Police Notebook: Leonardo Quintana (APD)

Officer:  Leonardo Quintana
Agency:  Austin Police Department
Alleged Misconduct:  Arrested in Williamson County on January 12, 2009, for Driving While Intoxicated.
Other Information:  Quintana fatally shot Nathanial Sanders II, an 18-year-old boy, at an East Austin apartment complex in 2008. A federal civil rights lawsuit, brought against Quintana by the decendent’s family, is currently pending. Quintana was suspended for 15 days in relation to the incident for not activating his patrol-car camera but was found to have complied with the department’s use-of-force policy.
Disciplinary Action:  Fired.
Sources:  This Daily Texan article, this Statesman article, and this KXAN article.

5/4/10 11:09 a.m. Update. Officer Quintana’s disciplinary hearing was conducted yesterday. No word yet on the outcome. See this Statesman article for more information.

5/28/2010 Update. Acevedo fired Quintana earlier this month. In other news, City of Austin attorneys withheld information from the plaintiffs in the wrongful death suit related to the shooting of Nathanial Sanders.

10/22/10 Update. An arbitrator reinstated Quintana , saying that his firing for a DWI arrest was inconsistent with the punishment of other officers forthe same offense.

Judge Lynch

D.A. Confidential has a great interview with Judge Mike Lynch, the presiding judge of the 167th District Court of Travis County. Some highlights:

“I do not like sending people to the penitentiary, especially young people with their whole lives in front of them. It may be necessary and appropriate to [e]nsure community safety, but I still consider it an overall failure.”

“A good prosecutor has a good understanding of human nature and an ability to read and understand people. …He or she must also have empathy and a sense of compassion that allows for fair resolution of cases even when he or she is holding all the cards. Great prosecutors have all the above qualities plus great trial skills.”

“A criminal defense attorney, to be really effective, needs essentially the same traits as [a prosecutor plus he] must be able to adapt quickly, be flexible in his approach to a case or trial, and instinctively know when he needs to bluff or play it straight. These are important because often the defense attorney is fighting an uphill battle with fewer resources, fewer professional witnesses, and with the evidence stacked against him.”

2009 Top Bars for DWI

“Where are you coming from?” is a standard question in a DWI investigation and APD ranks local bars accordingly. The 2009 numbers are in. Here are the top 10 (the figure at the end is the number of DWI arrests of people coming from the bar):

  1. J. Blacks, 710 W. Sixth Street, 27

  2. The Ranch, 708 W. Sixth Street, 22

  3. Rain, 217 W. Fourth Street, 17

  4. Maggie Mae’s, 323 E. Sixth Street, 16

  5. Blind Pig, 317 E. Sixth Street, 16

  6. Oilcan Harry’s, 211 W. Fourth Street, 15

  7. Fado, 214 W. Fourth Street, 15

  8. Pure, 419 E. Sixth Street, 13

  9. Cedar Street, 208 W. Fourth Street, 13

  10. Union Park, 612 W. Sixth Street, 12

For those of you who don’t already know this, you’re not required to answer such questions and if you’re coming from a bar, you probably shouldn’t.

Who Makes a Better Judge?

If I had to choose between two judicial candidates for a criminal court knowing nothing else about them than that one is a career prosecutor and one is an experienced criminal defense attorney, I would choose the latter. That may seem obvious since I’m a criminal defense attorney myself but it actually isn’t out of any sense of loyalty to my colleagues or because it’s good for business.

First, as a former prosecutor, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that prosecutors do. Second, unfair treatment of defendants by the criminal justice system is actually better for business than fair treatment. Think about it…if defendants were treated fairly all of the time, there would be little need for criminal defense attorneys.

Rather, I would choose the defense attorney because, in my experience, judges who have nothing to offset the biases they developed as prosecutors are often incapable of being neutral. They are strongly biased toward the state (the opposite of the default that constitutional principles would have one choose) and, worse, they don’t even realize it. Thus, “innocent until proven guilty” has no practical meaning in their courts.

Of course, this is a largely academic inquiry for me because I always have more information and therefore other factors to consider with a judicial candidate for one of the courts in which I practice. For example, how ethically does he behave? How knowledgeable about the law does he tend to be? How does he treat people? If he’s a criminal defense attorney, does he seem to care about his clients? Does he represent them effectively? If he’s a prosecutor, how reasonable is he? How seriously does he seem to take his oath to seek justice and not just convictions?

But because I do have a natural bias toward defense attorneys, when I choose to support a career prosecutor as a judicial candidate (I’m supporting two in the upcoming elections), it’s a pretty good sign that the person is exceptionally fair-minded.

Campaign Contributions or Protection Money?

Some criminal court judges and judicial candidates are more gracious about it than others but they all invariably ask criminal defense attorneys for campaign contributions and other forms of assistance with their campaigns. I’m glad to help some, not so much others, but regardless of my personal feelings, when a sitting criminal court judge personally asks me for money or some other form of assistance, it feels compulsory, regardless of how graciously the request is phrased.

I’ve learned to accept that campaign contributions are a cost of doing business.  They can really add up, though, so I try to determine how many candidates I’ll be supporting, set the amounts, and budget them early in the election season.

A typical judicial campaign donation for a solo criminal defense attorney in Travis County is $100. I’ve given more; I’ve given less. It usually depends on how big a fan I am and, more importantly, how flush or lean my finances are at the time. Whatever amount I decide to give, the candidates are typically appreciative and gracious in their acceptance, with one notable exception…

In a previous election cycle, a judge who I’ll call “Judge X” called me up personally on two separate occasions asking for campaign contributions. On each occasion, I agreed but then Judge X named an amount that was higher than I was comfortable paying. I expressed concerns about the amount but was strong-armed and ultimately agreed to the amount requested. Altogether, Judge X got more than twice the “contribution” I was willing to pay that year. I heard from other colleagues that this experience was far from unusual with Judge X.

While Judge X is definitely the exception to the general rule, his conduct really only aggravated an inherent but ordinarily mild feeling of corruption in a system of an elected judiciary.

Police Notebook: Lt. Wayne Demoss (APD)

Officer:  Lt. Wayne Demoss
Agency:  Austin Police Department
Alleged Misconduct:  Visited a brothel during a December 2007 vacation in Panama.
Disciplinary Action:  Police Chief Art Acevedo denied him a promotion to the rank of commander but that decision was reversed on appeal by independent arbitrator Norman Bennett.
Source:  This Statesman article.
Other Coverage:  Grits for Breakfast opines that this may be an example of how Acevedo’s efforts to make merit-based promotion decisions are hampered by the state civil service code, which apparently received a good deal of successful lobbying attention from  the state’s large police unions in the late 1980’s.
1/17/10 Update:  After Demoss won his appeal, there was no longer a position to put him back in because Acevedo allowed Cmdr. Patrick Ockletree to be promoted to fill the position while the appeal was pending. The city council appears poised to create a new police commander position just for Demoss to avoid demoting Ockletree through no fault on his part. For more, see this Statesman article.

Trials aren’t as common as you think.

Law & Order notwithstanding, the reality is that trials are actually pretty rare. I’ve been telling clients for years that probably something like five percent or less of criminal cases go to trial.

In fact, one of the biggest reasons I did a stint as a prosecutor early in my career was that after my first year as a criminal defense attorney, I had zero trial experience. Even cases that I was certain would go to trial ended up with a dismissal or a plea bargain offer that was just too good to refuse (sometimes on the morning the trial was scheduled to start, much to my dismay). As a prosecutor, on the other hand, the sheer volume of cases that I handled ensured that I got the much-desired trial experience. Even so, it was less than I’d expected. Turns out that’s not so surprising…

Among other interesting tidbits that Grits culled from the annual report on the Texas Judiciary is the fact that less than two percent of all felony cases in Texas went to trial in 2009. That number is only one percent for misdemeanors (which includes DWIs). That’s even lower than I thought.