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.