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January 27th, 2020:

Interview with Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

I don’t think I need to spend too much time introducing County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. A longtime State Senator after serving on Houston City Council, Ellis became the 2016 Democratic nominee for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 via that weird Precinct Chair vote that I was part of following the death of El Franco Lee. Ellis was a force for criminal justice reform in the Senate, which he continued on the Court during the bail lawsuit. He’s a father of four, an avid bicyclist, and a man you don’t have to ask many questions to get a whole lot of good information. I will say here that it was my intent to interview his opponent in this primary, Maria Jackson, as well. I reached out to her campaign, but in the end Jackson declined to talk to me. So be it. We have my interview with Commissioner Rodney Ellis, so what more do you need?

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Judicial Q&A: V. R. “Velda” Faulkner

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Velda Faulkner

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am V.R. “(Velda)” Faulkner. I am a candidate for Justice, 14th Court of Appeals, PL 7.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 14th Court of Appeals hears intermediate appellate civil and criminal cases appealed from the County Courts at Law and the District Courts, in 10 Counties, which are: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris (the most populous of the 10 counties), Grimes, Waller, and Washington.

For the most part, there is a 3-judge panel who hears each case, unless an En Banc decision is ordered, wherein all 9 justices are ordered to hear and decide the case(s). “An En bank decision is to be ordered to secure or maintain the Court’s uniformity of the Court’s decision or extraordinary circumstances require such.” Tex. R. App. P. 41.2(c).

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 14th Court of Appeals has been in existed for over 52 years. During these years, there has NEVER been an Black American Female elected to this Appellate Court. It is Time to Change the course of HISTORY with this Court!

If elected, I will the first Black American Jurist to sit on this appellate court, which will be a substantial and significant moment in Texas History! I am running for this seat to bring competence, fairness, integrity and justice to the appellate bench, for ALL litigants. I want to inform the public that the 14th Court of Appeals is “The People’s Court,” and everyone, NOT a select few, has the right and is entitled to access to the Appellate Courts and the Appellate Process, as well as to expect judicial fairness and respect.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 30+ year veteran lawyer. I have represented clients (both adults, minors and person with disabilities). I have handled complex civil litigation and represented clients on both sides of the docket. I have handled misdemeanor and felony cases, during my 30+ years career. I have handled civil and criminal appellate cases and presented Oral argument before the Court of Criminal
Appeals, the Highest Criminal Court in Texas. I am versed on the appellate process and presentation of Oral argument. I have a Published Criminal Opinion, obtained, during a time of adverse decisions under prior Judicial oversight.

5. Why is this race important?

This race could be a monumental moment in Texas and U.S. History, when THE VOTERS, decide to place me in this position, and not relegate this valuable place of Public Servant to an unwarranted political appointment. I want to be “The People’s Jurist.” I intend to bring integrity, competence, experience and Judicial fairness to the judiciary. Otherwise, our legal system, including our judicial system will continue to fall into decay, anarchy and disrespect. Every litigant has the right of access to the Appellate Courts, without threat or fear of intimidation, exorbitant fees or economic ruin. The Laws of this State and the U.S. Constitution must be followed and applied to ALL cases, regardless of political preference of a learned jurist. The legal procedural guidelines must be adhered to, regardless of individual or political affiliation. All Voters should “Elect” a Jurist, based on the voters’ “initial” selection and not a secondary election-selection.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I am ready to begin working as “The People’s Jurist” on my first day at work. I will carefully read, review, carefully listen to litigants or their representatives, then rule on cases, according the Law and Procedure, opining a legally sound decision, for “ALL” litigants. The public needs to know that the 14th Court of Appeals may be a Court of last resort for some people, so it is imperative to Rule, Justly, Fairly and with Impartiality.

The busking lawsuit

Interesting.

Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

A Houston accordionist is feeling squeezed by an obscure city law aimed at restricting where musicians can play for tips.

Anthony Barilla, also a composer whose work can be heard on the radio program “This American Life,” lodged the lawsuit in federal court recently in hopes of striking down the decades-old Houston ordinance, contending that it violates the First Amendment.

As the law stands, a performer — regardless of their talent or instrument, be it a guitar, violin or their voice — must have a permit to serenade the streets with any hope of making a buck. And that permit confines them to the Theater District.

Barilla does not consider himself solely a busker, a musician who performs in public places — often with a belly-up hat or an open instrument case to invite a toss of the coin. But he traversed Houston’s permit process in 2018 to see what would happen and to brush up on the accordion.

[…]

For most of the 20th century, musicians were barred from public street performances in Houston. Chronicle archives show that musicians began wooing the city for permits in the 1980s, but nothing serious happened until 1990, when the G-7 Summit was predicted to draw visitors to Houston.

City officials OK’d an experimental program to allow street performers — in the Theater District only. The program, if it worked and were then made permanent, would lure more people downtown, especially during conventions, then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire hoped. According to reports, only five permits were issued during the pilot.

The following year, City Council signed off on the ordinance.

Unlike Houston, some cities do not require permits. Musicians don’t need one to entertain straphangers amid the roar of New York City’s subway system. Busking has been street legal in most areas of Seattle for more than 40 years

“Houston is such a business-friendly town. This is my business,” Barilla said. “You’d think Houston, given our pro-business climate, that we wouldn’t be that way. The law is archaic. We haven’t caught up to other world-class cities.”

Let me say up front that I agree with the basic premise of this lawsuit, that the ordinance in question is overly restrictive and at the very least needs an overhaul. Busking isn’t going to be viable in many parts of the city, but there’s no reason to restrict it to the Theater District. Let people busk, as long as they’re not blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and as long as they’re not disturbing the peace. It would be wise for the city to offer a settlement and fix this law.

District B lawsuit has its hearing

Feels like we’ve been waiting forever for this.

Cynthia Bailey

Lawyers for the third-place finisher in Houston city council District B’s election told a judge Friday that the city erred in failing to declare an opponent ineligible because of her felony conviction and asked the court to throw out the votes that landed Cynthia Bailey in a still-to-be-scheduled runoff.

The judge, they said, should discount the votes Bailey received in the Nov. 5 election and put their client, Renee Jefferson-Smith, into the runoff against top vote-getter Tarsha Jackson.

Visiting Judge Grant Dorfman did not make a ruling Friday, but said he hoped to have a decision by the end of next week.

[…]

Jefferson-Smith’s legal team argued that Bailey’s well-documented 2007 felony conviction makes her ineligible to run under state law, and the city should have declared her as such when they they submitted a packet of supporting documents to the city secretary on Nov. 13. Bailey served 18 months of a 10-year sentence for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks from North Forest Independent School District.

Jefferson-Smith is basing her case on a state law that says a person cannot run for elected office if he or she has been finally convicted of a felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.”

The law does not define “resulting disabilities” and courts have interpreted it differently. Bailey has said she can run because she completed her sentence and can vote. Jefferson-Smith’s team has cited at least one case in which a candidate similarly disclosed a conviction and then was almost immediately removed from the Galveston City Council under the same law.

The City of Houston received documents from Jefferson-Smith’s lawyers on Nov. 13 — a week after Election Day, but before city council canvassed the results. The documents included a Harris County record of Bailey’s conviction and a Texas Attorney General opinion stating that restored voting rights do not mean a restored ability to run for office.

“They are not allowed to ignore conclusive proof of ineligibility,” said Lindsay Roberts, a lawyer for Jefferson-Smith. “They have to make that determination of eligibility and, importantly, they have to do so before certification.”

Attorneys for the city rejected those claims, arguing the submitted documents did not conclusively prove that Bailey had not been cleared of those “resulting disabilities.” They also said the documents were sent and received after Jefferson-Smith already had lost two court rulings in a separate lawsuit.

In that case, filed two days after the election and separate from the one heard Friday, Jefferson-Smith asked a judge for an emergency order — and then a preliminary injunction — declaring Bailey ineligible. Both requests were denied, and the First Court of Appeals and Texas Supreme Court have upheld those rejections.

With those initial denials in mind, Senior Assistant City Attorney Suzanne Chauvin said, the city council certified the results Nov. 18, as it is required by law to do.

“Essentially, they’re saying we should have second-guessed two rulings by the district court,” Chauvin said.

See here for the previous update. As you know, as a matter of principle, I disagree with Jefferson-Smith’s argument. I think the city should have accepted Bailey’s application, as they did with several other candidates who had prior felony convictions, and if there needed to be a legal challenge it should have happened after the filing deadline and before the election. That’s all water under the bridge now, and hopefully something the Lege will address (in a constructive manner) in 2021. For now, all I care about is getting a ruling, and then maybe a confirmed date for the next election. I don’t envy Judge Dorfman the decision, and I really hope that any appeals are resolved quickly.