Best of Houston®

Best Of 2011


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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Criminal Court Judge

Correction: Former State District Judge Caprice Cosper has never expressed the opinion that she has been impressed with her successor, Judge Maria Jackson. The Houston Press regrets the error. When she was elected to the 339th Criminal District Court in 2008 as part of the Obama-led Democratic sweep, Maria Jackson already had three strikes against her: She had defeated Caprice Cosper, perhaps the best liked and most respected incumbent (and former Best of Houston® Best Judge in 1999); she came from municipal court, hardly the birthplace of judicial heavyweights; and she had never spent a day as a Harris County prosecutor, a critical pedigree for anyone aspiring to a criminal bench. And so most of the cognoscenti at the Criminal Justice Center, especially those from the Chuck Rosenthal government-in-exile, thought Jackson would be in way over her head. Well, turned out they were wrong. Jackson has gone about the business of dispensing justice in a way that has even impressed Cosper, her highly regarded predecessor. Jackson runs a tight but cordial courtroom with a staff that does not have the disposition of prison guards.

Best Act of Kindness

"Kindness" might be too frivolous a word to describe the heroic undoing of a terrible injustice. Anthony Graves spent 18 years on death row for the horrific slaughter of an entire family, his fate sealed in part by the word of another convicted killer who later recanted. In 2002, after he had already served eight years in prison, University of St. Thomas journalism students, under the direction of instructor Nicole Casarez, took a closer look into the case. What resulted was a Pandora's box of prosecutorial misconduct indicating that the Burleson County District Attorney's Office didn't care whether Graves was actually guilty. In 2006, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves's conviction and ordered a new trial. But a special prosecutor assigned to the case determined there was not a shred of evidence Graves committed the murders. He's now a free man, thanks in part to a bunch of dedicated students. Makes us kind of ashamed to think of how we spent our undergrad years.

Best Flack

If Cripe's name looks familiar, it might be because you've read her statements when she was with Continental Airlines, or her passionate involvement with a mayoral task force formed to fix the city's tarnished animal control department. More recently, embattled City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones tapped Cripe to help explain her side in an oft-confusing, largely idiotic investigation that hinged in part on whether Jones had used a city fax machine. Cripe either lacks (or is damn good at hiding) the hostility that a lot of flacks harbor toward the media; instead, she proved to be a reliable source of information and intelligent statements — even on deadline. We've never felt like we were getting the runaround with Cripe, whose dedication to her clients comes without ridiculous spin. To us media folk, it's remarkably refreshing.

Best New Approach to Mass Transit

Few local government agencies were as dysfunctional as Metro for the last ten years or so. Run by a secretive, defensive management that disdained transparency and any criticism, the agency ran up big costs, got little done and put Houston's projected light-rail system at great risk by trying to cut legal corners. Not long after Mayor Annise Parker took office, things began to change, and the biggest change was putting in George Greanias as CEO. A former city councilman and shoulda-been mayor who lacked only TV-age charisma, Greanias is a numbers guy who demands things be run ethically, cheaply, smartly and openly. For people used to dealing with the old Metro, the 180-­degree turns can sometimes cause whiplash. And yes, he needs better habits when it comes to porn and Metro computers. But if that's the biggest scandal of his time there, we'll take that any day as compared to his profligate predecessors.

Best 15 Minutes of Fame

This might be a bit of a cheat, because Nikki Araguz — who first came into our consciousness when her firefighting husband died in the line of duty and it was subsequently revealed she was born with a penis (or a penis-like birth defect, depending on what version she's telling at the time) — has managed to have multiple 15-minute bursts of fame. Just when it seemed the media frenzy surrounding the court battle over her late husband's inheritance was winding down, a filmmaker issued a press release saying Araguz was going to have her very own reality show, centered around her dating life. This was followed by Araguz being accused of stealing a woman's expensive watch. Every few months, for the past year, Araguz has managed to resurface, and while it hasn't always been under the best circumstances, we have the feeling she tremendously enjoys the attention. And it appears the rest of us enjoy giving it to her.

Best Place for a First Date

Ah, nature. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping and Mother Earth is at her most fertile. And if you're on a first date at Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, so are you. Wander together hand-in-hand on meandering paths bright with flowers, and breathe deeply in the heady herb garden. Copses of tall trees offer secluded getaways, perfect for making small talk, or just making out. If you're into a sportier time, rent a kayak or canoe and take in the beauty on the water. Embrace the healing power of nature, and you might just get some sexual healing of your own.

22306 Aldine Westfield Rd., Humble, 77338

Best Criminal Court Judge: Maria Jackson


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