Outed on the Internet: A Houston professor's plight becomes a web phenomenon

Highlights from the Blog at HOUSTONPRESS.COM

Courts, Environment

Go to Jail
Harris County sends polluter behind bars

by Richard Connelly

Here's something relatively new: A Harris County polluter is going to jail.

Vince Ryan, the new Harris County Attorney, has decided to make pollution a priority, and he went after the owner of a northside auto-parts salvage company that had been dragging its legs on cleaning up and paying fines.

He convinced District Judge Tony Lindsay that the polluter was in contempt of a court order mandating cleanup, and so Luis Ortiz will now be spending five days in jail.

It's been about ten years since that's happened, the office announced.

Harris County Special Counsel Terry O'Rourke tells Hair Balls — who forgot to ask if he still goes by the nickname "El Tigre" — that the move was designed to put a scare into other polluters.

"In the 21st century, there hasn't been anyone sent to jail by the Harris County Attorney's office because of pollution," he says. "We plan to send a lot more, to send a message."

Ortiz, O'Rourke said, "is not some poor Hispanic — he's a businessman with several locations, and he just cut corners."

The case, involving a property at 8401 Airline, has been around since 2006. In January, Ortiz was ordered to pay $45,000 in fines and clean up the toxic waste.

O'Rourke notes that the county attorney doesn't have jurisdiction over criminal matters, but by bringing civil suits — with the threat of contempt for ignoring court orders — they can get things done.

Ortiz, for instance, can be sent back to jail if the property isn't cleaned up as the court has ordered.

"Once you get that steel door slamming on you, it really makes a difference," says the ever-quotable El Tigre.

Political Animals

Outed on the Internet
Houston prof's plight becomes web phenomenon

by Mike Giglio

The famous blogger was on the computer in his mother's basement when he got the news. A rival had uncovered his true identity and would soon reveal it to the world.

And so John Blevins gathered his kids and went to lunch.

Blevins, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, has used the nom de blog "publius" for more than five years, currently with the popular group site Obsidian Wings. He was back in Kentucky visiting family when he became the center of a blogo-storm and a vibrant debate over pseudonymity that captivated all who pay attention to such things.

The liberal publius, who started writing during the 2004 presidential primaries "to spare my wife and dog from the rants," had been engaged in a spat with conservative blogger Ed Whelan over something to do with a joke once made by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Publius quoted and then endorsed a post by someone else calling Whelan a "legal hitman." Publius went on to say of Whelan: "He's a smart guy with outstanding legal credentials. He just enjoys playing the role of know-nothing demagogue."

At this, Whelan went public with his assailant's identity. (Note: Whelan has since apologized. Blevins has since accepted his apology.)

Hair Balls caught up with Houston's new (sort of) most-famous blogger.

Hair Balls: How has your life changed?

John Blevins: It's just been really weird more than anything else to see my name everywhere. I think any potential problems will come down the road. My fear is things like how my students would react, how my family would react. Those are things I just don't know yet.

HB: What could happen with your family?

JB: It sounds weird, but I don't think there's a single member of my family that even knows that I do it...I'm the only Democrat in the family, and it just creates some awkwardness, particularly with certain members.

HB: So you're not looking forward to the next family gathering?

JB: It would make Thanksgiving somewhat less pleasant.

HB: How will you address this with your students?

JB: I'm just not going to bring it up. My view of the classroom is that it should be nonpolitical. If someone asks me about it, I'll acknowledge it and say I'm happy to talk about it after class during office hours, but I don't really want to get into it in class.

HB: Will this affect your writing?

JB: I hope not. It's hard to say. I read some bloggers who said their writing did not change afterward. My fear is that I'll be a little more cautious, and I hope that I'm not.

HB: Whelan confused pseudonymity with anonymity. What's the difference?

JB: Anonymity, I think, is someone who shows up one time, can hurl a bunch of insults and just completely disappear. But writing under a pseudonym is different. I mean it's really no different than writing under a brand name. I have been using this name for five and a half years, and I've invested a lot of time into my reputation. If I say something stupid, I know I'm going to get called out for it. That has happened many times, and so I think that imposes discipline...I read a comment somewhere that said, "Oh well, he can just go start a blog under a different name if he wants to and disappear." But then I'd be starting from scratch again.

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