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August 24th, 2010:

Red light camera petitions certified

They made it just under the wire.

A petition to ban red light cameras in Houston has been certified by the city secretary, making it all but certain that voters will decide in November whether the 70 devices at intersections across the city will be taken down.

“This is a great day for Houston,” said Michael Kubosh, one of three brothers that collected more than 20,000 signatures required to get the proposed charter amendment on the ballot in this election cycle. “People just need a right to vote, that’s all we’re saying. Now the citizens will have a chance to decide.”

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee advocating the cameras, said the petition is illegal and represents an abuse of the city charter amendment process. He noted that Paul Kubosh, another brother behind the petition, is a lawyer who specializes in defending traffic ticket recipients and has a business interest in the outcome of the election.

As you know, I’m not terribly impressed by the anti-camera arguments, certainly not by the “it’s all about the money!” arguments. Nobody ever has to get a red light camera ticket, and I say that as someone who has received an old-fashioned police-issued ticket for running a red light. Having said that, I’m also not terribly impressed by the argument that killing the cameras is in Paul Kubosh’s financial interest. I mean, let’s be real here – the camera company is going to spend a bunch of money to win this election because it’s in their financial interest to do so. Nobody is pure on that score, so let’s acknowledge it and move on. If you want to question the Kubosh brothers’ motives, I prefer noting that neither one is registered to vote in the city of Houston, and therefore neither one can actually cast a ballot on this referendum.

Assuming there is a referendum. As CultureMap notes, expect legal action by Keep Houston Safe to follow.

“We’ve got two key legal issues here and if the city was to bow to political pressure to go against that, we would take action,” Keep Houston Safe spokesman Jim McGrath told CultureMap.

KHS claims that the ban qualifies as a referendum election to ban or repeal a city ordinance, which according to law must have petitions completed within 30 days of enacting that law. Since the red light cameras have been in operation since 2006, McGrath says that to bring it forward now would constitute an illegal referendum.

That argument was echoed on Council.

“To me, this is an illegal election petition,” Council Member Anne Clutterbuck said. “This is not a referendum. This is a charter amendment which is, in my opinion, not the proper way to go forward.”

I’ve said before that I’m not convinced by that argument, either, but that’s why God gave us lawyers, to sort out this sort of thing. We’ll see what happens.

Assuming we do have a referendum on the ballot, I will be very interested to see who takes what side. This isn’t an R/D issue, and I expect there will be supporters and opponents on both sides. (Mary Benton lists ten supporters on Council.) The question will be who takes some kind of action one way or the other, and who sits it out. Also of interest will be who raises and spends how much. I don’t know about you, but I’m already prepared to be sick of the commercials that are sure to run. Maybe this won’t be that expensive a campaign, but I wouldn’t count on that.

More judicial Q&As

As was the case with the primary, David Jennings of Big Jolly Politics is doing a similar set of judicial Q&As for Republican candidates, most of whom are the incumbents in these races. You can see the Q&A responses he has collected here, and I’ve put a link to that on the 2010 Elections page as well. David had the nice idea for the general of putting the responses he’s received from Republican candidates side-by-side with the ones I’ve gotten from Democrats, so you have an easy way to compare them. He’ll have all candidates listed, in ballot order, whether they send in a response or not, by the time Election Day rolls around. Check it out.

Judicial Q&A: Katie Kennedy

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

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

I am Judge Katie Kennedy, and I am running for Judge of the 269th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil cases. In a civil case one person or entity sues another person or entity usually to collect money damages. Examples of the types of cases that this court hears are personal injury cases, real estate cases, business cases, contract cases, construction law cases, employment cases, collection cases, medical, legal, and professional malpractice cases, Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act cases, products liability cases, and cases involving insurance companies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because of my superior qualifications. An inexperienced judge that Governor Rick Perry appointed after the last election currently sits on this bench. The voters of Harris County have never elected him. This inexperienced judge is imposing burdensome, unnecessary, and costly procedures upon the lawyers and litigants, thereby driving up the cost of the lawsuit to the parties

I have been practicing law for 24 years, and I have been a judge for over 17 years. The current judge has only been on the bench for slightly over a year, and he has been practicing law for just over ten years. I have much more experience, and I am better qualified than this recent appointee.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have served as a judge for 17 years in the Texas courts. The Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists named me as Trial Judge of the Year. In the 2010 Houston Bar Association Judicial Qualifications Questionnaire, I received more than two and a half times more Well Qualified votes than my opponent. In fact, I received the top ranking of any other candidate for a district court, Democrat or Republican, incumbent or challenger. More than 93 percent of the lawyers voting in the poll rated me as Well Qualified or Qualified. The Association of Women Attorneys and the Pasadena Bar Association have endorsed me.

I have tried over 500 cases to jury verdict, and I have disposed of over 9000 cases. I have mediated and arbitrated hundreds of cases in all areas of civil law. I have been appointed as Special Master in numerous state and federal cases.

The Texas State Bar appointed me to the Texas Access to Justice Commission. The Texas Supreme Court appointed me to the Judicial Campaign Finance Study Committee. Texas Executive Women and the Houston Chronicle honored me as a Woman on the Move.

5. Why is this race important?

The civil district judges oversee cases that affect Harris County citizens’ lives, health, businesses, and pocketbooks. It is important that a qualified, experienced, and fair judge hear these cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the clear choice for Judge of the 269th District Court. I am experienced, qualified, and dedicated to public service. In Texas we elect all of our judges from the Texas Supreme Court down to the Justice of the Peace. Your vote is your voice in choosing who these judges are. If you vote for me in the race for the 269th District Court in November, you will help send a qualified, fair, and experienced judge back to the courthouse.

At long last, the DeLay trial gets underway

You know what today is? It’s Tom DeLay Sees The Inside Of A Courtroom Day, that’s what day it is. Yes, I know, he’s out of trouble with the feds – this is about the state charges that have been pending against him since 2005. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip, and here’s what we have to look forward to.

During the 2002 elections, DeLay and his co-defendants used a political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise and spend $600,000 in corporate money, mostly from lobbyists and companies with interests before Congress.

Some facts are not disputed. The Texas political committee sent $190,000 in corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which, in turn, donated the same amount to seven legislative candidates in Texas.

The legal issue is whether DeLay conspired to launder the corporate money back to Texas despite a state ban against using corporate money in state elections. Or, as the defense contends, the national committee donations were from a different pot of money that came from individuals, not corporations, and there was no conspiracy.

[…]

At Tuesday’s hearing, senior Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio will consider a series of motions to dismiss the charges, including the defense’s allegations that prosecutors abused the process by shopping for indictments with three grand juries as time ran out on the investigation.

He will also consider whether to move the trial (Waco and San Antonio have been suggested) and to try the three defendants separately, among other motions.

DeLay already appears on track to be tried separately, but the question remains in what order the defendants would be tried and whether Ellis and Colyandro should be tried together.

DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said his client is willing to be tried first. Prosecutors favor trying DeLay’s aides first.

As for moving the trial, DeGuerin said, “There is so much ill feeling in Travis County about Tom DeLay that he can’t get a fair trial — even to this day.”

[…]

At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors will answer allegations about their conduct in the investigation.

Courthouse observers are watching to see how far Priest allows the defense to pursue questions about the secret grand jury process.

By all accounts, the end of the three-year investigation leading up to the indictments was chaotic.

After three years, with time running out, a grand jury indicted DeLay and his associates on a Wednesday. Two days later, the prosecutors — fearing a problem with the first indictments — asked a second grand jury to indict DeLay as its term was ending.

When grand jurors refused, the defense alleges, prosecutors improperly interrupted grand jury deliberations and tried to coerce them, a charge that prosecutors deny.

On the following Monday, prosecutors presented their three-year investigation to a new grand jury on its first day; prosecutors said they had obtained new information about the case over the weekend.

I know I’ve excerpted quite a bit here, but there’s still more than that, so do read the whole story. You can also visit my archives for an obsessive level of past coverage. Today ought to be a full day, and the folks at Court TV have any sense, they’ll be there in force. One more thing:

Finally, one co-defendant in the DeLay case has been so out-of-sight that there’s a rumor he’s turned state’s evidence.

Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin said prosecutors have not required DeLay’s fundraiser, Warren Robold, to appear in court over the years, but he denied that it was because of a deal.

Instead, Hardin said he allowed his client to be interviewed by prosecutors after he was indicted. The interview, which lasted several hours, was taped, and Robold’s remarks can be used in court.

But Hardin said Robold didn’t ask for immunity or a deal.

“That’s how sure we are that he’s innocent,” Hardin said. “And he doesn’t know anything bad about DeLay.”

I’ve been pushing that as a pet theory for a long time now, but as far as I know this is the first time it’s appeared in print outside of my blog. Maybe I’m the only one who’s been dumb enough to write it down, I don’t know. In any event, these and other questions will be answered starting today. Pop some corn and enjoy the spectacle.

His calendar is wide open

Let me briefly sum up Elise Hu’s story about the sparseness of Governor Perry’s calendar: Either he’s lying about how much he actually works, or he does an awful lot of stuff that he doesn’t want the public to know about.

Gov. Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent, former Houston mayor Bill White, criticized the Republican incumbent in June for “working part time” after his schedule for the first six months of 2010 showed an average of seven hours of state work per week and 38 weekdays with “no state scheduled events.” Perry responded that he simply doesn’t write down much of his work for the state.

By contrast, the Tribune found that Perry’s counterparts in California, New York and Florida do write down what they do. New York Gov. David Paterson’s schedule goes so far as to include drive times between events. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lists “cigar time” on his schedule. And they make their schedules readily available to the public. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist puts his schedule online every day.

In at least one instance, a comparison of the calendars reveals an apparent inconsistency between the record-keeping of the gubernatorial peers. Crist’s schedule shows five conference calls during the month of May with Perry and other Gulf Coast governors related to the BP oil spill. Perry’s schedule makes no mention of the calls. On one of the days on which Crist’s log shows a phone call with Perry, Perry’s schedule reads “no state scheduled events.”

“Many times the governor was on [the call], [and] many times his staff was on,” says Katherine Cesinger, a Perry spokeswoman. “If the governor didn’t call in, it’s not necessarily on his schedule.”

In other words, it’s a little bit of both. He doesn’t do all that much, and much of what he does do we peons don’t need to know. If you’ve got a better explanation than that, I’d love to hear it. Be sure also to check the Interactive Governor Schedule Comparison so you can see just how pathetically Perry stacks up against other big-state executives. Nicely done, Trib.

The charter schools make their case

Specifically, David Dunn, the executive director of the Texas Charter School Association, makes the case for public funds for charter school facilities in this op-ed from the weekend.

One of the major obstacles to critical education reform in Texas is the lack of facilities for the thriving charter school movement here. Even though charter schools are subject to the same state accountability standards and oversight, they receive no money for their facilities. We are making do with our current circumstances, but charter school students deserve better than portable trailers, transformed grocery stores or vacated churches.

Our membership believes that the State Board of Education should carefully analyze the fiscal impact to the state and release specific charter lease agreement details. Policymakers, editorial boards and various stakeholders across the state have been mixed on their assessment of the SBOE idea. However, the opposition to investing in charter facilities seems to be based on outdated perceptions of charter schools.

Since charters were created by the Texas Legislature in 1995, they have considerably improved their operations and academic performance. Internally, the charter movement holds high expectations to deliver on our contracts with the state. We educate kids or we get out of education. Every member of our association signs a quality pledge and completes a rigorous self-assessment to continually improve their schools.

I have no idea what that “quality pledge” is all about, but the fact remains that there are plenty of lousy charter schools out there. I’d be more inclined to buy what Dunn is selling if he’d be more honest about that.

Our membership is encouraged that the State Board of Education and Texas lawmakers are looking for ways to help. TCSA is optimistic about the idea, but we have additional ideas to assist charter schools with facilities. The Texas Legislature should provide charter schools with greater access to existing public school facilities, particularly in school districts with vacant schools or unused property. Charter schools should have the same access to bond guarantees through the Permanent School Fund as traditional public schools. Extending this privilege to charters would have no cost to the state, and provide immense savings to charters by reducing the cost of issuance and lowering interest rates. Charter facilities leased by a private owner to a public, open-enrollment charter school should become exempt from real property taxes for the duration of the lease agreement, with the savings passed onto the school. Without a doubt, we will keep pressing on all fronts.

Look, I’m not necessarily opposed to any of these suggestions, but it would be nice if Dunn or someone like him would address the criticisms of the SBOE’s decision to allocate money for charter schools from the Permanent School Fund. Why shouldn’t these funds be allocated by the Legislature, instead of having the SBOE make a questionable end run around the state constitution? Answer me that, and then we can talk about the other stuff.