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Juvenile court case appears to turn juvenile

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By LISA FALKENBERG, HOUSTON CHRONICLE

http://www.chron.com/news/falkenberg/article/Juvenile-court-case-appears-to-turn-juvenile-2206727.php

Published 08:30 p.m., Thursday, October 6, 2011

julie Ketterman and Rhonda Session seemed to find out this week what can happen to scrappy lawyers who don’t play nice in the juvenile court sandbox. And also what could happen to their clients.

The trouble started last month when Ketterman and Session had enough of what they perceived as a cozy relationship born of pay-to-play politics between visiting Judge Pat Shelton and Gary Polland, an attorney appointed to represent a child in a parental rights termination case.

Ketterman and Session filed a motion for a mistrial and to remove Polland, claiming the judge showed favoritism to the former county Republican chairman who also previously represented Shelton’s daughter in a case.

Polland has fiercely denied the accusations of bias, saying the motion contained “statements that were untruthful and libelous.” Shelton, who ruled the motion without merit, but didn’t return a message I left for him. At this point, I can’t say whether the bias claim had any basis; I am still waiting to read a full copy of the transcript.

Shelton ended up granting the mistrial on Sept. 28, but for a completely unrelated, somewhat strange, reason: the possible trail delay caused by the death of an expert witness‘ mother.

Afterward, Ketterman and Session were hit with a number of motions, including ones seeking sanctions against them.

First, the county attorney asked a judge to reconsider the indigent status of Ketterman’s client, a mother with a drug problem who waitresses at Denny’s for $2.13 an hour. Ketterman says if acourt found she was no longer indigent, she’d lose her right to a court-appointed attorney.

In a hearing Wednesday, the county attorney indicated there may be relatives who could help with attorney fees.

Quickly denied

Judge Glenn Devlin, who presided Wednesday, didn’t take long to do the right thing and deny the motion.

Next, Devlin considered a motion for sanctions against Ketterman and Session. It was brought by Polland, and his co-attorney ad litem for the child, Katie FlynnDan Spjut, an attorney for the foster parents caring for the 15-month-old in the case, filed another.

They took issue with Ketterman and Session for doing something attorneys do all the time: talking to the media during trial. In this case, the attorneys and their clients had given interviews to KHOU for a piece on yet another grandparent fighting CPS.

In court, Polland accused the lawyers of using the media to influence jurors: “This whole motion was designed to bail out of a trial they knew they were in trouble on,” he told Devlin, saying the action violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Spjut said he’d talked to jurors after the mistrial, and “several” said they’d seen the KHOU piece, which could have caused a mistrial. Spjut described the interview as an “outrageous act of misconduct by an attorney giving an interview in the middle of a jury trial. It’s unheard of.” Later, he said: ‘It’s the clearest example of jury tampering I’ve ever seen.”

Actually, it isn’t unheard of. It’s quite common. And, last time I checked, actual “jury tampering” is a criminal offense.

Devlin, seemingly perplexed, asked if criminal defense attorneys didn’t regularly comment on cases during trial.

“They do that after trial,” Spjut responded.

Every attorney I talked with either found this statement humorous or deeply worrisome.

‘Turns my stomach’

I asked JoAnne Musick, an attorney board certified in both juvenile and criminal law, to review the KHOU interview, and the motions for sanctions. She found nothing in the interview that violated ethical rules. In my humble opinion, the whole ordeal wreaks of sour grapes and retaliation.

Devlin didn’t rule on the sanctions this week, saying he wants to study the matter more carefully.

As for Ketterman, she doesn’t appear to have learned her lesson to play nice.

“It’s disappointing, and it turns my stomach, and it makes me want to go out there and expose every single stone,” she said of the post-trial motions. “I will not rest until I expose all the corruption, the underhanded work that’s going on, the injustice for the kids, first off, and for the parents.”

 

lisa.falkenberg@chron.com

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Written by dawneworswick

October 11, 2011 at 5:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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