Monday, July 13, 2009


Today I witnessed a sad act of injustice performed at the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center. In County Criminal Court at Law No. 1, the presiding judge, Hon. Reagan Helm sat on the bench while 14 inmates in Harris County orange were paraded before him in shackles. Three "attorneys" stood alongside this sea of humanity and proceeded to plead out their "clients."

It was such a mess that the judge was unable to keep track of who was pleading to what.

The notion that anyone conducted even a cursury examination of the facts behind the arrests is a fairy tale.

Everyone involved in this mockery of justice should be ashamed of themselves and the role they played.

While I was in the courtroom this morning to reset a case, I found a printout that listed, in graphic form, the number of open cases on each of the 15 county misdemeanor courts' dockets:

CC1 950 CC9 903
CC2 986 CC10 911
CC3 763 CC11 729
CC4 830 CC12 786
CC5 873 CC13 963
CC6 739 CC14 687
CC7 741 CC15 775
CC8 859
The average number of open cases per court is 835.

Listening to the judges and the court coordinators, you would think the biggest problem at 1201 Franklin are the large dockets they are forced the manage. The judges put pressure on the coordinators to reduce the size of the docket, the coordinators put pressure on defense attorneys to clear their cases. Defense attorneys put pressure on their clients to "resolve" their cases.

The problem, however, isn't the large docket. The "problem" is too many defense attorneys seem to think their job is protect the constitutional rights of their clients and to hold the State of Texas to its burden of proof.

Maybe instead of pushing defendants to plead guilty, the court should ask the prosecutors to review their cases and to dismiss the ones that are weak factually and legally.


Cyn said...

Can you comment on why some of the courts are much lower than others? Does it have anything to do with the judges? The court staff? The prosecutors assigned to that court? Or is there some other factor?

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Thanks for the comment.

Part of the problem is that there are too many bogus cases filed in Harris County. With state and federal grant money being handed out for DWI and drug arrests, the temptation to "make a case" is too great.

We've also got to take a look at how we handle minor drug cases. I think we should increase the amount for Class C possession of marijuana.

There's also the fact that for a lot of DWI, prostitution, minor drug possession and family assault cases, it's often better to try the case and lose than to plead it out.

If the courts are going to force some defendants into pleas, the court should also press the District Attorney to dismiss their truly weak cases.

And let's face it, there are over 4 million people in the Houston metropolitan area -- there are going to be some criminal defendants lurking around.

But if the courts are acting as independent arbiters and ensuring that citizens' rights are protected - a large docket is a small price to pay.