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October 3rd, 2022:

Interview with Susan Hays

Susan Hays

It’s time for some interviews with statewide candidates. It’s hard to say which of the Republican statewide incumbents is the worst and most in need of being unelected – they all have strong cases, and there’s always something worse to discover about them. Current Ag Commissioner Sid Miller has to be on anyone’s short list, as the case against him is as clear as it is long and detailed. What makes the race to oust him even more compelling is that there’s such a good choice to vote for in his place. Susan Hays is a rancher and cannabis expert who would be able to step right in and start cleaning up the mess in this office while also working to help Texas start to catch up to its neighbors with this crop. Hays is also a co-founder of Jane’s Due Process, an attorney with experience in civil and voting rights, and a former Chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. We had a lot to talk about, and you should give it a listen:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Toria Finch

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Toria Finch

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Judge Toria J. Finch, Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class A & B misdemeanor criminal cases with a jurisdictional range of punishment of a fine of no more than $4,000 and/or up to 1 year in the Harris County jail.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I consider it an accomplishment to have been a two-time Presiding Judge and a three-time Co-Presiding Judge of all Harris County Criminal Courts at Law during my first term. More significantly, and with the remarkable collaboration of my county criminal courts at law judicial colleagues, the groundwork for criminal justice reform has been laid with the successful implementation of Misdemeanor Bail Reform. Additionally, creating the Managed Assigned Counsel Program; Open Hours Court; Cite and Release Court; Emergency Response Docket; B.A.Y.O.U. (“Bringing Assistance to You with Outreach and Understanding”) Community Court; and so much more even despite not having a consistent place to have jury trials, a courthouse, and in the middle of one of the most catastrophic pandemics of our lifetime. I am without question proud of the work that not only I have done, but my Judicial Colleagues, our Office of Court Management, our Court Team Members, and the Bar/Attorneys/ Litigants. Together we have accomplished so much, and I believe that the best is still yet to come.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

Going forward, it is my continued goal to reduce the case backlog in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9 (“Court #9). Although Court #9 consistently has one of the lowest dockets and jail populations, it is important to continue focusing on both effective and efficient court management by reducing docket size and length of case disposition. Additionally, I desire for Court #9 to continue to be a place that seeks Truth, Justice, and Fairness for everyone that appears before the court regardless of one’s socio-economic status; race; gender; political affiliation; sexual orientation, etc. I, along with my amazing Court #9 Team seek to ensure that people are treated with compassion and integrity.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it will decide how the County Criminal Courts at Law move forward collectively and individually. Criminal Justice Reform, Experience, and Community Engagement are on the ballot in this race. Respectfully, the candidates in this race are glaringly different from the relevant legal work experiences and platforms. I am and have always been an attorney that has focused my legal practice primarily in the areas of criminal and juvenile law. The breath of my overall relevant experience is reflected in my years of practice, board certification and trainings, legal work experience as both a former defense attorney and prosecutor, current member of the criminal law judiciary, past and present memberships in various criminal law associations and sections within the State Bar of Texas, and my service as an Adjunct Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Alvin Community College’s Paralegal Program. There is no question that experience and commitment matter in this race.

Harris County deserves to continue having a Judge that has a proven track record of substantial legal work experience and involvement in the area in which she seeks to continue serving, a sincere interest in implementing necessary criminal justice reforms, and who is invested in the community and willing to continue serving both on and off the bench. The above stated is what makes this race important.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am seeking re-election to finish/improve the reforms that we have started, to expand the services provided by the programs previously stated, and to protect the progress that has been achieved. We can’t afford to go back!

You can add “incompetent” to “corrupt” when describing Ken Paxton

I can’t say this is a surprise, but it is shocking.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s staff this month quietly dropped a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases after losing track of one of the victims, a stumble in open court emblematic of broader dysfunction inside one of America’s most prominent law offices.

The Republican has elevated his national profile in recent years, energizing the right by rushing into contentious court battles that have affected people far beyond Texas. He has fought access to abortion, Democratic immigration policy and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

But as Paxton seeks to fend off legal troubles and win a third term as Texas’ top law enforcement official, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent.

An Associated Press investigation found Paxton and his deputies have sought to turn cases to political advantage or push a broader political agenda, including staff screenings of a debunked film questioning the 2020 election. Adding to the unrest was the secretive firing of a Paxton supporter less than two months into his job as an agency advisor after he tried to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting.

The AP’s account is based on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to talk publicly.

In the small town of Gatesville, the fallout was felt this month with the collapse of cases dubbed “Operation Fallen Angel.” Six of the people indicted last year on allegations that they were involved in a scheme to force teenage girls to “exchange sexual contact for crystal methamphetamine” are now free. One is being held in the central Texas community on other charges. An eighth died in jail.

“It’s absolutely broken. It’s just broken. You don’t do it this way,” Republican District Attorney Dusty Boyd said of the attorney general’s office, which took over the cases from his five-lawyer team. “I made the mistake of trusting them that they would come in and do a good job.”

[…]

After the dramatic exit of Paxton’s top staff in 2020, those brought into senior roles included a California attorney who donated $10,000 to help Paxton fight his 2015 securities fraud indictment and Tom Kelly Gleason, a former ice cream company owner whose father gave $50,000 to the attorney general’s legal defense fund.

Gleason was fired less than two months into his new job as a law enforcement adviser. Paxton’s office has not disclosed why, but three people with knowledge of the matter said Gleason included child pornography in a work presentation at the agency’s Austin headquarters.

The people said Gleason displayed the video — which one of them described as showing a man raping a small child — in a misguided effort to underscore agency investigators difficult work. It was met with outrage and caused the meeting to quickly dissolve.

Afterward, Paxton’s top deputy, Brent Webster, told staff not to talk about what happened, according to one of the people.

Gleason, who began his career as a police officer in the late 1970s, did not respond to voicemails, text messages, emails and letters left at this home and business. A lawyer who has represented him also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As of August, payroll data show the number of assistant attorneys general — the line lawyers who handle daily case and litigation work — in the criminal prosecutions division was down more than 25% from two years ago. The data, which was obtained under public records law, show the group that handles financial and white-collar cases was cut by more than half and merged with another division.

“This is scary to me for the people of Texas,” said Linda Eads, who served as a deputy attorney general in the early 2000s, when she said it was rare for any division to have more than two or three vacancies.

Boyd said staff turnover in Paxton’s human trafficking unit contributed to the collapse of the cases in Gatesville. In the last two years, Republican lawmakers have doubled the division’s budget to $3 million, but Boyd questioned whether it was well spent.

On Sept. 13, the attorney general’s staff wrote in court papers that they were dismissing three trafficking cases because a witness had recanted and dropping the other four because they were “unable to locate victim.”

“For Pete’s sake, you’re the AG’s office. You can’t find the victim?” Boyd said. “The culture is broken.”

There’s more so read the rest, but honestly, how much more do you need? Screwing up a human trafficking case – which they took away from the locals in Coryell County – because they lost track of a victim, and hiring a failson of a big donor who thought it was a good idea to include actual video of a violent sex crime against a child in a presentation…this is an office for which the word “dysfunctional” is not nearly strong enough. This story needs to get a lot more attention. And for crying out loud, vote for Rochelle Garza in November. This is what you’re supporting if you don’t.

Somehow, there is a national carbon dioxide shortage

And it is affecting breweries.

Carbon dioxide has no taste, no odor, and no color — but it’s a vital ingredient in the beer business, from putting frothy bubbles in brews to blocking oxidization that makes beer taste stale.

But brewers are now worried that a carbon dioxide shortage could force production cuts and price hikes. It’s the latest threat to an industry that’s been whipsawed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve talked to our supplier, and our supplier basically told us they were not taking on any new clients to make sure that their long-term clients have a steady supply of CO2,” Bryan Van Den Oever of Red Bear Brewing in Washington, D.C., told NPR’s Morning Edition.

Beer makers have dealt with carbon dioxide shortages and price hikes for much of the pandemic, similar to higher costs for aluminum cans and cardboard. But as of August, brewers’ carbon dioxide costs had spiked more sharply than any other “input” cost in recent months, according to a graph shared by Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association.

And experts believe carbon dioxide will become more scarce as fall begins.

Three main factors are behind what Paul Pflieger, communications director of the Compressed Gas Association trade group, calls “CO2 tightness.” Two of them have to do with how carbon dioxide is produced: It’s a byproduct of other processes, such as ammonia and ethanol production.

But this fall, ammonia plants are undergoing scheduled maintenance shutdowns that will keep them from producing carbon dioxide, Pflieger said. Similarly, many ethanol plants that went offline during the pandemic haven’t resumed operations. And then there’s the weather: The beverage industry accounts for 14% of U.S. carbon dioxide, but demand soars across the board when it’s hot.

“Every summer, demand for CO2 skyrockets because people want more beverages,” and dry ice (the solid form of carbon dioxide) is used more, Pflieger told NPR. “The record heat that we’re seeing in this country and around the world is making this worse.”

Pflieger says his association’s members are working hard to fulfill customers’ orders. But he also warns that the situation will persist for weeks to come.

“We anticipate things to start reaching some normalcy in the next 30 to 60 days,” he said.

Well, that’s good news. It’s also good news that at least in Texas, some breweries have the ability to capture the CO2 they generate in the fermentation process for use in the other parts of the process. I have to say, even typing the words “carbon dioxide shortage” sounds ludicrous in this day and age, but we live in truly weird times. The Current has more.