Sunday, October 23, 2011

'We've had enough of courthouse cronyism'

The Houston Chronicle has an editorial today with the same title as this post criticizing alleged cronyism among judges in how they select attorneys appearing before their courts, particularly in juvenile arena, reacting to a pair of recent stories by columnist Lisa Falkenberg which found state Sen. John Whitmire on the warpath. See:
The Chron reported that Judge Pat Shelton left office in the face of criticism "for directing most of his court appointments to attorneys who contributed heavily to his re-election campaigns. One of them, Glenn Devlin, won election as Shelton's successor in the 313th District Court last year when Shelton declined to run." Sen. Whitmire and others had criticized Shelton's "cozy relationship with attorneys he lavished with lucrative appointments, his hiring of bad attorneys over the more experienced, board-certified variety, and his apparent preference to adopt out children to foster families rather than consider placements with blood relatives first, as the law requires."

So "how did Shelton find his way back onto the bench and into the limelight?," asks the editorial board. "Turns out that although he is not on the approved list of visiting judges for the region, [Judge Glenn] Devlin had named him as a substitute judge using local rules that allow juvenile judges to appoint friends and former colleagues without oversight. Apparently one good ol' boy was rewarding a former judicial patron for past favors."

True that. (More soon, perhaps, on court appointment systems in Harris County.) But Chronicle editorial writers could have tagged the same title onto a series of nascent stories about an apparently rogue grand jury that may be investigating misconduct in the firing of former Houston crime lab supervisor Amanda Culbertson after she identified flaws in breathalyzer systems used in mobile blood alcohol testing units, colloquially known as B.A.T. vans.
Murray Newman chimes in with a snarkily titled but probative explication of what's known from recent court filings in a missive headlined "Pat Lykos' Star Chamber Rebels." KTRK's headline was "Grand jury kicks out DA's office in BAT van case." At one point the grand jury apparently ordered the bailiffs to arrest Harris County prosecutors if they tried to enter the room while testimony was being taken related to alleged retaliation over exposing flawed DWI forensics.

Go read their coverage: Grits has little to add to either story for the moment except to find them both as remarkable as they are disappointing.


Anonymous said...

Cronyism in Texas courts is systemic and makes it nearly impossible for a defendant to receive a fair trial or due process.

Consider also what just happened in a federal court in Texas(a civil case). A Dallas business owner was involved in a civil dispute and paid millions of dollars to lawyers, and when he objected to additional fees after settling the case, they had a “friendly” judge seize all of his possessions, without any notice or hearing, and essentially ordered him under “house arrest” as an involuntary servant to the lawyers. The business owner has been under this "servant" order for 10 months and is prohibited from owning any possessions, prohibited from working, etc..

...and some quotes from the judge:

THE COURT: "I'm telling you don't scr-w with me. You are a fool, a fool, a fool, a fool to scr-w with a federal judge, and if you don't understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army, Marines and Navy behind me."

THE COURT: "You realize that order is an order of the Court. So any failure to comply with that order is contempt, punishable by lots of dollars, punishable by possible jail, death" has an explanation of this case.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, will be curious to see if the Houston Chronicle will continue to report on this grand jury investigation regarding the portable intoxilyzer problems. This has the potential to be a huge black eye for the Lycos administration and the Chronicle has heretofore been very unwilling to be critical of Lycos. I'm not sure why that is, but this issue wreaks of scandal.

rodsmith said...

if i was the guy in your case i'd be working to get me a fund anyway i had to and then i'd use it to kill my FORMER lawyers and this nazi judge they are conspiring with!

Anonymous said...

It's a problem all over - there's one lackluster appellate attorney in Dallas who receives a large proportion of the capital cases. Bexar County had one attorney who received four capital state habeas cases, and messed them up so badly they were taken away from her and a grievance filed with the state bar by the CCA. The same attorney was mopping up most of the appellate work in the county at one time - eventually the county had the sense to set up a public defender office to remove appellate appointments from the judges (how strenuously would you, as an appellate attorney, attack the rulings of the judge who appoints you, anyway ...) but now seems to be set to returning to the dark ages of cronyism, rather than finding someone to revive the appellate defender office which has had avoidable management problems. Tarrant County, and other judges in Houston have also shown cronyism in their capital appointments ...

Anonymous said...

Another little known fact about powers of the Texas grand jury is they can investigate an allegation based on a letter addressed to the foreman of the grand jury alleging a violation of law, with or without the consent of the district attorney.

KUDOS to these Harris County grand jurors.