Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Monday, January 30, 2006

“Yech!”

That was the response of one of the relatively more adventurous diners to the lamb shanks that I braised yesterday and that we ate tonight. Other people seem not to welcome a deviation from boneless, skinless chicken breasts or ground beef as readily as I do. Let them eat gruel.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Drunk Drivers and Their Attorneys Have No Grounds to Complain

Don’t tell anyone from the office that I said this, but, criminal defense lawyers seem to forget that they represent… CRIMINALS! Judge Mayes has a reputation as being tough, although he is frequently called worse. Yesterday, he placed a client in jail for ten days, which Judge Mayes is requiring the client to do as a precondition to beginning Judge Mayes’ SAP (Substance Abuse Program). The client, who was already on probation for DWI, was unable to start his car because the breath interlock device detected that he had consumed alcohol. Everyone at the office thought this was unfairly harsh and vindictive.

It is better that drunk drivers face the legal penalties than my family face the consequences of a run-in with an intoxicated driver. The lawyers need to stop complaining that Judge Mayes is a hard-ass.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Scandal derails junket for congressional aides

The debate in Congress concerning lobbying reform in the wake of the Abramoff scandal is having a “chilling effect” on the National Association of Manufacturers’ lobbying activities, according to the organization’s president, John Engler. Congressional aides are canceling their junkets – privately funded “fact-finding” trips. One knows there is more going on than merely making congressional staffers more informed about businesses and industries. When people in other occupations seek to become updated on new developments in their field, they attend boring seminars that gather no attention. When politicians “learn” about immigrant worker visas, pension plans, energy strategies, and other issues, they cannot view a PowerPoint presentation or read a white paper. Instead, they go golfing in Scotland, stay in nice hotels, and dine at fine restaurants, at public expense or at the expense of contributors who seek to shape policies that affect the American people. Obviously, something more is involved than just providing “input” on issues before Congress if these activities are receiving such scrutiny.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A New Source of Constitutional Interpretation

There is a recent trend on the Supreme Court of citing international opinion to support decisions interpreting the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States is charged with interpreting the United States Constitution. I recall learning in the Constitutional Law course I took about the sources of constitutional interpretation. These include (1) the text of the Constitution, both literally and its purpose; (2) its structure and context, such as the creation of the federal system and separation of powers between the three branches of government; (3) the history surrounding the drafting and adopting of the Constitution; (4) the practices of the legislative and executive branches, that is, how they apply the Constitution; (5) all important precedent; and (6) sound social policy. Nowhere among these does international practice appear. I suppose it is acceptable for the Supreme Court to consider the practices of other nations for guidance. It is not as though foreign laws are binding upon the U.S. High Court. It seems rather odd, though, that the Supreme Court is now considering this new source in discharging its duty. Would it not be more fitting for Congress to take into account the laws of other nations when it is drafting legislation, were it so inclined, rather than the judiciary being influenced by the practices of Britain or Japan?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bizarre Game

Under Texas criminal law, there is a form of punishment referred to as “shock probation.” Shock probation is for people who have seriously run afoul of the law, but who are not recidivist offenders or who are not truly deserving of lengthy incarceration. The offender is sentenced to imprisonment in the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – prison – for a term, perhaps five years. However, after about six months, the offender is “shocked out.” This gives the person a glimpse of what prison is like – it “shocks” the offender in hopes of putting him or her back on the straight and narrow. The person is then placed on probation.

The six-month period of incarceration – 180 days, to be exact – is determined because the trial court’s jurisdiction, its ability to exercise power over a person or a matter, is extended for 180 days. On the 180th day, not sooner and not later, the defendant is brought before the judge, a hearing is held, and the defendant’s sentence is suspended. If the offender’s attorney does not timely file a motion to have the person brought before the court on that 180th day, the court loses jurisdiction and the offender must serve the entire term of his or her sentence in prison. If this happens, the attorney is also subject to major malpractice liability.


We had a client who was “shocked” out yesterday. There had been a bit of drama last week, though. We had filed the motion for a hearing several weeks ago. The court coordinator, by counting 180 days on a calendar, had arrived at January 25 as being the 180th day since sentencing. Using a “date calculator” on the computer, we had determined that January 23 was the 180th day. It took some convincing to show her that our client had to have a hearing on January 23, lest he serve another four-and-a-half years in TDC. What kind of crazy game is this that the legislature has created?

Monday, January 23, 2006

If Women Stopped Wearing Makeup…

I gather that applying makeup is a routine of which most women are not overly fond. A coworker and I were driving in to Houston last week and she was putting on her makeup in the car. She remarked to the effect that she would rather not have to wear makeup, but that it was a “vicious cycle,” meaning that she applied makeup to enhance certain features of her face, but the cosmetics were harsh on her skin, so she had to continue wearing makeup to conceal the breakout.

If women stopped wearing makeup, would people stop expecting them to wear it? Would people become accustomed to seeing women’s faces unembellished by cosmetics? Who is it that expects women to wear makeup? Do women wear makeup for men, for other women, for themselves? But, enough about makeup. Just five more days until the weekend!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

We Don’t Represent the “Bad Guys”

When I finished law school, I was largely open to any practice area. An opportunity arose with a local law firm that specializes largely in criminal law, although one of the attorneys also practices family law. I never anticipated that I would be involved in criminal defense. When I mention to people the area of practice, some of them speculate that criminal defense must be interesting. A few people, though, have made remarks about representing “the bad guys.” After I landed this job, I contacted my two mentors via e-mail to inform them that I would be beginning work. I made a remark about working for the good guys. One of my mentors responded, “Don’t think of it in terms of good guys and bad guys. You are now an enforcer of the Constitution.” I like this way of considering the practice of law. When the machinery of the state is in motion against a person, everyone needs and is entitled to representation, regardless of guilt or innocence. The Constitution guarantees numerous rights to the accused, and it is the job of the criminal defender to ensure that these rights are afforded to every person who is suspected of or charged with a crime. This is enforcing the Constitution.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

She’s Always Had a Temper

I rue the day my sister made the decision to attend law school. Law school has made her mean…er. It has made her meaner. I know better now than to ask her how her studying is going.

I Want to Represent This Lady

Betty Holland’s seventeen-year-old daughter was involved in an auto accident with Clay Ballman, District Attorney for Hutchinson and Hansford Counties. DA Ballman attempted to flee the scene of the accident, but he was apprehended. Ballman pleaded guilty to DWI and hit-and-run; he received four days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Nonetheless, he is still in office.

Ms. Holland has attempted to retain an attorney to have Ballman removed from office under a Texas law that allows a county official to be removed for incompetency, official misconduct, or “intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage.”

The lawyers Ms. Holland has approached have not leapt at the opportunity to remove Ballman, and she has until February 5 to respond to a motion to dismiss filed by Ballman’s attorney. The attorneys who have declined to take her case cite that their schedules are too full or that it would take too much time to become versed in Chapter 87 of the Local Government Code. One attorney acknowledged fear of reprisals – the real reason that none of the local attorneys is wiling to take up Ms. Holland’s cause.

I don’t have anything to fear from a Panhandle DA, so I would be thrilled to pursue Ballman’s removal. Maybe since Ms. Holland is receiving some publicity, attorneys who are willing to represent her will come forward.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dress the Part

On Monday, the Montgomery County Courthouse and DA’s office were closed, along with other government buildings, in observance of MLK Day. Our office was not closed, though. As I anticipated they would, everyone used this as a casual day, wearing jeans to work. Nonetheless, I wore a sport coat, a tie, and slacks. There is an attorney who practices in Conroe who is a sharp dresser. This attorney remarked that, unlike many attorneys in Conroe, he will wear a suit even if he is not going to be in court, because he wants to dress the part of an attorney, to create a positive impression with clients or potential clients. He would like for people to be able to look at him and identify him as an attorney by his attire, he explained. Even though I know next to nothing about the practice of law – I am learning, though – I can dress the part. If I were a client, I would prefer that my attorney wear a suit. I have not been impressed when I have entered a law office and observed the receptionist and other support staff wearing jeans. I wouldn’t wear a coat and tie around the house, but more formal attire really isn’t that uncomfortable. In part, I also just wanted to wear my new slacks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Legalize DWI

I was visiting with an assistant Montgomery County district attorney recently. I remarked that my opinion was that DWI should be taken seriously, because it kills people – a position at odds with many of our clients’ interests. The DA with whom I was conversing stated that DWI should be made legal. There should be no penalty for Driving while Intoxicated, he said. Let people get as drunk as they want and get behind the wheel, and, provided they do not cause any property damage or personal injury, there should be no penalty. However, if an intoxicated driver is involved in an automobile accident in which property damage results, the offense should be a second degree felony with no probation, and if bodily injury or the death of a person results, the offense should be a first degree felony with no probation.

Currently, the DWI laws in Texas have no real deterrent effect. One’s first two DWI’s are misdemeanors; not until the third DWI does it become a felony. The penalties are primarily financial. Consequences include license suspension, probation, fines, “surcharges,” and court appearances about which clients complain. If incarceration in the Texas Department of Corrections could be assessed if one is involved in a mishap while drinking and driving, people might reconsider taking to the road after having a few drinks. I am not certain that DWI should be legalized, but I do think the penalties should be more severe.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Consistently Pleased

On Saturday, I had lunch with my brother, sister, and a friend at Hugo’s. I do not dine out very frequently, but I continue to return to Hugo’s, for its “regional Mexican cuisine.” I am consistently pleased with Hugo’s. I always feel like I receive a good value for my money. The chile en nogada – a roasted, peeled poblano stuffed with carnitas and dried fruit, covered in a walnut sauce, and adorned with pomegranate seeds, representing the colors of the Mexican flag – was immaculate. The coffee ice cream that accompanied the chocolate cake with chipotle chile was the best coffee ice cream I have ever tasted.

Foregoing dessert at Hugo’s is forbidden. At Hugo’s, they make their own chocolate. Mexican chocolate is made from cocoa beans combined with sugar, cinnamon, nuts, and vanilla. It is “grainy” and less smooth than chocolate to which North Americans and Europeans are accustomed. Hugo’s hot cocoa, or chocolate caliente, is divine. I was speaking with a manager who stopped by our table about the homemade chocolate that they use in their desserts and some beverages. He said that they import cocoa beans from Mexico, which they then roast. They recently received shipment of a new grinder that will go through forty pounds of beans in five minutes. The aroma that fills the restaurant when the beans are grinding is incredible, he said. They then add the sugar, spices, and other ingredients. I inquired whether they offer their chocolate for sale, to which he replied in the affirmative. When we were completing our meal, I mentioned to the waitress that I was interested in purchasing some of the chocolate. Shortly thereafter, she brought out a tablet of homemade Mexican chocolate that I later determined weighed over eight ounces. Even cooler than being able to buy Mexican chocolate made at Hugo’s - the waitress informed me that there was no charge for it! I wouldn’t exactly call it “free,” considering that we paid about $30 per person. I’m trying to determine when next I can make a trip to Hugo’s.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Boredom + Unemployment = Conflict in the Middle East

There was an article in the Monday, January 9 New York Times about continued violence in Gaza. I do not fully understand the politics or the causes of the conflict between Palestine and Israel, but the Jewish State obviously is not at the root of the unrest in the Middle East. I was of the understanding that Palestine, and the rest of the Arab world, resented that Israel moved in and settled in Palestine. I also understood that Israel occupied the West Bank, much to the chagrin of Palestine. However, as part of the peace process, Israel recently vacated the West Bank and relinquished control to Palestine. One might suppose this would be something of a victory for Palestine that would result in some measure of peace on the western bank of the Jordan River, but this has not been so. In Gaza, the violence rages on. Armed men still roam the streets, and gun battles still occur. The conflicts pit militants and the police. There are also feuds between families. “[L]awlessness and tension between armed factions since Israel’s withdrawal” have prevailed. Allegedly, the causes of the conflict are unemployment and boredom. These are simply a warmongering people who will find conflict, regardless of whether any enemy exists

Friday, January 13, 2006

Strange Behavior, or Grow Up

I thought that when people reached a certain point in their lives, maybe after they completed high school, earned a college degree, attended professional school, and had been in the workforce for several years, or were at a like age, their social skills were such that they could maturely and intelligently converse with and be in the presence of individuals of the opposite gender. This is not invariably the case.

I had been informed that a person from another law firm was interested in becoming better acquainted with me. I have visited with this individual and she is pleasant enough. My employer informed me late yesterday afternoon that people from this other law firm were gathering at a local establishment after work for drinks. He also informed me that this individual who wanted to get to know me better would be present, and that another person from the other law firm would kick my employer’s ass if I did not make an appearance. How cool is that – your boss telling you to leave work early to go to a bar? I finished the tasks on which I had been focusing and proceeded to the pub, arriving at about a quarter ’til six.

Apparently, my arrival was not timely enough. The employees of this other law firm are not required to work as long of hours as we are required to put in at my place of employment, so they had already been there for about forty-five minutes. When I approached the tables at which the attorneys from the other law firm were seated, the person who possibly wanted to visit with me rose and made her exit.

The abrupt departure was not the only instance of strange behavior. The individual who allegedly made threats to kick my boss’s ass if I did not show up began assailing me, telling me that I ruined it and that I was too late. It became weirder, still. The ass-kicker then proposed that they go around the table and the eight of them take turns asking me a single question. Where did she learn this conversation style – from the KGB? I played along, answering questions such as whether I have a halogen lamp in my apartment, whether I have a girlfriend, and which of the women at the table was the youngest. If the young lady who departed when I arrived anticipated this setting, I understand why she made a hasty exit.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Return from New York

My sister has returned from New York. It sounds as though she enjoyed herself. She and her traveling companions actually visited some of the places for which New York is renowned, such as Rockefeller Center, rather than just hitting Bloomingdale’s. They attended a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman, about which I have yet to hear. I have not heard many of the details of her trip, but if there is anything noteworthy, I will mention it.

She only made it to one of the restaurants on the list that I provided to her, Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery. I was able to sample a cupcake that she brought back. It was quite delectable; the buttercream frosting was extremely buttery. My sister also did not have an opportunity to dine at any of the ramenyas, authentic ramen shops, that she so wanted to try. Maybe some day she and I can visit New York together and dine at some of the acclaimed restaurants.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Bit Chilly for the Beach Today

I have been selected to make the long haul to Galveston this morning. Last time I made the drive, I put nearly 170 miles on the car traveling from South Montgomery County to Galveston and back. We have a client who resides in Montgomery County, but who went to the Island to break the law.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Not Resolved to Sit in Traffic

In a New York Times Magazine article, contributing writer Ann Hulbert suggests that city dwellers have no option but to resolve to sit in traffic. Residents of the most-congested places in the U.S., D.C., Los Angeles, and the San Francisco-Oakland area, must come to terms with the fact “that a quest for comprehensive congestion control is in vain.” Our government officials have given up, even on public transportation, Ms. Hulbert writes.

I would like to believe this is not true. Laying more concrete is certainly not the solution. Entire cities could be paved over with new and expanded highways, and the roads would still be clogged with cars. Taking cars off the roads is the solution, which can be accomplished by making rail available. This form of mass transit is not subject to traffic tie-ups, among its other advantages. Government should make rail available. If people insist on relying on personal automobiles despite the availability of rail and instead want to sit in gridlock, that is their problem

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Crowds Scare Me

Actually, I do not suffer from demophobia or ochlophobia, which are phobias of crowds. Maybe I’m anthrophobic. People in general don’t scare me, though, just some of the people. I ventured to the mall, yesterday, a place I generally prefer to avoid. I don’t judge people based on appearance, but, um, some people just look weird. I think it’s the people who are trying too hard to project a particular image who strike me as odd. “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” Oscar Wilde.

Good Bye and Good Riddance

Tom DeLay is ethically deficient any way one puts it. I wonder whether he truly believes that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, as he claims. Conversely, maybe he has convinced himself that he “committed no wrongdoing,” after repeated denials that he has come to believe. Perhaps he simply has no qualms about being a lying, law breaking, and unethical bully.

Regardless of whether he violated the law, Rep. DeLay has played it fast and loose with the rules. He is despicable. He practiced a brand of divisive, partisan politics. The Houston Chronicle quoted Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist, as saying that DeLay “shifted the game of politics from one of comity to one of ruling from an ironclad, ‘with-us-or-against-us’ philosophy.” I think Rep. DeLay has fallen prey to the politics of destruction he practiced.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Who’s the Victim?

Don’t drink and drive. I gather from clients who are charged with driving while intoxicated that it is a major inconvenience to make repeated court appearances and to have one’s driver license suspended. Suspension of one’s driver license! It is possible to obtain an occupational license, which allows one to drive within a twelve-hour block of time each day, but that is such an inconvenience. I mean, how does one commute to work, commute from work, and drive to the bar within twelve hours? Might we reconsider whose fault it is that one is facing prosecution for DWI?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Look Out, New York

My sister and two of her friends are departing for New York City today, where they will be spending a week and visiting another friend. I provided her with some restaurant reviews by Clotilde Dusoulier, the young French lady who authors the Chocolate & Zucchini food blog (which needs no promotion, as wildly popular as it is). I have never been to New York, but I think it would be fun to visit, for the dining experiences and the museums. My sister is traveling on a budget, but she should still be able to have an enjoyable trip. I hope they have fun and I hope they are safe.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Resolution

It has occurred to me that I have not made a New Year’s resolution. I typically do not make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I cannot recall having ever resolved at the beginning of a New Year to do something or to stop doing something. I have been considering whether there is a change I could or should make.

“The best that an individual can do is to concentrate on what he or she can do, in the course of a burning effort to do it better.” Elizabeth Bowen, Seven Winters.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

No One Cares about the Consumer

I think the local grocery stores are trying to discourage consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The produce is completely uninspiring, and the grocers actually seem to be shrinking the array of organic fruits and vegetables they offer. This is contrary to the current trend towards fresh and locally produced foods.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Tasting Notes

We drank $150 to $300 (depending on where you price it) worth of Champagne yesterday. As I mentioned, we had been sitting on a bottle of Moet & Chandon Cuvee Dom Perignon 1995, which my parents received as a gift a few years ago. We were looking for a very special occasion on which to open it, but we continued to “chicken out.” We were telling ourselves that we would go ahead and uncork it this New Year’s. I had bought a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, in the event we “chickened out” again. I was afraid to open the Dom Perignon. Is my palate sophisticated enough that I would be able to detect the depth and complexity, or would a $150 Champagne be wasted on me?

We finally opened the Dom Perignon yesterday. We did not open it after the clock struck 12:00 on January 1, because we did not stay up that late. It tasted good, but… I’ve tasted some nice $12 sparkling wines. After taking a few sips of the Dom Perignon, we decided to open the Piper-Heidsieck, so we could discover the difference between a $40 Champagne (bargain shopper that I am, I picked it up for $27) and a $150 Champagne.

Unfortunately, I did not detect “a mixture of almonds, cream, and white fruits,” and the Dom Perignon did not “explode into lemon, apple, and banana.” The Dom Perignon was pale in color. It was slightly sweet, initially, but seemed to become dryer. It was mildly acidic, and the bubbles were fine. The Dom Perignon had an aftertaste I could not place, or, in sophisticated terms, a long finish. I experienced difficulty detecting flavors to which I could assign descriptive words, such as “citrus” or “blackberry.” It was not caramel-y, or earthy tasting.

The Piper-Heidsieck was toasty! The color was more of a bronze. I could definitely detect the flavor of toast. It held up well to the Dom Perignon. For my tastes, I guess I can stick to the inexpensive Champagnes.

Apparently, Wine Spectator awarded the Dom Perignon 1995 92 points, and the Piper-Heidsieck received 91 points, whatever those numbers mean. How can one assign a numerical value to a wine? I think Robert M. Parker, Jr. can be credited with beginning this practice.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Government for the People?

It’s no secret who puts the food on congressperson’s tables. The voters who senators and House members represent don’t make public service lucrative. Nay, it is the pharmaceuticals who pad our representatives’ and senators’ pockets. Low-income Americans in particular have nothing to contribute to the corrupt people on Capitol Hill, so there is no reason lawmakers would want to help the low-wage earners.

While Congress trimmed the budgets of social programs such as child and family services programs, including Head Start, it did not make spending cuts that would have occurred at the expense of drug and managed-care companies. A provision that would have required drugmakers to offer deeper discounts on drugs sold to Medicaid was not approved. If you want representation, you need to incorporate and then contribute millions of dollars to your representatives’ campaigns.