Chris Daniel was kind enough to discuss his campaign for District Clerk. Full disclosure, I practice in district courts to a minor degree, and in certain JP courts (the district clerk’s office handles electronic submissions to JP courts), so this course interacts directly with my law practice. The unnecessary dysfunction of filing submissions and, in some cases, outright incorrect law – basic concepts such as understanding proper venue – clerks demonstrate that the office is in disarray. This level of dysfunction did not exist when Chris was in office, and he will be able to fix the issues.
The District Clerk’s Office and Crime
This race is more important than most people realize. The office is sometimes referred to as the clerk of the court in other states, and failures of the office have a direct impact on crime in Harris County. Courts rely on the office of the district clerk for a wide range of responsibilities from processing bonds at the beginning of the system, to juries at the end of the system, to the information technology systems that underpin the system. The current holder saw spectacular failures in all areas leading directly to the release of criminals to the streets.
Information technology failure
Starting with the computer aspect of the office, the system had a Catastrophic failure when a technology update has gone wrong. This has resulted in the inability of the courts to process probable cause hearings in a timely manner, and the criminals were released as a result of technology failure. However, the failure was not limited to the criminal justice system. The breakdown was so widespread that the 911 system failed. Think about it. A loved one has a heart attack or a serious stroke. You dial 911, but due to a technological error, you cannot call an ambulance to help your loved one.
The problem was so serious that five department heads, including three elected Democrats, openly criticized the way it was handled. This is not partisan Republican criticism. This is elected democrats openly criticize other elected Democrats. It’s a sign of just how much dysfunction is happening in the district clerk’s office – problems that didn’t exist when Chris was in office.
This is an issue which Chris says would not occur under his watch as he would have created a cache database which could have been used as a backup to prevent the shutdown from occurring before attempting to upgrade the system. It’s a simple fix that comes from experience and demonstrates that Chris has the foresight and ability to effectively manage the office where the incumbent failed. Spectacularly. And that failure put us all directly at risk.
The jury system is the backbone of the court system. Criminals are innocent until proven guilty, and we have the right to a jury trial. If the jury system is dysfunctional, the system creaks and justice is delayed. The licensee will explain how it has expanded free parking for jurors. That’s fine, but it doesn’t excuse all the problems, and focusing on this issue shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how to handle the jury process in a county of this size.
The jury system in a county this size is going to misfire. It cannot be avoided. What can be avoided are self-inflicted injuries. Here too, the incumbent has a history of mismanagement which has led to a murder case declared void when a jury appreciation program had a speaker tainting a group of jurors and the video of the speaker was posted online. First of all, the speakers should have been warned about their presentations. Second, when the presentation happened, someone should have realized it was inappropriate and not uploaded the video.
Another criminal on the street because of the inept handling of a basic function by the district clerk’s office. Do not defile the jury panel. This is a simple and basic principle of managing juries. Yet, not only did the failure occur, but the wrong video was uploaded. Of course, it was removed later, but basic knowledge of the potential problem and advice to speakers beforehand would have avoided the problem in the first place.
Bond and data transmission
Accurate recording and transmission of bonds and other information is also a basic work function from the office. (Note: this is a link to a current job posting showing job duties, it may be discontinued after the opening closes.) Even in this simple, departmental aspect, felons have been released inappropriately due to problems with the office. A Simple and Honest Mistake of Inaccurate Bail Registration leave an accused murderer on the street.
Again, a basic task was not done correctly. Although this is a one-time error, it raises troublesome concerns. Is sex offender status reported accurately and in a timely manner so people can know if sex offenders live nearby? Is offender information passed to the appropriate databases so that firearms background checks appropriately exclude those who should be denied firearms? It’s something we didn’t have to worry about when Chris was in power, but can we now be sure the information is being delivered in a timely and accurate manner? Each individual error is understandable, but overall it raises the question of whether the basic functions of the courts are performed. We all suffer from dysfunction.
A shrinking office
In 2018 when the Chronicle endorsed Chris they noted the current incumbent’s “management experience in both the public and private sectors, including service as Executive Director of Texas PTA and President of the North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce” and stated, “[n]I doubt Burgess would make an excellent district clerk. This review has aged badly. The office is in disarray and has regressed considerably from when Chris was in office. One of Chris’ goals for the office is, “We’re going to restore order to the district clerk’s office. When you walk into the office, you get the best possible service, regardless of your race, color or creed. »
Chris noted several changes since he was in office:
When Chris was in power, they regularly organized events financed by his personal funds.
Programs like Jeans Friday have been eliminated.
Parking in the parking garage has been changed to provide free parking for jurors at the expense of employee parking. Employees must park up to 10 blocks away.
Access to courthouses is particularly problematic.
The changes led to employee morale issues and a new confrontational mentality took hold in the office. The threat to “disable” web pages in response to the court’s criticism of the commissioner is just one example of the backsliding within the office. This is a dramatic departure from the kenotic leadership style that Chris exhibited when in office, and would no doubt exhibit if returned to power.
While in office, Chris personally paid for office duties to increase office morale. He also took deliberate steps to ensure that the public was well served by the office. Although not reporting directly to the office, Chris has worked with the courts to ensure building access was efficient. Sometimes this involved going through various court security systems and being escorted to the correct building. Access to existing state courts is not his job. Chris found a way to make it work, even though it wasn’t his job.
Chris also implemented a county-level passport program. This program not only helped expedite obtaining passports, but was also at no cost to the county. Passport fees generated paid for the program. Again, it wasn’t his job, but he saw it as an opportunity to serve the public, and to do so at no cost to the county.
Chris has many mentions, and some come from surprising sources. A non-exhaustive look at his sponsorships shows that he is sponsored by:
Mexican Sheriffs Officers Association, Houston Police Officers Union, Constable Ted Heap, Constable Mark Herman, Gary Harrison, Jessy Rodriguez, Ben Mendez, Vicki Cruz (LULAC 2911), Al Martinez Jr. and Sr.
It is a diverse group of endorsements and most importantly contains endorsements from prominent individuals in persuasive Democratic areas showing that Chris has appeal across party lines and in the areas needed to win.