The Panetti execution

On Wednesday, Texas plans on executing a man named Scott Panetti. The underlying details of the capital murder in question have been delineated sufficiently previously, namely in an editorial I recently participated in for The Daily Texan, in which the editorial board not only argued for clemency in his case but for the abolition of the death penalty in general (something Texpatriate did last August). The basics are that Panetti, who murdered two people in the early 1990s, is severely mentally ill, to the extent that no reasonable medical professional could certify him as competent for execution under the standard set by the Supreme Court in the 2007 case of Panetti v. Quarterman.

And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, Texas is soldiering on with the execution nonetheless. His attorneys, after reading about the tentative December 3rd execution date in the newspaper, quickly appealed up the ladder of the Texas appellate system. On Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest criminal court in the state) ruled 5-4 against granting a stay of execution. The per curiam decision, however, did included the concurrence of the court’s lone ostensible Democrat, Judge Larry Meyers. As I noted in May, I’m not really a fan of Meyers, and there are plenty of Republicans on the court I like far more than him. They include Judge Elsa Alcaca, who wrote a blistering dissent, as well as Judge Tom Price, who wrote an individual opinion calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

Price, first elected in 1996, chose not to run for a fourth six-year term this year and will leave office in January. In his bombastic six page dissent, which you can find at this link, he explained in careful detail both his steadfast opposition to Panetti’s execution as well as to capital punishment altogether. One by one, Price dismantled the arguments for the death penalty, before chronicling his own personal journey. It is all eerily reminiscent of Justice Harry Blackmun’s big change of heart in the 1990s. Like Blackmun, Price will no longer “tinker with the machinery of death.” It’s a shame he won’t be on the court much longer, although it makes senses; no death penalty opponent could survive a statewide Republican primary.

Today, as the Texas Tribune reports, the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to deny Panetti any type of commutation, clemency or reprieve. The only other state recourse would be one 30 day delay by Governor Rick Perry, which appears rather unlikely. Accordingly, Panetti’s lawyers have appealed the case to the US Supreme Court. Who knows what the Supreme Court will do, but the odds are placed squarely against Panetti in this instance.

This case, like most every other capital murder case, involves a totally reprehensible crime. Panetti brutally murdered two people. And while he is severely mentally ill, he is not so delusional that he literally does not understand the distinction between right and wrong. He understands, to some extent, that he erred in killing two innocent people.

All this is to say that I do not want him to spend any of his days as a free man. But the Supreme Court has held for many decades that a higher standard exists for capital punishment. And while I believe the barbaric punishment to be, in all cases, cruel and unusual, even tepid proponents should see that the execution of Panetti is wrong.

My Christmas list for the Lege

 

Dear honorable Representatives and Senators of the 84th Legislature of the State of Texas:

These are the items I wish to see introduced in the next regular session of the Texas Legislature. Some, I have opined on or suggested in the past. For others, the idea may seem comparably novel. Some of the ideas may appear rather logical common-sense approaches, while still others rather quixotic and far fetched. All in all, I think all these ideas would greatly benefit the people of Texas. There are some ideas, such as expanding Medicaid or recognizing gay marriage, with which I obviously agree with but did not include because they are trite and not original. I will leave those suggestions to the professionals.

  • HB1: A bill to simplify out-of-county voting for public college students.” I have discussed this idea in the past with some detail. Basically, it would allow those students at the state’s largest public colleges (UT-Austin, A&M, UH and Tech) who are from the state’s largest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Tarrant, El Paso) to vote early in their home counties at special voting booths erected at their colleges. This would avert the often-uncertain and complicated absentee process for these young students, who are notoriously unreliable in their dedication to voting.
  • HB2: A bill to simplify graduation standards for public college students.” This one should be self-explanatory. The legislature rightly removed asinine core requirements for high school students, now they should do the same for college students. Sorry, UT, but it is a disgusting waste of everyone’s time that I have to take FIVE science classes in order to get a degree in Government. If we remove silly Liberal Arts mumbo jumbo, more students could graduate in as little as two years, saving lots of money and time while still providing the same grand education for degrees.
  • HB3: A bill to raise the gas tax.” I know, ‘raising taxes’ is the third rail of Texas politics, but this is just long overdue. The department of transportation does not have the money it needs to maintain the roads in this growing state. The approval of Proposition 1 last Tuesday was a good step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
  • HB4: A bill to strengthen the Texas Open Beaches Act.” Reiterating that the beaches of the State of Texas are public parks belonging to, and exclusively to, the people. Not even erosion of the coastline may negate that fact.
  • HB5: A bill to protect the integrity of the death penalty.” This bill would increase the burden of proof for convicting someone of death-qualified capital murder from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” Thus, only in cases where the people are indubitably convinced of guilt may the death penalty be applied.
  • HB6: A bill to abolish ‘environmental zones’ on Texas interstates.” Currently, a regulation exists that lowers the speed limits on Interstates from 75 to 65 in the rural areas immediately outside of Dallas and Houston. Ostensibly, this exists to lower emissions, but no convincing evidence exists that it does not. It should be done away with, and speed limits should only be lowered from 75 when the traffic data would suggest it should.
  • HB7: A bill to repeal the state’s unconstitutional sodomy statute.” This law, which criminalizes gay sex, has not been in force for more than 11 years since the US Supreme Court struck it down. But it’s still on the books, which is a terrible embarrassment for the state. Clean up the books.
  • HB8: A bill to ban corporal punishment in schools.” Most school districts in Texas already ban the barbaric practice, but some do not and still unbelievably beat students. The Legislature should rather expeditiously correct that wrong.
  • HB9: A bill to reduce drug penalties.” This bill would lessen the penalty for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana to a Class C Misdemeanor. It would also lessen the penalty for possession of trace amounts of cocaine to a Class A Misdemeanor.
  • HB10: A bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on reporting rape.” Wendy Davis proposed this on the campaign trail, I see no reason it should not get bipartisan support.

I might likely still add more ideas, so consider this a work in progress.

Thank You,

Noah M. Horwitz

Texpatriate endorses for District Attorney

For years, Harris County was run by a brutal and harsh District Attorney, Johnny Holmes, who turned the office into the nation’s busiest source of death sentences. As this board has opined in the past, we think that the death penalty is tantamount to unjustified killing. In addition to the outright cruelty used in depriving a fellow human being who is not actively threatening you their life, the penalty has been carried out arbitrarily and capriciously. Black defendants are targeted more frequently by prosecutors, and sentenced to death by juries with even more reliability.

While, sadly, both candidates for District Attorney support this appalling practice, only one actively trumpets her support of the penalty and even appears proud of it. Furthermore, only one candidate supports the status quo on the racially biased policies that have contributed to many of this county’s problems regarding criminal justice. That candidate is the incumbent, Republican Devon Anderson. Her policies have failed Harris County, and they should be wholeheartedly repudiated.

Anderson was first appointed about a year ago by Governor Rick Perry to this post following the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, in the post. Devon Anderson, however, also had a illustrious career as both a prosecutor and a Judge. Sadly, she has continued the misguided policies of her predecessor. Be it the death penalty, the elimination of the DIVERT program to deal with driving while intoxicated, illogical grand jury systems or policies on marijuana, Anderson is just not the right candidate for Harris County.

Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for this post, is completely different. She has a record as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor, being able to see both sides of the courtroom in an honest and noble manner. As the longtime director of Crime Stoppers, she also has the capacity to examine crime from a more objective point of view, seeing it as something to be prevented rather than just punished.

Ogg is also a little less eager on the death penalty, and she advocates for reforming the venal grand jury system, which allows the political buddies of Criminal District Judges to recruit their friends. This has reduced the grand jury system into little more than a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. Under Ogg’s purview, combined hopefully with certain Judges (such as Susan Brown) being defeated for re-election, hopefully this system can be reworked into an effective check and balance once more.

Perhaps most importantly, Ogg has taken bold stands on the need to reform asinine policies on drugs within Harris County. She would rescind the so-called “trace case” policy, which prosecutes residents with felonies for even mere residues of cocaine in dramatically capricious fashion. She would also take advantage of an obscure state law to cite-and-release all those caught with small amounts of marijuana, then work out pre-trial diversion programs that would dismiss all charges if a small amount of community service is rendered. This board supports the full legalization of marijuana, but given that the District Attorney cannot change the law, we believe Ogg’s program — known by the acronym G.R.A.C.E. — is the next best thing. Anderson has only offered a lackluster imitation.

More so than almost any other election at the local level, Harris County voters have a very clear choice this November. They can go with another predictable Republican, trigger happy with putting people to death and complacent with a horrifying status quo that is corrupt, racist and ineffective. Alternatively, voters could rightly repudiate these realities and choose a candidate with an actual plan to shake up the DA’s office for the better.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kim Ogg for District Attorney.

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.

Texpatriate endorses in District Criminal Courts

In addition to the 15 County Criminal Courts that cover all level of misdemeanor offenses throughout the area, Harris County is also represented by 22 Criminal District Courts, all with jurisdiction over felony offenses. Of those 22 courts, 13 are up for election this November for four year terms. Among those courts, 8 featured contested elections. Much like our deliberations with the lower-level criminal courts, this board is skeptical of the total dominance that longtime Judges who are overwhelmingly former prosecutors have on the judiciary. Simply put, these courts need more individuals with backgrounds in defense work to be on the bench. It offers a fresh perspective but it also ensures we have arbiters of the law who indeed still believe in the presumption of innocence.

We also have some big problems with the way that many — if not most — of these Judges handle their grand jury systems. Using the venal “key man” option, these grand juries often serve as little more than rubber stamps for the prosecution. The Judges have failed in reigning in or otherwise regulating these processes at all.

Furthermore, we would be remiss if we opined in these elections without reiterating our total opposition to capital punishment. The barbaric, inefficient and capricious procedure is a stain upon our criminal justice system. Recognizing its continued popularity, we have been hard-stretched to find any candidates willing to openly stand against it. However, we believe that — on the whole — the Democratic challengers are more reasonable on this issue than the incumbents, all of whom are Republicans. We think that the Democratic candidates would be more prudent in allowing the penalty to be administered, though we recognize this power is largely delegated to prosecutors and the jury.

The issues of the most importance to us are neutrality, fairness and the compassion of the jurist. Like the county courts, we are looking for candidates who would not intend to prosecute from the bench, so to speak, or otherwise meddle in agreements between parties.

In five courts, the Republican incumbent Judges are unopposed. In the 228th District Court, Judge Marc Carter is seeking a third term. Carter has been a remarkably talented and commendable jurist, neutral and fair. Voters should feel particularly accomplished voting to re-elect him. Judges Jeannine Barr (182nd District), Vanessa Velasquez (183rd District), Mike McSpadden (209th District) and Mary Lou Keel (232nd District), meanwhile, have been qualified and experienced Judges, though we maintain some reservations about the partiality of their record in office. We recommend votes of confidence for them nonetheless, despite our misgivings.

180th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Catherine Evans, a Republican and a longtime prosecutor, is a relatively new sight on the bench. Appointed by Governor Rick Perry to office last year, she is running for her first term in office. Accordingly, Evans’ record is a little too short to examine with much rigor. What we do know is that she would bring the same trite mindset of a prosecutor to yet another bench. She has been a pretty good Judge. However, we think her opponent is also particularly well qualified for this post.

Rand Roll, a Democrat, served as a Criminal District Judge from 2009 to 2013. He won and lost both elections as a result of partisan winds, which is a real shame, because he proved himself time and time again as a laudable Judge. A former defense attorney, he ran a tight ship, often working around the clock to reduce his docket in any way possible without sacrificing the integrity of his court at all. More specifically, this board has been impressed with actions he took to respond to new technology regarding DNA testing. Nearly every candidate and stakeholder we talked to regarding this discipline of law agree that DNA testing is a very important issue for felony courts, one that they will have to face in new ways in upcoming years.

Thus, we are left with two good candidates in Evans and Roll. On the balance, we believe that Roll’s proven judicial record is preferable to taking a chance on Evans, and we think Harris County would be better served with a former defense attorney, not a prosecutor, on the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Randy Roll for the 180th District Court.

184th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Jan Krocker was a prosecutor for many years. As far as we’re concerned, she’s practically still one. In a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, Krocker noted that she believed the role of a judge was to fight crime. Not interpret the law, not be a fair and neutral decider, but to fight crime and keep the public safe. Cursory observers of her courtroom will know that these troubling words have translated into even more troubling actions on the bench. After 20 years on the bench, Krocker all too often treats defendants with contempt and a presumption of guilt. It is a bad attitude for a judge to have, and definitely not the right one for Harris County.

While Krocker, a Republican, may tout her dedication to judicial economy, this is often done at the expense of the public’s interest in seeing fair trials and due process. On one such occasion, Krocker hurried a jury on a capital murder case to reach a verdict on a Friday afternoon, rather than allowing for a fair and more open-ended allocation of time for deliberations the following week. This is just one specific example of a long tradition of Krocker’s shenanigans in office.

Mark Thering, her Democratic opponent, is a defense attorney with a long record helping the public in Harris County. He would certainly be a qualified judge, but he would also be a compassionate and fair judge. Before Thering’s long record as an attorney, he served as a Probation Officer with the county. Such experience allowed Thering to approach complex criminal justice issues from a point of empathy, not contempt. Harris County could sure use another judge like that.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mark Thering for the 184th District Court.

185th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Susan Brown, a Republican, has almost everything going for her that lead us to not endorse Krocker in the aforementioned contest. The only difference is, she is not so brash as to utter her true feelings in public. But make no mistake, we believe Brown’s tenure as judge has been marred by prosecuting from the bench, unfairly entangling herself within deliberations and maintaining a worldview of contempt toward defendants in her court. She’s not right for Harris County, and the county indeed deserves better.

We also take exception with Brown’s method of grand jury selection. Brown, more so perhaps than any other Judge, is a passionate advocate for the corrupt “pick-a-pal” system, in which a Judge appoints a friend who in turn selects more friends to empanel a grand jury. These grand juries serve as glorified rubber stamps for prosecutors, and completely neglect their constitutional responsibility to consider the evidence against the accused to prevent frivolous persecution. It was also in Brown’s court that the infamous “Runaway Grand Jury” was seated that inappropriately and dishonestly defamed District Attorney Pat Lykos in the midst of her re-election campaign.

Her Democratic opponent, Mack McInnis, is a fine defense attorney who desperately needs to be elected to the bench. Harris County would benefit from his nearly unmatched legal acumen, as well as his compassionate and well-tempered ideas on both grand juries and pre-trial release programs. He would be tough, but fair and reasonable. Harris County would gain an invaluable asset with a Judge named McInnis.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mack McInnis for the 185th District Court.

208th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Denise Collins, who has served in office for more than 20 years, has a positive record as a Judge. We have some hesitation regarding certain parts of her record; overall, though, she’s been a good asset for the county in office. A former defense attorney, Collins, a Republican, brings a unique perspective to the District Courts. She is fair, knowledgeable and often works together with both prosecutors and defense attorneys to craft consensus benefiting the entire community.

Collins is part of an old guard of attorneys, one who is not merely obsessed with scoring points at Republican fundraisers or the like. She actually cares to serve the county that elected her, working diligently and honestly often under the radar.

Additionally, Collins’ Democratic opponent is not a good fit for Criminal Courts. Chuck Silverman has very little experience in criminal law and, while he has some good ideas, we are uneasy about supporting such a novice. While it is true that we endorsed a candidate in a similar predicament yesterday, the District Courts are simply a whole different animal. Rather than being a court with a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail, these courts quite literally deal with matters of life and death. It is just too risky to take a chance on someone without the requisite experience.

Accordingly, this board endorses Denise Collins for the 208th District Court.

230th DISTRICT COURT
First appointed to the bench by Perry last year, Judge Brad Hart has barely been in office a year. In that capacity, he hasn’t quite developed a reputation one way or another. Yet another former prosecutor, we will give him the benefit of the doubt that he has been fair and ethical while in office. If you are merely concerned about keeping calm in the courtroom and minimizing change, vote for Hart. If you think that Harris County can raise its standards though, there is another option.

Greg Glass is Hart’s Democratic opponent. A magnificent defense attorney, all those who have ever spent any time whatsoever at the Criminal Justice Center will be familiar with his abilities in and out of the courtroom. Experienced, qualified and compassionate, he would arguably be one of the best Judges Harris County has if elected. He strongly urge the voters of this county to make that a reality.

Accordingly, this board endorses Greg Glass for the 230th District Court.

248th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Katherine Cabanaiss, much like Evans and Hart, has only been on the bench for about a year. A former prosecutor, she has done a passable job on the bench and voters should definitely be hard pressed to pass her up for another term. But, not to sound trite, much like all of these other benches, Harris County would be well-served with a Judge who has experience on the other side of the courtroom.

Shawna Reagin, the Democratic opponent, delivers on these qualities. A longtime defense attorney, she also has years of experience both teaching the law and helping the representation of the indigent. Reagin also served as Criminal District Judge from 2009 to 2013, where she ran one of the more impressive benches in all the courthouse, a model of efficiency, ethics and compassion. She would be a great Judge, just as she already was for a quadrennial.

Harris County has an easy choice. Either more of the same or a throwback to one of the more impressive chapters of Harris County Criminal law in recent memory. Yet another prosecutor or a defense attorney. Another politician seeking to move up the ladder or a dedicated public servant striving to make the community a better place by providing justice for the accused. We think the choice is crystal clear.

Accordingly, this board endorses Shawna Reagin for the 248th District Court.

262nd DISTRICT COURT
Judge Denise Bradley, a Republican first appointed to this post in 2011 by Perry, will be seeking her first full term in November. All in all, we think that Bradley has been a pretty fair judge. She tries to adjudicate cases neutrally and pragmatically, without any of the politics. On most issues of law, our concerns have largely been placated.

Contrarily, our valid concerns with Bradley stem from a big ethical issue a couple years ago. In 2012, a good friend of hers, Mike Anderson, who at the time was running for District Attorney, filmed a commercial in her courtroom. He did this after “asking her,” not going through the legal mechanism needed for non-official use of a courtroom. The kerfuffle lead to David Jennings, a prominent conservative blogger, among others, opining she had perhaps violated state judicial conduct rules. While perhaps her interpretation of the law have not been marred by politics, we have some serious questions as to her ethics as a Judge.

Jules  Johnson, the Democratic opponent, would stand apart as a very ethical and sensible alternative. A one-time prosecutor who then went into private practice, he has seen both sides of the criminal justice process in a unique way. Furthermore, when speaking on his campaign priorities, Jules argues that the role of a Judge is to be a “neutral and fair arbiter of the law.” We completely agree. All those who personally know or have practiced alongside Jules can attest that he would, indeed, be such an arbiter.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jules Johnson for the 262nd District Court.

263rd DISTRICT COURT
Herb Ritchie served as a criminal district judge from 2009 to 2013, when he was regrettably defeated for re-election because of partisan sweeps. He was, in our opinion, the best Criminal Judge without exception in Harris County during his terms of service. With unmatched intellect, problem-solving abilities, ethics, pragmatism and compassion, Rithcie presents all of the qualities desperately needed in a criminal judge. Harris County made a huge mistake losing him as a judge, one they desperately need to correct.

Ritchie, a Democrat, seeks out rehabilitation and not just punishment for those accused before his court. He has worked tirelessly in reducing the overcrowding of jails and keeping all those possible out of them. He has been an effective advocate for competent representation for the indigent as well. Ritchie has even been one of Harris County’s best advocates for saving taxpayer money while in office.

For all these reasons, it is most important that voters absolutely restore Ritchie to the bench. But the decision is easier given that the Republican incumbent, Jim Wallace, has a reputation for prosecuting from the bench. Compared to Ritchie, Wallace simply lacks the compassion or mindset to be that good of a judge. He is obviously not the right choice.

Accordingly, this board endorses Herb Rithcie for the 263rd District Court.

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 of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Court of Criminal Appeals

Last month, this board turned a few heads when we advocated for the abolition of the death penalty. We feel, somewhat strongly, that it is an outdated and barbaric procedure, applied arbitrarily and capriciously. That it is a blight to our state and the constitutional liberties it ostensibly protects. Most of all, we feel that it is just an excessively cruel practice to inflict in this day and age.

With all that said, we are faced with a strange choice when deciding who to endorse in the three races for the Court of Criminal Appeals. As the court of last resort in Texas for all criminal cases, the court has broad range over a variety of causes, but seldom do any receive more attention than capital punishment. Whereas other disputes must go through the intermediate appellate body, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals (yes, this is confusing, the names are all very similar) is required by law to hear appeals on cases involving the death penalty. Most of the time, the court unfortunately serves as a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. In the past, they have even gone so far as to allow an execution to go forward despite reasonable evidence that the condemnation should be stayed.

Thus, we were happy to see three Justices of this court stand aside ahead of this election. All three seats up this year feature open races. In addition to the three Republicans, the Democrats pitifully managed to field one candidate. All four support the indefensible procedure of capital punishment. In addition to these candidates are three Libertarians and two Greens. But we are not convinced any of these fringe candidates hold the legal acumen necessary to sit as a Judge on this high court.

Left with these realities, we judged (pun intended) the candidates based on their experience and qualifications. Accordingly, notwithstanding our deep disagreement on invaluable policy, we endorse the three Republicans.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
One may wonder what the current indictment of Governor Rick Perry has to do with this race, but the two are actually quite interconnected. Bert Richardson, the Republican candidate for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals, is the senior Judge currently overseeing Perry’s two pending felony indictments. Oddly enough, Richardson’s involvement in that case has garnered him significantly more media attention than his current Statewide race.

As the Texas Tribune noted, observers on both sides of the political spectrum have described Richardson as a “thoughtful” and “fair” jurist. Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike have nothing but adulation for his style of Judging. Simply put, when he is on the bench, politics and ideology are checked at the door. A Criminal District Judge who represented Bexar County for ten years, Richardson knows all too well the deleterious affects of partisanship running roughshod over the judiciary. He was the victim of a partisan sweep himself when a less-qualified Democrat defeated him in 2008.

Richardson’s Democratic opponent, John Granberg, is also a capable attorney. And while his lack of experience in judicial office doesn’t necessary concern us, we simply think Richardson is better suited for the job. Given that the we disagree with both of them over our main policy priority, we will gladly defer to the candidate with the sterling qualifications and credentials. Still, when it comes to the death penalty, we have some hope that Richardson can serve as a voice of reason. He appears rather reasonable regarding upcoming issues, such as DNA testing and judicial interpretation of the Michael Morton Act.

All in all, we have every reason to believe that Richardson will serve as a honorable Judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Accordingly, this board endorses him for Place 3 of the Court.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4
Earlier this month, the Court of Criminal struck down the State’s law against improper photography. In an unnecessarily expansive holding, the court ruled 8-1 to protect most forms of lecherous photography in public places as protected symbolic speech under the 1st Amendment. We disagree with the ruling not only because the intent could have been accomplished significantly narrower, but because it does not take under consideration the protection of some of society’s most vulnerable. Surely, there could be a better solution?

Oddly enough, the brouhaha that inevitably erupted regarding this ruling reminded us of the credentials of Kevin Yeary, the Republican candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. In a long and illustrative career as a appellate prosecutor, Yeary was the driving force behind defending the Texas Telephone Harassment statute from a similar first amendment challenge. Although the Court of Appeals originally struck down the law, it was later reversed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Although candidates like Yeary are often prevented by ethics rules from publicly rebuking decisions such as the Improper Photography one, we confidently feel that his unique perspective would have allowed him to see the case differently.

Yeary is a good lawyer, with an honorable resume as a prosecutor. We have some concerns that, like many others, his prosecutor’s cap would follow him too closely onto the bench. And we are obviously disappointed to see yet another vehement advocate for the death penalty. All this being said, Yeary has no Democratic opponent. His only opposition is in the form of unqualified, unknown third parties. Given these choices, we think that Yeary is a very easy choice.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kevin Yeary for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9
David Newell, a longtime appellate prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office, is uniquely qualified against his opponents to look out against mismanagement and miscarriages of justice. Indeed, we think his impressive career would allow him to be a good judge on the high court. A down-to-earth, affable personality, we think Newell’s greatest asset may be the way he approaches serious endeavors such as his run for office. We have every reason to believe he’ll take the same attitude to the court if elected.

Obviously, we do have some misgivings about his candidacy. An emphatic defender of capital punishment, we sharply disagree. His website also contains an inappropriately lengthy section on his religious faith, juxtaposed immediately next to one on his “judicial philosophy.” In our society, where –as Thomas Jefferson once proscribed– there should be a wall erected between the church and the state, the occurrence is slightly troubling.

But Newell’s judicial philosophy and his history warrant support, especially in light of him lacking any serious competitors. Facing only token opposition, his endorsement is an easy one. But we have hope that Newell will make a good judge.

Accordingly, this board endorses David Newell for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9.

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 of the voting board.

Texpatriate supports Death Penalty abolition

The death penalty has not really been the topic of political conversation of late. Earlier this month, Noah M. Horwitz wrote on how both gubernatorial candidates –State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democrat, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican– were tried and true supporters of capital punishment. Even Davis supported the expansion, much less continuation, of the mechanisms.

Now, the fact that both serious gubernatorial contenders support capital punishment should not be all that surprising. After all, recent polling suggests that more than 70% of Texans support its continued use. However, since 2012, the Texas Democratic Party has called for the total abolition of capital punishment as a part of its platform. Simply put, this board has eagerly been awaiting Democratic candidates to follow through with espousal of such a plank.

Davis supports the death penalty, but as best as we can figure out, so does State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Ditto for Sam Houston (Democrat’s candidate Attorney General) and Kim Ogg (Democrat’s candidate for Harris County District Attorney). So what gives?

The previous individual posts and editorials of this publication have certainly heavily suggested such a conclusion, but we are not completely sure if it has ever been unequivocally stated in print. To be clear, this board supports the total abolition of capital punishment. There are a literal plethora of reasons why the sentence is ineffective or overly pricey. And the process of lethal injection, particularly with recent shortages of execution drugs, raises important important questions about unnecessary cruelty. But the overarching concern with this issue is that, no matter which way it is carried out, the killing of another human who does not present any immediate or existential danger to another is morally wrong. That’s it.

This can be a religious issue, if one prefers it that way. The bible is pretty clear about the whole “Thou shall not kill” thing. But wholly separate from any religious influence, all people should agree that minimizing violence is an ideal way to run a civilization. Vengeance is not a healthy way to govern our laws. The entire reason why vigilante justice and lynch mobs are illegal is that primal reactions should not trump the established moral supremacy of due process and civil liberties.

But to humor the other arguments, it can be shown that death penalty does not deter violent crime. It’s not even an open question. Nor does it actually save money; every significant investigation has shown that it actually costs more money to follow through with a death sentence than the cheaper penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Furthermore, recent travesties in Oklahoma and Arizona have reopened debate on just how “painless” death by lethal injection actually is compared to other methods.

At the root of all these problems, however, is a fundamental moral hiccup with the idea that it is okay to kill another human being. We seriously do not see it as that complicated.

Likewise, it should not be all that complicated for the aforementioned Democrats to come down on the right side of this issue. There is something to be said for not going too far to the left in an attempt to remain viable to a more centre-right electorate. But the death penalty, an issue where people’s lives are quite literally directly at stake, is simply different.

Perhaps this board is too full of starry-eyed optimist. But we dream of a State where our politicians –ostensibly courageous public servants who will do what’s right over what’s popular– aren’t afraid of some mythical blowback for publicly espousing a position everyone already knows is being peddled in private.

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 represents a majority of the board.

Abbott, Davis on the death penalty

The Houston Chronicle reports that new questions have arisen in the Texas gubernatorial election over the continued use of the death penalty in the State. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate, has slammed State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate, for allegedly too liberal views on capital punishment.

Specifically, Abbott points to a move Davis made in 2000, while a member of the Fort Worth City Council, to support a non-binding resolution urging a moratorium on the death penalty. When reached for comment, Davis reiterated her support for the positions that she espoused at the time, but noted that her concerns have all been mollified. Among them were concerns over innocence with the introduction of DNA testing, as well as opposition to executing those who committed their crimes as juveniles and the developmentally disabled. Since that time, to Davis’ credit, much as changed. The Supreme Court ruled on a series of landmark decisions —Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 and Roper v. Simmons in 2005– that prohibited the execution of those two respective categories of offenders. Furthermore, even Texas has made strides in recent sessions to mitigate the damage done by wrongful imprisonment. The Michael Morton Act, passed last year by the Legislature, is the obvious recent example.

Back to Abbott, he has harshly derided Davis for allegedly being somewhat “soft-on-crime” and an overall opponent of the death penalty. Davis, for her part, has fired back by claiming that she is –and always has been– a steadfast supporter of capital punishment, and would gleefully preside over it if elected Governor. In fact, she even touted her record voting for an expansion of the penalty –making it applicable to those who murder young children.

Another one of Abbott’s talking points is that the Texas Democratic Party, in its official platform, calls for the abolition of the death penalty. This much is true, but Abbott of all people should know the dangers of making such a claim. The Texas Republican Party’s platform is seriously riddled with heinous provisions, such as the endorsement of gay repair therapy, or urging the “rescinding of no-fault divorce.” In fact, last year at the Tribune festival, I pointedly asked Abbott if he supported repealing the entirety of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as his party’s platform supported. He said no. There’s nothing wrong with Abbott disagreeing with the crazy points in his platform, but that means there is also nothing wrong with Davis disagreeing with her party’s platform too.

I think the greater point here is over a severe political issue, and Davis’ reluctance to stand against a truly awful travesty. There is something to be said about not running too far to the left in a State as conservative as Texas, but not with this issue. Most people do not really care about the issue enough for it to be a wedge. If one is truly a zealous death penalty proponent, there are likely other confounding variables that would keep the individual far, far away from the Democratic Party (racism, for one).

The death penalty is immoral in every circumstance. Killing someone who is not presenting a danger to you (physical or existential) is wrong…that’s it. Hopefully, Davis can recognize that. Unlike every other domestic political issue, this involves life and death.