Greg Enos, the chief catalyst in getting Judge Denise Pratt ousted from the 311th Family Court, now documents bad behavior by Pratt’s successor on that bench, Alicia Franklin.
I truly like Alicia Franklin personally and I do not want to embarrass her or cause her problems. I have even come to actually like her fiance, Doug York (outside of the courtroom). But, the facts are the facts. I would be a stinking hypocrite to go after “poor,” defenseless, little Gary Polland regarding his pay for CPS court appointments and then stay silent when I became aware of what Judge Franklin has apparently done. Luckily for Polland, I got my hands on Franklin’s pay vouchers first.
I could easily just keep quiet and let the Democrats and the Houston Chronicle work Franklin over and see what happened. In fact, I had it made in the 311th finally, since the new Judge Franklin held her position because I had been a prime mover in driving her crazy predecessor out of office. Toni and I almost never socialize without the kids and we had gone to dinner with York and Franklin and really enjoyed ourselves. Franklin is young, bright and enthusiastic and seemed so committed to doing a good job as a judge. I was truly fired up about her until the stinking facts got dumped in my lap.
I am writing this newsletter despite the fact that I know Franklin will be a judge through December and she may well win in November and then preside over the 311th for four more years (unless something bad happens that cuts her judicial career short as occurred with Judge Pratt). However, let me note that a recent survey from July shows Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott tied in Harris County and the Democrats have a ground game this year that the Republicans cannot possibly match. Do not assume that you know for sure who will win here locally in November.
I am writing this even though I contributed financially to Franklin’s campaign and I did a lot of work behind the scenes to get Franklin to switch from running for the 247th to the 311th District Court.
I have investigated and confirmed the facts set forth in this newsletter about Judge Franklin. With sadness and regret, I have concluded that these facts suggest possible criminal acts which should be investigated by a prosecutor. I am calling for an independent prosecutor and not the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit to investigate the bills submitted by Alicia Franklin and other attorneys for work they claim to have done on CPS cases.
I am not flatly accusing Judge Franklin of committing a crime. I am sadly and reluctantly pointing out 100% provable facts that create a reasonable suspicion that something very wrong has been done. I really wish Judge Franklin would provide her side of the story to convince us otherwise.
The facts described in this newsletter also show extremely poor ethical judgment by Judge Franklin and violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, which apply to judicial candidates as well as judges.
I am today writing the District Attorney, the State Bar of Texas and the worthless Commission on Judicial Conduct about these matters and asking for an investigation by people with resources and power far beyond me.
I am truly saddened to the core of my being to be writing this particular newsletter and I really wish you were not reading these words.
Click over and read the whole thing. Enos documents multiple infractions, the two main ones being Franklin overbilling Harris County – he has an example of her submitting claims for 23.5 hours of work on one particular day – and submitting claims for CPS work done after she had been sworn in as a judge, which is a violation of the Texas Canons of Judicial Ethics. There are other items, five in total, so again I say go read the whole thing and see what you think.
(By the way, since I’m sure you’re wondering, I have no information about the “survey from July [that] shows Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott tied in Harris County”. It’s the first I’d heard of it. I personally am pretty optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County this fall, but as with everything it comes down to turnout. Take nothing for granted, that’s for sure.)
One other item, which seems to me ought to be something the county addresses ASAP:
Lawyers are stealing tax payer dollars and the system in place at Harris County allows it. Here are the problems:
1. A paper based system from the 1950’s is still in use. Lawyers fill out the pay vouchers by hand, the judges sign the vouchers and then they go to the County Auditor, who pays the amounts approved by the judges, no questions asked.
2. A judge, who may approve dozens of pay vouchers a week, cannot see what an attorney is billing in other cases in that same court or in other courts.
3. No one until me ever took a mass of vouchers from one single attorney and extracted the fees charged on all cases for a particular day to see what the attorney is billing the county for on that day. This is how Alicia Franklin got busted billing 23.5 hours in one day. If I can “audit” vouchers, why can’t the County Auditor?
4. The real problem is that no one has any incentive to closely monitor the CPS pay system. The judges are picking their pals for the appointments and therefore obviously want them to make money. The attorneys do not want their vouchers audited either. They have figured out that they can make a lot of money by submitting almost any hours they can make up and no one is ever going to care or catch them.
The simple solution is to go to an all electronic reporting system, like the State makes candidates use for reporting campaign contributions. Candidates must enter their information into a database program that automatically uploads the data to the State database that we can all search. Click here to see just how searchable the Texas Ethics Commission campaign finance database is.
The county should make ALL billing and pay information for appointed attorneys viewable on line by everyone, including judges and reporters. Our family and juvenile judges should demand that all court appointments and all fees for appointed attorneys be reported. Simple transparency will eliminate a lot of the abuses.
It would also help if our County Auditor actually audited some attorney vouchers on a random basis to keep everyone honest. However, the County Auditor is hired, fired and managed by the district judges of Harris County. How gung ho will the auditor be to audit the CPS invoices her bosses have already approved?
Lastly, we need to replace every single judge involved in this dirty CPS court appointment business, which is about three judges in the family courts and at least two of the three juvenile courts.
The children and tax payers of Harris County deserve better!
An electronic filing and reporting system for vouchers submitted for legal work done on the county’s dime via judicial appointments seems like a no-brainer to me, for all the reasons Enos specifies. Honestly, I’m kind of amazed we don’t have even a rudimentary system for e-filing these vouchers in the year 2014. I know there were some attorneys that quailed at the idea of e-filing court documents, but come on. What are the best practices here? Surely there are other counties doing this. I don’t know who needs to drive this – Commissioners Court, the District Clerk, the County Auditor, someone else – but I hope we can all agree that it’s the right thing to do.