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October 12th, 2010:

RIP, Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens, one half of the Stevens and Pruett radio team, has passed away.

Stevens spent 40 years in radio but enjoyed his greatest success in partnership with Pruett, first as Hudson and Harrigan at KILT (610 AM) beginning in 1974 and later under their own names at KULF-AM, KEGL-FM in Dallas-Fort Worth and KLOL (101.1 FM) in Houston.

At every stop along the way, he displayed the sense of humor and razor-sharp wit that remained with him throughout his struggle with Alzheimer’s, said his wife, Melissa Stevens.

“His laugh was infectious, and people responded to that,” she said. “He would laugh, and then everybody would laugh. Even through his illness, he had the caregivers laughing all the time. … He handled (Alzheimer’s) with dignity and grace.”

Stevens left KLOL in February 2000, but Melissa Stevens said Houston listeners never forgot his voice.

“He would be in a grocery store and would say something, and people would say, ‘Wait a minute, I know your voice,'” she said. “We have such good memories.”

To borrow from one of their tag lines, I admit it, I was an S&P fan back in the day. They made my morning commute a lot more enjoyable. Rest in peace, Mark Stevens.

Keller gets away with it

I’m thoroughly disgusted.

A special court of review Monday threw out an ethics rebuke given to Presiding Judge Sharon Keller for closing the Court of Criminal Appeals at 5 p.m. despite knowing that lawyers wanted to file an appeal for an inmate facing imminent execution in 2007.

[…]

Bringing the high-profile case to a swift and stunning end, the review court said the commission committed fatal errors that doomed its punishment of Keller, issued in the form of a July “public warning” that chastised the state’s highest criminal judge for violating court procedures and bringing discredit to the judiciary.

In essence, commissioners chose the wrong punishment, opting for a warning when state law and the Texas Constitution limited their options to a “censure,” a more serious penalty, the court ruled.

The judges said they did not address the merits of the charges against Keller but based their decision solely on the errors committed by the commission.

[…]

On Monday, the review court ruled that the type of proceedings used for Keller can only end in censure, not a public warning, and that the error was so fundamental that the only course was to dismiss all charges.

Censure, the court reasoned, requires “a finding of good cause” and seven votes from the 13-member commission, an independent state agency that investigates allegations of misconduct against Texas judges.

“Here, by failing to (authorize censure), the commission implicitly acknowledges that it did not find good cause for its actions or have the required votes to take those actions,” the judges wrote.

The review court also assessed “costs of the litigation” to the commission, which could make taxpayers liable for Keller’s legal fees.

So not only does Keller walk on a technicality, but we the people get to pay her lawyer bills. I’m going to be sick. Don’t anyone ever talk to me about “accountability” again. Grits has more, and Jeff Gamso gives it a proper summation.

Judicial Q&A: Priscilla Walters

(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?

My name is Priscilla Walters and I am running for Judge, Probate Court 3.

I am a native Texan; I grew up in Houston and graduated from Spring Woods High School. I studied nursing and biology in college, and graduated with honors from Texas Women’s University in 1977. I practiced nursing for ten years before entering the University of Houston Law School. I graduated in 1990 and I have had a diverse civil law practice since that time.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Probate Court 3 is a Statutory Probate Court. Most Texas courts are created by the constitution, and the constitution authorizes the legislature to create other courts as necessary. Statutory Probate courts have been created by the legislature in the state’s larger counties.

These Courts have very broad jurisdiction. Generally, the Court probates wills, established guardianships for incapacitated persons and minors, supervises the administration of estates of deceased and incapacitated persons and minors, and hears matters involving trusts. The Judge in Probate Court 3 also administers the County’s mental health docket.

Probate Judges also hear lawsuits pertaining to or “incident to an estate” of a decedent or ward and actions by or against a personal representative of an estate. Therefore, trials are conducted for medical malpractice, wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits, to name a few. Cases involving contracts, property ownership or damage, breach of fiduciary duty, and family law are now commonly litigated in Probate Court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Probate Court 3 hears most cases in the county involving civil mental health commitments. An example of this type of hearing would be when there is a request for commitment of a person who may be a danger to themselves or others. The court also conducts medication hearings to determine the necessity of medical treatment and hearings to determine whether there should be an order to resuscitate a terminally ill person. Probate Courts make life and death decisions regarding the wellbeing of the citizens of Harris County, and the Judge should care about these issues.

The incumbent Judge Rory Olsen has done a terrible job. Witnesses have complained that he is disinterested, impatient and uncaring toward the mentally ill and toward potential wards of the court. Lawyers have complained that they can’t get a trial. Olsen declined a request by members of the Houston Psychiatric Society to meet and discuss their concerns! In a Houston Bar Association poll, he received the lowest rating among Probate Judges. Probate Court 3 needs a proactive Judge, who will work to improve services in a fiscally efficient manner. When elected, I intend to do that.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I chose Probate Court 3 because I have healthcare experience. My opponent has no education, training or experience in the mental health or healthcare fields, and his actions and statements reflect ignorance in these matters. In making decisions regarding emergency health care matters, the Judge of Probate Court 3 needs to understand the complexities of mental and physical diseases.

Also, as a civil trial lawyer for the past 20 years, I have had cases in Federal courts, State district Courts and in Probate courts. I have represented individuals, businesses, school districts, families, physicians, estates, and disabled children and adults. These cases have involved probate disputes, contract disputes, products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, healthcare fraud, wrongful termination, and many other issues. My cases frequently involve estates and persons under guardianship. My range of experience is as broad as the courts jurisdiction; I have more experience in more fields of law than the incumbent.

During the past 30 years of my professional life, I have developed empathy for people in crisis. I have good leadership and problem solving skills. I believe that people who find themselves in the courts should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. I want to provide the citizens of this county with excellent service without wasting their assets and without causing unnecessary stress, delay and expense. No one will work harder than me.

5. Why is this race important?

We need qualified, compassionate judges in the Probate Courts. With the exception of Probate Court 1, all sitting Probate Judges have been there for many years. These judges have, for too long, enjoyed absolute job security regardless of performance. There have been published accounts regarding some of these judges who allowed sizable estates to be wasted by court appointed attorneys, guardians and executors. We need to restore balance and integrity to the Probate Courts, and I know that I can do a better job in Probate Court 3.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the most qualified candidate for Probate Court 3. My opponent has been on the bench for 12 years, and still does not understand mental health issues. He has shown no interest in improving the Court’s services. He seems to have forgotten that he is a public servant. I have significant experience in the subjects that are adjudicated in Probate Court 3. I am the only candidate with Healthcare education, training and experience. I have 20 years of civil courtroom experience in courts of various jurisdictions. I am excited about the prospect of serving the citizens of Harris County, and I want your vote on November 2.

Dallas-area cities are watching the red light camera referenda

What happens next month in Houston and Baytown may have an effect on our neighbors to the north.

North Texas city officials are monitoring a public backlash against lucrative red-light cameras that could signal their end.

Citizens in three Texas cities who are angry about the devices have forced a public vote to ban the cameras.

Last year, College Station voters narrowly passed a proposition that bans the cameras there. In November, voters in Houston and Baytown, a Houston suburb, will decide whether to keep red-light cameras in their cities.

The November outcome could set a precedent for similar revolts in North Texas municipalities.

“There’s concern on the part of everybody whether or not that’s a trend among cities,” said Plano assistant city manager Bruce Glasscock. “I’m monitoring it very closely and talking to the people in Houston. But it’s one of those things we just have to wait and see what the voters decide in Houston.”

The anti-camera advocates love to say that they’ve won every time the issue has come to a vote. If that streak continues, I’ve no doubt you’ll continue to see it on the ballot. I suspect they’ll still push further even if one or both get defeated here, but I’m sure that will change the way those campaigns are waged if that happens.

One more thing:

Lloyd Ward, a Dallas attorney who once challenged the legitimacy of red-light cameras in Dallas civil court, said the elections raise an interesting question.

“Would you rather have red-light cameras or potholes in the street?” he asks.

He’d choose potholes.

“Right now it’s set up to be a moneymaker for the city,” he said. “It’s much more profitable to institute that system than put more police on the street.”

Well, I appreciate the honesty. As you know, I would not choose the potholes. If this were how the issue were put to all voters, I wonder how it would affect the level of support for and against the cameras. It’s not clear to me that putting it this way is in the interests of the camera opponents.

Endorsement watch: And I hope for a pony, too

I am not surprised that the Chron has endorsed AG Greg Abbott for re-election. My expectation was that the newspapers would all endorse Bill White, Jeff Weems, and each of the Republican incumbents, and so far there have been no deviations from that. I am a bit surprised that they would expose themselves as such naifs, however.

Rather than picking counterproductive fights with the federal government, we believe the resources of the attorney general’s office are best spent on the type of activities cited above that have demonstrably benefited all Texans. We hope General Abbott follows that course and eschews political posturing during his next term in office.

I’m sure the next Mrs. Mel Gibson hopes he eschews making paranoid racist rants during the term of their marriage, and that the next Mrs. Charlie Sheen hopes he keeps it in his pants when she’s not around. I wouldn’t put any more faith in their hopes coming true than I would the Chron’s. How many more frivolous lawsuits does Abbott need to file against the federal government before they accept the fact that this – a partisan Republican with his eye on higher office – is who he is? They can support him in what he does or not, but hoping he’ll suddenly decide to stop doing it is about as productive as hoping he’ll switch parties and chain himself to the entrance at BP’s corporate headquarters while holding a “No Blood For Oil” sign. Who writes this stuff?

Bumpy roads

This story is mostly about how Houston ranks against other cities in road conditions. Of interest to me is the reasons why we’re not likely to get any better:

At the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the transportation planning body for Harris and seven surrounding counties, roughly $50 billion has been trimmed from a $157 billion, 25-year regional transportation plan. Those funds would have been used for new construction and a variety of improvements and repairs.

The cuts come as the metro area’s population is expected to grow to 8 million by 2035.

At Houston’s Public Works Department, where about 350 workers care for nearly 6,000 miles of streets, the asphalt street repaving effort this year has been cut by almost a fifth. Repairs to concrete streets also are being reduced, said spokesman Alvin Wright.

Patricia Waskowiak, an HGAC transportation planning manager, reported highway and road departments are getting hammered . Short term, she said, agencies face the economic downturn. Long term, the increase in high-mileage vehicles on the roads will lead to drops in the state’s motor-fuels tax — a prime source of revenue for TxDOT.

Further, federal aid for local roads is uncertain. Since its insolvency in 2009, the federal highway trust fund has been bolstered by infusions of general funds money. “What the future holds in the short term is very uncertain,” Waskowiak said.

While traffic gurus count their nickels and dimes, 18-wheelers, endemic to Houston’s highways, keep pounding the pavement.

As has been the case so often recently, the theme is that we get what we pay for. We could afford better roads if we wanted to, but in an environment where rich people whine about a $5 monthly fee that’s dedicated to road and drainage improvements, there’s not much of a push for that. Maybe someday that will change.