Judging Rory

Jurist Rory Olsen can put you in a mental institution and cost you hefty court fees. Critics wonder whether he can handle the job. Big deal -- he's a bottom-of-the-ballot Republican.

"I don't want to talk about my opponent, but I have a far superior education and experience," Olsen said.

Downes got his bachelor's at Boston University, his law degree from the New England School of Law, a master's from Boston University and is an LLM candidate at the University of Houston. He said he wasn't going to talk about his opponent other than to say, "I think Judge Olsen is a decent guy. I think I can do the job better."

The Houston Bar Association preference poll, which is heavily weighted toward incumbents because that's who lawyers practice before, showed Olsen with 715 votes to Downes's 515. In the bar poll on judicial qualifications, 72 percent rated Olsen as qualified or well qualified, while 70 percent rated Downes that way. Olsen's ratings were mediocre compared to most other incumbents'.

Judge Rory Olsen says it's part of the territory that people sometimes will disagree with his rulings.
Courtesy of Judge Olsen
Judge Rory Olsen says it's part of the territory that people sometimes will disagree with his rulings.
Olsen tries to create a warm, welcoming feeling in his courtroom using movie stills and posters.
Margaret Downing
Olsen tries to create a warm, welcoming feeling in his courtroom using movie stills and posters.

Carolyn Taub is still upset over her experience in Olsen's court and doesn't think he's qualified at all to be a probate judge. "He caused me totally undue stress at a time when I'm in the middle of the worst grief period of my life; not to mention this man cost me thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars."

In the motion to remove Olsen from her case, Taub argued that Olsen was biased toward appointing an appraiser with high fees. Her motion pointed out that Nadolney isn't a licensed appraiser -- he subcontracted the work.

Slovacek said whether he should have or not, attorney Haynsworth himself in his initial court appearance said that this was a taxable estate and he might need an appraisal. So the judge ordered the appraisal and he shouldn't be blamed for that.

Taub said that's nonsense, that Haynsworth was talking about an appraisal and a shelter credit trust for her stepchildren when she dies. "Not now. It's when I die. There's no need for an appraisal until I die."

That doesn't matter, Slovacek said. Nadolney should be paid for his work which he was under court order to do, he argued. Slovacek objected to Herman hearing the case, saying, "We had a liberal Democrat come down from Austin to show the Republicans in Harris County how to run a courtroom. He couldn't have reassigned it to another judge in Houston?"

Nadolney said he's trying to put the whole experience out of his mind, although that's difficult with the ongoing lawsuit.

"When he recused himself, that left me out on a plank," Nadolney said. "When I saw that judge come down from Austin, I saw the handwriting on the wall."


On August 17, the Houston Chronicle endorsed Rory Olsen for re-election, saying he and Mike Wood of Probate Court No. 2 had been "innovative and hard-working." That endorsement outraged Mary Edick, who had appeared in Olsen's court in May 2000 trying to get her 41-year-old son, Tim, who has schizoaffective disorder, committed for continued mental health treatment after he'd refused to take his medication for two months and was increasingly psychotic, paranoid and aggressive.

She wrote the newspaper asking why it endorsed him. "I found this judge to be bored, impatient and uncaring. His brilliant decision was to throw my son out of the hospital (the staff was stunned) and onto the streets where he could have been a danger to himself or others," she said.

Edick had known her son was in trouble. He was spending all day sitting in her garage, just smoking and drinking enormous quantities of Coke or coffee. The six-foot-one man weighed 300 pounds with no exercise and no interests. "I felt like I was watching him die," Edick said.

Tim had been assessed at Ben Taub, where he had been uncooperative. After a week, Edick had to ask the court to continue her son's commitment. "Throughout the hearing I got the impression that Judge Olsen was bored. Several times he waved his hand at one or the other of the attorneys, indicating, 'Get on with it.' " Olsen never talked to Edick or her son before ruling that he should not be committed, she said. "A short conversation with Tim would have shown Judge Olsen the seriousness of his condition."

Because her son was so hostile, Edick did not feel safe letting him return home with her. She looked desperately for a shelter that night while her son wandered the streets, or so she thought. The next day, however, a doctor at Ben Taub called to say Tim had never left the front courtyard of the hospital. He was sunburned from being out there for hours. Two doctors went out and "talked with Tim, signed emergency commitment papers and readmitted him to Ben Taub, where he spent several weeks," Edick said.

"He's a wonderful person who's very ill, and when I say he needs to be in a hospital, he needs to be in a hospital. Some judge who doesn't know him doesn't need to be making that decision. Any judge who makes that decision should have to take Tim home for a week."

According to Olsen, who would not comment about the Edick case specifically, he is not uncaring, just following proper procedure.

"Judges are taught in judges school and it's reinforced in judicial seminars that part of being a judge is you maintain a poker face. You do not show emotions," Olsen explains. "I work real hard on my poker face. We are supposed to maintain a very dispassionate demeanor."

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