And it's not over ..... I've been writing
in recent weeks about some of the more ridiculous actions of our
Fort Bend county judiciary. Judges normally stay out of the
limelight. In fact, judges normally make it a POINT to stay out of
the limelight. And the current squabbling wouldn't have come to
light if the judges could have agreed about whom to hire for an
You may rightfully wonder what an associate
judge is. Well, back in the mid-1980's when Fort Bend County was
growing like a weed and the state legislature wouldn't give us
another judge, the county availed itself of a law that a county
could hire and pay a court master to help the judge, as long as
the people involved in the various legal wrangling would agree to
have their case heard by a master. That person had to be a lawyer
and maybe various other credentials. Judge Stansbury, who was the
only family court judge at the time and needed the most help,
hired Lorraine Wilson to help him in the 328th District court,
which was a family court. Wilson would hear uncontested divorces
and various other things. She served that court faithfully until
last year when Judge Stansbury retired and Wilson ran for the job.
Meanwhile, the legislature had granted Fort
Bend County another family court judge, Judge Robert Kern, so the
need for a master had lessened, some would say even become
unnecessary. Additionally, visiting judges were being regularly
sent to Fort Bend County to hear Child Support cases and Children
Protective Services cases, meaning there was less cases for the
regular judges to hear.
Wilson lost to Judge Ron Pope and immediately
upon being sworn in, Pope wanted an assistant. He had been in
private law practice for years and probably wasn't used to working
this hard. He wanted to hire one of his buddies as associate all
along, but Judge Kern wouldn't go along with that.
Judge Pope maintained that since his court was
the only one that ever used a master (or an associate judge as
they were now calling the job), he should be able to hire whomever
he pleased. Besides, Judge Kern wanted to hire a Sugar Land lawyer
whom Judge Pope was convinced had supported his opponent.
So this stalemate was taken to the board of
judges where it has remained a stalemate. At the last board of
judges meeting, Judge Kern said he didn't think that an associate
judges position had ever been created and the requirements for a
court master, which is all Fort Bend had ever authorized, were now
vastly different. He washed his hands of the whole affair and
voted against hiring anyone.
Meanwhile, after motions were made to do this
or that, including tabling a subcommittee to interview candidates,
and rescinding any action taken by the board of judges on Jan. 22
meeting, the other judges voted to let Judge Pope interview and
hire whomever he wanted for the 328th court if that position
existed and if his budget allowed.
I checked with budget officer Jim Edwards (Did
you know he now has two other employees under him?), and he told
me that the money was available in Judge Pope's budget.
Judge Pope told me he was going to research the
position and make sure it was legal then he was going to go about
hiring someone. He claims he needs an associate judge because
associate judges can hear and issue temporary orders which are
often necessary in family situations.
Of course Judge Pope can't hear cases he was
involved in before he ascended to the judgeship, so he appointed
his good friend Judge Stansbury to hear them as a visiting judge
and the taxpayers of Fort Bend county are penalized for Judge
Pope's former law business. It's a mystery why he doesn't asked
Judge Kern to hear these cases which means it wouldn't cost a
visiting judge's salary.
If that wasn't enough ..... the judges also
voted to hire an administrative court coordinator from $65,000 to
$70,000 and an assistant at $31,358. It's going to be interesting
to see if someone's buddy is hired. The county will get a two-year
grant to pay these salaries, but grants expire and taxpayers are
left with continuing to pay. And what in the heck does an
administrative court coordinator do?
Then Judge Brady Elliott appeared at
Commissioner's Court the next week to request $93,000 to install a
state-of-the-art computerized audiovisual equipment in his
courtroom. It is just like the equipment that will be installed in
Judge Bradley Smith's courtroom which will now be delayed to see
if the courtrooms can share wiring. Judge Elliott claimed that
this equipment will not only speed up trials but will protect
evidence. I had to laugh when I read that it was equipment that
"even judges can work." What do you want to bet that we will next
have to hire an audiovisual expert to work in each court?
I remember several years ago Judge Elliott
asking me to attend a trial in his courtroom between two
nationally-known A-V manufacturers. (I went to visit him about
allowing the companies to pay jurors $50 per day in this case.) He
said I would be amazed at the electronic equipment in his
courtroom. It was state-of-the-art! Well, I went and guess what?
The sound system didn't work and I couldn't hear a thing from the
third row and the looming non-working equipment blocked my view of
the witnesses. So much for equipping courtrooms with
state-of-the-art equipment. They won't even allow cameras in the
courtroom. They could start there. Actually they could start with
allowing trials to be videotaped and get rid of the expensive