Friday, October 23, 2020

Today’s history lesson: The “Spanish Flu” pandemic of a century ago began with an initial, relatively mild outbreak in the spring of 1918, followed by a more lethal second wave in October–November 1918, and concluded with another brief uptick in the spring of 1919. So … will history repeat itself or will it just rhyme?

Notice: TDCAA business meeting & elections

TDCAA’s annual business meeting and regional director elections will take place by Zoom on December 2,2020, at 10:00 a.m. At this meeting—normally held in conjunction with the (now postponed) Elected Prosecutor Conference—elected prosecutors who are members of the association will consider the slate of candidates for next year’s leadership positions as put forth by the Nominations Committee. Those candidates for 2021 are:

President-Elect: Jack Roady, Galveston County Criminal District Attorney
Secretary-Treasurer: Bill Helwig, Yoakum County Criminal District Attorney
Criminal District Attorney-at-Large: Erleigh Wiley, Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney
County Attorney-at-Large: Leslie Standerfer, Wheeler County Attorney

Furthermore, upon conclusion of the annual business meeting, elected prosecutor members from Regions 1, 2, 4, and 7 will be invited to Zoom breakout rooms to consider the nomination and election of their respective regional directors to the TDCAA board. (The list of current TDCAA board members and TDCAA’s regional map are available HERE.)

Elected prosecutors who are members in good standing (read: your dues are paid) should receive the required Zoom link the week before the meeting. If you have any questions about the election or your membership status, please contact Rob at [email protected] or 512/474-2436.

Interim FRIs

“FRI” is the hot new acronym around the state capitol. (Or so we are guessing—in reality, we haven’t been allowed under the dome since March.) It stands for “Formal Request for Information” and represents a new way for committees to solicit written input for their interim reports. The committees we follow have generally declined to seek that kind of input to date, but this week the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee broke that streak and issued FRIs for the following interim charges:

Charge 1 (Hemp): Oversee implementation of House Bill 1325 relating to hemp; examine procedures and resources used to determine THC content and prosecutorial impediments to ensuring enforcement of state law.

Charge 2 (Class C enforcement): Study the enforcement of non-violent Class C misdemeanors; examine the benefits of issuing citations in lieu of arrests, the nexus between recidivism and “debtors’ prisons,” and all programs within the criminal justice system that levy fines, fees, and related penalties.

Charge 3 (Indigent Defense): Review the overall state of indigent defense in Texas, etc.

Charge 4 (Death Penalty): Review trial court procedures in capital sentencing and implementation of applicable law in direct appeal and writ proceedings in capital cases for compliance with constitutional protections and conflict of interest rules.

If you wish to provide feedback to the committee on any of these topics, instructions for the submission of that information can be found by clicking on the hyperlink embedded in each charge’s title above. Please note that the deadline for all submissions is Thursday, November 5, 2020 (a mere two weeks from yesterday). For help with any of this, please contact Shannon by email.

Bond forfeiture fees

For those of you who contacted us in August regarding a letter from the Comptroller’s Office warning clerks not to collect certain fees in bail bond forfeiture proceedings, we have good news: That office has rescinded its original opinion and those fees may continue to be collected as before. This kerfuffle may result in the Office of Court Administration (OCA) proposing a revision of those fees by the legislature in 2021, but that is a bridge that needn’t be crossed right now. If you have further questions about this issue, contact Shannon.

Lab error notices

Any of you who have done business with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s crime laboratory should be on the lookout for a notice from that office if one or more of your past cases might be impacted by a recent incident.*

(* – updated from original post which included a link to a news story about an unrelated incident. We apologize for the error.)

Amicus help?

Cameron County, along with its sheriff and a constable, were sued for alleged §1983 violations stemming from post-acquittal jail procedures. (A jail inmate acquitted at trial was taken back to the jail to be out-processed, which took about two hours from acquittal to release. Appellant is claiming those two hours before release were a violation of his constitutional rights.) The county’s litigation counsel is seeking input from other counties that may be willing to submit an amicus on the subject at the Fifth Circuit, as a ruling on this case may affect everyone. If interested in learning more about Alfredo Mares v. Cameron County Sheriff, et al. (No. 20-40149), reach out via email to [email protected] or call him at 956/550-1345.

Mental health law conferences

There will be two opportunities to get free training on mental health issues next month.

The Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health will host its 3rd Annual Judicial Summit on Mental Health on November 9­–10, 2020. The program will be offered online and is free for those who pre-register. More details are available HERE.

The Texas Tech Law Review is hosting its biennial Mental Health Law Symposium via Zoom on November 20, 2020. This MCLE program is free, but attendees must pre-register online. For more details, click HERE.

Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinators Conference

Our 2020 KP & VAC Conference will be held online next month. This year’s training is FREE (yay!), but it will be available for viewing only on Thursday, November 12, 2020, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The morning program will feature traditional presentations, while the afternoon will consist of a live online forum where experienced panelists will be available to answer attendees’ questions. Please refer your KP and VAC staff to for more registration information.

Quotes of the Week

“It was a cold-blooded crime.”
            —Reporter’s lede for an LA Times story about the theft of exotic monitor lizards in Long Beach, CA last November. Two suspects were arrested earlier this month and the critters have been recovered.

“When trick-or-treaters walk from house to house to house, who knows who or what they’re going to come [in contact] with. It doesn’t mean that the kids can’t have a good time and can’t celebrate Halloween with family, but we just want them to do it safely, and we don’t think door-to-door trick-or-treating is safe.”
            —Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, whose county (along with El Paso County) has banned trick-or-treating on All Hallows’ Eve this year. (No word yet on whether Santa will be permitted to go chimney-to-chimney there two months from now.)

“We are all disappointed. We can’t complete a trial. We’re all dressed up with no place to go. We hate that it’s a few days of our lives we won’t have back. We like to complete the job. The jurors felt the same way.”
            —District Court Judge John Stevens, after he had to declare a mistrial in Jefferson County’s first coronavirus-era in-person jury trial because one of the jurors subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

“I don’t know why there’s so much turmoil over this investigation. I’m not impugning every law enforcement agent. We all should be held accountable. We all have to follow the law.”
            —Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), explaining why he wants to investigate DPS, the FBI, and even some of his own employees for trying to halt several questionable actions he has taken in favor of a political donor. (For a good summary of all those details, read this Dallas Morning News story from earlier today.)

“This seems like a pretty transparent attempt to intimidate potential witnesses against him and prevent the evidence from coming to light, which is the whole reason we have a whistleblower statute in the first place.”
            —Joe Ahmad, employment law attorney in Houston, in response to the news that Gen. Paxton has now fired two of the employees who accused him of political corruption.

“After being very divided on partisan lines in June, it’s hard not to feel like something has stalled out in that conversation that was very energized in June, July, even into August. But as we’re now nearing the election and the pandemic has set in, people’s attitudes are not as engaged. The dynamism and the change that we were seeing this summer seems to have stalled out.”
            —James Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of their recent poll on a variety of hot-button issues, including policing reform.

“The idea of Texas turning blue is stupid. The more realistic version that emerges is that Texas becomes a more competitive state like Florida. … The new steady state becomes an unsteady balance of power.”
            —Henson again, this time quoted in a Politico story highlighting new battleground House districts in suburban Collin County and elsewhere.

“The 2021 legislative session is going to be a very difficult one, and it’s hard to predict which direction things will go until we see the makeup of the Texas House and learn who the new Speaker will be.”
            —Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, quoted in a Texas Tribune story about the current battle over control of the Texas House. (We know his statement is not news to you, but we threw this one in just in case you thought we sounded like a broken record—see, it’s not just us!)