Backlog

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BACKLOG

 What does “Backlog” mean at the criminal courthouse?  Why is this important to taxpayers?  Why is this an issue in this race?

The Judicial Dashboard

The criminal courts section of the Tarrant County website features a “Judicial Dashboard” for the 10 Felony courts.  This allows the public to see at the current time how each court is doing.  This allows the public to see which courts are efficiently moving their cases through the criminal justice system and which courts are costing taxpayers extra money in how much it costs to house prisoners who have cases pending in each court.

The dashboard is great, but it could and should be improved to provide greater transparency.  [As discussed elsewhere on this website, greater transparency at the courthouse is one of my goals.]  Currently, only the Felony courts have a dashboard.  The Misdemeanor courts should also have a dashboard.  One drawback to the dashboard is that it only gives current information; it should also provide historical information so the public can see how each individual court has done over time. Below are links to three snapshots taken of the dashboard in June, September and December of 2013.

The Opponent’s Claim

Backlog is an issue in this race because my opponent (who has been the judge of the 297th Felony District Court since 1988 and is attempting to move down to this Misdemeanor Court) states on his pushcard:  “Disposed of the most felony criminal cases of all the district courts in 2009, 2010 and 2011 reducing the back log by 700 cases in those years.”  Since he has made a claim about Backlog, it is important that the voters see all of the relevant numbers.  Voters should be allowed to see the complete picture.

On December 18, 2013, there were 1250 cases pending in the 297th, more than any of the other nine felony courts—the 297th is the only felony court above triple digits in pending cases.  The 297th also has the highest percentage of defendants in the County Jail, which show that it is costing taxpayers more to house prisoners with cases pending in the 297th than any of the other nine district courts.  The 297th also had the highest backlog on Dashboard_6-30-13 (1117 pending cases) and Dashboard_9-29-13 (1191 pending cases). For the start of 2014, the 297th raised its 1250 pending cases up to 1270. [Dashboard_1-3-14 ]

But what about my opponent’s claim regarding 2009-11? It is clear that he has access to the statistics from those years.  He should post those statistics in their entirety on his website so that his claims can be verified and the public will know whether or not he had the biggest backlog during those years.  He should also post all of the statistics from the years he has been the judge of the 297th.  The public should also know that it was 2009 when the Legislatatively-created 10th felony court began operation in Tarrant County:  the 432nd. The other nine courts sent cases chosen by those judges to that new court.

The Wayback Machine

Even if my opponent chooses not to post these statistics, a search engine called “The Wayback Machine,” which takes snapshots of the Internet at different times, allows the public to see the Judicial Dashboard from Dashboard_10-19-07. This shows that at that time, of the 9932 cases pending in all nine Tarrant County felony courts, 1629 of them were in the 297th.  Of the other eight felony courts, the next highest court had 1172—457 less cases than the 297th.  The court with the fewest pending cases had 819—810 less than the 297th.  The average for the other eight felony courts was 1038 pending cases—591 less than the 297th.  In the department of Biggest Backlog, the 297th was the clear winner.  The taxpayers were the losers.  The October 19, 2007 dashboard also shows that the 297th had the highest percentage of prisoners in the jail.

Since backlog has been made an issue in this race by the candidate whose headline on his website claims “28 years of judicial excellence,” the public should be allowed to see all of the numbers and decide for themselves whether this is in fact judicial excellence.

Differentiated Felony Case Management

Years ago, Tarrant County took steps to bring more efficiency to the criminal justice system.  Judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers (including me) and others in the system participated in this process, which resulted in the creation of the Differentiated Felony Case Management system. The DFCM led to awards in 2007 from the National Association of Counties and the Leadership Foundation of the Texas Association of Counties.  The awards are on display in many jury rooms of the District Courts. Tarrant taxpayers paid for an out-of-state consultant to help create DFCM.  Before DFCM, each court ran its dockets however it wanted; efficiency and uniformity were minimal.  Hence the need for the consultant.

With DFCM, each court setting now has meaning and a name:  Consultation, Evidence Exchange, Motions, Status and Trial.  It is a narrowing process designed to more efficiently move cases through the system. The different names tell the attorneys for the State and the Defense just how much pressure the Judge will be exerting before they hear the words “the jury is in the hall.”  DFCM has proven to work, as evidenced in part by these awards.

The problem here is that although most felony courts use this system, not all do.  In one court, the first three settings are Consultation, Consultation and Consultation.  This happens to be the felony court which historically has had the highest backlog:  the 297th. Elsewhere on this website I spell out my complaint about how some misdemeanor judges refuse to use county Financial Information Officers and Magistrates to screen every defendant who wants a taxpayer-provided attorney. Those judges in effect “march to their own drummers” at the expense of taxpayers.  The same thing is true of this one felony court that does not use DFCM: the 297th.

Double Dipping

A September 2, 2013 Star-Telegram editorial included these words: “In the courthouse, several long-serving district and appeals judges have plans to switch and run for county courts, meaning they would collect state retirement benefits along with another government check should they win.”  Clearly the S-T knows what is going on as far as the desire to obtain greater remuneration from the taxpayers.  A recent story in the National Journal discusses “a practice some fiscal watchdog groups have attacked as ‘double dipping’” at the Congressional level 

The Need for Transparency

My opponent’s pushcard is a textbook example of why greater transparency is needed in government. When a politician makes this kind of claim, the numbers backing up the claim should be readily available for all of the public to see.  Posting all of the relevant numbers in the most transparent manner possible would allow Tarrant taxpayers to decide for themselves whether this is in fact “excellence” and whether they want to reward this judge in the way he is asking; without fully telling the public in either his pushcard or on his website WHY he wants to move from a higher court to a lower court. [I think why are they running and what are they NOT saying are two of the most important things voters should ask about every candidate.  Specifically here, my opponent says on his pushcard “I’d appreciate your vote again this year.” But nowhere does the pushcard state that he is trying to move from a higher court to a lower court.  Also, do they have passion to make the system better for all? And a fair question for my opponent is how much trial experience in felony court did he have as either a prosecutor or defense attorney before taking the district bench.]

In this election, Republican voters have a chance to tell the world if running a felony court for years with the biggest backlog and the highest jail costs of all of the courts (and “spinning” the numbers to the public in a pushcard) and then seeking to retire from that bench and begin a second retirement plan are in fact conservative Republican values.

If I am elected, I hope to look back one day and know that I made major contributions to making our criminal justice system better.  I think I have already done much in this regard as the quotes about me when I received the Dawson Award show. But as Judge, I will be in a position to do much more to make our criminal justice system be the best that it can be. As a judge, my opponent has easy access to these numbers. The public should too. And since he is citing them, he should post them.

In this election, Republican voters have a chance to tell the world if running a felony court for years with the biggest backlog and the highest jail costs of all of the courts (and “spinning” the numbers to the public in a pushcard) and then seeking to retire from that bench and begin a second retirement plan are in fact conservative Republican values.

True Conservative Republican?

True conservative Republicans should advocate Transparency. My opponent should fully post the numbers he is using to make his claim, so the public can see his complete record and evaluate the words on his pushcard.

My opponent marches to a different drummer than the other Felony judges, but does not tell this to the public, who he wants to believe that since he advertises the words “Conservative Republican,” he is one. His words say conservative Republican–do his actions match his words?

As a Felony judge since 1988, my opponent has long been in a position to make our criminal justice system better. Has he done that? Or has he consistently had the biggest backlog and squandered tax money because of his inability to efficiently move cases in his court through the system? And then ignore DFCM? And then “spin” numbers as he sees fit when he is asking Republican voters to entrust him with this lower court while he collects retirement benefits from the State? In my opponent’s view, is this election about how he can serve Tarrant County, or how the citizens of Tarrant County can serve him?

Don’t Give Ammunition to the Democrats

 If the Republican Party wants to keep the courthouse, we need to bring true GOP values to the
courthouse:
  • More transparency.
  • Not Spin.
  • Not Backlog.
  • Not Double Dip.
  • Not judges who refuse to follow systems put in place after consultation with court efficiency experts.
Judge Young began giving ammunition to the Democrats on March 12, 2013: the day he officially declared his intent to seek this lower court.
If GOP voters grant my opponent his wish and make him the highest paid judge at the courthouse, the Democrats will run someone against him in 2018 and repeatedly bring up these issues.  The GOP cannot merely wish and hope these issues go away.  They will not go away if Judge Young is on the CCC 1 bench.  The GOP better get ready to hear the Dems repeatedly say “Rich Double Dipping Republicans.”  They will make him their poster child as they try to turn Tarrant blue.
Here is the choice facing the GOP now: reward 28 years of courthouse ineptitude and give ammunition to the Democrats, or stand up to the Backlog King and Double Dipper, and tell him “No” loud and clear.

 

 

 

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