Monday, August 16, 2010

What are they hiding?

Last month I filed a request under both Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code (Open Records Request) as well as Rule 12 of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration for copies of all incoming and outgoing communications from judges and employees of the Office of County Court Management regarding judges volunteering to "review" warrant applications on "No Refusal Weekends."

In response to my requests, I received two letters from Judge Jean Hughes, the presiding judge of County Criminal Court at Law No. 15 telling me that the material I requested was exempt from disclosure under Rule 12.5(f).

Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, Rule 12.5:
The following records are exempt from disclosure under this rule: 
(f) Internal Deliberations on Court or Judicial Administration Matters. Any record relating to internal deliberations of a court or judicial agency, or among judicial officers or members of a judicial agency, on matters of court or judicial administration.
Now Rule 12.2(d) defines a judicial record for purposes of this statute:
Judicial record means a record made or maintained by or for a court or judicial agency in its regular course of business but not pertaining to its adjudicative function, regardless of whether that function relates to a specific case. A record of any nature created, produced, or filed in connection with any matter that is or has been before a court is not a judicial record. A record is a document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film, recording, or other material, regardless of electronic or physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission.
The electronic and written communications were "made" by the court during its regular course of business. The e-mails were sent and received via the judges' county-provided e-mail accounts and did not relate to any specific case.

Black's Law Dictionary defines "deliberation" as:
The act of carefully considering issues and options before making a decision or taking some action.
Might a judge "deliberate" when asked to volunteer to "review" warrant applications on a "No Refusal Weekend?" Maybe. But, if the e-mail is addressed to the judge and he or she sends back a reply agreeing to volunteer have their been an internal deliberations? And with whom would the judge deliberate?

While a judge is a "judicial officer" per Rule 12.2(c), e-mails between the judge and the DA's Office are not records of internal deliberations nor are they communications between judicial officers or members of a judicial agency. 

They may be embarrassing, they may shine a little light on the relationship between judges in Harris County and the Harris County District Attorney's Office and they may make the public a little skeptical about the independence of the county judiciary.

The one record that was released is an e-mail dated July 19, 2010 from Ms. Nancy Hennessy of the Harris County Sheriff's Office to Ms. Blanca Villagomez, the chief hearing officer in Harris County.
We are conducting a DWI/no refusal initiative this weekend on Saturday, july 24 from 8p-4a in the northwest part of the county. It will be a multi-agency initiative with approximately 80 units participating. I have confirmed a blood draw location at jersey village pd. I also asked if one of their municipal judges could be made available for blood warrants but at 125/hr, I was told no. I asked around and was told that you were the person I needed to speak to to see if the county could provide a judge at the JV location for blood warrants or if arrangements could be made to have 2 judges on duty at IPC so a judge would be available without getting caught up in dockets. Could you provide me any information or direction as to who I would need to contact.
Thanks in advance.
I'm not sure if Jersey Village said they wouldn't provide judges for $125 an hour or if Harris County decided they wouldn't pay $125 an hour for a judge to "review" warrant applications. Whichever it is, the fact that the Sheriff's Office is communicating directly with a judge who determines whether there is probable cause to arrest is disturbing.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see that at least one blogger can put his money where his mouth is when calling the DAO and courts on their collusion.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for your comment. Sometimes you just have to call a spade a shovel.

Thomas Hobbes said...

Perhaps you should (if you've not already) make the requests from all other agencies involved. Judicial communications outside the judiciary are not governed by Rule 12, the outside entity cannot invoke Rule 12 on behalf of the courts, nor is it likely the outside entity can claim privilege or work product.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Hobbes. A request pursuant to Rule 12 has been made -- we are currently arguing about whether or not the requested communications are exempt or not.