courts

Flickr/Joe Gratz (CC0 1.0)

From Texas Standard:

A Smith County judge recently ordered a 21-year-old man to marry his 19-year-old girlfriend after he assaulted her ex-boyfriend.

The story has gone viral, but as strange as it may sound, this unorthodox sentence is just one of a handful of “shaming”-type rulings that have made headlines in the past few years.

Evan Young is an attorney with Baker Botts in Austin, and he says the marriage sentence isn’t all that uncommon. “The reality is that this is one of many types of sentences that a judge might try to impose,” Young says.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

Travis County and the City of Austin take part in a regular fiscal dance with the State of Texas over who pays the costs of government. Over the next three days, KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.” Today, we take on Austin’s Municipal Courts. 

When Austin residents are handed traffic tickets or other Municipal Court fees and fines, they likely assume that the city is profiting handsomely from those often colorful sheets of paper. If they could see where those revenues go, however, they might come to a different conclusion.

In fact, the city’s current budget projects that the court will face a roughly $3.7 million shortfall in the fiscal year that started in October by incurring about $19.7 million in general expenses and pulling in about $16 million in general revenue. On top of that, it projects that the court will fall short in three of its special revenue funds and break even on the fourth.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT

Most probably couldn't articulate what a justice of the peace exactly does.

Television shows like “Judge Judy” and “The People’s Court” often trivialize the role of justices of the peace and the small claims courts they preside over.

Five small courtrooms of the Travis County justices of the peace handle settlements of $10,000 or less. In the grand scheme of things, the settlements are miniscule, hence the moniker of “small claims," but for some the rulings in these courts have huge implications.

Jon Shapley for KUT News

Across the country and here in Texas, counties have been setting up special courts specifically for veterans in recent years.

Those veterans that go through the court have to stick with a series of commitments to avoid jail time.

Travis County has had a veterans court since 2010. Two more Central Texas counties will open their own courts in the coming months.

In Augusta, Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2.

In Ionia, Mich., 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt caught a fish out of season; then a judge sentenced him to three days in jail.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Stephen Papa, a homeless Iraq War veteran, spent 22 days in jail, not for what he calls his "embarrassing behavior" after he got drunk with friends and climbed into an abandoned building, but because he had only $25 the day he went to court.

Flickr user Brian Turner, https://flic.kr/ps/VxiMo

Texas is in a judicial vacancy crisis according to a report released today by the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington and Austin-based Progress Texas.

The report shows Texas has the most vacant federal judge seats of any state, with 10 spots open as of March 19. The report warns those 10 vacancies could grow to 13 if no action is taken, since three more seats are set to open up next year.

Those 10 vacant seats translate into backlogged cases, with especially high caseloads along the U.S.-Mexico border, the report notes. The majority of current and future vacancies also happen to be concentrated in the southern and western parts of the state.

A federal judge in Washington says the National Security Agency's program for bulk phone record collection violates Americans' reasonable expectation of privacy.

The ruling (pdf), however, has been stayed pending a likely appeal.

Judge Richard Leon says the sweeping NSA collection of U.S. phone metadata constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: Dan Keller walked out of the Travis County Jail this afternoon after 21 years in prison. He was greeted with an embrace from his wife Fran, released from her own imprisonment last week.

As the two left the jail, Dan Keller denied any bitterness over his two­-plus decades in prison. 

“I forgave everybody,” Keller said. “It’s no use to hate somebody … man ain’t supposed to do that. Lord didn’t hate anybody when they put him on the cross. He said ‘I forgive you,’ and I forgave them. It’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”

Original story (Nov. 27): A Central Texas woman is now free after spending more than 20 years behind bars.

Fran Keller and her husband Dan were both sentenced to 48 years for so-called “satanic ritual abuse” at their Austin-area day care.

flickr.com/grahamsblog

Let's say you're angry with your boss.  You go online and vent in an anonymous post. It's therapeutic, sure. But now your boss wants to sue for defamation.  

In Texas, courts haven't settled on guidelines for online defamation. But a little-discussed case before the Texas Supreme Court could help determine if the state can force companies like Google to identify anonymous bloggers.

KUT News

Texas children are suing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, claiming the TCEQ should have to protect the quality of the air the same way it’s required to protect the quality of water.

As part of a nationwide movement, the youth are asking the agency to protect water under the public trust doctrine – the historic idea that the state is responsible for the quality of a shared resource.

Karen Bernstein for KUT News

In 1989, Fran Keller and her husband Dan wanted to find work with a purpose – something that could bring them closer to their community. They opened a day care in their rented house in Oak Hill, with a desire to take in pre-school age children and toddlers, even those who had a history of behavioral problems.

But Fran Keller says she never expected to find herself where she is now: serving her 23rd year in prison at the Crain Unit in Gatesville, Texas.

ADAPT of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project held a press conference today announcing the filing of 29 lawsuits against establishments across Texas, including Austin mainstays like the Alamo Drafthouse and Threadgill's. The complaint ? Not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA, signed into law by Pres. George H.W. Bush in 1990, promises protection against discrimination based on disability. According to ADAPT, the defendant establishments are in violation of the act due to their inaccessible locations.

Tyler Pratt, KUT News

A recent story of a North Texas man that took social media by storm has unique legal issues for same-sex couples across Texas.

Lon Watts says he was forced to move from his home of 12 years, and was banned from caring for his partner who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, after a legal battle with his partner’s family.

The story of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones involves a controversial speech to the Federalist Society, calls of racism, last-ditch efforts to stop an execution and now a rare formal disciplinary review by the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia Circuit.

The case has been bubbling for the past couple of weeks. It's complicated, but interesting, so we'll tell you about it in chronological order.

flickr.com/myfwcmedia

A federal district judge has overturned a federal emergency rule that would shorten the red snapper fishing season to as few as 12 days in Texas – down from a projected 22 days.

Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger says that he is disappointed in the ruling. The federal decision that would have shortened the season was put in place to stop the overfishing of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

flickr.com/cefeida

Opening statements in a drug money laundering trial get underway in an Austin courtroom today. 

Among the men charged: Jose Trevino Morales. Federal prosecutors call Morales the brother of two top leaders of the Zeta drug cartel, and say he’s involved in a money-laundering scheme for the cartel: hiding millions of dollars in drug money in the horse racing business in Texas and other states.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

A new United States Courthouse for the Western District of Texas opened in downtown Austin this week.

The decidedly modern space, designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, is a departure from the stodgy, unimaginative architecture associated with government buildings. The 230,000 square foot building is stark, clean and geometric on the outside. Inside, wood tones warm the courtrooms, natural light works its way into common areas, and a stunning piece of artwork inside the entryway provides more color.

Abilene Christian University

Jeffrey Boyd will become the newest Texas Supreme Court justice, an appointment that scrunches the foreheads of Rick Perry critics who think it odd that the governor would name his chief of staff to the state’s highest civil court.

It’s the latest brick in a wall Perry has been building for a dozen years — a period that has seen him appoint 224 Texans to state district and appeals court judgeships.

His hold on the executive branch is well documented and regularly noted; Perry has been in office long enough to twice go through the entire cycle of six-year executive appointments.

Update at 9 a.m. ET, Nov. 14: "It's A Learning Lesson ... I'll Move Forward."

Shena Hardin, the Cleveland woman ordered to stand on a street corner with a sign saying she was in idiot for driving on a sidewalk to get past a stopped school bus, finished that two-day punishment this morning and issued a statement saying she's learned a lesson.

As Cleveland's 19ActionNews reports, Hardin:

Mark Norwood, the Bastrop dishwasher who was arrested one year ago for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on Friday for the January 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker in Austin.

“It has been excruciating for all of us who loved Debra to wait for this day. Now, we finally have a face to put with her tragic murder,” Baker’s family said in a statement released by attorney Sam Bassett.

Norwood's attorney, Russell Hunt Jr., said his client maintains his innocence in both cases. Hunt said Norwood's mother had been subpoenaed to testify before a Travis County grand jury on Friday morning. 

"There's only one reason why" that would happen, he said. "That's if they intend to indict him."

Pages