Appeals Court: Even for Judges, Facebook Friends Aren't the Same as Real Friends

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rounds.com
William Youkers was on parole in 2011 when he choked his pregnant girlfriend in Plano. He pleaded guilty, and the judge was lenient, placing him in a community supervision program. But three months later, he tested positive for meth. He assured Judge Scott Becker that he was turning his life around by taking community college classes and moving in with his mother. Becker wasn't convinced, though, and sentenced him to eight years in prison.

When his request for a new trial was denied, Youkers took his plea to the appeals court. There, he stepped onto ground that hasn't yet been tread in Texas courts: the judge's Facebook status.

Youkers discovered at some point after his trial that Becker was Facebook friends with the father of his pregnant girlfriend and had been throughout the trial. What's more, the father had sent Becker a Facebook message intended to sway the judge's decision in the case. At the very least, Youkers argues, this raises big questions about the judge's impartiality.

See also
Texas Lawyers May Soon Be Able to Serve Defendent Via Facebook


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Collin County Judge Invokes "Morality Clause" to Split Up Lesbian Couple

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Judge John Roach Jr.
A while back, before his father retired as district attorney against a backdrop of small-town political intrigue, Collin County District Judge John Roach Jr. described his philosophy on family law in a less-than-hard-hitting interview with Dallas Child.

His "obvious passion spill[ing] over in precise speech honed by years in the courtroom," he spoke of the importance of ensuring that children in custody cases wind up in a strong family environment with loving, involved parents.

"I often tell people I would not want them to make decisions about my kids -- why would you want me to make decisions about yours?" he said. "It is certainly my job to make these decisions; I make the decisions when I have to. However, parents going through divorce need to agree to disagree as to why, how or whose fault it is and focus on the kids. Your spouse may make a sorry husband or wife, but it does not mean you have to be sorry parents."

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Katy Trail Robber's Tale of PCP Addiction, "Purse Snatching" Fails to Win Jury's Sympathy

Categories: Crime, The Courts

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Dominique Thornton
Dominique Thornton did not testify in his trial for charges that he committed a string of armed robberies along the Katy Trail last May. It probably wouldn't have done any good. He was IDed by victims as the gunman in the heists, and police found Thornton's thumbprint on a stolen purse they later recovered. He was convicted Thursday on three counts of aggravated robbery.

Thornton did take the stand during the sentencing phase of his trial. As the Morning News' Jennifer Emily reports, he pleaded with jurors for leniency.

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This Week, Tarrant County Filed Murder Charges in Two Decades-Old Child Abuse Cases

Categories: Crime, The Courts

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Teena Mathis, left, and Patricia Jones
Teena Mathis has always said it was an accident. She had left her 15-month-old niece, Heidi, with her children on a backyard swingset while she stepped inside to answer the phone. While she was in the house, the girl wandered behind the swing, which hit her in the head. Heidi died two days later.

Her family believed her story. Fort Worth police and the medical examiner did not. Officers noticed bruises on the toddler's face and body that didn't look like they'd come from a fall. The ME ruled the death a homicide.

But no charges were ever filed. Mathis was allowed to return home. She raised her family. She moved to Springtown and had grandchildren. And then on Wednesday, nearly 31 years after Heidi died, Price was arrested and charged with murder. The Star-Telegram's Deanna Boyd has the details.

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The Supreme Court Will Decide if North Texas Can Take Oklahoma's Water

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With North Texas' population exploding and near-perennial drought seeming more and more like a certainty rather than a fluke, state water planners have been scrambling to secure new supplies, going further and further afield in search of waterways that haven't been tapped out.

Several years ago, that quest took the Tarrant Regional Water District to Oklahoma, where they hoped to purchase rights to 150 billion gallons from the southeastern part of the state to pipe to its customers in 11 counties. Oklahoma wouldn't mind. The state has 10 times the water it needs. Certainly it wouldn't deny a thirsty neighbor a mere sip.

Oklahoma's response was less than neighborly. It viewed the water district's request as an attempt to grab the state's natural resources, and the legislature passed laws putting a moratorium on out-of-state water sales. TRD sued in 2007 to stop the laws, and the two parties have been locked in a legal scuffle ever since.

The dispute has now made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case on Tuesday.

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Texas Sues the Feds, Part Infinity: Greg Abbott Wants to Take Greenhouse Gas Challenge To Supreme Court

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Last summer, Texas, Big Oil interests, the automotive industry and other assorted industrial polluters were dealt an unambiguous defeat in a legal challenge to dismantle greenhouse gas regulations. The Feds, a federal appeals court panel ruled, were "unambiguously correct" for setting limits on carbon dioxide and other pollutants -- an affirmation that greenhouse gases and the climate change to which they contribute are threats to human health.

Abbott and the other challengers claimed the data the court relied on might have been "manipulated" somehow, but the full appeals court declined to rehear the case in December. The win signaled a significant victory for climate activists (and future, Earth-dwelling generations, you might say).

Greg Abbott, the litigious Texas Attorney General who has turned the office into an outsize expression of his political ambition, is now appealing to the highest court in the land.

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Yes, You Can Get Thrown in Jail For Drunk Driving a Golf Cart at Texas Motor Speedway

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Via.
Officer Jennifer Bell and Corporal D.J. Lusty remember the night of April 9, 2011 quite clearly. The Fort Worth cops were working off-duty traffic jobs at Texas Motor Speedway following the Samsung Mobile 500 when Bell spotted a golf cart driving on the grass. She watched as the cart laden with three grown men weaved between idling cars lined up to leave the parking lot, then almost run over a person walking by. The cart almost hit Bell, too, as she ordered the driver to stop and grabbed at his arm as he passed. Lusty caught sight of the cart after his colleague radioed for help. He caught a glancing blow on the arm as they ignored his orders to stop.

The three men might have escaped had the golf cart been equipped with a more powerful engine. As it was, Lusty jogged beside the cart, at first attempting to steer it into the fence, then just jumping onto the back. "What's the problem, officer?" the driver, soon IDed as Donald Lewis, asked.

Lewis and his friends remember the night somewhat differently. They had been driving the golf cart through the parking lot, sure, but they hadn't known they were in trouble with the police. Each said he thought Bell was a lowly parking attendant chiding them for driving on the grass. And Lewis insisted they had never come close to hitting anyone, just "the dude that jumped in the way." Which happened to be Lusty.

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Daren Bell's Girlfriend Wouldn't Let Him Bring a Pit Bull in Her Car, So He Slit Her Throat

Categories: Crime, The Courts

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Tarrant County
Daren Marcus Bell was visiting his cousin in Arlington on January 17, 2012, when he found a stray pit bull. He was looking for a dog and decided to keep it, a fact he didn't mention to his girlfriend until she arrived to pick him up.

She was not quite so keen on the idea of keeping a pit bull and refused to let it into her car. They began to argue. So Bell, 44, did what any man who's spent much of the past two decades behind bars for drugs, armed robbery, beating up police officers, burglary, and domestic abuse would do. He pulled a box cutter from his coat pocket and slit his girlfriend's throat.

The girlfriend, a 7-inch gash across the front of her neck, nearly bled to death. She was saved by doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital.

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FBI: Convicted Mortgage Fraudster, Arlington Pizza Shop Owner, Tried to Bribe Federal Judge

Categories: Crime, The Courts

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Halid Amer played a small but significant role in the collapse of the housing market late last decade. He had help, to be sure, from slews of unqualified borrowers, overleveraged banks, absurdly loose credit and free-handed monetary policy, but it was the actions of Amer and people like him that made sure the crash came hard and fast.

When the feds started watching him around 2005, Amer was head of a North Texas mortgage firm called, ironically enough, Accurate Investments. The firm may well have done legitimate, run-of-the-mill housing transactions, but what caught the notice of federal law enforcement was a scheme he cooked up with four others to trick banks our of millions by taking out millions in fraudulent home loans.

The scheme was simple. Amer and his accomplices would find people with good credit score and promise them easy money. All they had to do was fill out a mortgage application, and they'd get anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000. Their name would only be on the title for a short time before it was transferred, they were told.

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Greg Abbott Backs DNA-Testing Bill, Continues Unprecedented Streak of Reasonableness

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Facebook
Greg Abbott's acting strangely. It wasn't even two weeks ago that the Attorney General seemed to have given up his day job suing the Obama administration and just started trolling liberals full-time. But then, in a turn that was completely unexpected, Abbott was seized by an bout of reasonableness

The day after his liberal-trolling Facebook post implying that public school students should receive instruction in firearms and the Bible, he announced his support for a smart, we daresay progressive, update of the Open Meetings Act. Today, he threw his support behind SB 1292, an uncharacteristically reasonable proposal that would require pretrial DNA testing of all biological evidence in death-penalty cases.

"There's no reason to test these items more than a decade after the crime was committed," Abbott said Tuesday at a news conference alongside the bill's author, Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat. "We shouldn't live with suspense. The family of the victim shouldn't have to through this time after time after time in order to get certainty."

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