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evictions

Emergency orders extended

In Houston.

City council on Tuesday extended Houston’s emergency health declaration, reflecting a warning by Mayor Sylvester Turner that the public health crisis fueled by the spread of COVID-19 will not go away anytime soon.

“This is a crisis. I hope there’s no one around this table that’s questioning that,” Turner told his colleagues during a spirited special meeting Tuesday. “And it’s a crisis that’s going to be with us for several weeks if not several months. And I hope no one is questioning that.”

The measure gives the mayor power to suspend rules and regulations and to “undergo additional health measures that prevent or control the spread of disease,” such as quarantine or setting up emergency shelters. Similar orders have been issued after hurricanes.

Turner declared the emergency last week, after the region’s first confirmed COVID-19 case of community spread, in which the virus was contracted locally rather than travel. The order was used to cancel the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release, which notes that among other things, all city-produced, sponsored and permitted events are canceled through the end of April, and the city expects to begin COVID-19 testing this week, with an announcement to come.

Harris County took similar action.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday extended Harris County’s public health disaster declaration in response to the coronavirus, but only for eight days.

The agenda for Tuesday’s emergency session called for a 30-day extension. However, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle asked for a shorter extension so other elected officials and the public can give input.

The other four members agreed and unanimously extended the declaration, which allows the county to more quickly purchase necessary supplies and services, though March 25. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she hoped Cagle was acting in good faith and not trying to build discord around the declaration.

“There is lives on the line in this thing,” Hidalgo said. “We’ve got to stick together, and this is not the time to be whipping up political opposition.”

[…]

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia asked Hidalgo to do all her office can to halt evictions. Garcia said many residents are losing income because schools and businesses have closed, and should be given a break.

Cagle said Commissioners Court should not take any action seen as swaying eviction proceedings in favor of defendants or ordering judges how to perform their duties. Garcia said he simply is seeking a delay in evictions so vulnerable residents have a chance to catch up on rent.

“I’m not asking for judges for any ruling,” Garcia said. “I’m just asking for the judge to halt the process until we can see some light at the end of this tunnel.”

The county judge does not oversee independently elected constables and justices of the peace who administer evictions. Assistant County Attorney Barbara Armstrong said emergency powers allow the county judge to close public buildings and allocate resources, which Hidalgo could exercise to prevent hearings from taking place. Armstrong said cases would resume when the crisis subsides.

Hidalgo said she has spoken with several of the county’s 16 justices of the peace, who have indicated they intend to temporarily stay eviction proceedings.

Other counties are taking similar action on halting evictions, and also making fewer arrests for low-level crimes, as is Harris. These are among the things that maybe we ought to continue after the crisis subsides. Just a thought.

The Green blues

First there was this.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ron Green, Houston’s top elected money manager and self-described watchdog, is seeking leniency for a five-time convicted felon and contractor who masterminded an elaborate real estate and forgery scam targeting the city’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Green is asking a judge for probation for his friend and former next-door neighbor Dwayne K. Jordon, a rogue developer who pleaded guilty to felony theft. According to indictments, Jordon pilfered 23 Houston properties from different owners and then duped unsuspecting buyers into purchasing homes built on stolen ground.

The ex-con contractor and the city controller have known each other about five years, the same period, according to a Houston Chronicle review of dozens of court records and related real estate documents, that Jordon carried out the series of land thefts, mortgage frauds and deed scams.

Harris County prosecutors want a 25-year sentence for Jordon, who has a long string of prior convictions, including kidnapping, armed robbery and illegal possession of drugs and firearms. Along with a business partner, Jordon executed the contracting scheme by forging deeds of sale on mostly vacant properties and profiting from his illegally built homes, indictments say.

Green – who owes $112,000 to the IRS and nearly lost his house to foreclosure in 2006 – has described the 46-year-old Jordon as a hardworking businessman who renovated Green’s own home. In fact, Jordon’s contract for the renovations helped Green get a new $508,000 home loan in 2008.

Acting as a character witness, Green told a judge in March that Jordon raised money to buy turkeys for the poor, performed high quality construction and “worked very hard to really try to change the face of that Sunnyside community in which he lives.”

Then there was this.

Elected Justice of the Peace Hilary Harmon Green repeatedly ordered the eviction of tenants and relatives on behalf of a five-time felon even though she and her husband, City Controller Ron Green, both had financial and personal ties to the home builder.

In one case involving Dwayne K. Jordon – a convicted thief who has admitted to repeatedly pilfering people’s properties for his residential construction projects – Green evicted Jordon’s own uncle despite a dispute over whether Jordon held ownership of the family home.

That ruling, which later was overturned by a county court, came in 2009 – the same year Green’s husband, a lawyer, was paid an undisclosed amount of money to advise Jordon on his criminal case, meet with a Harris County prosecutor and recommend a defense attorney.

Through her clerk, Hilary Green refused to comment on why she did not recuse herself from more than a dozen matters involving Jordon, who has been her neighbor, her home renovation contractor and for whom her husband has served as a character witness in the pending real estate criminal case.

[…]

Ethically, Hilary Green should have recused herself on legal cases involving Jordon because of her other associations with him, said Lillian Hardwick, an Austin attorney and expert in judicial conduct who co-authored the authoritative Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.

We don’t get much of either Green’s side of these stories, so it’s a little premature to judge them. Still, they don’t look good, and to have two bad stories in the space of a week, that’s going to leave a mark. Campos suggested after the first story came out that it put Ronald Green in a vulnerable position not just for a future Mayoral campaign but even potentially for re-election in 2013. I think it’s a little early for such speculation, but if there are more shoes to drop, then that certainly becomes possible. We’ll see if this is it or not.