Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Empty threats

On Monday while I was sitting in the 174th District Court in Harris County a colleague and I were discussing some legal matters involving the case I was set for trial in. We also knew the case wasn't going on Monday so we were sitting around waiting for a new trial date.

Then I heard it.

Judge Ruben Guerrero, my buddy Mark Bennett's most favoritest judge, was admonishing a defendant who had come to court without an attorney. He told the defendant that if he didn't show up to court on the next setting with an attorney that he would throw him in jail.

Really? On what basis, Judge Guerrero?

A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to an attorney - if he so chooses. If he can't afford to hire one he may ask the court to appoint one for him (and there will be more about this tomorrow). But nowhere does it say that a criminal defendant must have an attorney.

I can guarantee it wasn't one of the man's bond conditions that he hire an attorney. The judge wasn't threatening to hold him in contempt - and that wouldn't even stick because no matter how many times you tell someone to come back to court with an attorney, if they can't afford to hire someone and if the court won't appoint them an attorney, they ain't coming back with one.

Now I will agree that the defendant in our little incident would be much better off with an attorney than without. But if he makes the choice not to hire anyone, then that's his choice and there's nothing the court can do about it.

If Judge Guerrero is so damn concerned about the man not having an attorney then he should just go and appoint someone to represent the defendant. That would solve everyone's problems. Well except for the bean counters who keep tabs on how much each court spends on appointed counsel and "encourages" the judges to help the county save a little scratch here and there.

There's no place on the bench for bully tactics like those used by Judge Guerrero. And there's no place for bullies on the bench.


Lee said...

Don't we have a brand new shiny public defender? Alex Bunin?

I wonder which office is better funded and staffed...the county attorney, the district attorney or the public defender?

My guess is that it may take many years police departments will feel pressure for the courts to pick and choose their battles and whom they decide to arrest. Now each arrest is going to have more of a ripple effect in terms of cost to each court. My hope is that eventually individual police officers will think twice about the seriousness of the crime before charging and arresting that person when the state has to pay not only the cost to prosecute them but defend them as well.

Paul B. Kennedy said...


Each district court judge is free to determine how he or she wishes to handle indigent cases.

Some judges hire attorneys on a periodic basis to handle indigent cases in their court. Other judges use the "wheel." Some courts have a list of preferred attorneys they assign cases to while others take advantage of the Public Defender's Office.

Anonymous said...

There is no "wheel". It's a bad joke..some of us are lucky to get appointed to a couple of cases a month while the favorites are showered with work

carolyn ciccio said...

My son got in trouble in Humble they took him to jail 6/13/14 for a kelo of meth his bond was set at 100,000 we paid 10,000.00 cash. He made all his court date. On 9/9/14 he was at court and the bonding company Three amago wanted no longer to be on his bond. The day before the bonding company called my son and his lawyer and told them he had court. My son said yes sr I well be there.The Judge put no bond on my son for a month then when he went to court after being locked up he set his bond at the same thing. The money we paid is gone. My son has no pryer. He is 21 white boy . I just erased what we were told to do. PLEASE SOMEONE HELP ME. I AM BEGGING PLEASE