Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
So much is going on in the world these days that picking one topic to write about is sometimes difficult. Topics abound but one stands out for me today. Last night I watched a video by Eleven Films called “This is Not a Movie”. I’ve linked it down below if you have seen it.
The last few weeks have been a real rollercoaster, have they not? A rogue Supreme Court, a fourth of July mass shooting, and more revelations from the January 6th hearings confirmed that things were probably worse than we realized. Our County Judge and Commissioners Court doing everything they can to hobble our elected Sherriff, school board trustees breaking quorum during a budget hearing, and egrets taking down the power in Taylor. It surely seems our nation and our county are going to hell in a handbasket.
Recently, I was asked about my interpretation of the meaning of Liberty and Freedom. The first thing that came to mind was The Preamble to the US Constitution which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”. Most important in that sentence, for me, is that all men are created equal. We can argue that ALL men weren’t what Jefferson meant. He certainly didn’t include his slaves of African descent. While we more modern folk interpret men to mean human, that wasn’t really the case for Jefferson either. Women’s rights weren’t on his mind. But still, these words have power far beyond our shores. They’ve inspired other nations to join us in Democracy.
• My office has been closed and not working for nearly 2 years
• My autopsy costs have risen 400%
• My court has an inordinate amount of appeals on procedural grounds
• My office never responds to voicemails or emails.
• Because I identify as LGBTQ, have been an LGBTQ activist in the past, and asked to fly the Pride flag at my court, I am obviously biased
I used to believe that our own ingenuity and survival instinct would save us. That climate change would be controlled through the judicious use of science and innovation. We might wait until things looked gloomy, but we’d pull a hail Mary out of our collective ass and fix it. Today, I am no longer confident we’ll come close to anything like this.
Sine Din for the Texas Legislative Special Session 2 occurred on September 2. With the end of that special session came several pieces of legislation that successfully made it to Governor Abbott’s desk to sign.
Recently, at (yet another) Commissioners Court meeting, my office came under verbal attack by Commissioner Boles and County Judge Gravell. Once again, the facts were ignored in the name of political grandstanding and quick soundbites. Once again, I must correct the record and let the people know the truth.
I am concerned with some of the comments made by Russ Boles this morning in Commissioner’s Court. I have been working from home, which was made possible by the Office of Court Administration and Texas Supreme Court rulings, as has the bulk of my staff. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s new emergency orders state:
‘[This order] continues the authority of all courts to modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures for a stated period ending no later than October 1, except as noted below (the Court’s order indicated that this is intended to be the last order permitting suspension of procedures and deadlines, except in justice/municipal courts where the suspension is intended to extend until 1/1/22)’
As Williamson County approaches its third week in the yellow phase of moderate community spread of COVID-19, I wanted to look back at what our office has done during the lockdown and beyond.
What we all watched unfold on live television Wednesday, January 6th was nothing less than an attempted coup.
We are born, we live a little while and then we die and will someday be forgotten. No man, no matter his contribution to humanity, can change the tides of time. No matter your race, creed, wealth, or lack thereof, faith or lack thereof, political leanings or lack thereof, the world keeps turning and time moves ever on.
We’ve all seen some pretty wild speculation about the source, validity, and proper response to COVID. Some of them are patently absurd (it’s a master plan by Bill Gates and the Chinese to implant us all with 5G tracking chips). Some of them are cleverly cloaked in reasonable terms invoking the names of distinguished research facilities and universities (gargle with warm water and check for lung function by holding your breath). Still, others are peddled so fast and furiously over social and broadcast media that their source, veracity, and worth are lost.
We’ve all seen the protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We’ve watched the video of his murder, in all or part, on social media or cable news. We’ve argued over whether the violence taking place at some protests, the looting and damage being done, is being done by the Black community or outside instigators. Quotes from Rev. Martin Luther King are appearing on my Facebook feed as some try to remind people of his non-violent approach. Others are responding with images and reminders of what happened to King and his fellow protesters.
The first thing I want to say is – DON’T PANIC.
Be concerned. Be vigilant. But don’t panic.
The thing to understand about this virus is this:
• It looks enough like the flu and other respiratory diseases that you may not even know you have it.
• Therefore, the best way to protect yourself is to follow the basic precautions that you’ve all heard – wash your hands frequently, disinfect surfaces, cough into your elbow and practice social distancing.
• Confirmed cases are not the same thing as true cases – many more people have the virus than we know, some of them showing little to no symptoms.
• People over 65 and anyone with a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, immune diseases, and lung disease are at the highest risk for severe illness and death.
• Nationally as of 3/16, there are cases in 49 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US Virgin Islands.
• If you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive to COVID-19, you should self-quarantine for 14 days.
Disinformation - from the Russian dezinformatsiya. The intentional use of false and misleading information to deceive public opinion, usually through the media. Propaganda. Fake news.
In Texas, withholding rent will get you evicted.
It seems straightforward. You’ve asked your landlord to repair problems with your apartment or rental property. They have failed to do so. So, you decide to withhold your rent to “encourage” them to fix the problem. However, if you do this, in Texas at least, you can and likely will be evicted for non-payment of rent.
I’ve spoken before here about mental health and my own experiences. I am a strong proponent of mental health and its destigmatization. Our court is constantly looking for ways we can assist those who enter our building by taking care of their mental health. In particular, I’ve looked for ways to provide help to our juveniles. I’ve created self-help guides, researched practitioners and software-as-a-service to bring new ways of helping youth and parents in our court.
Getting your children to school is part of every parent’s responsibility. The state considers school attendance important enough that it is mandated by law and includes criminal charges for parents who contribute to non-attendance and civil charges for older youth who are truant. The state defines truancy as unexcused absences exceeding 10 days in all or part. This means once your teen has skipped 11 periods in a single semester, the school SHALL begin truancy proceedings. It also means that every time your child is late to school or an individual class by more than 15 minutes, they will be marked as absent. Do that often enough, and you can be criminally charged and your child, if they are older than 12, can be charged with truant conduct. Either charge results in a visit to my court for both of you.
At JP4, my staff cannot give out legal advice. We can give you legal information which generally consists of where to go or who to contact for more information. We have several sites listed on our webpage where you can go to get legal information. For example, we have a packet of information available for you to use to prepare your suit. It contains all the forms needed to file. We can give you some information on how to fill out those forms but determining what the precise amount to sue for should be falls under legal advice.
Since taking office on January 1st of this year, Justice of the Peace Pct. 4 has made significant changes and updates to improve our processes and make our building more welcoming and efficient.
Chippewa Falls, WI
My daughter has a t-shirt with this phrase emblazoned across it, including the asterisk. Below the phrase is another list, a typical disclaimer. It reads: Must be 18 years or older, not available in all 50 states, some restrictions apply. Sadly, that disclaimer does apply in all aspects to our Pledge of Allegiance.
Withholding rent to force your landlord to make repairs is not as simple as many think. The Texas Property Code has specific requirements that must be met before a tenant can force the issue. It also has limits on how much you can deduct from your rent.
Terminal Uniqueness, Toxic Individualism, and Mental Health.
I take two medications daily. Likely, I’ll be taking them for the rest of my life. Both are for chemical imbalances. One of those drugs and the disorder it treats would raise no eyebrows. It’s common drug therapy for a common problem. The other is much the same but the disorder it treats carries a stigma.
As of this moment, I have run 60 death inquests. Of those, I have 3 whose pending outcome is still somewhat in question. Nearly half are natural causes. (I get a lot of hospital deaths since I have the county trauma center and two other hospitals in my Precinct.) Of the remaining deaths, 20 are accidents and 9 are suicides.
Generally, corporate personhood allows companies to hold property, enter contracts, and to sue and be sued just like a human being. In fact, many times a small business owner will incorporate to protect themselves from personal liability. In other words, if you want to sue your auto repair person for faulty workmanship but the company he works for, even if he is the owner, is a corporation or LLC, you can’t sue him directly. You must sue the corporation or business.
“You’re ugly.” “You smell.” “You’re stupid.”
Pushed into a locker. Tripped getting to your seat. Books knocked off your desk.
Being isolated. Having no one willing to sit with you. Whispers and rumors and giggles following you.
These are all forms of bullying. They happen every day in our schools. They are NOT acceptable, normal behavior. They hurt everyone involved – the child who’s bullied, the child who bullies, the bystanders, the teachers and the parents. It’s directly related to an increased risk of truancy. Addressing the bullying problem in our schools starts with acknowledging the problem.
One of the options we give people who have a hard time paying their fines is community service. Sometimes, community service is part of their remedial order, especially for juveniles. I thought I’d go over some of the options available in our area.
We tell people that they can volunteer with any non-profit in the area that will agree to sign off on their hours. Goodwill is a common source of hours, but there are plenty of other options.
A food desert is defined as an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. "Many poor people live in food deserts—where they have plenty of food but none of it healthy". Where are the food deserts in our county, specifically in Precinct 4, and what can we do about them?
We’ve talked about death and inquests. Now, let’s talk about donating your organs and/or body after death. There are several ways your decisions today can help numerous others after your death. You can donate organs, tissue and even your full body.
In the Justice Court, all class C cases are punishable by fine. The maximum fine for any class C misdemeanor is $500. Court costs vary but are generally under $100, with a few exceptions. Traffic tickets have set maximum amounts that may be less than $500 depending upon the offense. What happens when an individual is unable to pay the fine and court costs? Defendants have several options to pay their fines – payment plans, community service and indigency.
It’s rare for me to go through a day in truancy court and not hear from a teen that part of the reason they have excessive absences from school is their anxiety or depression. In fact, the CDC says that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety and another 3.2% of that age group have been diagnosed with depression. Having another disorder is most common in children with depression: about 3 in 4 children aged 3-17 years with depression also have anxiety (73.8%) and almost 1 in 2 have behavior problems (47.2%).
Protective order, restraining order and peace bond are three legal terms regarding people’s behavior that vary in important ways. Only one of these are issued by a Justice of the Peace. The others are matters for higher courts. People often confuse these terms and think they are interchangeable since they all deal with placing restraints on behavior.
Folks loan friends and family money all the time. Most of the time, nothing untoward happens. The money gets repaid or the loan forgiven and all is well. But sometimes, well, things go south. The money never gets repaid and relationships suffer.
Death is a part of life. Most of us try to avoid thinking about this essential fact, but it comes for us all. When it comes for you or someone you love and circumstances dictate law enforcement involvement, this is when I, as a Justice of the Peace, get involved.
Today is the last day to vote early in your local elections. You’re voting to choose new council members and mayors for your cities. The turnout for these local elections is usually abysmal. Often fewer than 5% of the eligible voters will cast a ballot. In a city the size of Taylor, which has an estimated population of 18, 254, that means roughly 912 people cast a ballot and decide the direction of city government. That assumes all 18,000 plus are eligible voters. They’re not. Some are too young to vote, some are not registered, some have lost the privilege. So, the number of people that decide Taylor’s government is much smaller. If voting trends hold true, well fewer than a 1,000 people will vote in Taylor. The same holds true in larger municipalities across the county.
A pro se defendant is one who represents himself and has no legal counsel present. It’s a common occurrence in Justice Court to see one or both sides self-represent. It’s not necessarily a bad thing despite the adage that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.
The idea of a federal minimum wage began in the 1890s. In 1912, Massachusetts passed the first minimum wage legislation in the US. It wasn’t until 1938 that we had a federal minimum wage with the Fair Labor Standards Act. The rate was .25 cents an hour. That’s $4.45 in current buying power. Sounds like the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a significant improvement.
Once a week, I see truancy cases. Students and parents come in to my court to discuss why the student is missing school and what needs to change. In almost every case, there is more going on than a brief hearing can address. We work with schools to create plans to recover credits. The goal is always for the student to graduate or move on to the next grade level.
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- living wage
- minimum wage
- pro se
- local politics
- death inquests
- death certificates
- small claims
- contract law
- protective orders
- peace bond
- restraining orders
- domestice family violence
- emotional abuse
- menal health
- payment plans
- organ donation
- body donation
- tissue donation
- food deserts
- community health
- mental health
- tenant's rights
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- el paso
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- property code
- repair and remedy
- black lives matter
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- mass shooting