Current Status of the Courts In Galveston County Texas
By: Mark Diaz
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Current Status of the Courts In Galveston County Texas
Hello everyone. It has been a good while since I’ve been able to do one of these live Q&A sessions, this is mainly because the trials in Galveston County have opened back up. We’ll talk a little bit about that during this live session that I’m doing to try to update you all. I’ve missed live sessions because of jury trials that I’ve been in.
Playing Catch Up After COVID Shutdowns And Delays
If I wasn’t in trial, I was trying to play catch up at the office from being in a trial the previous week. The last two trials I’ve had were an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and intoxication manslaughter. The courts for some reason are in a hurry, an extreme hurry, and it just doesn’t make sense. Hopefully, we’re beyond COVID. There’s not been much spread here in Galveston County. Hopefully, we’ve gotten past that.
The thing is, now the courts are acting like since we weren’t able to function properly because of COVID, we need to now do as much as we can, as fast as we can, as if it’s somehow our fault that COVID shut everything down. There is not much or any consideration to whether or not we were in a trial the week before.
Thomas and I were in trial for the intoxication manslaughter case, it went on into Friday. Then that Friday, we were getting emails from another court telling us we were number one for the following Monday. Back in the day, courts would give deference to people who had just been in trial and usually as a professional courtesy, give you a break and let you bump to the next trial period. That’s all over because we’re just in a rush to get cases tried. It doesn’t matter if people are on bond, or in jail. We’re in a hurry here in Galveston County.
District Attorneys Resigning
Another development since my last live session is there has been a very large impact on the DA’s office here, by way of resignations of assistant district attorneys. We’re not talking about insignificant resignations, we’re talking about a large group of the most experienced prosecutors that work for that office have now left. I think the number I heard recently of departures within the last couple of months was 10.
They’ve lost approximately 10 Assistant District Attorneys and again, this was a major blow to their office because we’re talking about some senior attorneys that had been there 18-20+ years and had a wealth of experience in the office. They’ve now left and either gone to other counties or come to the defense bar. This has created a vacancy or a lot of vacancies within the District Attorney’s Office. Which for us means more delay.
Then when you still have courts that are short prosecutors, it increases the burden on the prosecutors that are in that court, which of course means they can’t do as much because they’re working on twice the caseload. It makes it harder for us as defense attorneys to get things done as well. It becomes hard to get the work that we would normally get or the attention of the assistant that we would need to sit down and discuss the case with because they have so much going on.
In addition to that, the courts are in a hurry to try cases. The DA’s are worried about their next trial case and don’t have time to sit down and discuss important issues that I have for them, that I want them to look at on my case. This makes it difficult for us because it translates to client frustration, wanting to know why things are taking so long.
Delays In Cases
As you know, generally I try to get on here for my live session at about 3:30. I was a couple of minutes late today because I was on the phone with a client who was frustrated at the pace of his case and what he perceives to be the inaction of the state, and moving forward with some of the issues that we’ve identified and tried to discuss. As I explained to him, I have no way to control another person’s workload. I can’t simply stomp my feet and insist that an ADA look at my client’s case right now, today, because that’s what he wants, it just doesn’t work like that. Again, with the shortages within the office, it’s tough.
The other thing is they’ve promoted and/or hired younger attorneys. There is nothing wrong with young attorneys, I was a young attorney once. The problem is that the more experience that you have, the better you are at assessing a case, or determining the value of a case so that you can properly negotiate a plea.
One of the cases I tried several weeks ago was an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which is a very serious offense. We tried the case, ultimately, the jury found my client not guilty. The interesting thing about that case was that my client had been in custody the entire time. When we finally got to trial, I found out that it was that prosecutor’s first trial. That, to me, is dangerous.
We should not have prosecutors who have never tried a case handling and assessing serious felonies on their own. It’s a dangerous position to be in because again, we’re talking about years of a person’s life that they could be incarcerated, perhaps due to the inexperience of a prosecutor who may not be properly evaluating a case. We are trying to navigate all these types of things right now, while the DA’s office goes through what they’ve called a transition year or a rebuilding year.
As I said, they had a lot of key people leave. Now they are trying to figure out how to retool and make it better. They have hired at least one experienced prosecutor that I’m aware of from another county to come in and be a chief. There was another misdemeanor prosecutor who came from another county and did have experience. Then in misdemeanor, they hired three people that were called pre-commits, which means they hadn’t received their bar results. The last bar results came out on Friday, and all three of those pre-commits passed the bar exam. They have now been hired on as assistant district attorneys in the misdemeanor division.
I don’t know what the plan is across the street to fill the missing felony prosecutor positions. I’m confident they’re working on it, but I don’t know how it is going. Time will tell. We were in a court this morning, where there are only two prosecutors, typically there are three. Like I said, that increases the caseload for those two because normally there would be a third person. That’s not anything to do with the prosecutors in that court. It’s just the facts.
If normally, it’s a three-person caseload, now it’s not down to two. That means more work for the two that are left. The more work that you have, the harder it is to get things done. You have to prioritize what you’re going to work on. With jury trials coming back on Monday, that means those two have to also prep for the trial that’s coming up. There is not another person left remaining to work on the cases. It makes the entire system slow down.
Getting Through Case Backlog
That is what we’re dealing with now. Until the trial load evens out back to pre-COVID numbers, and the judges start to come down on the sheer volume of cases, then it’s just going to be this way for a while. Compound that with absences in the DA’s office and I don’t know what an easy solution is. I know that other counties have brought in visiting judges, specifically to try cases, so they can try to get rid of their backlog of trial cases, due to COVID.
Since I don’t practice in other counties, I don’t know how well that’s working. I do know that this backlog that we’re dealing with now, I don’t see how it’s going to be easy to get rid of any time soon. I know in my office, I had to print out the rest of the year’s trial schedule, and it’s interesting because there are weeks now, where five felony courts all have criminal jury trials the same week. In my office, we will have multiple courts and trial cases in each court. I can’t try more than one case at a time. There is going to have to be some coordination between the courts, which court gets me, and which court has to wait. There is just no other way to do it.
Anyway, as I said, it’s been a while, mainly because of the trial schedule that’s opening back up, I’m going to try to come back more frequently and keep doing these videos. I do want to give a shout-out to the Galveston County pretrial. After I did that live session on the bond situation, the Galveston County pre-trial office saw it and asked me to come to their meeting so I could learn more about everything that goes through pre-trials to try and keep their system going and improve upon it. They’re doing a really good job.
I learned a lot from them about what pretrial is doing. The improvements that pretrial has made over the years in getting lesser, nonviolent offenders out quickly and for less money or no money, so that it’s not a burden to them. That was a good meeting. I’m glad you all invited me. I should be back next week. When I’m not on trial, I’ll do these videos. When I’m in trial, we’ll figure something else out. I hope everyone had a good week, and I’ll see you soon.
Call For A Free Consultation With A Galveston County Defense Lawyer
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