September 10, 2014

Non-Scandal Stirred Up By Local Attorney

You know, when someone wants there to be a scandal, they will find a scandal even when a clear-headed examination of the facts shows that there isn't one. And so we have a kerfluffle in the 311th Court here in Harris County over hours billed by recently appointed judge (and candidate for election in the fall) Alicia Franklin created by local attorney Greg Enos. The gist of his claims (which I won't quote here due to the turgid prose) are that Franklin overbilled for work as an ad litem attorney in CPS cases and billed for some work completed after her appointment. Unfortunately, the accusations appear sound and fury signifying nothing.

The accusation of overbilling seems to me to be the more absurd of the two. Yes, there is a day when Franklin billed for 23.5 hours and another when she billed for 32, but the reality is that she is billing for the work of her entire office on that day, not merely her own work. If Franklin had others in her employ making appearances, doing research, and other tasks, the standard practice is for her to bill for all of those hours as the attorney of record in the case. I've spoken to individuals knowledgeable in the field and they confirm that this is the customary practice in Harris County -- as the ad litem the only way the hours can be reimbursed is for them to be on the time she signed. While Enos tries to make a contrary argument, he is grasping at straws.

While the second allegation -- that she billed for work hours after she took her oath as judge -- that becomes clear once one considers the circumstances of her appointment. Late in the afternoon, Franklin received a call from the governor offering her the appointment to the bench for which she was running (one that had been left vacant by the Denise Pratt resignation). She was sworn in later that evening, around 9:00 pm, so that she could begin the work of reorganizing a court left in a shambles by her disgraced predecessor. There remained, however, cases to which she was assigned as an ad litem and which the staff of her office had to wind up in order to hand them off to other appointed counsel -- hours for which Franklin submitted as normal. Franklin has not cashed the check, according to one source I spoke to, because she is still seeking guidance as to whether her doing so would constitute either a legal or ethical problem. In other words, she is exercising an abundance of caution on the matter.

Now I could make some observations about Greg Enos and his motivations in making these charges. He has, after all, successfully gotten two judges off the bench locally for clear wrongdoing -- and it would not be unreasonable that he's enjoyed the attention and prestige that has gone with those efforts. Instead, though, I'll let his own words speak for themselves.

[W]e need to replace every single judge involved in this dirty CPS court appointment business, which is about three judges in the family courts and at least two of the three juvenile courts.

What it comes down to is that Enos, a Democrat, wants to force five Republican judges off the bench in favor of 5 of his Democrat friends and cronies. Presumably at that point the court appointments will cease to be "dirty" -- and interestingly enough, will be more likely to steer cases to his firm. The complaints he is making are part of that effort and appear to be an example of gutter politics. So while I was a big supporter of Greg Enos in the effort to get rid of Denise Pratt, I part company with him here and reiterate my support for Judge Alicia Franklin.

UPDATE: David Jennings over at Big Jolly Politics has a few words about this matter as well -- including both shots at Enos for his baseless charges and Franklin for her response to them.

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