Issue No. 104
March 30, 2020
In this issue....

  • Judges: What Lawyers Need to Know NOW!

  • Pandemic Resources for Attorneys
Six years ago this week, Harris County Family District Judge Denise Pratt was forced to resign. Pratt was a terrible judge and the family bar (a few at first and then a lot) rose up and stood against her. It was widely believed at the time that this little newsletter and witnesses I found about alleged back dating of orders were what allowed (forced) the District Attorney to make the deal with Pratt that she resign.  

Click here and here to read some of my best 2014 Mongoose issues outlining Pratt's horrible behavior. Click here to read the public letter 32 family law attorneys signed calling on Pratt to resign.

In one of my newsletters I wrote:

I have tried to campaign for reform of our family courts based on facts and fairness and attempted to do so while remaining respectful of our hardworking judges. However, the problem we all have with Judge Pratt has simply gone far way beyond bad policies or unwise decisions.  We are dealing with what I am sad to say appears to be a combination of laziness, mental illness and ignorance of the law cloaked in the awesome power of a family court. We as the family bar must continue to stand up against her and do what we can to protect the families of Harris County by getting Pratt out of office.

I worked very closely with the Houston Chronicle in the fight against Pratt and I also had some fun. Picketing the Republican County Convention with a few of my friends helped convinced the Republican D.A. that Pratt had to go. I am the fellow in the Abe Lincoln outfit below.
Fortunately, our ten family court judges we now have are light years better than Pratt. However, our judges are now faced with a scenario they never discussed in “new judges school.” We need clear and uniform procedures from our judges on how the courts will deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, at least for the next month.

The nation is going to be shut down for a while, probably into the summer.  Click here to read an excellent article from The Atlantic, which explains four possible scenarios (preview: social distancing ending in May is not one of them). I predict some normalcy will return here by June, but Covid-19 will likely return with a vengeance in the Fall and that is when the nation will truly be locked down and tens of thousands of deaths will occur.

Last week, I furloughed five of my firm's nine employees and had them all immediately apply for unemployment benefits. Thanks to the new law Congress passed and Trump signed on Friday, the extra $600 per week for unemployment compensation will mean that my employees will receive roughly the same per month as they do working for me. I will maintain their health insurance and get them back as soon as I can. The Texas Work Force Commission is about to be totally overwhelmed by unemployment claims, so you can do your staff a favor by furloughing them now so they can beat the crush of applicants.

My newsletter this Friday will summarize economic help law firms can seek to make it through this crisis. There will be "loan" program for small businesses that provides funds that do not have to be repaid if the money is used to pay staff and monthly obligations. Again, it will be important for each lawyer to be informed about these programs and apply early to beat the rush. I will be providing a lot more information on Friday.
I may not win every case (even if in my heart I expect to). I just want an efficient system in which my client gets a fair hearing before a judge who works hard, knows the law, and does not play favorites. Is that asking too much? Stay tuned.
Greg Enos
The Enos Law Firm
The Enos Law Firm
  17207 Feather Craft Lane, Webster, Texas 77598
 (281) 333-3030
   Please forward this e-mail newsletter to everyone who cares about our family courts! 
Judges: What Lawyers Need to Know NOW!
Trump yesterday announced what anyone with any brains already knew was coming - he extended the nationwide social distancing guidelines for another 30 days. Those guidelines include: “Use of social distancing measures to reduce contact between adults in the community and workplace, including, for example, cancellation of large public gatherings and alteration of workplace environments and schedules to decrease social density and preserve a healthy workplace to the greatest extent possible without disrupting essential services.”

The Harris County “stay at home order” as originally issued only lasts through April 3 (this Friday). Click here to read Judge Hildalgo's order. Almost everyone expects that stay-at-home order to be extended and I assume we will find that out early this week.

The State Office of Court Administration on March 26, 2020 issued an order that says that says lawyers provide essential services and local stay at home orders do not apply to lawyers.  Click here to read that order.

However, it seems obvious that courts should remain closed except for “essential matters” or agreed hearings that can be done on the phone or by video conference, and that the family courts should continue Judge Maldonado’s order of March 12. Click here to read Judge Maldonado's order that mostly closed family courts "until further notice."

Here is what the family bar needs:

1.  Please confirm that "until further notice" means that the family courts will be largely closed through May 1 (a Friday). Lawyers need to know if we need to prepare for hearings or trials for this coming month. It seems obvious given Trump's extension of his recommendations through April, but the judges should make this clear so that we can plan our month.

2. All ten family courts need to follow the same procedures and all post them on their court web sites. As you can see below, what we have now from the various courts is a mish-mash of procedures and forms and it is not clear at all that they are each doing the same thing. I think they actually are mostly following the same procedures, but you cannot tell from the court websites.

3. Hearings or trials by video conference should not be forced on attorneys and parties unless the matter meets the definition of “essential” or one side will be harmed or severely prejudiced by delay.  Zoom is a great product, but a video conference is not a real substitute for open court.  Voluminous exhibits and witnesses are not easy to handle via Zoom. For one thing, how can we subpoena a witness to appear in a video conference and how can we tell who is there with the witness out of view of the camera coaching them?  It is okay if both sides agree to a hearing by Zoom, but requiring attorneys and parties to have their matters decided via video conference if there is not a emergency or some important reason not to wait, is not fair or wise. Yes, judges will be worried about keeping up with their dockets, but not every case can be resolved by video conference.

Click here for a video tutorial on how to conduct a hearing using Zoom. 

Some of judges plan to use Zoom only when they have to and a few want to restart regular dockets and use Zoom for almost everything. That is absolutely not what we need. All ten courts need to get on the same page and do the same thing. 

All ten of our family court judges are hard working and truly care about the families that come before them and they are trying their best in extraordinary times. They are figuring all of this out as they go like we are all are. I am asking for uniformity and a little reluctance to force court via video conference in all cases, but I am not really complaining, because I really do think these judges are doing a good job.
Pandemic Resources for Attorneys: Part 1
This issue contains links to various court orders and procedures that family courts are following in Harris County.

My next newsletter will provide links for suburban counties and explain the various programs available to small businesses and law firms (and our employees) to financially survive this crisis.

All Harris County Family Courts

Click here to read Judge Maldonado's March 12, 2020 order that mostly closed family courts "until further notice."

Click here to read the Harris County Engineer's order which makes the family courts share courtrooms for the few in-person hearings that are being held.

Click here to download the Harris County family court's Standing Mutual TRO for all new cases. I am trying to get a clear, clean copy of this PDF that is supposed to be served with all new petitions.

All of the family courts are allowing agreed orders, including divorces, to be proved up via affidavit or unsworn declarations.

Use this link to down load affidavit prove up forms in Word. All four of these forms should be converted to be unsworn declarations. An unsworn declaration can and should be used instead of an affidavit because of the difficulty of getting clients in front of a notary public. Also, Tex. Civ. Pract. & Rem. Code Sec. 132.001 says unsworn declarations can be used in place of an affidavit in almost all situations.

The scarcity of notaries during these times of "stay at home" orders is a real issue. Click here for information on getting signed up to be an on-line notary public in Texas.

Lawyers should check each court's web site for specifics on how that judge is handling cases during this crisis. The problem is that the courts do not post the same forms or procedures and it is not clear from their websites that they are doing the same thing. Every court should right now post real clear Covid-19 procedures and links to the prove-up forms and information on how video hearings will be conducted. Unfortunately, a review of the courts' websites raises more questions than the posted information answers.

245th - Judge Longino

Click here for the court web page, which has "Special Rules in Effect for Pandemic."

Click here to download a PDF of 245th procedures updated on 3/23/20, which deal with changes because of Covid-19.

Judge Longino loves hearings by Zoom (and all new uses of technology in general).

246th - Judge Graves-Harrington

Click here for the court web page which contains an "Important Message from [the] 246th District Court" about Vocid-19 procedures. This message says in part:

Please utilize the submission docket for uncontested matters. Prove ups of agreements may be done by affidavit or unsworn declaration. All Entry Dockets will be handled via submission, beginning March 20, 2020 until further notice. The Dismissal Docket on March 27, 2020 @ 9:00 AM will be reset to a later date. All non-essential hearings will be reset.

There is no link to any new procedures relevant to the pandemic.

Judge Graves-Harrington has done a lot of CPS hearings via Zoom and she is definitely comfortable with the technology.

247th - Judge Berg

Click here for the court web page.

Click here to download the 247th's procedures for the pandemic, which says they are in effect through May 8. It would be really nice if all courts told us that their pandemic procedures are in effect through May 8 instead of forcing us to guess or ask.

Judge Berg is also comfortable with Zoom and is trying to put together an on-line CLE for Zoom hearings.

257th - Judge Peake

Click here for the court web page, which has nothing posted about pandemic procedures except for instructions on submissions. Click here to read the 257th directions for submissions during the pandemic. It would be really nice if every court provided such clear instructions for their submission docket. What if there was one uniform set of instructions for submission hearings for all ten courts!

280th - Judge Stalder

Click here to the court web page, which has a LOT of information for lawyers and the parties during the pandemic.

Click here to see order language that Judge Stalder requires for all ex-parte temporary protective orders, that says the orders last forever until further court order. Judge Stalder and the 280th are going to be a subject of inquiry for me over the next few weeks as it is the one court I hear the most attorneys complain about. The length of Judge Stalder's protective orders is often a source of irritation or amazement and now her temporary, ex parte orders may last for months.

308th - Judge Lopez

Click here for the court web page. Click here to see the 308th's new procedures in light of the pandemic, which say that starting April 1 all oral hearings will be done by video conference. We definitely need some clarification on how we schedule and conduct video conference hearings in regular cases that are not emergencies. For one thing, how do we object before the hearing if we think a hearing by video is not practical or fair?

Judge Lopez is clearly a fan of Zoom and eager to use it.

309th - Judge Dunson

Click here for the court web page, which says in part:
Currently per HISD policy the schools are closed through the end of March; therefore, if you have a non-essential matter scheduled your hearing or trial will be passed and you will be contacted by this Court with a new date.
The 309 th will ONLY be having in person hearing on essential court matters as listed in the family courts joint statements. We will continue to handle certain matters by submission. Those matters which we accept by submission are listed on the 309 th’s policy and procedure on our website. The 309th Court is hoping to have the ability to take testimony by videoconferencing, such as, in the near future. Your health and safety is our first priority.

I do not anticipate this court conducting many hearings via Zoom.

310th - Judge Heath

Click here for the court web page, which has information about pandemic procedures, which include this statement: "B eginning on 04/01/2020, all oral hearings in the 310th shall take place by videoconference."

Click here for the 310th's Covid-19 procedures effective as of March 17. Click here for the 310th's policy on submissions.

311th - Judge Tanner

Click here for the court web page, which has nothing about Covid-19 policies except for proving up cases by affidavit or unsworn declaration.

312th - Judge Wells

Click here for the court web page. Click here for the 312th's pandemic procedures.

507th - Judge Maldonado

Click here for the court web page. Click here for the 507th's Covid-19 procedures, which only addresses prove up by affidavit.

So, every court seems to be handling things a little differently and they all vary wildly on what information they provide on their websites. Each court needs to post one single pandemic procedure document at the very top of their web site and those procedures really should be the same for all 10 courts.

Thank you for your support! Together We Can Make Our Profession Better and Our Courts More Fair
Attorney Greg Enos has been through his own divorce and child custody battle (he won) and understands what his clients are going through. Enos graduated from the University of Texas Law School and was a successful personal injury attorney in Texas City before he decided his true calling was to help families in divorce and child custody cases. Greg Enos is active in politics and in Clear Lake area charities. He has served as President of the Bay Area Bar Association and President of the Board of Interfaith Caring Ministries. The Enos Law Firm serves clients in Galveston County, Brazoria County and Harris County, Texas.
Greg Enos
Board Certified in Family Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization
The Enos Law Firm
www. divorce
Want to join the mailing list?
Just send your email address by text message
Text the code: THEMONGOOSE to 22828 to get started