Bob Carroll | Midlothian | Lawyer, Private Practice
1) Given that the 40th District Court is overseeing the Adult Probation Department, are there any specific to address the recent controversies surrounding the alleged sexual and financial abuse by the halfway house director that probation officials assigned clients to?
In those instances where the Adult Probation Department approves a defendant for living at a halfway house for reasons of transitional living, employment or transportation related needs, or drug prevention and accountability – the underlying integrity of the halfway house organization or proprietor is paramount.
There should be protocol in place to approve and monitor such support services as the halfway house. All support services need to be regularly assessed with performance reviews. Those that fail to meet the performance review standard should be improved or discontinued. Alleged sexual and financial abuses by any halfway house or organization, if true, obviously compound problems for the person on probation and constitutes a serious breach of trust on the part of those contracted with to help. Alleged sexual and financial abuses should be vigorously investigated and any criminal wrongdoing prosecuted.
As District Judge, I intend to exercise final authority over the introduction and continuation of each major support service and resource utilized by the Adult Probation Department.
2) Given that a lawyer — James Leonard — was given 10 years probation for molesting two girls only to flee the country, what steps can be given to better monitor and track offenders who Adult Probation officials are responsible for?
At any given time, the Adult Probation Department typically has several hundred persons on probation. Monitoring the whereabouts of each probationer is critical, especially in higher risk categories. Limitations on the locations of where probationers live and travel restrictions on their movements are reasonable.
It is important to note that the granting of probation is the post-adjudication release of a criminal defendant under specific terms and conditions imposed by the district judge. The continued freedom of the individual is expressly conditioned upon their compliance with such requirements as: regular reporting to the probation department, committing no further criminal offenses, paying fines, restitution to the crime victim, random drug testing, maintaining employment, and so forth. With respect to travel limitations, the surrender of passport documents could be required.
Current technology systems such as electronic ankle bracelets allow the Adult Probation Department to better track locations. The system can be used to require the probationer to remain at a specific geographic location; otherwise an alarm is signaled.
Although no system of monitoring and tracking is perfect, a systematic emphasis on daily monitoring and exception reports, immediate follow up for any non-compliance, and the prioritization of serving arrest warrants for probation violations is critical to the proper operation of the Adult Probation Department.
3) Can you give three immediate changes that you plan to seek once you are sworn in as the new district judge?
Changes to the district court should only be made if they (1) enhance the overall quality of justice being administered, (2) streamline the process of case management, or (3) provide greater public access to the court system. Changes should not be made simply for the sake of change. All changes should seek to minimize the financial burden to taxpayers.
The first change to the district court that I intend to implement is to utilize an interactive website to post the district judge’s daily schedule for court hearings, trials, and other case proceedings. Other county offices and personnel, attorneys and clients, and members of the public should be able to quickly and easily access the court’s daily schedule and case docket. Additional matters such as the judge’s procedures for handling emergency matters like temporary restraining orders will be posted.
The second change I intend to implement is to establish greater public accessibility to court documents and legal information.
The Ellis County District Clerk’s Office services the 40th District Court. Currently, the district clerk personnel electronically scan all legal documents and court papers filed in criminal and civil cases. These are public records. The system needs to be modified so that attorneys and members of the public can remotely access the court records on a “read only” basis through web based technology.
At this time, both attorneys and members of the public who appear in person at the District Clerk’s Office pay for documents retrieved on a per page basis. An electronic system for remotely accessing legal documents over the internet could pay for itself by imposing a modest charge at a rate which is less than is currently paid for the paper documents. Please keep in mind that currently all legal documents are scanned for storage purposes, so we are simply talking about opening a pipeline to be able to view and print such documents using web based technology. This system will easily pay for itself, saving the attorney, their clients and members of the public a significant amount of time previously spent manually retrieving such documents. It will also save the district clerk staff time in manually servicing requests to obtain copies of documents from criminal and civil files.
The third change is to establish an electronic platform for e-filing of legal documents in court cases. User friendly technology and protocols are operational in various counties around the state, and our appellate court, the Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco, requires that all appellate papers be filed electronically. Once in place, e-filing will save personnel time and expense at both the district clerk’s office and law firms.
With respect to systemic changes in which criminal cases and civil lawsuits will actually be handled and dealt with in court, no significant changes will be made for the first 3 to 6 months pending a comprehensive inside-out written review and assessment of the current system, after obtaining input from various stakeholders such as the Ellis County Sheriff, the District Clerk, the District Attorney, and the Attorneys practicing law in Ellis County.
4) What will be in store for victims, clients, lawyers, taxpayers for the next four years in the 40th District Court?
As District Judge, I will uphold the Constitution. I will also be supportive of crime victims’ rights. The victims of crime, the effect of the criminal act upon their person and property, and the manner in which the criminal offense has affected their life and family will be taken into consideration in assessing an appropriate punishment against the convicted criminal defendant. A judge can uphold the Constitution, administer justice fairly and impartially, and yet remain tough on crime.
Upholding the Constitution in the criminal context means guaranteeing that the constitutional rights of any accused are protected and insuring due process is followed. For the accused who are convicted of the criminal act, the goals of punishment must be advanced such as (1) protection of the community, (2) protection of the crime victim, (3) restitution to the crime victim, (4) deterrence against future criminal acts and future criminal offenders, (5) and in the appropriate cases rehabilitation in order to prevent recidivism.
Upholding the constitutional rights of the accused in tandem with the protection of crime victims and the administration of appropriate punishment against criminal offenders takes a great degree of skill and experience. Having served as an elected trial court judge for 10 years, I possess vital on the job experience in handling criminal dockets.
I will also be supportive of crime victims’ rights. The victims of crime, the effect of the criminal act upon their person and property, and the manner in which the criminal offense has affected their life and family will be taken into consideration in assessing an appropriate punishment against the convicted criminal defendant. A judge can uphold the Constitution, administer justice fairly and impartially, and yet remain tough on crime.
In terms of the financial impact of the District Court’s operations on the taxpayers, we will assess the present system for the payment of court appointed attorneys and the amount of attorney’s fees which are being reimbursed by criminal offenders. We will also assess the current criminal pretrial procedures for passing relevant information between the prosecution and the defense.
I will uphold the Constitutional balance of authority and not legislate from the bench. It is important for judges to remember that when they preside over civil disputes and criminal cases, they remain public servants. We serve the citizens. All lawyers, their clients, and members of the public appearing in court will always be treated with dignity and respect.