John G. Browning Feb. 18, 2014, 8:06am
Texas troubadours like Pat Green and Lyle Lovett have expressed their love of Texas in song, with lyrics waxing nostalgic over everything from honky-tonks to tubing down the Guadalupe River.
Well, I love Texas too, but as a lawyer, my take on things is from a somewhat different perspective. I may not go on about bluebonnets, barbecue or the beauty of the Marfa lights, but there are traits that I treasure about our legal system.
Don’t Mess With Texas, or Texas Monuments
In Texas, we’re justifiably proud of our history, and we take steps to protect it. That’s a lesson learned the hard way by people ranging from rocker Ozzy Osbourne to Daniel Athens.
Osbourne, of course, relieved himself at the Alamo and was promptly banned from San Antonio (he later made a substantial donation to preservation efforts for the historic site, and was forgiven).
On Feb. 4, Mr. Athens became the latest person to learn the hard way that you don’t mess with Texas when he pleaded guilty to a felony for urinating on the Alamo. Chapter 28 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a felony to deface a public monument or place of human burial. Athens faces a sentence of anywhere from 180 days to two years in state prison for his act.
Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, whose office prosecuted not just Athens but other offenders over the years who have defaced the Alamo with graffiti, says “You don’t mess around with the Alamo. Nobody does, man . . . we have to preserve our heritage. It’s a shrine. It’s all about respect.”
Think Your Courthouse is Dangerous? Try This One
Courthouses, like many public buildings, will have their infestations of rats, mice or creepy-crawlers like termites or cockroaches from time to time. But in at least one Texas courthouse, the varmints are a lot more dangerous, and quintessentially Texan.
Last November, officials at the Galveston County Courthouse had to post signs warning people “Rattlesnakes in Area” after rattlesnakes were found basking in the sun on the courthouse lawn. Some of the venomous reptiles were over a foot long.
Signs were posted cautioning visitors, “Do not walk through the grass. Remain on concrete walkways. Do not leave children unattended.”
2013 was the third straight year for rattlesnake sightings at the courthouse, and county officials are now considering different landscaping options less hospitable to snakes.
So, remember, if you visit Galveston County, there are dangerous snakes at the courthouse—and some of them are outside on the lawn.
Our Cuisine is So Good, Even the Legal Disputes About It Will Make Your Mouth Water
We take our food seriously in Texas—serious enough to go to court over it.
Our state courts have been hosts to disputes over the trade secrets associated with Tex-Mex restaurant recipes as well as the trademarks for barbecue joints. And in a lawsuit currently pending in Harris County, warring taco chains are litigating a legal beef that is uniquely Texan.
Torchy’s Tacos (with 20 locations around the state) claims that the upstart Texas Taco Company (with three locations) stole confidential information from its “Taco Bible,” described as “a start-to-finish recipe and process guide for every one of Torchy’s food items.”
Torchy’s lawyer maintains that, thanks to the wrongful conduct of a former Torchy’s employee, Texas Taco Company is “nothing more than a blatant Torchy’s ripoff.”
The lawsuit alleges that the security cameras at one of its Houston locations captured former employee Mario DeJesus smuggling a copy of the “Taco Bible” out.
DeJesus was questioned and fired shortly thereafter, and roughly two months later, Torchy’s management learned that DeJesus was not only working at Texas Taco Company, but the upstart’s menu allegedly featured food item descriptions identical to those on Torchy’s menu, with only a change in name.
Our Prosecutors are Packing
Few states whole-heartedly embrace the Second Amendment quite like Texas does. We have one of the highest percentages of gun ownership in the country, a concealed carry law, and if you can’t find a gun show on each weekend, then you’re probably not looking hard enough.
It’s legal for judges and prosecutors to carry firearms. Of course, there are some prosecutors who probably need to think long and hard before packing heat.
For example, last November, McLennan County Assistant District Attorney Michael Jarrett was admiring the new Glock semiautomatic pistol belonging to one of his colleagues while inside the courthouse.
Thinking the gun wasn’t loaded, he aimed it at an office window and fired, shattering the glass and striking a brick cell at the nearby county jail.
Jarrett, who has a concealed carry permit, says “I was being extremely safe.”
Apparently, not safe enough.
And in Houston, a Harris County assistant D.A. is in trouble over an alleged road rage incident last month.
Susan Sciacca, who works in the Family Protective Services Division and prosecutes cases of child abuse and neglect, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
According to Johnny Leazer, after he might have inadvertently cut off the prosecutor while driving on Tomball Parkway, she allegedly followed him into a nearby bank parking garage and pulled out a handgun.
Leazer says “I honestly thought she was going to shoot me.”
Sciacca claims she was in fear for her life during the incident.
A bank surveillance camera purportedly captured the incident on video, but the footage has not been released.