Judge Has to Remind HCC That Board Trustees Are Representatives of the Public

Categories: Courts, Education

As it fought to seal some internal records in a legal fight against its former general counsel, lawyers for Houston Community College trotted out a strange argument in court earlier this month.

Along with a swath of internal memos, emails and transcripts HCC wanted to seal or redact, the publicly-funded college system also argued against disclosing certain communications between college lawyers and HCC trustees. Here was the college's basic argument: The HCC Board of Trustees are "representatives of the college," and anything shared with them by an HCC attorney remained attorney-client privileged information, and therefore isn't public.

It was an argument Harris County District Court Judge Jeff Shadwick literally scoffed at when HCC attorneys and lawyers for Renee Byas, the college's former general counsel who was fired and ultimately sued by the college last year, showed up in court on February 9 to argue over a temporary injunction to keep certain records in the lawsuit hidden from public view.

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Bill Calls for Outside Prosecutors to Present Cop-on-Civilian Shootings to Grand Juries

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Courtesy of Janet Baker
Jordan Baker was unarmed when HPD officer Juventino Castro shot and killed him last January
Jordan Baker was riding his bike near a strip mall off 5700 West Little York last January when he encountered Juventino Castro, an HPD officer of over a decade. Castro was moonlighting as a security guard, hired by a group of stores that had recently reported a string of burglaries. Police say Castro, who was in uniform, flagged 26-year-old Baker because he looked suspicious and matched the description of the robbery suspects -- the "description" being that Baker was a black man wearing a hoodie.

Investigators would later say there's no reason to think Baker had anything to do with the robberies at the strip center. He had a kid at home, was studying to become a welder, and had no criminal record to speak of (he'd been charged with misdemeanor pot possession and evading arrest when he was a teenager, but those charges were dismissed). Yet for some reason, "a brief struggle and foot chase ensued" when Castro tried to stop and talk to Baker, according to police. Castro later claimed that, for some reason, Baker stopped running at some point, turned toward the officer and reached for his waistband, even though he was unarmed. Castro fired once, killing Baker.

As with all officer-involved shootings, the Harris County District Attorney's Office presented the case to grand jury in December to decide whether Castro was justified in shooting and killing an unarmed man. According to the DA's office, there were no witnesses to the shooting; it was Castro's word against that of a dead man. And, as has been the case in every single HPD-involved shooting for over a decade, the grand jury cleared Castro.

Invoking Baker's name, Missouri City state Rep. Ron Reynolds has filed a bill to take officer-involved shootings out of the hands of local district attorneys, and would instead call for a special Attorney General-appointed prosecutor to investigate and present such cases to a grand jury. "Jordan Baker. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. There are blatant problems with the criminal justice system, and many of you have demanded change," Reynolds said in a statement announcing his HB 1840.

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Teen Victim to Teen Madam: Among All the Kids Money Mike Handed $100 Bills For Sex, One Was Charged With a Felony

Cara had just jumped out of the shower, thrown on a T-shirt and plopped down on the couch to finish some homework when she heard someone pounding at the front door. She was stunned by what she saw when she peered out the window: Several uniformed police officers had gathered on her lawn, some, she thought, with guns drawn, "like I was some killer or something." Police cruisers swarmed the front of her father's League City home.

Cara (not her real name) recognized one officer in particular, Webster police detective David Nettles, who shouted that he was there to arrest her. As soon as she saw him, Cara knew why Nettles was at her doorstep.

Weeks earlier, Cara had lied to the detective about what happened with Money Mike, the nickname Cara and her friends gave the 62-year-old big-tipping regular at her old restaurant job. She met the Friendswood businessman the summer of 2013, right before her sophomore year in high school.

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Texas Has Quite Literally Run Out of Places to House Violent Sexual Predators

Categories: Courts, Crime

Kevin Trotman via Flickr Creative Commons
...of course they would
According to the head of the bluntly named Office of Violent Sex Offender Management, the agency has run out of room to house the worst of the worst sex offenders who have been sent to the state's controversial civil commitment program.

At least two convicts are currently finishing their sentences and are slated to enter the program by next week, agency director Marsha McLane warned the Senate Finance Committee yesterday. More than two dozen are set to enter the program by August. And there's nowhere to put them. McLane told lawmakers she's actively searching for places willing to house the offenders, but that "everyone I've called, no one has come up with a building we can move into."

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UPDATED A Closer Look at Maurice Williams, a.k.a. Enzo Weinberg, a.k.a. Mr. Iggy Azalea

Categories: Courts

Photo by Jack Gorman
Azalea got fancy at the Bayou Music Center in 2014.
An attorney for Maurice Lasel Williams, the Houston ex-con claiming to be rap star Iggy Azalea's common-law husband and mentor, says two bond companies illegally revoked Williams' bond in a power-play to keep Williams out of divorce court.

Federal filings in another case suggest Williams -- who legally changed his name to Enzo Weinberg, but which we can't bring ourselves to actually call him -- is full of shit. Azalea sued him in a California federal court for allegedly stealing demos she saved on her laptop in 2008, then allegedly forging a recording contract allegedly giving him the right to sell the songs.

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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama's Immigration Order

Categories: Courts

Photo by Claudia A. De La Garza</td>
Obama's order has generated quite a reaction.
If there's one thing we've all learned from the federal judge who blocked President Obama's executive action for undocumented immigrants, it's that it's hard to get toothpaste back into the tube.

The toothpaste in this case is access to work permits and other relief the controversial action would have granted to millions of immigrants here illegally.

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A Peek Inside Rescued Pets Movement's Lawsuit Against a Foster

Categories: Courts

Photo Courtesy of Sarah Coleman
A happy ending for Rosemary...
In December 2014, Rescued Pets Movement, the animal rescue group that is the subject of this week's cover story, took the unusual move of suing one of its own fosters.

The group, which transports thousands of animals from Houston's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care to Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, accused Sarah Coleman of not relinquishing a dog slated for transport, and of fraudulently telling an RPM board member that she had returned the dog to a shelter.

Coleman said she was sued after telling RPM that the dog, Rosemary, had an upper respiratory infection as well as heartworms, and was not healthy enough for her scheduled transport date. It is a convoluted and ultimately anticlimactic tale that nevertheless is notable for its scarcity. We've reported on individuals suing rescue groups, but not of a rescue suing one of its own fosters.

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Couples Ask Fifth Circuit to Lift Stay on Same-Sex Marriages

Categories: Courts, Texas

Photo by Max Burkhalter
Attorneys for two gay couples at the heart of De Leon v. Perry have asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a stay that will allow same-sex marriages to start happening immediately.

A motion filed on Thursday asks the Fifth Circuit judges to lift a stay a federal district judge placed on his own 2014 decision that struck down the Lone Star State's gay marriage ban. If the Fifth should lift the stay same-sex marriages could start happening in the state right away. If, however, the Fifth declines to lift the stay, the attorneys have asked that Cleopatra DeLeon and her wife, Nicole Dimetman, is expecting their second child, be allowed to marry so that they can establish parental rights before the baby is born. "In the eyes of the State of Texas, Nicole is an unwed mother. That is a particularly noxious lie, and the record should be corrected," attorney Neel Lane told us via email.

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HCC Trustee Asks for Transparency in Lawsuit With College's Fired Top Lawyer

Categories: Courts, Education

Carroll G. Robinson
Seems we're not the only ones who think it's a little gauche for a public institution to fight to keep internal records out of the public eye.

Over the past month, lawyers for Houston Community College, a taxpayer-funded institution, have twice asked a judge to seal certain internal emails, memos, or other communications if they're filed in court, arguing they fall under attorney-client privilege. At issue here is what will or won't become public in the college's legal fight against the HCC's former general counsel, Renee Byas. HCC sued Byas last summer, hoping to invalidate her contract. The college claims it fired Byas because of insubordination and problems with her contract extension (for instance, she turned in her signed copy of said contract extension to HR five days late...right), while Byas on the other hand alleges she was fired because she wouldn't play ball when trustees begged her to bend the rules for doling out contracts for the college's record $425 million bond project.

Byas' counterclaim against the college contained a number of other stunning allegations, including that she was cooperating with an ongoing FBI investigation into the college and that she even wore a wire to secretly record conversations in which trustees pressured her to "break the law." While still with the college, Byas opened an investigation into whether one particular trustee tried to improperly shuffle a $1.4 million contract to a close friend's business. Byas claims trustees regularly asked her to kill that investigation and fire the outside law firm conducting it. In fact, the day Byas was fired, HCC's board appointed another attorney to keep watch over that investigation, which ultimately concluded that there was no evidence the trustee in question did anything wrong.

The subject of that investigation was trustee Carroll Robinson (who's now running for Houston City Controller). Which is why it's so...well, interesting, that Robinson has been asking HCC to make everything related to Byas' firing public. Particularly interesting since, according to court records, Byas' attorneys plan to depose Robinson very soon.

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Houston Community College Still Wants to Seal Records in Lawsuit

Categories: Courts, Education

Thumbnail image for HCCBuilding560.jpg
via Wikimedia Commons
Lawyers for Houston Community College went to court yesterday to argue that internal records from a public institution would harm said public institution if made public.

As the legal battle between HCC, one of the largest community college systems in the country, and the college's ousted top lawyer continues to drag on in court, HCC has renewed its push to seal documents and shield some of its own internal records from public scrutiny.

At issue in the case is why HCC really fired Renee Byas, the college's former general counsel. On one hand, HCC claims it fired Byas because she was "insubordinate" and because her contract extension with the college was "invalid." (HCC says that only the board's chair, not the full board, signed her extension, and that Byas turned her extension back into HR five days late. Really.)

On the other hand, Byas alleges HCC fired her in "attempt to silence a public servant who refused to let HCC's Board of Trustees use a $425 million public bond project as a private slush fund."

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