Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is the Texas Judicial System of Electing Judges the Best One ?

I ask you.  Two recent fact scenarios.  Had a guy on a 10 year DWI felony probation who had 2 interlock violations (the machine in your car) in one month 2 years after he started probation.  Both blows were well below the legal limit. One of these blows involved him just attempting to start the car for nondriving purposes.  While waiting for the Motion to Revoke hearing he was on SCRAM (ankle monitor that measures your sweat for alcohol via satellite) for over 100 days with NO alcohol violations and he started an intense rehab program (at his own expense) where he was progressing well. His options with the judge who oversees the SAFP program (conflict of interest ? I ask you !) for all courts (SAFP is a “treatment” program in prison that costs taxpayers $30k a prisoner where they will spend close to a year in prison  with over a 75% recidivism rate) :  SAFP (wow, what a surprise !) or prison.  He took the 2 years prison rather than suffer the humiliation of SAFP (described as a “militaristic approach”; imagine what that means when you are sitting in prison with no rights) and 8 more years of continued probation under a judge who wanted to put him in SAFP to begin with. The thing about SAFP is that you end up losing everything: your home, your job, your family. If you didn’t have a drinking problem before you sure have one now. This guy was supporting a daughter through college and another household as a result of divorce. Now the family will be on welfare and we all get to hear how taxes are increasing as we shoulder an ever increasing trend of locking up nonviolent offenders. How effective is that for treatment ?  We the taxpayers foot the bill when he could have been monitored at his own expense and paying for his own counseling ??

Another recent case, a decorated Vietnam vet was on probation and made it 8 out of 10 years before he broke down and admitted to his probation officer that times were tough and he relapsed and did some drugs. He was immediately given a drug test (proved negative) and based on his statement alone was told at  sentencing by the judge that NO ONE had ever successfully completed the 10 year probation out of that court and  sentenced to 10 years.  Yup, a guy that served to protect our country’s freedom and the very people that are in the legal business to help him punish him for being honest. They stress to you in probation to always “be honest”.  Now seriously ? Knowing all this- what incentive would anyone ever have to be so ?  Guess what the best part is ? Our laws are structured to where there is NO appeal from a probation revocation.  Now we get to pay for this Vietnam Veteran to rot in jail where at his age and condition he will probably die. Justice ?  I think not.  Call it for what it is: tyranny.

They say that the worst thing is for good people to do nothing when injustice happens.  I’m speaking out. I’m giving my opinion as a 17 year professional dedicated to ensuring justice. Why and how is this happening ? Why do we give one judge so much power ? In some European countries they have panels of 3 and specialized panels where the judges have expertise in those areas.  We elect politicians so why not elect judges so the argument goes. Well, politicians don’t have the power to put you in jail.  Many legal scholars as well as the public have advocated leaving the election of judges behind for more qualified selection processes. There was a PBS documentary on it and here is a New York Times editorial: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/opinion/l14judge.html .  There is even a national organization: AJS: American Judicature Society, a society “for promoting the effective administration of justice.” Their facts, figures, statistics and information on how many states have abandoned the judicial election process can be found at : http://www.judicialselection.us/ . Now, sure there are great judges and I will go to the ends of the earth to see them reelected but they are the rare exceptions. The phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a maxim for a reason. Most people are not equipped with the requisite personality and character traits it takes to administer absolute power with tempered and reasoned judgment.  Let the good judges earn their seats due to their distinction, not because they have the campaign itch and coffers to make it happen. There are two places where no one wants to go unless you are getting married or having a baby and that is the courthouse and the hospital.  In both of these scenarios there is not much of anything we can do if we end up here save nature, good doctors or being lucky enough to land in the right court.  This is why we all as citizens concerned about “justice for all” as the Founding Fathers envisioned  should be concerned and do something now.  Great lawyers  deserve to lead by being judges. Tyrants on benches don’t deserve or need power.  When we elect judges we have it all backwards. Those judges who are doing a great job will no doubt be chosen by judicial qualification panels to continue to do so. Those judges who don’t belong in seats of power with which to inflict harm to others inappropriately will no doubt be passed over.  If you care about the great state of Texas having the best judicial system it is time for change: contact your legislators, join the AJS, get involved. Do it because you care.

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