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BEV'S BURNER
Some's Hot, Some's Not 

by B.K. Carter
This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time and phone number.

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 associate judge.

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 court reporters.


B. K. Carter is publisher of the Fort Bend Star. You can e-mail her at bkcstar@earthlink.net


 
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   Last Update:  September 17, 2003