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Belinda Hill

Devon Anderson named interim DA

We’d been waiting for an announcement about this.

Devon Anderson

Devon Anderson, the widow of recently deceased Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, was appointed Tuesday to serve out her late husband’s unexpired term.

Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday that Anderson, of Bellaire, would take the place of her husband, who died of cancer Aug. 31.

The announcement came after the head of the Harris County Republican Party said Devon Anderson would be the best choice to fill the vacancy at the top of the largest district attorney’s office in Texas.

Here’s that story.

Devon Anderson, the widow of recently deceased Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, is the local GOP leadership’s choice to replace her late husband, the head of the party said Monday.

“The person who would be the best to fill Mike’s shoes, and they’re big shoes to fill, would be his wife,” said Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. “I’m hopeful that the governor will appoint her to carry on Mike’s legacy. She’s very, very qualified for the position.”

Woodfill put his sentiments in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry who will appoint someone to fill the unexpired term of Mike Anderson, who lost his battle with cancer Aug. 31.

Woodfill said he is urging Devon Anderson to ask for the appointment, and said she is considering it.


The news surprised some courthouse insiders who thought Belinda Hill, Anderson’s first assistant, would succeed him. Hill left the bench she had held for 15 years in January to help Mike Anderson run the office.

“Everyone here believes Belinda Hill would be an excellent DA,” said one courthouse Republican who asked not to be identified. “That said, Devon Anderson is highly qualified and will make an excellent DA. It’s poetic to see her fulfill her husband’s legacy, if she decides to do it.”

The process to choose a new district attorney appears to be frozen until Devon Anderson decides, according to the source.

“Either way, the issue needs to be resolved soon,” the source said. “The office needs the certainty of knowing who’s leading them long term.”

I’m certain Devon Anderson is well qualified for the job, and I wish her all the best at it. I’m not surprised that Perry was soliciting input from the local party, and I’m not surprised that Devon Anderson was given deference, but I am a little surprised that Belinda Hill, for whom the Chron advocated shortly after Mike Anderson’s death, wasn’t named early on. I’m not plugged into GOP politics, so I don’t know the backstory. Murray Newman, citing a KTRK report on Woodfill’s letter that added some other names to the mix, provides some detail.

First Assistant Belinda Hill is also a phenomenal candidate. She’s highly respected by both the Defense Bar and the Prosecution. She’s already received the unsolicited endorsement of the Houston Police Officers’ Union. However, it has never been clear whether or not Belinda actually wants the job. Although she had been elected Judge of the 230th District Court for several terms, there is a big difference on the campaign trail when one is running for judge and when one is running for District Attorney. It is an unfortunate fact of life that politics plays a tremendous part in keeping your job as District Attorney. A person may love the job description of being District Attorney but (rightfully and sanely) have no desire to hit the campaign trail for it.

There were other hopefuls for the job, and it’s possible we’ve not heard the last of them. Anderson have to run twice, next year and in 2016, in order to keep the job. If you don’t relish the idea of campaigning, that’s a lot to contemplate, which may be why Belinda Hill was hesitant. While I believe Anderson would be likely to outperform the Republican baseline next year, as would Hill had she been selected, getting elected either year is not a sure thing. It won’t surprise me if someone, perhaps one of the rejected applicants and/or someone from the Pat Lykos office, mounts a primary campaign, and the general election won’t be a walk. Assuming the Democrats don’t Lloyd Oliver themselves again, you can be sure the 2014 race will be high profile. Texpatriate has more.

Mental health court coup


Judge Jan Krocker

Citing problems with the administration of Harris County’s mental health court, a board of judges has ousted the court’s founder and presiding judge, Jan Krocker, officials confirmed Friday.

“There were a lot of valid complaints about Judge Krocker’s administration of the court, and she didn’t like the idea of oversight,” said Michael McSpadden, Houston’s most senior felony court judge. “We are all behind a mental health court. We just want it run the correct way.”

Krocker will continue to preside over the 184th State District Court, a bench to which she was first elected in 1994, but two other judges, David Mendoza and Brock Thomas, will oversee the mental health court.

Krocker said the move was the natural evolution of the program.

“Once we knew the court would be funded for another year, I had hoped to reduce my involvement because it had become so time-consuming,” she said in an emailed statement. “I would have been glad to transition out and turn it over to Judge Mendoza and Judge Thomas. It is too bad this wasn’t handled differently.”

What’s interesting about this is that the mental health court has only been in existence since October. That’s an awfully short period of time for everyone to lose patience with the person who brought this thing to reality. Or maybe there was something else going on.

The abrupt removal may have been spurred by Krocker releasing a statement in December accusing another judge and newly elected District Attorney Mike Anderson of trying to kill funding for the court.

Last year, Krocker said then-District Attorney Pat Lykos had promised $500,000 for the court to continue. When that promise dried up days before Lykos left office, Krocker blamed Anderson and state District Judge Belinda Hill.

Anderson and Hill, who was the chief administrative judge over the 22 district judges and is now Anderson’s first assistant, have both publicly supported the mental health court.

The problem was not the court, McSpadden said. It was Krocker.

“She wasn’t following the mental health advice of the people we hire, the doctors we hired,” McSpadden said. “There were a lot of complaints, from inside and outside the court.”

As a non-lawyer I have no insight into this, so let me throw this out to those of you who who may have some insight for your comments. What do you think?

We’re still not bonding out enough people

I’m sure this will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

More than 15,000 people were collared in Harris County for misdemeanors in the final months of 2010, but 70 percent of white inmates were released on bond before trial, compared to 50 percent or less of Hispanics and African-Americans, a new report critical of detention practices shows.

White criminal defendants also generally had to pay lower bonds for their freedom, according to a report released by the Houston Ministers Against Crime. The group of politically connected pastors claims aggressively locking up those who have been accused — but not yet convicted — for crimes like fighting and trespassing costs taxpayers big bucks and harms poor communities “struggling under the ongoing financial crisis.”

Last week alone, more than 840 people accused of misdemeanors remained jailed at a cost of about $38,000, or $45 per person daily plus processing expenses, Harris County Sheriff’s Office records show. Many are poor and unwilling or unable to pay fees of $200 or less to a bondsman.

Houston Ministers Against Crime released the new report to urge county judges and commissioners to correct a racial and socioeconomic imbalance they claim hurts poor people accused of crimes as well as others.

“Due to widespread economic woes, many of our citizens are unable to raise the money necessary to post bonds on even relatively minor cases,” the report says. “Even while presumed innocent, they remain in custody as their jobs are lost and their financial troubles worsen. This hardship further undermines their families and communities.”

Any discussion of race, in almost any context, is going to make a lot of people feel defensive; include the criminal justice system in the conversation and you increase it exponentially. I’m far from immune to that. But the numbers are what they are, and however you want to explain them it does no one any good to deny them. We need to understand what’s going on here. The main thing I’ll point out is that in addition to the burden on the individuals and their families, this is a huge cost to the taxpayers at a time when we’re making massive cuts to programs we want and need. A better and more just approach will not only benefit the people who are currently in jail but don’t need to be, it will save us millions of dollars.

58 percent of the county’s 9,700 current jail inmates remain “pretrial,” the week’s statistics show. Among them are disabled adults, teenagers, the mentally ill, substance abusers and first-time offenders who often get mixed in with hard-core felons.

Judges alone could decide to allow more misdemeanor and other nonviolent criminal defendants to remain free before trial if unable to post bond, but Harris County jurists rarely use so-called personal recognizance bonds, other records show.

Harris County District Judge Belinda Hill, the newly elected administrative district judge, said a judge-led group already is collecting information on pretrial detention and she’d like to expand it to include community members.

“This is an important area that judges have begun evaluating and will continue to do so,” she said.

Pardon me for saying so, Your Honor, but it’s time the judges stopped evaluating and started taking action. How long has the process to reduce jail population been going on, and what tangible steps to change how things are done can we point to? Grits is equally unimpressed:

Given that consultants paid by the county said many years ago that rising rates of pretrial detention were the main cause of jail overcrowding, the idea that judges have only now “begun evaluating” the issue seems laughably, pathetically obtuse, not to mention way late.

A large number of the judges who were up for re-election last year, and who benefited from that ginormous Republican wave, were criminal court judges. What have they done to alleviate this problem rather than contribute to it? The next report I’d like to see would show what percentage of defendants are granted or denied bonds by each judge, and what percentage of defendants are granted personal recognizance bonds. This problem didn’t happen on its own, and it won’t be solved without applying some pressure where it’s needed.

You can read the full report here; it’s not online, but I requested and received a copy in email and uploaded it as a Google doc. See this Chron editorial for more.