It’s up to the other judges now.
The administrative judge for Harris County’s nine family courts said Monday it could take months to sort out the mess left behind in the 311th family court following the abrupt resignation of its presiding judge, Denise Pratt.
The freshman jurist’s immediate departure, announced late Friday, came as a surprise to Judge David Farr, who was left scrambling Monday to find a judge to preside over a court where he said there are “boxes, piles, stacks” of hundreds of courts orders that have not been signed or entered into the court computer system.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Farr, who met with the 311th staff Monday morning. “It gets worse with every report from my staff.”
According to monthly caseload statistics kept by Farr’s office, Pratt’s court had the most cases pending at the end of February – 2,713 – of any of the nine family courts. Farr had to reschedule one case that had been set to go to trial on Monday.
Farr said judges usually provide prior notice before leaving, to allow for “a clean handoff between themselves and their successor.”
“There was no notice whatsoever,” he said, noting that he did not find out about Pratt’s plans until Friday, the day of her announcement, when someone alerted him to a post on her Facebook page.
Farr, who met with staff of the 311th Court Monday morning, said he assumes Perry will not appoint a replacement, who would serve through year’s end, until June 1. Pratt, who had been slated to appear on the ballot in a May 27 runoff, had been campaigning for a second term that begins Jan. 1.
See here for the background. You may recall that Pratt made news for having dismissed hundreds of cases at the end of last year, mostly without notice. According to an earlier version of the story, all dismissals now must go through Judge Farr first. What I’m hoping is that now that she is no longer a colleague, one or more of the remaining judges and/or members of their staff will now feel free to talk to the press about this. It would be very useful for someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of any cases that had been before Denise Pratt to offer a frank assessment of her career as a judge. You can read between the lines here for a sense of Judge Farr’s frustration, but I’d like to hear it straight up. A little transparency would do a lot of good.
One more thing:
Pratt also suspended her re-election campaign, but still will appear on the ballot after securing the highest percentage of the vote in a five-way contest on March 4 for a term that begins Jan. 1. The Harris County Republican Party Chairman said Friday that the challenger, Houston family lawyer Alicia Franklin, will be the party’s nominee.
I’m not sure if it’s the outgoing Chair or the incoming Chair that’s being quoted here, but it doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure he can’t guarantee that. Pratt is still on the ballot – the deadline to withdraw was March 12 – so she could still win the runoff. I don’t think Paul Simpson gets to wave a magic wand and install Alicia Franklin if that happens. Granted, I think it’s unlikely after all the bad publicity that Pratt will win the runoff, but as long as she is on the ballot it’s a possibility.