Blog Stars

Ten local sites that rock our world

Mark Bennett

It was about a year ago, March 26. Criminal defense attorney Mark Bennett was asleep. His phone rang. "Listen, Mark, I've got something for you," said a voice on the line.

The tipster told Bennett that First Assistant District Attorney Jim Leitner had a plan to force "whales" — cases the state thought would be so easy to win, they'd be like shooting whales in a barrel — to trial instead of letting the accused plead guilty. Apparently, the idea was to give new prosecutors some experience.

Laura Mayes of Blog Con Queso used to think blogs were cheesy.
Courtesy of Laura Mayes
Laura Mayes of Blog Con Queso used to think blogs were cheesy.
Albert Nurick of H-Town Chow Down is a burger man.
Courtesy of Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick of H-Town Chow Down is a burger man.

Bennett shared the scoop on his blog, Defending People. "Forcing an accused who is willing to plead to reasonable punishment to instead try his case isn't justice; it's bullying," he wrote.

The next day, the Houston Chronicle ran a story on the plan, calling it "a 'whale' of a bad idea." Bennett was interviewed. "It's unethical," he told the paper. "A prosecutor's job is to seek justice, not win easy cases." Leitner, the story said, would not proceed with his plan. The whale story is one of a few Bennett has broken on his blog.

Bennett works with his wife out of a house in the Heights. He started his blog three years ago. In that time, it's become influential in local legal circles — and quite a resource for criminal defense attorneys. "I'm not writing for everybody," he says. "I like to write for people that have the same interests I have. Those are more toward the criminal justice system, criminal cases, how to try cases, how to deal with judges, how to be in the business of being a criminal defense lawyer."

But Bennett's blog isn't dry. His 16 Simple Rules for Jury Selection — which includes the Nike Rule, the Blind Date Rule, the Shrek Rule, the Improv Rule and the Beer Pong Rule — is a highly readable, and apparently quite useful, guide. According to Bennett, criminal defense lawyers from different parts of the country have reported using his rules, and winning with them. "That's really in the criminal defense lawyer's spirit," says Bennett. "Most of us look at each other and say, 'That's not really a competitor, that's someone in the same business as me.'"

How choosing a jury is related to Shrek and beer pong — you'll have to read for yourself.

Laura Mayes

Back in 2006, Laura Mayes was spending six months on maternity leave from her job at a Houston ad agency. The busy professional, who had been working since she was 14, felt stuck at home. "All of a sudden I had all this time and this new baby, and I didn't know what the heck to do," says Mayes.

She started taking pictures of her son Harry and sending them to her sister in Boston. In fact, Mayes e-mailed out so many photos, her sister decided to give her call. As Mayes recalls, her sister said, "I like you, and I want to like my nephew, but I'm not thrilled with either one of you right now. Stop sending me so many photos. Here's what you do: Start a blog...I'll look at it at my leisure and show Mom how to do it, too." At the time, Mayes, says, "I thought blogs were pretty cheesy." But she mulled the idea, and one night, having a glass of wine, she came up with the name Blog Con Queso.

What started out as a way to share photos with family quickly became more than that — it became Mayes's creative outlet. She started blogging about whatever was on her mind. Besides being a mom, she wrote about designing her home, clothing, music, recipes, her thoughts and goals. And pretty soon, after she did a post wondering what color to paint her dining room and got a large response, she realized that people were reading her.

What followed is a testament to the power of the Internet. Through her blog Mayes connected with Gabrielle Blair, author of the blog Design Mom. She did a few guest posts for Blair, they hooked up with another blogger and a plan was hatched for a Web site called Kirtsy, which is kind of like the content aggregator Digg, but for women.

Kirtsy launched in June 2007, and at the time, says Mayes, "We really did it for ourselves, thinking this was a way to share content." Today Kirtsy is a profitable business, and the site's best content has been gathered into a book, Kirtsy Takes a Bow, edited by Mayes, who left her ad agency job last April. But of course, says Mayes, "The Queso is where it all began."

Albert Nurick

Things did not go well when Albert Nurick visited Rise & Dine in The Woodlands. The service was erratic, the menu was difficult to navigate and, worst of all, the food sucked.

"The French toast was a gloppy mess; it had been soaked in egg for too long, then undercooked; the middle of the Texas toast was wet and raw," he later wrote on his blog, H-Town Chow Down. "The bacon was very thinly sliced, greasy, and limp. Only the hash browns were serviceable, although they were no better than what we'd expect from IHOP or Denny's."

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