As close as a cell phone call ..... Iíve
spent the better part of the last two weeks in Mississippi and
Nevada (see Star People), but I've kept up with the Fort Bend
happenings via a complex web of spot reporters and deep cover
informers who have kept my cell phone ringing like a bad handbell
choir. In other words, Margot and the garden club ladies with a
little help from the gin group have kept me up to the minute on
local news. I knew before the last oath was taken that Judge
Robert Kern had angered a certain group of elected officials who
happened to be black and Democrat.
I also knew about the fuss between Judge Kern
and newly elected Judge Ron Pope about the appointment of a court
master (assistant judge) for the domestic courts in Fort Bend. The
story goes like this: Lorraine Wilson was the master, appointed
when there was only one family relations judge in Fort Bend County
(now-retired Judge Tom Stansbury) to relieve his overcrowded
docket. Since then, the county has been allotted another family
relations court (Judge Kern). Now Wilson has resigned after her
defeat for the judgeship by Judge Pope.
Nevertheless, the calls I got were about Judge
Pope wanting to appoint a current Assistant District Attorney who
had applied for the job and Judge Kern wanting to appoint local
attorney Brenda Mullinex as master. Judge Pope said the master was
originally scheduled for his court when Stansbury held the job so
he should decide. Judge Kern said he was the administrative judge,
so he should decide.
Since we now have two family relations courts,
I donít even know why we need a master for the two family court
judges. Maybe I should start dogging them like I have the Justices
of the Peace and check on their work habits.
This story gets curiouser and curiouser when I
heard that Judge Kern was asked to recuse himself in the divorce
case of a local elected official (okay, he's only the hide
inspector) who is the son of a sitting judge. Several months ago I
asked Judge Kern why he didnít recuse himself in this case as
Judge Stansbury had done several years ago involving the same
couple. At that time, Judge Kern told me that somebody had to hear
the case and he hadn't been asked to recuse himself (judges donít
have to be asked; they can do it on their own). So when he was
asked Monday, Judge Kern still didnít recuse himself and a
visiting judge said he didnít have to. I called Judge Kern and
reminded him of our earlier conversation. He told me that he
hadn't said then he would recuse himself; he had only said nobody
had asked him to.
That's called "splitting hairs" in legal
parlance. No, wait, my gin group calls that "splitting hairs;"
everybody else calls it "Oh, pleeeeeze."
In any event I was even more surprised to hear
that the lawyer for the son of the sitting judge was.....Brenda
Mullinex, Kern's favorite for appointment to the master's bench.
But wait, there's more ..... I also got
cell phone calls about a Houston attorney who tried to enter the
Fort Bend County courthouse with a gun in his briefcase. Since he
didnít have the Fort Bend credentials (his was for Harris County)
which allowed him to bypass the scanning equipment, he supposedly
forgot about the gun, which was later said to be evidence in a
case. He was hustled to the Fort Bend County Jail where court
master Harold Kennedy sped over and magistrated him so he could be
freed immediately. Cries of special treatment for attorneys falls
on deaf ears as far as Judge Brady Elliott is concerned. Elliott
is fond of reminding us that the last judge killed in a courthouse
in Texas was gunned down by an attorney.
The claim of special treatment for some people
prompted Star reporter LeaAnne Klentzman to ask a Human Resource
department clerk under the FOI Act (Freedom of Information) to
give her a list of all those with special credentials who can
bypass the courthouse scanning equipment.
Scant minutes later, Klentzman was sitting in
County Attorney Bud Childers office in relation to another
question, when Director of Administra-tive Services J.C. Whitten
whizzed by Bud's office and not recognizing/seeing Klentzman
sitting on the couch, informed Childers that, according to Tom
(Anderson-head of Human Resources), Klentzman was snooping/nosing
around looking for a list of people with courthouse entry
I called Whitten later and asked him how he
even knew Klentzman was looking for a list. Whitten informed me
that he talks to Tom Anderson six to eight times a day because he
supervises that department, along with seven others. He said he
was at Childersí office in relation to some fairground invoices,
and no, he does not supervise the fairground but he was helping
them out. So if Whitten talks to all of those department heads six
or eight times a day, how many calls does he have in any given
And let me get this straight. We have Country
Attorney Bud Childers who makes near $101,000 a year, and Human
Resource head Tom Anderson, who makes $86,000 per year, and
Director of Administrative Services J.C. Whitten, who makes
$78,000 per year, all concerned by a lowly-paid reporter's
question about who had access to the courthouse.
It would seem to me that these highly paid
county officials have better things to do, like dig up the
information asked for, than to be running around in a dither
because they were asked the question. Seems like a bunch a
busybodies to me.
Many years ago, Whitten was accused of having
an ex parte meeting with a judge (both lawyers are supposed to be
present when that happens) when he (Whitten) was a jury foreman.
He was a busy body then and he is a busy body now. Doesn't he know
that is our job at the newspaper?
Now the above stories should illustrate to you
what a "buddy" system we have in Fort Bend. And if these donít
convince you, why next week Iíll tell you how retiring Judge Tom
Stansbury had Fort Bend County pay for him to attend an Advanced
Family Law Drafting Course in New Orleans on Dec. 12-13 in New
Orleans, Louisiana 18 days before he retired. I guess I've already
told you now, haven't I? Maybe if our judges and retiring judges
didnít get the county to pay for their vacations, we wouldn't need
a special master. And Stansburyís late little stunt has prompted
me to keep an eye on how many paid mediation cases he gets from
the current sitting judges now that he is retired. We could form a
betting pool, except that might be illegal. And in Fort Bend
County, doing illegal things is a no-no, but it's perfectly okay
to fail the "smell test."