Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Judge Fields goes outside the box

Over the years I've dealt out plenty of criticism on this blog. I would also like to think that I've given credit where it's due, as well.

One of the targets of my criticism has been Judge Michael Fields, the presiding judge of Harris County's Criminal Court at Law No. 14. Well, today Judge Fields is on the receiving end of some praise.

Last week Judge Fields revealed to Chris Tritico, the President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, that he has instituted a new docket control plan in his court. From now on a defendant will appear for an arraignment setting and then, if he has already hired an attorney, his case will be reset for four months.

The next appearance by the defendant will be a motions setting and then the case will either be set for plea in 30 days or trial in 60 days.

In the meantime the attorney is expected to investigate the case and attempt to work it out with prosecutors.

The new plan frees defendants from having to take off work to come to court for meaningless settings while the case is pending. For those of y'all not familiar with the way in which the criminal courts operate, most settings involve the defense attorney thumbing through the file looking to see if there's anything new and then taking a stab at convincing the prosecutor to dismiss the case. Then a reset is signed and the entire process repeats itself three to four weeks down the road.

Of course there is a price to pay for such a change - the defense attorney will have to put together a checklist and a calendar for each case in order to make sure he or she is doing the work that needs to be done in the meantime. Motions will have to be drafted and filed. Informal discovery will need to be conducted. Meetings with prosecutors will have to be scheduled.

But, then, that's what we're paid to do. The new plan will force attorneys to be disciplined enough to get the work done when it needs to get done. It will also make it easier for our clients to fight their cases without worrying about losing their job because of court appearances.

And then there's the issue of payment. It's not unusual for an attorney to set a fee, collect a portion of it upfront and then collect the rest each court appearance. The new docket plan will force attorneys to do a better job of either collecting the fee upfront or at least collecting a larger portion of the fee upfront. It will place the onus on the attorney to collect his fee while the case is pending. It will also force the attorney to make a decision on whether or not to withdraw due to non-payment of the fee earlier in the case.

For defendants and for defense attorneys, Judge Fields' new plan is a vast improvement over the way things operate at 1201 Franklin and I give the judge kudos for being innovative in trying to figure out how to move his docket.

Bondsmen, on the other hand, may not be so happy with the plan. If a person doesn't need to be in court for a four month stretch, there is little the bonding company can do if he decides to skip out. So long as he checks in with the bonding company by telephone every week they won't have any idea whether or not the defendant is even in the state. Whether this will result in higher bonding fees or more contractual conditions for cases in Judge Fields' court remains to be seen.

All in all it's a step in the right direction.


Abdul said...

Good post. Rarely do you find information online that describes how local judges manage their dockets.

Abdul said...

Thanks for this post. I follow a couple of criminal lawyer blogs to better understand trends across the state. I think it's refreshing to see a court that is willing to manage their docket responsibly.

Anonymous said...

He may have come up with that idea but as far as ideas that would assist first time DWI folks in coping, he blatantly disregards. Think­ing back on bad mis­takes I have made, I thought I might ask Judge M. Fields to con­sider com­ing up with manda­tory coun­sel­ing for 1st time DWI offend­ers. This coun­sel­ing would help them with bet­ter cop­ing deci­sions. Upon receiv­ing my let­ter from Linkedin, he marked it as “inap­pro­pri­ate”.

OZ FRANK said...

This judge should be put in jail. Everday he denies a basic courtroom right of a public defense attorney to regular people everyday. WHY? EVERY PERSON HAS THE RIGHT TO A PUBLIC DEFENSE ATTORNEY! I have seen this JOKER of judge deny a 17teen Year Old Kid denied. That was Unemployed and going to school still!! He is a just one sorry A hole. KICK HIS "A" OFF the BENCH!!

Cody Tucker said...

Oh The irony ..I asked for a 30 day reset my lawyer got denied ... I received a tracking bracelet and a drug test. I travel for work thanks #unemployed

Cody Tucker said...

Oh The irony ..I asked for a 30 day reset my lawyer got denied ... I received a tracking bracelet and a drug test. I travel for work thanks #unemployed

Anonymous said...

This judge is giving out alcohol offenses ankle bracelets breathe alyzers etc.. for any and all crimes when alcohol is not even part or have anything to do with the offense costing folks $200-$400 per month for petty crimes such as $60 theft charges sounds like judge Fields and Soberlink are cashing in and corrupt and people wonder why the jails are over flowing.

Anonymous said...

I think someone should investigate this judge and the soberlink co. also aka recovery health care. He convicts people of crimes who haven't went to trial by attaching one of this company device's on them Witch causes them to pay healthy fines. The term is inesent until proven guilty but not in his courtroom. He even disrespect the visiting attorneys who don't play by his rules and is very disrespectful. I believe that his use of this company is just to feel his or someone that he knows pockets off the citizens of houston.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Judge Fields abuses his power. My son was required to have a handheld breathalyzer as well as one on his vehicle. This was before his blood work came back. Which came back proving he was innocent. When the handheld equipment malfunctioned on a weekend he called to report it. Was told to pick up a new one Monday. Judge issued a warrent for noncompliance (he didn't blow at scheduled time...it was broke) and he was arrested at school, was then told he couldn't return to college during finals because it was out of Harris county. 4 months of HELL later blood tests proved he was innocent and DA dropped charges. He thinks he can look at someone and determine their guilt.

kathavens said...

Uh, sorry for the bump, but I had to go to court every month while waiting for
The DA to give the evidence to my attorney. I was indeed worried for my job after seven months!!