The Insider

The group recently held a reception at the home of GOP lawyer-activist Holly Williamson to hand out trophies to its favorite judges. Williamson says she was under the impression that P.O.L.I.C.E., Inc. was a political action committee. Consultant Mary Jane Smith, who works with the group, says the boys are just your average group of civic-minded narco-lawyers.

"They appear in court all the time as police officers on drug deals," explains Smith. "They were concerned about some of the goings-on in courtrooms and decided they wanted to support certain judges and recognize real good guys and maybe help challengers." John Harlan Spjut, P.O.L.I.C.E., Inc.'s vice president, did not return an Insider inquiry. Perhaps he was too busy juggling that dual career busting druggies and trying court cases.

A cynical courthouse observer suggests the counselor cops actually use the judicial awards and their group endorsements as a way to influence judges while picking up the odd civil court appointment or two.

Campaign Low Blow
Incumbent criminal county judge Jim Barkley won recognition several years back as the judge who sold golf duds out of his courtroom chambers. Last year Barkley announced his retirement, but later reversed himself and declared for re-election. In his current bid, Barkley seems to be borrowing a cover-page idea from Newsweek magazine, which darkened an image of O.J. Simpson for dramatic effect.

Barkley's opponent in the upcoming GOP primary is Mike Fields, a former assistant district attorney and a very rare bird -- an African-American running for a Republican judicial nomination.

In a campaign brochure, Barkley went out of his way to make sure everybody knows Fields is black. Blacker in fact than he actually is. The Barkley mail-out takes a photo of Fields and his wife that the candidate used in his own campaign material. After cutting out Mrs. Fields's photo, Barkley's campaigners printed Fields's mug, but it came out several shades darker than the original. Next to Fields's tinted photo is the caption "Lifelong Liberal, Yellow Dog Democrat masquerading as a Republican."

Fields says the judge is obviously playing the race card, since very few judicial candidates include pictures of their opponents in their campaign fliers.

Barkley's consultant Heidi Lang explains away the darkening of Fields's face on the campaign brochure as accidental and having nothing to do with race. Besides, retorts Lang, Fields told the Chronicle editorial board one of his qualifications for judge was being an African-American candidate for an almost all-white judiciary, so he's in no position to accuse others of playing race cards.

Warning: Uncontrolled Ego on the Loose
Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Susan Christian hasn't been shy about broadcasting her ambition to succeed lame duck director Bill Smith. She'd like to be taken seriously, but instead she's getting guffaws from City Hall insiders after issuing an 11-page, self-promoting analysis of her department. In the document, Christian claims credit for everything from the Houston Industries Power of Houston laser and fireworks display to the visits of Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush to former Mayor Bob Lanier's much hyped Parks to Standards program.

According to Christian's missive, in 1994, Mayor Lanier entrusted her with his "blueprint of a new dimension in spectacular family entertainment impacting every neighborhood in Houston." The deputy director says she set out to implement Lanier's vision by reorganizing her department "into a marketing arm of the city of Houston and the mayor's office."

Not content to build herself up, Christian takes some not-so-subtle jabs at her boss, director Smith. She points out that nonprofit agencies dealing with the department feel disenfranchised and that record keeping of soccer and golf programs is inconsistent. The city has no way to determine accurately the number of youths participating in those programs, notes Christian, and, most damning, "there must be a strict and adherent accountability for all decisions made in the Parks and Recreation Department."

By the end of the document, Christian likely comes dangerously near exhausting available City Hall stocks of the personal pronoun "I." If all her claims are true, parks and recreation director is far too humble a title for Christian. Parks czarina or empress might be more fitting.

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