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What you need to know
Hundreds of trials in Harris County are delayed because of Hurricane Harvey, and about 100 people are in a jail cell awaiting their turn. Here’s what you need to know:
• Harris County has one of the busiest criminal court systems in the country — and it has suspended all jury trials. Those could resume as soon as Oct. 16, and officials say defendants in custody will come first once trials begin again — but that’s cold comfort for attorneys whose clients have spent the past several weeks in jail awaiting a hearing. “Nothing that they have done has inspired any confidence in me that this is going to be handled,” said one attorney. “And meanwhile, there’s somebody sitting in a cage.”
• Forty courtrooms are out of commission and a hub up the street that was used to assemble jurors has extensive damage. County workers say they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances, including dismissing minor cases, reaching more plea agreements and recommending trials in front of a judge rather than a jury. “In the week after Harvey, I filled out more dismissals in a week than I ever have in my career,” said one prosecutor.
• What will it take to get the courtroom back to full capacity? A year and a half and $ 30 million, say engineers. In the meantime, lawyers, judges and administrators describe a hectic schedule of appointments across a network of makeshift spaces. Judges shuffle between jail docket courtrooms, bond docket courtrooms and trial courtrooms while lawyers struggle to keep up.
• This is, of course, only one small part of the damage. Nearly all of Texas’ congressional delegation plus Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Congress members on Thursday asking for $ 18.7 billion in new funding for recovery aid. President Donald Trump in September approved a $ 15.25 billion measure for relief efforts — but Texas had to split that with Florida, which suffered its own serious blow from another hurricane. To put this into context, state officials earlier this week predicted Harvey recovery will cost $ 60 billion in federal support — and that’s from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alone.
• From Ross Ramsey: Is it news that the political party in power cheats when drawing a political map? Nah. But a case argued this week at the U.S. Supreme Court could put new limits on that.
• President Trump will be in Dallas later this month to fundraise.
• The Texas Attorney General is already battling securities fraud charges. Now, a Dallas-area district attorney is looking into whether he ran afoul of state bribery laws.
Pencil us in
Join us in Victoria for a conversation on Hurricane Harvey and the Texas Gulf Coast with the mayors of Port Aransas, Victoria, Rockport and Port Lavaca on Oct. 17.
What we’re reading
• The White House wants hard-line immigration reform in exchange for a DACA fix. But is any deal on this already dead? (Politico)
• A city commissioner in Brownsville says he is sorry he used racial slurs to describe two African-American prosecutors. But he’s not planning to resign anytime soon over it. (NBC News)
• There’s been a lot of chatter on “bump stocks” — a tool the shooter in Las Vegas used that turned a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one. Now two companies in Texas are under the spotlight for manufacturing them. (The Austin American-Statesman $ )
• Folks at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission — the agency some have said is in disarray amid mass staff departures — have gotten hefty pay raises in the past year. (The Dallas Morning News $ )
• Houston’s police chief thinks the state’s immigration enforcement law is “counterintuitive” and “counterproductive.” He’s also not happy about where DACA stands. (The Houston Chronicle $ )
• U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says transgender people aren’t protected by a civil rights law that bans workplace discrimination based on sex. (The New York Times $ )
Quote to note
“This isn’t news, really: Americans started cheating at political maps as soon as they started using political maps.”
— Ross Ramsey, on legislative majorities often cheating when drawing political maps.
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