Posted: Friday, May 15, 2020
Things have been relatively quiet this week in the absence of additional decrees from on high. Enjoy the break; new edicts will be handed down on Monday.
TDCAA coronavirus resources
All our COVID-19 resources—including sample motions and orders, helpful information, and past updates like this one—are available at https://www.tdcaa.com/covid-19-information/. Recent additions to the page include an order out of Brazoria County to extend the term of a district court during a disaster (thereby extending the term of its empaneled grand jury) and remote plea procedures and forms used in Webb County.
If you or someone in your office has “built a better mousetrap” in response to the pandemic, consider emailing it to Shannon to share with your peers.
New Family Violence book from TDCAA
From investigation through trial, the first edition of Family Violence tells prosecutors, officers, and others in the criminal justice system everything they need to know about how to handle the prosecution of family violence cases. Written by Staley Heatly, the 46th Judicial District Attorney in Vernon, the book includes checklists, forms, and sample pleadings as well as a narrative that leads readers through every step of the process and offers common-sense tips. A CD that accompanies the book contains forms from the book as well as other helpful resources. To order a copy, see our publications page or click here.
If you tried to access pandemic-related materials on the Office of Court Administration (OCA)’s website this week, you no doubt noticed that the Texas appellate courts succumbed to a ransomware attack last Friday that has still not been resolved. The OCA has created a temporary website at https://www.txcourts.net/ where you can find much of the same coronavirus information now being held hostage, but this means that the URL links we’ve used in past updates are of no use, so visit that new .net website to find them. (Ain’t technology great?)
You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
The latest affront to local autonomy during the pandemic came in the form of a nastygram from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to metro officials in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, implying that legal action could be taken against them if they don’t roll back sections of their local emergency orders that the OAG deems “unlawful.” The application of these warnings to other local orders will vary by jurisdiction, so consider reading them if you wish to stay one step ahead of full Borg-level assimilation to the collective.
Meanwhile, the governor has indicated that he will announce more re-openings and related changes on Monday, May 18, the day before the current #OpenTexas plan implemented by Executive Order GA-21 is scheduled to expire.
Several county officials have expressed concerns that the pandemic will impair their ability to maintain the 90-percent Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) reporting completion percentage required of them to receive grant funding from the Public Safety Office (PSO) of the Governor’s Office. On their behalf, State Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction)—a recipient of TDCAA’s Law & Order Award after last session—wrote a letter to Governor Abbott asking that those reporting requirements be extended or modified to avoid current or future penalties. While the governor did not issue any executive orders in response, his office has shared with us the following guidance:
Guidance on CJIS Reporting: CJIS reporting is an important tool for maintaining public safety especially as it relates to information sharing and awareness regarding violent offenders. While the requirement to report data to DPS is not being waived, as far as grant funding decisions are concerned, PSO has broad discretion in implementing this eligibility requirement and would certainly take into consideration the burden COVID19 has placed on all Texas communities when it comes time to make funding decisions.
DPS periodically publishes data on where each county is in relation to meeting the 90-percent threshold; for the most recent report, click here. Also keep in mind that the 90-percent threshold is a five-year average, so one “off year” should not trouble counties who have previously maintained a high compliance rate.
If you have further compliance questions, please contact Ursula Cook at DPS ([email protected] or 512/424-2407).
Human Trafficking strategic plan
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) recently announced the release of Phase I of the Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinating Council’s five-year strategic plan to fight human trafficking in Texas. That council was created during the most recent legislative session and is comprised of representatives from various state agencies. The council is administratively housed under the OAG and tasked with developing an action plan for combatting human trafficking using the millions of dollars dedicated to that purpose by the legislature. To read the new strategic plan—and what it holds for future prosecutions of those crimes—click here (PDF file).
Training scholarships still available
The State Bar’s Criminal Justice Section has extended the deadline to apply for scholarships to certain CLE courses, including the Bar’s Advanced Criminal Law Seminar (Houston, July 13–16) and our own Annual Criminal and Civil Law Conference (South Padre Island, September 16–18). Only current members of the CJ Section may apply. For more information on how to join the section or apply for a scholarship, click here. The deadline for applications is now May 31, 2020.
Quotes of the Week
“We’ve got an entire legal system that was developed to deal with a world that doesn’t exist anymore.”
—Aaron Goldstein, employment law lawyer Seattle (WA), as quoted in a Dallas Morning News article on the challenges that business owners face when re-opening during a pandemic.
“The governor’s orders are shifting—almost week-to-week. It’s difficult to assess what claims should be brought and whether they are going to be mooted and taken out of controversy.”
—Will King, attorney representing two Houston-area businesses that have sued in federal court—with some success—to overturn aspects of the governor’s emergency orders during the pandemic.
“These are Colosseum rules, where the fate of the gladiators is determined not by law but by the roar of the crowd. Sometimes the partisans yell for the lions, sometimes for the hairstylists. You don’t know what’s going to happen until you’re in the ring.”
—Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune, in his commentary on the recent management of coronavirus limitations by the state.
“Our generation and younger have never had a real, literal war, so we don’t know what self-sacrifice is. We’re not asking (you) to go to Vietnam. We’re asking you to wear a mask.”
—Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), expressing his frustration at retailers and shoppers who refuse to wear face coverings.
“Some of you are posting all kinds of crazy conspiracy stuff. Are y’all really that bored? … I trust Carol Baskin with a trunk full of murder hornets more than I do some of you.”
—Smithville (TX) Mayor Scott Saunders, in a meme-filled reply on his Facebook page to several conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.
—Social media hashtag used by Shelley Luther, the Dallas owner of Salon a la Mode whose refusal to abide by state and local shutdown orders has received national attention. A good review of the hubbub surrounding her situation can be found in this Texas Tribune article.