Judge Kristin Guiney Appointed to the 232nd Criminal District Court

By Brian M. Roberts

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and baby unicorns are jumping over rainbows. Today, I got the best news I have heard in a long time; former 179th District Court Judge Kristin Guiney was appointed to the 232nd District Court bench, which has been vacant since Judge Mary Lou Keel was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in November 2016. For the last nine and a half months, the 232nd was presided over by a number of rotating retired judges. Why? Politics, but that is another story for another day.

For those of you who do not know her, Judge Guiney defeated Judge Randy Roll, who served only one-term from 2008 – 2012, for the 179th District Court bench. Judge Guiney brought fairness, civility, respect and justice tempered with mercy to the 179th. Judge Guiney cared about crime victims and was unquestionably tough on serious crimes and dangerous offenders but she also recognized defendants who needed help, not prison and was very innovative in her approach to justice. She was more concerned about what was right than she was about her docket numbers, a meaningless statistic too many judges fixate upon. That justice be done in her courtroom, whatever that meant for each case. Her loss to Judge Roll in the November 2016 election was a tremendous loss to the people of Harris County.

As a defense lawyer, you expect, but mostly hope, that your client will get a fair shake from the judge, especially in trial, but you don’t always get that. Any lawyer who practiced before Judge Guiney knew that whatever the outcome, she was going to hear and consider every argument and make the call demanded by the facts and evidence. In the interest of full disclosure, Judge Guiney is a friend. We worked together in the Harris County DA’s Office and were colleagues in the defense bar. She is a Republican and I am a Democrat. Not that party affiliation has any relevance in the criminal justice system but it is an unfortunate condition of Texas politics. Despite our friendship, she is not going to do me or any of her other friends in the defense bar any favors, she will do what she thinks is right and what the law demands in each case. That’s a good thing. It’s the right thing.

I remember watching an indigent defendant plead guilty before her a couple of years ago. The prosecutor added a fine as part of the plea deal. Judge Guiney questioned the fine because the defendant didn’t have any money and was represented by a court-appointed lawyer and I will never forget what she said because it says a lot about her as a judge and as a person. She eliminated the fine and said, “The criminal justice system will not be funded on the backs of the poor.” It’s easy to become cynical in this line of work but that was a powerful statement, unplanned and unrehearsed and it has stayed with me.

Judge Guiney will take the bench on Monday, September 18, 2017. I look forward to her picking up where she left off nine and a half months ago. It’s good to have her back.


By Brian M. Roberts

Today was the first day of business for the Harris County Criminal courts after Hurricane Harvey and, oh boy was it something! I have heard some people describe what is to be our journey for the next six to eight months as the CJC is repaired (translated: year to eighteen months) as the “new normal” but I wouldn’t use the word “normal” to describe the atmosphere in the civil courthouse today. Shock and horror, yes. Normal, no. The civil folks are having to share their Taj Mahal (it’s actually a county building but not if you ask them) with the unwashed masses. You know, criminal defense lawyers and their clients. The looks on the faces of the civil lawyers and court staff as we took over their little fiefdom was priceless. Like they were in danger of being molested or worse, talked to by one of “those people.”

Only two elevators for the upper floors were working, which is par for the course at the CJC everyday, but the civil folks were beside themselves at the sea of humanity trying to catch a ride to court. They stomped around and grumbled, “This is bullshit.” People were lining up like cash was being given away on the upper floors. Except for the one lady who was screaming to get off the elevator an nobody moved because nobody wanted to lose their spot.

When I finally got to court via the freight elevator, I searched the empty hallways for my client. You see, the civil courthouse is considerably bigger than the CJC even though on any given day you could fire a cannon in the hallway of the civil courthouse and not hit a lawyer. Makes perfect sense to design a small building for use and occupation by the most people (CJC) and a big one where there isn’t a fraction of the traffic and use (civil courthouse). I think this genius design came from the same brain trust that thought it would be a great idea to put flood doors underground and build the jury assembly room underground with an atrium to street level. So flood waters could come in through the open ceiling. Kind of like designing a submarine with a convertible top, but I digress. Anyway, when I got to the courtroom, folks with criminal cases were seated on one side and the folks who had civil business were sitting on the other  and generally bewildered by the frenzied activity we brought into their world.

But, we showed the civil folks we’re just as good as they are. Yes sir, we sure did! Like when one criminal district court judge threatened to have another criminal district court judge arrested for refusing to get off the bench when it was his court’s turn to use the courtroom. That was really cool. I don’t know what the civil folks are so worked up about.

And this was just day one. Three hundred sixty four to go. Or so. Give or take.