In re Campbell

There is man named Robert Campbell on Texas’ death row, who is scheduled for execution this upcoming Monday. He was convicted of an especially heinous 1991 robbery-rape-murder, for which he was given Texas’ ultimate penalty: death. Campbell has argued a number of objections since that time, explaining in part why he was languished on death row nearly in a state of limbo for so long. Namely, he has contended that he received inadequate counsel at trial. Anecdotally, his new attorneys point to the fact that his original defender was from Conroe, not Houston (where his trial took place), and only provided rudimentary petitions and appeals, stuff that could basically just be copied off the internet.

However, while litigating this issue, another can of worms, so to speak, arose. Campbell’s IQ, according to a recent test, is 69, far below the threshold for mental retardation. In the 2002 case of Atkins v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court ruled that those who have been explicitly defined by their state of mentally retarded. The intellectual handicaps are to be treated like youth or any other mitigating factor, in that it does not serve as evidence of being unable to comprehend the difference between right and wrong, but serve as a rationale to not levy the full punishment. The problem with this is that States can define mental retardation any way they so choose. Enter Campbell: with an IQ of 69. The problem is that the State contends this is not tantamount to the needed intellectual handicap for clemency.

Click here to see what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on this matter!

Justice Meyers switches parties

The Houston Chronicle reports that Justice Larry Meyers of the Court of Criminal Appeals has switched to the Democratic Party and will run on the Democrat slate for the Texas Supreme Court. Meyers, originally a Republican, first served on the 2nd Court of Appeals from 1989 to 1992. That year, he was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals (and was re-elected 1998, 2004 and 2010).

Meyers, who comes from the court’s more moderate wing (4 members), has flirted with this possibility before. As Grits for Breakfast reminds us, he briefly ran against Sharon Keller in the 2012 Republican primary. He was also heavily lobbied to run the race as a Democrat, via The Dallas Morning News. Ultimately, neither of these fantasies for the anti-Keller crowd came to pass.

Today’s bombshell announcement came as Justice Meyers made no formal announcement. Instead, the news broke from a press release of the Texas Democratic Party, which briefly touted Justice Meyer’s record, with quotes from TDP Executive Director Will Hailer and TDP Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa–but not Meyers.

Click here to read more!

Judge Pratt berated by Bar Association

A few days ago, I noted that Denise Pratt, a Family District Court Judge in Harris County, had been accused of corruption. Specifically, the Republican judge has been accused of falsifying important records in order to issue late opinions.

Now, the Houston Chronicle reports that, in a recent evaluation of all Houston-area judges by the Houston Bar Association, Judge Pratt received the lowest marks –by far– of any jurist. In fact, her evaluation has more negative that, as one participant noted, anything he could recall in the last 40 years. Judge Pratt received overall disapproval of 79% of applicants, with 76% saying her “following the law” skills were especially poor and 80% saying likewise about issuing timely rulings. The marks were far lower than many other Judges with similar baggage, including Sharon “Killer” Keller of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The astute will recall from my article last week on the subject the original controversy was launched by Greg Enos, the Galveston-area attorney who brought down Christopher Dupuy. Speaking of Enos, the Houston Chronicle recently ran a profile on him. As I have said before, he is a high-profile Democrat who runs the influential Family Law newsletter “The Mongoose.”

To read more about how this factors into 2014, click here!

Chronicle reprimands Cruz

A year ago, the Houston Chronicle endorsed Ted Cruz for the US Senate. While the editorial largely felt like a reluctant admittance that Cruz was guaranteed a win, this did not prevent the paper from endorsing Keith Hampton’s insurmountable and futile bid to defeat Sharon Keller as presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. All in all, the endorsement was the Chronicle’s biggest dabble in unmitigated idiocy in a very long time.

I don’t want to tell the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, ‘I told you so,’ but…well, actually, I do. I told you so. Ted Cruz, who perhaps gets most of his hate nowadays from mainstream Republicans, is the most dangerous Government official who holds office in this country. Accordingly, I was pleased to see a harsh repudiation of Ted Cruz in this morning’s Chronicle Editorial.

The editorial, which is titled “Why we miss Kay Bailey Hutchison,” lambasted Cruz for being “part of the problem.” The editorial also took a swipe at Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, call his lurch to the right “painful to watch.”

Click here to read more!

3 Open Seats on Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Tribune reports that all three seats up for election on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014 –all Republican– will be open. The incumbents, Cathy Cochran, Tom Price and Paul Womack, are all opting to retire.

The judges, two of whom have served since the State first went unanimously Republican (1997) and one (Cochran) who has served since 2001, are not by any means the deans of the Court. Distinct from the Texas Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals has been remarkably consistent in its members of the years.

Only two members of the court, including Cochran, took office during Perry’s administration. Five were selected or elected during George W. Bush’s governorship, with two more taking office when Ann Richards was the Governor. This is remarkable, considering how long Perry has been Governor and how extensive his influence has been in just about every other part of the State’s bureaucracy.

The Court of Criminal Appeals is absolutely just as bad as any court comprised of 9 elected Texas Republicans would be (Sharon Keller, anyone?), but it could still be a lot worse. As the Tribune article reminds us, those same three Justices made up a bare majority that forbid the execution of a mentally ill man earlier this month, specifically the forced medication of a mentally ill man for the purposes of execution.

Given that Cochran, who took office in 2001, is the second most recent addition to the Court, the Tea Party holds minimal influence. All of this could change with the THREE open seats that the Court now has leading into the 2014 primaries. The Tribune article notes that eight people are eying running for these seats, but do not provide the names. I will have to do some research on this in the next day or two.

As I have said before, I have very little faith in the ability of Democrats to run candidates for these Statewide seats, ESPECIALLY the Statewide seats. I have been asked recently if this means I have a diminished faith in the leadership of the State party, and, simply put, that is not the case. I am still just as optimistic that Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa is making the inroads to turn the party around, but have always maintained that this is not the fault of leadership, but of the people themselves. There is a profound enthusiasm gap.

Both the Texas Supreme Court & the Court of Criminal Appeals saw three seats up for election last year. Democrats only contested two seats, one in each court. The candidates recruited, Michele Petty & Keith Hampton, respectively, were very good candidates who had everything going for their campaigns except that it was the wrong year for a Democrat in Texas. It was the other seats that are the most obvious examples of the gap, however. If the Texas GOP failed to recruit an establishment candidate for the same seats, you would see droves of conservatives vying for the post on ego alone. The same is missing from the Democratic Party in this State.

This enthusiasm gap is what, more than anything, makes life so frustrating for people like Hinojosa. There are only so many well-versed, liberal lawyers in this State with political talent. If they all turn down, there is not so much Party leadership may do. I noticed the same thing in Houston’s municipal politics, although the enthusiasm gap encompasses both sides of the aisle there.

Simply put, Democrats need to hit the ground running NOW to contest these seats. I sound like a broken record now when I say it, but 2014 is important not because we can win, but because we can never win until we put up a fight in an election. Because our record in 2012, 2010 & 2008 was more of a whimper. I truly hope that, when I find out who the 8 people already vying for the seat are, I find out at least one is a Democrat.

What I think will happen

Keeping in touch with my self-imposed moratorium upon Presidential election coverage, I will not even mention that race (You can see what I had said previous in my post “Cynic“). However, I think this will be a good way for progressives to brace ourselves for what may come next.

Every statewide seat (except Keller’s): SAFE Republican
I think this is a no-brainier here, considering that the Democrats did not even bother to field candidates in some of these races. I really do like Michele Petty and Paul Salder, but this is not going to be a repeat of 2008, and even in 2008 we got our butts kicked.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Position 1: TOSSUP
Keith Hampton, especially in the (unlikely) event of a major Obama victory, could build enough of a coalition between Democrats, Independents, and pragmatic Republicans to victory. Keller is relying on people to simply vote straight Republican, which they probably will.

14th Court of Appeals, 1st Court of Appeals: SAFE Republican
Same logic as the statewide seats.

134th State Representative: LEAN Republican
2012 will not be as good of a year as 2006, which is the last time an incumbent in this district was unseated. Also, Davis is a much more civil campaigner than Martha Wong.

215th District Court: LIKELY Republican
Ken Shortreed is depending upon enough angry Democrats (like me) to vote for him. It will probably push him over the top.

Remaining local judicial races: LEAN Republican
Harris County will probably go red, especially in downballot races.

Sheriff: LEAN Democratic
I think Garcia can put together enough of a coalition with moderate Republicans to avoid defeat. The endorsement of the “C club” didn’t hurt either.

District Attorney: SAFE Republican
Self-explanatory.

Tax Collector: LIKELY Republican
Even in 2008, tax czar and DA went Republican. Additionally, CM Sullivan is a popular incumbent who has attracted quite a few Democrats (even endorsed by the JHV).

County Attorney: TOSSUP
Vince Ryan has some cross-party support, but again the Republican tilt on the election does not help.

City Council, E: LIKELY Martin
Martin has the establishment support from Sullivan, who is still quite popular.

 

Again, Democrats need to donate to Garcia, Ryan, and Hampton–NOT Obama. Obama has enough money, he is out-raising the Koch brothers!

10 most important elections (besides the Presidency)

The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. He sets the foreign policy, has tremendous influence over Congress, and can nominate Justices to the Supreme Court. Obviously, the race between President Obama and Governor Romney is much more important than anything else. However, the media already devotes all of its energy to cover this election, so I would like to focus on the 10 most important other elections.

10. Houston City Council, District E
Dave Martin is the widely assumed favorite, but Elizabeth Perez could very well pull an upset. What we have here is not an election between Democrat and Republican, it is an election between an old-guard Republican and the recalcitrant Tea Party. Martin will surely follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, and perhaps also be like Councilmember Pennington. However, Perez would most like imitate the habits of Councilmember Brown. It will be interesting to watch, but I’m not throwing any of my money at it.

9. Washington gay marriage referendum
There are actually four referendums, but Washington’s has the best chance of approval. Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota also have referendums, but I am less optimistic. Especially Minnesota, I think the traditional midwestern social conservative state has been given up on. Maine is a tossup, and Maryland similar. Maryland has a large African-American population which has ranged from tepid to hostile on the issue. However, Washington has a fairly good chance leading into the home stretch. Most importantly, this could finally break the curse of states approving gay marriage bans.

8. United States House of Representatives, Texas’ 14th district
Control of the House is not especially up for grabs this year, but this election will essentially make-or-break Nick Lampson’s career. A second loss in a row would be disastrous and most likely put an end to the former Congressman’s political aspirations, which could be quite valuable for Texas Democrats.

7. Texas House, 134th district
Sarah Davis seems to represent an average Tea Partier, completely inexcusable for my home district. Texas Democrats NEED a solid number over 50 in the delegations, and Ann Johnson will be the way towards that goal.

6. United States Senate, Indiana
The control of the Senate is up for grabs, and every election counts. This seat, held by longtime Senator Dick Lugar, is now open after Lugar was defeated in the GOP primary by an extremist. The Republican, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is now trailing in polls against the Democrat, Congressman Joe Donnelly. Donnelly is a strong candidate who I may even donate some money towards.

5. United States Senate, Massachusetts
I believe this election (Scott Brown vs Elizabeth Warren) is important in more ways than one. Massachusetts, arguably one of the most liberal states in the union, is faced between a very liberal Democrat and a very moderate Republican.

4. United States House of Representatives, Texas’ 23rd district
Again, the House is not up for grabs, but this election is important for another reason. Congressman Canseco and Representative Gallego are competing in the heavily Latino district. A loss by Gallego would be truly embarrassing for a Texas Democratic Party attempting to court Latinos.

3. Harris County Sheriff
Sheriff Adrian Garcia is perhaps Harris County’s best chance of retaining a countywide Democrat. His opponent is a crook, and Garcia has done a fantastic job while in office. This election will answer that question he had on November 3rd, 2010 in Houston. Can it get any worse?

2. United States Senate, North Dakota
The funny thing about the Senate is that no matter how small the state, the Senators hold equal power, so this election is just as important as the one in California or Texas. Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat, is running against Congressman Rick Berg, the Republican. The seat has long been held by Democrat Kent Conrad. Heitkamp CAN WIN, and she will if she can raise enough money to compete against the outside money being funneled in by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. I will surely be donating some money to Ms. Heitkamp and I suggest y’all do the same.

1. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Justice
Keith Hampton’s campaign against Sharon Keller is almost as important as the Presidential election. Keith Hampton’s campaign against Sharon Keller is almost as important the Presidential election–it is important enough to say twice. Sharon Keller is a travesty to justice and our state. Mr Hampton has been endorsed by quite conservative papers and individuals for a very simple reason: he will restore honour to our highest court.

Also, RIP Arlen Specter. You were a good man in a profession full of wrong-doers.