Sunday, March 22, 2015

On setting priorities, judicial DWIs, and other stories

Here are a few odds and ends which merit readers' attention but didn't make it into individual posts this week:

Judge admonished for abuse of position
Appellate court judge Nora Longoria (13th Court of Appeals) was admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which found that using her position to try to avoid a DWI arrest in July “cast public discredit upon the judiciary.”

RELATED (3/23): Judge Gisela Triana in Austin was arrested on suspicion of DWI Friday night, but appears not to have pulled the 'don't you know who I am?' routine that got Justice Longoria and Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg in trouble. It'll be interesting to see what Democratic primary voters in Travis County do with that. To me, the lesson which can be drawn by public officials from Lehmberg and Longoria's travails so far is this: Politicians can frequently survive a DWI conviction while in office, but one's demeanor and decisions in the minutes and (worst case) hours after an officer pulls the driver over can end up becoming the most important of their career. These days, the event is likely to be recorded, video and voice, and in Texas those are open records after a conviction. So, from that moment forward, everything that happens is an audition for their next opponent's campaign commercial. Most police cars didn't have dashcams when I performed opposition research professionally (Texas voters approved $18 million in bonds in 2003 to pay for them in most police departments), much less bodycams, which are increasingly common (and subject of legislation to be heard this week in the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee). But if I were doing that work today, running down videos of police encounters would be an indispensable method.

Driver surcharge doesn't make cut on budget priorities, again
The Lege can always find the money to pay for the stuff they prioritize, but sadly, abolishing the Driver Responsibility surchrge isn't one of those things this year, budget surplus or no. State Rep. Larry Gonales didn't even file his bill to abolish the surcharge this year - though Sen. Rodney Ellis filed such a bill in the Senate - because nobody could "find" the money to replace the roughly $230 million the surcharge brings to the hospitals and state general revenue fund combined. Once again, we'll have to settle for half a loaf, if anything.

The cost of incarcerating the low-risk elderly
At what point does incarcerating low-risk, elderly prisoners fail to pass a cost benefit analysis. Research consistently shows that "all but the most exceptional criminals, even violent ones, mature out of lawbreaking before middle age, meaning that long sentences do little to prevent crime," reported the Marshall Project. To really cut a major dent in Texas' prison population - the long-timers, not just the low-level churn - there'd need to be a way to weed out just these folks.

New tech, new questions
"Is a lifetime of involuntary GPS monitoring unconstitutional?," asked Ars Technica?


sunray's wench said...

"all but the most exceptional criminals, even violent ones, mature out of lawbreaking before middle age, meaning that long sentences do little to prevent crime,"

And most educated people have known this for a long time.

Anonymous said...

"Long sentences do little to prevent crime?'' Gee whiz, and here I thought all along that prison sentences were for punishment.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison sentences serve several purposes, 5:06. Punishment is one, also, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. There are multiple goals to punishment, and the trick is performing cost benefit analysis to see if a) prison sentences achieve their stated goals and b) if they do so with an acceptable bang for the buck.

sunray's wench said...

If you were dropped into a foreign country with only a rudimental grasp of the language, no money, little understanding of the customs and daily living tasks, no permanent address and maybe just one or two friends (and those might only really be acquaintances), how long would you last before you broke at least one law?

That's the situation effectively facing many long-term inmates in TDCJ who are approaching their parole or release dates. Many of these guys have spent 20+ years in an environment with no buttons, zippers or velcro on their clothing, and are then expected to prove in 45 seconds (on average) that they can be productive citizens and have somewhere suitable to parole to, while still being threatened with being hauled back to prison because of something they did 20 years ago and for which the administration doesn't even consider worth trying to offer rehabilitation programmes for until the inmate has become institutionalised (at which point the effectiveness of any programme has been greatly diminished). Yet they are penalised if they do display visible signs of institutionalisation - it is one of the reasons for denial of parole.

All the BPP need to do is consider those over 55 (TDCJ's own definition of "geriatric") favourably for parole once their date arrives, unless there are specific and clearly documented and evaluated reasons why the inmate may still be a danger to themselves or others if released (which would cost next to nothing financiall, and a quantum leap of approach by the BPP members). And if those reasons exist, then a condition of the denial should be that all efforts are made by TDCJ and the inmate to remove them in time for the next hearing, which is usually in 2 years.

Currently you are in a bizarre situation where unsuitable shorter-length sentenced inmates who have no desire to change their behaviour are paroled into the revolving door, and suitable longer-term sentenced inmates have to sit and wait out the years when they do have support and the ability to still contribute to society, and want to contribute.

Linda R said...

So, Grits, when does the rehab happen? Is that watching TV or sleeping? There is no rehab. Secondly, the sentences are so long that a lot of the inmates are incapacitated with institutionalism which does not lead to deterrence, it causes them to commit more crime to return to prison.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Linda R, you're talking programs, I'm talking philosophy. Nobody said the system is perfect, only that the societal purpose of "prison" extends beyond "punishment." Very few laypeople would exclude rehabilitation of criminals from the purpose of prisons, even if in practice the system does a crappy job of it.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Re: Appellate court judge Nora Longoria (13th Court of Appeals)

From the link. A South Texas judge has been admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for using her position to try to avoid a drunken-driving arrest.

The 13th Court of Appeals judge, Nora Longoria, this month received a warning that said her case “cast public discredit upon the judiciary.”

Longoria has apologized for her conduct during a July traffic stop for speeding. The Hidalgo County district attorney’s office later dropped her charge of driving while intoxicated, citing a lack of evidence.

Police said she identified herself as a judge and REFUSED to provide breath and blood tests after she was stopped. The Monitor newspaper reported that first-time offenders who refuse a breath test are supposed to have their license suspended for 180 days.

Longoria was allowed to continue driving.

Kinda makes you wonder if the definition of 'admonished' and the so called 'findings' of the SCJC (Judges Judging Judges Club) both cast public discredit upon the judiciary. But that's what we get when we allow for and accept (without protest for decades) the laws of the land to be bastardized to the point of 'not' addressing those that are charged with enforcing laws and those that referee the courts of and at law. Just think, if we admonished low-level, non-violent, criminal acts, we would only need one prison for those that failed to qualify.


*Arresting Agency, thanks for doing your job. You knew that she'd be admonished but arrested her anyway. If you are fired for doing your job, I'll hire you, if you have a clean background.

*SW, you should consider speaking at one of the public forums on that topic. Or, put it in a petition format, they just might listen to your explanation of facts.

*Grits, in conjunction to acknowledging that you are RED, part two of the lesson should be to consider pulling a Triana. Simply refuse to blow and say no to blood and it goes away in a state-of-confusion in the land-of-the-loopholes. Aka: Texas.

Joorie Doodie said...

What about the lame-duck D.A. in Hidalgo county who GAVE Longorio special treatment? Shouln't he be disciplined, too, by the Bar, for giving preferential treatment to a high-and-mighty defendant?

"Admonished?" Are you kidding? That's all they did? Of course it's all they did, because the impotent (Not a typo!) SCJC is a joke on the public.

For a conservative perspective on the SCJC by Yours Truly, look here:

Baron_of_Greymatter said...

The Statesman's article reports, "Triana had two more drinks at Zax Restaurant & Bar, according to the affidavit, where she dined with several members of Austin’s legal community, including another judge and defense attorneys and prosecutors."

See a pattern yet?

Anonymous said...

The SCJC also sanctioned Hidalgo County Judge Noe Gonzalez for handing out exceptionally generous numbers of appointments to one specific attorney in his court, and large sums ($2M+) in fees to a receiver that he appointed in another case over whom he exercised no judicial oversight. The punishment? A public admonition and an order to get some extra legal education. What with that, and the notorious Panama Unit of crooked deputies (and Sheriff) in Hidalgo County, you have to wonder what's in the water down there ...

Anonymous said...

Getting a g.e.d. is some kind of rehab , because I wanted to better my life inside, for my family.

Anonymous said...

"Why don't you just let me get on down the road."

Anonymous said...

" When the law breaks the law, then there is no law"!
That is why no one respects judges any more. They are criminals too and they get to take the spot light off of them by judging others. AMAZING!!!Look at just how many judges have been CAUGHT breaking the law.

Peter.Marana said...

Texas really can do better. With a prison population 45% higher than the average of the ENTIRE rest of the country, that's 50,000 unnecessary inmates and $1.25 billion in wasted tax dollars. As for the older inmates, when the risk to society is gone and the cost is $25K a year, what is the motive for keeping someone in prison? Probably the same motive as not providing air conditioning. Just hope that you or your loved ones don't end up here. Prison isn't always for the other folks.

Tscc said...

Say Grits, or anyone on a similar but unrelated subject.. Do you know the average cost of both a misdemeanor and felony jury trial to the taxpayer? Obviously there is a court cost assessed to the convicted which some can't ever pay. Just was wondering if those stats and figures were out there... Thanks

Anonymous said...

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different. IMO, we need new folks at BPP. Rissie and some of the others have been there too long.