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The Biden marijuana pardons

A pretty big deal.

Calling the criminalization of marijuana a “failed approach,” President Joe Biden announced a pardon of all federal marijuana possession charges Thursday — and urged governors to follow suit with state-level convictions for marijuana possession.

The federal pardon will affect about 6,500 people, The New York Times reported, but the vast majority of marijuana possession crimes are charged on the state level, not in a federal case.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday about Biden’s announcement.

Abbott’s gubernatorial opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, was quick to announce his support for the president’s action.

“When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

According to the Texas law, the governor can issue pardons only if a majority of Board of Pardons and Paroles members make such a recommendation in writing.

[…]

This year through August, Texas prosecutors filed more than 14,000 misdemeanor pot possession charges, so far leading to more than 5,000 convictions, according to statewide court data. Pot possession is a misdemeanor for up to 4 ounces, and a felony for quantities beyond that.

Marijuana prosecutions dropped dramatically after 2019, when Texas lawmakers legalized hemp and as a result complicated how law enforcement can determine if something is illegal cannabis. In 2018, for example, nearly 50,000 misdemeanor marijuana charges were filed.

I assume that a relatively large portion of the 6,500 people who will receive the federal pardon are in Texas; we’re a big state with a significant non-white population, so just on the numbers we’ll be home to a lot of the beneficiaries of this. I haven’t seen what that number might be, nor do I know how many people could be pardoned for state offenses, if Greg Abbott were so moved. We know that loosening marijuana laws polls well in Texas, though it’s not clear to me if these pardons would be as popular; my guess is they’d have significant support but maybe not as much as expanding medical marijuana access or decriminalizing pot for recreational use. This announcement may help charge up the youth vote, but again it’s hard to say by how much or what the net effect might be. We’re unlikely to get any insight from polling at this point.

The President’s actions were right on the merits and I daresay good on the politics. They were sufficiently long-awaited that I’d say some people had expected them to never happen. As is usually the case with federal action, Texas will get the smallest possible benefit from it because our state leaders won’t allow for any more than that. I assume I don’t need to tell you what we could do to affect that.

City news release website hacked

Oops.

Looking for a mail-order Russian bride or wondering how to order a school term paper online? Or maybe you want to improve your slot machine skills by playing online casino games. The city of Houston’s official website for news releases has you covered.

The page on Wednesday morning featured a spate of blog entries on a variety of confounding topics that were decidedly unrelated to City Hall. They were taken down by the afternoon, after the Houston Chronicle inquired about them.

The source of the blog entries, many of which were nonsensical, was unknown Wednesday. Mary Benton, the city’s communications director, said she alerted the information technology department to the posts. The listed author on the articles, a housing department employee named Ashley Lawson, did not actually write and post them, Benton said.

The entries appeared on the city’s news site, cityofhouston.news, a WordPress blog that does not share a domain with the city’s primary website, houstontx.gov.

Christopher Mitchell, the city’s chief information security officer, said no city information was compromised.

“We were recently made aware of improper posts appearing on a blog site utilized by the city to allow individual departments to post departmental content,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The blog site is hosted on a third-party platform and is not connected to any City of Houston enterprise systems. At no point did the city experience a compromise of city systems, data, or information. The origin of the posts was from an active account that was no longer in use, and the city is taking all necessary precautions to correct the issue and prevent a recurrence.”

The posts, often in broken or garbled English, had appeared at least 29 times since Sept. 13, displayed as “uncategorized” entries among more routine posts about police and fire investigations and where to get a flu shot.

Yeah, from a cybersecurity perspective this is (most likely) more of an embarrassment than a breach. It’s a good reminder of why obsolete accounts should be routinely deleted, or at least disabled. There are simple ways to monitor for this kind of activity – even fairly low-tech solutions, like automatically emailing new post notifications to an admin, are worthwhile – and I suspect the city will be doing that in the future. If you have to experience a public cybersecurity failure, there are much worse ways to do so. Please take this relatively painless opportunity to learn from it.

Our big mail ballot test is now underway

Sure hope we do better this time.

Harris County officials on Monday urged residents to follow the correct mail voting guidance as the end-of-the-month deadline to apply for mail-in ballots for the 2022 midterm elections nears.

This year’s primary elections in March experienced a surge in mail ballot rejections due to voter confusion over new requirements passed under Senate Bill 1. The new law requires residents to provide their Texas drivers license number or Social Security number when applying for a mail ballot and on the envelope containing their completed ballot. The number must match the number associated with their voter registration.

The Texas Secretary of State earlier this year said voters could put both numbers on their ballots and applications to avoid having them rejected.

Across the state, more than 12 percent of all mail ballots – nearly 25,000 – were rejected during the primaries. The rate was six times what it was in the 2018 midterm election. In Harris County, the rejection rate reached 40 percent initially before falling to 19 percent.

Areas with sizable Black populations were 44 percent more likely to see their ballots rejected than heavily white areas, according to a New York Times analysis based on data by the Harris County election administrator’s office.

Ballot rejection numbers were driven down by the time of the primary runoffs after election officials in some counties included additional instructions about identification requirements with voters’ mail ballots.

[…]

Since the primaries, the Elections Administration Office has implemented new measures to ensure a smoother voter experience for the midterms, according to Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum. That includes the addition of customer support specialists to assist mail-in voters and dozens of community events to raise awareness of proper voting procedures, Tatum said.

As you know, I’ve blogged about this a lot – see here for the most recent entry. I was encouraged by the improvements in the two May elections, but there are still a lot of people who will be voting for the first time under the new law, and the potential for a lot of rejections remains. My older daughter, now attending college out of state, will get to experience it herself. I hope these efforts have the desired effect. If you or someone you know will be voting by mail for the first time this fall, follow the instructions and use both the drivers license number and the SSN unless you know for sure which number you used on your voter registration. Don’t let your ballot get tossed out. KUHF has more.

The nightmare hurricane scenario

Sorry, but we have to think about it.

Eric Berger, meteorologist, Space City Weather editor and senior space editor at Ars Technica, said when it comes to hurricanes there are three principal threats to worry about: storm surge, winds and rainfall.

“Typically, with a hurricane you might get one or two of these threats in a particular area,” Berger said.

Ian is different though.

“The reason I say this is a nightmare storm is because for a sizable chunk of Florida it brought all three threats,” Berger said.

He said it is absolutely possible for this kind of storm to hit the Houston area.

“The odds of it happening in any given year are pretty low — probably one in 100. But absolutely it could happen in any given hurricane season,” Berger said.

Surges generally only affect coastal areas or areas within 10 to 15 feet above the water’s surface level. In Houston, those would be places like Galveston and Seabrook, Berger said.

Unlike storm surges, wind can have a wider effect. Wind damage can extend 100 miles inland in the Houston area, Berger said. He noted Hurricane Ike in 2008, when winds were enough to take down the power grid for about two weeks.

For Ike, he said there was a fairly large storm surge along the coast and there was some wind damage, but inland rainfall wasn’t a major issue. For Harvey, he said there was not much wind or storm surge issues in Houston, but there was about 50 inches of rainfall. Houston has yet to see a triple threat like Ian with a damaging storm surge, powerful winds and heavy inland rainfall.

Berger said a storm like Ian would be the worst case scenario for Houston.

“It would really change our community forever,” he said.

He said the immediate impacts would be devastation to parts of Galveston island, Bolivar Peninsula and coastal communities, along with wind damage at least up to Interstate 10. Wind damage would rip roofs off buildings, knock trees down and cause power outages lasting weeks to months. A storm surge threatens to cause environmental catastrophe since many chemical facilities along the Houston Ship Channel are only built up to about 15 feet, meaning there could be facility flooding with toxic leakages in the environment, Berger said. All of this would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

“It would be very difficult for this population to come back as vibrant as it is now,” Berger said.

We hope that the long-awaited Ike Dike will help mitigate the effect of a large storm surge. Wind and rain, there’s only so much we can do and most of it is in planning and construction – engineer buildings to withstand high winds, and don’t build things in areas prone to flooding. Maybe there’s more than that, but it feels like mostly hope to me. And if something has a one percent chance of happening in a given year, then over a fifty-year span the odds it will happen at least once are about 40%. Not the most comforting thought.

Telemundo and Asian Texans For Justice polls

Saw this on Twitter:

In the comments I found this link to the data. This was a live phone poll of 625 Hispanic registered voters in Texas, who said they were “likely” to vote. There isn’t a representative-sample poll of the state, this was specifically a poll of Hispanic voters, so that’s what you get. Of interest was the breakdown of the numbers by geographic region – read these as the totals for Beto, Abbott, “other”, and “undecided” left to right:


Dallas/Fort Worth      57% 27% 3% 13%
Houston Metro          57% 30% 2% 11%
San Antonio            54% 29% 3% 14%
Brownsville/McAllen    48% 37% 5% 10%
Corpus/Laredo/El Paso  54% 32% 2% 12%

I don’t know what the 2020 numbers would have been in this formulation. Assume there’s a fairly high margin of error for each, and proceed with caution if you want to draw any conclusions.

I was curious as to how this topline 54-31 number compared to the Hispanic subsamples from other polls, which would also have much larger margins of error as they would be considerably smaller in number. Going through my archives for September, I got this:

Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation: Beto 53, Abbott 39
Spectrum News/Siena College: Beto 58, Abbott 36
DMN/UT-Tyler: Beto 41, Abbott 37 (the two third party candidates combine for 13%, and I will very much bet the under on that)
UT/Texas Politics Project: Beto 52, Abbott 33
UH-TSU Texas Trends: Beto 53, Abbott 38

This result is a bit better for Beto than these others, but not so much so that you’d raise an eyebrow at it.

Telemundo also did a national poll of Hispanic voters in conjunction with NBC News, and I would say that the Texas numbers are more or less in line with the national ones. That’s maybe a bit of a shift from recent years, where Dems generally did a bit better outside Texas with Hispanic voters, but not a huge shift. It’s also consistent with the claim that Republicans have gained some ground in recent years, certainly in comparison with 2012, which looks like a high water mark for Dems right now.

Moving on, I got this in my inbox last week:

Asian Texans for Justice (ATJ) today released a statewide report, “The Deciding Margin: How AAPI Voters Will Shape the Future of Texas,” which found that four out of five Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Texas feel Asian American interests are not well represented in government now. The organization commissioned the poll to demystify an often misunderstood and misrepresented major voting bloc in the state.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Texas have been sidelined on the margins of Texas policy and politics for far too long,” said Lily Trieu, interim-executive director of Asian Texans for Justice. “But the data are clear: AAPI voters are not a silent minority on the margins of Texas politics. They have the potential to be the deciding margin for the future of Texas.”

The fastest growing ethnic group in Texas and nationwide, AAPIs now make up 6.3% of the Texas population. Not only does Texas have the third largest AAPI population, but it is outpacing AAPI growth nationally. According to the 2020 census, Texas’ Asian American population grew by 66.5% and the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population grew by 62% – compared to the national Asian American increase of just 38.6%.

Key Findings:

  1. The majority (64%) of AAPI in Texas are highly motivated to vote in the November 2022 midterm elections. 

  2. The most important policy issues to AAPI voters in Texas are economic recovery, inflation and cost of living, education, and voting rights. 

  3. The overwhelming majority of AAPI Texans are in favor of legalizing abortion (77%), gun safety legislation (83%), and making voting more convenient (85%).

  4. AAPI Texans have more in common with other communities of color (Black and Hispanic) than white Texans when it comes to policy issues, such as Medicare expansion, abortion rights, gun reform, voting rights, and the banning of Critical Race Theory. 

  5. Compared to Texans overall, AAPIs are more likely to identify as Democrats (42% of AAPIs vs 31% of the general population). An equal 29% identify as both Republicans and Independents. AAPI Republicans lean to the left of all Republicans statewide on a variety of issues polled.

  6. Only 20% of AAPI Texans believe AAPIs’ interests are well represented in government now. Almost two-thirds (64%) of AAPI Texans say it’s important to have elected officials who look like you and share the same background.

“Asian Texans are often mistakenly viewed as apathetic about politics,” said Ashley Cheng, founding president of Asian Texans for Justice. “Politicians have just been apathetic about us for far too long, but that is changing.”

The landing page is here and the report is here. No horse-race numbers, but the revelation that AAPI voters are to the left of the state overall was of interest. Read it and see what you think.

Evade this, Kenny

Paxton gets ordered to testify, along with an old-fashioned bench slapping.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge has ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to testify in an abortion rights lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman had previously quashed the subpoena, which Paxton fled his home to avoid being served.

In a hearing last week, lawyers representing abortion rights nonprofits asked Pitman to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman granted their motion on Tuesday.

These nonprofits, called abortion funds, brought the lawsuit in August, seeking assurance that they will not be criminally or civilly penalized for helping Texans pay for abortions out of state. They have argued that Paxton’s statements on social media and in the press make it clear that the state’s top lawyer believes the abortion funds can and should be prosecuted for their work over state lines.

[…]

[I]n Tuesday’s order, [Judge Pitman] said he [originally quashed the subpoena] “on the assumption that counsel for Paxton had made candid representations to the Court … only to learn later that Paxton failed to disclose Plaintiffs’ repeated emails attempting to inquire as to whether Paxton could testify.”

Pitman also sided with the abortion funds’ argument that Paxton has unique, first-hand knowledge that requires him to testify.

“The Court will not sanction a scheme where Paxton repeatedly labels his threats of prosecution as real for the purposes of deterrence and as hypothetical for the purposes of judicial review,” Pitman wrote.

He also rejected the argument that requiring Paxton to testify would be too much to ask of the state’s top lawyer.

“It is challenging to square the idea that Paxton has time to give interviews threatening prosecutions but would be unduly burdened by explaining what he means to the very parties affected by his statements,” Pitman wrote. “The burden faced by Plaintiffs—the effective cessation of many core operations—outweighs the burden of testimony faced by Paxton.”

Pitman gave lawyers on both sides a week to determine how and when Paxton will testify.

See here, here, and here for the background. Judge Pitman’s order is practically perfect. I have no notes. I look forward to seeing how Paxton responds to questions from someone who isn’t a sycophant. The Chron has more.

So did Ron DeSantis break Texas law or not?

A couple of lawyers try to figure it out.

Bexar County, Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar has announced a criminal investigation into Venezuelan migrants being induced in San Antonio to board chartered planes and flown to Martha’s Vineyard. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken credit for the stunt. The sheriff has said, “I believe there is some criminal activity involved here, but at present, we are trying to keep an open mind and we are going to investigate to find out and to determine what laws were broken if that does turn out to be the case.”

In this analysis, we look at the potential Texas state law charges that might apply. Our analysis may be a useful guide – for criminal investigators, press, potential whistleblowers or witnesses, the public and other stakeholders. We discuss what exactly might be investigated as a possible crime based on currently available information and what additional facts might be developed.

We first set out what we understand to be the relevant facts, drawing from public reports and a class action complaint filed in federal court in Massachusetts. We then turn to the potential charges and their elements, applying the law to the facts known at this time. Should further investigations or reports reveal additional or contradictory evidence, that could of course affect our analysis.

As discussed below, the conduct might violate multiple Texas criminal statutes, including unlawful restraint, exploitation of a child or elderly person, and certain fraud statutes, not to mention conspiracy and aiding and abetting. That said, the criminal investigation is at an early stage, facts are still being developed, and it is too soon to conclude that crimes were committed – or to rule that out.

See here for the background, and read the rest for the analysis. The short answer is that they believe there’s a good likelihood that various laws were broken, though that is clearer about the people who actually lured the migrants onto the plane than it is for DeSantis. Perhaps now that the mysterious Perla has been identified it will be easier to verify some things. Assuming she is arrested and made to testify under oath, which LULAC is pushing for. The bottom line, per the authors, is that “the allegations are serious ones which merit close attention”. It’s getting plenty of attention, it will just take awhile before we begin to get the answers.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 3

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes all obstacles could be batted aside with a NASA satellite as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff follows up his mockery of Ken Paxton with a note about what Paxton was really running from and why it mattered.

SocraticGadfly talks about Judge Pitman screwing over third-party candidates in Texas.

Stace reminds us that Greg Abbott’s border sideshow continues to cause death and waste.

===============

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Houstonia reports on Houston’s Afro-Latino Garifuna community and how it’s keeping its culture alive.

Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje remembers the impact of legal abortion with no regrets.

The Dallas Observer finds your new favorite subreddit.

In The Pink Texas goes back to her roots by recasting a political saga as a rom-com.

Your Local Epidemiologist brings a fall bivalent booster update.

Michael Li explains the Alabama redistricting case now before SCOTUS and its possible implications for the Voting Rights Act.

Endorsement watch: You have to want it first

The Chron endorses Duncan Klussman in CD38, partly by default.

Duncan Klussman

When we gave Wesley Hunt our endorsement in the Republican primary, he made it clear he’d rather go without it. Now, in the general election, we are more than happy to oblige him.

Democratic challenger Duncan Klussmann faces an uphill-both-ways battle, but his years of public service and deep understanding of his district make him our pick for the race.

By all measures, U.S. House District 38 seems tailor-made for Hunt, a West Point graduate endorsed by former President Donald Trump. One of Texas’ two new congressional districts, this one is ultra-red, including bits of River Oaks, the Energy Corridor and western Harris County. Voters there went for Trump by 18.2 percentage points in 2020, a fair indication that Hunt would’ve fared much better there than he did in congressional District 7, where he lost to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher by a few percentage points.

Hunt, 40, was a clear frontrunner in this year’s primaries. Compared with many of his challengers, “steeped in conspiracy theories and fear-mongering,” as we wrote in February, Hunt stayed focused on more substantive conservative priorities, “namely border security, reining in federal spending and funding flood infrastructure projects.” He also boasts an impressive 20-year military record.

It was an easy pick then. This time around, it’s easy to pass.

Klussmann, 59, has a lengthy resume of public service and involvement in the district. His 11 years of experience as a school district superintendent in Spring Branch and his time serving as a Jersey Village city council member give him a distinct grounding in the district itself.

His experience serving local constituents is unmatched and he shows a willingness to work across the aisle to get things done.

As I often seem to do in stories that like to overstate the redness of a given district, going 58% for Trump is not “ultra-red”. It’s just red. There are districts in which Trump got over 75%. If you’re describing a 58% district as “ultra-red”, what can you say about the latter? There’s no description that wouldn’t sound ridiculous. I consider this yet another way in which people fail to understand numbers. Be more measured in your quantitative adjectives, y’all.

Anyway. You can listen to my interview with Duncan Klussman from the primary here. The Chron also issued some endorsements in non-competitive races, giving their nod to Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, a district that Joe Biden won by thirty points in 2020 and yet whose blueness went unremarked upon; State Rep. Ann Johnson in HD134; and State Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Don’t bother looking for a pattern in the order of their endorsements. I’ve tried, and all I have to show for it is a minor facial tic. Whatever the race is you’re looking for, they’ll get to it when they get to it, unless they decide they’re not doing endorsements in that race, in which case they won’t.

Interview with Luke Warford

Luke Warford

The Texas Railroad Commission is that office where you always have to explain to normal people that it has nothing to do with its name. No trains, just energy, especially oil and gas leasing and inspections and other things. Including oversight and enforcement, such as requiring weatherization for gas wells that supply the power grid, a thing that would have been especially useful last February had they taken it seriously. They didn’t, and now is our chance to hold incumbent Wayne Christian, one of the more corrupt members of that commission, accountable. Luke Warford was one of the earliest statewide Democrats on the campaign trail, and he’s been there ever since. A former energy consultant, Warford has been the Chief Strategy Officer for the Texas Democratic Party and got his start in politics in 2012 with the Obama campaign. He was recently endorsed by Sarah Stogner, who challenged Christian in the Republican primary. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
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: Ted Wood

(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.)

Ted Wood

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

My name is Ted Wood. I am an Independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals.

This is probably the most intriguing judicial race in the Houston area because there are three candidates on the ballot (instead of just two). Here’s the lineup:

Julie Countiss is the Democratic nominee. She is currently a judge on Court. She does not have to give up her current spot to run for Chief. She will remain on the Court whether she wins or loses.

Terry Adams is the Republican nominee. He served on the Court for about six months in 2020. He is trying to regain a spot on the Court.

I am the third candidate – the first Independent candidate for a court of appeals in Texas in over 25 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Primarily appeals – in both civil and criminal cases.

In the typical court case, one side wins and the other side loses. The losing party often wants to appeal the case. Generally, any such appeal will be heard by a court of appeals.

A court of appeals does not try the case again. An appeal is not a “do-over.” Rather, a court of appeals considers written arguments by lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers also make oral arguments.

One lawyer will argue that mistakes were made in the trial court. The other lawyer will argue that everything was just fine.

Courts of appeals carefully consider these arguments and then decide which one is right. A court of appeals must explain its decision in a written opinion. While further appeals are sometimes possible, the court of appeals typically has the last say in the case.

Ideally, the judges on a court of appeals are very good at weighing legal arguments and then explaining their conclusions in writing. The end product of an appeal is a written opinion explaining why one side wins and the other side loses.

The First Court of Appeals handles appeals from ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Our Texas judicial system is pretty much broken. The general population doesn’t believe cases are decided on the basis of the law. There are two reasons for this.

First, candidates for judge almost always run as Republicans and Democrats. This creates a perception that judicial decisions are based on politics. This is especially the case in the courts of appeals.

Second, nearly all judicial candidates accept money to fund their campaigns. This creates a perception that money affects judicial decisions.

Even if individual judges do not let party affiliation affect their decisions, people perceive that court decisions are politically based. And even if individual judges do not let campaign contributions affect their decisions, the perception is that money makes a difference. Again, the problem is one of perception.

I am really chagrined that people have such a lack of faith in our judicial system. I want to change this and that is why I am running for Chief Justice. My platform has two planks that work toward restoring confidence in our courts.

First, I am running as an Independent to avoid any impression that I am somehow trying to advance a political agenda.

Second, I am accepting no money from anyone. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that money affects my decisions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I currently work for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. I handle legislative matters for the office and I also do appeals. In six years at the office, I have handled 57 separate appeals. I have made oral arguments at the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

My first job after law school was as a briefing attorney for the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo. I worked for Justice H. Bryan Poff, Jr for over three-and-a-half years. In this role, I evaluated legal briefs in both civil and criminal cases and drafted documents for use by Justice Poff in formulating opinions.

I served over 7 years as the constitutional county judge in Randall County (which takes in half of the City of Amarillo). This is the same position as that currently held by Lina Hidalgo in Harris County. Besides dealing with budgets, taxes, and county administration, I also served as the judge over certain individual cases. Those cases included juvenile cases, mental commitments, guardianships, probate cases, and appeals from justice and municipal courts. So I have plenty of judicial experience. And the experience I gained as Randall County’s chief administrative officer will help me in handling the administrative matters inherent in the position of Chief Justice.

At Baylor Law School, I won a writing competition and became a member of the Baylor Law Review. I eventually served as a Notes and Comments Editor on the Baylor Law Review. I have always enjoyed legal research and writing and I am fairly good at it. This is the main skill necessary for success as a judge on a court of appeals.

Finally, I spent 13 years as an assistant general counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin. This experience gave me a close-up view of the Texas court system as a whole and inspired my interest in improving the system itself.

5. Why is this race important?

There are two courts of appeals in Houston. One is the First Court of Appeals. The other is the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Each of the courts has a chief justice and eight other justices. The two chief-justice positions are the top judicial positions in the Texas court system in the Houston area.

A chief justice has the opportunity to set the tone for the Texas judicial system in this area. And that is exactly what I want to do. I want to set a tone showing that the First Courts of Appeals can be trusted to make decisions based solely on the law. Politics should never enter into judicial decisions. Neither should campaign contributions.

We have a rare opportunity to move in a new direction in 2022. This is an open seat. The current Chief Justice, Sherry Radack, is retiring after 18 years in the position. Voters now have a choice to move toward instilling confidence in our courts and repairing our broken judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Let’s turn this question around. Why should people not vote for me?

If you believe the purpose of the courts of appeals is to advance some sort of partisan political agenda, then I am not your candidate. My view is that it is not the role of a judge to advance any kind of a political agenda. Rather, the role of a judge is to decide cases solely on the basis of the law. Let the chips fall where they may.

If you have no problem with judges accepting money from lawyers and others with interests in the Court’s decisions, then I am not your candidate. The whole idea of judges taking money is inimical to the idea of impartial and unbiased judicial decision-making. It’s unseemly, to say the least.

But, if you agree with me that judges shouldn’t be Republicans or Democrats, then you really ought to vote for me.

And if you agree with me that judges taking money is a bad look, then you ought to seriously consider voting for me for this reason as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

The professional vote-deniers are out there

They’re probing the systems for weaknesses, a line that reminds me of the velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park. Except that the ‘raptors were sleek and efficient predators, while these guys are basically Pennywise with canned scripts and a huge wingnut-funded budget. The malice is still there, though.

Two of Donald Trump’s most prominent allies in his fight to overturn the 2020 election are leading a coordinated, multi-state effort to probe local election officials in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Arizona, and Texas ahead of the November election.

The America Project, an organization founded by Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general and former national security adviser, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, has so far interviewed or attempted to interview officials in nearly 200 counties across eight swing states, according to copies of notes, recordings of the interviews, and other documents Votebeat found on web pages associated with the organization. The survey questions reflect the same debunked conspiracies and misleading information about elections that Flynn and Byrne have been propagating for years.

The survey questions appear intended to detect potential weaknesses in local election systems and gather detailed information about how elections are run. Election experts say the information could easily be used to fuel misinformation campaigns, disrupt voting, or challenge results.

“It seems consistent with their efforts to really understand how to manipulate the machinery of election administration in this country,” said Ben Berwick, counsel at national nonprofit Protect Democracy, a research and advocacy group.

In 2020, Byrne and Flynn were among the Trump loyalists who devised a plan to seize voting machines across the country and dig up enough evidence of fraud to persuade state lawmakers, Congress, or the vice president to overturn the election results. Now, they are focusing their efforts on the midterm election, with new strategies. A group backed by The America Project, for example, is attempting to purge voter rolls in Georgia ahead of the election.

The surveys are part of The America Project’s latest mission, dubbed “Operation Eagles Wings,” which is organized on foramericafirst.com, with web pages for each of the swing states the group is focused on. Key to the effort is building relationships with local election officials, according to two manuals for local volunteers on the organization’s websites. The officials are asked their opinions on debunked conspiracy theories, perhaps to determine whether they are like-minded individuals. Interviewers are also marking down which clerks are particularly helpful.

Berwick points out that it’s the mission of prominent Trump supporters to fill positions of power — from governors down to local clerks — with people who believe their allegations of election fraud and improprieties. Noting who does and does not support the cause, he said, may be the group’s way of determining “who will be sympathetic to their efforts in the future.”

Election officials have generally been friendly to their interviewers, but have also repeatedly assured them that their elections are fair, voting machines are secure, and voter rolls are accurate.

[…]

A key goal of Operation Eagles Wings is to create small volunteer teams across the country who observe the entirety of the election process, starting in part with the surveys, according to the manuals Votebeat found.

It’s the expansion of what they have dubbed “the Virginia model,” which refers to the work of Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network in Virginia to create a network for the state’s 2021 election, according to the manuals.* The America Project provided funding to that effort.

The larger Operation Eagles Wings initiative is aimed at educating “election reform activists on everything from grassroots training to election canvassing and fundraising,” according to The America Project’s website. The site claims the group provides training “for Americans who want to make sure there are no repeats of the errors that happened in the 2020 election.”

“We need to do everything in our power to protect the voting process from election meddlers who care only about serving crooked special interest groups that neither respect nor value the rule of law,” the homepage says.

Along with the surveys, the initiative encourages election skeptics to serve as poll workers and observers, perform in-person “voter registration audits,” and to visit “large farms, factories, businesses and especially care homes,” and ask residents whether anyone is forcing them to vote, according to the manuals.

It’s a long story and Votebeat does its typically thorough job of documenting the atrocities. I don’t know what the best way to respond to this is, but I do know that if we don’t figure it out, and find a way to fund it, we’re going to be screwed.

That US Soccer report on abuse allegations in the NWSL

It’s a lot, and as the head of US Soccer says, it’s just the first step.

The independent investigation into player abuse in women’s professional soccer found a long list of failures by National Women’s Soccer League coaches and executives, as well as the United States Soccer Federation itself.

“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” the report read. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.”

The summary report, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, also details recommendations for the USSF to implement going forward. The investigation was conducted by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, on behalf of the USSF.

The report includes a previously undisclosed revelation as to the manner of Racing Louisville’s firing of Christy Holly as manager back in August 2021. The report details how Holly called a player, identified as Erin Simon, in for a film session, stating he would touch her “for every pass” she made a mistake on. (ESPN’s policy is to not publicly identify victims of abuse, but Simon, through a spokesperson, agreed to be identified.)

Holly then proceeded to put his hand “down her pants and up her shirt.” Simon would try to “tightly cross her legs and push him away, laughing to avoid angering him,” adds the report, stating that when her teammate picked her up to drive home, Simon broke down crying.

Holly was later fired for cause, though the reason for his firing wasn’t publicly disclosed.

“There are too many athletes who still suffer in silence because they are scared that no one will help them or hear them,” Simon said in a statement through a spokesperson. “I know because that is how I felt. Through many difficult days, my faith alone sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that no other player must experience what I did. This report allows our voices to finally be heard and is the first step toward achieving the respectful workplace we all deserve. It is my sincere hope that the pain we have all experienced and the change we have all brought about will be for the good of our league and this game we all deeply love.”

In a statement, USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone said: “This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling. The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace. As the national governing body for our sport, U.S. Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players — at all levels — have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete. We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

[…]

The abuse by coaches wasn’t always sexual in nature, the report found, with former Chicago Red Stars manager Rory Dames among those found to have verbally and emotionally abused players.

“We heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward,” the report read.

Among the report’s findings was that throughout the league’s existence, teams, the NWSL and USSF failed to put in place basic measures for player safety. The report also detailed how abuse in the NWSL was systemic and that NWSL teams, the league and the federation failed to adequately address reports and evidence of misconduct.

“Teams, the League, and the Federation not only repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse, they also failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections,” the report read. “As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct. Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches.”

Because the teams, the NWSL and USSF failed to identify and inform others of coaches’ misconduct, the abuse was allowed to continue. This was due in part to a culture of abuse, silence and fear of retaliation due to a lack of job security.

See here and here for the background. The US Soccer statement is here and the full report is here. I searched it for the name James Clarkson, the now-suspended coach of the Houston Dash, to see what it said about him, since his name was not popping up in the news stories. There was just one mention, on page 54, in a section on “Recent Allegations”. I suppose whatever happened, or at least the allegations about whatever happened, was too late for this report. I would welcome some further investigation, because we need to get this all out into the open. I hope a comprehensive plan of prevention, detection, and enforcement will follow. More here from ESPN and NPR.

Judicial Q&A: Justice Julie Countiss

(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.)

Justice Julie Countiss

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

I am Justice Julie Countiss. I am a judge on the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas and I’m running for Chief Justice of this court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

We hear appeals from every trial court in our ten-county district. Our cases cover almost every area of Texas law. We hear criminal, civil, family, juvenile and probate cases. We interpret and apply Texas law and write our decisions as legal “opinions” that determine the outcome of the case. It could be a divorce, a custody battle, a lawsuit between two businesses, a family dispute over a will, a personal injury case or a murder conviction–just to name a few types.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m now in my fourth year serving as a judge on the First Court of Appeals. Our Chief Justice is retiring and her seat is up in November 2022.

I would like to succeed her as chief justice to ensure our court continues to run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’m the only person running for chief justice who serves on this court now. As such, I have the most experience and am most familiar with the way our court runs. I have worked closely with all my colleagues and our staff since I took the bench. We navigated a ransomware attack in May of 2020 that paralyzed our computer system for over 6-weeks while also dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Through that experience, I learned a lot about leadership from our retiring chief justice. But most importantly, I am deeply committed to my work and to my First Court of Appeals family here and will work tirelessly to ensure we deliver justice and fairness for all.

5. Why is this race important?

In the Houston area, the First Court of Appeals is the last opportunity for justice to be served. In the vast majority of cases, our court has the last word. The courts above us (Texas Supreme Court and
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) have discretion to choose which cases they hear. They only hear a small number of cases depending on how important they deem the case. But our court hears every properly filed appeal. So we are almost always the last word for those parties. We are interpreting and applying Texas law, in very important ways, every single day. Our decisions impact your life, your liberty and your property.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

This race is especially important because of the upheaval we’re seeing in Texas law lately. The future of Texas–especially women and children–is at stake in this election.

At least one local voter purge effort has been thwarted

For now, at least. Like flies to garbage, though, you know they’ll be back for more.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office received a flood of affidavits this summer challenging the eligibility of thousands of registered voters throughout the county, accusing them of not living at the addresses listed on registration records.

None of the affidavits led to county elections officials removing any names from the voter rolls.

The affidavits are linked to efforts by a conservative grass-roots organization called the Texas Election Network, which earlier this year attempted to get Sunnyside residents to sign forms verifying the identities of registered voters living at their addresses.

Each affidavit alleges that numerous registered voters in Harris County “do not reside at the addresses listed on their voter registration records,” as required by state election law. Upon receiving a sworn statement challenging a voter’s residence, election officials must send a “Notice of Address Confirmation” to the voter in question.

The challenges were first reported by The New York Times, which found the affidavits disputed the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters.

In all, the Elections Administrator’s Office received 115 affidavits, according to Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the elections office.

Of those, Shah said, 66 were rejected because they “did not meet statutory requirements and contained incomplete information.”

Another 49 challenges came in after Aug. 10, the 90th day before the election. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “motor voter act,” bars election officials from performing most voter roll maintenance activities within 90 days of a federal election. The restriction applies to any program intended to “systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list of eligible voters,” including “general mailings and door to door canvasses,” according to the Justice Department.

Each of the forms submitted by various Harris County residents cited voter registration data retrieved by the Texas Election Network, along with the residents’ own canvassing efforts.

“I have personally been told by persons actually residing at these addresses that the challenged voter does not reside at that address and is not only temporarily absent from that address with an intent to return,” the affidavits read. “I am requesting that the Harris County Elections Administrator take the actions required by the Texas Election Code.”

Shah said the office “will work in coordination with the county attorney’s office to review and determine the validity of all challenges on a case-by-case basis” after the midterm election.

When the Texas Election Network’s canvassing efforts in Sunnyside came to light in early July, County Attorney Christian Menefee’s office said it was “investigating this issue and exploring legal options to protect residents and prevent this from happening again.”

Asked about the status of the investigation this week, county attorney spokesperson Roxanne Werner said, “Although we have not found any further activity by this group, we are continuing to monitor the situation and will take action if appropriate. We won’t allow any group to engage in illegal conduct to try and remove registered voters off the rolls.”

See here (scroll down) for the background. I do hope the County Attorney’s Office keeps an eye on this activity, because we know it’s ill-intentioned bullshit and it deserves to be closely scrutinized. Don’t ever give them an inch.

Tell me again why we’re encouraging all these crypto-miners to come to Texas

Seriously, what are we doing here?

Cryptocurrency miners are accelerating their push to expand in Texas far beyond what authorities had initially expected, threatening to send the state’s electricity use skyrocketing.

Enough miners have applied to connect to Texas’s power grid to use up to 33 gigawatts of electricity, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the system, said in an email Friday. That’s a third more than what the grid operator’s chief executive officer said in April that officials were preparing to handle over the next decade. It’s also enough to power all of New York State.

A spokeswoman for the grid operator, known as ERCOT, said officials expect to have enough power plants available to meet any rise in demand. The miners will need approval from ERCOT before connecting to the grid.

The surging interest underscores how appealing Texas remains to crypto miners, even as the value of Bitcoin has plunged more than 50% in the past year. And while many of those miners may never actually set up shop, the sheer number applying raises questions over whether the state’s grid, which collapsed during a deadly 2021 winter storm, will be able to meet the demand for electricity.

Crypto miners currently account for about 1.2 gigawatts of electricity demand in Texas, according to the Texas Blockchain Council, which represents miners. That’s enough to power about 240,000 homes. Over the past four months, the number of miners applying to plug into the grid has doubled.

The state has aggressively recruited miners, touting its cheap power, abundant renewable energy and business-friendly regulatory environment. Texas has some of the cheapest electricity rates for big consumers, averaging about 7.57 cents per kilowatt-hour in June, a third lower than the national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It also has more wind power than any other state, which is appealing to miners pushing to appear more environmentally friendly.

In April, ERCOT’s interim CEO Brad Jones said he was working with miners to prepare the grid to handle about 25 gigawatts of crypto demand over the next decade. When asked if Texas aims to be the world’s largest mining center, he replied: “Yeah, that’s what we are planning.”

See here for some background. This story is from about a month ago, and it was the publication of another crypto story in the Trib that spurred me to finally hit publish on it. My main question is simply “Why?” What are we getting out of this? I’ll come back to that in the next crypto post. Yahoo News has more.

Endorsement watch: Starting out with Susan

The Chron kicks off endorsement season with a fulsome recommendation of Susan Hays for Ag Commissioner.

Susan Hays

Hays, 53, lives in Alpine, where she and her husband purchased land several years ago to grow hemp and hops. Her background is as an attorney and lobbyist, including her 2019 work helping craft the Texas law allowing any hemp product with less than 0.3 percent THC.

Like the Republican incumbent, Sid Miller, she has made medical marijuana legalization central to her campaign.

Hays said she’s taken a close look at other states’ cannabis policies and determined that the successful ones have a well-balanced “three-legged stool” of medicinal access, decriminalization and legalization, all working together to curb the black market and ensure people remain safe.

“You have to think of cannabis regulation holistically,” she told the editorial board, speaking of her frustration with Texas’ piecemeal approach and widely-varying regulations.

[…]

Hays promises to lead the department with integrity, and we think she presents Texans with a better shot at competent leadership than we ever had under Miller. If elected, she told us, her constituents “won’t have to worry if I’m off seeking pseudo medical treatment in another state or directing a staffer to commit unsavory acts for a quick buck.”

She vows to govern pragmatically, not politically, sticking to her duties as agriculture commissioner rather than partisan talking points: “That’s not just abortion and guns — it’s the freeze, it’s seeing the elected officials spend taxpayer dollars and money and media space on often made-up issues, issues based in fear, instead of actually governing,” Hays said.

She seeks to revitalize the State Office of Rural Health, a rural hospital program, and commit the department’s resources to improving rural health care, sorely needed in Texas. The agriculture department oversees the state’s school lunch program, and Hays seeks to make sure students — rural, suburban and urban — are getting healthy Texas food rather than processed food from elsewhere.

If you like a circus act that sucks up oxygen and taxpayer money, vote for Miller. If you want a serious candidate well qualified to run the Texas agriculture department fairly, efficiently, and honestly, we can’t recommend Hays highly enough.

If reading the words isn’t enough for you, listen to my interview with Susan Hays and hear her say these things herself. She’ll make a believer out of you. The Chron editorial necessarily gets into the case against Sid Miller, but they only have so much space for that. It’s so abundantly clear that Hays is the best choice, I don’t know what else to tell you.

On a side note, Beto O’Rourke had himself a pretty good weekend for endorsements, picking them up from the likes of Harry Styles, Willie Nelson, and thirty-five members of Uvalde shooting victims’ families. The ad now running that features the mother of one of the victims is just devastating. I saw it during a football game over the weekend, and it took my breath away. I’m not normally moved by ads, especially political ads – they’re just background noise to me, including the ones for candidates I like. This one was different. Wow.

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.

Weekend link dump for October 2

“Whether The Jetsons was a blueprint for the future or simply a prediction of it, it foreshadowed many of the products and services we now use today.”

“Fifty years ago this spring, I was on the original daytime show with Art Fleming in New York.”

Clearly, the lesson here is to not mess with Jon Bon Jovi.

“How Roberto Clemente Harnessed Celebrity To Change America”.

Just a nice story about Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, as told by Mark Evanier.

“It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”

Who is Perla? And where is Perla?

“But current technology can reveal a person’s transgender identity by linking seemingly anonymized information such as their neighborhood and age to discover that their sex was reported differently in successive censuses. The ability to deanonymize gender and other data could spell disaster for trans people and families living in states that seek to criminalize them.”

RIP, NFL Pro Bowl, an event no one really cared about.

“Netflix is no longer pursuing a copyright lawsuit against the creators of The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical.”

Lock him up.

I don’t know if I should be disappointed with Kim Mulkey for her shameful refusal to support Brittney Griner, or if this is always who she was and I’m just now seeing it.

Please don’t be mean to King Charles, The Crown.

RIP, Joe Bussard, music historian who helped preserve a ton of early 20th century American records.

“A subreddit account has decided to do some masterclass trolling in order to test Gov. Greg Abbott with this horrendous law.”

RIP, Coolio, Grammy-winning musician best known for “Gangsta’s Paradise”.

A few alternate email signatures to try.

A classically-trained flute player plays a flute. Some people find a reason to object to that. No, it makes no sense to me either.

RIP, Hector Lopez, two-time World Series champion with the Yankees and the first Black manager in Triple A ball.

Fifth Circuit does its thing with appeal of voter purge case

Get out the rubber stamp.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court has ruled that Texas does not need to release details about a list of 11,737 registered voters whom the state has identified as potential noncitizens.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Thursday reversed a lower court’s ruling in August in which a district judge had found Texas was violating federal law by refusing to release the list.

The appellate court found that the five civil rights groups suing the Texas secretary of state for the list did not have standing to sue. Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones wrote in the ruling that the groups have neither established injury to themselves from the state’s refusal to release the list nor sued on behalf of any voter included on the list who could be harmed.

The coalition “offered no meaningful evidence regarding any downstream consequences from an alleged injury in law under the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act],” Jones wrote. “The lack of concrete harm here is reinforced because not a single Plaintiff is a Texas voter, much less a voter wrongfully identified as ineligible.”

The groups suing the state are the Campaign Legal Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Demos. The groups, which sued the state in February for failing to comply with the NVRA’s public disclosure requirements, sought to hold Texas accountable if it incorrectly misidentified registered voters as noncitizens and disenfranchised naturalized citizens.

“We are disappointed with the court’s opinion and are exploring our options with respect to any next steps,” Molly Danahy, the Campaign Legal Center’s senior legal counsel for litigation, said in a statement. We will continue to monitor potential voter purges in Texas because transparency is vital to a healthy democracy and all citizens deserve to have equal access to the ballot.”

See here and here for the background. I didn’t find any discussion of this in the usual places I look on Twitter, so I don’t know if there’s a hint of merit to the ruling or if it’s wholly made up. Given the recent history of this circuit and that top-level bad actor Edith Jones wrote it, you can probably guess what I think. The Fifth Circuit not only gets no benefit of the doubt from me, they get a presumption of doubt. This is simply not a legitimate court, and this wasn’t even their worst ruling of the week. Burn it all down.

The Paxton subpoena-fleeing saga gets more ridiculous

Because of course it does.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers in an abortion lawsuit tried for days to subpoena Attorney General Ken Paxton before sending a process server to his home Monday, and notified his office that their server was there before Paxton fled in a truck driven by his wife, according to court records detailing the communication.

Paxton said he left his house in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, because a “strange man” made him fear for his safety; his attorneys say they didn’t know he’d be served the subpoena at his home.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman quashed the subpoena on Tuesday, but attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman has not yet ruled on that motion, or the merits of the case, which concerns whether nonprofit groups, known as abortion funds, can help Texans pay to get abortions out of state.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, names Paxton as one of the defendants, and the plaintiffs sought to call him to testify at the preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday.

Four days before the hearing, on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, Austin attorney Elizabeth Myers emailed assistant attorney general Amy Hilton, saying that since it was not clear whether Paxton intended to be at the hearing, they were going to issue a subpoena out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I assume you’d like for us to serve that through you, but will you please confirm by noon today that you will accept service,” Myers wrote. “Otherwise, we’ll start the personal service process. I’d really prefer not to have to do that, of course.”

Hilton did not confirm whether they could accept the subpoena on Paxton’s behalf, so the lawyers had a process server deliver the subpoena to Paxton’s office Friday afternoon, emails indicate.

But on Sunday, attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office told Myers that the subpoena was invalid because it was served through Paxton’s office but sought to depose him in his individual capacity, according to the plaintiffs’ motion before Pitman.

Attorneys for the state said that Paxton would be represented in his official capacity at the hearing by assistant attorneys general, and “declined to clearly indicate whether they would accept a revised subpoena,” according to that motion.

“Myers then indicated that this meant General Paxton needed to be served personally, and Ms. Myers asked if General Paxton’s counsel knew where General Paxton was so that he could be located and served,” the filing reads.

The representatives from Paxton’s office declined to provide that information but said they would determine whether they could accept a subpoena on his behalf, the filing says. By Sunday evening, though, Hilton said they did not yet have an answer for the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“Please let me know ASAP if you are authorized to accept service so I can adjust our process server instructions,” Myers wrote in an email sent Sunday at 6:50 p.m.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged in a motion filed Tuesday that they were aware that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were going to attempt to serve Paxton with a subpoena. But they did not know that that meant they “intended to attempt personal service on Ken Paxton at his private residence.”

See here and here for the background. The story goes on from there, with the plaintiffs trying to get an answer from the AG’s office about how best they can do this totally normal procedural thing and getting stonewalled, then a flunky from the AG’s office whining about the plaintiffs doing what they said they would do if they couldn’t get an answer from them. It’s a level of clownishness from the AG’s office that even I hadn’t expected from them, which probably means I need to recalibrate my cynicism again. There was a time when I would have wondered if the people who keep defending Ken Paxton might be feeling even a little bit of shame at these displays, and then I remember that those people haven’t felt any shame since at least 2015, so there you have it. I don’t know what else there is to say.

More on the lawsuit against True The Vote

NPR takes a deep dive.

Konnech, a small Michigan company that makes election logistics software, says a “smear campaign” whipped up by the controversial group True the Vote has led to death threats and forced the company’s CEO to leave home in fear for his and his family’s lives. The company believes a driving force behind the threats is xenophobia; Konnech’s CEO immigrated to the U.S. from China in the 1980s and became an American citizen in 1997.

In the past, the executive of a relatively unknown company might have chosen to ignore such claims to try to deprive them of attention.

But in the wake of the conspiracy-fueled Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and in the era of QAnon and Pizzagate — bizarre and baseless theories that have contributed to very real violence — that strategy may no longer be tenable. The experience of the election technology company Dominion Voting Systems, which became the target of widespread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, also underscored how wild claims could significantly damage a company’s business.

Just a few weeks after accusations against the company first surfaced, Konnech turned to the federal courts and filed a lawsuit. Konnech was “not going to take any chances and felt very strongly that it needed to act and act quickly,” said Jon Goldberg, a company spokesperson.

Konnech, which makes scheduling software for poll workers, joined a growing number of election officials and companies that have used defamation law to try to fight back against election-related conspiracies.

[…]

At an event in August dubbed “The Pit,” Engelbrecht and Phillips unveiled what they called the “Tiger Project,” which focused on Konnech. In interviews with far-right podcasters, Phillips has spun a cloak-and-dagger story that he compared to a James Bond movie, in which he helped uncover a supposed Chinese plot to infiltrate American elections.

In Phillips’ telling, he first heard about the company from “my guys” — unnamed “colleagues and friends” who invited him to their room in the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas one late night in January 2021.

“I get there and they’re putting towels, rolled up towels, under the doors and you know, and all my guys are armed,” Phillips said on the podcast “1819 News.”

Phillips said his colleagues showed him personal information for 1.8 million American poll workers, including “name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, banking information,” which supposedly was held on a server in China.

Konnech maintains that this claim is entirely false, and that all of its data on American customers is stored solely in the U.S.

After seeing this presentation, Phillips claims that he and Engelbrecht brought Konnech’s data to the FBI, which he claims then worked with them for more than a year on a supposed “counterintelligence” operation looking into Konnech. At one point, Phillips said he had a “secret squirrels” meeting with the FBI in Milwaukee to share information. Eventually, however, the FBI “completely betrayed us,” Phillips said, and told True the Vote that they were themselves under scrutiny from law enforcement.

True the Vote has not publicly provided evidence to support the claim of a “counterintelligence” operation along those lines, nor has NPR found any corroboration. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

See here for the background and be sure to read the rest. I love the idea that these clowns thought they were reporting a crime to the FBI when in fact they were telling on themselves. I just hope it leads to the conclusion that we all want to see.

White Oak bike trail extension: I think we’re done now?

When we last looked about a month ago, it was clear that the construction on the White Oak Bike Trail extension was almost done, as there was just a small amount of concrete to be poured to connect the trail to the existing MKT Trail. As of last weekend, when these pictures were taken, it seems that at least the concrete work is now finished.

HeightsTrailExtensionReallyAlmostDone

You can see two things of interest in this picture. One is that the concrete trail is now farther along – more on that in a minute – and two is that there is no longer a dirt trail dug for construction equipment to access the more southern parts of the extension. What you see to the left (south) of the trail is the dirt (and eventual grass that will cover it) being smoothed back into place. This has a much more finished look to it than what we saw a month ago.

That picture was taken from the overpass on Studewood. I moved over to the MKT Trail to get a better look from the other side. Here’s the last bit of concrete that was poured:

HeightsTrailExtenaionMostRecentProgress

And as of the previous weekend, here’s the last bit that was still to be poured, at least as far as the trail itself was concerned:

HeightsTrailExtensionLastBit

The Heights Trail extension connects with the MKT Trail just west of the MKT Bridge, To my left as I took this picture there was a box about eight or ten feet square that had rebar in it and was clearly awaiting some concrete. It was not attached to either trail and it had workers all around it so I didn’t get a picture. Maybe next time. I couldn’t say offhand what that box was for, but once it’s done it may be obvious to me.

In case you’re wondering where all the construction equipment was at that time:

HeightsTrailExtensionConstructionEquipment

As you can see, that dirt path is parallel and right next to the MKT Trail, and it is curving onto Frasier Street, which we have discussed before. The fate of that connection to Frasier Street was still not clear to me at that time, but I’m a little worried:

HeightsTrailExtensionAtFrasier

Initially, and even as of a month ago, that looked like a connection from Frasier Street to the MKT Trail, which I assumed from the beginning would eventually be paved over and become a part of the trail system. Now I’m not so sure. It’s not vital – you can still get there even if you have to cross over grass or mud or whatever, and a block farther west you can access the trail directly from Oxford Street. It’s just that this is a little closer to Studewood, so if you’re coming from that side it’s more convenient. From my perspective as someone who lives on the other side of Studewood, I would just use the Heights trail extension now if I intended to get onto the MKT Trail. All I’m saying is we’re here, we have the equipment, adding just a little more concrete would make it just a little easier for some folks to access the trail, so why not do it? I’ll see what it looks like once it’s clear that the construction is officially over. I hope there will be a ribbon-cutting of some kind to celebrate the completion of this task. If not, I’ll just celebrate it here.

Texas to appeal that ridiculous ruling that forbade banning handgun sales to those under 21

Good. Now we’ll see if their heart is in it.

Texas is gearing up to fight a judge’s ruling that the state can’t ban adults under 21 from carrying handguns, a move that’s drawing anger from some gun rights groups.

Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed a notice of an appeal of the ruling on behalf of the Texas Department of Public Safety. It came almost a month after U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, issued the original ruling on Aug. 25, writing that the Second Amendment protects all adults’ right to bear arms without an age limit. The suit was brought on by two plaintiffs within the 18-to-20 age range and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc. against the state of Texas.

The notice, which includes Paxton’s name on the filing, did not say the ground on which it would base its appeal. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for DPS said the agency does not comment on pending legal cases.

But in prior filings in the case, the state has argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment as it is consistent with Texas’ “longstanding tradition” of restricting access to guns based on age.

See here for the background, and here for a reminder that Greg Abbott is either a bad lawyer, a bad liar, or both. A couple of gun-worship groups are quoted as being disappointed in this decision; I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. I’m glad that the state didn’t just punt on this, but I’ll want to see how they actually act before I give them any credit for it beyond that.

In case you needed a clear example of the moral depravity of the “right to life” movement

So a couple of days ago State Sen. Robert Nichols, who has a consistent anti-abortion voting record, said at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would be willing to add a rape exception to Texas’ extremely strict forced birth laws. In other words, he’d be willing to support adding a provision to the existing law that national and state polling says is overwhelmingly popular, like in the 90% range.

This of course caused an immediate backlash among the most virulent of the forced-birth fanatics. Within a day or so, one of those groups announced on Twitter that they had rescinded their endorsement of Sen. Nichols, who I remind you again has been a stalwart ally and who – in fairly conditional and qualified language – offered support for an amendment to Texas law that would allow rape victims to legally access abortion, which is something that a huge majority of Texans support.

Okay. Now that you have all that, I want you to read the quote – on the record, for publication – that the leader of this organization gave in response to a question about why they no longer endorsed Sen. Nichols:

Sxxx, of Texas Right to Life, said it was “mind-boggling” to hear that other groups that bill themselves as pro-life would continue to support Nichols.

“It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be pro-life,” said Sxxx. “To say that you’re going to punish the child for a sin of the father — that misses the point. That’s pro-life 101.”

Yeah, the fact that there’s absolutely no mention of the mother in this quote is the perfect distillation of this warped and immoral viewpoint. Not even the possibility that the mother could well be a little girl, it not only doesn’t matter, it doesn’t even bear consideration. The person who is pregnant does not matter to them, not even a little bit. Their words make that clear. I could not illustrate this any better if I tried.

Metro looks beyond parking lots for its park and rides

I like the idea. It will need some careful thought and planning, but the idea seems to be on the right track to me.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority spent decades developing a network of parking lots where drivers could leave their cars and trucks and take transit to work. Now, its leaders are wondering whether those parking lots would be a attractive places for developers who may view those commuters as potential customers.

Metro officials are soliciting proposals for transit-oriented design, in which developers can submit proposals to synch transit center and bus depots with new apartments and shops.

“This is about bringing quality of life to areas adjacent to transit centers, to park and rides,” Metro Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran said.

Metro’s interest extends to both properties it owns and those it leases from private developers. A number of park and ride lots are conventional bus shelters, with parking available in a commercial lot normally used by a grocery or department store that does not have high volumes during the work day.

The agency is starting slowly, after making some headway with a 2015 study to assess potential uses around park and ride locations. The board in August created a subcommittee tasked with joint development and land use, which met for the first time Sept. 14. Staff, meanwhile, issued a request for information to developers, the first step in seeing if any have ideas for using Metro spaces.

“I like the approach that we are asking the market to come to us,” said Diann Lewter, the Metro board member appointed to chair the new committee.

Though possibilities are just now beginning to take shape – a first round of proposals are due at the end of the month, followed by months of analysis and public meetings – some board members said they were eager to move ahead.

“I am really anxious to see it work as fast as possible,” Lewter said.

[…]

Metro already is sitting on very desirable land in the medical center. Located across Fannin from MD Anderson Cancer Center and across Pressler from UT Health’s health science center, the transit center has drawn interest for major projects, all willing to maintain its bus access.

When approached in 2018 with an unsolicited offer that later drew a competing proposal, however, Metro opted to keep things as they were because neither project, officials concluded, would improve transit access for existing riders. Instead, both projects had the potential to encourage hundreds of daily vehicle trips into the crowded medical center.

“Although both proposals provided estimated revenue streams and various amenities, the potential issues related to the customer experience was the overriding factor in … the decision to not move forward with this solicitation” Metro staff wrote in a summary to cancel the discussions.

As land becomes more scarce in key locations, though, Metro at the very least may have to rethink its current use of wide-open, flat parking lots.

“If you build structured parking, you free up a lot of land that can be used for workforce housing, said Barry Goodman, a former Metro president who now consults with Houston-area governments on transportation matters through his company, The Goodman Corporation.

It’s a long story, so read the rest. Not everyone on the Metro board thinks this is a great idea, there are some comparisons to other transit agencies that go both ways, and there’s the unfortunate return of a longtime anti-transit troll who’s back to spew some baloney. As I said, I like the general idea and think it’s worth a long look, but it’s fine if we take things slowly and conservatively.

Too many bicyclists die on the roads around here

We should be more upset about this.

More than 100 bicyclists have died on Harris County roads over the past five years, according to data from the Texas Department of Transportation.

A Chronicle analysis of TxDOT roadway crash data found that 103 bicyclists have died on Harris County roads since 2017. Aside from a slight dip in 2018, the annual total has risen each year.

The data reviewed by the Chronicle comes from vehicle-related crash reports involving a bicyclist. It includes fatalities that occurred within 30 days due to injuries sustained from a crash.

[…]

Only crashes with running motor vehicles that result in injuries, deaths or personal property damage over $1000 are required to be reported, according to TxDOT guidelines. If none of those things occurred, it’s usually up to the discretion of the responding agency.

According to a Sept. 1 news release from TxDOT, Texas crashes involving bicyclists claimed the lives of 92 people total in 2021. Pedestrian and bicyclist deaths accounted for 20 percent of the 4,490 fatalities on Texas roadways last year, according to TxDOT.

[…]

According to the data, some of the contributing factors to Harris County’s fatal crashes include:

  • Drivers failing to control their speed
  • Drivers disregarding stop signs or lights
  • Drivers failing to drive in a single lane or changing lanes when it’s unsafe
  • Drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Pedestrians failing to yield the right of way to vehicles

TxDOT is currently undergoing it’s “Be Safe. Drive Smart” campaign aimed at reminding Texans to know and follow laws for safe driving, walking and biking. The laws include the Lisa Torry Smith Act, which went into effect in 2021 and requires drivers to stop and yield the right of way to people in crosswalks. Drivers must also required to yield the right of way to pedestrians and bicyclists when turning.

Did you know that we had such a law in Texas now? I admit that I did not. That was SB1055, and here’s some background on it, the short version of which is that it was named for a Fort Bend woman who was killed while in a crosswalk by an apparently inattentive driver. She was walking her 6-year-old son (who was badly injured as well) to school at the time. There are now criminal penalties for this, including felony charges if the driver injures or kills the person in the crosswalk. Good to know, and I’m glad it passed. Now if we could make sure everyone else knows about it.

Anyway. There were 24 bicyclists killed on Harris County roads last year, up from 14 in 2017 and 13 in 2018. There’s a chart with the totals in the story, along with maps showing all crash locations and all fatal crash locations in that time. The number so far for 2022 is 11, which would reverse the trend of increases but would likely still end up higher than 2018 and is still too many. Between initiatives like Vision Zero and the general investment in non-automotive transportation, things are going in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. And maybe we should prioritize reducing the number of people who die this way a bit more.

Interview with Amy Hinojosa

Amy Hinojosa

We wrap up with my second Harris County Department of Education trustee interview. HCDE races are at the bottom of the ballot, the office and its trustees are usually not in the public limelight, and many people don’t know much about what the HCDE does. But it’s races like these that I consider part of my core mission with this blog, and I’m always happy to do interviews with HCDE candidates. Today we talk to Amy Hinojosa, who is serving as the trustee in Precinct 2. Hinojosa was appointed as the Precinct 2 trustee in December 2019, at the same time as Andrea Duhon, following the resignation of trustee George Moore. She is a project manager in technology development at Chevron and the founder of a community youth athletic program which allows students to explore their college futures by visiting local universities called Community Leaders Encouraging Academia Through Sports, Inc. or CLEATS. Here’s what we talked about:

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
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.

CCA tells Paxton again that he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Good, but this isn’t over. It just means that the fight will have shifted.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to regain the power of his office to unilaterally prosecute election cases was rejected by the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals instead upheld its previous ruling that says that the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud. Paxton had been fighting to overturn that ruling as the issue of prosecuting election fraud has become fraught in recent years. Paxton sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has aggressively pursued individual cases of fraud, outraging some voting rights advocates who see the punishments as too harsh for people who made honest mistakes.

Last December, eight of the nine members on the all-GOP court struck down a law that previously allowed Paxton’s office to take on those cases without local consent. The court said the law violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

In the aftermath, Paxton, joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, led a political push to get the court to reconsider its decision, warning that it would allow cases of fraud to go unpunished. His office filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case, vacate its previous opinion and affirm an appellate court’s judgment, which was in his favor.

The court’s decision Wednesday came with no explanation, though one judge wrote a concurring opinion.

“I still agree with our original decision handed down in December, when we recognized that the specific powers given to the Attorney General by the Texas Constitution do not include the ability to initiate criminal proceedings—even in cases involving alleged violations of the Election Code,” Judge Scott Walker wrote.

Two judges dissented in the case.

See here and here for the background. It’s good that the CCA was able to withstand the political pressure to change their ruling to something that sated Paxton’s blood lust, but that pressure isn’t going to just dissipate on its own. The usual suspects are now agitating for the Legislature to step in and change the law. As far as I can tell, the CCA made its ruling not on statutory grounds but on Constitutional grounds (*), and as such it would take a Constitutional amendment to change this. Which is good news because the Lege won’t have a two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, which would be needed for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try it anyway, and if it comes back through the courts again on those grounds, who knows what could happen. You know what the solution to this is, I don’t have to tell you. The Chron has more.

(*) Noted in some of the coverage of this is that the same ruling means that Paxton couldn’t unilaterally decide to pursue prosecutions of any abortion “crimes” he likes, either. The Lege is sure to work on bills that would allow DAs from other counties to prosecute such charges in the event that the DA of the county in question chooses not to, so that may not make much difference. That same logic might also apply to whatever “vote fraud” charges these guys want to include, too.

Uvalde parents file lawsuit against multiple defendants

Keep an eye on this one.

The first major lawsuit has been filed over the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by the families of three surviving students.

“The horrors of May 24, 2022, were only possible because so many in positions of power were negligent, careless, and reckless,” Stephanie B. Sherman, the lead attorney in the case, said in a statement.

Defendants in the federal lawsuit include the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the city of Uvalde, former school district Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, suspended Uvalde Police Lt. Mariano Pargas and then-Robb Principal Mandy Gutierrez.

The families also are suing Daniel Defense, the Georgia manufacturer of the assault-style rifle Salvador Ramos, 18, used in the massacre; gun accessory maker Firequest International Inc., over a mechanism that makes a semi-automatic rifle fire like an automatic; Uvalde gun shop Oasis Outback LLC, which transferred guns Ramos purchased online to the mass shooter; lock manufacturer Schneider Electric, over alleged problems with locks on Robb Elementary doors; and Motorola Solutions, over issues with a dispatch communications system that complicated the police response.

Another defendant: an unknown company, John Doe Company 1, that the lawsuit said the district contracted with to ensure security measures were in place and effective.

The 81-page lawsuit, filed in Del Rio, accuses most defendants of negligence, inaction or defective products or systems that enabled Ramos to buy the firearm, ammunition and gun accessories he used to kill 19 students and two teachers. He wounded 16 others.

[…]

“Due to the conduct of the school and police, and the deliberate choices of the gun makers and sellers to directly market their lethal weapons to young untrained civilians, the shooter bought and assembled a military grade assault weapon with 30-round magazines days after his 18th birthday…,” the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs include Corina Camacho, the mother of G.M., a 10-year-old boy who was shot in the leg in classroom 112; Tanisha Rodriguez, the mother of G.R., a 9-year old girl who was playing with classmates on the playground when Ramos began firing; and Selena Sanchez and Omar Carbajal, the parents of D.J., an 8-year-old boy who saw the shooter firing as the boy headed from the gym to the nurse’s station.

Sherman and Monique Alarcon, Texas-based attorneys for the Baum Hedlund law firm of California, and attorney Shawn Brown of San Antonio allege a host of civil claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, product liability and violations of due process, among others.

The suit seeks undetermined compensatory damages against all defendants and punitive damages against all the defendants except the school district and the city.

There was a class action lawsuit announced in August that perhaps hasn’t been filed yet. The intended defendants are roughly the same, but I see in those earlier stories that there was no mention of who the plaintiffs were, and I believe that’s because the final paperwork hasn’t been filed yet. Of greatest interest to me is the inclusion of the gun manufacturer and sellers – there’s a legal example to follow, but I don’t know how effective it will be. Let’s just say that I wish these plaintiffs, and those who follow them, a lot of luck. The Trib has more.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Gloria Lopez

(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 Gloria Lopez

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

My name is Gloria López and I am the 308th Family District Court Judge in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th Family District Court is one or ten Family District Courts in Harris County, Texas. It hears family law matters — divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child visitation determination, marital property divisions, parental terminations and adoption cases. This Court also handles issues involving Children’s Protective Services (CPS) cases, enforcements, modifications, and paternity cases.

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

When I was elected, I restored integrity to the 308th Family District Court. Bias and impropriety were eliminated. Parties finally have an opportunity to have their case heard in a fair and just manner. Additionally, during this time, cases run smoother, the docket was streamlined and people get their day in court in a dependable and fair fashion. This was not the case prior to me taking this bench. I have restored efficiency, fairness, kindness, and energy to this court. I am running for re-election because public service is my passion and the issues handled in our overcrowded family courts are of prime importance to our community and our families.

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

I hope to maintain the level of transparency that I have brought to the 308th Family District Court and continue to improve participation rates from families is CPS cases. During Covid, the 308th Family District Court used technology to improve the experience of litigants, especially people who do not have attorneys. We leveraged technology not only to stay open, but also to improve participation rates and help users resolve disputes more efficiently. The boost in court appearances that followed the shift to virtual hearings is consistent with pre-pandemic assertions that reducing the day-to-day costs of coming to court—such as transportation, childcare, lost wages, and travel time—would increase people’s ability to meaningfully engage in court cases. Currently, the 308th Family District Court lives streams all hearings and trials. The increased transparency has restored trust in the judicial system and helped students, lawyers, and families learn about family law.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important to note that the family courts in Harris County are extremely busy. The cases must be presided over by a judge who understands the law and the complexities of the family issues faced in these courts each day. A family law judge must conduct herself honorably and be efficient. Justice is best served when it is handled efficiently and by a family law judge who is compassionate within the bounds of the law. These cases must be handled by someone who is going to work hard each and every day. These cases must be handled by someone dedicated to being a public servant to the constituents of Harris County and not a politician.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Representation matters. It is important for Harris County constituents to see people like themselves on the bench. People from marginalized communities tend to be discouraged by the judicial process. Seeing a person with experience and a similar background (as their own) helps restore faith and trust in the judicial system. Additionally, I am Board Certified in Family Law. I exclusively practiced family law prior to being elected in 2018. I have presented and published articles on family law issues/topics for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, the State Bar Office of Minority Affairs, the Houston Bar Association, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Muslim Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association, and local organizations. I am experienced and dedicated to the practice of family law. I am also compassionate, measured, consistent, and fair. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United State of America and Texas. I do not take this oath lightly and will continue to execute my oath faithfully. I am seeking re-election to ensure that the constituents of Harris County have a Family Law Judge that executes the duties of this position with integrity and compassion. It is important to keep a Judge in the 308th that understands the law and uses her discretion in a way that helps all people feel safe and heard.