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Change Comes To The Harris County Courthouse

No doubt some Harris County attorneys woke up with a bad hangover today, either from repeatedly toasting their candidates’ victory, or drowning the sorrows swelled by a tidal partisan shift.

But criminal defense lawyers Brian Wice and Randy Schaffer told Hair Balls this morning that, either way, it’s not in the best interest of justice to have judges running along party lines.

As Wice sees it, there are “chuckleheads” on either side of the divide – and unfortunately, these chuckleheadish tendencies are sometimes overshadowed by their party affiliation.

“Frankly, some of the Democratic candidates who got swept into office and will wake up on the morning of January 2 wearing black robes…to the extent that the think they got there on merit, as opposed to having a D after their name, I think they’re living in a bizarro world,” Wice, the legal analyst for KPRC, told Hair Balls.

But he also pointed out that, “On the other hand, there are a couple of incumbent judges over whose demise I’m certainly not going to shed any tears -- and I know that’s a sentiment joined in by my brothers and sisters in the ranks of the criminal defense bar.”

And while Schaffer would also rather see non-partisan judgeships, he said he doesn’t necessarily mind the idea of saying goodbye to judges who’ve served for decades.

These long-termers sometimes, he said, “get stale, they lose their perspective…it becomes routine, you’re not looking at people anymore, you’re looking at an assembly line of cars coming through, and you’re putting tires on cars like you’re working on an assembly line in Detroit. And you stop seeing the humanity in front of you.”

However, both were disappointed to see criminal court Judge Caprice Cosper lose her seat.

“Caprice Cosper in my estimation and in the estimation of people whose opinions I respect, was pound for pound the best criminal court judge in that building,” Wice said.

Schaffer said that, while Cosper previously served as a tough prosecutor, “You could not ask for a fairer judge to appear in front of….She bends over backwards to be fair to people and to give people with drug problems every opportunity to correct their problem without getting into the prison system, which just exacerbates it, usually.”

They also were sorry that Judge Roger Bridgewater only got the chance to serve a short while; and Wice was especially fond of the way Judge Brock Thomas handled some headline cases.

“I saw Brock Thomas handle a couple of high-profile media cases with grace and a firm hand,” he said, “and I say that because if I had been on the bench with some of the lawyers in those cases…I would’ve wizard-kicked a couple of them.”

Schaffer is also cautiously optimistic about the idea of trying cases before judges who haven’t come directly out of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, as, he said, has been tradition.

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“You would like to think, with a group of judges coming in who are not fortmer prosecutors, that perhaps they will have a different perspective and perhaps they will be a little more likely to see both sides, instead of having a myopic view where they see only one,” he said.

And as long as we’re talking about the DA’s office, Schaffer was already looking ahead.

Without actually saying DA-elect Pat Lykos’s name, he said the person in that office will probably be a one-termer, should interim DA Ken Magidson decide to run in four years. “They probably should not get too comfortable and change all the wallpaper and redecorate,” he said, adding, “I think, you know, whoever’s got it now is just keeping the seat warm.”

-- Craig Malisow

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