Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

While the official purpose of Memorial Day to to honor those who gave their lives on battlefields around the world in the name of freedom and liberty, there are another group of men and women who should be honored. As my colleague Troy McKinney pointed out today, I also salute my brethren in arms, those men and women who walk into courtrooms across this country every day armed with nothing but the Constitution.

Here's to the defenders of liberty who fight the unpopular fight for the downtrodden and despised despite the obstacles thrown in their way at every step.

New roadside sobriety tests in Louisiana?

Here's a little bit of humor for y'all on this Memorial Day weekend. Lord knows I need a laugh after seeing that "No Refusal Weekend" has made a return to the horror of the 4th Amendment.

Thanks to my dad for sending this over to me (I made a few changes to the narrative, though)...
A Louisiana state trooper pulled a car over on Interstate 10 just west of Lake Charles. When the trooper asked the driver why he was speeding, the driver said he was a magician and juggler and was on his way to Baton Rouge to do a show with the Shrine Circus and he didn't want to be late.
The trooper told the driver he was fascinated by juggling and asked if the driver would do a little juggling for him and then he wouldn't give him a ticket.
The juggler told the trooper he had sent his equipment ahead and didn't have anything to juggle. The trooper said he had some flares in his trunk and asked if he could juggle them. The juggler said he could, so the trooper got the five flares, lit them and handed them to the juggler.
While the man was juggling, a car pulled in behind the patrol car. A drunken good ol' boy from a neighboring parish got out, watched the performance and then went over to the patrol car, opened the rear door and got in.
The trooper observed the man and went over to his patrol car, opened the door and asked the drunk what he was doing.
The drunk replied, "You might as well take me to jail, 'cuz there ain't no way I can pass that test."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Did they hire an inefficiency expert?

Incompetence, thy name is the City of Houston Municipal Court.

I had two cases I needed to place on this afternoon's Annex docket at 3pm. So I amble into the room with the attorney windows about 2:45pm - after I returned from Conroe. Forty-five minutes later I was still sitting there waiting...

And why was I still waiting? Because both of the attorney windows were being used by attorneys and clerks attempting to post bonds. For those of you who don't understand the problem, while it is painfully slow enough just resetting cases (and why does it take longer and is more of a hassle than resetting a felony case?), multiply that by, like, infinity and you'll have an idea of how long it takes to post a bond.

Despite the number of attorneys who were waiting to reset cases, no one brought in a supervisor or made any kind of arrangements to aid us in resetting our cases as we sat, and sat, and sat...

And, to top it off, when I finally gave up and left I asked the man out front wearing a badge that identified him as an employee of the Municipal Court who was in charge of this fiasco. His response? Call 311.

I am convinced that the entire purpose of designing such an inefficient system is to discourage people from contesting their tickets.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mine eyes have seen the glory that used to be the 4th Amendment

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day than making a mockery of the 4th Amendment?

In 1868, General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic declared May 30, 1868 a day to remember those who died in defense of the United States during the Civil War. General Order No. 11, issued on May 5, 1868, was the birth of what we now know as Memorial Day.

Once again law enforcement officials will be out in full force over the holiday weekend looking to arrest motorists on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Those who exercise their right to decline to blow into the state's breath test machine will be subject to forced blood draws pursuant to warrants signed by judges who agree to ignore the right of an individual to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
"If you have concerns or fears about needles, just know you'll have one chance -- and one chance only -- to provide a breath sample first." -- Catherine Evans, Chief, HCDAO Vehicular Crimes Section.
As usual, the Harris County District Attorney's Office shows its general disdain for the citizenry's right not to incriminate themselves. Heaven forbid the state be required to obtain its evidence legally without the help of the "second prosecutor in the courtroom."

The lone saving grace to this continued effort to eliminate the rights of motorists accused of DWI, is that the process of drawing blood is far more complicated than huffing and puffing into the state's little black box and that it therefore affords the state more opportunities to screw up.

As usual, the best advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of the state's vampire squads is not to drink and drive over the holiday weekend. Be safe out there, wear cloves of garlic around your neck, replace the fuzzy dice with a silver crucifix and make sure you have an extra hammer and stake (I'll take mine medium) in the trunk.

One of these days we may be honoring the 4th Amendment along with the dead on the fourth Monday in May.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Convicted rapist exonerated by DNA

Ernest Sonnier who was released from prison last August when evidence surfaced that he had been wrongly convicted of a 1985 rape was exonerated when DNA tests results were released in court today. The tests results excluded Mr. Sonnier from being involved in a second rape that resulted in a murder.  Mr. Sonnier had been a suspect in that case.

For all the talk in law school and the media about how a trial acts as a crucible of truth, Mr. Sonnier's case is a terrifying tale of just what happens when the police are allowed to run the crime "lab" that tests physical evidence in criminal cases. The following excerpt is from The Justice Project's report of the Sonnier case:

Sonnier’s conviction was based largely on misleading forensic testimony and a mistaken eyewitness identification. The victim picked Sonnier out of a photo lineup almost six months after the crime occurred and later identified him in a live lineup. At trial, the victim again identified Sonnier as her attacker, but conceded that the photo of Sonnier looked more like her assailant than did the man in the courtroom.
In addition to the victim’s identification the jury was given faulty forensic testimony skewed to bolster the prosecution’s case. A Houston Crime Lab analyst testified narrowly about the rape kit slides, which evidence did not match Sonnier’s blood type, and affirmed a prosecution effort to explain away the lack of a match by suggesting that the victim’s blood type could have masked the perpetrator’s. In fact, lab records contain no indication of scientific testing or results to support this theory. The analyst also failed to disclose that additional semen evidence from the victim’s clothing was tested, and that all of it failed to match Sonnier’s blood type Jurors were left with an incomplete and misleading picture of the available evidence. Moreover, Sonnier’s attorney did not call a single witness in his defense.

Unfortunately with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley presiding over the Texas Forensic Science Commission you have the equivalent of the fox guarding the hen house. Mr. Bradley has a vested interest in preserving the status quo and not looking into "old cases" for the more we find out about the shoddy "science" used to deprive people of their freedom (and lives, in the case of Cameron Willingham), the more the public will question the win at all costs mentality that infects too many prosecutors across this state and this country.

Georgia on my mind

One in thirteen people behind bars, on probation or on parole.
One in seventy people behind bars.
One billion dollars spent every year to lock up offenders.

Are we talking about Texas, China or some Third World country? No. We're talking about Georgia.
“When you have in Georgia 1 in every 70 adults [incarcerated] and 1 in every 13 is in some form of correctional control, that’s big government with a big big G." -- Mark Early, Prison Fellowship
While the national trend is a reduction in jail population, Georgia has bucked that trend and locked more people up. In 2007, Texas saw the light and decided that rather than increasing the amount spent on jails that finding alternative means of sentencing and treatment made more sense. Between 2008 and 2009 the Lone Star State saw a decline of .07% in its prison population while Georgia saw an increase of 1.6%. Over the same period, the numbers of inmates nationwide increased .01%.

Georgia's lock 'em up attitude costs the state $61,000 a year per inmate with an average incarceration period of 3.4 years.
“We have proven that we can be tough on crime and that we can spend $1.2 billion a year doing it. But I think it might be time to transition to being smart on crime.” -- Georgia prison chief Brian Owens.
These numbers don't even reflect the entire picture of the costs of incarceration. How much more does it cost the state to support a family when the breadwinner is locked up for over three years? What about decreased productivity since a good many felons can't get a job after doing their time? How much does it cost to repair a family torn apart by the criminal justice system?

It's so easy to say "lock 'em up and throw away the key," but it's something else altogether to sit down and discuss alternative means of handling the vast numbers of people who walk through the criminal justice system every day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Brother, can you spare a question or two?

I see and get last minute requests for voir dire questions and questions for cross examination of technical supervisors and other experts on a fairly regular basis. The problem is, I can't provide any. I don't know the details of your case. I don't know the issues involved. I don't know what defenses are going to be raised. I don't know the theme of your case. I haven't seen the documents produced by the State in response to your discovery requests.

I'm shocked that some folks out there think there's a magic bullet just waiting to be fired and that you can obtain it at the last minute. Every case is different. The fact patterns are different. The witnesses are different. Test results are different. The issues are different.

Now there are some universal themes you can use during a voir dire. You can, and should, question the panel regarding their attitudes toward the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. If a police officer is going to testify as a fact witness I think you should question the panel about whether they would lend more credence to the testimony of an officer simply because he is a police officer. Beyond that, the questions asked during voir dire should be determined by the facts of the case and the story you want to tell.

Yes, that requires work. It requires you to sit down and review your case and construct an overall theme and figure out how each piece of the puzzle fits and what pieces aren't necessary. If you've worked your case up properly then you've lived and breathed it for weeks, if not months, leading up to trial. It's your baby. Get in there and change that diaper and feed it and cuddle with it and rock it to sleep.

The same approach should be taken to cross examining the state's expert. While there are certain questions I would ask the technical supervisor in any case, other questions arise based on the particular facts of my case, the documents I have in my notebook and the theme of the case. My cross examination in a low breath test case will be quite different from my cross in a high breath test case. Some questions will be generated by my review of the maintenance records and test records from the state's breath test machine. Others will be generated by my familiarity and prior interactions with the witness.

There are no shortcuts to trial prep. There is no magical book of questions from which to draw. So, while I am more than happy to make suggestions and let someone bounce ideas off me, please don't expect me to do your job for you.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In juries we trust?

Jaime Esparza, the El Paso County District Attorney, says he doesn't trust juries. In explaining why his office agreed to 10 years probation for a man on his 10th DWI conviction, Mr. Esparza said he didn't trust an El Paso jury to sentence the man to prison.

Mr. Esparza failed to mention, however, that the three individuals who were injured in the 1999 accident couldn't be located by authorities in 2003 at the time of trial.

Of course the district attorney doesn't trust juries. The jury system was created to take the power to convict away from the entity bringing the charges. The entire purpose of a jury is for representatives of a community to determine (1) if a crime took place, (2) whether the defendant is guilty of committing the crime and (3) the appropriate punishment. All three of these elements are in opposition to the state.

The very act of requesting a trial by jury is a challenge to the authority of the state. To put it more bluntly, requesting a trial by jury is a revolutionary act.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sign stealing and the boys of summer

Now it seems as if the Colorado Rockies are all upset because the Philadelphia Phillies were stealing signs in a recent game. The Phillies' bullpen coach was caught on camera looking toward home plate with a pair of binoculars. The clear implication is he was trying to determine what pitch the catcher was calling for so he could alert someone in the dugout.

It's an unwritten rule (and there are probably more unwritten rules in baseball than those of the written variety) that a batter better not turn around to see where the catcher is lining up -- unless he wants a fastball way up and in. However, it has been a longstanding tradition in baseball for a runner at second to try to steal the catcher's signs -- but he best be careful in how he tips the batter lest someone catch a hummer by the earhole.

In 1951, Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hit one of the most famous homers in baseball history -- The Shot Heart 'Round the World and the radio announcer, Russ Hodges, placed himself in baseball lure with his dramatic cry "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

But there was more to the story. As it turns out, the Giants, who overcame a 13 game deficit with but ten weeks to go in the season, had a very sophisticated system in place to steal signs during the second half of the season.
Beginning on July 20, their manager, Leo Durocher, planted Hank Schenz, a spare infielder with a Wollensak telescope, in the center-field clubhouse. From a cutout in the mesh grid covering one of the 14 windows along the distant wall, Schenz — a former Chicago Cub who in 1946 had peered in at opposing catchers’ signs from the scoreboard at Wrigley Field — easily deciphered the signals. Abraham Chadwick, an electrician and, painfully, a Dodger fan employed by the Giants, wired a connection from the clubhouse window to the bullpen, where the reserve catcher Sal Yvars would toss a ball into the air — or not — to clue in the Giants batter as to whether a fastball or curve was coming.
As I've said before, I don't understand the angst of baseball fans when it comes to stealing signs or injecting steroids -- baseball has always been about cheating and not getting caught.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lost in the moment

Yesterday my wife surprised me for our anniversary and took me rock climbing at Texas Rock Gym. For two hours we climbed and climbed. Took a couple of spills along the way but nothing more than a small gash or bruise.

The most amazing thing was losing myself in the climb. It was a very zen-like experience. Once your feet get off the ground all of your concentration is centered on balance and leverage. Where's my foot going? Where's a hand grab? There's no time for outside distractions. When you're climbing you are living in the moment. Step outside that moment and you lose your concentration - or your nerve, and down you go.

Successful trial work also requires you to live in the moment. Following the ebb and flow of testimony. Listening for voice inflections. Picking up on contradictory statements. Watching for cues from the jury. You can't be worrying about the bills that have to be paid or what's on the docket the following day or what paperwork needs to be completed. Once you step outside the moment you lose your concentration and down goes your case.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Roadblocks down in the bayou

The Sheriff over in Cameron Parish, Louisiana decided to set himself up a roadblock to catch all those pesky drunk drivers in Grand Lake last Friday night. His posse was made possible by a $330,000. The sheriff's office spent about $80,000 for equipment and overtime expense for that li'l ol' roadblock.
"The citizens are glad that we're taking a proactive approach to making sure the highways are safer." Chief Deputy Ron Johnson, CPSO
And what a success it was. Of the 589 vehicles stopped without either reasonable suspicion or probable cause, deputies made all of six arrests. Of those arrests, only two were for driving while intoxicated. Deputies administered coordination exercises to nine motorists -- I would assume because they smelled the devil's drink on their breath.

Listening to the newscast you would think the reporter is the spokesperson for the sheriff's office.

Next door to the witness protection office

Is it, really?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sucking the very life out of the Constitution

I've written about at length about "No Refusal Weekends" in Harris County, around Texas and even in other states. Now you have the opportunity to see what happens on a No Refusal Weekend:

This video is from a DWI arrest on July 4, 2009, a No Refusal Weekend. The defendant, Curtis Nelson, was involved in an accident -- he was rear-ended. But he ended up on the wrong side of a forced blood draw because an officer smelled alcohol on his breath and thought he was slurring his words.

At the police station, Mr. Nelson declined a request to submit to a breath test. So, the police got a judge to rubberstamp a warrant authorizing them to draw blood. The entire process makes a mockery of the Constitution as judges blithely sign off on search warrants without a showing of probable cause.

Just to put this in perspective. In Texas a citation for a moving violation is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 (except in a couple of specific cases). One step above a traffic ticket is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in the county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. DWI is a Class B misdemeanor -- one step removed from a traffic ticket. A lowly misdemeanor and we're subjected motorists to forced blood draws. Why? Because people have learned enough about breath tests to know you're generally better off not blowing. And so the prosecutors and judges get together and decide to subvert the 4th Amendment in the name of making it easier for the state to convict motorists of driving while intoxicated.

You don't see judges signing off on warrants on the spot to take blood and hair samples from persons arrested for sexual assault or murder. But we have no compunction about forcing a needle into someone's arm who is accused -- that's right, accused -- of driving while intoxicated.

Luckily for Mr. Nelson, Harris County Criminal Judge Jay Karahan saw it for what it was and suppressed the results of the blood draw.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Defendants say the craziest things

"Some people don't get it the first time..." -- defendant at sentencing hearing.

Of course, since it was her 10th theft conviction it's a safe bet to assume she didn't get it either.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interview with a vampire

Early warning radar indicates that vampires may be descending on New Orleans this Memorial Day Weekend. These vampires are thought to be driving patrol cars and wearing uniforms with shiny badges. Motorists are warned to be on the lookout for vampires while driving the streets of Jefferson Parish.

Jefferson Parish prosecutors aren't even making an attempt to pretend their plan is anything less than another assault on civil liberties.
When suspected DWI offenders are brought into the lockup over Memorial Day weekend, if they refuse to take the breath test, a judge will be ready to review evidence and sign off on a search warrant, giving officials the authority to draw blood from the suspect regardless of whether they agree.
Although no one is credited with making that statement, it is pretty clear from the article that Norma Broussard of the DA's Office is the source. Note that the judge isn't there to review the evidence to determine if there was reasonable suspicion to stop or probable cause to arrest, the judge is there to sign off on a warrant so that police can draw blood forcibly from motorists accused of committing a misdemeanor one step up from a traffic ticket.

And why do Jefferson Parish prosecutors want blood? Because they want to make it easier to infringe upon the freedom and liberty of their fellow citizens. If judges and juries want blood or breath tests, then by golly, we're going to give it to them -- civil liberties be damned.

No experience needed

Earlier this week State District Judge Susan Criss from down in Galveston posted a comment on her Facebook page that 40 of the 111 Chief Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court had no experience as judges. Then Rick Casey of the The Houston Chronicle wrote about the lack of judicial experience for judges on the two highest courts in the state. According to Mr. Casey, five of the judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had no judicial experience prior to being elected (I don't know if using Judge Killer as an example is a good idea, however). He also pointed out that the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Wallace Jefferson never wore a judge's robe before he was appointed to the court.

Senate Republicans are aiming to make an issue of President Obama's selection to fill the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens having no prior judicial experience. Elena Kragan is the Solicitor General for the United States and argues before the Supreme Court on issues involving the federal government. Funny that Republicans didn't have a problem with President George W. Bush's selection of Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel, to fill a seat on the bench. But, then, consistency has never been a priority of the two major parties.

Neither former Chief Justice Earl Warren nor Chief Justice William Rehnquist, appointed by Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon respectively, had any prior judicial experience before taking their seats on the high court.
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. -- U.S. Constitution, Art. III, Sec. 1
The U.S. Supreme Court was created by Article III of the United States Constitution. Interestingly enough, there is no requirement that a nominee for the Court even be a lawyer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

At least he's our so-and-so

Maybe the line is just apocryphal, but supposedly President Franklin D. Roosevelt once remarked regarding (a) Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, (b) Spanish dictator Francisco Franco or (c) Dominican strongman Rafael Trujillo that although he was a son of a bitch, at least he was "our son of a bitch."

That same sentiment remains today when talking about sports figures. Barry Bonds was the most despised baseball player when he was chasing Mark McGwire's (tainted) single-season home run mark and Hank Aaron's career mark. That is, unless you were one of the fans sitting in Telephone Company ballpark watching him launch balls into McCovey Cove.

Terrell Owens is a cancer in the locker room who tears teams apart with his pettiness -- unless he happens to be wearing the colors of your favorite team. Donte Stallworth and Leonard Little are responsible for the deaths of others as a result of their drinking.

The list goes on and on of athletes who have done things that they shouldn't have -- from the ridiculous to the criminal. But in most cases, even though they are scorned by the public at large for their (mis)deeds, they are beloved by the hometown fans. Character matters, well, so long as the team is winning.

Add Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans to the list. After it was announced this week that Mr. Cushing would be suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for testing positive for a steroid masking agent (the same female fertility drug that got Manny Ramirez suspended for 50 games last season), fans on local talk radio gushed over his performance on the field. And when the AP announced that it would hold a new vote on the 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award won by Mr. Cushing, Texans' fans and radio personalities had their panties in a wad.

Brian Cushing may have been a cheat, but at least he was "our cheat."

And the same may be said about the roster of confidential informants used by the police. Each and everyone of them has broken the law at some point (a multitude of times, usually) but now they ply their trade for the men in blue. Sure, they may be a bunch of criminals, but at least they're "our criminals."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Take me out to the ball game... take me WAY out to the ball game

Some things "just ain't right" and Major League Baseball's decision to move the Philadelphia-Toronto interleague series from Toronto to the City of Brotherly Love because of an international summit meeting sure ain't right.

Now aside from the fact that the Blue Jays play on plastic grass and use a designated hitter (which also ain't right), taking three home dates away from Toronto and giving them to Philadelphia isn't fair for the Jays and it isn't fair for the other teams in the NL East who will only have 81 home games (and not 84). Letting Toronto wear white, bat last and use the DH hardly makes up for the fact that the Phillies will have the homefield advantage.

And while I'm on my rant, enough with interleague play - it just isn't natural. Enough of the All-Star EXHIBITION game deciding home field advantage for the World Series.

Politicians, with their overwrought need to feed their egos by installing ridiculous security protocols, will force residents of Toronto to have to register with security officials to have access to their homes and businesses during the summit. Somewhere along the line, government leaders seem to have forgotten that they are the servants of the people and serve at our whim. Maybe it's time to remind them.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why fear democracy?

It seems to be an iron rule of organizations that leaders are not so much elected by the membership rather they are "promoted" from office to office. Contested elections seem to occur only when an office has been vacated. Very few members dare to challenge those already in leadership positions. There is an orderly succession and everyone knows ahead of time who will be holding what office in the near future.

Let's see, where else have we seen this particular type of governance? That's right. In the old Soviet Union, in China, in Cuba and in North Korea, just to name a few. How's that working out, by the way?

And don't say that's the way we've always done it, either. There are a whole lot of traditions in this country that were (or are) just plain wrong.

Why the fear of a contested election? If someone's a good candidate for an office, why shouldn't there be an election? Are we afraid that a competitive election is going to bruise some egos or lead to some disagreements? So what if they do? The benefit of contested elections is that issues that affect the membership come to the fore. Why would someone run against an incumbent officer? Probably because someone feels there is an important issue affecting the membership that isn't being addressed. Competitive elections are a way of conducting a periodic referendum to find out what issues are important to the voters. How can that be a bad thing?

And, as an aside, if your organization is conducting a contested election, wouldn't it make more sense to send out ballots in envelopes that identify the name of the organization? Sending out a ballot in an envelope marked with the name of an accounting firm seems to be a very effective method of lowering the "turnout."

Except during the hours of ...

Apparently not this morning as the doors to the courtroom for the 212th Judicial District Court were locked at 11:30 am.

On the other hand, the quote on the right hand door is one that we should all vow to follow every day, not only in our practice, but in our lives.

"Do the right thing and risk the consequences." -- Sam Houston

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Welcome to the jungle

This is your war on drugs. This is your war on civil liberties. This is your war on the Constitution. This is your war on your fellow citizens.

What you see on this video isn't an aberration. It's what goes on, in one form or another, every day in this country.

I'm fairly certain that if you read the offense report it won't leave quite the same image in your mind as this video will.

This should be required viewing for every judge who sits and decides whether the police acted reasonably or not in a given situation. This is what happens when you say it's okay to infringe upon our civil liberties in the name of security.

See also:

"Video of SWAT raid on Missouri family," The (May 5, 2010)
"SWAT team endangers child, parents charged with child endangerment," (February 27, 2010)

Add DWH to the Arizona penal code

There is a new crime on the books in Arizona and it's called Driving While Hispanic. With the passage of SB 1070, law enforcement officials will have the authority to check on the immigration status of any motorist who is detained as the result of "any lawful contact."

According to the new law "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person."

Backers of the new law see no problem with that provision. They will point out that the police can't just stop anyone for the express purpose of checking their papers because there has to be a legal reason for the traffic stop. Would that be like a DWI stop in Texas in which the basis for the detention is an equipment violation and not evidence that the motorist is endangering anyone on the road?

Furthermore, what exactly constitutes "reasonable suspicion" that a person is not here with the blessing of los federales? Brown skin? Speaks Spanish? Has a last name ending in Z? Do you think the police will be asking too many white, black or Asian drivers for proof of their immigration status? Hell, I don't possess a single piece of paper (except for my passport that sits in a safe deposit box) that says it's okay for me to be here -- and I've been here all my life.

And then there's this gem:
"If an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States is convicted of a violation of state or local law, on discharge from imprisonment or assessment of any fine that is imposed, the alien shall be transferred immediately to the custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the United States Customs and Border Protection." -- Arizona's SB 1070
That means a conviction for a moving violation, such as speeding, or a conviction for an equipment violation, such as an expired inspection sticker, can get you deported. How's that for a final solution? It must warm your heart to see these so-called pro-family right wing Republicans force American citizens (don't kid yourselves, the children of "illegal" immigrants born on American soil are just as American as your and I) to choose between living here and going "home" to a country they've never seen.

Despite what the apologists for Arizona's new racist law claim, if you have brown skin and you're driving in Arizona, you are a target.

See also:

"Pima County Sheriff refuses to enforce "unconstitutional" controversial AZ anti-immigrant law," Democracy Now! (May 6, 2010)
"Dozens show up at Minute Maid Park to protest Arizona law," The Houston Chronicle (May 6, 2010) -- of course no one goes to see the Astros these days.
"Holder: US may fight Arizona immigration law," CBS News (April 27, 2010)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Painting a picture with words

One of baseball's legends passed away yesterday. Ernie Harwell, the longtime voice of the Detroit Tigers, died after losing a battle against cancer.

More so than any other sport, baseball and radio were made for each other. Whether you're listening while driving around town or working in the backyard, the pace of the game lends itself to colorful stories and anecdotes. The masters of the craft weave those threads in and out during the course of a game.

One of my fondest memories growing up was the one-game playoff between the Houston Astros and the hated Los Angeles Dodgers back in 1980. The 'stros had a three game lead going into the final weekend of the season and managed to lose all three games, leaving them and the Dodgers tied for first place in the N.L. West after 162 games. The whole season would come down to a winner-take-all affair and the winner would take on Philadelphia for the pennant.

I was in school at the time and when the game began the principal turned on the intercom system and we all sat in our classes and listened to the legendary Gene Elston call the game. The details of that game are long forgotten but the memories of being mesmerized by a man calling a baseball game will never fade. For you see, the impact of a good story is not in the details, but in the mood that is created.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Four the love of...

Yesterday I dared to enter the Harris County Civil Courthouse to ask a judge to issue an occupational driver's license to a client of mine. This wasn't my first time to ask a judge to allow a client whose license was suspended to drive -- but it was the first time I had to deal with a judge in civil court. This was because my client's license was suspended by the Texas DPS for an administrative matter, not by a judge following a conviction.

Section 521.248 of the Texas Transportation Code says a judge may grant any petitioner the privilege of driving no more than four hours a day -- but, if the petitioner shows a necessity to be able to drive, a judge may allow him to drive up to 12 hours in a 24-hour period. Over in the criminal courthouse, judges routinely sign orders allowing petitioners to drive 12 hours a day. Generally the only issues involved if the license was suspended as the result of a criminal conviction are whether or not the petitioner has met the Texas DPS' requirements for obtaining an occupational license or whether the petitioner will be required to install an interlock device on his car.

So was it a painless experience? Um, in a word, no. The judge seemed to believe that the only purpose in an occupational license was to get to and from work or school. She was unmoved when petitioners asked for additional time to drop their children off at school or to pick them up after school. I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I believe that falls within the definition of "essential need."

This judge would only allow a person to drive no more than two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening -- if that. We were made to feel privileged that she was allowing my client to drive for an hour in the morning, an hour in evening and four hours in the middle of the day. She also required everyone to come back in 90 days for a "check up." Apparently she was worried that she might not be re-elected this year and that someone else would take over her bench on January 1, 2011 -- how that would affect any order with her signature on it I still don't understand. As far as I know an order is not voided upon that judge's stepping down from the bench.

In the end it took us over 90 minutes to get the order signed -- about 85 minutes longer than over at 1201 Franklin. And, to top it off, I had a parking ticket on my windshield when I got back to my car -- how was I to know it would take an eternity to obtain 90 days of driving privileges for my client?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Classroom heroes

Okay, I was going to go off on a rant today about my experience in civil court this afternoon - but it will have to wait for another day because I came across something much more positive to write about.

Earlier this evening my wife and I attended the Annual Spring Banquet for the Congress of Houston Teachers, a teacher organization for which I have done some legal work over the years. The food, of course, was nothing special -- but that's not why you attend these shindigs anyway. The focus of the evening is recognizing retiring teachers, building representatives and teacher and student scholarship winners.

Tonight the CHT honored eight educators who are leaving the profession at the end of this school year. Of those eight, five (if I remember correctly) have been in the classroom for over 30 years. Just mull that over in your brain for a second or three.

Just think of the number of lives those teachers have touched over the past three decades. Think of the dedication these professionals have shown by working long hours for little pay and recognition. Think of the joy and satisfaction they must derive from their work.

These are the men and women who should be our children's role models -- not actors, athletes or celebrities. For without the hard work and dedication of these teachers, none of us would be where we are today.

So, to everyone who walks into that classroom everyday armed and ready to face the youth of our nation, thanks.

What's that about any publicity is good publicity?

This is probably not the way Officer George Simpson of the Galveston Police Department wanted to see his name in The Police News. It is amazing how quickly he was indicted, considering there are some inmates at the Galveston County Jail who still haven't been indicted months after their arrest.