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June 29th, 2022:

Temporary restraining order granted to abortion clinics in trigger lawsuit

Some abortions are temporarily legal in Texas again.

Abortions up to about six weeks in pregnancy can resume at some clinics in Texas for now after a Harris County District Court judge granted a temporary restraining order that blocks an abortion ban that was in place before Roe v. Wade.

In the ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Christine Weems ruled that the pre-Roe abortion ban “is repealed and may not be enforced consistent with the due process guaranteed by the Texas constitution.”

“It is a relief that this Texas state court acted so quickly to block this deeply harmful abortion ban,” Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a press release. “This decision will allow abortion services to resume at many clinics across the state, connecting Texans to the essential health care they need. Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory.

Whole Woman’s Health, which operates abortion clinics in McAllen, McKinney, Fort Worth and Austin, said it would resume providing abortions as a result of this ruling.

“We immediately began calling the patients on our waiting lists and bringing our staff and providers back into the clinics,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization’s president and CEO.

Abortions can resume only at the clinics named in the lawsuit. Besides the Whole Woman’s Health clinics, the others that will resume operations are Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, Brookside Women’s Medical Center and Austin Women’s Health Center in Austin, Houston Women’s Clinic and Houston Women’s Reproductive Services in Houston, and Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas.

A hearing has been set for July 12 to decide on a more permanent restraining order.

[…]

On a press call Tuesday, Hearron declined to speculate on what the temporary restraining order on the pre-Roe ban might mean for other clinics and abortion funds in the state.

“I don’t know that I have an answer to that question,” he said. “I think that’s a legal question that the other clients would want to look at.”

While some abortion access has been restored in Texas, current state law still allows abortions only up to around six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people don’t even know they are pregnant.

“So there still will be a large number of Texans who are still going to need to try to find access and appointments outside of the state,” Hearron said.

See here for the background. This will of course be appealed, so as I said before it will ultimately come down to what the Supreme Court says, if they choose to weigh in at all – they may decide to slow roll it, given that the whole thing will be moot in at most about two months. Not deciding when they don’t have to is a specialty of theirs.

As for the question of other providers, the Chron has a bit of input.

It’s unclear whether the injunction applies to clinics that are not party to the suit, such as Planned Parenthood.

The CEOs of Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates said in a joint statement Tuesday that their clinics had no immediate plans to resume offering abortions, but added: “This is a rapidly evolving situation and legal teams are still reviewing this order and its potential implications.”

The case could also offer a lifeline to Texas abortion funds, which provide transportation and other assistance to people seeking abortions, after they shuttered Friday, citing concerns of criminal liability.

Seems like it’s worthwhile to me to at least get the clarity and some assurance that you won’t be arrested for something that may have happened five minutes after Ken Paxton decided it was illegal. I Am Not A Lawyer, your mileage may vary, etc etc etc. I still think they should at least give serious thought to filing their own claims. We’ll see.

No new election admin yet

Hope this delay is brief.

Harris County’s top election position remains unfilled, after a Monday meeting of the county’s election commission to select a candidate was canceled due to a lack of quorum. Their final pick will face a narrowing time frame to prepare for his or her first test: Early voting for the November election begins Oct. 24, less than three months after the new administrator’s likely start date.

The tight schedule adds to an already daunting job in a sprawling county with more than 2.5 million voters, an adversarial political climate with frequent election lawsuits, and a startlingly high rejection rate of nearly one out of five mail ballots in this year’s March primaries under the state’s new voting laws.

Only two of the five members of the commission were able to attend the Monday meeting in person, a day after County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she had tested positive for COVID-19. The commission has not yet rescheduled the meeting.

With outgoing Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation going into effect Friday, Beth Stevens, chief director of voting for the county, will become the interim administrator until the new hire begins, which Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said is likely to be Aug. 1. The new administrator’s appointment will be voted on at a later meeting after the selected candidate meets a residency requirement to become a voter under the Texas Election Code.

The commission was slated to hold a closed-door executive session to interview two finalists for the position and take “possible action” to name the administrator at Monday’s meeting. Both finalists have prior experience running elections and are located out of state, according to Hidalgo.

See here for some background. I agree with Campos, it would have been nice to know who besides Judge Hidalgo (who had a perfectly good excuse) didn’t show up and why. May have been valid reasons, but the clock is ticking and we deserve to know. I get the impression that there’s no real dissension on the committee, they just need to finish the job.

The target date to have the new admin in place is still August 1. That’s a brief time to get up and running, but if they are hiring an experienced person and the operational staff is in place – and hopefully we have a way forward on the ballot collection question for Election Day – then I think we’ll be fine. So with that in mind, let me comment on this:

At the commission’s most recent meeting on June 15, Rob Icsezen, deputy chair of the Harris County Democratic Party’s primary committee, presented a letter to the commission signed by around 100 members of the public, many of them current or former Democratic election workers, asking that Longoria be reinstated as elections administrator. One of the reasons they cited was the time frame left until the November election.

“Any new elections administrator would have the same challenges as Ms. Longoria, without the benefit of a year and a half of hands-on experience,” the letter stated. “In short, they would be starting from scratch. November is rapidly approaching. The voters of Harris County do not have time for this.”

This will not be the first time an administrator has overseen a major Harris County election on relatively short notice. In June 2020, Chris Hollins took over as county clerk shortly before the November election, after outgoing clerk Diane Trautman resigned her position, citing health concerns during the pandemic.

“On my first day as County Clerk in 2020, we had just four months to figure out how to administer an election in pandemic conditions for the first time in Texas history,” Hollins said in a statement. “That included acquiring the necessary protective equipment, recruiting the election workers we needed, and creating and training our team on new safety procedures.”

Hollins benefited from an unprecedented budget to administer the 2020 election, after Commissioners Court approved $27 million — much of that coming from federal CARES Act dollars — to fund his plan, which included additional polling locations, up to 12,000 election workers and an extra week of early voting.

“Many core planning items (e.g., number and location of voting centers) should be well under way by August, but the new EA will need to ensure that solutions are in place for issues that have arisen in recent elections, as well as problems created by the recent voter suppression law,” Hollins said. “These include record rejection rates for mail ballots, which we saw in March, and intentional disruption by partisan poll watchers, which will be something we face for the first time in November.”

I was contacted by Icsezen and a couple of other folks, all people I respect, with this pitch. I did not join them. I like Isabel Longoria and I totally get where Icsezen and the others are coming from, but I just think that ship has sailed. It didn’t work out. That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Let’s get the new person in there, give that person all of the support and financing they will need to run a successful election, and do everything we can to help. At least COVID ought to be a much smaller issue this time around. We can do this.

Jordan and Dolcefino

I have questions about this.

Judge Darrell Jordan

Darrell William Jordan, a Harris County misdemeanor court judge, on Monday was arrested and charged with of official oppression, according to court records.

Jordan is accused of using his office to unlawfully arrest and detain Wayne Dolcefino, a private media consultant and former TV journalist.

The charge stems from an incident on June 30, 2020, when Dolcefino was jailed in contempt of court by Jordan during a hearing in Harris County Court at Law No. 16.

Jordan accused Dolcefino of attempting to interrupt proceedings in the court by demanding to interview the judge. He jailed Dolcefino after giving him repeated warnings, according to court documents.

Dolcefino was found guilty and sentenced to three days in Harris County Jail, six months of probation and a $500 fine.

Monday’s indictment accuses Jordan of wrongfully holding Dolcefino in contempt or subjecting him to summary punishment and jail without a hearing.

In a 2020 video posted on the Dolcefino Consulting Facebook page after his arrest, Dolcefino revealed that he was wearing a hidden camera during the hearing.

The video shows Dolcefino attempting to ask Jordan about public corruption complaints and public records requests he made about multiple Houston and Harris County officials. In the video, Jordan, who was holding court hearings over Zoom, told Dolcefino that he couldn’t ask questions, told him to sit down and warned him to stop interrupting proceedings.

Court records indicate that the grand jury declined to hand down felony charges related to tampering with records and retaliation.

Jordan was arrested, formally charged and released on Monday evening, he said during a short phone interview with the Houston Chronicle. He directed other questions to his attorney.

Marc Carter, Jordan’s attorney, said the case was filed with Harris County DA’s Office, who recused themselves and asked Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton to investigate the allegation.

“Judge Jordan is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing and looks forward to his day in court,” Carter said in a statement released on Monday.

“Contempt is a power given to judges so they can maintain decorum and control court proceedings. Without it the courtroom would be chaos. Litigants, officers of the court, and jurors want judges to be able to control proceedings and when necessary exercise their contempt power.

“This prosecution, if District Attorney Brian Middleton goes forward with it, will have an absurd result and a chilling affect on a judge’s ability to maintain order in their courts. It’s absurd to think anyone can walk into a court, disrupt the proceedings and the judge of the court ends up being prosecuted. That’s not a reasonable person’s idea of justice. The DA should exercise discretion and dismiss this case,” Carter said.

My head is spinning. You might want to read this companion story that gives some background on both Judge Jordan and Wayne Dolcefino, who’s probably a much better-known name among longer-time residents.

Now then. Three basic questions:

1. Contempt of court is a basic power that judges have. Any power can be corrupted, but I don’t see anything in this story that sounds like an extraordinary usage of that power. Maybe that hidden camera video is more damning than the story suggests, I don’t know. If I didn’t know anything else about this, I’d be wondering what exactly the beef was.

2. The incident in question took place two years ago. I know that investigations can take time, and I know that COVID has caused backlogs in the court system. But seriously, two years? What in the heck caused this to take so long to get to this point?

3. You may be wondering why Kim Ogg farmed this out to the Fort Bend County DA. My answer when I first read this is because Wayne Docefino worked for her campaign in both 2014 and 2016 – I saw him and talked to him at a couple of campaign events, and I have some press releases and other things that he sent out in my mailbox from that time. The second story indicates that Ogg and Dolcefino apparently had a falling out after that, which just makes this all messier. Whatever the merits of the case against Jordan, Ogg’s recusal was clearly the right thing to do.

At this point, I have no idea what else to say. I’m going to wait and see what happens. If you have some inside scoop on this, by all means please let me know.

Sheriff Gonzales withdraws from consideration for ICE

Not a big surprise at this point.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has withdrawn from consideration to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he confirmed Monday afternoon.

Gonzalez’s withdrawal comes 14 months after President Joe Biden first nominated him to lead ICE.

“It’s taken far too long,” Gonzalez said Monday. “It’s in best interest of myself, my family, the country and the residents of Harris County that elected me to serve as sheriff to remove myself from further consideration and remain in place as sheriff.”

Gonzalez’ nomination surprised some, in part because in 2017 he’d ended a controversial partnership with ICE that had allowed sheriff’s deputies to screen jailed suspects to find those in the country without legal permission — and later declined to cooperate with an ICE operation in 2019 to arrest large numbers of immigrant families living without legal permission in Houston and other large cities.

Biden first nominated Gonzalez in April 2021. He faced a tense reception from Senate Republicans later that year, ultimately promising not to abolish the partnership he’d scrapped in Harris County in which local law enforcement agencies screen jailed suspects to identify people unauthorized to be in the country.

[…]

The struggle to confirm Gonzalez reflects shifting norms in the Senate and the growing difficulty of confirming political appointees in recent years, said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes effective government.

“Everything is becoming harder and slower, and you have even fewer people actually being confirmed for very important positions,” Stier said.

The exit of Gonzalez from the process this week marks the latest setback for the Biden administration, which has struggled to win Senate confirmation for high-profile appointments for other contentious posts — and for ICE itself, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for more than five years.

See here for the previous update. Not a whole lot to add, but if Dems can pull off maintaining the Senate, especially if they can pick up Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, then maybe the next ICE nominee will have an easier time. Maybe. In any event, please return any speculation you may have engaged in regarding who would be selected to replace Gonzales as Sheriff back to the shelf.