Although she's technically not a whistle-blower, Enron executive Sherron Watkins's memo to Ken Lay warning him of the coming catastrophe last fall made her the Cassandra of the biggest business scandal ever to hit the city. Watkins managed to stay on the Enron payroll while becoming a national hero through appearances before congressional interrogators. She's now collaborating with Houston writer Mimi Swartz on an upcoming tell-all book about life inside the Crooked E.
Republican Lynn Hughes hardly blinked when he advanced from his state district court (a civil one, no less) to the federal bench some 12 years ago. That characteristic aplomb has yet to be erased by some of the most demanding cases at the federal courthouse. He's coupled a healthy disdain for the traditional veil of legalese with a quiet but firm demeanor that has established him as one of the most independent jurists anywhere. Hughes demanded answers in a shady immunity deal for the notorious Graham brothers. And he didn't shy away from forcing the government to admit to submitting a false affidavit against an ex-CIA agent and lying to a grand jury in a bank fraud case. By now, his straightforward search for the truth is legendary among lawyers.
Harris County's state district courts were in big trouble in 1997, when the judicial ethics commission in effect bounced then-judge William Bell from the 281st Court bench. Stepping in after that mess was quiet newcomer Jane Bland, a pregnant lawyer who was only 32 -- and looked about ten years younger. Soon, however, even veteran jurists were noticing the unique maturity and stability Bland brought to the bench. She matched a considerable legal acumen with ample interest in social issues such as raising funds for the homeless. Now Bland's one of the proven veterans. She's worked through varied and tough cases: a challenge to the city's billboard law, litigation over the terrorist murders of four businessmen in Pakistan, wrestling with redistricting issues, and even disputes involving Destiny's Child. The name's Bland. The performance is anything but.
Too bad for Harris County and the state of Texas. Those damned technicalities keep getting in the way of another good execution! All the law asks is that defendants get a fair trial and adequate legal representation. And it's exactly those onerous standards that have stymied the county and state in putting down Calvin Burdine. Even though his attorney snoozed during in his 1983 capital murder trial, the trial judge and state appellate courts still upheld the death penalty verdict. But U.S. District Judge David Hittner had a strange notion that a defense lawyer ought to at least stay awake in trial. Hittner's view was vetoed by a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that full court flipped again and supported his logic. Finally, with the rest of the nation wondering just what passes for a judiciary in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed Hittner's original ruling. State officials and judges, of course, howled in protest. We hope the outrage is loud enough to wake up the electorate -- the ones who decide who's supposed to safeguard fundamental American rights.

A severely mentally ill Andrea Yates had drowned her five young children. Her competency was the supposed issue, but it was hard to find much sanity anywhere in these weird proceedings. Into all that madness came attorney George Parnham. Along with defense co-counsel Wendell Odom Jr., Parnham brought a soothing calm into the chaos. His matter-of-fact demeanor, wisdom and insight combined for a textbook performance of professionalism under intense fire. Parnham was patient and enlightening, coupling hard evidence with immense compassion for what had occurred. Regardless of where individuals stand on the underlying issues of the case, Houston should be thankful for this elite defense team. With the world watching and weighing the local caliber of justice in this worst of crimes, Parnham carried away a rare sense of quiet dignity for both the defendant and the system.
Stepping into the large building of T.H. Rogers school a mile or so west of the Galleria is almost always an uplifting experience. First there's the incredible mix of students: The school's a magnet program, so every socioeconomic level is represented; it's both an elementary and a middle school, so there's a wide range of ages; and it's home to programs for both talented-and-gifted kids and those who are deaf or otherwise impaired. Second, there's the reason these varied groups all mix happily: the dedicated and enthusiastic teachers and staff. It's definitely one of HISD's finest success stories.

Best Place to Hang Out with High Schoolers

Baskin-Robbins

Directly across the street from Lamar High School is the place to find out what the kids are wearing, what they're listening to and what's cool. Rid your mind of all of the negative press about teenagers these days, and go hang out at 31 Flavors. You'll meet friendly, open, intelligent kids who, according to the staff there, do nothing wrong, just buy lots of ice cream. The girls dress like J. Lo and the guys like Vin Diesel. They may appear unapproachable, but that's not the case. Buy a cone, sit down and start a conversation. When they're sure you're not a cop or a narc, a surprisingly pleasant conversation will ensue.

Okay, it's not really a room, per se, but the huge trophy case next to the front entrance of this old school holds bizarre and fascinating pieces of Houston memorabilia. Track-and-field trophies from the '20s sit alongside photographs of generations of local junior-highers with funny haircuts who brought home the brass for good ol' LMS. There are women's trophies from way back when, for archery, cheerleading, etc. What's most interesting is how the representations of winning athletes change over time, from clearly male and clearly female to genderless, then back again. It's an odd window into our ever-changing perception of athletes, both male and female.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
As the song goes, "Ain't nothin' like the real thing." If you're doing a dino-party, you really can't beat the ambience of celebrating amid actual dinosaurs. Consider the price regularly paid to set up moonwalks and hire magicians and hungover clowns. Then consider cleaning it all up off a suburban lawn. Think about it too long and you're likely to have an anxiety attack. Calm down. Take deep breaths. Rent out the Houston Museum of Natural Science paleontology hall instead. Comparatively, it's a reasonable expense. For $1,500, the birthday boy or girl and friends can enjoy cake and punch in the presence of ceratopsian (a.k.a. triceratops), a giant pterosaur and the infamous T. Rex. Guests are free to explore the exhibits on the first floor, but special parties do not include the perk of flaunting the "do not touch" rules. Want more structure? Space Mission parties in the Challenger Learning Center start at $200. Up to 20 children (with a couple of helpers per child) can enjoy a mission during museum hours.

The Nutcracker ballet matinee performance just before Christmas is kid central. Any fidgeting, screaming, crying or other nontraditional theater behavior by your offspring will disturb only the other, already harried, parents. Afterward, take them backstage to meet the dancers. All are welcome. A six-year-old we know got her ballet shoes signed, took them home, built an impromptu shrine to them and didn't stop talking about the encounter until after Valentine's Day.

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