Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This Just Got a Lot More Interesting...

Kiss the Good 'Ol Boys System Goodbye (Judges Edition)

When more than 20 of Houston's Republican judges were voted out of office in November, Democrats rode a good showing by Barack Obama to the benches in force. Now it seems like Bill White thinks he could ride Houston to a Senate seat (I hope he does). I didn't expect too much "change" out of any of the new judges- necessarily indebted to the criminal court institution that bred them. Then this article about Kevin Fine changed my mind. There's just a lot more transparency- certainly a welcome change from racist and sexist forwards getting thrown around the DA's office. Check it out.


When newly elected Texas judge Kevin D. Fine took his seat on the bench of Harris County's 177th Criminal District Court, he'll bring a bittersweet qualification to his position: recovering addict.

os gemos @ tate modern

Fine's professional trajectory may have appeared textbook, but his personal life was more like pulp fiction.

First, there's his love of racing. "I've always liked stuff that has a motor and goes fast," Fine says with a laugh. As a kid, he raced BMX and motorcross. In high school, he took up drag racing. During law school, his only mode of transportation was a Harley. Today he races dirt bikes, and did so until he broke his foot last January.


Then there are the black-and-white tattoos that cover a significant portion of his skin. Fine's right arm is completely "sleeved," or covered, with art. He also sports various designs on his left arm.


Raymond Pettibon

He smoked his first joint in sixth grade, he recalls, when the group he was hanging out with ducked behind the back of a gas station next to the local skating rink.

Then he moved from Lubbock to Virginia and made new friends. "The first people I met were potheads, and I started smoking pot, and it did something to me," he recalls. By 14, he says he was smoking marijuana and drinking beer every weekend, and by his senior year in high school, he had tried cocaine.


"I definitely led a double life," he says. In college, he was making good grades and was never late for class, yet he'd spend evenings and weekends in techno clubs, doing drugs, he says.


By early 1995, Fine says, his addiction demons were becoming more difficult to manage. He was now working ... in Lubbock, handling a case load that he says was about 90 percent criminal defense. He represented clients accused of all types of crimes, including DWI, DUI and drug cases. And yes, he says, he fully appreciated the irony.

"I knew I was just like those people. There had been many occasions where I was sitting in the courtroom, just name the county, and they brought out the guy in orange, and I said to myself, 'Man, that should be you,'" he says.


Andrea Galvani, La Morte di Un'Immagine #9

After about a month off, including 10 days of detox, Fine returned to the firm, juggling his case load with six months of intensive outpatient treatment, which included therapy and AA meetings, he says. It wasn't about earning money, he says, more like staying busy to stay clean and sober. Although it wasn't instantaneous, he says, "life was so much better and sweeter."

In 2000, however, Fine decided to move to Houston. "I love the guys at the firm, but I didn't care for Lubbock," he says. Houston, he says, was where the legal action was -- "where the big boys played ball." He started up a practice and in 2002 joined colleagues Stanley G. Schneider and W. Troy McKinney in their criminal defense firm, Schneider & McKinney.


"Every time I had a client with a substance abuse problem, and I knew they were willing to do whatever it took to stay clean, I did everything in my power to get them into treatment or some program to keep them out of the penitentiary," he says. "Several times I would tell the judge my own life experience... 'I've been where he is, and I am better, so if you give him a chance, he could [be better].'"


AJ Liberto

As the presiding judge in the 177th Criminal District Court, Fine will hear all types of felony cases, "from state jail drug possession to capital murder cases."

Although he does not know the exact percentages of each type of felony, "it is my understanding that a very high percentage of the dockets are cases involving state jail felony offenses of possession of a controlled substance weighing less than one gram," he says.

According to statistics from the Harris County District Clerk's Office, county prosecutors filed 20,476 felony drug possession cases in 2007, a 40 percent rise over the previous year, and the county now runs four drug courts.

And that's precisely where he's prepared to make his mark. "I am nervous because it's a big responsibility," he says of taking the bench.

via law.com