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.