August 16, 2004
A little bait and switch in Fort Bend

Albert Hollan, a Democratic candidate for judge of the 400th District Court in Fort Bend County, is a wee bit upset. He's upset because Cliff Vacek, his opponent, was just appointed to the bench they're both running for. The incumbent judge, Bradley Smith, resigned on Friday and was immediately appointed to a brand-new, created-with-federal-grant-money "sanctions court". Smith had announced much earlier that he was not running for reelection, in part because Vacek had a ton of money left over from an earlier run for Fort Bend County DA to run against him in the GOP primary. By jumping from one judgeship to another less than three months out from the election, Smith has cleared the way for the man who chased him off and screwed Hollan in the process. Sweet, huh? As Hollan notes, now his opponent gets to put the (i) next to his name on the ballot and gets to change his campaign signs to say "Keep Judge Vacek" even though he probably won't try a single case before November.

I've reproduced an email sent by Hollan to his supporters, which was forwarded to me over the weekend. Juanita has some of the background - she also promises a full article next week - and Hollan's email has some more. They do run a tight ship down there in Fort Bend, don't they?

By the way, consider this post to be an extension to my earlier complaint about the utter lack of local election coverage in the Chronicle. I've searched their current and archived pages for all three of the principals in this post and found zilch on any aspect of the story. Thanks, Chron!

I wanted you to hear it from me first.

This afternoon, Governor Perry appointed my opponent, Cliff Vacek, as the Judge of the 400th District Court to fill out the remaining term of the incumbent, Judge Bradley Smith. The term runs until the end of the year, but the election will still be held on November 2nd.

The advantage for Cliff Vacek is that he will now be considered the "incumbent", even though he was appointed only 80 days before the election, and without a single vote cast.

This completes a backroom deal that cost taxpayers $363,000. Let me explain, so you can explain it to your family, friends and neighbors before they go to the polls on November 2nd.

Last year, Judge Bradley Smith was harshly criticized by Cliff Vacek for a ruling the judge made on the admissibility of some evidence in a criminal case. It wasn't Vacek's case and he had no role in it, but he decided to use the ruling as a political issue. Vacek, who ran for District Attorney two years ago and lost in the Republican primary, borrowed $100,000 and announced that he would run against Judge Smith. At that news, Judge Smith decided not to run for re-election.

Vacek made good on his threat and became the Republican candidate; however, I entered the race as the Democratic candidate and have made good on my promise to run a good clean campaign. I have walked blocks, shaken hands, spoken at meetings, and raised money from many friends in small increments. I now have large roadside signs going up all over the unincorporated areas of the County. For example, if you are driving from Guy to Needville and on to Rosenberg, you will encounter 7 large "Elect Hollan" signs. My campaign is the real deal, and the Republicans were privately concerned.

So, to give Cliff Vacek some help, the dealmaking began.

Bradley Smith, understandably, doesn't like Cliff Vacek. Vacek essentially ran him off the bench. So, how does one convince Judge Smith to resign so that the Governor can appoint Cliff Vacek?

I don't know what was said, but I know what was done.

County Commissioners (almost all Republican) approved using a $363,000 state grant to create a "Sanctions Court" program, administered by Judge Bradley Smith. I've been practicing law for 16 years and I have never heard of a Sanctions Court.

That's because there aren't any.

This is the first and only one in Texas, and it will expire in August of 2005, unless more funding is found. Judge Smith resigned from the 400th Court on a Friday and on Monday he was back on the bench after receiving an appointment as an "assigned" judge.

After the resignation of Judge Smith, I wrote to the Governor and asked him not to appoint anyone to fill out the remaining term. I urged him to let the voters decide on November 2nd.

Today, the Governor appointed Vacek. This will allow Vacek to have an "i" behind his name on the ballot and campaign to "Keep Judge Vacek", even though he likely will not preside over a single trial between now and the election.

Let me say this clearly and directly: The resignation of Judge Smith on a Friday and his appointment to another court on the following Monday was a political act to move him out of the way so the Governor could appoint Cliff Vacek 80 days before the election. This is a sham and a fraud. It is an abuse of power. It is politics at its worst.

If you are offended by this attempt to influence the outcome of the election and offended by the use of tax dollars (yes, grant money comes from taxpayers) to create a special court for Judge Smith so he would resign and allow the Governor to appoint Cliff Vacek, let your local newspaper editor know that you are not happy. Letters to the Editor are read and appreciated. You can go to their websites and type in an e-mail letter. Be sure and leave an address and phone number, so the editor can call and confirm that you really are the author of the letter.

Then, share your opinions with your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. You may think that you will never be in a District Court so this doesn't affect you, but it does. The political dealmakers who just made the 400th Court their latest triumph are now looking for their next deal.

Thank you for your continued support. Please vote on November 2nd. It's urgent, more urgent than ever.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 16, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack