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October 17th, 2022:

Interview with Rochelle Garza

Rochelle Garza

You are probably well acquainted with the current Attorney General of Texas. My goal here is to help acquaint you with the person who should be the next Attorney General of Texas, Rochelle Garza. A Brownsville native and fifth-generation Texan, Garza got her law degree at UH and made a name for herself in 2018 by fighting for reproductive rights for immigrant teens in detention and winning her case against the Trump administration at the Supreme Court. She has been a staff attorney for the ACLU and is now a managing partner at her own firm. She has served on the board of Jane’s Due Process, the State Bar of Texas’ Laws Relating to Immigration and Nationality Committee, and the Cameron County Bar Association. I don’t really have to tell you that she’s a far better person than the incumbent is, do I? We get into all of the reasons why she would also be a far better Attorney General in the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford – Railroad 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: Judge Alex Salgado

(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 Alex Salgado

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

My name is Alex Salgado and I am the current judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #1

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

All class A and B misdemeanors, and the occasional Class C appeal.

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

When my colleagues and I took over the misdemeanor benches after the 2018 election and along with Judge Jordan who was already on the bench, we immediately settled the ongoing federal lawsuit and began working on a new bail system. We made the changes necessary to ensure people charged with a misdemeanor do not remain in custody solely because they cannot afford a bond. We have completely changed the way misdemeanor cases are handled when it comes to bail and the studies have shown that it is a success. More people are released while their cases are pending and do not have to sit in jail until their case is disposed, and more people are able to reach alternate resolutions other than a conviction on their cases. Despite what is being portrayed in the media, our misdemeanor bail reform has not led to increased violence, recidivism is low, and more and more people are able to leave the Harris County jail without having to take a guilty plea just to be released. The other main accomplishment is what my colleagues and I have recently started with the Bayou City Community Court. One of the goals of the Bayou City Community Court is to inform and assist those that are eligible in obtaining petitions for nondisclosure, which in turn helps people find jobs by minimizing the impact of any past criminal history. This program notifies people who are eligible to obtain petitions for non-disclosures and are then connected with services such as health screenings, job services, high school diploma/GED services, and local community colleges. It is a growing program and we plan to add more services in the future to help those who have been through the criminal justice system and have successfully completed their deferred adjudications and sentences.

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

I would like to see the Bayou City Community Court grow and provide other programs and services to those people who have successfully completed deferred, probations, and misdemeanor sentences. I would also like to continue decreasing the pending case count in my court. Since we took the bench, we have not had much normalcy in our day-to-day operations. We inherited the remnants of a judicial system affected by hurricane Harvey and then we had to deal with the Covid 19 pandemic. We are starting to operate at a more normal pace, such as setting trials and hearings every week, and I would like to continue to lower the number of pending cases. I have already implemented changes that I have noticed are working in reducing the pending case count. For example, when a case hits the 200 day mark, I have the attorneys (State and defense) approach me before being reset. I then make a decision on how long of a reset to grant based on the needs of the case (missing discovery, applications to pretrial interventions, completing classes for a dismissal), and I have noticed that when cases are brought up more frequently they tend to be disposed of quicker. I would perhaps expand on this method of resetting cases to see if it can continue reducing the number of pending cases in my court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because if my colleagues and I do not win in November, misdemeanor bail reform will be done away with and the misdemeanor courts will be taken back to a day and age when people were forced to accept guilty pleas just go get out of jail. There has been progress made in the misdemeanor courts when it comes to bail reform, and the studies show that our reform is working; the facts back up the work we have done with misdemeanor bail reform. I do not want to see the criminal justice system taken back to a day when money equals freedom; non-violent misdemeanor cases should not be treated that way. Our laws provide that a person is innocent unless proven guilty and with our bail reform we are ensuring this law is applied universally to all people who are arrested for a misdemeanor.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

After this term, I will have 13 years experience as an attorney. I have 9 years experience as a prosecutor and 4 years experience as the Judge of this court. My entire career has been devoted to criminal law, and for the past 4 years it has been devoted to criminal justice in the misdemeanor courts. I have the experience and passion to continue moving the misdemeanor courts in Harris County in the right direction. We do not need to go back to an archaic mindset where money equals freedom. People should have the opportunity to get out of jail while their cases are pending and get back to their families, jobs, school, etc. People should not be burdened with a final conviction for the rest of their lives simply because it was a means to walk out of the jail. I am the candidate to continue moving these courts forward and will continue to make sure that every person that comes before me is treated fairly and equally under the law.

Today is a court day for Steven Hotze

As you may recall, local wingnut crackpot Steven Hotze was sued last May by air conditioner repairman David Lopez after a couple of Hotze goons led by former HPD Captain Mark Aguirre assaulted him on the road in an unhinged attempt to prove that he was somehow handling mail ballots from the 2020 election. In April of this year Hotze was indicted on charges of unlawful restraint and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and we have since learned more about his role in the attack.

What I had not seen before this weekend was anything new on that civil case. I’ve been sent a few court documents from it, which tell me that today there will be a hearing and that quite a bit has already happened.

The hearing today is about an objection by Hotze to a previous ruling that compels him to make a net worth disclosure to the plaintiff. Hotze, who as noted has been indicted for his role in the assault on Lopez, is trying to invoke the Fifth Amendment to prevent this disclosure. The plaintiff’s response to Hotze’s claim contains the following very interesting opening statements:

A. The Court has already determined, as a matter of law, that the Plaintiff has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits against Hotze. (See previous motion and court order).
B. Hotze cannot assert his Fifth Amendment rights to producing net worth documents.
C. Hotze fails to explain or prove why providing net worth would have anything to do with the criminal assault charges against him.
D. The Court’s net worth order does not invade the constitutional rights of Hotze. The only case cited by Hotze, Hoffman, is inapplicable to this case.

Emphasis mine. I don’t have any more information on that assertion, but it sure sounds to me like Hotze is in some doo-doo. You can see Hotze’s arguments here, in which he argues that the civil suit should wait until the criminal matter is resolved (among other things) and also adds this piece to the timeline:

On July 1, 2022, Lopez filed Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Net Worth Discovery From Defendant Steve Hotze and Defendant Liberty Center For God and Country and Motion to ReDepose Defendant Steven Hotze Individually and as Representative of Liberty Center for God and Country, requesting, among other things, an order from this Court “allowing him to conduct net worth discovery, including, but not limited to, request for production and interrogatories propounded to Steven Hotze, Individually and The Liberty Center for God and Country and a deposition of Steven Hotze in both capacities.” (Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel p. 9) Plaintiff does not particularize the request, but, instead, makes a generalized request for discovery regarding “net worth.”

He also argues that Lopez has not met the standard to compel such a discovery. That was filed on August 10, the plaintiff’s response was filed on September 15, and the court overruled the objection on September 21. Hotze also made a writ of mandamus to the 14th Court of Appeals on September 9 to vacate the earlier order allowing net worth discovery and upholding the objection; it was denied on October 11. The notice of today’s hearing was given on August 31, and I’m a little confused by the order of operations, but here we are.

Anyway. If people who are more in the know want to look through these filings and fill in some blanks I would welcome the feedback. We know there’s a hearing today, and I hope there will be a news story after to help clear things up some more. If what you need right now in your life is to hear of a legal setback for Steven Hotze, I hope this suffices.

Is this just the calm before the next COVID wave?

Things look good now, at least in the Houston area, but COVID never sleeps.

As the U.S. heads into a third pandemic winter, the first hints are emerging that another possible surge of COVID-19 infections could be on its way.

So far, no national surge has started yet. The number of people getting infected, hospitalized and dying from COVID in the U.S. has been gently declining from a fairly high plateau.

But as the weather cools and people start spending more time inside, where the virus spreads more easily, the risks of a resurgence increase.

The first hint of what could be in store is what’s happening in Europe. Infections have been rising in many European countries, including the U.K., France, and Italy.

“In the past, what’s happened in Europe often has been a harbinger for what’s about to happen in the United States,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “So I think the bottom line message for us in this country is: We have to be prepared for what they are beginning to see in Europe.”

Several computer models are projecting that COVID infections will continue to recede at least through the end of the year. But researchers stress there are many uncertainties that could change that, such as whether more infectious variants start to spread fast in the U.S.

In fact, scientists are watching a menagerie of new omicron subvariants that have emerged recently that appear to be even better at dodging immunity.

“We look around the world and see countries such as Germany and France are seeing increases as we speak,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin. “That gives me pause. It adds uncertainty about what we can expect in the coming weeks and the coming months.”

However, it’s not certain the U.S. experience will echo Europe’s, says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who helps run the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub.

That’s because it’s not clear whether Europe’s rising cases are related to people’s greater susceptibility to new subvariants they’ve not yet been exposed to. In addition, different countries have different levels of immunity.

“If it is mostly just behavioral changes and climate, we might be able to avoid similar upticks if there is broad uptake of the bivalent vaccine,” Lessler says. “If it is immune escape across several variants with convergent evolution, the outlook for the U.S. may be more concerning.”

In fact, some researchers say the U.S. is already starting to see early signs of that. For example, the levels of virus being detected in wastewater are up in some parts of the country, such in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont and other parts of the Northeast. That could an early-warning sign of what’s coming, though overall the virus is declining nationally.

“It’s really too early to say something big is happening, but it’s something that we’re keeping an eye on,” says Amy Kirby, national wastewater surveillance program lead at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But infections and even hospitalizations have started rising in some of the same parts of New England, as well as some other northern areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, according to Dr. David Rubin, the director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which tracks the pandemic.

“We’re seeing the northern rim of the country beginning to show some evidence of increasing transmission,” Rubin says. “The winter resurgence is beginning.”

As the story notes, we’re overall in a much better place because there’s a lot more immunity thanks to vaccinations and our previous high rate of infections. The COVID levels in wastewater here is low now, and while we’re hardly a leader in vaccinations, we at least have warmer winters so there are still plenty of opportunities to be outside, and fewer times where you have to be congregated inside. But also, not nearly enough people have had their bivalent boosters yet, and there are concerns about the flu season. So, you know, remain appropriately cautious – masking in places where you used to have to mask is still an excellent idea – and get those shots.