Dallas County's Worst Judge Has Dragged a Simple Eviction Case on for Five Years

Categories: The Courts

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D'metria Benson
Five years ago this month, a Dallas County justice of the peace signed an order evicting Clifford Holland from the $1.2 million home he was renting on Caruth Boulevard, a block outside of University Park. Aside from the eye-popping $6,000-per-month rent, the case was a routine tenant-landlord dispute: Landlord claims renter doesn't pay rent, landlord sues, tenant has to pay overdue rent and find somewhere else to live.

Also fairly routine was Holland's decision to appeal the judgment. Where things started to break down, and where a simple rent dispute began to turn into the Jarndyce-esque legal morass Holland's case has become, is when the appeal wound up in Judge D'metria Benson's courtroom. Five years and multiple appellate decisions later, the case continues to grind its way through the legal system.

"We've been to the court of appeals four times," says an exasperated Bill Wolf, a University Park attorney and owner of the Caruth Boulevard home. "It's over a $6,000 rent payment in August 2009. [These things are] supposed to be done expeditiously."

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Dallas Judge Carlos Cortez Loses Bid to Keep Allegations of Drug Use, Child Molestation Secret

Categories: The Courts

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Carlos Cortez
For the past three-plus years, Dallas County District Judge Carlos Cortez has been fighting to keep potentially damaging allegations about his personal life secret.

On Wednesday, Cortez lost the fight. A Texas appeals court decided that, even though none of the allegations against him resulted in a formal determination of wrongdoing, they were filed as part of an open court proceeding and therefore should be available to the public.

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In Etta Mullin's Dallas County Court, Knee Surgery Is No Excuse For Wearing Shorts

Categories: The Courts

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Endorsements from southern Dallas' Democratic heavyweights (i.e. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, state Senator Royce West, County Commissioner John Wiley Price) and the natural advantages of an incumbent in a down-ballot race weren't quite enough to propel Dallas County misdemeanor court judge Etta Mullin to reelection. She won just 36.4 percent of the vote in the March primary, good enough to get her into a runoff with challenger Lisa Green, who netted 44.3 percent.

Mullin, barring a surprise come-from-behind victory in May, will most likely become a victim of her amazing unpopularity among attorneys. As Amy pointed out on the eve of the election, Mullin is almost universally reviled by the lawyers who work in her court.

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Greg Abbott Hits and Misses on Greenhouse Gas Challenge Before Supreme Court

Categories: Biz, The Courts

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Gubernatorial hopeful and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott probably won't get a chance this time around to roll back every meaningful regulation that curbs carbon-dioxide emissions -- the gas driving climate change -- but he will take a shot at a significant one.

The high court announced Tuesday that it would not hear appeals from Texas and other states and industry organizations challenging EPA rules that regulate carbon emissions from vehicles. Nor would it hear arguments challenging the agency's characterization of carbon dioxide as a threat to public health. It did, however, agree to consider a much narrower issue: Whether federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants, considered the most prolific emitters of carbon dioxide, are permitted under the Clean Air Act. The implications for an industry that used coal to generated 42 percent of the country's electricity in 2011 are huge.

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U.S. Supreme Court Has Snubbed Luminant's Petition to Toss EPA Pollution Limits

Categories: Biz, The Courts

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Luminant's Big Brown, the target of many a lawsuit.
The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from Dallas-based Luminant seeking to topple Clean Air Act limits on emissions increases resulting from planned startups and shutdowns of its power plants. The state's largest generator of electricity sought an exemption for these operations from fines levied by the EPA.

"We are disappointed with the decision not to grant certiorari, but respect the Court's decision," a company spokesman wrote in an emailed statement to Unfair Park.

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Texas Supreme Court Justice: Electing Judges Is a Really Terrible Idea

Categories: The Courts

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There's something fundamentally troubling about seeing a judge on the campaign trail. Take Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, for no other reason than that he has waded into the debate. He knows the system and has successfully held onto his place on the state's highest bench. Voters, assuming they know his name, could learn by visiting his campaign website that he is a "conservative," whatever that means in a courtroom.

They would also learn that James C. Dobson, the evangelical heir to Billy Graham and founder of Focus on the Family -- a man who doesn't much care for gays or their right to equal protection under the law -- endorses him as "the most conservative justice on the Texas Supreme Court. Tea Party patriots, pro-life and pro-family conservatives, limited-government advocates, constitutionalists and any who value American liberty should support Justice Don Willett,"

So, plaintiffs who happen to be gay, liberal or pro-choice might not be blamed for wondering whether Willett's ideologies will preclude a fair hearing. Or, for that matter, whether campaign donations will influence his rulings. There is now evidence that money does have an effect. A study conducted by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy took nearly 2,500 business-related opinions, coded and merged them with reported campaign contributions.

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A Man Caught Secretly Photographing Kids at Sea World Appealed His Criminal Charges -- and Won

Categories: The Courts

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Flickr user betsyjean79
It's not clear if this picture would be illegal under Texas' improper photography statute, but it probably should be.
Ronald Thompson is not a particularly sympathetic defendant. Authorities say the 50-year-old visited Sea World in July 2011 to surreptitiously photograph young children. When police arrested him and seized his camera, they found 73 pictures of children in swimsuits, almost all of the images centered on the chest or buttocks. A Bexar County grand jury indicted him on 26 counts of improper photography.

And yet Thompson could go free with a ruling from Texas' Fourth Court of Appeals that the improper photography statute is unconstitutional.

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The Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act Ruling Declares Racism Dead. Long Live Racism!

Categories: The Courts

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Ever heard the quotation, "Past is prologue"? The U.S. Supreme Court apparently hasn't, and its ruling Tuesday on the Voting Rights Act virtually assured that we're doomed to repeat history. In an incredible sweep, the majority chucked the nearly unanimous, bipartisan will of Congress and dismantled the preclearance measure of the law, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting laws (like basically all of Texas) to first clear proposed changes with the Department of Justice.

Now, only lengthy litigation can remedy racially minded Texas redistricting maps and other tools of voter suppression, like the voter ID law, which, by the way, Secretary of State John Steen just announced is now in full effect. Lawyers rejoice! Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already announced the legislature's redrawn 2011 electoral map -- which federal judges called intentionally discriminatory -- will take effect immediately. Defenders of Tuesday's ruling will no doubt argue that as a country we've gone post-racial. They'll say that in an age when our president is black, these laws are anachronistic throwbacks to darker days.

But there's a prologue to this story, and it matters. Let's start in 1927, when Texas barred blacks from voting in primaries. Or in 1944, when a court had to strike down a tweaked but largely identical law. That's when Congress started figuring out that tamping down racist voting laws was like whack-a-mole. So, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1957, 1960 and 1964, Congress eventually authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek injunctions against state and local attempts to interfere with minority voting. These lawsuits, of course, took thousands of man hours to prepare. Litigation was slow-moving; voting officials could seek continuance after continuance; and even when the Feds won, the states would change up their tactics, evade court orders or freeze the voting rolls.

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Texas School Districts Are Allowed to Out Gay Kids to Their Parents, Court Rules

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The Texas Civil Rights Project hoped that Skye Wyatt's case would set a precedent. Wyatt, the activists claimed, was confronted by her two Kilgore High School softball coaches in the locker room after a team meeting, where they accused her of having a lesbian relationship with another girl. The coaches soon made good on their promise to tell Wyatt's mother that she was gay.

And how did her family respond?

By filing a federal lawsuit, alleging that her constitutional right to privacy had been violated.

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Anson Chi Pleads Guilty to Trying to Blow Up Plano Gas Pipeline, Will Spend 22 Years in Prison

Categories: Crime, The Courts

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Not long ago, there was some discussion of whether Anson Chi, at that point the otherwise undistinguished author of a remarkably terrible novel (Yellow on the Outside Shame on the Inside: Asian Culture Revealed) really merited his own Wikipedia page. But then, in June 2012, he tried to blow up a natural gas main in Plano, effectively ending the discussion.

As recently as last month, he filed documents in federal court denying that he'd done anything of the sort, though a federal judge long ago determined there was enough evidence (bomb-making books; an expressed wish to be an "actual activist" instead of an "armchair" one; his father's obvious fear of his son) to keep him in prison pending a trial. Meanwhile, the media pored over his trail of web postings, noting his disdain for federal income taxes, a kinship with the sovereign citizen movement, and his fondness for Ron Paul.

See also
Anson Chi, Accused of Trying to Blow Up a Plano Gas Main, Faces Even More Charges
Plano Bomb Suspect Guilty of Being a Terrible Writer

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