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Houston Chronicle’s Rick Casey Argues Harris County District Judge Dan Hinde Committed Felony This Fall

Rick Casey is a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, and in his column dated December 7, 2010, he boldly argues that Harris County District Court Judge Dan Hinde, who presides over the 269th Judicial District Court, has violated Section 39.06 of the Texas Penal Code and thus committed a felony — but Judge Hinde sees it differently. (Of course.) 

Casey Argues His Position: Felony By a Texas Judge

Casey argues that Judge Hinde violated state law when he sent out letters to lots of folk who had appeared for jury duty after he’d shown up to give them the standard “thank you for your participation in the jury process” speech.  The thank you letters blatantly asked for their vote in the November 2010 election in which Hinde was running for re-election  (the third paragraph begins, “[w]e Texans elect our judges, and I am asking for your vote for Judge of the 269th District Court.”).

Rick Casey, a well-respected investigative journalist, first used the Texas Public Information Act to get copies of e-mails sent by Judge Hinde and the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, which confirm that the campaigning judge offered his services — volunteered — to speak to all the people who were showing up for jury duty and setting there, waiting in potential juror pools, from July 12, 2010, t0 November 1, 2010 (the day before the election).  That’s 28 mornings where Judge Hinde is essentially campaigning in front of a captive audience.

Casey’s investigation also reveals that Judge Hinde asked the district clerk for details about these folk, including names and addresses.  Why he asked is obvious: he needed this information so he could send letters to all these people (estimated to be around 10,000 individuals).

In Casey’s opinion, Judge Hinde has committed the criminal act of “misuse of official information” under Tex. Penal Code Section 39.06(c) which states:

A person commits an offense if, with intent to obtain benefit or with the intent to defraud another, he solicits or receives from a public servant information that 1) the public servant has access to by means of his office or employment; and 2) has not been made public.

Judge Hinde Responds That Technically, There’s Been No Violation of the Law

Casey argues that this violates the Texas Penal Code.  Judge Hinde disagrees, arguing that: paragraph D of the law defines information not made public as “information to which the public does not generally have access, and that is prohibited from disclosure under Chapter 552, Government Code,” and the Judge argues that the information on jurors is not subject to Chapter 552  so its disclosure by definition is not prohibited.   Second argument:  seeking reelection isn’t seeking a benefit under Texas law, something already decided in the proceedings involving Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht.

Form over Substance: And is This Skirmish The End of This Controversy?

Form over substance, really.  Under Judge Hinde’s argument, technically he didn’t violate the language of the law even though the spirit of the statute is to keep juror info confidential.   The real question is: will this be the end of this controversy (so future jury pools can expect campaign correspondence all across the state), or will there be a tribunal other than Rick Casey’s column where the judge’s actions are considered?

Let’s see what happens.

 


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