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December 18th, 2009:

Judge Jackson convicted

You may recall the case of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law Judge Don Jackson, who was indicted in August on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, after being accused of offering a DWI defendant a chance to get out of her charge in return for sexual favors. Today he was convicted of that charge.

The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Earlier Friday, defense attorneys for Jackson told the jury they were ashamed of the veteran jurist’s behavior in meeting with a drunken driving defendant, but that it was not illegal.

“Shame on him. Shame on you, Judge Jackson,” Dan Cogdell said while pointing at his client during closing arguments. “What he did was wrong, but what my friend and professional colleague did not do was commit a crime.”

Cogdell and Lewis Dickson have argued that Ariana Venegas, 28, manipulated Jackson to get a better court-appointed lawyer to get her DWI case dismissed.

“They keep trying to blame the victim,” Harris County Assistant District Attorney Lance Long said in his closing. “They grilled her for hours and hours about her DWI and her Facebook photos. I hope you were offended.”

Included in the evidence was a photo of Venegas from the popular social network Web site that showed her posing for an informal picture in khaki shorts and a white tanktop.

I did not follow this trial, but apparently there was a bit of controversy kicked up when it was reported that ADA Long had signed a petition for an opponent to Jackson in the upcoming Republican primary. I tend to agree with Murray Newman that such a thing isn’t really a big deal, though as Mark Bennett notes, the situation could and probably should have been avoided. Anyway, having noted this case at the beginning, I thought it was worth mentioning at the conclusion.

Friday random ten: You better watch out

I have a ton of Christmas music in my collection, but only ten songs that refer to Santa Claus in the title:

1. Back Door Santa – Jon Bon Jovi
2. Here Comes Santa Claus – Asleep At The Wheel
3. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – John Mellencamp
4. The Night Santa Went Crazy – Weird Al Yankovic
5. Ride On, Santa, Ride On – The Priestess and The Fool
6. Santa Baby – Madonna
7. Santa Brought Me Clothes – Trout Fishing in America
8. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Ella Fitzgerald
9. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Pointer Sisters
10. Zat You, Santa Claus? – Asylum Street Spankers

We’re one week out, so I hope everyone is being nice. What’s Santa bringing to your iPod this week?

The transition team

Meet the team that will help Mayor-Elect Annise Parker get the ball rolling.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, one of the only area political heavyweights to endorse Parker, will lead efforts on intergovernmental relations. Coleman also has been involved in community housing issues in some of the city’s tax increment reinvestment zones.

Gilbert Garcia, managing partner of an asset management firm and chair of Parker’s campaign, sits on the city’s municipal pension board and can attend to budgetary matters.

Nancy Kinder, a Republican philanthropist who played a pivotal role in the creation of Discovery Green Park, will focus on quality of life issues. Kinder, who is among the most prominent Houston supporters of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and is the wife of billionaire pipeline mogul Rich Kinder, also was a major campaign donor.

“They are there to help me cast the net widely,” Parker said.

According to a press release, which I’ve reprinted beneath the fold, the team will focus on the following topics:

Housing and Community Development funding, contracts and personnel;
Intergovernmental Relations, including opportunities for collaboration and cost efficiencies;
Neighborhood protection involving everything from weeded lots to graffiti abatement;
Permitting efficiency and procedures;
Public works and infrastructure including streets, flooding and drainage;
Density and development ordinances to help residential neighborhoods;
Minority and women business enterprise contracting.

Quite the full plate to start off with, but I doubt anyone expected anything different. If you think you might be interested in serving on one of the panels, you should send an email to [email protected] for more information. Miya has more.


Search for the Chief

More speculation about who will replace Harold Hurtt as HPD chief.

Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, and other officers said they’ve heard Timothy N. Oettmeier, 57, Vicki L. King, 48, and Kirk A. Munden, 49, all assistant chiefs, mentioned as possible candidates to replace Harold Hurtt, who announced his resignation on Tuesday.

Hurtt plans to step down on Dec. 30, two days before Parker takes office.

Oettmeier, who joined the Police Department in September 1973, heads three commands, including information services, special support services and tactical support.

King, who became an HPD officer in November 1985, heads the tactical support command, which includes special operations, tactical operations, traffic enforcement, air support and vehicular crimes.

Munden, who joined HPD in May 1981, oversees operation of the department’s 14 patrol areas across the city.

Parker’s spokeswoman said the mayor-elect has not singled anyone out.

“She does not have anyone in the back of her mind,” said Janice Evans-Davis. “She wants her own person over there, someone who truly understands HPD, and someone who is truly committed to changing the way we do policing.”

Two of those names have been previously mentioned as possibilities. Whoever it is, I hope he or she has a good plan to clean up the latest mess within the crime lab, as well as a plan to lobby the Lege and Commissioners Court to create and fund an independent regional crime lab. The next chief will certainly have plenty to do.

FTA gives preliminary engineering approval to University line

Hot dog!

The Federal Transit Administration notified Metro on Monday that the line has been approved to move into the Preliminary Engineering phase of the Transit Administration’s matching-funds program. Two other light rail lines, the North and Southeast corridors, are further along in the federal approval process.


[US Rep. John] Culberson contended last week in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration that Metro’s finances were precarious and he questioned the agency’s ability to build all five lines. The Houston Republican took advantage of a 10-day congressional comment period that is part of the approval process.

In a statement Wednesday night, Culberson said he still expects “a transparent process where the public can review how their tax dollars are being spent.”

As far as that goes, I’m happy to agree with Culberson. The process should be as transparent as possible. I also hope we can get a process that’s free of meddlesome stalling tactics from our elected representatives. Surely neither of these things is too much to ask.

Anyway. That’s one interminably dragged out federal hurdle cleared, some uncountable number of equally dragged out federal hurdles to go. This counts as progress.

Getting smarter about crime, state prison edition

Some good news on the criminal justice front.

Texas has a new swagger that comes from a recently released U.S. Justice Department report showing the growth of the state’s prison population is slowing to the extent that three new prisons slated for construction have been scrapped. At the same time, the state is becoming the unlikely new role model for a prison reform movement spreading across the country.

State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, worked across partisan lines to implement the “reinvestment movement” in 2007, which they say is just starting to show results. The program invests state funds in drug, alcohol and mental health programs to treat offenders rather than just prisons to house them.

“Texas is showing the rest of the country that if you look at research you can find ways to cut costs and crime at the same time,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center’s public safety performance project, a nonprofit think tank. “Just this week the work that Texas has done was featured prominently at the national conference on state legislatures in San Diego. States are learning that they just can’t build their way out of crime.”

There’s still an incredibly long way to go on this, as we still lock up almost 30% more people per capita than the nation as a whole, but it’s a very good start, and a lot of credit is due to Rep. Madden and Sen. Whitmire for their leadership on this. Others like State Sen. Rodney Ellis have done good work as well, but have run into a roadblock in the Governor’s mansion. As with many things in this state, there’s going to need to be a change at the top before any real progress can be made.

I wish the article touched on what all this meant in terms of costs and savings to the state, but perhaps that data isn’t available or conclusive yet. Given the recent efforts in Harris County to do something about the level of incarceration here, all of which comes at a good time to be talking about smart ways to economize, I believe that an emphasis on the cost benefit analysis of programs like these will have traction. It would be real nice to have some momentum on this going into the next legislative session.