Things are a little tense these days among the 15 Harris County criminal court-at-law judges. For some observers, though, it ain't the tenseness, it's the absurdity.
No one is talking much about it, but the dispute features judge Mike Fields squaring off against some of his brethren.
The issue: an e-mail forwarded to at least one of the judges from one of their colleagues. Why it's an issue: It apparently included a poster for the underground short movie entitled Gayniggers From Outer Space. (The movie itself is made by gays from Denmark and is a spoof of sorts; the title allegedly refers to what some gay African blacks in Europe call themselves. You can see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAW5NRj2YhE.)
Courthouse chatter targets one of the judges, a prolific e-mailer, as the likely suspect, but no one's willing to step forward publicly with the name. But the fracas, which has dragged on for months, involves nasty e-mail exchanges and, according to one source, a district attorney investigation into whether a letter from Fields to the Judicial Conduct Commission had been tampered with.
Fields, who is black, initially answered some of our questions and agreed to provide us with the relevant e-mails, then stopped returning our calls.
He was coy about whether he had filed a complaint with the conduct commission. "I can't discuss a pending complaint, if one were to have that filed," he says. "And I can't discuss whether or not one was filed...Did I take some action that I thought was appropriate? Yes. Yes, I believe I did."
Besides the movie e-mail, Fields says he also received an e-mail featuring a (really lame) joke about the Titanic carrying mayonnaise, and thus the anniversary of its sinking being "Sink-o de mayo."
"That was, I thought, derisive to Hispanics," he says. (Maybe not as derisive as The N-Word, but certainly a crime against humor.)
Through an intermediary, one of the judges involved indicated that he thinks Fields is, if not grandstanding, then at least being too tight-assed.
A couple of media outlets in town have filed Open Records Act requests for the e-mails, but have not been successful in getting them.
At this point it's tough to tell what, if anything much, will happen. But at least it might mean more exposure for a movie featuring characters named Sgt. Shaved Balls and Armin Ass, so it's not all bad.
More Gay E-mail
Last week offered a good way to test your gay-friendliness. If you ever, at any time in your life, said so much as hello to a gay person, then you were forwarded an e-mail about a dispute between a Houston couple and a landscaping company.
If you somehow didn't receive it, Houstonians Gary Lackey and Michael Lord wanted to get some landscaping done. Lord talked on the phone to Sabrina Farber, one of the owners of Garden Guy, and everything seemed set for the company to come out and do an estimate.
He then got an e-mail from her saying, "I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals."
Ferocious e-mail forwarding ensued.
So how did Farber know Lackey and Lord were gay? Was it their request for a huge topiary of the Scissor Sisters?
No, Lackey says. Farber kept asking if his wife would be present for the meeting under discussion; eventually Lord told her that his "partner" would.
The Farbers, whose company website includes Bible quotes and a link to www.nogaymarriage.com, have been refusing media interviews. But we got one of the earlier forwardings of the e-mail exchange and so we reached Farber while she was still answering the phone.
Unfortunately, the interview -- here it is, verbatim -- dealt less with the subtleties of homophobia than it did with the nuances of journalism.
Hair Balls: Hi, this is Rich Connelly, and I'm a reporter with the Houston --
Farber: And you're calling because you got an e-mail that I sent. Well, I am going to answer you.
Farber: We own our business. And we had made a decision. And I answered a potential client. And that's it. And there's no law against it. Now is that what you want?
HB: Well, I certainly want --
Farber: I don't want to be quoted and I don't want an article --
HB: Well, you have to be quoted if you just told me something.
Farber: No, I don't, because I didn't give you permission. And if you quote me, I'll sue you. I didn't give you permission to publish.
HB: Ma'am, I didn't agree -- I said I was a reporter and you told me something.
Farber: Fine, then that's it. And don't call me anymore.
She then hung up, and apparently hunkered down for the Internet onslaught that ensued. And will no doubt continue for years, as these things tend to be re-discovered and newly passed around on the Web for eternity.
By the way, if you didn't get a forwarding of the e-mail exchange, your gay cred is shot. Go and get the Queer as Folk boxed set immediately.
Free As A Burd
Houston attorney Gene Burd pled guilty 16 months ago to making a false statement on his tax returns, specifically not including more than $600,000 in income he made from kickbacks from chiropractors. (Think of it as The Simpsons' Lionel Hutz and Dr. Nick Riviera.)
Four months ago, Burd received a 33-month sentence in a federal pen. In December he starts his imprisonment.
You'd think a guy like that would be disbarred by now. You'd be wrong.
Even though it's been well over a year since Burd admitted to his ambulance-chasing, kickback-getting ways, the State Bar of Texas hasn't disciplined him. As of the first week of October, one local attorney says, Burd was still practicing in his Houston office.
What's a guy got to do to get disbarred these days?
Maureen Ray, a lawyer in the Bar's disciplinary office, says her hands have been somewhat tied. They have been following Burd's case but couldn't file a disciplinary action against him until they received a certified copy of the criminal judgment, which didn't happen until his sentencing.
In the year between Burd's guilty plea and his sentencing, any potential client who called the Bar to see if Burd was legit would have been told he was, even though Bar officials knew all about the plea.
"It is frustrating," says Ray. "It's very frustrating, because we think of ourselves as prosecutors...The wheels of justice can turn slowly."
The disbarment process is under way now, she says. Although if he does report to prison in December, you'd think the problem would more or less take care of itself.
How 'Bout Them Hawgs?
The New York Times recently took notice of the longshot campaign to get UH quarterback Kevin Kolb a Heisman Trophy, and mentioned that Kolb had successfully hunted a 430-pound wild hog. Take that, Brady Quinn!!
Houston Press reporter Todd Spivak is our go-to guy for all hog-hunting stories (See "Hog Wild," August 24), and he talked to Kolb, who confirmed his long, deadly, knife-wielding war with the evil of feral swine.
"It's a never-ending battle," he says. "The more you kill the more they show up."
The hogs, which the Stephenville native says make "good eating," need to be killed before they ruin farmland. "My father's neighbor lost 80 percent of his crop to them," he says. "People don't see that side of it."
He's got two dogs that he's trained by putting them in a pen with a feral hog. He comes by his hobby honestly, having tracked the pigs for miles, on his hands and knees through the brush, as a kid on his grandfather's ranch.
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His favorite hog-hunting story? Last winter, on a foggy night in Southeast Texas. His two dogs had gotten ahead of him, and he followed the sound of their barking to a pit near a river.
"The hog was backed up into the water, throwing the dogs back and forth," he says. "Luckily we had a gun that time. It took us three shots to kill him."
Kolb's Heisman chances have faded with UH's two recent losses to low-ranked teams. So any feral hogs who thought they might be safe during his New York trip for the announcement ceremony had better think again.
Kolb is coming. For you.