Turkeys (and Other Creatures) On the Ballot

Quick! It's almost Election Day!! Do you know who your candidates are? Check this guide to the mother of all ballots!

Huckabee was a leading player in Home Box Office's 1992 Lee Grant-produced "Women on Trial." The documentary probe of the county's family courts system focused on several cases involving the judge, airing the allegations of women who claimed Huckabee had awarded custody of their children to fathers suspected of abuse and that Huckabee had refused to allow key evidence to be heard in their cases. Huckabee, speaking to HBO's camera, said he could tell that a mother in the process of losing custody of her children was mentally ill because she was distraught in his court. The documentary concluded with this sobering observation: "Family court judges are not forced to account for their actions .... When judges view mothers as crazy for behaving normally in an abnormal situation, where can they turn?"

Huckabee has since sued HBO, claiming the production distorted facts and tarnished his reputation. But the litigation allowed Jim George, a hardball Austin libel lawyer representing HBO, to recently file a blistering response that paints an even more unflattering picture of the judge. According to the HBO response, "Many female litigants believe, and told defendants, that plaintiff Dean Huckabee was prejudiced in favor of fathers, and allowed a fathers' rights group to meet in his courtroom."

The HBO response also recounts an alleged episode between Huckabee and a female lawyer to whom he offered a ride in the late 1980s. According to her story, after rejecting sexual advances from Huckabee, she was subjected to retaliation by the judge, who when she appeared in his court was "surly and sarcastic to the lawyer and punished both her and her client by holding her in contempt and resetting the case repeatedly before completing it."

The court document alleges that in February 1992 the lawyer once again appeared in Huckabee's court. "Judge Huckabee threw her out of his courtroom, stating she was not allowed to practice in his court. Huckabee advised her client to hire new counsel and would not allow the lawyer to make a bill of exceptions, and instructed the bailiff to remove her." Neither Huckabee nor the lawyer representing him in the lawsuit returned calls for comment. The suit, which now comprises seven volumes of court documents, is headed for a trial in Judge Sharolyn Wood's court later this year.

Huckabee's Republican opponent, Bonnie Crane Hellums, is endorsed by CourtWatch, a watchdog group composed of local professionals and created in response to reports of widespread abuses in the family courts, and Phrogge Simons, leader of a long-running citizen protest at the Family Law Center.

By promising to limit campaign contributions from lawyers who practice in their courts, Hellums and most other CourtWatch-backed candidates have made a pledge that goes right to the core of a problem underscored by HBO in its response to Huckabee's suit: "Some litigants believe that if they must appear in Family Law Court in Harris County, their ability to get a fair trial will depend on whether the lawyer they retain is on good terms with the judge. This image is promoted by attorneys who will brag about which judges they are in good with."

Considering that incumbents usually dominate the balloting in the Houston Bar Association's Judicial Preference Poll, Hellums also won solid support from fellow lawyers. She pulled 1,142 votes in the bar poll, to Huckabee's 1,421.

Huckabee is also quite the campaign do-it-yourselfer, reimbursing himself nearly $8,000 out of his campaign fund for expenses over the past year. And if you've ogled those funky plywood signs he's set up around town, you'd believe he built them himself.

Turkey Divine
The architect of a below-radar, church-based "stealth" write-in campaign that knocked four Democrats out of judgeships they initially thought they'd won two years ago, far-right Republican John Devine has emerged in the harsh light of day for this year's election. The solo law practitioner, with minimal court experience and a young daughter named "Genesis," is carrying his anti-abortion crusade from write-in status to the mainstream against the jurist most identified with the abortion issue, Judge Eileen O'Neill of the 190th District Civil Court.

While Devine has moderated his campaign material in appealing to the blissfully unaware, only those wanting an ayatollah on the bench and an unprotected Family Planning Clinic should knowingly consider punching his number. According to Larry Maxwell, the Christian school textbook and curriculum critic who has sued several local school districts, "When God moves, he does so with divine intelligence and divine purpose. John Devine made the decision to run against Eileen O'Neill because the Spirit of God had convicted him as a Christian, as a father and as a good citizen, that Christians cannot back up any further. Constitutional rights for Christians have been under attack long enough. It's time to fight back."

In his 1992 campaign literature, Devine attacked O'Neill's use of a temporary restraining order imposing a protective cordon around abortion clinics that were under siege by protesters in conjunction with the Republican National Convention. "Until the TRO expired, four Christians spent 19 days in jail for praying in public. Not for trespassing -- for praying," read his campaign handout. "Judge O'Neill's order was specifically drafted to set up a police state in which Christians were arrested for sharing God's word and for PRAYING!" In his current non-sectarian incarnation, Devine has limited the issues he addresses for general consumption to eliminating frivolous lawsuits and making the legal system more user-friendly. One indication that Devine hasn't changed: his campaign headquarters in north Houston are one suite down from those of the Link Letter, the monthly newsletter for far right-wingers and home-school proponents.

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