A Daily Conversation
About Dallas


Dallas Lawyers Don’t Have a High Opinion of Our New DA, Faith Johnson

| 10 hours ago

As Zac Crain mentioned earlier, Governor Greg Abbott has appointed a new district attorney for Dallas County. Her name is Faith Johnson. So what if the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct once admonished her for “cast[ing] public discredit upon the judiciary”? It’s local lawyers that really matter. I popped over the the Dallas Bar’s site to see what they think — or what they thought. The Bar conducts anonymous polls of its members every year to evaluate our judges. Johnson has been in private practice for about a decade, so I had to go back a few years.

In 2003, when she was running the 363rd District Court, Johnson did not impress the lawyers who voted. To the question “Does this judge correctly apply the law?” only 41 percent said “yes.” Next question: “Do you approve of this judge’s overall performance?” Just 49 percent said “yes.” Those numbers are pretty consistent over the years, as you look at older polls.

Numbers like that in isolation are hard to interpret. How did the other criminal court judges fare in that poll? Great question. Well, in 2003, on those same two questions, Judge John Creuzot got 85 and 87 percent “yes.” Manny Alvarez, 80 and 76. Vickers L. Cunningham Sr., 71 and 68. Keith Dean, 78 and 78. Robert W. Francis, 78 and 77. Karen Green, 61 and 56. Lana McDaniel, 90 and 89. Mark Nancarrow, 61 and 61. John Nelms, 82 and 82. Henry Wade Jr., 56 and 56. Janice Warder, 71 and 71.

Of the 12 criminal district court judges, that year Johnson scored the lowest. That’s the judge that Abbott picked for us. 

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Good Public Transit

How You Can Help Shape the Future of Public Transit in Dallas

| 12 hours ago

Tomorrow the Dallas City Council will choose the city’s new representative on the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The vote comes at a crucial time in the history of both Dallas and the region’s public transit authority.

It is not just that DART is currently balancing a handful of large-scale transit projects that will shape the system for a generation. How DART prioritizes those projects will dictate whether or not DART will continue to pursue a public transit philosophy that mimics the model of highway expansion — building more and more miles of rail to low density suburbs in an effort to drive economic development – or refocus on improving its bus system, streetcar expansion, and downtown subway in a way which could transform DART into something that resembles the kind of well-functioning transit system that most large, competitive cities take for granted.

This is not a question of urban vs. suburban, urbanist activists vs. regional boosters. Yesterday, I wrote about Dallas dismal poverty epidemic. Here’s one date point from that post that really sticks out: Less than 20 percent of jobs in Dallas are accessible by transit in less than 90 minutes and more than 70 percent of HUD assisted properties are unaffordable when housing and transportation costs are combined.

In other words, Dallas’ terrible public transit system is part of Dallas’ terrible poverty problem.

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Politics & Government

Dallas Finally Has a New District Attorney

| 13 hours ago

Governor Greg Abbott finally appointed someone to finish out the perpetually troubled Susan Hawk’s term today: Faith Johnson, former district judge and prosecutor. Johnson, a Republican who has been in private practice for the past decade or so, becomes the first black woman to be Dallas’ district attorney; she’ll hold the post through 2017. Tough break for Messina Madson, who has been running the office pretty much for the last year.

As for what kind of DA Johnson will be, she was not exactly soft on crime as a judge:

When Johnson was a judge, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct raised questions after she threw a party in her courtroom with cake and balloons to mark the capture of a prisoner who fled during his trial. The commission publicly admonished Johnson.

“The commission concludes that Judge Johnson failed to maintain order and decorum in the courtroom … when she celebrated Billy Ray Williams’ apprehension with balloons, streamers, cake and ice cream, and when she promoted the event by inviting the media to capture Williams’ bewildered expression as he entered the courtroom and observed the celebration,” the commission concluded in April 2005. “The judge’s actions in this case were willful and cast public discredit upon the judiciary.”

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Required Reading on the Case

| 17 hours ago

On December 9, the guys behind Dallas-based — Mike Lacey, Jim Larkin, and Carl Ferrer — will face their next hearing, in a California court, on charges of pimping. If you’ve been following the case, you’ll want to read this Ringer story about it. It clearly lays out the legal hurdles that will make it difficult to prosecute these men. 

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Short Story Inspired by Robot That Was Used to Kill Downtown Dallas Shooter

| 18 hours ago
The robot used to kill the downtown shooter
The robot used to kill the downtown shooter

The third act of the most recent episode of This American Life is a short story written by Scott Brown and read by actor Jeremy Shamos. The story is about a police robot named MILES that is tasked with delivering a payload of C4 to blow up a bad guy who has killed a cop. You’ll recall that this scenario played out in real life, for the first time on U.S. soil, right here in Dallas. In the early morning hours of July 8, DPD used a Remotec Andros Mark V-A1 to take out the shooter who had killed five officers and wounded seven others. Brown’s story was clearly inspired by what happened here. You should listen to “You Had One Job.” It’ll get you thinking. 

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Local News

Leading Off (12/6/16)

| 19 hours ago

Wilshire Baptist Gets Support From Other Churches. Last month, Wilshire Baptist Church voted to grant full membership to LGBT folks. As you can imagine, that caused a stink. Some members left. But the church has also attracted new members, and it has received letters of support from churches around the country.

Blue Cross Blue Shield to Drop Texas Health Resources From Network. Contract negotiations broke down yesterday. Looks like Texas Health will be out of network come January 1.

Memorial Service Set for Brian Loncar. The service will happen at 1 p.m. on Friday at Munger Place Church. We still don’t know how he died. 

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Arts & Entertainment

Things To Do In Dallas Tonight: Dec. 5

| 2 days ago

Enough with the meek caroling and tinny shopping mall music. The best Christmas tunes are bold and brash, swaggering hymns best blasted by an orchestra’s brass and percussion sections, perhaps with some assistance from a giant organ — say, the magnificent but rarely deployed Lay Family Organ at the Meyerson — that will make your teeth rattle and eardrums quiver with the pure force of holiday cheer. The Dallas Symphony’s Big Brassy Christmas & Organ Extravaganza is tonight.

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Livable Cities

How Bad is Poverty in Dallas? Here Are the Numbers.

| 2 days ago

The Dallas City Council’s Housing Committee will listen to two sobering briefings today. The first is the final report of the Dallas Commission on Homelessness, which outlines findings and recommendations of a year-long look into the homeless problem in Dallas. In short, homelessness in Dallas increased 21 percent over the past year thanks to a combination of high rates of poverty and shortages of affordable housing.

So how should Dallas fight its homeless problem?

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Politics & Government

Citizen Mike Rawlings Sues the Pension Fund

| 2 days ago

Mayor Mike Rawlings Bloomberg videoCouncilman Scott Griggs put the filings in a Dropbox. I’m just digging into them myself. Let’s read together, shall we?

UPDATE (10:26) He’s trying to get a court to halt lump-sum withdrawals of DROP accounts. Why he filed as a citizen I don’t get.

UPDATE (11:06) The mayor’s office couldn’t comment on the matter because it’s not the mayor who filed the suit. They referred me to Laura Reed. While waiting to hear back from Reed, I called someone else who is smarter than I am. Here’s my understanding of the matter:

The mayor — excuse me — citizen Mike Rawlings filed this pleading for a temporary restraining order because if he’d filed as the mayor, or if he’d somehow gotten the city attorney to file (which he wouldn’t have), then the city would have had to give up its sovereign immunity defense in any counterclaim filed by the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. A hearing on this will likely happen today, and it will likely happen in Judge Tonya Parker’s court. The interesting thing about that is Parker was once an attorney at Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank, and Mike Gruber is the lawyer working for Rawlings.

One more thing: it is likely that Rawlings will have to amend his filing. Because the pension also enjoys sovereign immunity, Rawlings will probably have to sue the individual board members of the pension — meaning he’ll be suing the four Dallas city council members that he appointed to the board.

UPDATE (11:40) The hearing will indeed be in Judge Parker’s court, the 116th, at 2:30 today. And here’s the official statement from Rawlings:

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