UPDATED: There's a Chance the U.S. Supreme Court Might Decide to Take on Gay Marriage Today

Categories: Courts

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The Supreme Court might make the Fifth Circuit oral arguments on same-sex marriage less than pointy.

UPDATED 3:55 p.m. Friday: Those hoping the U.S. Supreme Court was going to finally make a move on gay marriage were heading for a letdown on Friday. The Supremes held their Friday conference but they didn't issue any orders or grant review of any of the five pending cases regarding the state power to ban gay marriage, according to SCOTUSblog.

This wasn't by any means the final word, or lack thereof, on the subject, but the clock is ticking on the question of whether they'll get into the issue during this term. If the Supreme Court is going to agree to look into the issue this term they'll have to grant review of one of the five pending cases before the end of the month to allow for the time to do all the legal legwork and filing required to, you know, have a case heard by the highest court in the nation. The court's next chance to issue an order comes at 9:30 a.m. Monday when they will release a long list of actions on new cases. If none of the gay marriage cases appear before the court then, the cases have most likely been rescheduled for next week's Friday conference, SCOTUSblog reports.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Cecil Bell filed a honey of a bill, House Bill 623, with the Texas Legislature this week. If passed, the bill will amend the Texas Family Code to prevent any taxpayer funds to going toward gay marriage. It will also bar state employees from being paid if they recognize, grant or enforce marriage licenses for gay couples. As if that weren't enough, HB623 would also require Texas courts to dismiss challenges to the law and award lawyer fees to the defendant. Who knows if this or any of the other handful of anti-gay marriage-type laws will actually get through the Lege but it's yet another sign that Texas lawmakers, in typical and exasperating Texas fashion, looked around, saw the way the wind was blowing and immediately started sprinting the opposite direction.


After a long walk down the legal aisle, the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals is finally hearing oral arguments on cases challenging gay marriage bans in Texas and Louisiana on Friday morning. However, the U.S. Supreme Court is also holding a closed-door meeting today that may well make the whole shindig in New Orleans moot.

The Supreme Court is sitting down to once again consider taking up the matter of same-sex marriage bans. They currently have five cases pending concerning gay marriage bans in Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana and if the Nine adds any of these cases to its docket for this term the Fifth's case would most likely be put on hold, as the Times-Picayune reported.

In a way, it would make sense to see the final decision end up in the hands of the Supreme Court -- and a lot of the expert-types expect that's going to be what ends up happening ultimately anyway, no matter what the Fifth decides --since the Supremes were the ones who really got the ball rolling on the gay marriage issue with a crucial decision in the case of United States v. Windsor back in 2013.

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Lawsuit Claims Houston Attorneys Threatened to Out Former Mob Boss Living in Witness Protection During Strip Club Deal

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Tom Parnell via Flickr creative commons
The saga of a Westheimer strip club and the former mob boss who used to run it has taken another strange turn.

First, a little background: Lisa Hansegard bought the now-shuttered Baby Dolls strip club from the estate of Aris Mylonas, the father of her child, after Mylonas died in 2005, and shortly thereafter entered into an agreement with James Cabella to operate the club -- Cabella already owned a strip joint, the Penthouse Club, across the street and was apparently looking to expand his reach in the local strip-club scene. Hansegard claims in court documents that when she later started negotiating with Cabella to sell him Baby Dolls, she discovered through the strip-joint grapevine that Cabella was really Vincent Palermo, aka "Vinny Ocean," former acting boss of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family. After being indicted in the late 1990s on several federal charges, Palermo admitted to taking part in multiple murders, agreed to help the feds take down the DeCavalcante family, and, after spending two years in prison, entered the federal witness protection program (some have said that Tony Soprano was loosely based on Palermo's life in the DeCavalcante family).

The New York Post and KPRC identified Cabella as Vinny Ocean back in 2009, right around the time the Penthouse Club was suing the City of Houston over its sexually oriented business ordinance. But in 2007, it was still a fairly well-kept secret that a former mob boss was running strip clubs on Westheimer.

According to a lawsuit Hansegard filed in Harris County this week, her then attorneys Howard Steele and Charles Sturm (collectively Steele Sturm PLLC) tried to leverage that bit of information while negotiating the sale of Baby Dolls to Cabella. Unbeknownst to Hansegard, she alleges, Steele Sturm made thinly-veiled threats to publicly out Cabella as Vinny Ocean when he tried to back out of the sale in May 2007.


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Texas Abortion Law Hit the Fifth Circuit (and the Fifth Hit Back)

Categories: Courts

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The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments for House Bill 2, the controversial Texas abortion law, on Wednesday. Two of the three judges on the panel have already ruled in favor of the law. From that standpoint, the hearing went about as expected.

Specifically, the Fifth heard from both abortion providers, represented by Center for Reproductive Health, and the State of Texas about the constitutionality of House Bill 2. The law, memorably slammed through the Texas legislature in 2013, imposes many requirements on abortion clinics. The points in contention before the Fifth are whether clinics should be required to be become certified ambulatory surgical centers (the requirements are both detailed and expensive) and whether clinic doctors can be required to obtain admitting privileges with local hospitals (tricky because hospitals have been reluctant to do so).

Last year, District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it would place an undue burden on Texas women. The state has been fighting ever since to prove that the law -- which, if allowed to go into effect, will shutter most of the abortion clinics in Texas -- is in fact totally constitutional.


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Judge Who Presides Over Controversial Sex Offender Cases Kept a Gun in His Lap During Hearings

Categories: Courts

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435th State District Court Judge Michael Seiler
Very few people knew much about the state's Office of Violent Sex Offender Management last spring when the agency quietly moved more than two dozen convicted sex offenders -- men who had already completed their prison sentences -- into a halfway house in Acres Homes without warning anyone living in the north Houston neighborhood.

The Chron's Anita Hassan and Mike Ward broke that story and ever since have been picking at the scab that is the state's controversial civil commitment program for sex offenders, which keeps convicts classified by the state as sexually violent predators, the so-called worst of the worst, confined in halfway houses, boarding homes, and jails -- supposedly to treat "behavioral abnormalities," a legal construct, not a medical condition, in order to safely integrate offenders back into society after they've done their penance.

A number of thorny issues, including questions of whether the program is even constitutional, have since surfaced in regards to how the state handles these offenders, who everyone agrees have already been convicted of heinous crimes. If the program, created by the Legislature in 1999, is meant to treat and transition offenders back into the community, why hasn't a single one successfully completed it in nearly 16 years? If offenders violate the program rules, they're charged with a third-degree felony and sent back to prison -- the Chron reports that over half of the 360 men who have been ordered into the program since 2001 have been charged with rules violations and cycled back into lockup.

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40 Weeks Later, No One Has Been Charged With the Murders of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson

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Brian Stauffer
The bodies were impossible to miss. They were the first thing the beer-truck delivery man saw when he stepped out to haul the trash to the dumpster behind the little convenience store on Bolivar Point on Friday morning, March 7, 2014. They'd been left in a messy pile and could almost be mistaken for stacked mannequins if it weren't for the trail of blood dribbling toward the street.

One was dressed in men's clothing and work boots and was lying face-down on the pavement. Her head was swaddled in a reddish-brown plaid sheet that covered her face entirely and caught most of the blood. She was small-framed and only about five feet tall, and at first detectives mistook her for a teenage boy because of her clothes. She'd been beaten to death, with the killing blows administered to her head. A young black woman was piled on top of her, their legs tangled. Pretty with a triangle of a face composed of high cheekbones and a small rosebud mouth, the woman was even shorter, with long, dark hair. Her large brown eyes were wide open and blank, her mouth shaped in an almost-perfect circle of surprise. A quarter-size gunshot wound marked her right temple.

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Gay Marriage Ads Put a Texas Face on the Issue

Categories: Courts, Texas

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Back in November Texas for Marriage announced that the pro-gay marriage group was coming to Texas and launching a statewide campaign to try and gather support for gay marriage in advance of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing oral arguments on the Lone Star State question on same-sex marriage bans. Well, the Fifth is slated to hear oral arguments on the case this week so it's no coincidence that the first statewide ads from Freedom to Marry started airing on Sunday.


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Gay Marriage Case Goes to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals This Week

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Photo by Max Burkhalter

After months percolating in the court system, the Lone Star State's gay marriage ban is finally getting reviewed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week. And the crazy part is, we actually aren't fairly certain of how they're going to rule based on the selected judges.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in De Leon v. Perry -- a suit brought by a lesbian couple who married in Massachusetts and then found they couldn't have both of their names on their first child's birth certificate in Texas -- that the state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional as it violates our rights under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Garcia promptly stayed his ruling striking down the ban until the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals could make a decision on the issue. In keeping with everyone's expectations, state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott, promptly raged against the ruling and filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit. Because that's what they always do. And now, the time has finally come.

This Friday the a panel of Fifth Circuit judges are scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case. The panel includes Judge James Graves Jr., a President Barack Obama appointee, and Judges Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higgenbotham, both appointed by President Ronald Reagan.


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The Fifth Circuit Is Set to Hear the Texas Abortion Law Case

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Photo by Francisco Montes

After the holiday breather the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is getting back into the ring this month to grapple with Texas abortion law once again.

Specifically, the Fifth will be wading into the constitutionality of House Bill 2. Last year, District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the law was unconstitutional and the state has been fighting ever since to prove that the law -- which, if allowed to go into effect, will shutter most of the abortion clinics in Texas -- is in fact totally constitutional.

For those with short memories, HB 2 was slammed through the Texas legislature back in 2013. (Former gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis rose to national prominence when she filibustered the first attempt to get the law passed in the Lege.) The law required all abortion clinics to become certified as ambulatory surgical centers and required all abortion clinic doctors to obtain admitting privileges with a nearby hospital, meaning this would basically close all but a handful of the clinics in the state.


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Grand Jury Clears Houston Cop Who Shot and Killed Unarmed Man

Categories: Courts

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Courtesy of Janet Baker
Jordan Baker and his son

Janet Baker said she had nothing to say to Houston Police Officer Juventino Castro, after a Harris County grand jury decided not to indict him for killing her son Jordan. Instead she said she wanted to address the judicial system.

"Justice to me is not justice to them, so I do believe that God will get the victory in this situation. There's too much at stake," Janet Baker said to reporters huddled around her inside the downtown Criminal Justice Center.

She said she wasn't surprised by the grand jury's outcome. The shock instead rested on the fact that her son walked out of their home on the evening of January 16, went just three blocks away and never came back.


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Ex-Galveston County Employee Says Judge Bugged Attorney-Client Meeting Rooms

Categories: Courts

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A fired Galveston courts administrator has accused a county judge of bugging rooms where criminal defense attorneys meet with clients who have not bonded out of jail.

Bonnie Quiroga claims in a lawsuit against Galveston County that she was fired from her 14-year job as Director of Justice Administration a day after she told the district attorney that County Judge Mark Henry installed recording devices in "confidential spaces" and therefore violating attorney-client privilege. But Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said that's not quite what happened.

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