459th District Court Candidates Forum
Join CAD as we host Maya Guerra Gamble, Greg Hitt, and Aurora Martinez Jones for a forum on the 459th District Court. Learn about the vision each candidate has for the newly created civil court. Click here to learn more about each candidate. The forum will be held at NeWorlDeli on October 18th at 6:15pm.
Maya Guerra Gamble has been a full-time trial lawyer her entire career with the bulk of it residing and working in Austin, her hometown, and practicing law in the district courts of Travis County. She runs a solo practice specializing in Child Protective Services, devoting herself to helping the most defenseless and needy among us. Maya has served as Of Counsel to O’Connell & Soifer LLP where she focused on whistleblower cases, including one that resulted in a settlement of over $100 million for fraudulent behavior by a large hospital chain. After law school, Maya clerked for the honorable Judge Cudahy on the 7th Circuit. She was also hired into the Honors Program at the Department of Justice where she joined the Commercial Litigation Section and pursued cases in order to recoup money defrauded from the United States.
Greg Hitt is a 40 year Travis County resident and attended The University of Texas at Austin (Plan II Honors Program) and Texas Law. A 25 year attorney in Travis County, Greg has been Board Certified in Family Law since 2008 and is a Master for the Barbara Jordan Inn of Court. Additionally, Greg has practiced civil litigation from 1992-2003 and has practiced family law from 2003 to the present. Greg is a former President of North by Northwest Democrats and precinct chair and is currently a TCDP sustaining member. Greg and his wife, Laura, a schoolteacher, have three teenage daughters. He coached his oldest daughter’s soccer team for eight years and is an NSCAA certified soccer coach.
Aurora Martinez Jones
Aurora Martinez Jones is an Associate Judge in Travis County presiding over the child-welfare dockets including the Family Drug Treatment Court and CPS dockets. The daughter of immigrants, she grew up in La Porte, TX before attending the University of Texas for undergrad and law school. She started her own firm focusing on civil litigation and family law. Judge Martinez Jones has been active in our community as past-President of the Austin Black Lawyers Association and former-Chair of the Court Appointed Family Advocates. She’s a member of the Children’s Justice Act Task Force, as well as board member for the Travis County Women Lawyers Foundation and GEN Austin.
CAD HOSTS BETO O’ROURKE!
Guest Column by Judge Brandy Mueller, County Court at Law No. 6
One of my first realizations as a new criminal court judge, nearly eight years ago, was just how young the teenage defendants in my adult criminal court appeared, both inside and out. Many times the 17, 18 and 19 year-old defendants before me, did not comprehend how a permanent conviction, would affect their future. In our State’s criminal justice system, a person becomes an adult at the age of 17. Becoming an adult in criminal court means that a person’s criminal record becomes a permanent part of his or her record. Almost all cases involving those under 17 years of age, on the other hand, are prosecuted in our juvenile court system wherein the juvenile’s record is sealed and in most cases, not permanent.The teenage defendants I saw in adult criminal court often seemed to have little or even no understanding of how a criminal conviction could affect their record and intern their ability to obtain a job, apply for a loan, for school or for housing. I routinely saw teenage-adult defendants who were quick to accept a plea bargain that would mean a conviction on their permanent record, even when given the opportunity to do deferred probation which could work to protect their record. I also saw teenage defendants who were sentenced to probation in our adult probation system, become overwhelmed with the terms of their probation conditions and sometimes disproportionally revoked, jailed and convicted.
A good number of the teenage defendants in our criminal courts do not have a parent who comes to court with them or a good support network at home. There are teen defendants in our community who are former foster kids, who have family members who are in prison, who are bad influences…a good number are indigent and unemployed.
This experience with the youngest members of our adult criminal justice system led me to develop a misdemeanor youth offender docket, we now call Project Engage. District Judge Brenda Kennedy already had a special felony docket for young defendants that I admired and modeled in the planning of my specialized docket. The end result of my planning was a special form of probation for 17, 18, and 19 year old defendants. It is both heavy on structure and to some extent discipline, but also provides teens with resources for school, jobs, and housing and provides for a nurturing and positive environment. Each teen defendant is required to be working or in school as a condition of probation, but is given assistance to achieve both. In addition, every defendant is required to give back to the community with community service projects that require leadership and engagement in our city. This month our teens are working at Mexic Arte Museum, putting on a day of the dead parade. Last month they worked at Community First Village, helping formerly homeless residents with landscaping and gardening. This summer they worked on Lake Lady Birdat The Austin Rowing Club. Defendants are required to report to court monthly wherein consequences and incentives are meted out regularly. Project Engage also has regular speakers and recently was happy to host actor Mathew McConaughey. He was a big hit of course. If you have any interest helping with Project Engage, let me know, we could surely use your help.
An Update on the DACA Fund
An article from CBS Austin
The deadline to submit DACA applications is near, and recipients whose status is up for renewal before March 5th have spent the last month scrambling to get their applications in by the Oct. 5 deadline. But the fee to re-apply to the program doesn’t come cheap.
“I knew that there was a $495 fee associated with it, and I knew that that wasn’t enough time for people to gather that amount of money,” local lawyer Pedro Villalobos said.
He’s spent the past month fundraising to help recipients renew their status with help from fellow lawyers and a $5,000 donation from Sen. Kirk Watson.
“We started raising money the Friday after the Trump administration announced the end of DACA,” Villalobos said.
They raised more than $50,000. That money, used by the Equal Justice Center, has been able to pay for around 100 renewals.
“It’s been just a godsend to have that taken care of and to have that hurdle kind of eliminated,” said Caitlin Boehne, a staff attorney at the Equal Justice Center.
She spent the day taking last minute appointments to help recipients complete and overnight applications.
“There’s a lot of anxiety among DACA recipients and their families about what are they going to do if their work permit expires and there’s nothing to replace it.”
At the capitol, Wednesday, senate leaders touted bi-partisan support for a new DREAM Act.
“The American people have heard you. They share your dream and overwhelmingly support your dream,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said.
A Little Bit Of News
Former CAD President, Judge Nick Chu, and his wife, Kathryn Whitley, happily introduced their daughter, Vivia Elizabeth Chu last week!