Texpatriate endorses in SD17

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State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) was first elected in a December 2008 special election, succeeding the longtime Senator, Kyle Janek, who had just been selected to run the State’s Health and Human Services program. The longtime prosecutor had originally been elected within Harris County as a Criminal District Judge, before being elected to represent the strangely gerrymandered district, which stretches from inside-the-loop Houston to the gulf coast, and once went all the way to the Louisiana border.

Unfortunately, be it in her many years on the bench or her three sessions in the State Legislature, Huffman has apparently never shed her mindset as a prosecutor. This became all too evident early last year, when Huffman butted heads with colleagues at an important Criminal Justice Committee meeting. Huffman repeatedly insensitively interrogated victims of wrongful imprisonment, and was a driving factor behind the death of a bill to create an Innocence Commission in Texas. She also grandstanded at one time against the venerated “Michael Morton Act,” which has been lauded by both sides of the aisle as an effective tool to prevent indefensible miscarriages of justice. But, to Huffman, still in the prosecutorial mentality, the Texas criminal justice system is infallible and she’ll have no part of its denigration.

These actions landed her a spot on Texas Monthly‘s list of WORST SENATORS; they called the acts in questions “Behavior Unbecoming of a Senator.” It also caused her to receive a similar dishonor from Texpatriate. Perhaps, as this board opined back last June, it is –as Corey Session famously testified in one of the innocence commission hearings– time for Huffman to find another job.

In fact, it is not just Huffman’s atrocious record on criminal justice matters that we take issue with. She stood idly by last summer when the Senate approve draconian anti-abortion restrictions, designed to shutter most of the State’s clinics and force women seeking a constitutionally-protected right to either jump state lines or retreat into the back alley. She even voted against an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that reiterated the role of the State to provide free breakfasts to impoverished children. We guess, in Huffman’s world, poor kids should just go hungry.

Thankfully, unlike her easy re-election in 2012, Huffman faces serious opposition this year. Rita Lucido, an attorney from the Houston area, is the Democratic candidate for the position. A longtime activist in the politics of the locale, this board thoroughly believes that Lucido will be qualified and ready on day 1 to take over the complex and intense responsibilities of being a State Senator.

She understands the criminal justice system, flawed as it may be, and its pressing need for reform. She was also on the board of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, a position that we believe will give her valuable insights.

The voters of Senate District 17 have a fairly easy choice to make, given the contentious tenure of the incumbent, Huffman. Either they can stick with her for another term, complete with her complacency with the criminal justice system and philosophy against helping the underprivileged. Or, they can choose to repudiate those ideas. For us, the choice is clear.

Accordingly, this board endorse Rita Lucido for the State Senate, District 17.

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.

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Complaint filed against Judge Franklin

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The Houston Chronicle reports that Greg Enos, the prominent attorney who was behind a series of criminal complaints that ultimately brought down Family District Judge Denise Pratt, has now filed yet another complaint against her successor. Judge Alicia Franklin, who defeated Pratt in a Republican primary after she abruptly resigned, was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in June to fill out the remainder of Pratt’s term. She is also the Republican candidate for a full four-year term in the post this November, where she faces Sherri Cothrun, an attorney who is her Democratic opponent.

Enos alleges that Franklin abused her power as a court-appointed attorney on CPS related cases, as she did extensively prior to her assuming judicial office. Enos’ detailed each and every one of his allegations in somewhat meticulous detail in his intermittent newsletter, The Mongoose. I cannot state strongly enough have vehemently I urge you to read the full newsletter and the explanation for the allegations made in painstaking detail.

First, Enos accuses Franklin of billing exorbitant hours for individual days, often much more than 10 hours and –on one occasion– 23.5 hours. Typically, billings for ad litem appointments such as this one exclude what is called an “administrative task,” such as driving, postal work, etc. Only legal work should ostensibly be included.

Second, Franklin allegedly charged for work after she became a Judge, which –if true– would be a huge violation of State law and ethical codes. Third, when she received one of these neutral appointments, she allegedly received a campaign contribution from one of the interested parties.

Fourth, as I explained above, she allegedly billed for many –as Enos put it– “non-lawyer” tasks, such as going to the post office, electronically filing documents or merely printing the documents. Lastly, Enos found an issue with Franklin adorning her campaign placards with pleas to be “re-elected,” even though she is merely the appointed incumbent. After checking with the relevant authorities at the Commission on Judicial Conflict, Enos confirmed that it would be an ethical violation to do so.

Franklin has reportedly retained a PR firm, Begala/McGarth, and has been somewhat silent on this issue to all involved. Last month, Franklin defended her billing practices as a collaborative total number of hours which included work accrued by her associates. Of course, according to the law, allowing others’ work to be included within your ad litem billing is prohibited as well. Franklin also defended the pay vouchers submitted while she was a Judge as work that had occurred before her appointment. Of course, the Chronicle notes that some of the pay vouchers show work apparently done after she was sworn-in.

My friend Greg at Rhymes with Right defended Franklin somewhat vigorously, employing the same strategy of work done by associates. He also goes further in stating that she received a phone call to be appointed rather hastily, and her associates needed time to close down shop, explaining the post-Judge hours billed. I suppose that is logical, but Franklin explicitly chose not to invoke it when confronted on the billings made while she was on the bench. Additionally, given that the incumbent had resigned and Franklin had won the Republican primary, was anyone actually surprised by her appointment? It was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

All in all, I think there is enough evidence for the District Attorney’s office to begin an investigation. Beyond that, I don’t think I know enough about the situation one way or another. Enos did reveal that much of the dirt he obtained occurred as a result of Sherri Cothrun, the Democrat in the race. Cothrun, for what its worth, recent brought Burt Levine onto her campaign. Levine, of course, formerly had extensive ties to Denise Pratt.

Additionally, it should be noted that Cothrun’s law partner, Rita Lucido, who you may recognize as the Democratic candidate for the 17th Senate District, was the attorney that represented the man who allegedly donated to Franklin in the aforementioned case. The one where the donator was an interested party and Franklin was a neutral court-appointee.

If you thought The Mongoose‘s involvement at the courthouse was done, think again!

Big Jolly Politics and Off the Kuff have more.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Rita Lucido

Editorial note: This is the first in a series of interviews we will attempt to have with both every Statewide candidate in a Democratic or Republican primary, as well as every candidate in a Harris County Democratic or Republican primary. Unlike our municipal questionnaire, these questions will differ substantially from one candidate to another, given the diverse nature of the offices up for grabs.

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Rita Lucido, Democratic Candidate for the Texas Senate District 17

Click here to read Sophia’s interview and analysis!