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January 2017 campaign finance reports: Harris County officeholders

We may or may not have City of Houston elections this year, but we will definitely have Harris County elections next year. Here’s a brief tour of the finance reports for Harris County officeholders. First up, Commissioners Court:

Rodney Ellis
Jack Morman
Steve Radack
Jack Cagle (PAC)

El Franco Lee
Gene Locke


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Ellis      283,394   336,611        0   2,012,250
Morman      17,500    48,609   48,863   1,700,320
Radack       4,000    47,466        0   1,419,710
Cagle      560,528   270,065        0     599,774

Lee              0         0        0   3,769,900
Locke            0    81,475        0      16,672

Jack Morman will likely be a top target in 2018 – he has one announced opponent already, and will almost surely have others – and no one can say he isn’t ready for it. I expect that cash on hand number to be well over two million by this time next year. Money isn’t everything, and returns on more campaign cash diminish beyond a certain point, but whoever runs against Morman will have some ground to make up to be able to get a message out and a ground operation going. Meanwhile, the campaign coffers of the late El Franco Lee have more in them than Morman and Rodney Ellis combined, and I still have no idea what’s happening with that. I have some suggestions, if anyone administering that account is curious.

Next, the countywide offices that are on the ballot next year:

Ed Emmett
Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel (PAC)
Orlando Sanchez

Diane Trautman


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Emmett      72,000   116,700        0     177,800
Stanart      1,100     8,272   20,000      22,956
Daniel      25,800    28,866        0       4,336
Sanchez      1,250    21,813  200,000     214,820

Trautman         0       554                3,029

I skipped the offices that were just elected, because life is short. Ed Emmett’s modest total is further evidence that he was not originally planning to run for re-election next year. I feel confident that he’d have more cash in his coffers if that had been the idea all along, and I also feel confident he’ll make up some ground before the next reporting deadline. Diane Trautman would be up for re-election to the HCDE Board, but as we know she is going to run for County Clerk, so I’m including her here. I’ll be interested to see if any money pours into this race. Orlando Sanchez has had that $200K loan on the books since at least the July 2014 report. I still don’t know where he got the money for it, or why he apparently hasn’t spent any of it since then, but whatever.

Here are the Constables:

Alan Rosen
Chris Diaz
Sherman Eagleton
Mark Herman
Phil Camus
Silvia Trevino
May Walker
Phil Sandlin


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Rosen       16,500    53,719        0     237,908
Diaz         5,600    26,127        0      10,479
Eagleton         0    18,426  102,550       2,132
Herman      10,000     8,713        0     248,578
Camus            0     1,259        0       4,650
Trevino      3,500     6,892        0         142
Walker      28,166    16,935        0      23,475
Sandlin      1,500    20,451        0      56,265

All of the Constables, as well as the Justices of the Peace in Place 1, were on the ballot last year, but as I have never looked at these reports before, I figure what the heck. Alan Rosen has always been a big fundraiser. Sherman Eagleton survived a primary and runoff, which is what that loan money is about. I presume all of the action for Mark Herman was in late 2015 and early 2016, after he got promoted and needed to win a primary. I’d have to check to see if Silvia Trevino raised and spent a bunch of money early on and then took a break, or if she just relied on name recognition to win. She did win without a runoff, so whatever she did do, it worked.

Finally, the JPs:

Eric Carter
David Patronella

JoAnn Delgado
George Risner

Joe Stephens
Don Coffey

Lincoln Goodwin
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir

Russ Ridgway
Jeff Williams

Richard Vara
Armando Rodriguez

Hilary Green
Zinetta Burney

Holly Williamson
Louie Ditta


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Carter       2,000     5,041  129,878       1,316
Delgado      1,500         0        0           0
Stephens     1,770     2,192   44,886          61
Goodwin          0       680  115,000      80,730
Ridgway          0     1,200        0      16,414
Vara         1,635       500    9,787       1,523
Green        1,700       236        0       1,684
Williamson   2,436     4,551        0      66,762


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Patronella  40,665     3,574        0
Risner      37,365     9,680        0      84,532
Coffey      50,125    26,323        0      64,906
Hrncir         910       999        0      13,681
Williams         0         0   60,000      13,396
Rodriguez        0         0        0       2,219
Burney           0         0        0         902
Ditta            0     4,248    2,000      18,914

The Place 1 JPs were elected last year as noted, while the Place 2 JPs will be up next year. David Patronella’s form did not list a cash on hand total. For what it’s worth, all three groups (Constables and the two sets of JPs) have the same partisan mix, five Dems and three Republicans. I don’t have any further insights, so we’ll wrap this up here.

RIP, Constable Ruben Davis

Sad news from Fort Bend.

Constable Ruben Davis

Constable Ruben Davis

At a time when the public and law enforcement officials contemplate how to best blend policing and community, Fort Bend County has lost a man many describe as a role model for the perfect mix of serving and protecting.

Longtime Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable Ruben Davis died on Tuesday morning. He was 61.

“He loved his community and, more importantly, he loved his family,” Precinct 2 Chief Deputy Rodney Pentecost said. “We are grieving right now. It’s obvious that he’ll be missed.”

Davis served as a Fort Bend constable since May 1996 and led a precinct that covers the county’s east side including Missouri City. His name, as an unopposed candidate, will remain on the November ballot.

He was known for his big personality, huge heart and love for the residents of Fort Bend County.

Sharon Davis said her husband was a provider and protector for their Missouri City household and beyond.

“I think the people will probably miss his generosity. Anything that he could do for you, he was going to do it,” she said. “He’s always been a sweet and caring person.”

[…]

The constable’s current term expires on Dec. 31. According to the Texas Elections Code, a vacancy occurs on the date of an official’s death. Davis appears unopposed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If he is re-elected as a deceased candidate to a four-year term, another vacancy will occur on Nov. 22 – the date that Fort Bend County election results will be canvassed by commissioners.

It is unclear whether Fort Bend commissioners will make an appointment for the last six weeks of the year.

According to Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert’s office and county elections administrator John Oldham, commissioners have the responsibility to appoint someone to serve until the next election in November 2018. The winning candidate in that race will have an abbreviated two-year term. The seat then returns to the usual four-year rotation for the 2020 election.

Sharon Davis said she would be willing to accept an appointment to her husband’s post.

As the story notes, Sharon Davis met Ruben Davis at HPD academy, so she has a law enforcement background. I did not know Constable Davis myself, but all of my Fort Bend friends on Facebook have been posting about him. He clearly left a big impression. My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

Endorsement watch: First, reform the office

The Chron has almost as much to say about the office of Constable as it does about the candidates for Constable that they prefer.

Harris County needs to bring these law enforcement fiefdoms in line: Update precincts to equalize populations, reduce the competing bureaucracies, centralize the evidence room and put county law enforcement responsibility in the hands of the Sheriff’s Office. Harris County also needs to encourage unincorporated regions to directly fund their own law enforcement, whether through independent taxing districts or incorporation into formal cities.

It is time to return constables to their core duties. It will save taxpayer dollars, streamline government and knock out some of Harris County’s most problem-prone institutions.

Until that day, the Houston Chronicle editorial board makes the following endorsements in the contested races for Harris County constables.

Alan Rosen

Alan Rosen

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan Rosen

Since his election in 2012, Constable Alan Rosen has set the standard across the county for professionalism. While his precinct covers the western half of the Inner Loop and inside Beltway 8 from US 290 to Interstate 69, Rosen, 48, also has the countywide responsibility of serving juvenile and mental health warrants and of overseeing environmental investigations and animal cruelty cases. The Democratic incumbent has put a strong emphasis on training and community relationships. For example, when Houstonians marched downtown to protest police brutality and in support of racial equality, Rosen spoke to the crowd about the shared pain felt by communities and law enforcement officers.

Constable, Precinct 2: Christopher (Chris) Diaz

Our choice is the incumbent Christopher (Chris) Diaz, a former mayor and councilman in Jacinto City.

Constable, Precinct 3: Dan Webb

Incumbent Preinct 3 Constable Ken Jones is retiring and residents of Harris County would do well to cast their ballots for Republican Dan Webb, who currently holds a Department of Public Safety Commission as a Special Ranger and has 33 active-duty years of law enforcement service. Webb promises to fix the “good ol boy” promotion system at this precinct, which encompasses Channelview, Huffman, Crosby and Highlands and part of the Northshore communities.

Constable, Precinct 4: Jeff McGowen

If Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, a Republican, worked in the private sector, he would have been fired for the evidence room scandal that occurred on his watch. This race should be viewed as an opportunity to remove a politician who has failed at a job and elect a replacement.

Voters in this massive precinct, which stretches across north Harris County from US 290 to Lake Houston, luckily have a qualified candidate in Jeff McGowen. The Democratic challenger is a 23-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and is a strong advocate for community policing. In a meeting with the editorial board, McGowen, 46, offered proposals on improved training and greater coordination between precincts.

Constable, Precinct 6: Richard “Rick” Gonzales

Silvia Treviño isn’t asking anyone to call her madre, but students of Texas history should see reflections of Pa and Ma Ferguson – the unfortunate tag-team husband and wife Texas governors – in this race for Precinct 6 Constable.

Silvia’s husband, former Precinct 6 Constable Victor Treviño, is currently on probation for spending charity dollars at a Louisiana casino and faces newfound scrutiny for running an evidence room that had not been cleaned out or organized during his 26 years. Now Silvia is running to take her husband’s former position and defeated incumbent Precinct 6 Constable Heliodoro Martinez in the Democratic primary.

It is time to make a full break and elect someone new.

Constable, Precinct 8: Phil Sandlin

Incumbent Phil Sandlin is the right man to be constable of this southeast precinct that borders the Houston Ship Channel and includes NASA and many large chemical complexes.

I’m not going to argue with any of the Chron’s endorsement choices. There are a lot of less-than-inspiring candidates on the ballot, though thankfully my own Precinct 1 is in a much better place than it was four years ago. I think the Chron’s litany of complaints about the function and role of the Constable in Harris County deserves attention. We are going to be electing a new County Judge in 2018, and I hope we will also have a spirited race for County Commissioner Precinct 2. Both of these present an opportunity to have a discussion about the role of the Constables, among other things. If we want things to be different we can make it so, but it’s not going to happen without an active effort.

It’s not just Precinct 4

There are problems with evidence rooms in other Constable precincts as well.

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

With Harris County’s Precinct 4 Constable’s Office mired in scandal over the improper destruction of 21,000 pieces of evidence, serious evidence cataloging and control problems also have been uncovered in the constables’ offices in Precincts 3,6 and 7, according to interviews and audits obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

While there is no proof yet that evidence has been unlawfully destroyed in those other three offices, 2,000 items were initially reported missing in Precinct 3; guns, jewelry, electronics and cash were misplaced in Precinct 6; and Precinct 7’s evidence room has been described as “a shambles.”

In Precinct 4, where the evidence destruction scandal is still unfolding, prosecutors so far have dismissed 100 criminal cases and are still determining how many convictions could be affected by years of careless work blamed on a corporal fired for illegally disposing of drugs, guns and evidence. The episode remains the subject of a criminal probe.

Only time will tell whether chaotic evidence handling practices reported in Precincts 3,6 and 7 will result in case dismissals, appeals or further investigations.

Harris County auditors in May 2015 uncovered evidence problems – never made public – in a review of the overstuffed property room inside the Precinct  6 Constable’s Office in the East End. There, auditors reported finding 28 percent of the evidence missing along with $54,000 in cash in a review of a sample of 799 items, the audit shows. Their visit to the office came only months after the previous constable, Victor Treviño, resigned after pleading guilty to misappropriating money from a charity he ran out of his office.

Constable Heliodoro Martinez, who replaced Treviño, said in an interview Friday that he immediately contacted the Harris County district attorney after receiving those results. It took five months for a team of two Harris County sheriff’s deputies and two of his own officers to locate the missing cash and other items. Martinez said he is still trying to impose order in an evidence room that hadn’t been cleaned out or organized in 26 years.

Unlike the Precinct 4 scandal, neither defense attorneys nor front-line prosecutors have been notified to review cases. So far, county lawyers have not deemed that any notifications or criminal investigations are necessary.

“To this point, we haven’t been made aware of any pending cases that have been affected in any way, shape or form,” Martinez said.

JoAnne Musick, a defense attorney who is past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said she is skeptical that no cases have been adversely affected.

“Every property custodian comes in and testifies how great their system is – but in these audits that’s not what they’re finding,” she said. “They’re having to dig stuff up. … How do you know it’s not been tampered with, it’s not altered, it’s not decayed?”

See here, here, and here for the background. None of the other precincts have had anywhere near the problems that Precinct 4 have had, but it’s too early to say that no cases have been affected. There are also some questions about the way the audits were conducted and the results communicated. The current auditor for the county is retiring, so perhaps there should be a high priority on re-reviewing all eight Constable precincts and ensuring we know what issues there are. And then maybe, as suggested by some people in the story and by commenter Steven Houston in an earlier post, it’s time to take these evidence rooms away from the constables and put sole authority for them in the Sheriff’s office.

Internal report on Precinct 4 evidence destruction

The more you look, the worse it appears.

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

One of the first hints of anything awry in the Precinct 4 property room came in an email from evidence manager Christopher T. Hess.

Harris County District Attorney “Investigator Kerry Gillie called today about the evidence for case 13-50054,” he wrote in the Feb. 29 email to his supervisor, Lt. Christian Nicholson. “I explained that the drugs had been recently destroyed. He then asked for a court order for destruction copy. I told him there was not one to my knowledge.”

[…]

Hess, a master peace officer who began his career with the constable’s office 25 years ago, according to state records, told investigators repeatedly that the destruction was supervised by a now-retired colleague, Cpl. Mike Lacher. Hess has claimed Lacher ordered him to destroy drugs, even if they pertained to open cases, according to the Precinct 4 internal affairs complaint that the Chronicle obtained under a public records request.

The 25-page document shows investigators believed Hess broke evidence tampering laws and Harris County policies on evidence handling and truthfulness. The documents show the constable’s property room was operated with little oversight and reveal that a string of errors led to wrongful evidence destruction.

The scope and duration of the scandal raise deeper questions about operational failures inside the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office, said Samuel Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“You get a picture of an incredibly poorly run operation,” said Walker, who studies police accountability and department management. “If the staffing is poor, if the facilities, the room itself, is overcrowded, it creates a potential problem that could jeopardize criminal cases. That’s a big deal.”

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, appointed in May after former constable Ron Hickman became sheriff, said Hess wrongfully destroyed evidence for as long as nine years and never sought court orders required to destroy guns or drugs as required under state law.

See here and here for the background. It really does boggle the mind that this could have been happening for nine years, maybe more. How is it that it hadn’t affected any cases before now? How is it no one noticed it? Why is it that Sheriff Hickman, who was the Constable in Precinct 4 for most of this, hasn’t explained himself? Lots of questions, not so many answers. The Press has more.

More on the Precinct 4 evidence destruction scandal

Lots of cases have been compromised.

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

District Attorney Devon Anderson’s office first learned in April that the mistaken destruction of evidence in Harris County’s Precinct 4 had likely compromised more than a thousand criminal cases, including more than 400 in which defendants had already been convicted, records released Tuesday show.

Anderson immediately launched a criminal probe, but her office did not begin informing defendants, their attorneys and even her own prosecutors about the magnitude of the problem until late August.

The records show that most of the cases were minor drug offenses, although dozens involved violent felonies in which defendants either pleaded or were found guilty and in some cases sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors have dismissed more than 140 cases so far.

[…]

Anderson has emphasized in past statements that evidence went first to a prosecutor who is investigating Precinct 4 in her Public Integrity Division. Her office made the records, including lists of 21,000 pieces of evidence that had been destroyed, public for the first time Tuesday in response to a public information request from the Houston Chronicle and other media outlets.

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said his office immediately informed the DA’s office in March after learning that an officer had destroyed evidence in the department’s overstuffed property room. By then, he said the DA’s office had already launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

The constable’s office began supplying a longer list of cases in April.

“We were very direct, very deliberate with the DA’s office from the very beginning,” Herman said. “When this process started … we talked to them, told them we had cases compromised due to an employee destroying evidence to open cases.”

[…]

Legal experts said deciding when to disclose evidentiary problems to defendants and their attorneys is a complex matter involving numerous factors, including the status of any ongoing criminal investigation.

Geoffrey Corn, a professor at Houston College of Law, credited Anderson with already dismissing dozens of cases instead of fighting for convictions as the scandal has unfolded.

“When you have a catastrophic failure – and this was catastrophic, a DA doesn’t expect an evidence custodian who is lazy to just destroy tons of evidence – there’s got to be a lot of assessment,” he said.

Local defense attorneys criticized Anderson for what they saw as a lack of transparency and said many defendants still have not received legally required “Brady notices” informing them of the evidence destruction.

“The response from the Harris County district attorney has been nearly non-existent,” said JoAnne Musick, former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. “Despite having known of the evidence destruction since February, it took … months and a flood of negative press before they saw fit to even begin notifying defense attorneys.”

Tyler Flood, the association’s current president, praised Anderson for complying with Texas Public Records Laws and supplying the case lists.

“I think it’s commendable that they are attempting to do the right thing by releasing this information,” he said. “However, there’s an issue with the scope. We don’t know if this is covering everything that it needs to cover and how far back it goes.”

See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to this, I’m just noting it for the record. The big question that continues to be unexplored in all this is how the deputy in question could have been doing this for so long without longtime Constable (now Sheriff) Ron Hickman noticing. It would be very nice to get some clarity on that. The Press has more.

The Precinct 4 evidence destruction debacle

What the heck is going on here?

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

The Harris County Precinct 4 deputy who was fired after destroying evidence in hundreds of pending criminal cases this year has been wrongfully tossing evidence without following department protocol since 2007, Constable Mark Herman announced Tuesday.

Herman’s announcement comes just after Houston defense attorney Paul Morgan wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office asking the federal government to investigate Harris County Precinct 4 and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, arguing that neither agency is capable of conducting an independent investigation and that the DA’s office is complicit in the fiasco. Morgan also asks the feds to strip Precinct 4 of law enforcement duties and restrict the precinct only to ability to serve civil process and warrants, because it has demonstrated that it “cannot handle criminal investigations and prosecutions,” Morgan wrote.

Since 2007, the fired deputy, Chris Hess, has destroyed more than 21,000 pieces of evidence, putting more than 1,000 cases in jeopardy. Already, the DA’s office has dismissed 142 pending cases, most of them drug-related, because the evidence was incinerated in January — the last time Hess destroyed evidence before he was caught and fired.

This problem only became public after Morgan and attorney Emily Detoto discovered in August that drug evidence in their own client’s case was destroyed — just as a prosecutor was offering their client, David Bellamy, a 25-year plea deal for meth possession, Morgan said. It was among the first cases to be dismissed due to the Precinct 4 missing-evidence fiasco.

But as more details have surfaced of the hundreds more affected cases, what has bothered Morgan and Detoto the most is the complete lack of action the district attorney’s office had taken on the issue, they say — even though District Attorney Devon Anderson admitted to knowing about the destroyed evidence since February. It was only directly after KTRK aired a story about Bellamy’s case on August 17 that Anderson blasted out an email to all her prosecutors, ordering them to stop offering plea deals or taking to trial any cases involving Precinct 4.

Morgan and Detoto say it was an email that should have been sent out seven months ago.

“With something this large, it’s either the height of deception or the height of incompetence — either way it’s inexcusable,” Morgan said. “But which office has more blame? It’s the district attorney’s office all day. They legally have more responsibility. It’s why we have shiny gold bar cards. This just can’t happen.”

This is nuts. I hadn’t followed this story very closely, so let’s review a few previous stories to catch up:

Precinct 4’s destruction of evidence the subject of a criminal probe

Hundreds of Precinct Four cases could be dismissed

Feds eyeing mass evidence destruction problems in Precinct 4 constable’s office

So a big mess, and we’re far from the end of it. In addition to being another headache for District Attorney Devon Anderson, it’s also now a campaign issue.

Harris County District Attorney candidate Kim Ogg is calling for a special prosecutor to investigate “possible civil rights violations” in the wake of disclosures that thousands of pieces of evidence were wrongly destroyed by the Precinct 4 constable’s office.

Ogg, a Democrat who is facing Republican incumbent District Attorney Devon Anderson in the November general election, questioned why Anderson waited more than six months to notify trial prosecutors that the evidence may be missing.

“It’s time we asked for an independent prosecutor to investigate not just the actions of Precinct 4, which are going to be reviewed by the Justice Department, but of this district attorney and her assistant district attorneys,” Ogg said Thursday during a news conference. “For every person who was convicted where evidence had already been destroyed, they’re entitled – in all likelihood – to a new trial.”

Anderson fired back, saying she has been open with the public about how she came to learn of the property room debacle in Precinct 4 and said Ogg is politicizing the issue.

“I have spoken at length with the media on this situation,” Anderson said in a written statement Thursday. “I have given them all the details and all the facts. If there are any questions on specifics I am happy to answer those, but Kim Ogg’s attempt to politicize this and make it a DA campaign issue is desperate.”

Anderson’s public integrity unit has been investigating the discrepancy since February, but the dozens of prosecutors who handle cases at the trial level were apparently not notified until Aug. 19 to stop work on Precinct 4 cases, after a defense attorney raised questions about missing evidence in his client’s case.

Ogg said failure to alert prosecutors more quickly and to disclose details about the missing evidence to defense attorneys appears to be prosecutorial misconduct.

Unfortunately for Anderson, she’s got some credibility problems to overcome if she wants to make a “politicization” claim stick. To be fair to her, however, her office isn’t the only one with some questions to answer here. Anderson has largely blamed Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman for the problem, but Herman has only been in office since last year, and the evidence destruction apparently goes back a lot farther than that. Let’s return to that Press story we began with:

If Hess had destroyed evidence in any pending cases since 2007, then that leaves defense attorneys puzzled over how prosecutors never discovered they had no evidence against suspects they convicted or persuaded to take plea deals.

Herman took over as constable in May 2015 after former Precinct 4 constable Ron Hickman became county sheriff. In January, Herman ordered Hess and several deputies to clean out the storage room because it was overfilled with evidence. He said his office caught Hess’s misconduct shortly afterward, but he could not comment on or account for how Hess got away with destroying evidence for nine years prior. He says the constable’s office has passed various audits “with flying colors.”

Herman said Precinct 4 superiors can only trace Hess’s policy violations to 2007 because that’s when the department started using a new electronic system to track evidence destruction and the property room’s inventory. Hess had been working in the property room, though, since 2000, which is when Hickman became constable.

Herman told the Press that when he ordered a review of all of Hess’s past employee evaluations since 2000, strangely no evaluations on Hess were on file. By contrast, Herman said that every employee is supposed to be evaluated every year.

A sheriff’s office spokesman declined to comment on allegations that Hickman failed to discipline Hess for violations until it could be confirmed through records that Hess had been breaching department policies since 2007. The Press has requested the documents.

So one has to wonder how it is that now-Sheriff Ron Hickman didn’t discover this problem over the course of eight years. That’s a question that could use a bit more exploration. Like I said, I think we’ll be learning new things about this for quite some time to come.

Democratic primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Fort Bend County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Just for the record, we didn’t get any precinct results until 8:34, at which time only 8% of precincts had reported. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of overwhelming turnout this time. We did get a big batch just after 9, but thanks to some close races, Harris County results will be the last ones I write about in this post.

Grady Yarbrough cements his position as this generation’s Gene Kelly by winning the Railroad Commissioner runoff. I’ll say again, you want a decent candidate to win these downballot primaries, especially against a perennial candidate, you’re going to need some investment in those races.

On a more interesting note, first-time candidate Vicente Gonzalez won the runoff in CD15 to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez drew support from a bunch of Congressional incumbents, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Someone at least thinks he has a bright future, so keep an eye on him.

In Bexar County, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins will succeed retiring Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in HD120.

In fairness to Stan Stanart, the Fort Bend County result reporting was even worse. They posted some precinct results a few minutes before Harris did, then bizarrely went back to showing early votes with zero precincts in. That was still the case as of 9:45 PM, then finally at 10 PM all the results came in at once. The deservedly maligned Rep. Ron Reynolds led 59-41 after early voting, then held on for a 53-47 margin. I wonder if voters were changing their minds, or if it was just the nature of Reynolds supporters to vote early. Whatever the case, he won.

And from Harris County:

– Dakota Carter wins in SBOE6.
– Ed Gonzalez will be the nominee for Sheriff.
– Judge Elaine Palmer easily held off JoAnn Storey for the 215th Civil District Court. Kristin Hawkins had an easy win for the 11th. The closest race of the evening was in the 61st, where Fredericka Phillips nosed out Julie Countiss by 210 votes after overcoming a small early lead by Countiss.
– Eric William Carter won in JP Precinct 1, while Hilary Green held on in JP Precinct 7.
– Chris Diaz romped in Constable Precinct 2, while Sherman Eagleton cruised in Constable Precinct 3.

And finally, Jarvis Johnson won in HD139, entirely on the strength of absentee ballots. Kimberly Willis won the early in-person vote as well as the Runoff Day vote, but not by a large enough margin given the modest number of people who turned out. Johnson will have the seniority advantage over his fellow freshmen thanks to his win in the special election, but this is not the kind of result that will scare anyone off for the next cycle.

Endorsement watch: Remember the runoffs

The Chron makes their endorsements for the primary runoffs, which will happen on May 24, with early voting from the 16th to the 20th. Let me sum up:

vote-button

Republican

Member, Railroad Commissioner: Gary Gates

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2: Mary Lou Keel

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 5: Scott Walker

Democrats

Member, Railroad Commission: Cody Garrett

Member, State Board of Education, District 6: R. Dakota Carter

State Representative, District 139: Kimberly Willis

Judge, 11th Civil District Court: Kristen Hawkins

Judge, 61st Civil District Court: Fredericka Phillips

Judge, 215th Civil District Court: JoAnn Storey

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez

Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1: Eric William Carter

Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Place 1: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Constable, Precinct 2: Christopher (Chris) Diaz

Constable, Precinct 3: Sherman Eagleton

Some of these are reiterations of primary endorsements, but quite a few are new, with the original endorsed candidate not making it to the finals. I’ll post a roundup of interview and Q&A links for the races where I’ve done them tomorrow.

Runoff watch: JPs and Constables

OK, sit back and settle in, this may take awhile.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 – Democratic

Judge Dale Gorczynski

The race to succeed retiring JP Dale Gorczynski turned out to be a bit of a barnburner. The two leading candidates, Eric William “Brother of District Judge Kyle” Carter and Tanya Makany-Rivera, finished 144 votes apart, out of over 36,000 cast. Four of the five other candidates were African-American, and there some speculation before the election that they might split the vote enough to make it hard for any of them to make it into the top two. As they combined for 40% of the total vote, with #s 3 and 4 grabbing enough votes together to beat the frontrunners, this wasn’t a crazy thought. Of interest is that Carter led Makany-Rivera by about 1,500 votes after early voting, but she wiped out nearly all of that deficit on Election Day. Whether that was the result of a better ground game on her part or an electorate that was more favorable to her turning out late rather than early is a question I can’t answer.

A good ground game is likely to be key to this and all the other runoffs we’re discussing today. The total number of voters is sure to be relatively tiny – point of reference, the 2008 runoff for JP Precint 8, Place 1 had 1,082 votes after 15,196 votes out of 23,911 ballots cast in March – so the candidate who does a better job dragging friends and neighbors back to the polls has an advantage. Both candidates received group endorsements in March – Carter got nods from the AFL-CIO and GLBT Political Caucus, while Makany-Rivera collected recommendations from the Tejano Dems and Stonewall Dems. This one looks like a tossup to me.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1 – Democratic

Incumbent JP Hilary Green had the pleasure of facing seven challengers in March, finishing ahead of them all but with only 29.53% of the vote; Cheryl Elliot Thornton, who was a candidate for County Court at Law #2 in 2010, came in second, ten points behind. It’s been a rough term for Judge Green, between a nasty divorce and allegations of biased rulings, both of which I suspect contributed to the crowded field against her, and possibly the less-than-stellar result. Usually, an incumbent wh can’t break 30% is in deep trouble, but she does start out with a ten-point lead, and there’s no guarantee that the supporters of the other candidates will bother to come out in May. I think she’s still a slight favorite, but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on either outcome.

Constable, Precinct 2 – Democratic

Incumbent Constable Chris Diaz led a field of four candidates with 45%; runnerup close races, but I see no reason why he’d need to sweat this one. The only curiosity to me is that several groups that endorsed in Constable races apparently declined to do so in this one, even with an incumbent on the ballot; specifically, the GLBT Political Caucus, H-BAD, and Stonewall all skipped this one, while the AFL-CIO and the Tejanos plus Area 5 supported Diaz. Anyone know what if anything is up with that? Regardless, I see this as Diaz’s race to lose.

Constable, Precinct 3 – Democratic

Another huge field (nine candidates), another office vacated by a longtime incumbent (Constable Ken Jones), and another really close finish. The top three candidates:

Sherman Eagleton – 3,687 votes, 19.87%
Michel Pappillion – 2,862 votes, 15.43%
Jasen Rabalais – 2,825 votes, 15.23%

Yep, a 37-vote difference between going on and going home. I’ve discussed this one before, as third-place finisher Rabalais has filed a lawsuit challenging the result; he has alleged that a nefarious campaign worker committed absentee ballot fraud on behalf of Pappillion. I don’t really expect anything to change in this race, but one never knows. Assuming nothing changes, Eagleton, who is a sergeant in Precinct 3, was endorsed by the Chron, while Pappillion, a retired police officer with HPD and in his native Louisiana, got the HGLBT nod; other groups either skipped this one or went with candidates who finished out of the running. I call this one a tossup because I don’t know any better.

And that’s all there is – there are no runoffs at this level on the Republican side, as only one such race (JP in Precinct 1, Place 1) drew more than two candidates. I’ve got two more of these entries to go, to look at the Democratic Sheriff race and a couple of stray GOP races. I hope this has been useful.

Third-place Constable candidate alleges fraud in his race

Oh, goodie.

Jasen Rabalais

A Harris County constable chief deputy who narrowly missed making the runoff in the Precinct 3 constable’s primary election earlier this month has sued the top two vote-getters, seeking to annul the results because of alleged violations of election law.

Jasen Rabalais, chief deputy over community services and the Harris County Joint Task Force for Precinct 3 constable, alleged in court papers last week that a campaign worker for Michel Pappillion, a candidate who beat him by 37 votes and edged him out of the runoff, illegally cast votes on behalf of some senior citizens.

Sherman Eagleton was the top vote getter by more than 800 votes of more than 18,000 cast, while Rabalais came in third.

[…]

Rabalais’ complaint states that the worker initially approached his campaign, offering to “deliver votes from seniors through special access to senior living facilities,” guaranteeing 1,000 votes, and Rabalais turned her down.

Rabalais supporters noticed the worker at the polls wearing a Pappillion shirt and telling elderly voters that they had already voted, the complaint alleges.

The Rabalais campaign confronted the worker, who told them she is a nurse, has access to nursing homes and gets seniors to “vote for that person who [she is] working for,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint alleges the worker “deliberately falsified, illegally completed, or unlawfully influenced the ballots and early voting applications of elderly residents” in Precinct 3.

Rabalais’ suit calls for the court to order a new election, subtract illegal votes or “declare the outcome of the election if able to ascertain the true outcome.”

Some of these allegations are unclear to me, but one of them appears to be a charge that this mysterious woman is alleged to have gotten some elderly voters to tick the box for Pappillion instead of doing whatever they would have done in this race on their own, on absentee ballots. If there’s any merit to these charges, then it seems to me that there will be plenty of witnesses to come forward – people who can corroborate her behavior at polling locations, the voters themselves whom she influenced, etc. But let’s put those questions aside for a moment and see if there’s anything in the election returns to suggest something fishy going on. Here are the complete returns from the County Clerk website; scroll to page 23 to see the Constable Precinct 3 race:


Candidate    Abs   Abs %  Early  Early%  E-Day  E-Day%  Total  Total%
=====================================================================
Rabalais     314  14.34%  1,382  19.18%  1,129  12.33%  2,825  15.23%
Pappillion   324  14.80%  1,170  16.23%  1,368  14.94%  2,862  15.43%
Reed         124   5.66%    577   8.01%    948  10.35%  1,649   8.89%
Stewart      449  20.51%    979  13.58%  1,045  11.41%  2,473  13.33%
Eagleton     562  25.67%  1,415  19.63%  1,710  18.67%  3,687  19.87%
Norwood       65   2.97%    259   3.59%    466   5.09%    790   4.26%
Jones        121   5.53%    541   7.51%    740   8.08%  1,402   7.56%
Villarreal   112   5.12%    564   6.99%  1,249  13.64%  1,865  10.05%
Melancon     118   5.39%    380   5.27%    503   5.49%  1,001   5.40%

The first thing I note is that Pappillion collected 324 absentee votes, ten more than Rabalais. The mystery woman “guaranteed” to deliver 1,000 votes, so either she greatly oversold her ability, or she was just lying. Regardless, note that Pappillion’s share of the absentee vote is right in line with his share of the early and E-Day votes. If he had actually gotten an illicit boost in absentee ballots, one would expect to see it reflected in the numbers. Granting that this does not disprove the possibility that he’d have done worse in absentee balloting otherwise, I don’t see anything to indicate that.

Pappillion went into E-Day trailing Rabalais by 202 votes. He then collected 239 votes more than Rabalais, whose E-Day performance greatly lagged his early showing, especially his early in-person showing, to nose into second. When Rabalais says he noticed the Mystery Woman at the polls, does he mean early voting locations, or E-Day locations? In either case, assuming it was just her, I don’t know how many actual voters she could have affected in this fashion. Again though, if this really did happen, there’s got to be plenty of people who can testify to it.

Note that even if we think there’s something funny about any of Rabalais or Pappillion’s numbers, there are oddball results elsewhere that seem to be to be just the vagaries of multi-candidate elections. James Lee Stewart had the second-best absentee ballot total, but dropped out of sight in the early in-person and E-Day totals. Isaac Villarreal came out of nowhere to post strong E-Day numbers, but was too much of a nonentity before that for it to matter. Maybe Stewart had a better mail ballot program, and maybe Villarreal had a better ground game, or the E-Day electorate was more heavily Latino. Who knows? Sometimes an odd result is just an odd result.

So, my initial thought is that it is unlikely there’s anything to these allegations, but we’ll see what the Rabalais team shows the judge. If Rabalais can back up his claims – producing the Mystery Woman and some of the voters she influenced would be a good start – then good on him, he deserves redress. If not, then shame on him for giving Greg Abbott some cheap ammunition, even if none of this has anything to do with voter ID. We’ll see what the judge has to say.

2016 Election page is up

vote-button

Here it is. A few notes:

– This is for races that will appear on the Harris County ballot only. Our ballot is big enough, with enough contested primary races, that I didn’t have the time or the energy to do anything more ambitious. It’s great that there is such interest in running for office as a Democrat in Harris County, but it does limit my capabilities a bit.

– Along those lines, I have not included Constable and JP races on this page. I mean, look at the HCDP primary candidates page. There are four contested JP races involving 19 candidates, and 5 contested Constable races with 23 more candidates. I’ve already got 75 candidates in 29 races on the page. I can’t keep up with more than that.

– As always, this is a work in progress. I linked to campaign or Facebook pages where I could – campaign Facebook pages, not personal ones – but only if I could find one. If you know of an error or omission, or if you know of a page that has come online since I first published, please drop me a note to kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com. Thanks.

– I will start running primary interviews and judicial Q&As on Monday. Again, I won’t be able to cover everything, but I’ll do what I can. Early voting starts in seven weeks (!) so to say the least this is a sprint.

– Note that some candidates have run for things before, and for some of them there may already be an interview or Q&A in my archives from a previous election. I’ve been doing interviews and Q&As for primaries since 2008, so go search the archives and see what you can find.

– For judges in Criminal District Court races, here’s a brief overview provided by Murray Newman, defense attorney and former Assistant DA. He tends to lean Republican, but he also knows a lot of these people, so go see what he has to say.

I think that about covers it. I’ll add finance report information as soon as I can, and will begin tracking endorsements when they come out. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.

Republican filing deadline highlights

As a followup to this, here’s a look at who filed for what in the Republican primary here in Harris County. Set your phasers to “snark” and come on in with me.

Congress

There are nine Congressional districts partially or wholly within Harris County. Republicans have incumbents in six of them, and they are running candidates in two of the others, but for some reason only bother to list candidates in four of the eight races in which they have a stake. Rep. Ted Poe is unopposed in CD02, while Rep. John Culberson has two opponents in CD07. What about Reps. Kevin Brady (CD08), Mike McCaul (CD10), Pete Olson (CD22) and Brian Babin (CD36)? You can’t tell from the Harris County GOP’s candidate webpage. I don’t know what’s up with that. In any event, there are two Republicans vying to lose to someone in CD29, and four – four! – candidates who seek the opportunity to lose to Sheila Jackson Lee by fifty points in CD18. And no, that’s not an exaggeration – SJL defeated Sean Seibert 75.01% to 22.58% in 2012. Even in the disaster of 2014, she won 71.78% to 24.76%. Seibert appears to have learned his lesson; he’s not one of the four hopefuls this time.

Statewide

Statewide candidates are not listed on this page. I did not go looking for the Texas GOP website looking for info on the judicial and Railroad Commission races, but this Trib story provides some info on the former, and this FuelFix post covers the latter, so there you have it.

State Legislature

No State Senate candidates are listed, so no one is challenging Sens. Sylvia Garcia, Rodney Ellis, or (presumably) any of the incumbent Republicans whose districts intersect Harris County: Brandon Creighton, Larry Taylor, and Lois Kolkhorst. On the House side, the highlights are as follows:

– Reps. Dan Huberty (HD127), Wayne Smith (HD128), Sarah Davis (HD134), and Debbie Riddle (HD150) all have primary opponents; Smith has two, and Riddle has three.

– Kevin Roberts is unopposed to try to succeed Patricia Harless in HD126; there are two Democrats running for that seat as well. Tom Oliverson and HCDE Trustee Kay Smith (whose term does not expire until 2018) are duking it out for HD130, left vacant by Allen Fletcher. The winner of that race will have no Democratic opponent.

– Two failed Council candidates, Matt Murphy (At Large #4) and Kendall Baker (District F) are challenging Democratic incumbents, the former in HD147 and the latter in HD137. Rep. Gene Wu, the incumbent in HD137, was active in campaigning for HERO this fall, while Baker as we know was one of the leading wingnuts in the anti-HERO campaign. Rep. Wu also has a primary opponent, and assuming he survives that I think we can guess what the fall campaign will look like.

Harris County

– Two-time City Council loser Chris Carmona and 2008 failed DA candidate Jim Leitner (who subsequently served as a top lieutenant under DA Pat Lykos) are running to oppose County Attorney Vince Ryan.

– DA Devon Anderson does not have a primary opponent, but Sheriff Ron Hickman has two: failed 2012 Sheriff candidate Carl Pittman and twice-failed Sheriff candidate Paul Day.

– Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan gets a rematch with Don Sumners, who parlayed his catastrophic tenure as Tax Assessor into an At Large HCDE Trustee gig. We all remember what a disaster Sumners was as Tax Assessor for the two years he had the job before Sullivan mercifully ousted him in 2012, right?

– Speaking of the HCDE, I presume current Board Chair Angie Chesnut is retiring, because she’s not listed as a candidate. Running to succeed her are Danell Fields and sigh Eric Dick. Can you imagine a board for which nearly half the membership is Don Sumners, Michael Wolfe, and Eric Dick? That might be enough to convince me that Ed Emmett and Commissioners Court have the right idea in wanted to have the Lege dismantle the HCDE. In the other HCDE race, incumbent Marvin Morris has George Moore as a primary opponent. There are Dems running in each race, but alas it’s Morris’ Precinct 2 seat that could be competitive in a Presidential year, and not Chesnut’s Precinct 4 seat.

– There are three candidates running for the open JP Precinct 1, Place 1 bench, the one being vacated by Dale Gorczynski. No Republicans ran against Gorczynski in 2012 or 2008; I’d have to check but my recollection from previous analyses is that it’s in the 60-65% Dem range. There are three GOP incumbent JPs on the ballot, but only Lincoln Goodwin in Precinct 4, Place 1 has a primary opponent.

– Is Constable Phil Camus in Precinct 5 retiring? He’s not listed on this page. You know who is? Former District F Council Member Al Hoang, who is one of two people shown running for that position.

– Finally, HC GOP Chair Paul Simpson has two challengers, one of whom has an email address that includes the string “creditrepairtex”. Boy, nothing says quality like that kind of email address, am I right?

I will say one utterly complimentary thing about the Harris GOP primary candidates webpage: They provide (where applicable) the webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter handle for their candidates. This is a great thing, one that would save a humble blogger like myself a lot of time and effort, not to mention the occasional mis-identification of candidates with common names. Can someone at the HCDP please make this happen in 2018? Thanks.

All right then. If all that still hasn’t sated your blood lust for candidate information, go visit this handy Trib guide to the state and federal races, which confirms that I counted the number of Dem State House candidates correctly and also missed the fact that we should have run someone in HD94, PDiddie, Stace, and Ashton Woods. And remember that while we Dems can certainly get nasty with each other, the Republicans will be enthusiastically eating their own this March.

Filing deadline highlights

I’m taking a look at interesting bits from the state and Harris County Democratic Party filings. You can see the latter here; there isn’t a page dedicated to this on the TDP webpage (why?) but via this press release we find the SOS candidate filing report, which once filtered for Dem only gives us what we want, albeit in a not-so-pretty package. We soldier on nonetheless. Here are the things that caught my eye.

Federal

– In addition to the three candidates with whom you may be familiar, your choices for President in Texas include Calvis L. Hawes, Keith Judd, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Star Locke, and Willie L. Wilson. Hawes, Judd, and Locke are themselves from Texas.

– Democratic candidates filed for 30 of the 36 Congressional seats, the exceptions being 8, 11, 13, 19, 32, and 36. Of those, only 32 could be considered on the horizon of competitive, so no great loss. Incumbent Democrats facing primary challengers are Beto O’Rourke (CD16), Henry Cuellar (CD28), Eddie Berniece Johnson (CD30), and of course Gene Green (CD29), who like Johnson has two opponents, both named Garcia (Adrian and Dominique). There are seven candidates for the open CD15. Former Rep. Pete Gallego, trying to take back CD23, has a primary opponent to overcome first. Frequent candidate A.R. Hassan is one of two hopefuls for CD22. And hey, remember Ray Madrigal, the guy who ran against Wendy Davis in the gubernatorial primary in 2014? He’s a candidate for CD27, along with two other folks.

Statewide

– Your candidates for Railroad Commissioner are former State Rep. Lon Burnam, 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough, and Cody Garrett.

– All of the statewide judicial offices have candidates: Mike Westergren, Dori Contreras Garza, and Savannah Robinson, for places 3, 5, and 9 on the Supreme Court; incumbent Judge Larry Meyers (remember he switched parties last year), Betsy Johnson, and Robert Burns, for places 2, 5, and 6 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. I think you have to go back to 2002 to find the last time we had all such slots filled.

SBOE

– I guess first-term SBOE member Martha Dominguez decided not to run for re-election, because she didn’t file for it. Dominguez was more than a little flaky about running after her surprise win in the 2012 primary (why she was in the primary if she was reluctant to run for November remains a mystery), so no great loss here. Three candidates – Georgia Perez, Joe Fierro, Jr., and Lynn Oliver – are on the ballot to replace her.

– Two familiar names are back, Rebecca Bell-Metereau in SBOE5, and Judy Jennings in SBOE10. Both good candidates (you can search my archives for the interviews I did with them in 2010 if you are so inclined), with perhaps better chances of winning this time.

– There are three candidates for SBOE6 in Harris County – Jasmine Jenkins, Dakota Carter, and Michael Jordan. I know nothing about any of them at this time.

District appeals courts

– We seem to have these covered for Harris and the other counties in our two appellate districts:

Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals – Jim Peacock.
Justice, 1st Court of Appeals District, Place 4 – Barbara Gardner.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2 – Candance White and Jim Sharp. Yes, that Jim Sharp.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 9 – Peter M. Kelly.

That appears to be a full slate, unless there are any unexpired terms I’m not aware of. DA candidate Morris Overstreet ran for Chief Justice of the 1st Court in 2010. Peter Kelly is a neighbor of mine, so that’s cool.

– There’s a contested primary for Justice, 13th Court of Appeals District, Place 3, in South Texas, which had been held by 2008 Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez; she lost it in a heartbreaker in the 2010 debacle. One of the candidates is Leticia Hinojosa, whom those with long memories may remember as Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s primary opponent for the re-redistricted CD25 in 2004. Everything old is new again.

State Senate

– You know about the TMF-Menendez rematch in SD26. Another “rematch” is in SD19, where Sen. Carlos Uresti faces Helen Madla, widow of former Sen. Frank Madla, whom Uresti ousted in 2006. Let me just say that as much as I love the city of San Antonio, I’m glad I’m not living there this primary season.

– Sen. Eddie Lucio also has a primary opponent, O. Rodriguez Haro III.

– Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder is running for SD24, the seat vacated by Troy Fraser. She won’t win, but at least someone is running. No one filed for the other open Senate seat, Kevin Eltife’s SD01.

State House

– By my rough count, Dems fielded candidates in 90 of the 150 State House districts, which I believe means they are challenging 38 Republican incumbents. Offhand I don’t know how that compares to other years. Some districts where I would have liked to have seen a challenger include 17, 32, 45, 132, and 138. Easier said than done, I know. The Dallas County Democratic Party put out a release touting the fact that all of their districts have a Dem running in them. Good on them for that.

– Incumbents with primary challengers, according to the SOS: Toni Rose (HD110), Ina Minjarez (HD124; she won a special election late in the session, so no shock here), Alma Allen (HD131), Gene Wu (HD137), Ron Reynolds (HD27; he has three opponents), Sergio Munoz (HD36), and Mary Gonzalez (HD75; she is facing former Rep. Chente Quintanilla). According to the HCDP page, you can add Jessica Farrar (HD148) and Hubert Vo (HD149) to that list, with both of their opponents being hot messes. Farrar faces Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – while Vo draws minor Mayoral candidate Demetria Smith. Pass the Advil.

– Open seat report: Three candidates in HD116 (vacated by TMF in his Senate quest), two in HD118 (Joe Farias; son Gabe won the special election to fill out his term), six in HD120 (Ruth Jones McClendon), three in HD139 (Sylvester Turner), seven in HD49 (Elliott Naishtat), and two in HD77 (Marissa Marquez).

– Other contested races: HD117 (Philip Cortez tries to win back the seat he won in 2012 and lost in 2014; he faces San Carlos Antonio), and HD144 (Mary Ann Perez tries to do the same but first faces Cody Ray Wheeler and Bernie Aldape). Also of note, Lloyd Criss (father of former Judge and 2014 candidate Susan Criss) tries his luck in HD23, which he once represented some years back.

Harris County

– There are twelve contested judicial races. These are mostly for Republican-held benches, but incumbent Elaine Palmer drew two challengers. Guess I better start sending out those judicial Q&As.

– Those 12 judicial races are for district and county courts. There are also four contested JP races. Incumbent Richard Vara (Precinct 6, Place 1) has an opponent, and incumbent Hillary Green (Precinct 7, Place 1; she is the estranged wife of outgoing Controller Ronald Green) has seven (!) opponents, including 2012 HCDP Chair candidate and 2013 Mayoral candidate Keryl Douglas.

– There are 26 people running for 8 Constable positions. Incumbents Alan Rosen (Precinct 1) has two opponents; Chris Diaz (Precinct 2) has three; Henry Martinez (Precinct 6) has four; and May Walker (Precinct 7) has one.

– Sherrie Matula, who had a couple of good runs for State Rep in HD129 prior to the 2011 redistricting, is a candidate for HCDE in Precinct 2, while Marilyn Burgess is running in Precinct 4. There are no At Large HCDE spots on the ballot this year.

– Commissioner El Franco Lee is unopposed, while former Council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool and Eric Hassan square off for the right to challenge Steve Radack in Precinct 3.

…And I do believe that’s a wrap. There may be some late additions or corrections – the SOS page may not have full information from the county parties, for instance – but this is a decent overview. There are a few names on the ballot that I wouldn’t mind seeing disappear, and trying to make sense of all these races and candidates will be a monumental task with not a whole lot of time to accomplish it, but overall this is a good thing. Much better to have a plethora of candidates than a dearth in a democracy.

CM Ed Gonzalez to run for Sheriff

Good.

CM Ed Gonzalez

CM Ed Gonzalez

City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, an 18-year Houston Police Department veteran, announced Tuesday that he will run for Harris County Sheriff next year.

Gonzalez is finishing his third and final term as councilman of District H, the majority Hispanic district that includes the Near Northside and the Woodland Heights, in addition to some neighborhoods north of the 610 Loop. Gonzalez currently serves as mayor pro tem and chairs the council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

“My passion has always been public safety, it’s been kind of my wheelhouse,” Gonzalez said. “It’s something that I just feel, as a someone who cares about public safety, I want to continue to serve in this capacity. I want to give voters a choice.”

CM Gonzalez has represented me in City Council for his three terms, and I think highly of him. Mayor Parker credits him for a lot of the work on the sobering center, which has been both a money saver and an improvement in justice. As I noted before, the name that has always come up whenever I ask someone about who might run for Sheriff has been Constable Alan Rosen. I have no idea if Constable Rosen is or has ever been interested in running for Sheriff, but I was corrected about the assertion I had made that he’d have to resign if he ran for Sheriff. That requirement does not apply to non-countywide office holders like himself, so he could continue to serve as Constable while running for Sheriff. He would, however, have to make a choice since his term as Constable is up at the end of 2016. Either he files for re-election or he tries for Sheriff; it’s not a free shot. Th deadline is next Monday, so we’ll know soon enough. Regardless, I’m delighted to have a candidate of CM Gonzalez’s quality in the race, and I look forward to his campaign.

New Precinct 4 Constable chosen

Now that Ron Hickman is Sheriff, that left a vacancy in his old job as Precinct 4 Constable. Commissioners Court has now filled that vacancy.

At a special meeting Tuesday morning Harris County Commissioners Court selected Mark Herman, assistant chief deputy in Precinct 4, to fill the spot vacated when Constable Ron Hickman was tapped last week as Harris County’s fill-in sheriff. Herman, who has worked at Precinct 4 for three decades, will serve the remainder of Hickman’s term, through 2016.

County Judge Ed Emmett administered the oath of office, as Herman’s wife held a family bible for him.

Herman thanked his family, God and the entire staff of Precinct 4, telling the court members he looked forward to working with them. He took the opportunity during his acceptance speech to introduce Captain Donald Steward who works in patrol for the precinct and whom Herman announced would serve as his chief deputy.

Hickman’s term as Constable would have been up at the end of 2016, so Herman will (presumably) be running for a full term next year. Hickman was unopposed in 2012, but Herman will not be, at least in the primary.

In an abrupt change of heart, state Rep. Allen Fletcher said Tuesday he no longer intends to run for Harris County sheriff in 2016.

Instead, he will seek the Precinct 4 constable’s job vacated by the county’s new sheriff, Ron Hickman.

[…]

“I want to run out in my home district and I want to represent the people out in northwest Harris County,” he said, explaining that he does not want to run against Hickman after commissioners selected him for the job.

Fletcher, a former Houston police officer, cited support from local lawmakers for his constable’s bid. He also voiced concerns about running as a Republican in a county-wide race in 2016.

“I don’t want to depend on Hillary Clinton being on the top of the ticket for the Democrats and trying to run county-wide when I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” he said.

A wise choice, I’d say. I went back and looked at 2012 election data, and Constable Precinct 4 was carried by Mitt Romney by a 64-36 margin. I’d take my chances in a primary for those odds in November if I were a Republican. I’m guessing Fletcher came under some pressure to leave Sheriff Hickman alone as well, though I’ll be surprised if no one else jumps into that primary. I’ve not heard any word on potential Democratic candidates for Sheriff yet. Anyone out there hearing anything? Leave a comment and let us know.

More on Sheriff Hickman

A profile of appointed Sheriff Ron Hickman that’s long on biography but short on policy.

Ron Hickman

Hickman is 63 and has spent his entire career doing police work. No step on his path has been sudden or unanticipated. Hickman expressed interest in the sheriff’s job when there were hints of a vacancy, before Garcia had announced his run for mayor. He was the candidate the Harris County Deputies’ Organization endorsed, the first person Commissioners Court members considered.

In terms of gravitas, law enforcement experience and proven political skills, the county chiefs felt, he was unmatched.

But the job ahead is significantly bigger and more bureaucratic than anything Hickman has tackled. During his four elected terms as Precinct 4 constable, he supervised 425 employees and managed a $42 million budget. As sheriff, he will oversee a staff of 4,600 and a budget of $437 million.

An astute measurer of expectations, the Republican lawman understands what the majority Republican Commissioners Court wants to see during his first days in office.

Commissioners, most vocally Precinct 3’s Steve Radack, have articulated an interest in a sheriff who would be willing to relinquish supervision of the jail.

Hickman does not see this as a sacrifice, since the detention portion of the job doesn’t appeal to him. It is not aligned with his skill set, he said, “I am cop at heart.”

Hickman was appointed last week, and about all I know about him is that he’s been a cop for a long time, and Steve Radack really likes him. The headline to this story says that he hopes to “shine a light” at the Sheriff’s office, but the story doesn’t say anything about what that might mean. He’s also open to the idea of handing off jail administration duties to an appointed overseer. That may be a good idea and it may be a bad idea, but it seems to me that it’s a substantial enough idea that it ought not to happen without there being some vigorous public debate about it. In particular, maybe it ought not to happen until someone has gotten himself elected Sheriff on a platform that includes this as a plank. Just a thought.

In the meantime, while it’s nice to know that our new Sheriff likes to hunt and fish and stuff like that, it would also be nice to know what he thinks about things like Secure Communities and the the jail’s nondiscrimination policy and so on. You know, Sheriff stuff. Maybe we could ask if his willingness to cede control of the jail to a separate administrator extends to handing the jail over to a private operator, which is something that’s been on Commissioner Radack’s radar for awhile. Sheriff Hickman’s now-former primary opponent Allen Fletcher has connections to the private prison business, so perhaps that subject will come up in the next few months. Sooner would be better than later, if you ask me.

Fighting illegal dumping

Illegal dumping of trash is a huge problem in some Houston neighborhoods. Enforcement is especially tricky because unless you catch someone in the act, there’s little to no evidence to go on. One way to help catch dumpers in the act is with cameras at locations where dumping frequently occurs. Council Member Jerry Davis has been working to get a camera program to fight illegal dumping going. He was able to get some money from the budget to work on this but couldn’t work out the details with HPD. We pick up the story from there.

CM Jerry Davis

CM Jerry Davis

So last year, Davis and his staff instead turned to Harris County for help. He offered Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen the $250,000 to purchase, assemble and monitor 25 cameras in areas where people frequently cast off garbage.

Deputies from constable precincts 1 and 5 make up the county’s environmental crimes unit but have jurisdiction throughout the county. The deputies would largely focus on areas in council districts with the most illegal dumping complaints, ranging from Sunnyside to Kashmere Gardens to the East End. The county would own the cameras and keep any funds generated from prosecuting crimes.

In Houston, any amount of illegal dumping can result in fines, and more than 5 pounds can yield jail time.

On Wednesday, City Council approved the agreement, which could span three years with renewals. Harris County commissioners are expected to take it up early next month.

“It was a lengthy process and, yes, we did get a little bit upset at times,” Davis said. “But we just persevered and worked with the legal department to make sure this gets done because the people are counting on it.”

HPD environmental senior officer Stephen Dicker largely agreed with Davis’ assessment of why the city opted to work with the county. Dicker said HPD talks fell apart two years ago when he told the city he would need to add 15 people, effectively doubling the investigations unit, to set up, man and track the new cameras to the tune of $1.7 million. The money simply wasn’t there.

The city’s environmental unit also tends to focus on larger commercial and industrial offenders that have a bigger public health impact, Dicker said.

“The emphasis just doesn’t match up,” Dicker said. “He’s looking at just trash on the streets. We do water pollution, air pollution. Those are much bigger impacts. But we do hope the program with the county works.”

I’m glad to see this because it really is a problem, and for those of us who are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where it doesn’t happen, we have no idea what it’s like to put up with this. I get why HPD focuses its environmental enforcement efforts on commercial and industrial offenders, but I’m still disappointed that the department didn’t have the capability to take this on, given what a big quality of life issue it is. This is one reason why I keep saying that we need to have a much better understanding than we currently do about how HPD prioritizes its budget, which very much informs how it prioritizes what crimes it pursues. I have no doubt that there wasn’t an additional $1.7 million to be found in the HPD budget as it currently stands, but I also have no doubt that we could re-prioritize that budget in a way that would have allowed this. Maybe we would still not choose to pursue this, but we can’t know that until we have a clearer picture of what HPD does and why it does what it does and doesn’t do what it doesn’t do.

I will also note that one of the things that a garbage fee could help finance is a stronger enforcement organization against all forms of illegal dumping. We fund the Solid Waste department through general revenue, which makes Houston different than other Texas cities. They do a great job, but they could do more of it, and there would be more room in the budget for other things. And no, I don’t expect this to be brought up for discussion any time soon. I’m just saying.

Fletcher will run for Sheriff in 2016

Not unexpected.

Rep. Allen Fletcher

The day after Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia announced he is running for mayor of Houston, Republican state Rep. Allen Fletcher of Cypress said he would abandon his House seat for a bid to replace Garcia.

“I will not be filing for re-election. I will be filing to run for sheriff of Harris County,” Fletcher told the Texas Tribune on Thursday.

Fletcher, who served as a Houston police officer for 21 years, had been rumored as a potential candidate for the job.

[…]

Fletcher, who was first elected to the House in 2008, said he is making the necessary calls to be considered for the appointment, which will be decided by the Harris County Commissioners Court. He said he hoped to obtain that appointment and enter the 2016 sheriff’s race as an incumbent.

See here and here for the background. It’s a clever move on Fletcher’s part, one that his main rival for the appointment Ron Hickman can’t match without resigning his position as Constable. Whether that affects Commissioners Court’s decision or not, I couldn’t say. I suspect that will come down to their own personalities and preferences, but who knows. In any event, Fletcher, who was elected in the 2008 primary over then-incumbent Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale with the backing of Dan Patrick, had an eventful first session and a fair amount of baggage that came out as a result. He’s been fairly nondescript since then, but there’s plenty of material for the oppo research teams of whoever runs against him next year.

Adrian is in

Speculation time is over.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Ending months of speculation, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has declared his candidacy for mayor of Houston Wednesday.

Garcia, whose strong name recognition and deep law enforcement experience make him a likely frontrunner, will make his formal announcement at 2 p.m. at the Lindale Park Civic Association, in north Houston.

His campaign website, www.adriangarcia.com already is live.

He joins a crowded field seeking to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker. In doing so, he must resign as sheriff, leaving open one of the two county-wide offices currently held by a Democrat. Harris County Commissioners Court will meet next Tuesday to discuss appointing his successor.

County Judge Ed Emmett, who received Garcia’s resignation letter Wednesday, has not decided who he wants to replace Garcia, though he prefers someone who wants to run for office in 2016, said Emmett’s spokesman Joe Stinebaker.

Noting that it would be beneficial for Garcia’s replacement to have a combination of law enforcement and management experience, Stinebaker added that “speed is of some importance here.”

State Rep. Allen Fletcher and Constable Ron Hickman were the first two potential replacement candidates mentioned for Sheriff. We’ll see if they’re still at the top of the list when everyone else who wants in makes their wishes known. If either of them gets appointed, they themselves will have to be replaced as well, via special election for Fletcher or another Commissioners Court appointment for Hickman. Further, rumor has it that at least a couple of current Democratic Constables have been eyeing the Sheriff’s race sans Garcia, so even more dominoes are likely to fall. The 2016 election just got a whole lot busier in Harris County.

As for the Mayor’s race, I plan to be one of those annoying “undecided” voters, at least until one of the candidates distinguishes himself by talking about something other than pensions and potholes. I ran into Laura Spanjian at the City Hall farmer’s market last week and said only half-jokingly to her that I would vote for the first candidate to say something about the One Bin proposal. I feel like we’ve had a steady diet of junk food so far in this election, and I’m starving for some meat and vegetables. Maybe Garcia’s entry will be a sign that we’re finally going to get to something substantial in this campaign, and maybe we’ll just get more of the same with a side dish of attack ads. I’m ready to move on to the next phase, whatever it is.

Now what do we do with those body cameras?

KPRC addresses an important question.

HPD has been running a pilot program regarding body cameras for more than a year. 100 officers are currently wearing a body camera. The department has yet to finalize a policy on the use of these cameras and the retention of video.

As it stands now, each officer is responsible for turning on the camera and recording an incident and then downloading the video and the end of every shift. Each camera records up to four hours of video.

HPD officers wearing these cameras are also required to check a series of categories indicating what type of incidents they recorded during a shift. HPD officials said “use of force” incidents are flagged in the system and the video is immediately reviewed.

HPD is not deleting any video at this point. HPD also has not given a specific time frame as to when these cameras will be implemented depart wide.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia put 38 body cameras on the streets and is still crafting policy. Garcia has said he wants a full implementation within 90 days. Garcia’s is also experimenting with different types of cameras that can be mounted on the head, chest or shoulder.

Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen began a pilot program 5 months ago with three cameras. Rosen says the cameras are deployed during all tactical assignments and when high risk warrants are served.

Rosen’s office is also experimenting with different types of cameras and whether an officer will be responsible for turning on the cameras or a having system where the cameras are turned on automatically during a call. The Precinct 1 Constable’s is saving all video for 90 days unless part of a complaint or criminal case.

“I think it’s also going to help the public understand what we go through on a daily basis, the split second decisions law enforcement has to make,” said Rosen. “The public has to have confidence in its police.”

See here and here for some background. I hope HPD finalizes its policies soon. I would prefer for there to be clear rules about when cameras are to be in operation, with clear and enforceable consequences for not following those rules. We also need to know who will have access to the data, how long it will be kept, and what the process will be for requesting a specific video or set of videos. I’m sure there are some best practices out there that can be copied, so copy away. This has the potential to do a lot of good, but we have to do it right and ensure that everyone has confidence in it.

Commissioners Court approves body camera purchase

Good.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously approved District Attorney Devon Anderson’s plan to spend $1.9 million in seized assets to equip Houston police officers and Harris County sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.

County officials also said they would move toward giving about 700 deputy constables the same equipment, though the precise amount of funding has not been determined.

“If we’re going to go in this direction, which I think is a good direction to go, give all our patrolmen body cameras,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said.

[…]

Radack asked county budget chief Bill Jackson to determine how much it would cost to equip some deputy constables with the cameras.

After the meeting, Radack predicted the cost would be relatively low, perhaps totaling $700,000 if each camera costs $1,000.

“If it costs $700,000, it’s a necessary expenditure,” Radack said.

Jackson, however, cautioned that the cost could go beyond the cameras, pointing out that back room technology would increase the total.

“You’re holding a telephone in your hand, but it has to connect to something,” Jackson explained. “That’s just a piece of it.”

If approved, funding for outfitting constable deputies with cameras would come from the county’s general fund.

See here for the background. Adding in the constables is a great move, as they’re the next biggest law enforcement group after HPD and the Sheriff’s office. I’ll be interested to see what the back office costs of this are, and of course what policies get put in place to manage the video data and allow access to it. But for now, the main thing is getting the cameras. Kudos to all for that.

Henry Martinez named as interim Constable

Congratulations.

Victor Trevino

A 23-year veteran of the Houston Community College police department will succeed the disgraced Victor Trevino as constable in Precinct Six, county officials announced Monday, elevating a Latino officer who promises to have no aspirations to become a Latino politician.

Harris County Commissioners Court formally appointed Henry Martinez Jr., who currently leads police operations on HCC’s Northeast campuses, as the constable serving the East End precinct. Commissioner Jack Morman, whose area includes most of Trevino’s old precinct, recommended Martinez to the court at a special meeting on Monday morning.

Dozens of candidates applied to Morman’s office for a job that many constables hold for decades, but many applicants were ruled out almost immediately. Morman had insisted that the winning candidate live in the precinct and promise not to run for the job in 2016. He also was sensitive to the desires of the heavily-Latino district.

Morman seems to have met all three of his preconditions with the selection of Martinez.

“As you can tell, I’m not a political type of person,” Martinez, 52, told reporters, saying there are no circumstances under which he would run in two years. “I’ll do the job and do it well – to the best of my ability – but as far as getting out there and running for a position, I’m not interested.”

[…]

Greg Cunningham, the chief of HCC’s police, said the new constable can be a demanding boss.

“He has high expectations of his people and he’s disappointed if they don’t deliver,” said Cunningham, who praised the selection. “He can be a tough guy to work for, but at the end of the day, he’s fair.”

Colleagues of Martinez similarly described him as a hardworking cop who rarely makes errors.

“He’s been one of those quiet leaders, so I think today’s a well-earned opportunity for him,” Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said.

See here for the background. I wish new Constable Martinez all the success in the world as he embarks on this new journey. I’m just wondering how long it will be before someone else announces his or her candidacy for the 2016 primary. Campos has more.

Trevino gets probation

Such a shame.

Victor Trevino

Former Harris County Precinct 6 constable Victor Trevino, who pleaded guilty in a public corruption case this month, was sentenced on Monday to 10 years of probation – avoiding incarceration for his criminal activity and capping a 40-year law enforcement career by becoming a felon.

He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Trevino, 62, also was fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service. Prosecutors and the former constable’s defense team were working to determine a restitution figure.

Before 185th District Criminal Court Judge Susan Brown handed down the sentence, Trevino testified: “I pleaded guilty because I am guilty.”

He said that his admission to a single count of misapplication of fiduciary property, a third-degree felony, was associated with his lack of oversight as the president of CARE, a charity he founded a few years after he was elected constable in 1988.

When asked by prosecutor Bill Moore if he used his position of trust as a public servant and his leadership of the nonprofit for personal gain, Trevino said no, but expressed regret that his actions had caused “suspicion” and “confusion.”

[…]

The three-hour sentencing hearing on Monday included testimony from Harris County District Attorney’s Office fraud examiner George Jordan. He detailed Trevino’s wrongdoing by connecting cashed CARE checks to deposits in Trevino’s personal bank accounts that were closely timed to the constable’s trips to casinos and lottery ticket purchases. The fraud examiner’s testimony also noted the lack of additions to the nonprofit’s account in the weeks before and after certain fundraising events. The analysis showed at least $124,000 in cash deposits to Trevino or his wife’s personal accounts from 2008 to 2011.

The investigation led the fraud examiner to a surprising conclusion about a veteran lawman whose annual household income exceeded $200,000: “He appeared to not be as financially stable as I expected.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As noted, Trevino avoids jail time but did not get deferred adjudication as he sought, and thus will have a felony conviction on his record. Commissioners Court will appoint an interim Constable on Tuesday – or possibly sooner – after they finish canvassing the election results. Several former employees of Precinct 6 who were terminated for various reasons are talking about bringing legal action over their terminations now, so the effect of this case could linger for awhile. All in all, a disgraceful ending to what had once been a distinguished career. Hair Balls has more.

Searching for a successor to Victor Trevino

Commissioners Court is on it.

Victor Trevino

Harris County commissioners are preparing to accept the resignation of convicted Constable Victor Trevino and to start looking for his replacement.

Trevino, who pleaded guilty last week to a felony charge as a jury was hearing evidence in his public corruption trial, resigned his office. Once commissioners accept his resignation Tuesday, they must select a replacement to serve out the remainder of Trevino’s four-year term.

[…]

“It’s important to find someone who is qualified, and has a history of living and working in the precinct and is community-minded,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, adding she has told commissioners she favors a Hispanic who is a Democrat.

[…]

“This is the preliminary step to get someone appointed to that position,” said David Ellison, a spokesman for Commissioner El Franco Lee, who moved to place the Trevino-related matters on Tuesday’s agenda. “The commissioner was concerned it didn’t stay vacant for too long and wanted to get someone in there to take over the reins.”

Most of Trevino’s precinct is located within the boundaries of Commissioner Jack Mormon’s district; about one-quarter is in Lee’s. Mormon’s staff confirmed the screening process is underway with 12 to 15 applicants under review.

David Walden, Mormon’s chief of staff, said all candidates are under consideration regardless of race or ethnicity, but added, “It’s obviously a Hispanic district, with an overwhelming majority, so you want someone there who has community support.”

I went back to the 2012 precinct data that I have for Harris County, and it showed that Constable Precinct 6 voted 79.4% for President Obama. Commissioners Court can play games if they want, but I can pretty much guarantee the next elected Constable will be a Democrat. Commissioners Court officially accepted Trevino’s resignation, yesterday, and I’m glad to see that Commissioner Morman said it would be “almost an automatic disqualifier” for someone to express longer-term interest in the job. That’s as I would have it – let the voters make the choice without being influenced by external factors. We’ll know who the Court picks next week.

Trevino takes a plea

Disgraceful.

Victor Trevino

Harris County Precinct 6 constable Victor Trevino pleaded guilty Monday to misapplication of fiduciary property, a day after beginning trial on allegations that he diverted money from his charity for personal use.

He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the felony, and has asked the judge to decide punishment after a sentencing hearing on Nov. 17.

The Precinct 6 constable was indicted almost two years ago on several charges accusing him of financial misconduct. He was first elected to office 26 years ago. He will resign from office on Tuesday. He also will have to surrender his state license that allows him to carry a weapon.

[…]

Prosecutors earlier this year offered Trevino a plea deal that would have allowed the 62-year-old constable to plead guilty to a class C misdemeanor, the lowest form of criminal infraction, and retire, his attorney, Chip Lewis said last week. In exchange, prosecutors would have dropped four felony indictments on charges that include misapplication of fiduciary property and tampering with a public document.

See here for the background. Clearly, Trevino should have taken the original plea deal. I can’t say I feel sorry for him, however. As was the case with disgraced former Constable Jack Abercia, who resigned before he copped a plea, Commissioners Court will name a replacement. With this post being up for election in 2016, which really means March since this will be settled in the Democratic primary, I’d suggest they take the same path as last time and appoint someone who doesn’t want to run for the post. We’ll see what they do. In the meantime, good riddance.

Constable Victor Trevino goes to trial

In case you want to follow a story that isn’t related to the election.

Victor Trevino

The money was supposed to go to a charity that would pay for neighborhood events, but instead, prosecutors said, the longtime East End law enforcement official who created the nonprofit group more than 20 years ago gambled it away.

Harris County Precinct 6 constable Victor Trevino was indicted almost two years ago on several charges accusing him of financial misconduct, but details of the accusations finally were revealed Friday in a Harris County courtroom where the constable is on trial. The details portray a lawman well-known in his community and a regular fixture at outreach events – including National Night Out and a pre-Halloween Fall festival – to be the same man who became a criminal, taking money from an organization he said was designed to help the people he served. Trevino was first elected to office 26 years ago.

Among the accusations outlined by Assistant Harris County District Attorney Bill Moore was that Trevino diverted thousands of dollars from his charity for his own personal use, including cashing checks for cash to play slot machines with his wife at a Louisiana casino and to buy Lotto tickets.

During opening statements at Trevino’s trial, Moore said the constable directed his bookkeeper to forge the signature of someone from the charity who is authorized to sign them. Then either the constable cashed the checks or sent deputies to do it at local convenience stores, the prosecutor said.

“You are going to hear evidence that checks were cashed for large amounts of money,” Moore said. “And you are going to hear that within days, sometimes the next day, Constable Trevino and his wife would go to a casino in Louisiana and put large amounts of cash into slot machines.”

[…]

Defense lawyers for Trevino told jurors that the bookkeeper, not the constable, is the person who should be on trial.

“Carolyn Lopez was not trustworthy,” attorney Chip Lewis told jurors. “She was not a good bookkeeper.”

Lewis said that before 2008, Trevino’s record keeping was impeccable, because of longtime bookkeeper Mary Alice Williams. Williams became ill in 2008 and has since died. Lewis said that after Williams stopped doing the books, Lopez volunteered to take over.

That was when the financial improprieties began, Lewis said.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” he told jurors. “The evidence will show that you should not believe in coincidences either.”

Lewis said Lopez lied to grand jurors who indicted Trevino in November 2012 and has since been given immunity for the 136 checks she admitted she forged.

See here and here for the background. There’s nothing more tawdry than an embezzlement trial, is there? Trevino was offered a fairly generous plea deal but rejected it while maintaining his innocence. Whether that is justifiable confidence or extreme hubris remains to be seen, but we should know soon. The trial is expected to wrap up this week, so the verdict will give us something to talk about if we don’t want to talk about the election results. Trevino is up for election next in 2016, in case you’re wondering.

Abercia gets probation

Good riddance.

Jack Abercia

Former Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia was sentenced Wednesday to three years probation for conducting illegal criminal background checks to raise money, in part, for an elevator in his home.

Abercia pleaded guilty in August to 11 counts of misusing his authorized computer access.

Federal prosecutors said Abercia and a top staffer performed illegal background checks for private companies for a fee, using a national criminal information database that is restricted to law enforcement purposes.

Abercia, 80, who took office in 1991, was facing up to five years in prison on each count, but pleaded guilty in U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison’s court in exchange for three years probation.

Abercia resigned from the $120,000-a-year job after being arrested in January 2012.

He took the plea in August, and was supposed to have been sentenced on November 26. Not sure why it took almost two more months to happen. Two of his aides were also arrested and pleaded guilty; one got two years’ probation, the other is still pending. Like I said, good riddance.

Abercia takes a plea

Good.

Jack Abercia

Former Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia told investigators he performed illegal background checks to raise money, in part, for an elevator at his home, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Abercia pleaded guilty Thursday to 11 counts of exceeding authorized computer access. The charges stemmed from illegal background checks Abercia and a top staffer performed for private companies, using a national criminal information database that is restricted to law enforcement purposes.

“God willing, this money will go towards my elevator,” the longtime lawman is alleged to have said while taking $3,000 for the illegal background checks. Abercia is suffering from colon cancer and told undercover investigators that he needed help getting up and down the stairs in his home.

The 79-year-old Abercia, who took office in 1991, will remain free on bail until he is formally sentenced Nov. 26. He could face up to five years in prison on each count.

[…]

“He was being paid to arrange criminal background checks for personal financial gain,” said Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the Houston U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In total, Abercia received $9,000, Dodge said. Wiener was paid $1,000 for his part in the illegal searches. The three were indicted in January 2012, accused of conspiring to sell information from a law enforcement database, accepting a bribe for hiring an unqualified deputy and sending employees on personal errands on county time. The other charges were dropped as part of Thursday’s plea agreement.

So tawdry. Abercia was arrested last January. This is the first update since then that I know of. I have no sympathy for him.

Lawsuit filed against Galveston County redistricting

Expect more of this going forward.

A Galveston County plan slashing the number of justice-of-the-peace districts from eight to four intentionally discriminates against minority voters and should be blocked, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit comes exactly one week after Galveston County commissioners approved a redistricting plan for justices of the peace similar to one rejected last year by the U.S. Justice Department. The department opposed the plan because it reduced the number of districts with black and Hispanic majorities from two to one, as does the one adopted last week.

[…]

By cutting the number of justice of the peace districts in half, Galveston commissioners reduced the number of judges from nine to four. Although the county has eight districts, there are nine justices of the peace because two are elected from a single precinct, an unusual arrangement arrived at under a 1992 consent judgment in a discrimination lawsuit.

Attorney Joe Nixon, whose firm was hired by the county to redraw the justice-of-the-peace districts, said the plan is in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “It’s hard to say there was race involved when of the five seats lost one was a minority and four were non-minorities,” Nixon said. He said the proportion of minority districts is the same as in the plan the Justice Department approved for commissioner’s districts.

Attorney Chad Dunn, who filed the lawsuit, said the new plan is both intentionally discriminatory and has a discriminatory effect. “The county was already told by the Department of Justice that this plan was discriminatory,” Dunn said. “The county knew the plan was discriminatory and they did it anyway.”

See here for the background. The proportionality argument is interesting and may wind up being persuasive, but it didn’t work for getting preclearance. The county commissioners also argue that they can save a bunch of money by consolidating constables and JP courts, claiming that two of the courts they have targeted for elimination had very low caseloads; the plaintiffs in the lawsuit dispute this. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Texas federal court in Galveston, and a copy of the suit is here. Note that among other things, the plaintiffs ask that Galveston County be bailed in to preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Whatever happens with the lawsuits against the state, local requests for Section 3 supervision will surely continue until clearer guidelines are set.

Pasadena proceeds with its needless redistricting

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Pasadena City Council

Except for one agenda item which drew a large crowd, many public speakers, an unusually long time of councilmember’s explanations and a 5-4 vote, Tuesday’s (August 20) Pasadena City Council meeting was “Regular.”

Their next meeting, scheduled for Thursday (August 22) at 8 a.m. is going to be “Special.”

The five to four approval vote (the four: Councilmembers Ornaldo Ybarra, Don Harrison, Pat Van Houte and Cody Wheeler) followed 30 minutes of public speakers almost exclusively commenting why they were against the charter redistricting proposal that, if council approves one more time, will go to voters in November.

Mayor Johnny Isbell is the only person who has taken ownership of the controversial plan to (if voters agree) convert the city from an eight single-member district representation to a six district, two at-large format.

[…]

Pasadena resident Patricia Gonzales called the redistricting plan, “…nothing more than a political power grab,” and focused on Isbell when she said, “All you’re trying to do is dilute the Hispanic and Latino community from sitting here (as councilmembers),” during public comment.

Other speakers on the topic echoed Gonzales’ points and also said the current structure is less expensive for potential candidates.

“Political power grab” sums it up pretty well. I wrote about this on Tuesday, and not surprisingly it went through on a 5-4 vote, with the Mayor casting the tiebreaker. Here’s a press release from Sen. Sylvia Garcia about it.

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell submitted a mid-decade redistricting change to the Pasadena City Charter that alters the city council from an eight single-member district council to a hybrid system with two at large seats and six-single member district seats. The change will significantly increase the population size of each council seat and depending on the map could drastically harm the ability of Latinos to elect their candidates of choice. The Pasadena City Council approved the city charter amendment on a 5-4 vote despite overwhelming public opposition in a late evening city council hearing on August 20, 2013.

“This decision by the Mayor and the majority of the Council is exactly the type of change the Voting Rights Act was intended to prevent. I am extremely disappointed that the Council approved this charter amendment despite the opposition by the citizen’s commission and the minority community,” stated Senator Sylvia Garcia.

With the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the City of Pasadena will no longer need to obtain the preclearance of the Department of Justice, despite the fact that a similar election change was denied approval in December of 2012. The measure will likely be added to the November ballot for voter approval.

According to U.S. Department of Justice, since 1982 Texas has had the second highest number of Voting Rights Act Section 5 objections including at least 109 objections since 1982, 12 of which were for statewide voting changes. Texas leads the nation in several categories of voting discrimination, including recent Section 5 violations and Section 2 challenges.

The good news, such as it is, is that this still has to be approved by the voters, so those of you in Pasadena that disapprove of naked power plays can swat it down. It would be very nice if Mayor Isbell were to suffer some backlash from this, in the form of a stinging defeat at the polls. That will likely require a concerted effort to organize and turn out the voters who are negatively affected by this as well as those that just plain don’t like it. I hope such an effort is being put together as we speak.

And remember when I said in that last post that Pasadena was just the beginning of this kind of shenanigans? Well, now Galveston County is joining the fun.

Galveston County commissioners have slashed the number of justice of the peace and constable districts a year after the U.S. Justice Department blocked a similar plan as discriminatory.

The action makes Galveston County the first local government in the Houston region, and possibly in Texas, to make a change that would have been unlawful before a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that weakened the Voting Rights Act.

The Commissioners Court’s Republican majority, in a special meeting Monday, voted 4-1 along party lines to reduce the number of districts for constables and justices of the peace from eight to four, saying the change would increase efficiency and save money. The U.S. Justice Department last year refused to approve a plan to reduce the number of districts to five, saying this would have discriminated against minorities.

[…]

The county established eight justice of the peace and constable districts two decades ago to settle a discrimination lawsuit. By reducing the number, the county opens itself up to a civil lawsuit authorized under another section of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights attorney Chad Dunn said Tuesday that he had been asked to review the implications of the commissioners’ action.

“It’s deeply disappointing that Galveston County chose to move forward with a redistricting map that the Department of Justice has already told them was discriminatory,” Dunn said. “In fact they went a step further and made it more discriminatory.” Dunn declined to name the residents seeking his consultation.

[…]

Commissioner Ryan Dennard said before the vote that reducing the number of districts would enhance efficiency and save the county $1 million a year. Two justices together handle only 2 percent of the total justice of the peace cases, Dennard said.

The lone minority and the only Democrat on the court, Commissioner Stephen Holmes, said the county has done no detailed study showing how much money would be saved.

Holmes said he was blindsided by the redistricting plan approved Monday, having learned about it when notice of a special meeting was posted Friday.

Other commissioners’ failure to consult with Holmes was one of the reasons cited by the Justice Department for refusing to approve a redistricting plan last year.

Have you noticed how these redistricting efforts – in Pasadena, in Galveston, and in the Legislature – are being done as “emergency” items, with very short timelines and close to zero public engagement? It’s not a coincidence, nor is the fact that Galveston County Commissioners Court acted with the same bad behavior as before when they got slapped by the Justice Department. Here, the potential good news is that if Galveston County gets sued and loses, they could wind up being subject to preclearance again under Section 3. Assuming that they don’t wind up there as a result of the other ongoing litigation. One can only hope, because it should be abundantly clear by now that the state and far too many of its localities cannot be trusted with this stuff. Hair Balls, Stace, Texas Redistricting, and BOR have more.

UPDATE: The Chron is now covering the developments in Pasadena. This tells you all you need to know about the nature of Mayor Isbell’s stunt:

Isbell declined comment Wednesday on his fast-tracked proposal for the November ballot that was made possible after the U.S. Supreme court recently voided the Voting Right Act’s pre-clearance requirement. He noted that his proposal no longer must pass federal review for potential discrimination.

The proposed charter change would replace two of the city’s eight single-member districts with two seats that are elected citywide. But a citizens committee that reviewed the proposed change rejected it, 11 to 1. A diverse group of committee members preferred the accountability of smaller districts to serve them, said Larry Peacock, who served on that panel.

Emphasis mine. This is happening because Mayor Isbell wants it to happen, because it furthers his political aims and because he thinks he can get away with it. That’s all there is to it.

Constable Trevino’s day in court

It went about as you’d expect.

Constable Victor Trevino

Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino and his attorney said Tuesday they expect the longtime law enforcement officer to be cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with allegations he abused his official role and used charity donations for personal use.

“On behalf of my family and myself, I just want to thank the community for their overwhelming support and their prayers,” Trevino said after a brief court appearance Tuesday morning. “We’ve cooperated, and we’re going to continue to cooperate and see this through all the way.”

[…]

“We’re very eager for our day in court,” said attorney Chip Lewis. “It’s a sad day in the community when Constable Trevino’s good name has been sullied because of these charges, and we are very eager for the opportunity to vindicate him and return his good name.”

Trevino and Lewis did not answer questions as they left court, but reiterated that Trevino will not step down despite being indicted.

Well, Jerry Eversole expressed confidence that he would be cleared of all charges, too, so take all that for what it’s worth. I know nothing about this case beyond what has been reported, and I firmly believe in the presumption of innocence, I’m just saying that such pronouncements really don’t have much predictive value. It should also be noted that Eversole did not resign until after his original trial, which ended in a hung jury, a few weeks before he finally took a plea. I still think Constable Trevino should formally hand off the day to day operations of Precinct 6 to someone else in his office until this is resolved one way or another, but staying in office until then is not unusual. The story does not say, but the caption under the photo that goes with the story says that the case has been reset for January, so barring any surprises we’ll have to wait till then for the next update.

Constable Trevino indicted

Lovely.

Constable Victor Trevino

Longtime Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino was indicted Friday, accused of failing to report cash campaign contributions, diverting money from his youth charity for personal use and using deputies to serve eviction notices and then keeping the delivery fees.

Trevino was charged in four felony indictments alleging abuse of official capacity, misapplication of fiduciary property and tampering with a government document. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted, said Harris County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors who investigated the constable for more than a year and interviewed 165 witnesses.

Defense attorney Chip Lewis said Trevino will not step down as he fights charges he described as a hodgepodge of technical violations.

“What you see today is a product of what I call old-school law enforcement meets modern-day regulations,” Lewis said. “All of the allegations involve either inadequate bookkeeping, (or) failure to technically satisfy very technical laws.”

[…]

[County Attorney Vince] Ryan declined to address whether his office would seek to remove Trevino. The county attorney represents the state in a removal trial, which can be brought against any county officer on allegations of official misconduct, incompetency or intoxication.

[County Judge Ed] Emmett said Trevino should step aside until the case is done, though he did not call for the constable’s resignation.

“Being a law enforcement officer, him being under a cloud really complicates his ability to serve, I think,” Emmett said. “The best thing for him to do at this point would be to step aside and turn over operations of the precinct to somebody else until it gets resolved.”

Not been a good year for Constables, has it? We had now-former Constable Jack Abercia’s resignation and arrest to kick the year off, and this is like a bookend to that. Ryan released a report on the Constables’ offices in May that didn’t go into much detail but which was apparently used as part of the investigation of Trevino. I agree with Judge Emmett, it would be best if Trevino took a leave of absence or something, and let someone else handle the daily operations until this matter is resolved.

All the interviews for 2012

As we begin early voting for the November election, here are all the interviews I conducted for candidates who are on the ballot as well as for the referenda. These include interviews that were done for the primary as well as the ones done after the primary. I hope you found them useful.

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD02: Jim DoughertyWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD10 – Tawana CadienWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD21: Candace DuvalWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD29: Rep. Gene GreenWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

CD36: Max MartinWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

SD25: John CourageWebMP3

HD23: Rep. Craig EilandWebMP3

HD26: Vy NguyenWebMP3

HD127: Cody PogueWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD134: Ann JohnsonWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

HD150: Brad NealWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

Harris County District Attorney: Mike AndersonWebMP3

Harris County Attorney: Vince RyanWebMP3

Harris County Tax Assessor: Ann Harris BennettWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

HISD Bond Referendum: Interview with Terry GrierMP3

City of Houston Bond and Charter Referenda: Interview with Mayor Annise ParkerMP3

HCC Bond Referendum: Interview with Richard SchechterMP3

Metro Referendum: Interviews with David Crossley, Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler, Sue Lovell, and County Commissioner Steve Radack