Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For The Assistant, it's not just criminal cases...

I'm submitting this for posting fairly late on Monday night, knowing that it's supposed to go up Tuesday morning. I've had no chance to work on it today, and it has very little to do with my criminal case load. Why? Because unlike most prosecutors, an Assistant County Attorney also carries a civil case load.

My friend DAC gave his new cases late last week. My new cases came in about the same time, a stack about a foot thick, mostly possession of marijuana, theft, and assault. Pretty standard stuff for me. But in addition to all of that, in the last month I've done three juvenile adjudications, one mental commitment, three or four CPS cases, and filed six protective orders. If only all I had to worry about was my 92 criminal cases currently active on the docket!

Instead, nearly all of today was spent dealing with protective orders. In Texas, a protective order is granted when the judge finds that 1) family violence has occurred in the past and 2) family violence is likely to occur in the future. This is a civil hearing, not a criminal hearing. The person seeking a protective order is called the "petitioner" and the person that it's sought against is the "respondent." The findings are not required "beyond a reasonable doubt", testimony by the parties is usually very brief, and exhibits are rarely presented. However, what they lack in rigor they make up for in animosity between the parties. They're basically like a miniature divorce and/or child custody case, except the parties don't pay me anything. We had for of them scheduled for this afternoon.

Final tally? On two of them the respondent didn't show up after being served the paperwork, and thus a default order was entered against them. One person agreed to the protective order, and so the order was entered against him. One person contested it, had a lawyer appointed, and we get to do this allllll over again next week.

Along with the new protective order that we filed today...


  1. Assistant, I got very pissed off a couple of weeks ago when my client, a protective order protectee, complained about repeated violations of the protective order. It was clear that her husband had become increasingly unstable. On one occasion he came to her home and left a bizarre assortment of items which included baby clothes, a lot of old notes between the two, and a butcher knife.

    Judge Denton jacked up his bond from $5K to $60K and issued a warrant, and STILL I could not get ANY police department to pick this guy up!

    And because nobody would pick him up, quite predictably, something dreadful happened; he got a gun and literally shot his way into my client's home, and held her and her children hostage for six hours until SWAT team negotiators were able to get him to surrender.

    This guy really belonged in a hospital, not a jail, but his apprehension was for some reason deemed to be a low priority for law enforcement. It was really infuriating. And now not only is my client totally traumatized, but her now-ex-husband is facing felony charges in one county, misdemeanor VPO charges in another county, and a probation violation in a third county.

    And none of it ever should have happened.

    I'm not blaming the County Attorney's Office for this, rest assured of that. But I hope y'all will impress upon the officers with whom you come in contact that these are NOT low priority matters. These are situations that have a significant potential to go completely to hell.

  2. Donald: you are absolutely right, these family incidents are hugely important. The vast majority of the agg assault cases that I see are intra-family, not to mention the "regular" assaults. I'm sorry about your client, that's awful, but I hope she's okay and feeling more secure now.

  3. First off, that's a highly unfortunate situation that never should have happened- all of the tools were there to prevent it. Secondly, I should be clear that I don't work at the Travis County Attorney's office, but rather a muuuuuch more rural county. Unfortunately, the situation you describe is hardly unique. Several of my recent cases intersect in much the same way.

    Of the cases listed above, one of them was a protective order that was filed in my office on Monday a couple weeks ago. Conflict involving the brandishing of a butcher knife between husband and wife leads to his arrest and the intervention of adult MHMR. MHMR decides to immediately release the guy because in their judgment everything's hunky-dory. We held a hearing for a temporary ex-parte order with exclusion from the residence, which the judge granted. However, since it was done on an emergency basis the order was not heard and signed until 5 pm. The order was that the respondent had to vacate by 7. The sheriff's office served the protective order, but the deputy didn't read down far enough to see the exclusion, and let the guy stay overnight (with the victim forced out and staying with friends). The respondent then spent all night destroying the house.

    So Tuesday morning I spend calling up the SO chain to get him excluded from the house as per the order, and then spend Wednesday morning litigating a contested mental commitment on the guy. He gets sent for rehabilitative therapy, and upon release we have a contested hearing for the permanent protective order (also entered).

    I say this all to highlight the inherent difficulty in these situations. We're dealing with violence, true animosity between parties, and often significant mental issues- much the same as you describe in your case. even in the best of circumstances, there's significant opportunity for things to go wrong. Unfortunately, many police and sheriff's officers are unfamiliar with the procedures that are both required and the ones that are available. That's something we're trying very hard to change in my office, but it's obvious we have some more work to do. My strategy has been to educate officers at the sergeant level until they know what to do, use them to help educate the patrol officers, and use them as a resource when things go wrong and need to be fixed pronto. Do you have any suggestions from your perspective that could help address these problems?

    Finally, thank you for your involvement with your client's needs. Far too often our petitioners in protective orders have legal needs that far outstrip what our office is able to provide. The clients that do the best are the ones that follow our advice and immediately seek the help of a competent family law attorney.

  4. those stories are insane. makes me wonder what the cops do all day.


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