Chronicle: Former Harris County deputy’s firing upheld after posts on white privilege Facebook page

Houston Chronicle report:

A Harris County board on Tuesday upheld the firing of a sheriff’s office deputy who shared two racist posts on a private Facebook group called the “White Privilege Club.”

The sheriff’s office terminated former Det. James Thomas’ employment this year after investigating his behavior on social media, stemming from a letter from an investigative reporting group detailing the accusations, Assistant County Attorney Graylon Wells said.

After two investigations into the matter, the Sheriff Ed Gonzalez denied a first appeal for reinstatement, and the Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission on Tuesday ruled in line with the agency’s head.

“Nobody forced James Thomas to make those posts,” Wells said at the hearing. “James Thomas made decisions, he made actions and it’s a learning lesson for him. But that shouldn’t be forced on the sheriff. He can learn his lesson and go somewhere else.”

During the appeals hearing, Thomas and his attorney pointed to the perils and ever-changing nature of social media while denying that the posts were outwardly racist. Wells countered that Thomas shouldn’t be reinstated because his behavior online broke department policies of professionalism.

More at Chron.com.

Federal court dismisses ADA-Jail Suicide Case

Federal court dismisses ADA-Jail Suicide Case

Federal Judge Ewing Werlein granted summary judgment in favor of Harris County on February 25 in a lawsuit arising from the suicide of Danarian Hawkins which occurred in 2015 while he was a detainee in the County Jail. Plaintiff claimed that the County violated the Americans with Disability Act by failing to reasonably accommodate Mr. Hawkin’s known mental health disability (bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder) by not providing him a “safe” cell and not providing him with constant observation. Mr. Hawkins mother, Jacqueline Smith, contended that Mr. Hawkins, who had attempted suicide several times in the jail, should not have been placed in a cell by himself and given a bedsheet since he had previously attempted suicide by hanging himself with a bedsheet using the smoke detector attached to the ceiling.

Judge Werlein found that Plaintiff’s ADA claims were traceable to the medical decisions of a psychiatrist who had concluded that Mr. Hawkins had improved and was adhering to treatment and could be discharged from the Mental Health Unit. The uncontroverted evidence was that Mr. Hawkins was housed in single cells because of his history of assaulting other inmates and staff and that was never singled out for denial of visitation.

A state licensed counselor, who visited Mr. Hawkins the day before the suicide did not refer him to the Mental Health Unit because she did not consider him to be actively suicidal. The judge stated: “After his suicide, of course, any observer and perhaps [the counselor] herself could second-guess the judgment she made the day before, but the fact remains that it was a medical decision and therefore does not raise a fact issue on Plaintiff’s ADA claim.” Laura Hedge and Keith Toler were the lead attorneys on this case. Andrea Mintzer served as lead paralegal.

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Citizenship Question on Census: County Attorney Ryan Brief Part of Record

A court brief filed by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan will be part of the record considered by the U.S. Supreme Court today in a lawsuit seeking to prevent the U.S. Census Bureau from including a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census.

 Ryan was joined in Harris County’s brief filed earlier this month by Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George and the City of Marfa.  The brief asks the Supreme Court to affirm a district court judge’s ruling that the citizenship question cannot be included.  The ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the Census Bureau by the State of New York.

 “We join in the concerns expressed across the country that a question on citizenship will reduce the number of people participating in the 2020 Census,” said County Attorney Ryan.  “This question will intimidate our immigrant population.  We want everyone to participate—whether they are citizens or not.”

 The brief states that the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census will cause an undercount of each jurisdiction’s significant foreign-born population resulting in disproportionately low representation at the local, state, and federal levels along with corrupt data inadequate for effective governance.  An undercount will also hurt the amount of federal dollars coming to these communities in programs based on population.

 Harris County’s growth has always been driven by immigrants intertwined with new industries creating diverse economic engines for Texas and the country, Ryan points out in the brief.  Neighboring suburban Fort Bend County has exploded in growth, diversity and affluence in the last few decades electing its first non-Anglo chief executive since the 1800s, immigrant K.P. George.  While the tiny City of Marfa has not seen such explosive growth, it shares a high foreign-born population with Harris and Fort Bend at risk for a net undercount in the Decennial Census.

 Ryan says the current intense climate of fear among immigrants makes it all the more likely that the net differential undercount will be more acute in Texas should the citizenship question be added to the census.  In the past, as with the decades-long practice of using “white primaries” to disenfranchise African-American voters, the Supreme Court was the only source of protection to the constitutional rights of people wishing to engage in the civic sphere. 

 “Now, the Supreme Court’s intervention is needed again, to ensure the integrity of the data for representation and effective governance is protected,” County Attorney Ryan said.  “Judge George, the City of Marfa and we agree with the New York district court’s finding that the undocumented and Hispanics will be disproportionately undercounted if the citizenship question is left in the Census.”

 Ryan said this issue is so important that he has had his court brief translated into multiple languages so more Harris County residents can learn about this issue and what his office is doing to prevent the use of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census.  The translations can be found on the County Attorney’s website at www.harriscountycao.org.

Texas Lawyer: Commissioners Vote to Replace Judge Who Inadvertently Resigned

Harris County Civil Court-at-Law No. 4 Judge William “Bill” McLeod is off the bench, after accidentally resigning by declaring his interest in running for the Texas Supreme Court. His replacement is Lesley Briones, a 2007 Yale Law School graduate formerly of Vinson & Elkins.

Harris County commissioners voted to replace the judge who accidentally resigned by declaring his interest in running for the Texas Supreme Court, not knowing that the Texas Constitution provision said it meant he automatically had to step down from the bench after announcing his candidacy.

Harris County Assistant County Attorney Doug Ray said that his legal opinion is that McLeod did trigger the automatic resignation provision in the Texas Constitution. He said the County Attorney’s Office found that McLeod had announced to multiple groups that he was running for the Supreme Court, there was a website about his candidacy and McLeod filed paperwork that listed a treasurer for his campaign.

In the meeting where scores of people declared passionate support for former Harris County Civil Court-at-Law No. 4 Judge William “Bill” McLeod, asking commissioners to allow him to keep his bench as a holdover official until a special election in 2020, the audience was booing and yelling loudly as commissioners voted to appoint his replacement.

Commissioners voted 4-1, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack against, to appoint Lesley Briones, a 2007 Yale Law School graduate who worked at Vinson & Elkins for four years before becoming COO and general counsel of the Laura & John Arnold Foundation, a major philanthropic nonprofit headquartered in Houston.

More at Texas Lawyer.

Houston Chronicle: San Jacinto Waste Pits Watchdogs

Waste pit watchdogs: Residents near San Jacinto Superfund site maintain constant vigilance

Emily Foxhall 

Houston Chronicle, Feb. 8, 2019 

Four days before Christmas, Beach City’s new mayor learned something worrisome: A company was seeking a permit to dredge near hazardous waste pits in the San Jacinto River. The firm wanted to dump the potentially toxic sludge 15 miles away on a neighborhood lot next to the only park in Beach City, which stretches along the coastline south of Mont Belvieu and Baytown.

Mayor Jackey Lasater heard about it not from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which received the application, but because of an advocacy group, which in turn was tipped off by a Channelview resident the Corps notified by mail. At the time, Lasater was on his way to Arkansas to visit his father, who fell and had hip surgery. But the 15-day public comment period for the project was halfway over. The mayor and others got to work.

This was their reality. With clean-up of the waste pits planned but not yet started, local politicians, nonprofits and residents still vigilantly watch what takes place around the river’s Superfund site, a scary sounding name for a spot, visible from Interstate 10, where waste from a paper mill was dumped decades ago and is today unsafe. Pollutants like that are not a concern in Beach City, where residents rely on water from wells.

More at the Houston Chronicle.