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Rookie of the Year

It's near the courthouse, but it isn't at the courthouse.
Craig Malisow

Shannon Burns, 25 years old, is only a few months out of law school. Until October 21, she had never set foot in the Harris County Civil Courthouse.

But that day she handled her first case alone and won a major, major victory: She got World Series tickets.

(Yes, we realize that in hindsight it was sort of like winning the chance to have a root canal, but remember -- those tickets were going for thousands of dollars before Astros fans realized that attending the game would involve watching Morgan Ensberg's breakdown.)

Burns got an injunction forcing another woman to hand over the Series ducats that Burns had agreed to buy. The seller had gotten a better offer before she delivered the tickets and tried to back out of the deal.

Burns was representing her father. "Walking in was fine, but the hearing [October 21], I was definitely nervous," she says. "The good thing was, if we lost, my dad just didn't get to go to the World Series -- I wouldn't get into too much trouble with my clients."

The dispute didn't involve a ticket scalper -- instead, it was someone trying to sell part of the Baltimore Orioles' allotment of Series tickets, at face value. A dozen tickets for each game in Houston were at stake. Burns's dad was contacted by a friend who knew the seller, who was trying to sell the tickets to a single buyer.

Burns herself is a huge Astros fan, so she was well aware how high the stakes were.

"I was just surprised by the fact I didn't faint," she says. "Honestly, speaking in front of people is one of my biggest fears."

Not at the ballpark, though. "I'm not laid-back at all -- I'm a very feisty kind of fan," she says. "If a pitcher walks one, I'm yelling at him. I won't name names."

Well, Brad Lidge didn't walk anybody in the Series, so we guess there was nothing to yell at him about.

Burns's victory doesn't necessarily presage a win for the other legal battle stemming from the Series, a suit filed against Major League Baseball for ordering the Minute Maid Park roof to be left open. Asthma-suffering fans say they weren't told the roof would be open.

Lawsuits claiming mental cruelty for continuing to send Adam Everett up to hit with men on base had not been filed by press time.

On What Grounds

Beverly Malazzo is an associate judge in Harris County's juvenile courts, but she has set her sights higher.

She wants to run for the judgeship of the 315th District Court, one of the county's three juvenile courts. To do that, she needs to get 500 signatures on a petition. The way she's going about it is causing some grumbling among local criminal attorneys.

Malazzo sent out an e-mail announcing that she'd be holding a petition drive outside the Family Law Building. The attorneys on the e-mail list, one lawyer noted, are the same attorneys who are eligible to be appointed to represent juveniles in the courts. If Malazzo wins, she'll be the one making those appointments; if she wins, it probably wouldn't be a bad thing for an attorney to have his name on her petition.

That's not all that unusual -- in the gray-ethics world of the courthouse, judges get almost all their campaign cash from people who practice in front of them. Campaign contributions make absolutely no difference in how an attorney gets treated by a judge, rest assured. (We know this because judges tell us this every time we write about campaign contributions.)

Alerting potential appointees to their need to sign a petition is one thing. It's where they were supposed to sign it that further raised eyebrows.

Malazzo supporters set up a table on the plaza outside the Family Law Building. The Texas Election Code states that potential candidates can't collect signatures "on the grounds of a county courthouse or courthouse annex."

Malazzo says she interprets "the grounds" to mean the Family Law Building itself. The supporters collecting signatures promised to provide a statute backing up that contention, but they never did.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State's office said he could not find any opinion by the agency defining what "the grounds" means. You'd think the grounds would be everything but the building, but then again we're no lawyers.

Out and About

Readers of the Houston Voice got a little news on the opinion pages this week: Hard-nosed Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith is -- well, if he's not gay, he's pretty damn gay-friendly.

Kevin Naff, managing editor of the Washington Blade, a sister paper of the Voice, wrote a column on celebrities who refuse to answer questions about whether they're gay. As part of the column he wrote that Smith once tried to pick him up at a Manhattan piano bar and invited him back to his place.

"We sat at the bar chatting and drinking martinis until 3 a.m., our conversation interrupted only when [Smith] paused to belt out the lyrics to whatever showtune was being performed," Naff wrote.

Come on -- straight guys like showtunes, too, don't they? Don't they?

We tried to reach Smith, but a Fox spokesperson didn't return messages. Naff says he's been getting a lot of mail, both pro and con, about the column.

"And a lot of people have said, 'Oh, you're violating their privacy, and who they have sex with, that's private,' " Naff says. "Well, yeah, who you have sex with is private…All I'm saying is, the very fact of your sexual orientation should not be a secret. It should not be something to be ashamed of and hidden."

Well, maybe. But what about the important stuff: Why did you (allegedly) turn down Smith?

"I am not single, so I was not able to take him up on his offer," Naff says.

So he wasn't a jerk?

"No, he was a nice guy and we had a nice chat," he says.

Damn. We thought all Fox anchors were jerks.

Salt in the Wound

Hurricane Rita for the most part spared Houston, but the folks in nearby Jefferson County got hit pretty hard. People who lost their homes in the storm got some not-so-great news soon after. That uninhabitable hulk on their property? It's going to be taxed as if it were in perfect shape.

Jefferson County officials won't be reappraising damaged homes, and sent out the yearly tax bills in October as if Rita never happened. You think you've lost everything, and the government comes through to make sure you lose just a little bit more.

Roland Bieber, chief appraiser for the county, did some figuring and determined that the average homeowner would have saved only $52 on his tax bill; reassessing the homes might have cost $45 each. (Bieber estimated that the average home suffered damage of 20 percent of its assessed value; of course, many suffered close to 100 percent damage.) The small amount of savings is mostly because Rita hit late in the tax year, he says.

Some Jefferson County residents aren't too pleased, according to the Beaumont Enterprise. But county tax collector Miriam Johnson says there's not much the county can do.

"We're going to try to work with [people] the best way we can, and I'm not sure what that's going to be at this point," she says.

Take heart, residents: Even if you've lost your home, you can pay taxes as if it were still there.

At Least It Was Quick

Wednesday, October 26, wasn't exactly the Day the Astros' Hopes Died -- things had begun to look plenty grim before that -- but it was the day the Series ended.

The atmosphere at the park was suitably funereal as the hometown boys continued to fail to score. The Astros were down by only one run, but that run seemed all but insurmountable for dazed 'Stros fans, still groggy from the previous night's five-hour marathon.

Houstonian R.E. Day wasn't fazed, though. As Game Four wound to its inevitable conclusion, he bet the Sox fans surrounding him $100 that the Astros would pull it out. As the Chicago team tumbled around the mound in celebration, he pulled out a Benjamin and handed it over. "It's going to be a long ride home," he said.

There were thousands of White Sox fans on hand, singing the team's traditional taunting song, "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)."

Astros fans stuck around after the final out, cheering players like Biggio, Bags, Ensberg and Backe as they came out on the field to salute their supporters. (No truth to the rumor that Ensberg tried to wave but missed.)

Within a half-hour, the park's hallways were deserted, the Astros fans had scattered, and the bitter taste of the Series had yet to yield to good feelings about the season.

But there's a whole winter to rest up and rejuvenate. And get ready for next year's torture.


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