Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Contretemps, mystery surround elimination of Harris mental health court money

Will new Harris County DA Mike Anderson and his incoming first assistant Judge Belinda Hill torpedo the county's new mental health court as their first act out of the blocks? Mixed signals arose on the subject in a Houston Chronicle story ("Judge fears new Harris mental health court is in peril," Dec. 11) with an array of detail still unconfirmed:
Instead of signing off on the memo of understanding that the District Attorney's Office needs to dole out the money, [Judge Jan] Krocker said, Hill plans to create a committee to revamp how the courts allocate funds for mental health and let incoming District Attorney Mike Anderson decide where the money goes after he takes office Jan. 1.

"This is not good news for the mental health court," Krocker said. "Although Mike Anderson has publicly supported the mental health court, he worked behind the scenes to keep it from opening."
For his part, Judges Anderson and Hill played dumb: A tactic of which they will only be able to avail themselves for three more weeks:
Anderson and Hill denied they are trying to close the court, one of several specialty dockets in the criminal courthouse that includes drug courts, a veteran's court and a different mental health court.

"I did not kill this deal," Hill said about the money offered by Lykos.

She said the District Attorney's Office decided to not offer the money, but not because of her. "I know there was some interest in it, but my understanding was that, as of Friday, they decided to not do that and let the next administration address that issue," Hill said.

[Outgoing DA Pat] Lykos could not be reached late Tuesday to answer why the offer was apparently revoked.
I wish reporter Brian Rogers has spoken to Judge Lykos or her representatives before publishing, then maybe we'd know what's going on. Strangely, Judge Anderson implied he may still become a white knight to preserve the program, but under his own terms:
Anderson also said he supports Krocker's court and is not trying to close it.

"I have made it known that I am in favor of funding the specialty courts," he said. "Three weeks from now, I'll be in a position to look at things and help them out, not just mental health courts, but drug courts and veteran's courts."

He said he was aware that judges and court administrators are considering a move toward Hill's vision of an oversight committee, but did not know details.

"I want to listen to whatever anybody's got to say about funding drug courts and mental health courts and veteran's courts," Anderson said. "They're good things. I think they make a difference."
Given that Judge Anderson just invited Judge Hill to be his first assistant and she allegedly turned around and began meddling in the outgoing DA's spending from the asset forfeiture fund, the idea that he knew nothing about her actions but is willing to "listen," etc., seems incredible. If he's that disengaged, it's almost worse than if he knew! OTOH, if it turns out outgoing DA Pat Lykos did this, not Judge Anderson's representatives, then Judge Krocker may find herself eating crow. Either way, assigning blame won't solve the problem of the eliminated funding.

For now all we know for sure is that money for the court suddenly peters out at the end of the year. This is a good argument for not funding such courts through the DA's asset forfeiture fund: The DA can always try to apply strings to the funding or eliminate it for judges or programs they disfavor, interfering with judicial discretion. And if the DA you're dealing with "wouldn't" do that, their replacement might. Whether that's what happening in Harris County, time will tell. Anderson could restore funds in January and this will have been a tempest in a teapot, or it could turn out to be an opening salvo as the new DA and his top staff set their own agenda and try to differentiate themselves from their supposedly soft predecessors.


Anonymous said...

Scott, I love you but you need better intel in Harris County. Krocker is a nut. She lucked into a federal grant that was poorly written for an ill conceived mental health court. All the funding was on the front end for diagnosis (which is redundant here) with nothing for placement and treatment. It did not get off the ground until its first quarter was over and ran through all the money with no hope of another grant. She then tried to get Lykos to give her $500K in asset forfeiture funds. By then, Commissioners Court recognized the disaster and asked the item be withdraw. Lykos has not tried to reurge the deal. Anderson has absolutely nothing to do with any of that. Judge Hill was in the unenviable position of dealing with Krocker and trying to keep some hope for a functioning mental health court alive. Her proposal for an oversight committee over the therapy courts is the best chance to restore the court (under another judge) and get approval to use asset forfeiture funds to do it. No, that is not my favorite source of money either, but it is all that is left.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In this case, my "intel" came solely from the Houston Chronicle, which didn't mention the commissioners court role at all. Clearly there's a lot more to the story than was revealed in Brian Rogers' piece.

What else can you tell me? Dish!

Brad Walters said...

Seems like a conflict for the DA to be funding courts of any kind. If the legislature, commissioners court or city counsel wants to fund programs that all criminal courts have access to...great. Special courts for special people does not sound like equal protection to me.

Anonymous said...

Let me know if you find a Brian Rogers' piece that tells the whole story on anything.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits (or anyone with time to share good "intel"), (1) is it true that Mr. Anderson plans to dismantle the Post Conviction Integrity Section (or idle it by taking no more claims) and divert operating funds to the Christmas Party Fund?

(2) Is it true that Mr. Anderson's inauguration will include him being crowned as Harris County's "King of Nolo Contendere" by the outgoing King himself (jigmeister) and conclude by announcing the creation of dedicated (Misd. & Felony) Plea Bargain Courts' in an effort to dedicate others' strictly for Jury Trials'?

(3) Is it true that Anderson is going to create a Prosecution Integrity Section dedicated to the in house vetting of Prosecutorial Misconduct claims'?

If Mr. Anderson is still a GFB subscriber, maybe he'll set us straight on both the Chron's issues and subsequent rumors? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

THey dont call her "off her rocker Crocker" for nothing. She is vindictive and in short made a mess of the program. This goes back a lot of years and she bullied her way into a specialty court for which she had not support.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Griffin,

(1) Yes and No.
(2) No, that is not within the DA's power.
(3) Maybe.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Thanks for taking time to answer Mr. Griffin's Qs'.

Here is one last Q, if you return and have time. *What happens to the False Arrest / Wrongful Conviction claims' (mine included) the Post Conviction Review Section received that have not been investigated / vetted upon Mr. Anderson being crowned? Shredder-Tyme Style? Thanks again.