The Right Way and the Wrong Way


When the streets are flooding and the rain is coming down (as happened last Tuesday) and there are people who feel a obligation to you to travel in to downtown from their homes, there’s a right way to handle the situation and a wrong way.

The right way:

Some parts of town are underwater. It is still raining downtown. Make sure that you check with all the news sources in your area before you and your family attempt to drive in to downtown. Your safety is more important than getting to work on time.

The wrong way: don’t tell anyone you’re not going about business as usual. Let them brave the flooding and fight their way in to downtown.

The right way was the approach that Pat Lykos’s DA’s Office took on Tuesday in an email from second-in-command Jim Leitner to the troops.

The wrong way was the approach that the Harris County Courts took on Tuesday with regard to the public, including defendants, witnesses, jurors, and lawyers. To their (minimal) credit, none of the judges seem to have revoked anyone’s bond for appearing in court late or not at all. But many people went to great trouble and some danger to come to court, and some of the judges didn’t deign to appear at all.

The respectful way to handle this situation would have been to inform the public that the courthouse was open for business, but that their safety was more important than getting to court on time.

Judge Reagan Helm of County Criminal Court At Law Number One forced one lawyer to come in to court in the morning, despite the facts that a) the lawyer had his two young children with him; b) the children’s school didn’t open till noon; and c) the lawyer lived in a neighborhood that gets almost cut off every time there is even minor flooding. The lawyer made it in to the courthouse after dropping his kids off with their mom, but not without some unnecessary danger.

Tuesday’s rudeness toward the public was extraordinary for some judges, and about par for the course for others who, among other things, require defendants to be at court at 8:30 in the morning but don’t open the courtroom doors until nine or later.

Ex-Judge Hanger, who now holds herself out as a “defense lawyer”, used to dress down defendants:

If an individual chose to simply answer “yes”  to a question she asked,  her mantra was as follows:

“It’s either Yes m’am, Yes your honor, or Yes judge. Now which one is it?!”

(She was one of the worst for treating defendants with disrespect. Is that how she’ll treat her paying clients?)

All of Harris County’s judges need to take a long, hard look at whether they are treating everyone before them with dignity and respect. I’m not the only one who notices, and some day the people of Harris County are liable to wake up and suddenly care.

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0 responses to “The Right Way and the Wrong Way”

  1. I often say that the reason there are no windows in many courtrooms is that judges want to send the message that nothing outside of the courtroom is relevant. We’ve had this “post-hurricane” behavior from judges where once they get their roads cleared and electricity back, they pretend that everything else in the city is back to normal. I remember hearing from Louisiana lawyers after Hurricane Katrina that some judges were acting as if it was a bad thunderstorm. What can you do but call it out? It’s pathetic.

  2. Mark-

    On Tuesday morning, my employer (a large insurance company) sent out a phone tree message to everyone who worked in the Houston office. The message said you should stay home and not plan on reporting to work until the Harris County OEM said it was safe to travel. They also had managers who made personal phone calls to some of the employees who live in areas prone to flooding. My wife is a nurse practitioner at a hospital. She is considered an “essential” employee. She went to work Monday evening in anticipation of bad weater and didn’t leave until Tuesday evening. Her employer gave her additional comp time and a REALLY nice company brought in catering. Tuesday afternoon, the COO came to the pediatric floor where my wife works and personally thanked all of the employees who came in. He did the same thing during Hurricane Ike.

    The reason that my wife and I were treated so well by our employers is that our contribution is valued and important. The reason that Harris County judges acted the way they did on Tuesday is that they are the only ones that matter. At least until 2010.

  3. We need to find a cure for black robe disease. This once every four year tonic isn’t working well.

  4. That judge and many prosecutors who treated the defense similar manners (as if we were a “rotten, no good” client) is likely to end up reading our e-mails at HCCLA (and probably sharing them with her husband judge) because we have no rules regarding timing – people have to wait 3 months for insurance to kick in on most jobs but when one is no longer a judge or a prosecutor – they are immediately a defense lawyer regardless of their previous attitude and eligible to sign up and pretend to be one of us. It is scary. . . . She is just one of the great examples, sir president. : )

  5. Sorry to say this folks… but this is Judgeitis pure and simple.

    They have life tenure over here and it’s the same…

  6. So, can a Judge hold you in contempt for not using an honorific when you answer a question? Can I say that I believe it is my first amendment right to not use an honorific? I get more ornery as I get older. I don’t’ say Sir or Ma’am to my parents, so the chances of me saying them to a judge, or a cop for that matter, are minimal.

  7. It is worth noting that the court coordinator in Court # 13, Judge Mark Atkinson actually told my client to just turn around and go home rather than risk his safety by coming in. She just rolled him over until the next day, which was very kind of her to do.

  8. My client called the 228th because he was flooded in, and was told to just come the next day. The court didn’t call him, but he did not have any problem when we went in the next day. The 228th is Marc Carter’s court. (I know you know that Mark – that was for you many other readers.)

    • I’m giving CCCL13 and the 228th minimal credit for minimal effort.

      Treating the public with respect would require that the judges collectively put the word out publicly that absences will be excused, rather than just tell those who ask.

  9. Hello,

    Sometimes I come to court just to watch. One of those times, roughly ten years ago in a Northern Virginia courthouse, a defendant addressed the (obviously female, complete with long blonde hair) judge as “Sir” and then apologized. She said “No problem, I get that all the time.”

    Cheers,

    Jeff Deutsch

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