Revelations that a single senior Houston police officer served on at least ten grand juries have been an eye-opener to those who might have assumed that the grand jury as constituted in Harris County (Houston) was random or representative in its composition. Radley Balko:
…critics allege that the “key-man” system that many Harris County judges use to pick grand jurors selects for law enforcement officials and their friends, family, and acquaintances. Critics say it’s too easily manipulated, and results in grand juries continually picked from the same pool of people — cops, retired cops, friends and family of cops, and older, whiter, wealthier, more conservative people who both have the time and money to serve, and are familiar enough with the system to even know to volunteer to serve on a grand jury in the first place.
Adding to the problem, grand jury members are invited to go on police ride-alongs, are given free time at police shooting ranges, and are invited to participate in 3D shooting simulators designed to make them empathetic with police officers. Those same grand jurors are then asked to assess the validity and credibility of the police officers who testify before them, not just in routine investigations, but in investigations of the killing of police officers, alleged abuse by police officers, police shootings, or police corruption.
It’s being led by our perennial-favorite state-AG mentionee (D-Miss.)
Meanwhile: Houston judge reported to have issued what law professor Josh Blackman calls “blatantly unconstitutional” gag order requiring Google not only to remove all records of certain allegations against an individual, but also to refrain from discussing the gag order itself [Houston Chronicle]
It’s no longer a specifically enumerated crime to do that on the streets of Houston in an annoying or flirtatious way [Volokh]
Another survey of late-night TV lawyer ads, this time by 99 Percent Invisible at Slate “The Eye”, and some, like “We’ll Change Your Pain Into Rain,” previously unseen by us. Audio podcast (21:04) here:
And Above the Law highlights this very…. unusual video by an intellectual property lawyer in Houston:
Someone must have deactivated the Dallas Morning News’s B.S. detectors [Amy Alkon] The paper’s editors uncritically cheer new proposals from Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Ted Poe for legal changes including wider use of forfeiture and more draconian sentences for johns. More: “There have been two compelling-prostitution cases filed in Harris County this year. Not 300,000. Two.” [Mark Bennett] Yet more: the paper corrected 11/24.
A former Houston Texans punter “alleges that [Reliant] Stadium’s practice of piecing together 1,200, 8?x8? palettes of grass prior to every home game creates an ‘unsafe turf’ condition,” resulting in a torn ligament and bone fracture. At Abnormal Use, Nick Farr says we haven’t heard a whole lot about turf seams as a playing field hazard up to now, and notes that the player in question may have had some other difficulties going on with his career aside from this “career-threatening injury.”
“Two Houston adult entertainment clubs this week agreed to settle a federal age discrimination case with a former waitress who alleged younger, male managers called her ‘old’ and said she showed symptoms of memory loss. The owners of Centerfolds and Cover Girls agreed to pay $60,000 to Mary Bassi. She was 56 when she was fired in 2006 ‘without provocation or explanation,’ according to a lawsuit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed on Bassi’s behalf.” [Houston Chronicle; earlier]
And now someone must pay [The Smoking Gun]
More: Jon Coppelman consults Ogletree’s “settlement calculator”.
A Texas DWI lawyer speaks incautiously to the press, and fun ensues [Houston Press, Above the Law, Defending People and more]
Because without some sort of barriers to entry, how are you supposed to make the really big bucks? [Antiplanner via Coyote]
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Mary Bassi was 56 when she was allegedly subjected to age-based discrimination at the Cover Girls club where she waited tables. “According to the lawsuit, which was filed last week in federal court, she was frequently called ‘old’ by managers and endured comments about experiencing menopause and showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease.” Younger waitresses were also given shifts that Bassi had customarily worked. An EEOC lawyer says Bassi had been a successful waitress and is now working in that capacity for a competitive club; Cover Girls burned down in 2007 and has not been rebuilt. [Houston Chronicle via Tim Eavenson; Richard Connelly, Houston Press "Hair Balls"] We’ve covered earlier age-bias complaints by exotic dancers themselves (as opposed to support staff) in 2000 and last year (both in Ontario, Canada).
59-year-old Melinda Herrick, an art teacher who had been a Teacher of the Year honoree in the Houston schools, was charged with violating the “drug-free zone” law after cops found two Xanax pills in her car; the drug is often prescribed for panic disorder. Herrick protested that the car had been in the shop for repairs for more than a month before the incident; her daughter also drove the car. Students rallied on her behalf and the charges were finally dropped after she underwent a drug test which indicated that she did not use drugs. [Houston Chronicle via Obscure Store]
“An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a fatal 2007 Houston office fire announced [Jan. 21] that it will drop its legal argument” that it shouldn’t have to pay for smoke inhalation deaths because they supposedly resulted from “pollution”, a risk excluded under the policy, as opposed to the actual flames. [Houston Chronicle; earlier].
“An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a 2007 Houston office fire is claiming smoke that killed three people was ‘pollution’ and surviving families shouldn’t be compensated for their losses since the deaths were not caused directly by the actual flames. Great American Insurance Company is arguing in a Houston federal court that the section of the insurance policy that excludes payments for pollution — like discharges or seepage that require cleanup — would also exclude payouts for damages, including deaths, caused by smoke, or pollution, that results from a fire.” (Mary Flood, “Insurance loophole claimed in fire deaths”, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 17).
“Convicted last year of intoxication manslaughter for the death of her boyfriend, the 21-year-old daughter of a state district judge is suing the truck driver she ran into during a drunken driving crash. …[Elizabeth] Shelton had a blood alcohol concentration more than three times the legal limit, two tests showed.” (Brian Rogers, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 18). Feral Child has been digging up all sorts of interesting stuff about the lawyer representing Elizabeth Shelton, too — his name is Mark Sandoval — and his past dealings with her father, Harris County Judge Pat Shelton. He wonders whether it has something to do with standards being lower in Texas, although, unfortunately, we can think of this sort of thing going on in many other states too. And then Mark Bennett of Defending People jumps in and does even more research about Sandoval’s disciplinary record. And does he ever find stuff.
The Houston Chronicle deserves credit for breaking the original story, but as you may have noticed it took only hours for two skillful bloggers, SSFC and Bennett, to push it much farther. The blogosphere is proving itself extremely powerful in shedding a quick and bright light on some of the darker corners of the legal system.