I received an email from Austin criminal defense attorney Jamie Spencer demanding an apology for my “frequent blaspheming” of the Sovereign Nation of Texas. Attach to the demand was a link to his post about the DWI trial of Casey Price, from the Houston Chronicle.
It was a normal enough trial (for Texas) when, during jury deliberations,
Then the judge decided she wanted Price to immediately take a drug screen urine test and ordered the bailiff to contact the Pretrial Services facility in the courthouse to arrange it.
The judge also said if Price tested positive, the results would be given to the jury, says [defense lawyer Paul] LaValle.
So what if the defendant was in the middle of trial. So what if the judge was ordering the potential creation of evidence on her own to inculpate the defendant. We’ve got a defendant and a jury, and no reason to waste the money of the good taxpayers of Texas waiting on a verdict.
The funny part is that this isn’t the bad part of the story. The bad part has yet to come.
Before the drug test could be arranged, the jury returned with its verdict.
Price wasn’t surprised. She said she felt the video clearly demonstrated that she wasn’t drunk. Still, she was relieved. She was free.
Or so she thought. But Judge Johnson had different ideas. Having ordered the drug test, she instructed the bailiff to take Price away for the drug test.
So Price was led to another floor of the courthouse, where she was questioned (strangely, she thought) on the details of her financial condition — her income and what she pays for rent, auto, utilities, clothes, etc. — and then made to urinate into a cup in front of a female staffer.
The results were negative.
Then they told her she had to pay $11.
Now I’m aware that many people in Texas feel that Yankees are a bit slavish about the whole concept of sequencing, like verdict before sentencing, but apparently this offended even Texan sensibilities. Especially the part about paying $11, would have covered the post-verdict mocha frappocinos in New York.
Right now, you’re probably asking yourself (as did I), what was the prosecutor doing while the judge decided to move things forward with undue alacrity.
Eva Flores is a rookie who has been with the DA’s office only since May. She remained silent.
The veteran prosecutor who had supervised Flores during the trial, Gary Miller, had returned to his office when the trial ended, said LaValle. He said he’s confident Miller would have advised the judge against ordering the drug test.
A spokeswoman for the DA’s office, veteran prosecutor Donna Hawkins, said the DA’s office has “no responsibility to be part of anything” after a not-guilty verdict is announced.
Not surprisingly, they resorted to the motto of the Sovereign Nation of Texas, “not my job.” My favorite is the senior prosecutor, Miller, who says he’s “confident”. That’s comforting.
And what of the fine judge who came up with a bunch of great ideas to tweak the system a bit for maximum effectiveness?
LaValle noted that Judge Carolyn Marks Johnson was a visiting judge, a former district judge who had presided over civil trials, not criminal proceedings.
Johnson says she can’t comment “on a case that is still before me.”
[Reporter Rick Casey] asked if the case wasn’t over.
“There may be motions filed on it,” she said.
Judge Johnson has a point. After all, if she’s going to sentence before verdict, you never know when the defense is going to make post-acquittal motions. Maybe they plan to move for double-acquittal?
Too often, we don’t appreciate a judge who thinks outside the box, even if she’s trying to put the defendant into one. Here, we have a jurist who has broken free of the chains of mundane procedure, slavish adherence to the laundry list approach to trials and an exceptionally firm view of justice. Doesn’t she deserve our appreciation?
And the prosecutor, who we so often challenge for over-reaching, showed remarkable self-restraint by standing mute and rejecting the urge to become embroiled in self-serving grand-standing. Where’s the kudos for this young, but obviously talented prosecutor?
Thus, I bow to Jamie Spencer’s demand. I apologize for all the bad things I’ve said about Texas justice, and concede that there is no law like Texas law.