But, canceling the freaking rodeo? Shit just got real.
I've been worrying about coronavirus for weeks now; however, I also vividly remember being worried about SARS, Ebola, and swine flu. Since none of those things ever hit Houston, I was kind of holding out hope that the same would happen with corona. However, no such luck.
It looks like the Houston Independent School District is trying to just get through the next two days before reassessing its response during next week's Spring Break.
In the meantime, with two exceptions, the Harris County Criminal Justice Center appears to be open for business as always. The first of those exceptions came from 232nd District Court Judge Josh Hill, who issued the following statement:
My policy for the 232nd always stands, regardless of what the other courts do. If anyone believes their health or safety would be compromised by trying to get to court, stay home and make some attempt to contact the court to reschedule as soon as practical. Any lawyer on any case can always request an off docket reset or to waive a client's appearance, regardless of health or safety scares.Judge Hill is a good egg. Similarly, County Court at Law # 8 Judge Franklin Bynum took time out of his busy schedule of fighting with HPD Chief Art Acevedo on Twitter to issue this statement:
Other than these two judges, there doesn't appear to be much reaction from the rest of the Harris County Criminal Justice World yet, which is pretty damn ridiculous considering that it has become clear that we are in a time where drastic measures need to be taken.
So, here are a couple of my random amateur epidemiologist opinions on what should be done:
1. Follow Judge Bynum's lead and waive all bond appearances. Period.
Much like the Rodeo, the Harris County Criminal Justice System pulls in thousands of people from all over the area and brings them into cramped conditions of wall-to-wall people, Given how easily communicable coronavirus is, this is just begging for trouble. Until the worst of this epidemic passes, there is absolutely no reason to put a higher value on managing docket numbers than human safety.
2. Reschedule all jury trials for two months. It is my understanding that Fort Bend County has canceled jury panel through the end of March. If they can do it, so can Harris County. Pretend like we got hit by Hurricane Corona. We will get back online eventually. It isn't ideal, but we will get through it.
3. Give every inmate in the Harris County Jail on a non-violent offense a PR bond. Yeah, nobody on the police/prosecution side is going to like this idea, I get it. But once the coronavirus hits the jail, it will spread like wildfire. Subjecting anyone to that as a sitting duck trapped in a cage is horrible to contemplate, but it becomes even more horrible if someone is sitting there on a drug charge or a theft charge.
4. Let non-essential employees work from home, especially those with compromised health issues. In our Internet age, we are more capable than ever to work from home with our online resources. Read offense reports. Watch statements. Watch body cams. Do some legal research. Catch up on e-mails. I can guarantee you that is what I plan on doing in the weeks to come. It is ridiculous not to take advantage of that for government employees who can do the exact same thing. I'm still laughing at Vivian King's memo today that she had ordered some hand sanitizer for the Office but that it is on backorder for eight weeks. Good old Vivian is awesome in crisis.
SEND YOUR PEOPLE HOME!!!
5. Pay appointed attorneys for their work when it is done instead of when the case is resolved. I posted on this topic last year in this post when I encouraged the policy to help prevent attorneys from taking on too many cases. If an attorney can work from his or her office or home on a case and get paid on a weekly basis, it is a win-win situation for all involved. There will be more work done on cases. Attorneys will keep a more manageable caseload. Things can be effectively resolved without pointless appearances in court. They stay safe at home. Work gets done on cases. They don't go bankrupt. It will be great.
6. Defense Attorneys should start taking collect phone calls from their clients. Pat McCann gave me this piece of advice when I became a defense attorney. I take collect calls from my clients. I caution them about talking about anything that would be damning on their case because I don't trust that nobody is listening, but I can answer legal questions until the cows come home. I don't do jail visits very often, but I'll take multiple phone calls a day from clients, and that makes them happy. I'm near my computer when they call, so I can look up answers to their questions. Make notes on what they are telling me and most importantly -- not pick up a disease at the jail.
Those are just a few of my thoughts. I'd like to hear your thoughts, too, so comment away.
At this point, I'm in disbelief that we've canceled the Rodeo but we've made no apparent plan for the Criminal Justice World in Harris County. They also just canceled the NBA season.
I don't understand why the Courts are acting as if it is still business as normal.