1. What training, experience and characteristics qualify you for this position?
QUALIFICATIONS: Judge, Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 13 (2019-Present) / Municipal Court judge (13 YRS): Presiding over arraignment & trial dockets | Criminal Defense Attorney (26 YRS):
Handling felonies & misdemeanors in District & County Criminal Courts
Prior to beginning my current position as Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 13, I had a private practice in Houston, Texas since 1992. I had been primarily practicing criminal law for over 26 years. I also practiced family law and personal injury law.
Over the course of my career, I tried 35 criminal cases to a jury and over 200 civil/family law cases. Before taking the bench, I did court appointments and represented clients through my own practice, handling felony as well as misdemeanor cases at both the State District Court and the County Criminal Courts at Law levels. Prior to 2019, I handled over 11,000 criminal law cases in Harris County alone.
In addition, I had the honor and privilege of being appointed by Mayor Bill White as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts in November 2005. By law, I was required to apply for reappointment every two years, and I take great pride that I held that position for 13 years before taking my current position.
I believe the fact that I am bilingual in Spanish is an asset since many of the individuals that are charged with a misdemeanor speak only Spanish. My 26 years as a criminal defense attorney and 16 years of combined (municipal/county) judicial experience have given me the knowledge and expertise in this area of law to effectively and competently continue to serve as Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 13.
2. What, if any, alternatives to incarceration do you support? Please discuss program options, as well as when and how such alternatives can be used.
ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION: Use of Personal bonds under Local Rule 9 / Pre-Trial Diversion & Deferred Adjudication Probation
PROGRAM OPTIONS: Counseling & Rehabilitation for individuals with mental health concerns or drug, alcohol or domestic violence issues.
NOTE: This court handles misdemeanor cases only. All alternatives
and options are subject to a case-by-case judicial review
I was sworn as Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 13 on January 1, 2019. On January 25, 2019, I, along with the 15 other Harris County Criminal Court Judges, implemented Amended Local Rule 9 for the Harris County Criminal Courts at Law which rescinded Harris County’s secured money bail schedule and instead required that the initial, post-arrest release or detention decision be made on the basis of the charged offense. This amended rule resulted in the prompt release of all misdemeanor arrestees on a personal bond except for five categories of arrestees. If a misdemeanor arrestee is not released promptly on a personal bond, then that person must receive a bail hearing within 48 hours of arrest.
The federal lawsuit, O’Donnell v. Harris Count, filed in 2016, was settled by all 16 of Judges of the Harris County Criminal Courts at Law and on November 21, 2019 a Consent Decree was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal. The Consent Decree sets forth a blueprint for creating a constitutional and transparent pretrial system to protect the due process and equal protection rights of people arrested for misdemeanor offenses. Under the Consent Decree, people arrested for low-level misdemeanors are promptly released. The Consent Decree incorporates the new Harris County Criminal Courts at Law (CCCL) Amended Rule 9, which sets out bail policies. Persons arrested for misdemeanors that do not fall within a set list of carve-out offenses must be promptly released under General Order Bonds. Allowing this group to be quickly released without paying allows them to return to their jobs, take care of their children and avoid the trauma and danger of incarceration.
In Harris County, secured money bonds are no longer required for most misdemeanor cases under the court rule 9 adopted as part of the settlement of the O’Donnell v. Harris County case. Most people are released promptly without a hearing. As Judge, I have worked diligently to implement and support programs that will allow an individual to avoid incarceration. One way that I have resolved this as a Criminal Court at Law Judge is through the release of these individuals by granting pre-trial bonds under our current Local Rule 9. Another method that I have used in sentencing is using Pre-Trial Diversion and Deferred Adjudication Probation, where appropriate, instead of jail time. This is done by supervision through the Harris County Probation Department. These programs allow individuals to avoid a conviction for minor misdemeanor offenses.
Also, a Judge could encourage alternative measures of sentencing such as the use of rehabilitation programs for those individuals who have problems with drugs, alcohol, mental illness or domestic violence. These programs exist in Harris County. As one of the S.O.B.E.R. (Saving Ourselves by Education and Recovery) Court Judges, which deals with individuals who have alcohol and substance abuse problems and have been convicted for DWI, I have used alternative methods such as counseling and rehabilitation programs for those individuals instead of incarceration.
3. In setting bail amounts, how will you balance Texas’ Constitutionally-mandated bail requirements with other conditions of release including minimizing any public safety threat the defendant may present to community? Please discuss both first time and repeat offenders.
BAIL REQUIREMENTS: Except for a Violation
of a Protective Order, the Texas Constitution requires the Court to set a bail amount.
CONDITIONS OF RELEASE: Generally determined by the type of criminal offense & priority in minimizing public safety threats.
1ST-TIME OFFENDER: Bond conditions can be set on a case-by-case basis.
REPEAT OFFENDER: For certain offenses, bond conditions are required.
In all misdemeanor cases, except for a Violation of a Protective Order charge, the Constitution requires the Court to set a bail amount on any Defendant charged with a criminal misdemeanor offense. This Constitutional requirement is for both for a first time and repeat offender. A Judge determines the eligibility for granting and setting bail amounts, including a personal bond, depending on factors like the defendant’s ties to the community, the severity of the charges and whether a person can demonstrate that they will return to court to resolve their case if released on bond. If a defendant cannot afford to post a bond but can demonstrate that they will return to court to resolve their case, then a pre-trial bond is appropriate.
The primary consideration in granting and setting bail amount is whether a defendant will return to Court after being released from jail. Many of these defendants, who pose little flight risk, cannot afford to pay for their bond and that is often the only reason they remain in custody. Being incarcerated can be detrimental to these defendant’s families and may further jeopardize their employment. In these instances, I can make a determination if a defendant qualifies for a pre-trial release. In addition to setting a bond and determining whether a Defendant should be released on a bond, the Court can also set conditions of a particular bond. The conditions imposed are determined by the type of criminal offense and the safety of the community. The conditions of bond are determined by the type of offense. For example, a person charged with Driving While Intoxicated (D.W.I.) may be released on either a personal bond or a surety bond and the Judge can imposed conditions on that bond such as no consumption of alcohol, urine tests or a deep lung breath device, known as an Interlock device on the Defendant’s home or any vehicle that he/she may drive.
These conditions of bond are imposed for the safety of the community. A person charged with a misdemeanor Assault may be given bond conditions from the Court such as a Protective Order against the Defendant or a No Contact Order to keep the Defendant from contacting the victim of the offense for their protection. The primary purpose of these conditions of bond is for the safety of the victim and the community. These conditions of bond may be imposed if a Defendant is charged with a first offense or a repeat offender.