Texpatriate endorses for the Texas Supreme Court

At a recent judicial panel at the Texas Tribune Festival featuring seven incumbent Justices, many on the court lamented the shifts that have occurred in the high court in the last quarter-century. Ostensibly, the nine justices –all Republican– serve as the court of last resort for all non-criminal cases (including, strange as it may sound, juvenile criminal cases). Nearly in unison, the justices seemingly bemoaned the transition the court has faced from an arbiter of common law to merely an interpreter of statutes and a State Constitution that is absurdly long and still growing.

And while the court’s docket has been steadily shrinking, there are still some high-profile issues that have been left pending; chief among them, the rights of gays and lesbians. Specifically, a pair of cases regarding the ability of same-sex couples to divorce within the State. There is also a case, sure to reach the court one day, regarding the constitutionality of Texas’ amendment against such same-sex marriages and “similar unions.” For those and other cases, this board simply believes that Texas’ highest court should be composed of advocates for equality between the sexual orientations. For these reasons, we have simply felt more comfortable with the Democratic candidates. However, we still have concerns about experience and the like from Justices and prospective Justices on this most important court.

Regarding the four elections up this year on the Texas Supreme Court, we endorsed two Democrats and two Republicans.

Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has honorably served on the Court longer than any other justice. About a year ago, Governor Rick Perry elevated him to the Chief Justiceship, the culmination of a long and noble career. Most scholars on the court agree that he is arguably the intellectual leader, especially of the more conservative clique.

But Hecht is not without his weaknesses. In years past, he was admonished and fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for impropriety regarding using his office for personal purposes. He also tacks heavily to the right on many of those aforementioned important social issues.

For these reasons, we cautiously will support the Democratic candidate, Bill Moody. A State District Judge out of El Paso County, Moody has a history seeking high offices, including a seat on the Supreme Court once before. He espouses an inclusive view of the constitution, one that sees the document as a living creature subject to evolving standards of decency, rather than a strict originality view. Such philosophies lend themselves to a more inclusive idea of who should be covered by the equal protection clause of the constitution, such as gays & lesbians. Still, we have some doubts as to Moody’s need for “on the job training,” so to speak, upon assuming the office of Chief Justice. Still, we think he would be a welcome change of pace.

Accordingly, this board endorses Bill Moody for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 1 (Chief).

Justice Jeff Brown is the newest member of the court. Appointed last year by Governor Rick Perry, he previously served as a member of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. Without a doubt, he is a more than capable jurist who has the experience needed to be an effective member of the court. However, like Hecht, we have some major disagreements with Brown on contentious legal disputes, particularly those involving the expansion of equal protection rights. That being said, we have some hope that Brown is more level-headed on certain disputes than some of his colleagues. He cut his teeth in the law as a clerk for former Justice Jack Hightower, one of the last great Democrats on the court.

Though despite our qualms with Brown, we think he is night-and-day better than his opponent. The Democratic candidate, Larry Meyers, has served on the Court of Criminal Appeals since 1992…as a Republican. In a rather strange turn of events last year, he switched parties right at the filing deadline in order to run for this post. We have absolutely no problem with party-switching; in fact, with good reason, we actively encourage it. But Meyers has been a ghost since his filing. He didn’t make a statement then, nor throughout the primary, nor throughout the general election. He boycotted the State Democratic Convention and has been a no-show at newspaper editorial screenings. And Meyers was no reliable liberal –or even moderate– voice on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Thus, we have no idea why Meyers is running or what he stands for, and –judging by his record– we don’t think he would improve upon Brown’s record. Therefore, we will defer to the incumbent, albeit reluctantly.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jeff Brown for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 6.

Justice Jeff Boyd was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2012 and now will be seeking his first full term on the court. We think he has been a reasonable jurist but, like the other incumbent justices, we have some similar concerns regarding his opinions on constitutional interpretations. Much like his colleagues, we are naturally skeptical of his ability to extend basic civil rights to gays and lesbians.

Boyd’s Democratic opponent, meanwhile, not only has a much more ideal philosophy, she is tremendously experienced. Gina Benavides, a Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi), has served in an appellate position for more than eight years. Previously, she had a long and illustrious career within private practice. Unlike the other Democratic candidates, Benavides has been very detailed platform and online presence. She has also been a persistent force campaigning throughout the State. Unlike others, we are totally sure that Benavides will not need any “on the job training,” so to speak, if she wins office. She would make a capable, more and qualified Justice, a great addition to the court.

Accordingly, this board endorses Gina Benavides for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 7.

Justice Phil Johnson, first appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the court about nine years, will be seeking his second full term on the court. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and longtime veteran of the Court of Appeals in Houston. Beyond dispute, he is a very qualified and experienced Judge. Though, and not to sound like a broken record here, we have some of the same qualms with Johnson as we do with the other justices; namely, that he has an originality view of many constitutional issues and opposes extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.

But Johnson’s only opponents, Libertarian RS Koelsch and Green Jim Chisholm, are spectacularly unqualified for this high office. They have little political credentials, and even fewer judicial ones. Simply put, they are unfit for the post they seek. Johnson, despite political disagreements, is indisputably qualified and capable to hold this position. We think he is a much better choice than his competitors.

Accordingly, this board endorses Phil Johnson for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 8.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

VDP hops on the Highway Fund bandwagon

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released an ad that touted his big plan for improving the state of transportation infrastructure in Texas. After crunching the numbers, I was simply not impressed. Now, the Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, has hopped on the bandwagon and is now touting that plan as a cornerstone for her transportation infrastructure (with a few notable difference) platform.

Last night, I noted that such a proposal could likely raise about $1 Billion per biennium, a statistic confirmed by The Dallas Morning News. Of that, the News notes that more than 80% go to law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Public Safety (DPS), while about a dozen million dollars even go to the Attorney General’s office. Accordingly, while transportation would surely be given a great deal of extra cash, it would be at the expense of other –very important– spheres of government expenditures. Thus, unless more money is withdrawn from the rainy day fund or taxes are raised, the hurt will merely be shifted elsewhere. Last night, I opined hiking the Gas Tax modestly, something that has not been done in nearly 25 years despite an exploding population, higher prices and more more fuel-efficiency.

Van de Putte, according to the Tribune article, was somewhat murky on how exactly she wold make up the lost money, not only for DPS, but also for programs such as Veterans. She did pledge, however, not to divert money earmarked for education.

Luckily, Van de Putte does admit that her meager proposal (which Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus and even her Republican opponent, State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), have preceded her in backing) will not do enough. Incorporating the whole Highway Fund will likely only raise a fraction of the $5 Billion that state bureaucrats have suggested will be necessary to keep our roads in top shape.

For this, Van de Putte acknowledged the tough realities involving an unchanged gas tax, but stopped short of endorsing any action regarding it. Shortly thereafter, the Tribune noted that a spokesperson unequivocally ruled out raising taxes. Too bad.

Unlike some Democrats, I am not masochistic on the subject of taxation. I abhor the idea of creating a State Income Tax, and hope property taxes can one day be cut in a sizable manner. But roads cost money. As a frequent commuter between two major cities, and the venerable State Highway 71 that connects them, I rely particularly strongly on state-funded roads. They are built, maintained, repaired and expanded with tax money. And in the past 25 years, as gas mileage has shot up remarkably, the average individual has consumed far less gas. Meanwhile, as prices have risen from $1.10 in 1990 to about $3.00 today, the tax rate has stood steady at $0.20-a-galloon.

I get that being seen as pro-taxes is a poison pill in today’s political environment, so I do not fault Van de Putte’s campaign for the omission. But as the rhetoric approaches complacency regarding this issue, I hope Van de Putte and others know that, next session, they need to put every option on the table –including raising the gas tax– in order to not just repair our crumbling highways, but make them the envy of the world once more.

Texpatriate endorses for County Judge

Counties in Texas are managed by a five-person Commissioner’s Court. Four commissioners are selected from different precincts, each representing roughly a quarter of the population. The fifth member is the County Judge, elected countywide to manage the affairs of the county and preside over the commissioners’ court, though no trials.

Since 2007, the County Judgeship of Harris County has been in the capable hands of Ed Emmett. A former member of the Texas House of Representatives for four terms from 1979 to 1987, Emmett represents a seemingly dying breed of moderate Republicans. A transportation planner by trade, he has served on the Interstate Commerce Commission and understands the need for vigorous expansion of mass transit options. He has fought for Texas to assent to Obamacare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, and he is a perpetual advocate for the preservation of the Astrodome. On social issues, Emmett takes a largely moderate stance, and thinks the County should have no role in regulating or commenting upon them.

But Emmett’s greatest asset is his inimitable leadership qualities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike devastated the entire region, Emmett was a familiar face who tirelessly worked day and night to turn the lights back on and maintain normalcy in Houston. While voters have judged Emmett twice since that time, and we should really be judging his actions in the last quadrennial, his skillful leadership during the tragedy have set the stage for a constantly prepared County Judge. Emmett’s face is usually on a billboard or two every summer, with his signature phrase “Hunker Down,” and his office is one of the best prepared in the State for dealing with possible tropical cyclones.

Simply put, we believe that Emmett is our best representative on the Commissioner’s Court. He shows an understanding and a empathy for the average person to an extent nearly unheard of in today’s crop of politician. And, most importantly, he prioritizes pragmatism and big solutions over ideology and small-minded partisanship.

This was put on full display earlier this year when Emmett put his money where his mouth was, so to speak, on that front. He largely underwrote the campaign of Paul Simpson, who had challenged Jared Woodfill for Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. Woodfill was a zealot who put undue priority on divisive social issues and bullied more moderate members of the party. Simpson, with Emmett’s help, defeated Woodfill and has begun making the County Republicans arguably a little more of a “big tent” party. We are ecstatic to see it.

Emmett’s only opponent, after his Democratic adversary dropped out, is Green candidate David Collins. While he means well, even he lauds the record that Emmett has. Simply put, we think that, since the incumbent has done a good job, he should be rewarded with another term.

Unfortunately, Emmett has announced that -assuming he wins- this next term will be his past. We thoroughly hope this means that he will run for Governor in 2018. Removed from party labels, he has done wonders for Harris County. Hopefully, Texas will be next.

Accordingly, this board endorses Ed Emmett for County Judge.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Scot Dollinger

Editorial note: This is the seventeenth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

Scot Dollinger, Democratic candidate for County Civil Court at Law #2

Texpatriate: What is your name?
SD: Scot Gibbons Dollinger

T: What office are you seeking?
SD: Judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
SD: None

T: What is your political party?
SD: Democrat

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by your incumbent?
SD: In Cause No. 1050447 Williams Apartments v. Tiffany Franklin the judge improperly allowed the Plaintiff (a legal entity) to be represented without an attorney. This practice is ongoing in other cases. As well, the judge is not properly following the rules for setting supercedeas bonds on appeal showing a bias in favor of landlords and not properly following the rule of law.

T: What is a contentious issue that you belief the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
SD: Improperly allowing legal entities to represent themselves without lawyers in county court at law. It is important because the rule of law requires legal entities in county court at law to have lawyers. As well, the law of supercedeas bonds needs to be followed. I would solve the problem by requiring all legal entities to have a lawyer absent clear authority authorizing action without counsel and I would follow the law governing supercedeas bonds.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
SD: Yes. The law is clear for not allowing legal entity representation in county court at law without counsel. Even the judge acknowledged in our Houston Chronicle interview that it was an improper practice. She said she advises legal entities that they have to have an attorney and re-sets the cases. However, in reviewing eviction court files from January 1, 2014 to date, I can find no such practice in eviction cases. I found no re-sets. I found no admonition to non-represented entities. I found no such statements in the court’s procedures. As well, there are cases where the court is ignoring pauper affidavits which directly impact the filing of supercedeas bonds. By so acting, the court is demonstrating a landlord bias against tenants. No judge should be biased. If the court is biased here, one wonders in what other ways the court is biased.

As well, the court tells lawyers in general they have 15 to 20 minutes to pick a jury in her court. Any experienced trial attorney will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury. As was stated by James Madison – “In suits at common law, trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
SD: We need a different judge with my administrative and trial background. I have been representing individuals of all races, religions, sexual orientations and genders in civil matters my entire 25 plus year career. My opponent has not had this kind of experience. Instead, she has worked for Harris County or the City of Houston (institutions) her entire legal career giving her a certain level of bias in favor of establishment institutions. This bias is manifested in Judge Chang’s improper practice of allowing legal entities to represent themselves in County Court without a lawyer and not following the law when it comes to fairly setting supercedeas bonds in eviction cases.

This court handles eminent domain cases involving Harris County. I do not think this court should have a judge that used to work for Harris County and was appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Currently, the four civil county courts at law work independently of each other in the sense of having different procedures in each court. If elected, I would work with all the other judges to strive to have uniform procedures in all four courts to bring uniformity of procedure to all four courts and to increase predictability of outcomes.

Currently, the county courts at law are not under the JIMS computer system that manages access to county documents. All the District Courts are under JIMS. The civil county courts at law and probate courts have their own computer system for viewing documents. This method is duplication of effort. It should be noted that the criminal county courts at law are under the JIMS system. So, there is no reason not to move the rest of the county courts at law over to JIMS. As well, the county court database is not being properly used to establish a set of metrics to study the caseload of these courts. One sets metrics or gathers data in the database to measure levels of productivity. The current computer system either needs to be properly used at the encouragement of the judges or the county courts at law need to fall under the JIMS system and authority of the District Clerk in terms of case management. There is no reason for the county courts at law to be separately managed unless they are being managed in a much better way which they are not. The judges play a role in helping to cast the vision for management of these courts. Currently, the judges’ vision is lacking in my view.

Currently, the sitting judge tells lawyers via her procedures that she generally gives them 15 to 20 minutes to conduct voir dire (pick a jury). http://www.ccl.hctx.net/civil/2/procedures.htm#motions Any experienced trial lawyer will tell you that 15 to 20 minutes is not enough time to properly pick a jury to determine if they are biased or prejudiced against the case. It is illegal for lawyers to strike jurors based on race. Lawyers need the time to properly test for this problem under the Batson case law. An experienced trial lawyer like me is more sensitive to Batson violations and the need to properly question a panel and spend the time necessary to properly pick a jury.

I believe I am the person who has the best combination of administrative and court room trial skills to run an excellent court. I have handled large case loads, written programs to handle large caseloads, created database systems, tried over 40 trials and worked on over 10 appeals. This court needs an excellent administrative judge and also an excellent trial judge to be properly run so that everyone is treated fairly: Fair access to a fair forum.

T: What role do you think a County Civil Judge should have individually?

SD: Individually, a County Civil Judge should be fair minded and desire to treat everyone fairly and lead by example. He should have good temperament and be approachable. He should be decisive and efficient and at the same time be willing to give people the time they need to properly present their case. These two goals are constantly competing: 1. Resolving disputes quickly, 2. Taking the time to properly resolve disputes. We can never forget that right outcomes (justice) matters. A quickly made, wrong decision is no good. I think Leviticus 19:15 sums things up nicely: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”

T: What role do you think the County Civil Courts should have as a whole?
SD: There are four civil county courts in Harris County numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4. The county civil courts handle the following caseloads:

– 60% debt collection/contract disputes

– 17% injury cases

– 15% eviction cases

– 4% occupational licenses

– 3% eminent domain

– 1% tax and tow

All four courts should work as a unit. The judges should work together to have common practices and procedures so that the parties have common procedures regardless of the courts. These courts should be models of efficiency and due process. They should shine. Unfortunately, in my view, these courts are under-performing because they do not work as a unit and have little administrative vision to improve.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
SD: Justice is not about Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Justice is about right outcomes. Justice is about consensus building and resolving disputes fairly without bias, sympathy or prejudice. Though I am running as a Democrat, I certainly know and believe that I can and will be fair to all people regardless of their party and regardless of their political philosophies. Is the debt owed or not? Is not a political issue. Is an eviction proper or not? Is not a political issue. Therefore, I would prefer the non-partisan election of judges. But I also think with the right kind of judge, a judge can be fair whether Democrat or Republican. In my life, I have seen both.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
SD: Legal Entities Not Having Lawyers

I have brought attention to the issue of improperly allowing legal entities to not have lawyers in county court at law. I have brought this problem to the attention of the Houston Chronicle and bar leaders. I have documented the improper practice. I am running for office to fix this problem. I will put an end to the practice if elected.

Allowing Only 15 to 20 Minutes to Pick a Jury

I have brought attention to the issue of only allowing 15 to 20 minutes to select a jury. I have brought this problem to the attention of the Houston Bar Association. I am running for office to fix this problem. I will put an end to the practice if elected.

Under-utilization of Database Management Systems

I have also retrieved database information from the county court at law database managers and confirmed that the software is being under-utilized. I am prepared to move forward with a better system: either shift over to the District Clerks office JIMS system or improve the county court at law’s system by entering metric data. I also have discussed these issues with past clerks of the court to confirm that there is a better way. Fundamentally, one has to ask whether one wants a caretaker like the present judge with limited vision or an innovator like me with my skill set and vision for making these courts shine. I have the gift for administration and excellent trial skills. I am very comfortable in a court room. My website is www.dolli4judge.com Thank you for taking the time to read these materials and consider voting for me.


Crocodile tears

The Houston Chronicle reports that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, has unveiled yet another television ad. Going back to the style of his first, very positive and self narrated, Abbott lamented the troubles facing Texas roads and outlined his proposal to help.

“A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas,” Abbott says. He proposes prohibiting moneys in the State Highway Fund from going to non-highway sources. From what the ad says, Abbott appears to insinuate that these so-called diversions are pork barrel spending used by legislators as de facto earmarks. According to Abbott’s website, this could save $400,000,000.00 a year, or $800 Million a biennium!

This is all good and well, but the Houston Chronicle noted earlier this year that House Speaker Joe Straus will instruct members to compile a budget next session that does exactly this. Accordingly, if one were to agree with this proposal, Straus should get the accolades, not Abbott. However, this assumes that the proposal is a good idea. The Chronicle article suggests that the bulk of this non-transportation money spent out the highway fund goes to law enforcement agencies. Abbott’s website also admits that, “In the 2014-15 biennial budget , more than $800 million was appropriated to non-transportation related agencies, including the Office of Comptroller, the Veteran’s Commission, and the Department of Insurance.” Not pork-barrel spending, but veterans. Obviously, these important government expenditures will have to be made up for elsewhere in the budget, so the actual “savings” will be kept to a minimum.

As Dug Begley, the Chronicle’s awesome transportation columnist, has opined, roads are quite high priority but low on the totem pole for folks willing to spend money. People like Abbott, all too often, appear to think that they just magically appear one day. Those in the know in transportation land have said many billions of dollars are needed per annum just to maintain the quality of our roads with the exponentially increasing population. $4 Billion to $8 Billion, by some estimates. Abbott’s plan does not do this, and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) does not have a good plan for it either.

Both candidates are afraid of uttering the true solution to this problem: raising the gas tax. Unchanged for nearly 25 years, the gas tax is the main mechanism that the State of Texas uses to fund its expansive highway system. Republicans and Democrats alike, trembling in fear before vehemently anti-tax voters, dare not to speak of raising it. But, because of this reluctance, the Texas Department of Transportation has only dug itself deeper and deeper into debt. State Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County) is one of the few politicians willing to frankly discuss this problem, and the need to do something drastic (like hike the gas tax). The New York Times reported on this development last year in some detail.

But Eltife is not running for Governor, Abbott is. And Abbott’s grand plans for roads are completely worthless. It does not even put a band-aid over the problem like the Legislature did last session. He may shed crocodile tears over our crumbling roads, but he and his Tea Party friends’ extreme ideology are partly why we are in this situation. Roads are expensive.

Texpatriate endorses for Agriculture Commissioner

Four times, we have opined our selections to be the next Agriculture Commissioner of Texas. A Democratic primary, a Republican primary, a Democratic runoff and a Republican runoff. On each occasion, the voters regrettably repudiated our selections. The unfortunate result is that both major parties’ nominees for the office are bad fits for the post. The Agriculture Commissioner, despite its name, is actually responsible for quite a lot more. Between regulating gas pumps, overseeing school lunches and managing a de facto PR campaign for the State’s food, the position is among the more powerful in Austin.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican candidate for this post, simply should not be in that position of power. His service as a legislator was, in a word, mediocre, and that time under the dome should sound alarms about his capacity to effectively exercise this office. While he did author a bill to force sonograms for women attempting to obtain abortions, Miller did almost nothing for his local district, and his constituents threw him out of office in the 2012 Republican primary. He was replaced by J.D. Sheffield, a more moderate Republican, in a year where the trend tended to be the other way around.

Since that time, we have been disappointed to see Miller only double down on his divisive, extreme rhetoric. He has selected admitted child-rapist Ted Nugent as his campaign treasurer and a chief political surrogate. He regularly talks up right-wing talking points on abortion, gay marriage, guns, foreign policy and the supposed general tomfoolery of the President, despite all of which having almost no connection to the Agriculture Commissioner’s office. Inconspicuously absent from the topics he regularly talks about, however, is any serious reference to agriculture or the office he is actually vying to win.

Then there is Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate. No website, no platform, no public appearances and a generally hostile attitude toward politics in general. To put it bluntly, Hogan is a useless candidate. The few times that he has opened his mouth, it has spewed ambiguous platitudes or troubling comments regarding his ignorance on state issues.

So with a bad Democrat and a bad Republican, who should the intelligent voter support? We thought about skipping the race altogether, or perhaps giving a look at the Libertarian candidate, Rocky Palmquist. Ultimately, however, we decided on the Green candidate, Kenneth Kendrick, as the best choice.

Perhaps best known as a whistle-blower in a high profile scandal a few years back involving the Peanut Corporation of America, Kendrick has been a tireless advocate for the stringent enforcement of food safety regulations. While we have admittedly had some concerns in the past with him relying too heavily on this past notoriety, Kendrick has recently developed a fully platform online and in a campaign that hopes to transverse the State.

Kendrick hopes to increase the visibility of safety regulations on our food production, but he also has a complex plan to deal with waste, fraud and abuse. He also supports commonsense solutions to water conservation and hemp production. Most importantly, we believe that he would be qualified to be the Agriculture Commissioner, with precisely the right kind of temperament for the job.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Stations and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority of the voting board.

Civil Affairs: Law


Editorial note: Noah M. Horwitz has previously contracted work with the Clifford Group, a public relations firm that counts Yellow Cab among its clients. He currently does no work on behalf of them.

Serving on the Editorial Board of The Daily Texan, I have gotten the opportunity to sit down with a diverse set of stakeholders in community issues. This evening, I had a conversation with a few corporate representatives of Uber, who are trying desperately to pressure the Austin City Council into legalizing their service later this week. I don’t really want to get into the weeds of that issue right now, but what struck me as peculiar was their cognitive dissonance upon being confronted on operating illegally.

Uber and Lyft, app-based vehicle for hire services, routinely jump into new markets by cavalierly breaking the local laws until the municipal government agrees to legalize their courses of action. Once again, I don’t want to get into arguing why I think most all of the regulations currently governing taxis in most Texas cities are sound, or why the reforms Uber and Lyft are fighting toward are misguided. This is just about their strategy when entering a new marketplace. In Houston, they received some citations, but in Austin, they have racked up a lot of them and have even seen the impounding of many vehicles.

When I asked the Uber representatives about this, they confidently stated that they were not, in fact, breaking the law. The Austin Police Department begs to differ, but Uber’s response was that they had a different “interpretation” of the laws currently governing vehicles for hire. Of course, I know some people who have “different interpretations” of laws on cannabis and underage drinking, but it doesn’t ever seem to help them on the weekends.

Many reasonable proponents of Uber will concede that the service breaks the law, but that their lawbreaking is somehow justified by the fact that the laws are allegedly silly. Indubitably, the same thing can be said about our tax code, but the last time I checked, the IRS still does not take too kindly to tax evasion.

I will freely admit that I was radicalized on this issue when Uber and Lyft first began nonchalantly violating the law in Houston, last February. In May, they followed suit in Austin. Now, I grew up in a fairly secular household, and my father is a super old-school attorney, so I was raised with an almost spiritual reverence and respect for the law. I couldn’t ever justify taking either service in a city that is illegal in, and I really do not understand some of the people I know, who gloated about driving for the services on their social media accounts. Perhaps I’m a goody-two-shoe, but the casual attitude on breaking laws –especially local ones– is troubling. These were not imposed by some malevolent dictator in a faraway land, they were concurred to by rather pure representatives of the people not so long ago. Say what you will about the laws being obsolete or wrong, they still need to be respected until they are changed.

And if I hear one more self-righteous liberal gripe about “civil disobedience” or compare Uber and Lyft to players in the Civil Rights movement, I think I am going to lose it. Be it from Thoreau or Martin Luther King, there is a history in this country of violating unjust laws, but this is only in the rare exception of a statute that violates higher law, be that the Constitution or the inherent liberties of man. I don’t think you would find a single person who could say with a straight face that taxi regulations requiring 24/7 commercial insurance or prohibiting variable pricing violate either of these principles. This isn’t a moral struggle.

Personally, I’m offended by how few of my contemporaries are offended by Uber and Lyft’s cavalier lawbreaking. We have a social contract in this society, and that includes abiding by mutually-agreed upon laws.