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A Punch in The Nose

I recently saw some statistics regarding Harris County’s court appointment system.
The statistics made me ashamed of the Harris County Criminal Justice System. As is often the case here, the system is more criminal than just.I have seen these statistics before. I have commented on them before. I have never before published them.

That will soon change. As soon as I have an official copy of the Harris County Court Appointment records, I will publish those records here. Those in the past who have sent me ugly emails for my condemnation of the system may save your efforts. The system is a disgrace and I will publish.

In my opinion those records will show:
1. Approximately 10 lawyers disposed of approximately 300 felonies each, in a one year period, for a combined 3000 felonies. That’s right. 10 lawyers disposed of 3000 Felonies!
2. As you might guess, a relatively small number of lawyers appear to receive a disproportionate share of felony appointments.
3. A relatively small number of lawyers appear to receive & dispose of a very large number of misdemeanor cases. (This is part of the Harris County Plea Mill which I will talk about soon.)
4. Many of the Courts appear to purposely ignore the Fair Defense Act to the detriment of indigent defendants.
5.  Further,  the court’s actions appear to be to the detriment of a large number of good court appointed Lawyers. Many good lawyers apparently receive limited appointments, seemingly as a direct result of a small number of lawyers receiving a disproportionately large number of appointments.

I will publish the records as I receive them. I believe you will see precisely what I outlined above. In publishing this list, My goal is to expose the systematically abusive appointment system. The ugly numbers speak for themselves.

In my opinion this is a necessary first step in attacking and changing the system.
If we are ever to have a fair appointment system, one that gives indigent defendants an even break, four things must happen :

1. We must expose the abysmal system as it currently exists; That includes routinely publishing the appointment  records. I will start that routine with my publication of the records I receive.

2. We must take away the power to make appointments from those who consistently value expediency over Effective assistance of counsel. The judiciary must have little or nothing to do with appointments. History has shown, that many judges appear to care more about the size of their docket than justice. The judiciary’s role in making appointments must ultimately be eliminated.

3. An independent county agency, free from influence from the Courts and their staffs must be created. The District Attorney’s Office and The Public Defenders Office must have nothing to do with this office. This office must be independent & serve to appoint lawyers in a non-biased fashion based on the lawyer’s qualifications. Similar independent offices have been created in other jurisdictions. This office would be staffed with competent professionals charged with the proper administration of the Fair Defense Act.  To insure professionalism and protect against longstanding cronyism,   an independent  Board consisting of our leading Court Appointed Lawyers, and trusted community leaders  should oversee this Office and the implementation of the Fair Defense Act.

4. We must have a system that is designed to reward lawyers who work hard at effectively representing their clients. Such honorable lawyers should be adequately paid for their out of court time and given incentive rather than punished or insulted for working hard. Likewise, lawyers who engage in quick pleas without investigating the facts, the law or potential defenses should not be rewarded for a job poorly done.

For too long the Harris County Criminal justice system has gotten it backwards. We are going to change that. We must make this fight without regard to the fact some may not like it.  I do not care if some who profit from their participation in this disgrace are unhappy with me.  I do care about the endless stream of indigent defendants who get saddled with criminal records by a system that is wrong.

Friends, this system will never self correct. A system that will never self-correct, must be corrected by outside forces. We few, Are the Outside forces. Community leaders, state legislators, the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, members of the judiciary, and   The Chronicle must join together in this long overdue fight.

It’s time we gave this ugly system a punch in the nose. Humans are not cattle. It is time that we stop treating them as such in Harris County.

Robb Fickman

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