Fred’s Day in Court


Today I talked with a guy named Fred.

Fred had been appointed counsel (Mr. Lawrence) in January before bonding out, and had been appointed other counsel (Ms. Morris) in April, 10 weeks after bonding out.

Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Morris, along with Ms. Curley, handle virtually all of the indigent representation in the 624th District Court of Harris County, Texas, in which Fred is accused of murder. They share cases, so that if Morris is not in court when a particular appointed case is on the docket, Lawrence or Curley will handle it.

Judge Biggs, the judge of the 624th, is aggressively ignorant: he’s more certain when he’s dead wrong than I am when I’m absolutely right. His ignorance is breathtaking in its scope and depth, with a special concentration in the law. Coupled with his Vizziniesque intellect, his ignorance is a near-insurmountable obstacle to predictability. Like many ignorant people of little intelligence in positions of power, Judge Biggs is a bully.

Judge Biggs had ordered an indigency hearing for Fred today (after he had already twice appointed him counsel, and nobody had asked for such a hearing). After yelling at Fred today for not bringing his mother to the hearing (she had paid to bond him out, but her resources aren’t legally included in the indigency determination), Judge Biggs had sent Fred to pretrial services on the 12th floor of the courthouse to pee in a cup.

When I saw Fred today, he was back in the courtroom after peeing in a cup. He explained to me that his mother had begged and borrowed enough money to pay a bonding company $5,000 to make his $50,000 bond, but that the cheapest lawyer he could find to take his case wanted $3,000 and he didn’t have $3,000 to hire a lawyer. He told me that he made $300 a week when he was working, and that he could get a job unless he had to keep coming back to court every day.

Now, $3,000 is not going to buy you much in the way of lawyering, especially in a murder case. As a general rule, an accused is better off with a court-appointed lawyer than with a low-bid lawyer. This rule may not hold true in the 624th, where indigent defendants are subjected to the tender mercies of Lawrence, Morris, and Curley. But in any event, Fred couldn’t even afford the low-bid lawyer. Judge Biggs was upset that he hadn’t hired counsel, which is what led to today’s proceedings.

Morris was out of town today, but Lawrence and Curley were in the courtroom. Having been appointed to represent Fred, were they standing up for his rights and stopping Judge Biggs from bullying him? No, they were conspicuously not. Lawrence, Morris, and Curley hadn’t actively represented Fred since Fred made bond. Why not? Because Judge Biggs figures that anyone who makes bond can hire a lawyer, and it’s not in Lawrence’s, Morris’s, or Curley’s interest to get crosswise with Judge Biggs.

I was keeping an eye on the case to see what Judge Biggs did about the representation situation. He had already removed appointed counsel without a hearing (a no-no) and was looking for an excuse to jail Fred . . . which is why he sent him to pretrial services.

Unfortunately, Fred obliged her by peeing dirty. And, abandoned by his lawyers, with nobody to stand up for him (not that it would have made a difference), Fred went back to jail.

So momma is out five grand that she really couldn’t afford to spend. Fred’s in jail in lieu of a now-$100,000 bail that momma will never be able to make, and Lawrence, Morris, and Curley are back on the case that they should never have stopped working on.

(I don’t know that the story has a moral, other than “stay away from dope when you’re on bail.”)

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0 responses to “Fred’s Day in Court”

  1. I actually googled 624th District Court, lol. I guess I should have known that number sounded a little high. The highest we have is in the four hundreds. The 427th was created just a few years ago. You guys are practically in the dark ages only going up to 351.

    Checked out Harris County District Courts website to see if it was some secret code for the courts that do exist, which there might be, but I couldn’t figure it out.

  2. The other lesson, is “drink not coffee when reading Bennett, when your computer screen is on the line.” I got the joke part of the NamesOfUnusualFamiliarity at just the wrong moment.

  3. As I read this post, I mused on to what extent a practicing lawyer can get away with calling a judge before whom he practices regularly “aggressively ignorant” on the lawyer’s popular blog. (My new blog is not popular, but I nevertheless do wonder what the consequences might be of calling em like I see em.) Then I noticed that the names have been cleverly changed to protect the guilty and the stoogish. But I still wonder: are there limits to what a prudent blawger should say in naming names, even if he’s speaking the truth as he sees it; does integrity require that we not be overly prudent in such matters; what consequences if any can one expect? What are the guidelines, if any?

    • Hmm. Because he’s presumed innocent, and that’s 2/3 more than the standard bail that the Harris County district judges have agreed is reasonable in such cases? I’m just guessing.

      • Wow- TX is more screwed up than I thought if Judges believe 2/3 of $50K is reasonable for a Murder charge.

        Presumed innocent, absolutely. But there is probable cause to believe this man Murdered someone. Setting a monetary bond serves two purposes- ensuring the safety of the community and ensuring Defendant presence at future court dates.

        Putting up $3,000 is going to ensure someone will appear for court when they could receive life imprisonment on the charge.

        I’m not trying to be hostile, but this truly surprises me. Where I practice- not in TX- I have never seen a person charge with murder be granted ANY monetary pretrial release- absent some exceptional circumstances (Defendant is paralyzed from the neck down, Judge thinks the charge is bogus).

        Heck, where I am, $50,000 is a standard bond for a sale of cocaine.

        • The Texas Constitution requires reasonable bail in virtually all cases. Not only do the judges think it’s reasonable, but $30,000 bail on murder charges has also proven to be reasonable – jumping bail is the rare exception rather than the rule.

          Possess more than 400 grams of cocaine, though, and bail is set at twice the “street value” (cut and grammed out: $100,000 per kilo) of the dope, or at least $80,000.

          Go figure.

          • Y’all must have some especially vigilant bondsman or responsbile criminals, because, where I practice, nary a court day goes by without someone failing to appear and a capias getting issued for their arrest.

  4. I did the same thing as Jamie and thought to myself “Texas must be growing faster than I thought, last I knew we were in the 400s.” And it took me a couple readings to get the names of the attorneys. I must be having a slow day.

  5. Oh Mark,

    I like your style son… (quoting a 14 year old client of mine) Yesterday, I posted a note about a retiring judge and I hope the Governor doesn’t appoint another ADA and today I get the cold shoulder when I stopped by to drop off some Motions… I must be doing something right!!!

  6. So, for an indigent defendant in such a court, is the wiser thing actually to not make bail, so that your PD keeps working on the case?

    • Possibly. You get luck of the draw with a court-appointed lawyer, but your odds of getting excellent representation are better than with a low-bid lawyer.

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