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Hilary Green

JP Hilary Green resigns

Wise decision.

The Harris County justice of the peace accused of paying prostitutes for sex, abusing drugs while on the bench and sexting a bailiff officially resigned this week – although her attorney says it has nothing to do with the claims against her.

Hilary Green had already been temporarily suspended by the Texas Supreme Court and was headed for trial next month to determine her judicial future. But on Tuesday – even as lawyers worked to prepare for the upcoming Austin court date – the long-time Precinct 7 jurist sent a letter to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, announcing her decision to leave the bench.

“Effective immediately, please allow this letter to serve as my formal resignation from my position as Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1,” Green wrote. “Due to the unexpected death of my father and my mother’s newly diagnosed illness, it is important for me to focus all my attention on my family.”

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, emphasized that his client’s departure was motivated solely by personal considerations.

“It is totally unrelated to the charges which she continues to deny and contest,” he told the Chronicle Thursday. The pending proceedings to unseat her – and lack of income, given her suspension without pay – took a toll on her, according to Babcock.

[…]

In light of Green’s resignation, county commissioners are expected to appoint a replacement who will serve until November 2018. Voters in the November election will then decide on her successor. Her term would have expired in 2020.

The political parties will in the coming months determine which candidates will be on the ballot.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis will likely select the interim appointment.

“Commissioner Rodney Ellis will consult with community leaders and legal experts to select a qualified candidate,” an Ellis spokesman said. “He plans to have a candidate to submit to Commissioners Court for approval on April 10.”

See here and here for the background. I’m mostly interested in what happens next, as I don’t think we’ve seen a situation exactly like this recently. Robert Eckels, Paul Bettencourt, Charles Bacarisse, Jerry Eversole, and most recently Adrian Garcia all resigned from county offices, but they did so in odd-numbered years, meaning there was plenty of time for people to file and run in the primaries for those offices. Jack Abercia already had a slate of primary opponents when he announced his intent to not run for re-election, prior to his tour of the criminal justice system. El Franco Lee died in January of 2016, a year in which he was on the ballot and was the only person who had filed for his position. Due to the timing of that, he remained on the primary ballot, then we went through that process to replace him as the nominee via the precinct chair process.

Hilary Green was not scheduled to be on the ballot this year; she was elected to a four-year term in 2016. The primaries are over, so that’s not an option. I suppose we could have a special election as we would for a legislator who left office mid-term, but the phrasing of that “political parties will…determine which candidates will be on the ballot” sentence suggests we’re in for another precinct chair selection process. I wanted to be sure about that, so off to the Texas Statutes website I go. First, in the case of the interim appointment, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution says:

Sec. 28. VACANCY IN JUDICIAL OFFICE. (a) A vacancy in the office of Chief Justice, Justice, or Judge of the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals, or the District Courts shall be filled by the Governor until the next succeeding General Election for state officers, and at that election the voters shall fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.

(b) A vacancy in the office of County Judge or Justice of the Peace shall be filled by the Commissioners Court until the next succeeding General Election.

Clear enough. But how is that next succeeding General Election to be conducted? I turn to Election Code, Title 12 “Elections to fill vacancy in office”, Chapter 202 “Vacancy in office of state or county government”:

Sec. 202.001. APPLICABILITY OF CHAPTER. This chapter applies to elective offices of the state and county governments except the offices of state senator and state representative.

Sec. 202.002. VACANCY FILLED AT GENERAL ELECTION. (a) If a vacancy occurs on or before the 74th day before the general election for state and county officers held in the next-to-last even-numbered year of a term of office, the remainder of the unexpired term shall be filled at the next general election for state and county officers, as provided by this chapter.

(b) If a vacancy occurs after the 74th day before a general election day, an election for the unexpired term may not be held at that general election. The appointment to fill the vacancy continues until the next succeeding general election and until a successor has been elected and has qualified for the office.

[…]

Sec. 202.004. NOMINATION BY PRIMARY ELECTION. (a) A political party’s nominee for an unexpired term must be nominated by primary election if:

(1) the political party is making nominations by primary election for the general election in which the vacancy is to be filled; and

(2) the vacancy occurs on or before the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the general primary ballot.

[…]

Sec. 202.006. NOMINATION BY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. (a) A political party’s state, district, county, or precinct executive committee, as appropriate for the particular office, may nominate a candidate for the unexpired term if:

(1) in the case of a party holding a primary election, the vacancy occurs after the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the ballot for the general primary election; or

(2) in the case of a party nominating by convention, the vacancy occurs after the fourth day before the date the convention having the power to make a nomination for the office convenes.

(b) The nominating procedure for an unexpired term under this section is the same as that provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 145, for filling a vacancy in a party’s nomination, to the extent that it can be made applicable.

Chapter 145 was the governing law for the process used to fill El Franco Lee’s spot on the ballot, and then subsequently those of Rodney Ellis and Borris Miles. Here, Section 202.004 cannot apply, as the primary has already taken place, so Section 202.006 is the relevant code. And so we get to experience another precinct chair convention to pick a nominee – unlike 2016, when no Republican had filed for Commissioners Court Precinct 1, the GOP will get to name a candidate as well. Well, someone will get to experience that. I am thankfully in JP Precinct 1, not JP Precinct 7, so I’m spared it this time. I’ll follow it, and time permitting I’ll be there when it happens to observe, but I get to be a bystander this time, and that’s fine by me. Godspeed to those of you who get to make the call.

Judicial Conduct commission suspends JP Hilary Green

Bam!

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued an order to suspend Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green from office immediately based on allegations that Green illegally abused prescription drugs, sent sexually explicit texts to a bailiff while on the bench and paid for sex.

It’s the first time any Texas judge has received a temporary suspension in at least a decade in a contested matter, the commission says.

The state supreme court had been asked to take the unusual emergency action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which in May presented a 316-page document in support of an immediate suspension. That document summarized evidence it had collected in its own investigations of previously secret complaints made against Green from 2012 to 2015.

The commission alleged that in its own closed proceedings, Green already had admitted to many allegations against her, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and Ecstasy while she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving juveniles in her south Houston courtroom.

One of the most serious allegations, the commission says, is that Green engaged her “assigned bailiff in an effort to illegally obtain prescription drugs.”

The commission argued that the evidence — and Green’s own admissions — more than justified Green’s immediate removal from her post as a jurist for Harris County Precinct 7, Place 1 while the state watchdog agency prepared for a longer civil trial required under Texas law to remove Green — or any judge — from elected office.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the commission had argued.

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, argued in a response to the supreme court that voters themselves had a chance to review and “forgive” many of the commission’s allegations, some of which were published in Houston Chronicle stories, before they chose to re-elect Green in 2017.

See here for the background, with the warning that the more you read the more you will want to take a shower afterwards. While a lot of this information was known before the 2016 primary, I’d argue that most, though not all, of it was allegations of behavior that was merely tawdry rather than illegal. As such, I disagree with attorney Babcock that the voters had a chance to “review and forgive” the record. But even if one believes that the voters were sufficiently informed, I don’t see how that mitigates against this suspension or the potential subsequent removal from office. Elections have consequences, but so does criminal behavior. If the Commission votes to remove Judge Green, she can appeal as the process allows, but appealing to the voters as a defense will fall flat to me.

Judicial Conduct commission seeks suspension of JP Hilary Green

Holy moley.

In an explosive and rare move, Texas judicial authorities on Wednesday asked the Texas Supreme Court to suspend a Harris County justice of the peace accused of paying prostitutes for sex, misusing illegal drugs and ruling unethically in favor of a convicted con man.

The sordid list of accusations against Judge Hilary Green, Justice of the Peace in Houston’s 7th Precinct, was contained in a 316-page court filing by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to the state’s highest court.

The document describes four separate judicial misconduct complaints against Green made between 2012 and 2016 that were previously not released under commission rules.

In her response to the commission, Green admitted to many of the allegations, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and ecstasy at the same time she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving minors in her court, the records show. She also admitted to sexting a bailiff while on the bench.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the filing says.

The Texas Supreme Court has not yet taken action on the suspension request and there is no deadline for it to rule.

The commission filing confirms that the latest misconduct complaint against Green arrived in 2016 from a man who Green has admitted was her extramarital lover, Claude Barnes. Other allegations were made by Green’s ex-husband, former Houston Controller Ronald Green, as part of their divorce.

Green has not responded to the commission’s request she be suspended. But her attorney, Chip Babcock, said he plans to argue that Green cannot be removed from office for alleged misconduct that occurred prior to November 2016, when she was re-elected to office. He argues that her re-election occurred after most of the allegations against her were made public in articles in the Houston Chronicle, or by her opponents during the campaign.

In support of his argument, Babcock cited a Texas state law that says “an officer may not be removed … for an act the officer committed before election to office.”

Others have interpreted that statute to mean before a public official initially took office, which in Green’s case was in 2007.

But Babcock emphasized in an interview that allegations about Green’s illegal drug use and sexual misconduct came to light in 2015 and 2016 from “her ex-husband and an admittedly bitter and angry former companion.” Babcock said that during Green’s 2016 campaign, the bulk of the allegations against her “were aired publicly and after they were aired publicly, Judge Green ran in a contested Democratic Primary against a number of candidates opposing her and defeated them with a substantial amount of the vote and subsequently won the general election.”

There’s more, so read the whole thing, though if you’re like me you’ll feel a little dirty afterward. Some of what is in this story stems from Hilary and Ronald Green’s ugly and contentious divorce, and some of it was in the news prior to that. I have no idea what the State Commission on Judicial Conduct will do, and I don’t know enough to assess the legal merits of attorney Babcock’s defense strategy; for what it’s worth, it sounds sketchy to me, but again, I Am Not A Lawyer.

There will be a political effect from all this one way or another, maybe soon and maybe later depending on what the SCJC does. I don’t want to think too much about that right now. People often wonder in situations like this how someone with that kind of baggage can get elected. Voters vote based on the information they have, and having more information of this kind available to them doesn’t always have the effect one thinks that it might. Sometimes people file unsavory revelations about a candidate as “negative campaign stuff” and tune it out, and sometimes they decide that other factors in a given race are more important. Surely if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the 2016 election season it’s that the people will sometimes make confounding choices.

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.

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.

The Green blues

First there was this.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ron Green, Houston’s top elected money manager and self-described watchdog, is seeking leniency for a five-time convicted felon and contractor who masterminded an elaborate real estate and forgery scam targeting the city’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Green is asking a judge for probation for his friend and former next-door neighbor Dwayne K. Jordon, a rogue developer who pleaded guilty to felony theft. According to indictments, Jordon pilfered 23 Houston properties from different owners and then duped unsuspecting buyers into purchasing homes built on stolen ground.

The ex-con contractor and the city controller have known each other about five years, the same period, according to a Houston Chronicle review of dozens of court records and related real estate documents, that Jordon carried out the series of land thefts, mortgage frauds and deed scams.

Harris County prosecutors want a 25-year sentence for Jordon, who has a long string of prior convictions, including kidnapping, armed robbery and illegal possession of drugs and firearms. Along with a business partner, Jordon executed the contracting scheme by forging deeds of sale on mostly vacant properties and profiting from his illegally built homes, indictments say.

Green – who owes $112,000 to the IRS and nearly lost his house to foreclosure in 2006 – has described the 46-year-old Jordon as a hardworking businessman who renovated Green’s own home. In fact, Jordon’s contract for the renovations helped Green get a new $508,000 home loan in 2008.

Acting as a character witness, Green told a judge in March that Jordon raised money to buy turkeys for the poor, performed high quality construction and “worked very hard to really try to change the face of that Sunnyside community in which he lives.”

Then there was this.

Elected Justice of the Peace Hilary Harmon Green repeatedly ordered the eviction of tenants and relatives on behalf of a five-time felon even though she and her husband, City Controller Ron Green, both had financial and personal ties to the home builder.

In one case involving Dwayne K. Jordon – a convicted thief who has admitted to repeatedly pilfering people’s properties for his residential construction projects – Green evicted Jordon’s own uncle despite a dispute over whether Jordon held ownership of the family home.

That ruling, which later was overturned by a county court, came in 2009 – the same year Green’s husband, a lawyer, was paid an undisclosed amount of money to advise Jordon on his criminal case, meet with a Harris County prosecutor and recommend a defense attorney.

Through her clerk, Hilary Green refused to comment on why she did not recuse herself from more than a dozen matters involving Jordon, who has been her neighbor, her home renovation contractor and for whom her husband has served as a character witness in the pending real estate criminal case.

[…]

Ethically, Hilary Green should have recused herself on legal cases involving Jordon because of her other associations with him, said Lillian Hardwick, an Austin attorney and expert in judicial conduct who co-authored the authoritative Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.

We don’t get much of either Green’s side of these stories, so it’s a little premature to judge them. Still, they don’t look good, and to have two bad stories in the space of a week, that’s going to leave a mark. Campos suggested after the first story came out that it put Ronald Green in a vulnerable position not just for a future Mayoral campaign but even potentially for re-election in 2013. I think it’s a little early for such speculation, but if there are more shoes to drop, then that certainly becomes possible. We’ll see if this is it or not.