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Harris County is Houston, known better to you and I as the American death penalty capital. But I'm not writing about state-sponsored punishment today. I want to write about something else, and that's the inhumanity of certain judges that occupy the benches in Texas criminal courts.

I have read about many instances of real judicial misconduct, and I have seen a few things in my time that I didn't think were quite fair. Today, I want to write about something that isn't exactly considered judicial misconduct. It's something instead, that is rightly described by Houston attorney Mark Bennett as being "mean."

Walk into any Texas court room and you will see something similar - nervous people awaiting their moment, with blissful attorneys buzzing on the other side of the rail. But it's what happens before you ever get into a court room that's a real problem in Harris County.

Mark Bennett tells the story of one of his clients, who the judge initially sentenced one year longer for the impardonable sin of...being 15 minutes late to court. His judge eventually recognized the embarrassment she'd presided over, but many do not. I've seen situations like that one play out with some variation.

Take the case of a woman charged with felony drug possession. She's managed to make bail, which sits at $10,000. Making bail when it's at that amount is difficult for poor prisoners, but with some help, a few of them can do it. They get to stay out of county jail for a few months while they await trial. This woman had two kids, both of them in elementary school. She had a job which she desperately needed in order to pay for those expensive kids. And today, she was late for the second time.

To understand the situation, you have to understand how criminal proceedings work. The most common motion filed the court is a reset form. Lawyers often need more time to do various things, and people have to come back to court every few weeks in some instances. This woman had been late twice, and today, there would be no mercy.

Above the sound of her tearful plea was the sound of the judge, revoking bail. He had her remanded to custody, and he set her new bail at five times the current amount. $50,000. To come up with that amount, she'd have to sell something or mortgage something else. Even if she made it, a $5,000 (it's common for defendants to have to pay 10% to a bail company) hit would spell financial disaster for someone in her position. More likely, she'll sit there and rot for a period of many weeks, awaiting trial for possessing a small amount of meth.

You might think to yourself - there's an easy solution to this problem. Show up on time and you won't have to worry about it. If only it was so easy. I work in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center every single day. I also possess a badge that gets me through security. I get to skip the line, and my morning jaunt through the court house is still hectic.

Before I got that badge, it was even worse. The Criminal Justice Center houses twenty floors, many of them holding multiple court rooms. All people must be there for docket call, which typically happens around nine in the morning. The building has two metal detectors, and all entrants must take off their shoes, belts, coats, and anything metal. Their bags are searched in some cases, and they scramble to put themselves back together. It's a small space in the lobby, and those would-be defendants are herded through.

On most days, when I arrive just before nine, the line stretches out the door in both directions. It wraps around the building, and it's not unusual to have a couple hundred people standing outside at any one time. A couple hundred more are in line inside, waiting for their turn going through the metal machines.

The fun doesn't stop there. Defendants, visitors, and lawyers alike have to use the elevators, which are woefully inadequate. Six small elevators service the top ten floors, where the felony courts are housed. Unless you're willing to push your way through, it's not unusual to wait for ten minutes before you get a ride up. And with hundreds of people all worried about getting somewhere on time, there are consequences to pushing your way through the crowd.

I average around twelve minutes from the door to my desk on the 13th floor. But I have a badge, and I avoid the entirety of the wrap-around line. I don't have to take the time to put myself together after going through the detectors. And my bag is never searched. It would not surprise me if a person going through the entire process has to spend 30 or 45 minutes, and that's on a good day. These people are also unfamiliar with the setup of the building, so they must take the time to ask the location of their particular court.

Perhaps more problematic is the fact that it's not always this way. If you come in at any time other than the morning, you will encounter no line. And on some days - when the court has a light docket - there won't be much of a line. This can create a difficult situation for a person who had reason to believe that giving themselves 30 minutes of lag time would be more than enough.

Harris County has designed a demonstrably poor system for getting people in and out of the court house. And when that system fails - as it inevitably will - judges look at defendants and say, "Oh well."

Mark Bennett asked the seminal question to the judge in his case - is 15 minutes worth an extra year of my client's life? Is 15 minutes worth the extra few thousand dollars of pain that the court transfers from the pockets of already poor people into the hands of already rich bail bond companies? Is missing the docket call by ten minutes enough to put a man in jail for months while he awaits a trial?

To me, it all feels punitive, as judges exert their power on the weak. Those judges, who park in private parking garages, enter the court unencumbered, and ride to their chambers in a private elevator, stand in absolute moral judgement of those hardened criminals who so clearly demonstrate their inferiority through their inability to account for Harris County's incompetent design and implementation.

I'm sensitive to the fact that judges have schedules and courts have dockets. And if everyone showed up two hours late, nothing would get done. But people aren't showing up hours late. They're on time, held up only by a building that fails to appropriately get people where they need to go. And the penalties for the crime of tardiness hardly meet the crime. A person with a $50,000 bail and a person with a $10,000 bail have fundamentally different profiles. The former will often have committed a violent crime and will have a long criminal history. The latter will lack those dangerousness indicators, and they'll pose no flight risk. For judges in Harris County, the crime of underestimating the sheer madness at the bottom of the court house is enough to transform one into the other.

And it needs to stop.

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 07:46 PM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (169+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, Chi, Texas Lefty, Another Grizzle, txdoubledd, Oaktown Girl, sebastianguy99, Ckntfld, notrouble, Bob Sloan, BRog, Farugia, a gilas girl, Alice Venturi, FG, TDDVandy, Horace Boothroyd III, Kingsmeg, salmo, leftykook, WakeUpNeo, Johnny Nucleo, HarpboyAK, blueoasis, hannah, Pinto Pony, Showman, ScienceMom, Rogneid, Roadbed Guy, commonmass, Justus, wader, caul, gchaucer2, fly, raines, carpunder, stormicats, roses, hopi13, hazey, blue91, Temmoku, nswalls, jfromga, shanikka, Matilda, greenbastard, Lily O Lady, AnnieR, SoCalSal, chmood, Habitat Vic, stlsophos, profundo, Laura Wnderer, kerflooey, JayC, GeorgeXVIII, emeraldmaiden, politik, irate, countwebb, Lujane, twigg, TRPChicago, NBBooks, Tara the Antisocial Social Worker, stevie avebury, Simple, Wednesday Bizzare, most peculiar mama, spooks51, marleycat, enufisenuf, deha, cybersaur, Smoh, murphy, litoralis, jalbert, pixxer, rapala, Bill Roberts, Simplify, No one gets out alive, DRo, RockyMtnLib, bewild, yoduuuh do or do not, ontheleftcoast, greycat, MKSinSA, postmodernista, petulans, Norm in Chicago, Mayfly, stevenwag, MadRuth, FishOutofWater, One Pissed Off Liberal, TheDuckManCometh, Stephen Daugherty, WI Deadhead, Son of a Cat, SilentBrook, OldSoldier99, codairem, mungley, tapestry, Sparhawk, HeyMikey, ICanDoThis, WearyIdealist, lcrp, BlueMississippi, TexDemAtty, TX Unmuzzled, Trevin, maybeeso in michigan, onionjim, Gator Keyfitz, scott5js, Catte Nappe, kbman, Flying Goat, Marjmar, VegLane, Aaa T Tudeattack, NM Ray, Taget, absdoggy, nellgwen, Bcre8ve, dagnome, Chaddiwicker, Geenius at Wrok, dfwlibrarian, joe shikspack, alasmoses, susans, Colorado is the Shiznit, triplepoint, YucatanMan, svboston, alice kleeman, jo fish, howabout, gunnarthor, nomandates, madhaus, DvCM, suesue, Friendlystranger, 417els, Nebraskablue, LeftArmed, dewtx, eyesoars, rgembry, Dbug, livingthedream, kurt, dotdash2u, rlochow, 2020adam, Calamity Jean, Yasuragi

    "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

    by Grizzard on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 07:46:06 PM PST

  •  Judges? (27+ / 0-)

    I would hope that you would name that/those judges. In Texas they are elected and as such the public needs to know who they are. Names please.

  •  Grizz, thanks for this. (28+ / 0-)

    Our system is not a "justice" system. It's a "legal" system with very little justice at all.

    Also, I hope you've been following Bob Sloan's excellent series on the abuse of prisoners and prison labor (cynically masked as "rehabilitation and job training"),  and how it's  unfairly competing with small business, and stripping jobs and lowering wages, for the rest of us.

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On".

    by Oaktown Girl on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 08:22:52 PM PST

  •  Got to vote them the hell off the bench. (18+ / 0-)

    It still amazes me that Harris County still has too many people on the bench that do not belong there but run unopposed. I want to scream when the only choice I am presented with is between a Republican and a Libertarian for a judgeship.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 08:22:57 PM PST

    •  My experiences with judges have been mixed (21+ / 0-)

      There are some excellent judges like Marc Carter, who are reasonable and treat defendants with dignity. Carter might have an (R) beside his name, but he judges with the reasonableness of a progressive. (He's a nice guy, but he might take issue with my characterization!)

      Others are woeful, making jokes at the defendant's expense and generally making life difficult on everyone. It's clear when a person is there to stroke his own ego and play the role of moral grandstander.

      Guerrero is one of the worst judges on the bench. Harris Co. should be able to sweep some of these guys out, but they ALL win with 56% or so percent of the vote. This tells me people are just pulling the (R) lever on judges when they don't know better (or perhaps just going with the incumbent).

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 08:27:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is not true (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, scott5js

      The judge elections are very contested at this point and very close.  Dems had a great year in 2008, but that also took good judges off the bench and put some bad ones on. Straight ticket voting has nothing to do with the results (off the kuff wrote about the numbers a while ago), both dems and republicans can each win. Money does matter though, especially in civil court.

      in Houston, being as asshole on the bench is not strictly a republican trait.

      What would Bulworth do?

      by Progrocks on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 06:35:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have to disagree a little (5+ / 0-)

        If straight ticket voting is not the problem, then why do Texas district court elections (in Harris Co., at least) all break down 56-44 in a given year (2010)? I mean, look at these results:

        Texas District 180     (R): Marc Brown, Danny Dexter and Emily Munoz (D): Lori Gooch and Darrell Jordan     Marc Brown and Danny Dexter competed in the run-off election April 13, 2010.     Marc Brown won with 57% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 181     (R): John B. Board     John B. Board was up for re-election.     John B. Board
        Texas District 182     (R): Jeannine Barr (D): Brandon Dudley     Jeannine Barr was up for re-election.     Jeannine Barr won with 56% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 183     (R): Vanessa Velasquez (D): Michael Gomez (Texas)     Vanessa Velasquez was up for re-election.     Vanessa Velasquez won with 57% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 184     (R): Jan Krocker (D): Jay W. Burnett     Jan Krocker was up for re-election.     Jan Krocker won with 56.4% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 185     (R): Susan Brown (Texas) (D): Vivian King     Susan Brown (Texas) was up for re-election.     Susan Brown won with 56.2% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 186     (D): Maria Teresa Herr     Maria Teresa Herr was up for re-election.     Maria Teresa Herr
        Texas District 187     (R): Raymond Angelini (D): Dinorah Diaz     Raymond Angelini was up for re-election.     Raymond Angelini won with 56.62% of the vote. [5]
        Texas District 188     (R): David Brabham     David Brabham was up for re-election.     David Brabham
        Texas District 189     (R): Bill Burke (D): Ursula A. Hall, Larry Hinojosa and Andy Pereira     Bill Burke and Ursula A. Hall competed in the general election.     Bill Burke won with 56.9% of the vote.

        Texas District 228     (R): Marc Carter (D): Harris Wood     Marc Carter was up for re-election.     Marc Carter won with 56.9% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 230     (R): Belinda Hill (D): Garland McInnis     Belinda Hill was up for re-election.     Belinda Hill won with 57.2% of the vote. [4]
        Texas District 231     (R): Randy Catterton     Randy Catterton was up for re-election.     Randy Catterton
        Texas District 232     (R): Mary Lou Keel (D): Greg Glass     Mary Lou Keel was up for re-election.     Mary Lou Keel won with 56.8% of the vote. [4]

        Texas District 263     (R): Jim Wallace (D): Alvin Nunnery     Jim Wallace was up for re-election.     Jim Wallace won with 56% of the vote. [4]

        I just don't see how that can be consequence.

        *Full disclosure: Judge Bill Burke, though an (R), is a good person. He's a civil court judge who also presides over the drug court docket, and I have written about him here before.

        "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

        by Grizzard on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 06:44:41 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  For those wondering (23+ / 0-)

    the picture at the top is not a random elevator bank. That's the one bank of elevators that serves the felony courts in Houston, Texas, a city with 4 million people. That's around 30 dockets worth of people, their families, all of the lawyers (state side and defense) and all of the other personnel who work in the building.

    Design a building so stupidly and punish people for being late. Hard to explain, really.

    In contrast, the Dallas County criminal building has three times as many elevators. But then, what fun is that? How would you revoke a person's bail if you couldn't screw them into being late?

    "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

    by Grizzard on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 09:58:41 PM PST

  •  What's your solution? n/t (4+ / 0-)
    •  Well (25+ / 0-)

      They can't rightly build a new building, but having all of the elevators working everyday would be a good start (they don't, ever).

      The security process is horrible, because the company they contract with is horrible. It could be done much more efficiently.

      On the back end, we could use scrap 9AM hard docket calls.

      Nothing happens at 9AM, other than a docket call. People who are out on bond can have their business conducted pretty much any time before the court breaks for lunch. I wouldn't mind a rolling docket from 9AM-10AM. This could break up the traffic jam on the front end though it is likely that people would just start coming at 10AM and you might have a similar problem there.

      But a large number of people coming through at 9AM are employees/attorneys, so the traffic would be lessened a bit.

      As I watch court, I really see that people arriving at 9:15 causes no real harm to anyone. The court isn't held up in the traditional sense, because the attorneys are working without the clients anyway.

      Bond revocations seem unnecessarily harsh. This system also disadvantages the poor. Because people there for the first time who have hired lawyers will usually get a break (the lawyer will say that he is present for the client). A person without the money to hire a lawyer will have to tell the court that the first time he or she goes. This means they won't get the benefit of the doubt.

      The best solution is to have a court house that can get every person who arrives within 20-30 minutes of his court time to the court room on time. That doesn't seem unreasonable. But they should have thought about that before they constructed the building with only a handful of elevators and a congested security area.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 11:15:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  question: for scofflaws and minor (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        commonmass, YucatanMan, suesue, dewtx

        misdemeanors, are there procedures in place for a person to have his case adjudicated remotely?  I am expressing this poorly but in the case of parking tickets, you can either go to court to fight the ticket or you can mail in your fine and obviate the necessity of a court date.

        There should be some way to streamline procedures which are perfunctory at best  

        •  Yes (9+ / 0-)

          Parking tickets, speeding tickets, and some minor class C misdemeanors (public intoxication, disorderly conduct) can be paid online, through the mail, etc.

          I have no idea what goes on the in the regular misdemeanor courts, because I don't spend any time there. But they use the same building, and the same entrance, as the people going to the big courts.

          For almost everything, you have to appear. But a sub-class of offenses require no appearance.

          "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

          by Grizzard on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 12:05:10 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  thanks for the information; I hope to have no (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            commonmass, Lujane, YucatanMan, suesue, dewtx

            need of it but it seems that there should be some mechanism to streamline procedures since, from reading various sites, it appears as many as 60% to 100% of felonies are pled out.  In such cases it would seem appearance is more theater than anything else

            •  Part of the problem (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              scott5js, soros, rlochow

              Prosecutors have unreal powers to force a plea by threatening to charge massive penalties for minor or victimless offenses.

              Juries should routinely nullify such ridiculousness, but they rarely do.

              Ten years in jail for pot distribution? "Not guilty."
              Sex charges for peeing in an alleyway? "Not guilty."

              The verdict should always be "not guilty" for a minor or victimless crime for which the penalty in practical terms is ruination of the defendant's life.

              (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
              Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

              by Sparhawk on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 09:32:45 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  "The court isn't held up in the traditional sense, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        entrelac

        because the attorneys are working without the clients anyway."

        And a defense attorney would NEVER argue on appeal that parts of the proceeding were ex parte, right??

        I'm sympathetic to this woman, but she was late twice.  This wasn't a first time thing.  When you have a court date, you get there on time.  How many times should the judge have excused her lateness before doing something about it?  

        •  How are you supposed to do that when it takes (8+ / 0-)

          two hours to get through security and the courthouse only opens one hour before your court date, genius?  Push your way past security?  Grab a gun and force your way in?

          You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

          by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 06:10:57 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Ask yourself a question (14+ / 0-)

          If you didn't know that it was common practice to do so, would you think it's right (or fair) in America for someone to spend an extra year in prison (Judges/DAs changing plea deals because someone is late) or for someone who has yet to be convicted of a crime to spend six months in prison (a person having their bond revoked) because they were 15 minutes late to a court where they arrived at the building more than 30 minutes before their scheduled time?

          This is why the headline says "Judges offend notions of fairness and humanity" and not "Judges are breaking the f-ing law every day!"

          Sure, it's legal. But it violates the spirit of fairness. And it's completely discretionary. It doesn't have to happen.

          How many times should the judge have excused her lateness? I don't know - how about every time until the county/state fixes the problem downstairs? The judge should apologizing to some of these people (many of them old and in poor health) for them having to wait outside for a half-hour in either not-extreme cold (February here can be windy and cold downtown) and very extreme heat (August sees morning temperatures into the mid-90s.

          "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

          by Grizzard on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 06:39:56 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  And the humidity is unbelievable for people (0+ / 0-)

            who are not accustomed to Houston in July or August.  The temp doesn't tell the whole story.  And then, the mosquitoes....

            Having to wait to enter a public building, period, is unconscionable, but a court house with strict schedules and the absolute necessity that you enter and proceed to your destination is just inexcusable.

            I know just entering a courthouse for jury duty takes a long long time, waiting in line for "security," then finding where you are supposed to go.

            "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

            by YucatanMan on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 12:34:14 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, there is another fix (6+ / 0-)

          If the Judge can ascertain that the woman twice arrived in good time, yet was twice late because of logistics ... he could dismiss the case.

          These are minor matters and while justice is not best served by letting the guilty go free, it might prompt those who run the place to find real solutions.

          We let the guilty go free all the time, and minor meth possession is not going to cause any real problems if it is not prosecuted.

          I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
          but I fear we will remain Democrats.

          Who is twigg?

          by twigg on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:20:53 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks. I hope someone is listening. n/t (0+ / 0-)
  •  bottom line about our bail system is that it (8+ / 0-)

    is the most crony fraught aspect of our judicial system as many bails bondsmen are either multi  generational family operations, or are former law enforcement or court employees.

    Around here, bail bond is 10% -15% of the bail amount so on a $10,000 bail, you pay the bondsman $1000-$1500.  Of course you could be released RoR but that does not feed the beast.  The cash has to be cash up front in addition to the pink slip to your auto or a mortgage on your house.  If a case drags over a year, then there are recertification fees involved

    Now supposedly the bondsman then puts up the $10,000 to be held in escrow until you appear in court.  However, it would not take many clients before a bondsman would have a million bucks tied up in escrow.

    http://www.lawcollective.org/...

    However, from private conversations with some bails bondmen, I understand not all of them are required to put up the bail in cash but only have to come up with the cash if their client skips.  This is purely anecdotal but if such a practice is common, it seems it would greatly benefit the bondsman.

    I will note that court employees do tend to advise people to use a bondsman, for example where I wished to use farmland to bail out a relative, I was advised to go to the bondsman and pay him his percentage and also to provide him a deed to the property as security, which made little sense to me since the value of the property exceeded the value of the bail

    •  That's where bondsmen (5+ / 0-)

      make their money - they foreclose on properties to which they hold the deed as surety for bonds when the person skips.

      I had an old college friend recently contact me (haven't seen or spoken to him since college some 40 years ago...) begging for me to be surety for a bail bond. I declined because I didn't have anything valuable enough to put up that didn't seriously exceed the bond amount and I didn't trust him to not skip out on the bail. That could have cost me my house because there's no way I had the cash to pay off the bondsman.

      They can foreclose on your property - take your car, your house, your land, your jewelry, whatever you use as surety - if you don't have the full amount of bail at the moment it comes due.  I don't personally know any bail bondsmen who will allow a payment schedule, but there might be some.

      All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

      by Noddy on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 06:24:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is what happens when you have elected judges (7+ / 0-)

    The rich civil lawyers and big name criminal lawyers give these so-called judges "campaign contributions", and they do the bidding of the rich clients, while poor people rot or get lost in the courthouse maze.

    Texas has some of the most corrupt judges in the country, and it's no surprise.

    States where judge candidates are selected by a non partisan body and then appointed by the governor, like Alaska, have much better court systems.

    "Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die" --- Albert King

    by HarpboyAK on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 03:52:14 AM PST

  •  I lived in Houston for nearly 20 years, (15+ / 0-)

    on and off. I attended High School there, and later taught Middle School in HISD. Underneath all of the "nice" one encounters is a deep-rooted authoritarianism which loves--no, fetishizes punishment for the most minor infractions. I saw this teaching school, massive amounts of time and even money spent on punishing students with detention for things like a shirt coming un-tucked in one place (I actually saw a teacher monitoring a hallway during lunch mete out a detention to a student for this, the shirt coming out in back where he could not see it).

    While there are many things I came to love about Texas, the zero-tolerance authoritarianism of everyone from teachers to judges made me deeply uncomfortable. There are schools that are little more than prep schools for prison. I am not at all surprised to see judges acting this way.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 05:19:06 AM PST

  •  Gee, where are all those pro-defense judges who (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook, mungley

    will buy any cockamamie argument put forward by a defendant's lawyer on all those Law & Order (and progeny) episodes?  

    /snark

    “Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten” -- Cree prophecy

    by caul on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 05:29:19 AM PST

  •  The courthouse in my community has a similar setup (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    emeraldmaiden, Lujane, mungley

    Several floors in height. Entrance with long line in the AM with guards and a metal-detector...much like the airport setup with conveyor belt with scanner/x-ray for belts, shoes, bags, coats, etc for the "regular" people. The Judges and lawyers and other staff have a special entrance and walk "around" to an open path to enter without ever being "checked".

    Even prospective jurors have only to show the card they received in the mail and are ushered down the hall to a special juror escalator that takes them to the jury waiting room!

    The line is long, but not any 45 minutes long!

    Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

    by Temmoku on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 06:31:42 AM PST

  •  I've only had dealings with a (13+ / 0-)

    Ft. Worth judge while finishing up my mother's estate after she died.

    That judge was one of the most vindictive people I have ever encountered. My siblings and I were all in agreement that Mother's will should be executed exactly as written. He decided he didn't like her will, didn't like her terms (she cut me and my older brother out of the will and we knew why and agreed to it).

    He punished us by making us travel to appear in court multiple times. He'd set a date for us to come in and swear to uphold the will, then suddenly, as we're swearing, decide he doesn't like the wording.  So he'd make us stop, and set a new date, saying we had to now provide this new paper, signed by all of us - including cousins not mentioned in the will. Never mind that we had never met said cousins - we had to hunt them down before the deadline and get a signed and notarized statement from them.

    We'd do that, return with the appropriately signed and notarized paper he insisted on, and he'd declare it was the wrong paper - his bad - and we needed to get this other paper signed and notarized. Oh, and by the way, this time we needed signatures from all the great grandchildren (all of whom were infants or toddlers at that time) and parental signatures were insufficient, they needed to have a guardian ad litem appointed to sign the papers and the new court date would be...

    And we'd rush to get that done.

    Then he'd come up with something else he wanted us to do. The attorney was getting frustrated, saying some of the forms and papers the judge wanted us to fill and get notarized had nothing to do with estate law.

    And I was driving in from out of state each and every time, missing work.

    I missed 37 days of work in the 10 months the judge dragged this out, getting up at 3:00 am to make it in for a 9:00 am court date that lasted 15 minutes, then driving back up to make it in to work for the last 2 hours of the day (work was an hour closer to Texas than my house).

    All because the judge decided he wanted to play with our lives over something any reasonable judge would have settled in that first court date.

    I know I've been talking about moving to Austin, TX, but I swear, my estate will be handled in some state other than Texas. I'll do whatever it takes to give some other state jurisdiction for my estate after I die.

    All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

    by Noddy on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:00:19 AM PST

    •  My parents had a judge like that for (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Noddy

      their divorce.  The child custody hearings went on for five years.  The divorce started when I was in HS and ended after I had graduated from college.

      Lots of stupid vindictive things were done by that judge. Utterly without reason.  I had to attend every hearing, at times driving 50-70 miles from work or college to attend the insanity of the day, which was usually another ridiculous demand to be completed with an extended deadline.

      "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

      by YucatanMan on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 12:41:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Why do judges do this? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        YucatanMan

        Don't they realize just how expensive it is to miss work, drive who knows how far, the cost of hotels (if needed), meals, and for what?

        People lose jobs over this sort of nonsense.

        All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

        by Noddy on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 02:06:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Willful. Selfish. Ignorant of the impact. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Noddy

          They are awful people, those judges who do such things.

          Not all are like that.  I've known compassionate judges.  

          But these bad ones are often incompetent, disorganized or just plain mean, or all of the above.

          "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

          by YucatanMan on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 02:31:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Put a time clock in the lobby and let (10+ / 0-)

    people punch in to show when they actually arrive in the building.

    Then maybe judges will begin to understand what they're actually dealing with a people caught up in security checks and an overcrowded building.

    Maybe.

    It's Texas, so I have my doubts.

    A conservative is a scab for the oligarchy.

    by NBBooks on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:16:00 AM PST

  •  This kind of treatment is despotic. (4+ / 0-)

    It's beyond punitive. And it really doesn't have anything to do with slow elevators. If judges and court personnel had to wait in the same lines, I imagine there'd be added sympathy for defendants and counsel.

    We in Cook County have the same voting problem - "straight ticket" or simply not voting for judges - and Yes, we have a few exceptionally poor judges, such as the one who hadn't served for several months before she was re-elected because her mental illness was at issue in a case against her personally. (Publicity didn't help; there were a lot of names on judges on that ballot.)

    A newspaper "expose" focused on inadequate facilities in the court building - without naming judges - might be effective.

    Publicity of the judges might help, although it could also energize the zealots who think uber-strict judges are essential for an ordered society. Unfortunately but realistically, few lawyers are willing to incur the wrath of other judges by challenging a poor one.

    The best hope may be for an administrative or supervising judge (most court systems have one or more at each level) - presented with some compelling examples - to intervene. Some pointed mentoring might do it, but there may also be mechanical things like informal review of bail increases, reassignment of calendars, reassign judges within the system, etc.

    2014 IS COMING. Build up the Senate. Win back the House : 17 seats. Plus!

    by TRPChicago on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:26:13 AM PST

  •  while I concur that (0+ / 0-)

    a year for being 15 minutes is silly, your example of the woman is one where she'd been there at least once already, she knew how long the lines were, and she knew she was on bail and she needed to be on time.

    If it takes 30 minutes, then get there 60 minutes early.

    I'm not saying the best solution wouldn't be to stagger the times so that everyone isn't trying to arrive at once, but the reality is the fact that these folks are late could as easily be a function of the chaos in their own lives that led to, at least in part, the misconduct of which they stand accused.

    I think the system should be set up so that folks aren't having to battle the system to simply be on time, so I am not saying there is no issue with how this appears to be set-up, but at the same time, there are some personal issues here involved.

    •  Line lengths vary, sometimes dramatically. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      susans, YucatanMan, 417els

      And if you don't have a car, public transportation times can as well.  Heck, it's also easy to forget to set your alarm clock, or to not set it correctly (Mine, at least, if you don't quite move the little set switch all the way into the on position won't go off).

      Or, hell, she has 2 kids.  Maybe one of them woke up sick, or took longer for whatever reason.  Have you ever arrived late to work (When trying not to)?  Things happen.

      The current system lets judges punish people arbitrarily and capriciously, and is just plain wrong.

  •  Not just the building (9+ / 0-)

    The parking around the courthouse is abysmal and Houston has some of the worst public transportation of any large city.

    When I used to be a manager at EV1, I fought every day for leniency on tardiness. Considering that half of our employees used public transportation, and even a short ride could take thirty minutes. Not to mention that the closest stop was still on the other side of 59, there were exactly two routes that served that stop, which meant that everyone had to have at least one transfer... I could go on, but if you live here I'm sure you're familiar with just how terrible riding Metro can be.

    Not that I fault them as much as I do the City Council who treats the Metro budget like a dirty tent.

  •  19 floors in the main LA criminal courthouse (5+ / 0-)

    Same problem!

    Takes me longer to get up to a courtroom than to drive downtown & park.

    I must be dreaming...

    by murphy on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 07:39:41 AM PST

  •  It's a microcosm (6+ / 0-)
    To me, it all feels punitive, as judges exert their power on the weak. Those judges, who park in private parking garages, enter the court unencumbered, and ride to their chambers in a private elevator, stand in absolute moral judgement of those hardened criminals who so clearly demonstrate their inferiority through their inability to account for Harris County's incompetent design and implementation.
    This is just a microcosm of life in our times (or maybe any times). We live in a de facto aristocracy where there is a privileged minority and a set of systems specifically designed to maintain a distance between the privileged class and the unwashed masses. Money and connection gets you access and protection. If you're Dick Cheney and his merry minions, you can kill 100,000 people, torture and maim, and get a brand new heart for your trouble. If you're poor and dark skinned, you get a year in jail for being, well, poor and dark skinned.

    I grew up in the 50s and 60s and there was a sense of justice and opportunity. Even then, there was a hierarchy of privilege, but there seemed to be some restraint on it. Now there is no restraint. Privilege yields the unmoderated power to do as you will, whether that is making blatantly ideologic court rulings or poisoning public lands and resources for a few shekels more.

    We have reverted to the 1890s and I don't know if there is any way back. There doesn't seem to be any political will that is able to challenge the power of the privileged class. Perhaps we are lost.

  •  It sounds like (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FishOutofWater, entrelac

    they are trying to achieve a higher level of hideous than the Harris County Family Courts, and have succeeded.

    Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

    by postmodernista on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 08:09:47 AM PST

  •  Been late to court myself. And I'm a lawyer. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Trevin, Flying Goat, YucatanMan, varro

    Sometimes I have to argue for clients before US Magistrate Judges in Atlanta. Usually the security line takes 5-10 minutes, but at random times it's longer. Fortunately I have a smartphone and can find the judge's phone number on the court website, call his or her office, and tell them I'm stuck in the security line and will be there as soon as I can get through it.

    So far they've been very understanding.

    But then again I'm a nicely dressed, educated white guy in a suit, not a poor single mom of color.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 09:28:06 AM PST

  •  There's a LOT that sucks about Texas. (0+ / 0-)

    That's why I left.

    Private health insurance: a protection racket without the protection.

    by rustypatina on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 02:13:46 PM PST

  •  Harris County is the worst. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grizzard

    Unfortunately, I once had to experience this nightmare as well.  My judge ,Shawna Reagin 176th district court, would admonish the first time then it's hello harris county jail for three days on the second infraction.  One time that I went to court there was a guy who was turning himself in on 25yr sentence.  The judge had allowed for him to get is family affairs in order before serving out his sentence.  The guy happened to show up less than 5 minutes late and the judge threatened to DOUBLE his sentence to 50 yrs.  I was completely taken aback.  Twenty five extra years for less then five minutes is totally outrageous.  I woudn't had believed it if I had not have seen this type of display by this judge with my own two eyes. I was late myself once and lets just say I made sure that would never happen again even if I had to sleep at the damn courthouse.  My judge was a straight up bully but that's Harris County.  She recently just lost so she is no longer serving but get this she was the DEMOCRAT.

  •  Excellent diary – T&R (0+ / 0-)

    I’ve had to deal with metal detectors at the courthouse on two occasions (this was the Federal courthouse in Seattle). I can verify that, depending on the time of day, you might have to wait in a long line with 50 or 100 or more people that stretches out the door and down the block.

    One time was when I got called for jury duty (I appeared both days, but didn’t get called to a case and was dismissed –an interesting experience). The other time was when I got hired to be a census worker and attended a week of training classes in the basement of the courthouse. I’m a cigarette smoker and there’s no smoking in the courthouse, so a 15-minute break meant a quick cigarette and then waiting in line to get back in.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 08:09:23 PM PST

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