: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Harris County Creates Felony Mental Health Court

Harris County is seeking to expand its treatment of the mentally ill accused of crimes by turning Judge Jan Krocker’s 184th District Court into a specialized mental health court:

Harris County’s criminal district judges voted Wednesday to devote Krocker’s court, the 184th, to felony cases of defendants diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression.

It makes so much sense for so many reasons it’s hard to figure out why it’s taken this long. The probation numbers are particularly compelling:

In 2006 and 2007, the county studied whether mentally ill people on probation who were assigned to the two courts avoided getting into trouble and returning to jail. Most of these people were in the New START program, and 4 percent had their probation revoked, Ellis said. During the same period, 30 percent of the mentally ill not in the program had their probation revoked.

It’s a step in the right direction at least. The subtext is of course that many of the folks who are landing in the new mental health court have been falling through the cracks for years.

Houston Chronicle: Judge hopes mental health court will cut repeat arrests (archived)

Video: Push Ups or Ticket?

This is hilarious and probably not such a bad job of police work either.

Mistaken Identity in the Courtroom

The Tex Parte Blog carried this priceless exchange on cross from a criminal trial in Dallas County:

On Nov. 11, George Milner Jr., a partner in Dallas’ Milner and Finn who’s considered the dean of the Dallas criminal-defense bar, was defending Marc Needham, who was accused of misdemeanor assault. Both Milner and his client are older gentlemen. When Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Brian Poe asked a witness during direct examination to identify the defendant, she pointed to Milner. Poe asked her if she was sure, to which she replied: “He’s the only one in the blue suit with blue tie. He stood up and objected. Him — that’s him there.” After Poe passed the witness, Milner didn’t miss a beat, telling Judge Angela King: “Your honor, first of all let me enter a plea of not guilty,” then he began cross-examining the witness. When Milner asked her what she remembered, she said: “Well, sir, I hate to tell you this, but the first thing I heard was you pointing a gun at me and saying, ‘Now do you want to F with me?’ Don’t you remember that?” “No. My memory is about like yours,” Milner said. “No, mine is very sharp, sir,” she replied. During redirect examination Poe asked the witness, “Would you be surprised that the person you’ve been talking to for the last 25 minutes is actually named George Milner? He’s a prominent attorney here in town, and he represents Marc Needham?” She replied, “Well, that’s a good trick they played, because he looks just like him to me.” The jury found Needham not guilty.

Speculation on future U.S. Attorney in Southern District of Texas

Texas Lawyer has an interesting article on the political angling of those vying for the U.S. Attorney in Houston. There are 93 such federal prosecutors throughout the United States and it remains one of the most prestigious and sought-after jobs in the law despite recent controversy over the politically-motivated dismissal of several U.S. Attorneys in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and elsewhere. U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, so Obama’s election essentially means an new slate in the office.

In the Southern District of Texas, U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle resigned his post on Nov. 8 to become a partner in Fulbright and Jaworski in Houston. Tim Johnson, DeGabrielle’s former first assistant, is now acting U.S. attorney for the district. Johnson says he is not interested in pursuing the appointment.

One lawyer mentioned as a contender to take over for Johnson is Larry Veselka, a partner in Houston’s Smyser Kaplan and Veselka who practices criminal defense. Veselka sought the U.S. attorney position in 1993 after Clinton was elected president, but the job went to Gaynelle Griffin Jones.

“I think it would be fun,” Veselka says of being U.S. attorney. “They could tell me ‘no’ if they want to, but I’m going to ask.”

Veselka says he plans to call the office of U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi — the most senior member of the Texas Democratic congressional delegation — to express his interest in the position as well as call U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who Obama considered as a possible running mate before selecting U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. Many lawyers believe Edwards may be influential in helping the Obama administration select nominees. Edwards did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Philip Hilder of Houston’s Philip Hilder and Associates sought the U.S. attorney position unsuccessfully during the Clinton administration. Hilder is a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who was in charge of the Houston field office and a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District. He did not return a telephone call seeking comment on whether he is currently interested in the U.S. attorney post. Neither did Susan Strawn, a former DOJ attorney who now is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Strawn ran as a Democrat for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this year but was defeated in the Nov. 4 general election.

“It’s common when you make a strong showing in a statewide election, you get an appointment,” says Susan Hays, a Dallas solo who formerly was chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party. “And she’s got a long career in the Department of Justice.” Harris County Democratic Party chairman Gerry Birnberg could not be reached for comment.

It’s interesting to note that no similar political maneuvering is taking place on the other side of counsel’s table. Federal Public Defenders are officers of the court, appointed by the respective Circuit Court of Appeal for a four year term. This both precludes the conflict of interest of having opposing sides appointed by the executive branch and shields the position from untoward political pressure.

Neuroscience and the Law Conference on Video

Via Grits I notice that video from the proceedings of the excellent Neuroscience and the Law Conference I attended in May at Baylor College of Medicine is now available on the web. Dr. David Eagleman, who directs the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law also conducts a seminar on neuroscience and the law and will no doubt have more in the near future.

Introductory Remarks – Dr. Michael Friedlander, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Neuroscience and Law – Dr. David Eagleman, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Neuroscience: Witness on the Stand – Dr. J. Ray Hays, JD, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

The Biology of Behavior: Lessons from Genetics – Dr. Amy McGuire, JD, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Capacity to Consent: Lessons from Traumatic Brain Injury – Dr. Joseph Kass, JD, MD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Memory Fingerprinting and the Risks of Undue Prejudice – Daniel Goldberg, JD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Brain Death: A Current View of the Law, Science, and Ethics – Dr. Amir Halevy, MD, JD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Manipulating Hormones to Change Criminal Behavior: Lessons from Castration – William Winsdale, JD, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Con from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Panel Discussion [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

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