Monthly Archives: March 2012

Slam, Bam…Thank you, Grand Jury

Got some studying to do tonight, but just had to report back:

Presented my two cases to the Grand Jury  today; both were aggravated sexual assaults on children.  (“Aggravated” because of the age of the children at the time of the incidents—5 and 6 years old.)  I reviewed with the Grand Jury all the facts of the case I had pulled together from our records and gave them everything we had.   I sat there in front of 12 strangers and one DA and detailed all the sad, nasty details of what these babies experienced at the hands of grown men.

It occurred to me that these kids have experienced things sexually that some adults haven’t.  Makes me sick.  At the end of my presentation , I asked that they return a true bill  on both cases.

Maybe five minutes after the DA and I walked out, we got our true bills.  All we needed was 9 out of 12 to go forward.  I got all 12.

Guess I know two people whose lives just went from bad to worse.  Can’t say I’m going to lose much sleep.

Nite.

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Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn

Today was my first day back after spring break.  I actually felt a smile cross my face as I walked into the building.  It’s funny how nearly 4 years ago I walked into this same building feeling so incredibly out of place and sure I didn’t belong.  And today, TODAY, I walked in and felt a sense  of calm immediately come over me as I was once again in my comfort zone.

After class, I went straight down to the library and once there I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of musty law books that I know so well.  The guy behind the counter passed me the key to the closet where all my Westlaw goodies are stored and I commented on his shirt that said, “Nerd.”  He admitted that it was true, he is a nerd and I said, “Good that you know who you are.”  What a silly conversation to have, but it made us both smile, so maybe it’s not so silly after all.  A little smiling never hurt anyone.

Well, I didn’t get finished with my outlining as I wanted, but I got a good chunk done.  I have about another 30% to do, so  hopefully I can get it all done by this weekend.  I did manage to get lots of stuff done around the house.  I finally got my dog to the vet and my kids to the doctor for check ups (not in that order).  I shampooed my carpets, cooked and had some girl friends over for cards, dinner and a mean pitcher of Mexican Martinis.  I needed that time to just veg.

I feel like I got a good sign today about the bar exam:

One of my friends and I were in the library this evening (Note that I stayed in the library from 3-8 pm–just couldn’t get enough of that musty book smell, I guess!) and we started talking about booking a hotel for the bar exam.  Many, MANY attorneys that I’ve asked about this have staunchly opined that it is necessary to stay in a hotel during the bar exam.  Something about there’s enough stress going on that week without adding traffic, getting up late, potential flat tires and dead batteries etc. to the mix.  The consensus seems to be:  find a hotel as close to the testing site as possible; spend the money and save yourself the stress.  So, apparently I’m not the only one worried about where I’ll be sleeping (or not sleeping, as the case may be) during hell week in July, because my friend also had been pondering and surfing hotel sites thinking about booking.

Of course, when we start discussing we immediately have to both get online and see what’s out there as far as location and prices.  The July testing site is in prime DFW area and so the prices are steep.  Oh, and let’s add to the mix that the BLE picked a location where there’s lots of  “other” stuff going on in the same vicinity which means competition for hotel rooms from NON-bar takers.   We were debating whether it was worth it to pay 2x as much for a great location or pay half as much for a good location when I thought, “Hmm, I wonder if one of those hotel purchase websites might not have a good deal.”

I’ve never used one of those “buy first, then find out the hotel name” sites, but in this case I thought it didn’t much matter.  Point is, I want location and don’t care (really) where I stay.  So I plugged in my search:  Find hotel near this address for the best price.  Go.

A few seconds later I get what is supposed to be a “4-star” hotel within a 5 mile radius of my designated address for $66 per night.  Hmmm, it looks promising.  I’m still a bit bothered by the fact that I don’t know what I’m booking, but according to the site’s criteria, any of the sample hotel names they classify as “4 star” would work for me.  It helped too that I know the area fairly well and was pretty sure that the mystery hotel was in fact the same one I’d seen for $149 per night.  My friend, encouraged me (Read:  He had me be the guinea pig!) to book it and see what it was, so I did.

Hot damn!  I hit the jackpot!!  It WAS the $149 per night hotel…the one practically ON TOP OF  the testing site…that has free parking for guests…that I have stayed at MANY times and in which I am VERY comfortable… that I will be able to escape to during lunch breaks and eat/study in peace…THAT hotel.  Yep, that’s the one!!  What an awesome deal!!!

I nearly did…ok, I DID do a happy dance right there in the library.  And my friend promptly followed my lead and booked his room too.  He was flabbergasted that we got such a great deal…less than half of what we would have paid through the hotel website.  Multiple high-fives were exchanged.  I sort of felt like we should have also been wearing “Nerd” t-shirts right about then, but what an immense amount of stress off our shoulders to have this settled and booked.    Definitely, definitely suggest getting this done sooner than later.

So the “sign” I was talking about…I guess the way this hotel thing worked out it’s just a positive thing and starts me on this bar journey with a good vibe.  If I can’t be home during probably one of the most stressful weeks of my life, I’ll at least be somewhere comfortable, safe, accessible, familiar and affordable.  Couldn’t ask for more.  What a blessing.

It’s nearly midnight and by the time I post this, it will be Wednesday morning.  I have a big day ahead of me.  I finally get a chance to put my 3L bar card to work.  I will be presenting two cases to the Grand Jury tomorrow and asking them to hand down indictments.  I am excited and nervous, but I’m prepared and so we’ll just see how it goes.

I suppose it’s kind of strange to say that I’ll gauge MY success on whether or not the Grand Jury issues the indictments and the defendants get prosecuted, but given the facts of my cases, I’m unconcerned about their future legal problems.  My job tomorrow is to get them indicted and that’s what I intend to do.

My Small Contribution to Homeland Security

Yesterday, I opened the Sunday paper and discovered that I made the front page.  Ok, if you read the article you won’t see my name anywhere.  BUT, make no mistake: I am very much at the heart of this article.

Spring Break is the time of the year that the media has dubbed as “Sunshine Week.”  More than at any other time of the year the media focuses on advocating increased governmental transparency under federal and state laws.  For the duration of Sunshine Week many different articles about information transparency run in newspapers across the country. The media is ALWAYS going to want more transparency.  For them, there is no reason to withhold ANYTHING from disclosure, even with a valid legal basis.  The media will often claim, in subtle ways, that the government is being disingenuous.

For instance, an article might say that the governmental body “refused to release the requested information,” but it doesn’t go on to explain that the reason the agency refused was because the request sought something that was confidential by law which made it  illegal to release that information.

The devil is in the details, but this is an important distinction:  It is the difference between alluding that the state agency is stone-walling and the reality which is that it was, in fact, merely complying with the law in its handling of the request.  The latter is quite obviously not as savory a story for the media.  Who wants to read an article about a state agency doing its job?

Open government laws (at least in Texas) are double-edged swords that put governmental entities between a rock and a hard place.  Texas’s laws provide both criminal and civil penalties against agencies and their employees that either fail to release “public” information OR mistakenly release confidential information.  This area of the law is indeed a minefield to navigate.  Even four years away from my pre-law school job hasn’t dampened my fervor and advocacy for the importance of using common sense in handling issues of governmental transparency.  I think that this mindset is what made me so successful at my old job.

As this is a topic of great interest to me, I read any Open Government articles in my local newspaper with a critical eye often catching sweeping generalities that the media prints as fact, when the reality is often very different. Sunday’s article was an especially touchy issue for me because work that I did was at the very beginning of this particular debate.  The article focuses on the use of Texas’s Homeland Security Act (“HSA”) as a basis for withholding information related to “critical infrastructure.”

The article begins by highlighting a 2010 open record request by local residents of the Birdville school district (in Tarrant County) who were concerned about athletic spending inequalities among high schools.  The requestor in that case asked to access blueprints of one school’s athletic areas.  The agency sought a determination from the Texas Attorney General (as required by law) and pointed to the HSA and its provisions protecting critical infrastructure.  The Attorney General agreed with Birdville.

Because the documents at issue are blueprints, I know that inroads I paved back in December 2003 are in play.  If my legal brief on this issue wasn’t the first, it was certainly one of the very first in Texas.  I know this because when I was researching how to craft my legal brief to the Attorney General back in 2003, there were exactly two previously issued HSA opinions that offered any insight as to how it should be done:  One was successful and the other was not.  Neither of these dealt specifically with a request for blueprints, so I was on my own with regard to these types of documents; my analysis set the bar.

At that time, the Texas HSA had only been law for a few months, so there were precious few test cases.  We had new words like “critical infrastructure,” “terrorism,” and government “assets” that were as yet undefined or under-defined in state law.  Getting the Attorney General to agree that the Texas HSA applied to a request for “blueprints” meant that I had to show how these documents met the state definition of “critical infrastructure” and also meant proposing that Texas adopt federal definitions for other terms as yet undefined in our state law.  I had my work cut out for me and I gave it all I had.   While the documents requested in my case were definitely worthy of protection, I also saw future implications that rippled way into the future:

Consideration should also be given to the domino effect that will follow if the requested documents are released despite the arguments presented.  Should the University fail in its attempt to secure the [sic] blueprints, it would also compromise its building blueprints, and set a precedent for the release of the blueprints of any other state agency that may have a similar request in the future.

In a recent statement regarding the nation’s current terror alert, U. S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge stated, “We will not broadcast our plans to the terrorists.  But extensive and considerable protection have been or soon will be in place all across the country.”  By asserting the confidentiality of our [sic] blueprints and our critical infrastructure, the University of Texas at Austin does play a vital part in securing this city and  state from domestic terroristic threats.”

My position, as articulated in my 2003 legal brief above, has not changed.  Clearly, as it is now 2012 and the issue of whether blueprints are protected by the Texas HSA is still a front page debate, I was right.   Thankfully, the Attorney General agreed with me then, and continues, for the most part, to maintain this position even today.

I say, err on the side of caution. Use your common sense when asking the government to release potentially sensitive information.  Most times, the governmental body is not concerned with the originating requestor receiving the information, it’s the fact that once the information is out there, we have no control over how else it’s used or to whom it is disseminated.  This is why you have to pull out all the stops the first time; failure is not an option.

I’m so proud to have had a central role in shaping this area of the law here in Texas.  I know I did an honorable job and that my goal was always to do the best I could for the citizens of this state.  I’d do it all again—the exact same way.

Spring Breaking Down the Bar Exam

Well, it’s law school Spring Break.  My last Spring Break.  Ever.  Although, I can’t recall any of these last four Spring Breaks when I actually took a “break,” it is what it is.  As per usual, I have a laundry list of things to do this week and I’m loathe to get started.  It’s been raining consistently for the last three days and all I want to do is sleep.

Instead, I know I should be outlining my Advance Torts class as that is my main goal for the week.  I also need to start organizing my bar study wall calendar, making flash cards for the P&E (Procedure & Evidence) portion of the bar exam, and listening to my law CDs so I can start committing the rules of law….for EVERYTHING…to memory.  Wow.  Now I want to sleep even more.  I’m tired just thinking about it.

We’re plodding along in my Passing the Bar class and I’m feeling more and more pressured.  I know how I am.  Everything has to be organized and ready to go for me to study.  I am the person that has to have a clean and orderly study space or I can’t even think straight.  Sure, all semester long my office gets more and more cluttered, but twice a semester:  at the beginning and just before finals, it MUST be organized or I can’t focus.

Problem is, I know that when bar prep starts I can’t waste precious time tidying up and getting “ready” to study.  So I want all of it done now and there’s just so much to do; I guess I’m immobilized by the tasks at hand.  What a vicious cycle. I have got to get it together.  I guess part of the problem is the vast array of unknowns at this point.

Here’s what I mean:  We were asked to fill out a survey in my Passing the Bar class.  The survey was meant to help identify our weak areas of law.  Once we fill this out, our professor has all kinds of hand outs, supplements, and study aids that can help us fortify those specific areas in which we need remediation.  It’s so daunting.

So I did my survey and met with my professor this week.  Once I had it all on paper I was not surprised to find out that the areas I’ll be focusing on most are those that I didn’t care for in law school (or that didn’t care for ME) and those that I avoided altogether.  In short, business law courses:  Agency, Partnership, Payment Systems, Business Associations.  Meh.

Also, I knew I’d have to go another round with Con Law (although, I did just fine in its companion course, First Amendment) and of course, the bane of my existence: Property (to include Marital Property).  Note that only first semester property was horrific (Read: Future Interests and the RAP) and once we got to more sane areas of property like mortgages and equal lending and housing practices I was much better!  I cannot blame my first semester disconnect on my professor, either.  Nope, he is great–it’s the subject matter that fries my brain.  Sigh.

There were other parts of the survey that I just couldn’t answer yet.  I couldn’t put down on paper how many hours I planned to devote to bar prep.  I couldn’t list my planned daily schedule.  I couldn’t break any of this down because #1) I don’t know what bar prep course I’m going to take, # 2) I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it ($2K+) and #3) because of #1 and #2 I have no idea what portion of my day is pre-planned with lectures and what remains of the day for me to follow the rest of the bar prep schedule.

And, BTW…what does that bar prep schedule look like????  I feel like there are 25 balls juggling in the air at once and before I can get any of them into a rhythm one is gonna have to start falling down to begin the sequence.

I applied for a bar prep scholarship that our school has given out for the last seven semesters.  I guess they started this shortly after I began law school in 2008.  I know in the past the scholarship committee has been very generous and most everyone that applied got some sort of assistance.  I can only hope that this trend continues.  I need that scholarship bad.  We’re supposed to find out towards the end of this month.  So please send prayers that this works out.   Once I know about this, the rest of the pieces I need to plan and prepare will fall quickly into place.  I just need to do what I can to get as much organized as I can in the interim.

I don’t know how people would have any idea of how to approach taking the Bar exam without taking this class I’m taking now.  Think of it as a Prepping for the Bar Prepping Class.  So I guess I’m somewhat relieved that as frazzled as I am right now, I’d rather be having this BEFORE actual bar prep as opposed to on top of bar prep.   Thanks to my professor I’ve got a plan.  The following is from his handout:

EARLY BAR PREPARATION:  A STEP-BY-STEP STRATEGY

1)  ESSAYS:  The goal is to develop a base of knowledge that is similar to what I have in classes in which I made a grade of at least a B or higher, and to create an outline for the most commonly tested topics.

2)  MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) The goal is to get a good deal of law under my belt and to shore up or radically alter how I answer multiple-choice questions, which ever approach is applicable.

3)  P&E (Procedure & Evidence) The goal is to learn the rules for the most highly tested ares of law and to learn how to write concise answers to the P&E short answer questions.

4)  MPT (Multistate Performance Test):  The goal is to learn how to systematically deconstruct my task and construct the required answer within 90 minutes.

And that’s just the EARLY bar preparation.  During the course of bar prep (approx. 10 weeks) it is expected that we will spend a minimum of 8 hours a day studying for the first few weeks, then we will transition into 12-14 hour days, then as the exam gets closer we are supposed to kick it back down to 5-8, so that we aren’t dead before show time.

No point in starting to panic now.  The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  Like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” all I can do is just keep swimming!

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