We must Change Harris County’s Shameful Appointment System Now.

posted in: My Observations | 2

 Friends – 

 We must do away  with the ugly appointment system in Harris County. Good people like  State Senator Rodney Ellis and Past HCCLA President Jack Zimmerman, as well  as  others worked hard to pass this Act.

The problem is that, notwithstanding the language of the Act, the problems in the Court appointment system persist.  In fact they may even be worse. What happened is simple: the Harris County Judiciary essentially ignored the intent of the Fair Defense Act and continued to do things their way. The Judges in Harris County control the Court Appointments.  We have 22 District Court Judges and 15 County Court Judges and they each continue to control how appointments are made in their court.  This is how it has been for the last 30 years I have been a lawyer and  it must stop.  The time for it to stop is Now!

In  my opinion, most of our State and County court judges are good people. Personally, I like most of them, and they at least act like they like me.  Individually, most of them try to do the right thing.  But they are human beings which means, notwithstanding the robe they are  capable of making mistakes. When you are a judge and you and your colleagues make a mistake and you all repeat that mistake, over and over, the damage caused by that mistake is magnified. The result is  a very ugly picture, a very ugly criminal  justice system.  A criminal justice system that punishes people for being poor. That is wrong and it must  stop Now.

The Harris County Criminal Appointment system is controlled by the judges. It is their creation and it is a wretched creation.  Favored lawyers who are known to move cases are given an obscene number of court appointments.  Lawyers who work hard on cases, who do their job are given a much smaller number of cases.  The result is a small group of lawyers, handling an exceedingly large number of cases.  Likewise, the result is a large group of lawyers,  who are competent, are not given enough cases.  This is not a matter of opinion. This is a matter of fact. The fact is demonsrated by the link that I am providing. Look AT IT!! It will show you lawyers that are handling 2, 3 and even 4 times the national recommended number of cases.

There are only so many hours in a day. No lawyer can provide adequate assistance to this many clients. So one may safely presume that in Harris County many lawyers are not providing effective assistance, simply as a result of  time constraints.  Restated: By perpetuating this system, the Judges in Harris County, each in thier own way are contributing to institutionalized ineffective assistance of counsel by the lawyers who are clearly handling too many cases. Would you want your family member represented by someone who moved 400 cases, 500 cases, 600 cases, 700 cases, or 800 cases a year?  NO you would not. These numbers, which occur in Harris county all exceed the number of cases recommended by the American Bar Association.  That is not some lefty group. That is the staid American Bar Association. They are conservative by nature, yet our appointment system, as it exists does not even come close to their recommended case levels which are high.

The Fair Defense Act was the Judiciaries chance to do things right. They have failed. They are making no move to change this egregiously wrong system.  If no outsiders intervene this system will go  on and on and on…  My post and those that follow will be my attempt  to movivate  my Fellow lawyers,   Community leaders, Legislators, The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association,  and other stake holders need to put an end once and for all to this system. The  legislature is in session.  Laws can be passed to change this Now.  We need not allow the disgrace to go on.

An independent Agency needs to be created. That agency needs to be staffed by individuals who are knowledgeable and professional. That agencies mandate should be to make all state and county appointments and to implement the Fair Defense Act. Such agencies exist in other jurisdictions.  In Texas their is such an agency in Lubbock. San Mateo, California has a national model, that we can follow.

I love Texas, and I love Houston and I love my fellow Houstonians. I do not love our State & County Court appointment system. Our Judges are good folks, but it is past  time for them to  get out of the court appoinment business. In federal court, the District Court Judges do not make  appointments. Appointments  are made by clerks at the magistrate level who have no connection to the trial court. 

An independent agency making the appointments is what is needed. The agency would not cost much to run.  Staff could be drawn from existing personnel.  A trusted person, known for their fairness could be put in charge.  Former Judge Caprice Cosper comes to mind. The Public Defender would have no control.  A Board of Trustees could be put in place, comprised of stakeholders and respected appointed counsel, to oversee the agency, to make sure it was operating properly.

And this is very important: I do not advocate reducing the number of private appointments made.   There should not be one less appointment. I advocate a redistribution of the appointments to qualified appointed counsel.  When one lawyer is drawing work for four lawyers that is too much.  The clients suffer.  Those cases need to be given to the good lawyers who are not recieving adequate appointments. If the appointments are fairly spread out amoung our many qualified private counsel, the system will provide better representation to the indigent defendants. And Good court appointed lawyers will be given work, rather than watching other lawyers handling 3 and 4 times the number of cases they should get. 

Indigent defendants  have suffered enough.  Today I am drawing a line in the dirt. The system as we know it must stop.  The judiciary has proven that they need to divested of the power to make state and county appointments. Their creation, as seen in the data is beyond shameful.  The time for tweeking is over. 

Fundamental change must occur. The legislature is in session. I call on ALL who care about our justice system to stand with me, and  my colleagues.   The system is wrong and it must be changed.  The disgraceful  system may be seen by going to the link below.  

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0By1E7SWXMpKnRUVydEw3Um1zUW8/edit

I am  fully committed to this action.

 God Bless Texas.

Robb Fickman, Houston.

  • John

    Great stuff Robb.

    I wanted to mention, however, that those numbers are a bit deceptive. Many of the folks on the Harris County appointment list also accept appointments in Fort Bend, Brazoria, Waller, Galveston and/or Montgomery County. Also, there are several attorneys on the list who were appointed to Capital cases, in addition to their other appointments. Those cases, obviously, require much more time and effort than your run-of-the-mill 1st, 2nd, 3rd or SJ felony.

    So, it’s even worse than it looks!

  • http://www.davidmryan.com david ryan

    Awesome work, Robb… let’s keep the light shining brightly on this!