Vol. 9 | July 2021
Harris County, Texas, is striving to lead in criminal justice innovation in the United States. The efforts described in this NEWSLETTER represent JAD's work for the Harris County Commissioners Court, and only a selection of JAD's pioneering policy work. In the coming months and years, JAD will continue to build coalitions with local stakeholders, identify successful initiatives from other jurisdictions and forge innovative, evidence-based reforms from the ground up.
News & Information on Policy Work by JAD
Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Selects Members for the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee
By: Karen Evans, JAD
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) is pleased to announce the community members recently selected to serve on the newly re-instated Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee
The 17-member Committee consists of 13 Community Stakeholders and four appointed Harris County agency representatives pIctured above from Left to Right:

Jarvis Williams, Jose Vega, Arelia Johnson, Caroleta Johnson (Houston Police Department (HPD), Karen Evans (JAD), Larry Brown Jr. (Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (JPD)), Jessica Diaz, Monique Joseph, Brandi Ebanks Copes (JAD), Dianna Williams, Lubabah Abdullah, Liyah Brown, Gabriela Ventura (alternate), Kendrick White, Carrie Rai, Dav Lewis, Yvonne Mendoza (alternate), and Terrance Koontz.

Not pictured: Nasser Midamba, Christopher Rivera, Katrina Camacho (Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO).

The Committee is also working with non-voting members, who have demonstrated a deep passion for advancing equity and who will be integral to what the Committee hopes to accomplish. 
The Committee will focus on identifying and addressing racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal justice system and facilitating community-driven strategies meant to advance equity.

The Council took great care to ensure geographic representation from parts of the County most impacted by the criminal justice system, including advocates/advocacy groups, subject-matter experts, community leaders with lived experience, and other individuals committed to advancing solutions to the racial and ethnic disparities that exist in our system.
To learn more about the Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee, please contact Karen Evans, Community Engagement Manager, via email at [email protected].

On June 3, 2021, JAD hosted an initial stakeholder meeting at Little Baker that included representatives from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the County Judge’s office, Commissioners Court member offices, and Budget Management. A total of 17 people attended the meeting, and JAD is looking forward to working with these initial stakeholders to identify the ultimate task force membership and develop a timeline for the final study and recommendations. 
Criminal Case Backlog and Associate Judge Program
By: Stephanie Armand, JAD
Hurricane Harvey (August 2017) and the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020 and ongoing) severely impacted the entire Harris County criminal justice system. As a result, the courts’ criminal case backlog has steadily increased and has reached the highest levels in the history of Harris County. 

There are over 95,000 cases pending in the Criminal District and County Courts. 42% (40,142 cases) of the caseload is considered backlog, cases pending over the national time to standard disposition. Over the last couple of months, JAD, Budget Management Department (BMD), and the County Judge’s Office have been meeting with stakeholders to discuss the challenges in addressing the criminal case backlog. Based upon feedback from the stakeholders, JAD made recommendations to Commissioners Court to address the backlog. At the Commissioners Court Meeting held on June 29th, several strategies were approved unanimously. 

Expand jury operations at NRG from 4 to 7 spaces 
The jury assembly and voir dire operations at NRG Arena were expanded to include available space on the 2nd floor. This will increase the number of voir dire spaces from four to seven for August and September 2021. The current agreement with NRG allowed for this action. Commissioners Court approved a budget of up to $600,000 for additional resources to support the expansion. JAD and BMD are working with stakeholders and will submit a final plan to Commissioners Court on July 20th. The goal is to begin expanded operations on August 2nd.   
Increase the number of Emergency Response Trial Dockets presided over by visiting judges
Funding for three visiting District Court judges and necessary support staff for the Emergency Response Dockets (ERDS) were tentatively approved. The primary purpose of the ERD’s are to prioritize the most serious criminal cases in the Criminal District Courts to significantly reduce the criminal case backlog.
JAD is working with the County Criminal Court Manager to recommend adding two new visiting judges to preside over the most serious and oldest misdemeanor criminal cases for people in custody or out on bond with serious criminal charges pending.  

JAD and BMD are working with the stakeholders to submit a project plan covering goals, timeline, staffing, and space needs for the visiting judges and proposed budget to Commissioners Court on July 20th. 

Associate Judges Program
Six associate judge positions and an initial budget of up $2.5 million was approved for a 1-year associate judges program in the District Courts, pending confirmation of the following information from the Criminal District Courts: 
A copy of the associated Criminal District Court local rules once they are established. 
Intended goals and outcomes of the program and timeline to achieve goals and outcomes during its first year.  

Timeline for initiating and implementing the program and achieving stated goal.  
JAD and BMD have been directed to work with the Criminal District Courts and all stakeholders to evaluate and as soon as is practically feasible, return to Commissioners Court with a proposed plan, timeline, and budget for any additional space and temporary or permanent staffing needs to support the 1-year associate judge program.  
Expediting the Discovery Process 
JAD and BMD have also been directed to work with the stakeholders to evaluate the remaining recommendation of expediting the processing of body-worn camera evidence. If appropriate, JAD & BMD will return with a proposed budget, timeline, and staffing and evaluation plan for consideration of the Commissioners Court on July 20th. 
A Farewell to our 2020 - 2021 Interns and a Welcome to our Summer Interns!
By: Ashley Park, JAD
Marissa Bosley
Edrius Stagg
Xonzy Gaddis
Since the inception of the Justice Administration Department (JAD) internship program in 2019, JAD has had several interns ready to get hands-on experience working in a think tank for policy leading.

Interns have joined JAD through two programs sponsored by Commissioner Rodney Ellis at Precinct One: the Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP) and the Leadership, Experience, and Employment (LEE) Program.

TLIP was created to provide young civic-minded students with real-world experience, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Commissioner Ellis was still able to secure mostly remote assignments for the class of 2020 interns. Through TLIP, undergraduate, graduate, and law students serve as interns across government agencies. This empowers students with the resources to pursue careers in public service and learn valuable lessons about serving their fellow community members.

Additionally, the LEE program was founded by the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee and is now sponsored by Commissioner Ellis. The LEE program places Houston-area high school graduates and college students in internship positions in county departments and private firms related to their major course of college studies.

In June, JAD said goodbye to three TPLIP interns: Marissa Bosley, Edrius Stagg, and Xonzy Gaddis. During their time at JAD, Bosley, Stagg, and Gaddis worked closely with the policy team on various research and writing projects, including completing memorandums for submission to Commissioners Court.

I admired Ed’s desire to get involved and work with the Policy Team on any area we needed help. From modifying the way he set up a document from Word to an Excel sheet or tagging every person on specific tasks for the legislative analysis, to providing us more specific information on certain subjects, he was great at keeping us up to date on exactly what we required. I can still recall having a virtual meeting with him while he was in the car, taking notes with one hand and feeding his newborn with the other while his wife was at a medical appointment. I remember telling him that we could have rescheduled this meeting, but he shrugged it off with, ‘Well, now I have something to do.’ His commitment, in that moment, was evident,” said Matthew M. Sweeney, PhD.

Deputy Director Dr. Ana Yáñez Correa described Gaddis as a “go-getter” who is “passionate about social justice issues” and a “prolific writer, and researcher.”

On working with Bosley, Lindsey Linder, J.D., a JAD analyst who also participated in TLIP during her time as a student, said, “I was thrilled to work with Marissa during her time at JAD. Marissa and I were able to work together tracking proposed state legislation and identifying opportunities to reduce the Harris County jail population. Marissa’s positive attitude and strong work ethic made her an invaluable addition to the team and reinforced the stellar reputation that precedes TLIP students.

Many thanks to Ed, Xonzy, and Marissa for all of their hard work and dedication to JAD and Harris County.
Ashley Park
Miranda Calderon
Maya Evans
Though we are sad to say goodbye to Ed, Xonzy, and Marissa, JAD welcomed three new interns from the LEE program last month: Ashley Park (Rice University), Miranda Calderon (Texas A&M), and Maya Evans (Alabama A&M).

When asked about their goals for the internship, Calderon replied, “With this internship, I hope to gain a greater insight into how the criminal justice system operates in Harris County. Besides that, I hope to have the opportunity to improve on my research and professional development skills.”

My goal for this internship is to gain newfound knowledge about Harris County and its policies,” added Evans.

Calderon and Evans have been working with the JAD policy team, specifically focusing on reentry data and crime survivor programs and services. Park has been working with the JAD communications team to translate JAD research, proposals, and projects into videos and social media posts to raise public awareness about JAD’s work. “JAD is doing a lot of key research and advocacy work in Harris County regarding racial disparities in crime statistics, resources for survivors of crime, and other initiatives, so it is important for the communications team to inform the community of all these projects,” Park stated.

Deputy Director Dr. Yáñez Correa expressed, “Commissioner Ellis’s partnership with JAD via the LEE and TLIP internships has exceeded all of our expectations. JAD benefits from the energy, positivity, and impeccable work product. Our team members get to receive real-life work experience, support, mentorship, and a better sense of how they can use their skillset in future endeavors. Xonzy, Ed, and Marissa will always have a family at JAD. They were dependable, a joy to work with, and always went above and beyond what was asked of them.”

JAD value's our interns' work and will continue working with Harris County to provide students with the tools and experience to forge their own careers in public service.  
Media Articles
Media Coverage
What’s Happening Around Harris County
Congratulations to David Berry!
Harris County Appoints County Administrator

The Harris County Commissioners Court approved the appointment of a county administrator, a new position developed by the County.

David Berry, the current Harris County Budget Director, was appointed to the new position. He will retain his prior responsibilities for now.

Berry has 45 days to hire a consultant and come up with a plan for how exactly to restructure county management, which can be approved by a simple majority of commissioners.
Preserving the Past: Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess Talks Records Preservation at 2021 CDCAT Conference
By Al Ortiz, DCO
Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess recently attended the summer conference of the County and District Clerks Association of Texas (CDCAT) in Amarillo (TX). During her participation in the conference, District Clerk Burgess delivered a presentation on the topic of preserving court and legal records.

Ms. Burgess discussed Harris County’s well-established program and provided advice to start preservation projects for counties with varying budgets. One of the highlights of Ms. Burgess’ presentation revealed hidden treasures from our archives, including the court filings pertaining to a 1920 petition that allowed women to vote in Harris County when the poll tax threatened their rights.
Ms. Burgess speaks on the importance of preserving judicial history for future generations and the present-day public.
History is often dates and numbers, but with court records, you truly see the lives, turmoil, and accomplishments of our ancestors and see the link between the past and today’s legal system. Preserving these stories is an investment, but the documents are priceless,” Ms. Burgess shared.
Beyond its regular records keeping duties, the Harris County District Clerk’s Office (DCO) houses all historical county records from the time of the Texas Republic in 1836 to 1951, per standards established by the Library of Congress. The vast majority of these records are public and are stored between our Historical Documents Room in the Civil Courthouse at 201 Caroline Street and the DCO Records Center at 5900 Canal Street. Both facilities are state of the art and set a high bar for records preservation among District and County Clerks’ offices. The Honorable Judge Mark Davidson, who presides in the Multi District Litigation Civil Court and has championed the preservation of historical records for years, also delivered a brilliant presentation at the conference.
Mercer Botanic Gardens Breaks Ground
On First Phase of Master Plan
Boardwalks, Water Features, and a Ziggurat Planned
By: Crystal Simmons,
Office of Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4

Mercer Botanic Gardens recently broke ground to kick off the first phase of its plan to expand the gardens and make them more flood resilient in the wake of several disastrous floods.
Mercer approved its master plan, designed by Halff Associates Inc., in 2019, after buying more than 47 neighboring acres outside the special flood hazard area.
Phase 1 of the plan began March 8 and will take six months to complete. Improvements include building three greenhouses on higher ground to replace the Central Garden greenhouses. The extra elevation is expected to keep nursery plants safe from high water and provide a staging area for staff during disasters like Hurricane Harvey, which caused catastrophic damage at the botanic gardens.
"We decided we couldn't just rebuild because we would always be in harm's way," said Chris Ludwig, Mercer's director. "The best option was to move our greenhouses to higher ground and make the facilities that couldn't be moved more flood resilient."
Before building the greenhouses, crews will excavate part of the property to create a detention area, using the excess soil to raise the property above Hurricane Harvey's flood line. Plans also include demolishing the Central Garden greenhouses and using the space as an open lawn area for events and family-friendly outdoor movies.
Another priority will be to open Storey Lake and the Creekside Ramble by late April. Both areas closed in 2016 after sustaining significant flood damage. These areas will eventually link to other planned amenities.
Most development will occur over the next decade on a 47.44-acre plot adjacent to Mercer. Amenities include three greenhouses, water features, trails, an observation greenhouse for exotic plants, a water wall, and an amphitheater. A boardwalk will span the pond, leading visitors past a Japanese Garden to a ziggurat - a tall earthen tower resembling the structure at McGovern Centennial Gardens. A twisting pathway will lead to the top of the tower so visitors can view Mercer from above. The boardwalk will also provide a shortcut to Storey Lake and a new rookery and water feature.
Baldwin Boettcher Library, which has been closed since Hurricane Harvey, will reopen as Mercer's entrance. Additionally, Precinct 4 will restore Mercer's Botanical Information Center, also damaged during Harvey, and open it to Baldwin Boettcher staff for library programs and classes.
Mercer's west side, which remains mostly undeveloped, may also see a few improvements and new amenities over the years, including a Reflective Garden, Tree Village, and Maple Mall. A restroom and garden space is expected to open at the front of the westside parking area in fall 2021. Property also has been set aside on both sides of Mercer for connections to the Cypress Creek Greenway.

CommissionHarris County Public Defender's Office Creating Holistic Division
By: Leslie Ginzel, PDO
The past two years have brought a lot of growth to the Harris County Public Defender’s Office (PDO), including the creation of the new Holistic Division. The Holistic Division was created to help identify the reasons PDO clients contact the criminal justice system and to offer help and support to alleviate those issues. In addition, non-lawyer staff support clients and their families as their criminal cases progress to disposition. 
What does that mean, exactly?
Holistic Division Chief Leslie Ginzel, formerly the head of Houston’s nonprofit legal services provider Beacon Law, has a lot of ideas. Though the division was started at the beginning of the pandemic, it has already gained a lot of steam and started providing truly meaningful assistance.
Holistic Division lawyers provide representation to clients in collateral civil cases related to their criminal cases. These collateral cases often do not come with the guarantee of counsel, and indigent clients may have a good result on their criminal case but are unable to pay another attorney to represent them in the additional civil cases, which can be devastating. Asset forfeiture proceedings, where the government seizes a person’s property, are an example of this type of collateral consequence. The intervention of a lawyer in these cases can mean that a person is able to keep their car or their bank account, which is even more significant to a person already struggling financially. 
Holistic Division staff comb through PDO databases to identify current and former clients who qualify for expunctions of their criminal charges. Usually, expunction applications have a hefty filing fee of several hundred dollars, but because of Leslie and her team, that fee has been waived for indigent applicants and PDO paralegals and lawyers are actively working to clear these records. This can allow clients to apply for jobs, apartments, and other benefits without the burden of a conviction, and is truly life-changing for many.
Lawyers and non-lawyers in the division also advocate for clients in myriad other ways- such as helping them obtain ID’s, assisting them in fulfilling court-mandated probation requirements, and connecting them with social services, including housing or placement in drug treatment programs. Some of the advocates have even helped clients negotiate payment plans for defaulted student loans so that they can reenroll in school.
Meaningful new programs in the division also include “Peer Navigators” who assist lawyers in collecting mitigating information about clients and develop relationships with clients to help assess their fears, hopes, and needs. Additionally, Leslie has started working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to provide early-intervention and services to arrestees on their release from the jail, ensuring better compliance with conditions of release and better outcomes for their cases in general.
The creation of the Holistic Division puts the HCPDO at the forefront of progressive public defense, and we can’t wait to see what Leslie and her team will do as they continue to develop relationships with the community and grow in strength and number. 
Constable Precinct 2 Brings Implicit Bias Training to Pearland Police
By: Constable Jerry Garcia, Precinct 2

One of my promises to my citizens and residents was that I would ensure that our deputies were properly trained. In our effort to provide our residents and citizens with a great police service, I have made training a top priority. I want the policies of Harris County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office to be based off of best practices. When I took office, I reached out to JAD and asked JAD for help and recommendations for providing the best police services possible.

One of the recommendations was that our deputies be provided with Implicit Bias Training. Pearland Police Department provides this training. We asked if they would be willing to train our deputies and provide our instructors with material so that we can train as well. Pearland Police Department was very kind and generous. They came to our office, provided the training, and trained our instructors.

Not only our deputies, but every single employee will go through this training. Our office has had more training hours in the first 4 ½ months of my administration than my predecessor had in the entire year last year. JAD has been instrumental in helping my office and I would like to thank JAD for their tremendous work and selfless dedication to providing Harris County residents and citizens with policies that are fair and just. 
Harris County Vaccine Scholarship Program
By: Harris County Public Health
Jose Meija
Scholarship Winner
To encourage COVID-19 vaccinations among students under the age of 18, Harris County is holding a scholarship raffle for teens who receive the vaccine at a Harris County Public Health (HCPH) site.

The County started the raffle on June 10 and will award one $5,000 college scholarship each week for ten consecutive weeks. To date, the County has selected three winners so far.
In order for residents to qualify to enter the raffle drawings, students:

  • Must be under the age of 18
  •  Must live in Harris County
  •  Must have received at least the first dose of the vaccine from a HCPH vaccination site at any point before the raffle drawing

For more information about the Harris County Vaccine Scholarship program, please visit hcphtx.org/vaccinescholarship.
In Memoriam
Floyd L. Jennings, J.D., Ph.D

Born in 1940, Dr. Jennings entered undergraduate school at the age of 16 and went on to earn a Bachelor's degree from McMurry University, a Master's degree of Sacred Theology from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Clinical Psychology from University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and a JD from University of Houston.

Dr. Jennings spent his career working with the Methodist Church as a minister, private practice as a clinical psychologist, the Harris County Sheriff's Office Reserve, and most recently as Chief of the Mental Health Division of the Harris County Public Defender's Office. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
JAD Will Hold the Next CJCC Meeting on

Thursday, September 9th
12:30pm - 2:00pm