uh huh.   So, I told her that I would agree to set up a pre-paid account for calls to me.  And that's when things got fun.

When I gave her my office number, she told me that number was already on file with another account so I would be unable to set up a pre-paid account.  What's the name of the account that has that number? I asked.  She said she couldn't tell me because it was private.  I assured her that my office number had belonged to me and only me for eight years now.  She told me that I would need to provide proof of my phone number by faxing them a copy of my phone bill in my name.

I told her I would do that immediately and asked her how long that would take.  She told me at least 48 hours.  Securus would "investigate" why someone else would set up an account in my name.

"So for the next two days, my clients can't call me from the jail?"


"You can't switch back to letting them call me collect?"


"So, they're just screwed?"

"Until we can investigate and determine that you are the correct number and figure out what happens, we cannot set up an account, sir."

So, basically, I have a number of clients that can't reach me by phone, despite the fact that I sent them all letters instructing them to call me.   I have no doubt that the other account that Securus has linked my phone number to was a mistake made by them. I called Securus this afternoon to make sure that they had received my faxed telephone bill.  The question clearly annoyed the lady who answered the phone.  Faxes go to another department, she said.  The issue would be resolved in 48 hours at the earliest.  She couldn't provide me with any additional information.

In the time that it has taken me to write this post, my office phone has rung with calls from the Harris County Jail no fewer than twenty times -- all of them are calls that I requested, but can't accept. It is frustrating and it's embarrassing.

But Securus is the only game in town.  They have a contract with the jail as they do in many other counties and states across the country.  If you want to use the phone from jail, you gotta go through them.  In doing some background research on Securus, I stumbled across this article, published just two days ago.  Apparently Securus was recently purchased by the owner of the Detroit Pistons.  That's interesting.

What's more interesting were these two paragraphs:
The election of Donald Trump has already given an economic boost to those profiting from mass incarceration. The stock prices of the two biggest private prison builders -- CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group -- doubled after Trump took office.
Companies that charge for expensive phone calls from prisons and jails also won big after Trump's victory. One of the president's first appointments placed Ajit Pai at the helm of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who promptly rolled back the agency's 2015 decision to regulate the prison phone industry. The companies hailed it as a victory.
An incarcerated inmate's inability to reach his lawyer by phone may not seem like that big of a deal to those not directly affected by it.  Yes, I'm aware that they can still write me and I can go visit them.  But there is something so fundamentally flawed about a private company not only having the ability to charge exorbitant amounts of money for phone calls between an attorney and a client, but to stop those calls altogether.

It is a sad day when the 6th Amendment gets trampled on -- not by a judge, a prosecutor, or police officer -- but by a price-gouging private company handed a monopoly as part of the Prison Industrial Complex.

Jury Assembly Room, We Hardly Knew Ye

I was kind of surprised to read that the powers that be in Harris County have already decided that the (relatively new) Harris County Jury Assembly Room cannot be salvaged.

Don't get me wrong, I had no doubt that the building got severely damaged in the flooding from Hurricane Harvey.  The geniuses that decided to put a major facility underground in an area that flooded during Tropical Storm Allison basically drew up the plans for the State's largest in-ground jacuzzi. 

I'm not surprised at all to learn that the building is a total loss.  I'm just surprised that Harris County is acknowledging the building's lack of salvageability so quickly -- throwing away a 6-year-old structure that cost $13 million is a bitter pill to swallow. 

My hope is that while the County is in such an "admitting-we-screwed-up" mood, they might turn their attention to the embattled Harris County Criminal Justice Center.   Under optimal conditions, the building is terrible -- narrow hallways leading to elevators that sporadically work.  No escalators or public stairwells.  It was shut down for a year after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 after only being occupied since November 1999.  

But the damage to the building from Allison appears to be nothing compared to what happened in the CJC during Harvey.  Not only did it flood, apparently there was some mechanism in place that caused pipes to supercool quickly and subsequently burst, leaving raw sewage throughout the building across multiple floors.  

Now, I'm not an architect or builder.  Maybe there is some reason why buildings need mechanisms to supercool things.  I don't know what that reason might be, unless it is to freeze Rebel Scum in carbonite before having Boba Fett transport them to Jabba the Hutt.

Whatever the reason, the CJC is now, literally, a shit show.  And it's been a shit show since the day it was opened.

It's time to start over.  Harris County should take some notes from the Ft. Bend Criminal Justice Center and create a shorter and wider courthouse that is more conducive to having escalators and stairways for people to reach the courts.  The elevator system at Harris County CJC is grossly inefficient and dangerous.  Angry (and sometimes violent) people are scrambling into small places to make it to court on time.  It is truly astounding to me that no one has ever been beaten to death one morning.  

The CJC needs to be completely scrapped and started over.  Demolish the damn thing and spread the new construction across the site of 1201 Franklin and 1301 Franklin (the old jail).  Hell, if you hold a $100-a-ticket raffle for attorneys to see who gets to press the demolition button on the CJC, you might be able to pay for the whole thing outright.  There is nobody that comes into that building, from prosecutor to judge to defendant, that doesn't hate it.  

If Harris County can justify scrapping the Jury Assembly Room after six years, then there is no excuse for not razing that 18-year-old hell hole of the CJC.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Larry Boucher

I was very saddened to learn earlier this week of the passing of retired Harris County District Attorney's Office Investigator Larry Boucher.

Although I never worked with Larry, I got to be friends with him when I was a pretty junior prosecutor with the Office.  He was an investigator in Special Crimes and he couldn't have been any nicer or more inclusive.  He loved the Office and he loved the people that he worked with.  He was the embodiment of the feeling of family and camaraderie that made working at that place so special.

After we both left the Office, he had a series of horrible health setbacks that he was way too young to be dealing with.  For a person as full of life as Boucher, it was heartbreaking to hear that he wasn't running full speed.  He had heart problems and won a hard-fought battle against them.  Sadly, it seemed that as soon as he finished that fight, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.

Larry's funeral will be on Wednesday, September 27th at 2:00 p.m. at the Klein Funeral Home at 9719 Wortham Blvd, Houston, TX 77065.  A celebration of his life will be hosted at Floyd's Cajun Seafood at 27126 NW Freeway, Cypress TX 77433.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Speaking of Parties . . . -- UPDATED WITH NEW DATE

There will be a party for everyone in the CJC community on Thursday, September 28th (NOW Friday, October 6th) from 5-8 p.m. at the Hotel Icon.

The idea was organized by Judge Mike Fields from County Court at Law #14 and is being sponsored by Chip Lewis and Paul Doyle.  Judge Fields said that he thought it would be a good opportunity for those of us to unwind after all of the confusing, hectic and frustrating events of the past couple of weeks.

Hope to see everyone there!

The D.A. Alumni Reunion Party -- UPDATED

Former Harris County Assistant District Attorney (as well as former U.S. Attorney for the Western District) Johnny Sutton is hosting an HCDA Alumni Party on Sunday, October 1st.  Former prosecutors, investigators, and support staff are all invited.  UPDATE:  I have confirmed that current prosecutors and staff are also welcome.

The party begins at 3:00 p.m. at the Armadillo Palace (5105 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX 77098) and there is a $25 cover charge to help offset costs.  The cover charge included two drinks and food.

Please RSVP in ASAP to

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Quick Compliment

Last Friday, I was walking out of the stairwell at the Civil Courthouse, just in time to see my friend and fellow defense attorney, Bryan Savoy, attempting to assist a young woman, who was clearly beginning to have a grand mal seizure.  As the seizure began, someone ran down the hall and grabbed the first person in uniform that they could find.  That person ended up being Sgt. K. Rodriguez of the Harris County Constable Office-Precinct Four.

Sgt. Rodriguez rushed to the young woman's aid, and took charge as we lowered her off of the bench where she had been sitting onto the floor.   Sgt. Rodriguez positioned her body over the young woman until the seizure stopped and then stayed over her, as the poor lady was sobbing and clearly distraught.  Sgt. Rodriguez was extremely calm and soothing as she told the young lady about her own family members with seizures and how it was nothing to embarrassed about.  She held the young woman and patted her reassuringly and told her that the paramedics were on the way.

Sgt. Rodriguez asked her if she normally had multiple seizures in a row, and the woman said that she did.  So Sgt. Rodriguez positioned herself to be ready for the next one, and encouraged the woman not to struggle against it, if she felt it coming on.  It seemed like we waited forever for EMS to arrive, but Rodriguez stayed with her the whole time, despite offers from court bailiffs to take over.  Throughout it, the woman kept her hand on Sgt. Rodriguez's leg, and kept patting it.

Just as the paramedics were arriving, the second seizure began, and Sgt. Rodriguez was prepared for it.  Although EMS helped by holding the young woman's arms, it was, again, Sgt. Rodriguez managing the woman's seizure.   The second seizure stopped just long enough to place the poor woman on a stretcher, before the third seizure started.  It was violent.  Her feet were strapped down, but the rest of her body was violently lifting off the stretcher.  Once again, Sgt. Rodriguez held her down.

As EMS took the young lady away, Rodriguez went with her.  She had never lost her composure or her compassion.  I know that I'm not adequately describing what a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation it was.

But Sgt. K. Rodriguez managed the situation like a superhero.  She deserves to be commended.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The 2018 Election Field (So Far) [Updated-9/27/17]

[Note:  This list is very lengthy and subject to modification.  My intent is to write in more detail about individual races between now and the primary elections next year.  I welcome and encourage comments on the candidates with the knowledge that some comments will be kind while others won't be.  Criticisms are fair.  Below the belt insults aren't and they won't be published.]

With this week's announcement from the Governor's Office that Judge Kristin Guiney had been appointed to the long vacant 232nd District Court Bench, a much clearer picture of the 2018 courthouse races came into view.  I've been wanting to write about the upcoming election for a couple of months now, but the landscape has been shifting (especially on the Democratic side of the ballot).

The 2018 election is going to be interesting, because there is a very significant number of judges who have elected to retire rather than seek re-election.  Of the thirteen Criminal District Courts on the ballot in November 2018, five of the current judges are retiring.  Judges Jeanine Barr, Jan Krocker, Susan Brown, Denise Bradley, and Jim Wallace are not seeking re-election.  Of the fifteen (out of sixteen) County Courts  on the ballot, five are retiring.  Judges Margaret Harris, Larry Standley, Robin Brown, Don Smyth, and Jean Spradling are not running again.

I would venture a guess that 2018 will be a sweep of some sort.  In recent history, the Gubernatorial (or "non-Presidential") election years have favored the Republicans.   The enthusiasm that swept Dems into office with Obama in 2008 wasn't present for them in 2010 or 2014, leading to Republican sweeps.  But the anti-Trump sentiment in Harris County was huge in 2016 and the Democratic sweep in Harris County was marked by very large margins of victory.  I'm genuinely curious to see how much influence that anti-Trump sentiment will have in 2018. 

As of this writing (which is admittedly very early on), Republican Governor Greg Abbott has no clear Democratic challenger yet.  Additionally, Republican Harris County Judge Ed Emmett's popularity remains strong (especially in the wake of his handling of Hurricane Harvey).  These two at the top of the ballot are tremendous boosts to the Republican Judges down-ballot  The biggest factor will be how actively President Trump is infuriating Democrats and how much that translates into voter turnout.

That's just my amateur prediction for the 2018 Election.  If you want a much better, credible, and reasoned analysis, I (as always) strongly encourage you to check in with my friend, Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff.

With all of that being said, let's look at the races as they currently stand.  For purposes of this post, I'm keeping the information about the candidates to a minimum.  We've got lots of time to talk about them in the days to come.

The 180th District Court
The race for the 180th District Court features incumbent Republican Judge Catherine Evans against Democratic challenger DaSean Jones.  Judge Evans has been on the bench since October of 2013 and had previously served as a long-time Assistant District Attorney in Harris County.  DaSean Jones is a local attorney who practices in several different fields and he is also an Army veteran.

The 182nd District Court
With the retirement of Judge Jeanine Barr, Republican Jesse McClure has announced his candidacy.  Jesse is a prosecutor for the Texas Department of Insurance, currently on assignment to the Harris County District Attorney's Office.  Jesse's Democratic opponent is Danilo "Danny" Lacayo.  Danny is a former-Harris County prosecutor and currently works for the Harris County Public Defenders Office.

The 183rd District Court
Incumbent Republican Judge Vanessa Velasquez is seeking re-election and faces Democratic challenger Chuck Silverman.  Judge Velasquez is a former Harris County Prosecutor who has been on the bench since 2005.  If I recall correctly, this is the first time she's drawn a challenger in recent memory.  That challenger, Chuck Silverman, is an attorney who does not practice criminal law.  I can't find a page for his campaign, but it appears that he routinely runs for both civil and criminal benches.

The 184th District Court
Longtime Republican Judge Jan Krocker has announced that she is not running again.  Former 337th Judge and former prosecutor, Renee Magee is running as the Republican candidate.  Renee worked for the Harris County D.A.'s Office for many years before being elected judge in 2012.  She was a victim of the 2016 Democratic sweep, and I'm not sure what she has been doing since leaving the bench.  The Democratic candidate is defense attorney Abigail Anastasio.  Abigail is a former prosecutor and current defense attorney.

The 185th District Court
Longtime Republican Judge Susan Brown also is retiring from her Bench next year.  Former 176th Judge, former prosecutor and current defense attorney, Stacey Bond is running as a Republican for the Bench.  Her Democratic opponent is former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, Jason Luong.  

The 208th District Court [Updated 9/22/17]
Incumbent Republican Judge Denise Collins is seeking re-election to the 208th District Court.  Judge Collins has served on the Bench since 1992.  Her Democratic challenger is an attorney named Anthony Troiani, who I have never heard of.  The only information that I can find on him is that he is a personal injury attorney out of Brownsville.  I'm not sure exactly how or why he is running for a Harris County Criminal bench.  In an update and a switch, it is my understanding that Democratic candidate Steven Goins has moved to from the contested race in the 232nd to run for the 208th and that Anthony Troiani is no longer seeking a bench in Harris County.

The 209th District Court
Harris County's longest serving Criminal District Court Judge is Republican incumbent Michael McSpadden.  Judge McSpadden has ben on the bench since 1982 and was a Harris County prosecutor prior to that.  The Democratic opponent is former prosecutor and current defense attorney Brian Warren.

The 228th District Court
Republican Incumbent Judge Marc Carter is running for re-election to the 228th District Court, where he has served since 2003.  In addition to being a retired officer in from the United States Army, he is also a former prosecutor and defense attorney.  The Democratic candidate is Woodrow Dixon, a longtime defense attorney.

The 230th District Court
Republican Incumbent Judge Brad Hart is running for re-election to the court where he has served since 2013.  He is a former longtime Harris County prosecutor.  His Democratic opponent is former-prosecutor and current defense attorney, Chris Morton.

The 232nd District Court [Updated 9/22/17]
Newly appointed Republican Judge Kristin Guiney arrives just in time to campaign for the upcoming election.  Judge Guiney is a former-prosecutor and defense attorney, who also previously served as Judge of the 179th District Court.  As of this writing, the Democrats have a contested race.  Former prosecutor and current defense attorney Josh Hill is running against defense attorney Steven Goins is now running unopposed for the Democratic nomination and Steven Goins has switched to the 208th District Court race.

248th District Court
Republican Incumbent Judge Katherine Cabaniss will be running for re-election for the bench that she has held since 2013.  Her opponent is Hilary Unger, a criminal defense attorney who also handles juvenile cases.

262nd District Court
I was caught off guard when I heard that Republican Judge Denise Bradley wasn't seeking re-election.  Retired prosecutor and current defense attorney Tammy Thomas is running as the Republican candidate.  Her Democratic opponent is Defense Attorney Lori Gray.

263rd District Court [Updated 9/22/17]
With longtime Republican Judge Jim Wallace deciding not to run again, former prosecutor and current defense attorney Justin Keiter will be running against former prosecutor and current defense attorney Emily (Munoz) Detoto. [Update] I now have it on reliable information that defense attorney Charles Johnson is also running for the 263rd Republican nomination.  Whoever wins will face Democratic opponent Amy Martin who is also a Houston-area defense attorney.

313th District Court (Juvenile)
Incumbent Republican Judge Glenn Devlin is running for re-election.  He has held his bench since 2010.  The Democratic race for this bench is contested with attorneys Natalia Oakes and Tracy Good both seeking the nomination.  Because I don't practice much juvenile law, I don't know anything about either of the Democratic candidates.  I could not find a website or Facebook page for Good, but I believe he ran for this bench in 2014, as well.

314th District Court (Juvenile)
Incumbent Republican Judge John Phillips is running for re-election to a bench that he has held since 2002.  His Democratic opponent is attorney Michelle Moore.  I don't know Ms. Moore, but, again, I believe that is attributable to me not practicing much juvenile law.  I have been told that she is a Chief Prosecutor with the Harris County Attorney's Office.

315th District Court (Juvenile)
Incumbent Republican Judge Mike Schneider is running for re-election for a bench that he has held since 2006.  His opponent is former prosecutor and current attorney with the Harris County Public Defenders' Office, Leah Shapiro.

Moving to the Misdemeanor side of things . . .

County Court at Law # 1
Incumbent Republican Judge Paula Goodhart is seeking re-election to the bench that she has held since 2010.  Prior to becoming a judge, she was a long-time prosecutor and defense attorney.  Her Democratic opponent is Alex Salgado, who is currently a narcotics prosecutor at the Ft. Bend District Attorney's Office.

County Court at Law # 2  [Updated 9/19/17]
Incumbent Republican Judge Bill Harmon is seeking re-election to the bench that he has held since 2007, but he will face a challenge in the Republican primary from defense attorney Lori Botello.  Prior to moving to County Court, he presided over the 178th District Court from 1984-2006.  He also served as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney.  His Democratic opponent is Harold Landreneau, who is a defense attorney and former head clerk for Justice of the Peace Dale Gorczynski.

County Court at Law # 3
Incumbent Republican Judge Natalie Flemming is seeking re-election to the bench that she has held since being originally elected in 2010.  I'm not familiar with her Democratic opponent, Erica Hughes, but it appears that she is a personal injury attorney who practices in Prairie View.

County Court at Law # 4 
Incumbent Republican Judge John Clinton is running for re-election to the bench that he has held since being elected in 2010.  Prior to taking the bench, he was an attorney and long-time police officer with the Houston Police Department.  His Democratic opponent is Shannon Baldwin, who is a long-time defense attorney practicing in Harris County.

County Court at Law # 5 [Updated 9/27/17]
With incumbent Republican Judge Margaret Harris not seeking re-election, there is a contested race for the Republican nomination for both Parties in Court Five.  Former prosecutor and current defense attorney Xavier Alfaro and Felony Chief Prosecutor Aaron Burdette are competing for the Republican nomination.  Long-time defense attorney David Fleischer and defense attorney Armen Merjanianon are running against each other on the Democratic side.

County Court at Law # 6
Longtime incumbent Republican Judge Larry Standley has chosen not to seek re-election in 2018.  The Republican candidate is former County Court at Law # 16 Judge Linda Garcia.  Linda is also a former prosecutor and member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.  Her Democratic opponent is long-time defense attorney KelleyAndrews.

County Court at Law # 7 
Incumbent Republican Judge Pam Derbyshire is seeking re-election to the bench that she has held since being elected in 1998.  There is a contested race on the Democratic side. Defense attorney Andrew Wright is running against someone named Frank Pierce.  I'm not familiar with Pierce personally, but I believe he is the same candidate profiled in this website on Ballotpedia.  I'm not sure how up-to-date that website is, but at the time of its writing, it said he was an adjunct professor at South Texas and an associate judge for the 2nd Administrative Judicial Bench.  That website also said he ran for a civil bench in 2012 as a Republican.

County Court at Law # 8
Incumbent Republican Judge Jay Karahan is seeking re-election to the bench that he has held since being elected in 2002.  Before becoming a judge, he was a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and also worked in the civil arena. His Democratic opponent is defense attorney Franklin Bynum.

County Court at Law # 9
Incumbent Republican Judge Analia Wilkerson is seeking re-election to the bench that she has held since first being elected in 1994.  Her Democratic opponent is former prosecutor and current defense attorney Toria Finch.

County Court at Law # 10
Incumbent Republican Judge Dan Spjut is seeking re-election to his second term as Judge of County Court at Law # 10.  He is a former police officer.  His opponent is Lee Wilson.  I'm not sure who Lee Wilson is, although I've done a fairly intensive Facebook and internet search.

County Court at Law # 11
Incumbent Republican Judge Diane Bull is seeking re-election to a bench that she has held since being first elected in 1994.  She is also a former prosecutor.  Her opponent is long-time criminal defense attorney, Gus Saper.

County Court at Law # 12
With the retirement of Republican Judge Robin Brown, the Republican candidate for County Court at Law # 12 is retired Houston Police and attorney Officer John Spjut.  There is a contested race for the Democratic nomination between former prosecutor and current defense attorney Juan Aguirre and defense attorney Cassandra Hollemon.

County Court at Law # 13
With the retirement of Republican Judge Don Smyth, there is a contested race for the Republican nomination for County Court at Law # 13.  Former prosecutor and current defense attorney Jessica Padilla will be running against defense attorney Stephen Touchstone.  The winner of the primary will face off against Democratic candidate and longtime defense attorney Raul Rodriguez.

County Court at Law # 14
Incumbent Republican Judge Mike Fields will be running for re-election to the bench he has held since first being elected in 1998.  Additionally, he is a former prosecutor.  He is running against longtime defense attorney David Singer.  Singer ran against Fields unsuccessfully in 2014.

County Court at Law # 15
With the announcement from Republican Jean Hughes that she is not seeking re-election, there is currently not a formal announcement of candidacy from a Republican representative (to my knowledge), although my understanding is that former Judge Roger Bridgwater is going to run.  Whoever the actual candidate ends up being, he or she will be facing off against defense attorney Kris Ougrah.

So, that is a list of everyone in the criminal courts.  As you can see, there are a lot of great candidates.  I've got a lot of good friends running against each other, so I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to handle that.  In the meantime, here's the list.  I'll modify it and add links to it as things change.  Anything I missed or got incorrect was an honest mistake.  Let me know and I'll correct it.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Judicial Show Down

As I noted in my blog post earlier this week, things have been pretty chaotic in the Harris County Criminal Justice world.  People don't know where to go or what time (or day, for that matter) to go there.  The attorneys are excited about the appointment of Kristin Guiney to the 232nd District Court, so there has been much talk about that.

Judge Nikita Harmon                   Judge Jim Wallace

But the vast majority of the talk around the Criminal Civil Courthouse this week has centered around a confrontation between two judges that occurred on Monday morning.  The dust-up occurred between Republican Judge Jim Wallace of the 263rd District Court and Democratic Judge Nikita Harmon of the 176th District Court around mid-morning.  As with most courthouse gossip, the original details are a little spotty.  

According to witnesses, Judge Harmon had arrived to the courtroom first and had taken the bench.  Later in the morning, there was a lull in the activity in the courtroom, and Judge Wallace indicated that he needed to take the bench to take some pleas for the 263rd.  The initial reports were that Judge Harmon refused to leave the bench, and that Judge Wallace threatened to have one of his bailiffs arrest her if she didn't leave.  On Monday, there wasn't a lot of clarity about what happened after that.  When I was leaving the courthouse, I heard that Administrative Judge Susan Brown was on her way to mediate the situation.

As I've mentioned before, all of the criminal courts are doubled up and sharing courtrooms in the civil courthouse.  How the different courts are handling working around each other has been left to the individual judges.  In some courtrooms, judges are running both dockets at the same time, with the courtroom filled with both staffs.  Other courts have agreed to split the dockets into morning and afternoon shifts, which also works well, as long as everyone is given advance notice.  Several Defendants and attorneys showed up for morning courts on Monday, only to be told that their dockets weren't being held until the afternoon.

Apparently this docket confusion played a large role in the conflict.

Last week, as the courts were moving from the wrecked Criminal Justice Center to the Civil Courts, Judge Wallace was on a pre-planned vacation out of the country.  As courts were being paired up and dockets organized, he was unavailable to submit his preferences for when his docket would be held.  A preliminary schedule released by the Harris County Criminal District Courts' Facebook page on Saturday, September 9th left the 263rd docket time blank.

I spoke with Judge Wallace this afternoon, who told me that when his court staff and Judge Harmon's court staff were moving into the shared court on Friday, Judge Harmon's staff stated that they were going to claim the morning docket.  Judge Wallace stated that no one from his staff agreed to this and an argument ensued.

By Monday, September 11th, an official schedule was provided by District Clerk Chris Daniel, telling people where the new courts were meeting and when.

Accordingly, Judges Wallace and Harmon were scheduled to be sharing a courtroom for a morning docket as of Monday, September 11th.

According to all accounts I've heard, Judge Harmon was first to take the Bench on Monday morning, and had been presiding well over an hour before this incident took place.  All accounts that I've heard also indicate that Judge Wallace had several Defendants waiting to plead in his court, and that there was a lull in activity for Judge Harmon.

Judge Wallace said that at approximately 11 a.m., he entered the courtroom and approached Judge Harmon, indicating he wanted to take the Bench to take the pleas for his court.  He stated that his bailiff was with him as he approached, and that Judge Harmon became angry.  Judge Wallace said that Judge Harmon told him: "You're not going to tell me to get off my bench."

Judge Wallace said that when it became clear that Judge Harmon had no intention of leaving the Bench, he said: "You could be arrested for impeding courtroom proceedings."  He stated that he then left the courtroom to ask Judge Brown to resolve the conflict.  Judge Wallace adamantly denies ever raising his voice or ordering his bailiff to arrest Judge Harmon.

Judge Wallace said that Judge Harmon remained on the bench for some time, but got up to leave.  He said at that time, his staff tried to take the awaiting pleas, but that Judge Harmon's staff refused to leave.  Judge Wallace said that although he has not been back to the courtroom since, his staff has reported additional problems with the 176th.  Judge Wallace said that the176th staff had been overheard telling Defendants on the 263rd's docket to leave the court and come back in the afternoon.

The situation between the two Judges does not show any signs of de-escalating.

As word quickly spread through the CJC, it did not take long before the altercation between the two judges was being portrayed as a racially motivated incident, with defense attorney and HISD School Board trustee Jolanda Jones comparing Judge Harmon to a modern day Rosa Parks.  However, I'm not so sure that this isn't more of a "black robe" issue than a black/white issue.   Regardless, a press conference and protest has been scheduled for tomorrow, September 15th at 11:00 a.m. in front of the Civil Courthouse.  Additionally, a judicial grievance has been filed against Judge Wallace.

In the meantime, Judge Wallace's 263rd District Court is being moved to share a court with Judge Marc Carter in the 228th District Court.  Incoming Judge Kristin Guiney's 232nd District Court will now be paired with Judge Harmon in the 176th.

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 ...