Dozen Hopefuls Vie For County Court Judgeship

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MOST YEARN FOR THE RETURN OF THE ‘ROCKET DOCKET’

Waco – Both prosecution and defense bars currently practicing in the McLennan County Courts at Law are impatient with a drawn-out, clogged system of justice, according to their writings.

Of the dozen candidates for appointment to fill the unexpired second half term of County Court at Law Judge Mike Freeman, a preponderance emphasize docket control as their number one priority in a droning, slow-paced process of justice.

Most are openly critical of District Attorney Abel Reyna’s policies as they affect the scheduling of cases.

In his application, former Court at Law No. 1 Judge Tom L. Ragland who helped make public notice of dockets on the internet during his four-year term from 2003 to 2006, told the Commissioners Court that aside from adjusting to increased volume of cases caused by a growing population, “In my previous term I learned that the administrative staff were dealing with other department employees they had never met…We learned that duplication of work was not uncommon.”

Through dutch treat luncheons, he was able to help grow a “team effort” toward working as a unit made of many friends, instead of numerous employees of many departments.

Because judges have no input on which cases to prosecute, or to make decisions regarding the method of arrests, there is a problem with “clogging the docket,” Ragland declared. Judges may dismiss cases only if the court clearly has no jurisdiction. Prosecution is entirely up to the District Attorney; arrests are handled solely by police agencies.

A person indicted for a felony and charged with misdemeanors arising out of the same event made the basis of the indictment can not be forced to testify in the misdemeanor case, nor can he be denied the right to testify on his behalf if he wants to. He cannot plead guilty in the misdemeanor for fear that his plea will be used against him in the felony case. Consequently, the misdemeanor cases just set on the docket until the felony is finalized.”

One way to streamline the process would be to coordinate prosecution. “I recall one case in my previous term as judge of the Court Court at Law where the defendant pled guilty to a felony case and then came before me and pled guilty to twelve misdemeanor cases. He had been in jail long enough to cover all of the misdemeanor cases, but each one of them had to be processed individually. This is not a very efficient way to do business.”

He would like to finish his career filling out Judge Freeman’s term.

Galen Edwards is concerned with “the number of incarcerated defendants on misdemeanor cases.” He wants to create a process requiring the District Attorney to assist in the pre-trial intervention program by sharing information between the departments.

There have been occasions when my clients were placed in the program, failed the program, and I did not receive notice from the Court when the cases were filed. Sometimes I have been reappointed and other times a different attorney is appointed. Notification to the original attorney of records would be beneficial to all parties involved.” He is calling for a meeting of the minds between court coordinators, cops, probation officers, prosecutors and judges.

Jason P. Darling wrote, “I learned from John Segrest, my boss at the District Attorney’s office, that it is important to not only seek justice but to also move your caseload. I would like to work with the attorneys to help speed up the times between the filing of cases and disposition of those cases. He would like to use scheduling orders, as practiced in other counties, as a method.

Vikram S. Deivanayagam is calling for the use of electronic monitoring to reduce the number of accused misdemeanants incarcerated in the county lockup while awaiting trial.

I have spoken at great length with Judge Freeman about his reservations about using the electronic monitoring. I understand his philosophical viewpoint that being under house arrest instead of actually being in jail is not real punishment.” Though he doesn’t disagree, he wrote, “I do believe that there is a time where philosophy gives way to reality…”

The system of electronic monitoring in use in County Court at Law No. 2 is successful, he says. “It comes down to math and money.”

Ross Russell is calling for the “return of the rocket docket.” He cites a continual backlog “relative to surrounding County Courts at Law,” something that “is even more pronounced in the Courty Courts’ civil cases.”

In civil cases, “I would implement a standing scheduling order with automatic dates,” he declared. One way to resolve delays would be to “provide for the automatic disclosure of various pieces of evidence without the need for the parties to serve specific discovery requests upon one another (unless they wish to).” Russell is also proposing a system of “civil days” and “criminal days.”

Edward C. Vallejo wants to see a system wherein “attorneys understand that less complex cases, such as Driving While License Invalid, Possession of Marijuana, Theft…” are expedited through the docket. He also wishes to create a special Domestic Violence Court as a counterpart to the Alcohol and Drug Court.

Gerald R. Villarrial also advocates an increased use of electronic monitoring for accused misdemeanants. “If judges use house arrest for an indigent defendant in the misdemeanor court, it only costs the county $6.90 per day for passive monitoring, according to the November 2016 billing cycle reported from Healthcare Recovery.”

Said Doyle L. Young, “First, I think that criminal cases could be moved through the system faster” because “the geat majority of criminal defendants eventually plead guilty and most of them will delay doing so as long as possible. I think most cases could be pushed to a resolution sooner.” He suggests that the Juddge “take pleas on two days per week rather than just on Thursday morning…” Having court coordinators repeatedly schedule, then reschedule cases is costly and time-consuming.

I think the judge’s final decision on which case is going to trial on a particular day could be made further in advance.” Presently, both sides don’t find out until Thursday afternoon what case will proceed on Monday morning.

Landon Wade Ramsay listed electronic monitoring as a change that “will be able to occur on day one…”

Christi L. Hunting Horse lists an extensive experience in federal practice beginning as a member of the Navy Judge Advocate General Corps, a staff attorney for the FBI, as well as prosecution experience at the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office where she became Chief Prosecutor in County Court at Law Number 2.

Wesley Lloyd, president of the McLennan County Republican Club, sums up ten years of experience in his best qualification, the Socratic suggestion that a judge’s basic job is “to hear courteously,” and “to answer wisely.”

Most citizens do not spend enough time in a courtroom to be comfortable, and many can be intimidated. I believe the best judges have the ability to be disarming without sacrificing the air of authority.”

Judge Jan Patterson, who served as a Justice of the Third Court of Appeals for twelve years, presently teaches as Justice In Residence at Baylor Law, and previously served as the appellate member of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Her peers placed her as Chair of the Litigation Section of the State Bar.

She stated, “Not only have I never had a backlog in my own docket, I have assisted other judges and courts to contend with their backlog.”

Her closing comment is “And finally, it is up to our judges to ensure that we trust our system of justice, that it is fair and that it is perceived by all citizens to be fair.” She attached articles on the subject she wrote for the Waco “Tribune-Herald” and the Austin “American-Statesman” on that subject.

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