Ellis County Observer publisher Joey Dauben finally gets a court-appointed attorney

Joey Dauben

Joey Dauben, the publisher of the now-defunct Ellis County Observer, finally got to see a court-appointed lawyer this week to help him fight the three felony counts of child sexual abuse that have kept him in the Navarro County Jail without legal advice for almost two months now.

Edward Jendrzey, whose office is in Waxahachie in Ellis County, received the court-ordered appointment Thursday, Feb. 16. Jendrzey accepted the case after Steve Keathley, a Corsicana attorney whose wife is the president of the Navarro County Bar Association, declined an appointment by District Court Judge James Lagomarsino to represent the journalist.

In a telephone interview today, Jendrzey said, “Yes, he knows I’m representing him,” when asked whether he had met with his new client, who reached out for help from the media this week in a handwritten letter from jail. When a defendant declares himself to be indigent and asks for a court-appointed attorney, that is supposed to occur within 72 hours. In the letter, Dauben also again claimed he is innocent of the charges.

Jendrzey said his first step in Dauben’s representation will be to conduct an independent investigation of the case to learn the circumstances and to attempt to get Dauben’s $200,000 bond set by Lagomarsino lowered. “I’ll be meeting with the prosecutor about that,” Jendrzey said. Dauben’s family and friends have been unable to raise the 10 percent (or $20,000) payment bond agencies typically charge to get a defendant released from jail.

—  admin

Iconic LGBT activist Ray Hill files for Texas House seat

Ray Hill

Ray Hill

Long time Houston LGBT activist Ray Hill filed paperwork this week to run for the 147th Texas House seat against incumbent Garnet Coleman, D – Houston. The iconic (and iconoclastic) Hill said that he and Coleman agree on many issues but that he had “some issues  that aren’t on the table in Austin.”

Specifically Hill has concerns with the legislature’s approach to criminal justice issues. “The Texas legislature is a serial world class red-necking competition,” says Hill. “What they are doing on criminal justice is wrong and it doesn’t work… we need a serious rethink.”

Coleman has a strong history of supporting LGBT legislation. For the last three sessions he has attempted to pass anti-bullying legislation that would require school districts to report instances of bullying using an enumerated list of motivating characteristics that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, he has also filed legislation to remove the the crime of “homosexual conduct” from the Texas penal code (a law that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), to equalize age of consent laws in Texas and to add gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crime law. In the 82nd legislature earlier this year Coleman authored seven pieces of legislation designed to create greater equality for LGBT people, including the first ever filing of legislation to standardize change of gender marker procedures for the transgender community and the first effort to repeal the state’s constitutional prohibition against marriage equality.

Hill recognizes Coleman’s historic contributions, “The incumbent and I agree on a lot of issues,” says Hill, “but we don’t tell young gay people ‘if you work real hard and go to school and do your best you can grow up to have straight friends in Austin who like you.’ No, we tell them ‘if you work hard they can grow up to be Mayor of Houston, or City Supervisor of San Francisco.’”

When asked why the community would be better served by him than Coleman, a 20 year legislative veteran, Hill replies “I understand how government works. A freshman legislator can’t do anything more than irritate, but that’s about all any member of the minority party can do. On that level the incumbent and I are on the same level… I think we need somebody obnoxious [in the legislature] who’s going to purposefully rub the cat hair the wrong direction.”

Since being elected to the legislature for the first time in 1992 Coleman has been unopposed in 5 of his 9 primary reelection bids. No primary challenger to Coleman has pulled more than 21% of the vote.

—  admin

Defining Homes • Ask the EXPERTS

With the economy still in a wicked mess, reports are that the latest trend in homebuying is not buying. Renters are on the rise. But are they? Real estate source Inman reported in January that it is cheaper to buy in the majority of the country’s larger cities. Keith Jurow reported last year on World Property Channel that a Harris Interactive survey found renting a better option. So which is it? We asked locals in the industry how the trends are swaying the Dallas housing market and the frustrations behind them.

……………………

Michael Litzinger

Michael Litzinger
William Davis Realty Uptown

The trend has affected my business significantly. The firm I recently moved to seems to be more in tune with today’s market. Their streamlined, online process requires less paperwork which makes it better for the client, a much quicker turn around for me and better for the environment.

Leasing does move property these days, and I am just glad the industry moves in some fashion whether it’s leasing or selling.

I do think the trend has affected us locally somewhat, but not nearly as severely as in most other areas. I still feel good about the Dallas market.  I know Realtors in other areas that can’t say the same.

Buyers are decreasing to some degree. Even with low interest rates, I’ve had a lot of buyers come to me and then disappear.

 

……………………

Derrick Dawson

Derrick Dawson
Texas Pride Realty

As an active and producing Realtor also working in property management, I’d say the rental trend has picked up significantly, but that doesn’t mean it’s been ideal for property renters/owners or for the multi-family industry. The rental market has been stable but faces some challenges based on broken leases due to financial hardship or unemployment. Many are playing it safe by downsizing or combining rental homes based on economic conditions, being fearful of keeping their jobs and saving for the future.
Today is a buyer’s market and an ideal time to get out of the rent race. The downfall to the buyer’s market that I have seen personally is buyers and investors taking advantage of desperate people in today’s markets, possibly causing detriment to individuals or families in their time of need but also bringing down values in those areas making it harder for others to sell.

 

……………………

Dan Flynn

 

Dan Flynn
Dave Perry-Miller InTown

The trend of leasing over buying has changed the way I preview properties in my area. Leasing is so hot now, I’ve looked at rentals and try to know the different apartment communities close by. Now I am much faster to respond to leasing needs.

I process far more leases to build my future list of clients. I try to educate and prepare them for the buying process down the road. Using a Realtor to find the perfect place to lease makes a lot of sense for those wanting to buy in the future but also for those who don’t really want to do the legwork.

I recently represented a seller who could not sell his property for the amount he was hoping for. Finding qualified buyers in his market and price range wasn’t easy. Another Realtor’s client was interested in leasing the property so

I had to have that conversation with my seller. The seller decided to go with the lease. While sales are still going strong, leasing has increased. While this really is the time to buy, I think all the media attention scares buyers. Potential buyers need to know that the market is stable here and we are one of the cities leading the nation in sales right now.  Go buy a house now or pay more for it later both in price and interest rates.

……………………

Keith M. Thomas

Keith M. Thomas
1111 Apartment Locators

Although the economy has definitely affected us here, it is worse in other areas of the country. Dallas continues to grow and so I feel the trend’s impact on Dallas has been positive.

My company is a fully licensed real estate brokerage company and we handle all residential and commercial real estate transactions yet, our primary business is apartment locating. We want to maintain focus on renters, but we’ve created strategic partnerships with other real estate companies and have a referral program with them. We work closely with our clients to help with all of their real estate needs.

For homes that have reasonable mortgages there is good news. In Dallas, the rental market has significantly gone up, especially from 2010 to present to a  94-97 percent occupancy rate.

Buyers become renters for two reasons: First, they are able to get a nicer home for a lower monthly payment. And second, it doesn’t make sense to buy unless you’re planning to stay. However, buyers are increasing, oddly enough. MetroTex Association of Realtors reported that last August 2010 there were 1,223 properties sold and this August 2011 there were 1,485.

It’s a landlords’ market. Rents are at a premium and good ones go fast. When I show my clients rentals, they want to think about it, I encourage them to act quickly, because the unit is gone within a day or two. Why should homeowners take a loss on waiting for a qualified buyer, when they can rent quickly and hold out for the market to improve?

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

More on Club Dallas

We’re still trying to get in touch with someone at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office to explain why prosecutors have chosen to dismiss charges against several of the men who were arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s raid of a gay bathhouse in October. However, it appears we are running into the same roadblock as the Dallas Morning News. The DMN reports that District Attorney Craig Watkins has designated one person to handle all media inquiries, and prosecutors in the DA’s office have been instructed not to talk to the media at all, and some fear getting fired if they do.

Anyhow, we’ve requested an interview with Watkins himself about the decision to dismiss the charges. The DA’s office’s media representative informs us that she’s passing along our request. It seems as though when the Dallas Police Department goes out of its way to raid a gay bathhouse and arrest 11 people — then the DA’s office declines to prosecute — there ought to be some sort of public explanation. The raid was hugely controversial in the gay community and made national news. We could speculate, as others have, that the DA’s Office believes these cases would be difficult to prove and doesn’t view them as a priority. Again, though, that’s speculation and hearsay — something prosecutors don’t typically like.

We also haven’t received any response from DPD as to what the department thinks about this decision by the DA’s office. We’ve spoken with both LGBT liaison officer Laura Martin and Chief David Brown himself, and both have promised to get back to us. Specifically, we’d like to know whether DPD plans to continue conducting these types of raids in the future knowing that the DA’s office isn’t going to prosecute those arrested. Imagine all the resources it took to plan and conduct the raid, then complete all the paperwork and book the 11 men into jail. And all for nothing, apparently. In extremely tight budget times, that shouldn’t sit well with anyone.

—  John Wright

Another candidate files in District 14

Jim Rogers

Although Angela Hunt has not officially announced her plans, a second candidate, Jim Rogers, has filed to run for her District 14 City Council seat in May. Hunt is expected to make a run for mayor after Tom Leppert announced he would not seek re-election.

Rogers said others made the decision for him after a meeting with supporters on Sunday. He filed his paperwork with the city this morning at 9:30 a.m. and his campaign website went live.

Former State Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a pioneering LGBT ally, has endorsed Rogers, he said.

James Nowlin, a gay business owner, announced last week that he’s running for Hunt’s seat. More coverage of the District 14 race will appear in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

Rogers said he will attend tonight’s Stonewall Democrats meeting. Stonewall meets at 6:30 p.m. at Ojeda’s Restaurant, 4617 Maple Ave.

—  David Taffet

Dallas voters to decide alcohol sales propositions

Hunky’s in Bishop Arts would benefit from Proposition 2

Four propositions appear on Tuesday’s ballot in the city of Dallas.

Proposition 1 would lift restrictions on the sale of beer and wine in convenience and grocery stores throughout the city. Proposition 2 would allow restaurants throughout the city to sell beer and wine without becoming private clubs.

Currently, restaurants in dry areas that want to sell alcohol must become private clubs. The owner of Vera Cruz in Bishop Arts said his board, made up of a group of his neighbors, meets three times a week to vote members in and out. He rents a storage unit just to store all the paperwork.

Kathy Jack, owner of Jack’s Backyard, told Dallas Voice that since alcohol distributors aren’t allowed to deliver to dry areas, her employees regularly have to pick up their alcohol.

Outside an early voting location in Oak Cliff last week, opponents of both propositions were campaigning.

“They do nothing but bring down our community,” said Tyrone Rushing. “I don’t want that in my community.” He was specifically opposing Proposition 1.

“We are for a safer environment,” Rhaneesh Dixon added.

The “No” vote is being coordinated by liquor stores that line the streets on the borders between wet and dry areas. They do not want the competition. If Oak Cliff residents could buy beer and wine at Tom Thumb on Hampton Road or Kroger at Wynnewood Village, they wouldn’t cross the river to shop at the run-down liquor stores on Riverfront Boulevard.

If the propositions pass, opponents of beer and wine sales plan to seek an injunction. They claim the election that made Oak Cliff dry was a Justice of the Peace District 7 election. The current election is countywide. According to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission code, JP district elections trump county elections and only a JP district election can repeal a JP district vote.

Propositions 3 and 4 are related to the sale of two parks by the city. For more on them, go here.

—  David Taffet

Vowels drops 31⁄2-year custody fight

Although courts finally ruled she had standing to bring custody suit, Vowels says continuing the fight would have harmed her daughter


Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

THE LAST WORD  |  Kristie Vowels, seated, watches through tears as her attorney, Michelle May O’Neil, standing left, adds her signature under Vowels’ to paperwork informing the court Vowels is dropping her lawsuit seeking joint custody of the daughter she shared with her former partner. Even though attorney Ashley Russell, standing right, had located a clause in the Texas Family Code that might have helped win, Vowels and her attorneys felt the price of victory would have been too great. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
THE LAST WORD | Kristie Vowels, seated, watches through tears as her attorney, Michelle May O’Neil, standing left, adds her signature under Vowels’ to paperwork informing the court Vowels is dropping her lawsuit seeking joint custody of the daughter she shared with her former partner. Even though attorney Ashley Russell, standing right, had located a clause in the Texas Family Code that might have helped win, Vowels and her attorneys felt the price of victory would have been too great. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Kristie Vowels vividly remembers the last day she saw her daughter Meghan. It was the morning of April 24, 2007.

“I took her to school that morning. She had on her khaki shorts, and her black t-shirt and her little black Crocs,” Vowels said.

Meghan was 3 years old then. And Vowels has spent the 3 ½ years since that day fighting for the right to see her daughter again — right up until Friday afternoon, Oct. 8.

That’s when Vowels signed the papers to drop her lawsuit seeking joint custody of her daughter.

“I’m doing this for Meghan,” Vowels said in an interview at her attorney’s office. “I’m doing this because I want to do what’s best for her. I love her enough not to be selfish.”

Vowels and her former partner, Tracy Scourfield, had lived together for several years, since December 1998, when they decided to have a child together.

Scourfield gave birth to their daughter on May 21, 2004, and the couple gave their baby girl both their last names — Scourfield-Vowels.

Vowels and Scourfield ended their relationship a little more than a year later, in August 2005, and Scourfield and Meghan moved out, into an apartment near Vowels’ home. For nearly two years, the two women shared custody of their daughter, with Meghan spending part of her time with Scourfield, and the rest with Vowels.

On Aug. 3, 2006, Scourfield had Meghan’s last name changed to Scourfield. And nine months later, she cut off contact between the little girl and Vowels.  Less than a month later, on May 23, 2007, Vowels filed suit seeking joint custody.

Less than a month after the suit was filed, 302nd Judicial District Court Associate Judge Christine Collie ruled in the case, saying that while Vowels had standing as a “person with substantial past contacts” to sue to adopt the child, she had no standing to sue for custody.

Judge Tena Callahan confirmed Collie’s rulings in November and then again in January 2008, and in April that year, Callahan signed the order, based on a motion by Scourfield, to dismiss the suit.

By the end of April, Vowels had appealed the ruling, but it took a little over a year for the appeals court to issue its decision, finally affirming the dismissal on Aug. 11, 2009. Vowels asked for a rehearing and an en banc review, and on Dec. 1, the appeals court handed down a new ruling, this time in Vowels favor, saying she did, in fact, have legal standing to sue for joint custody.

Scourfield’s motion for a rehearing was denied by the appeals court, as was her appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. And on July 26 this year, the appellate court issued the mandate to return the case to trial court.

Vowels was ready for the next stage of the battle. But she and her attorneys, Michelle May O’Neil and Ashley Russell, knew it would be a hard fight, thanks to legal precedent set in a 2000 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Troxel v. Granville.

In that case, a Washington couple were suing for visitation rights with their dead son’s children. But the Supreme Court ruled that a parent has the constitutional right to rear their children as they see fit, and that to abridge that right, the court had to find the parent unfit.

It is, O’Neil said, a very high standard to meet.

“It’s really hard to disprove the fitness of a parent. Look at Britney Spears and everything she went through, and she was never ruled unfit,” O’Neil said.

Still, there was a chance. In fact, Russell had found a clause in the Texas Family Code that might have even lowered the bar so that Vowels and her attorneys wouldn’t have to try to prove Scourfield unfit to win their case.

To gain standing to sue, Vowels and her attorneys had already proven that she had “actual care, control and possession” of her daughter — through the joint custody arrangement with Scourfield that lasted almost two years — within six months of the date she filed suit.

And then Russell found a clause in the code that said if a parent “relinquishes actual care, control or possession” of a child for six months, that overcomes the presumption of fitness. And the courts had already ruled that Scourfield had relinquished partial control to Vowels over the course of those two years.

It was the chink in Scourfield’s armor, and if Vowels and her attorneys could prevail, it would likely set precedent, O’Neil said.
But, the attorney added, “If we win, what would that look like?”

On Sept. 1, O’Neil met with Scourfield’s attorney to try and reach an agreement that would allow Vowels to see her daughter and end the court battle. After all, Vowels said, “For me, this was never about winning a court case. It was just about being able to see my daughter. That’s all I wanted, to see Meghan.”

But during the meeting with Scourfield’s attorney, O’Neil said, it became blisteringly clear that Scourfield would never settle.

“I tried everything to get him [Scourfield’s attorney] to make a settlement. I hoped that after 3½ years, she would soften some and agree to something. I used every persuasive argument I could think of,” O’Neil said. “But it became painfully obvious to me that no matter what her lawyer thought or said, or what I said or what Kris said, there was never, ever going to be a settlement offer.”

Vowels recalled that day and her conversation with O’Neil.

“Michelle and I walked outside after she met with Tracy’s lawyer and sat down, and I remember her telling me what took place. Then she said, ‘You know Kris, I don’t know if I can win this for you,’” Vowels said. “I was so taken aback. I said, ‘Yes, you can.’”

But O’Neil wasn’t swayed. “I asked her, if we do win, what will that look like? I really wanted her to think about that, about what it meant to keep fighting and what it would mean if we won,” she said.

“We could go through this horrible, protracted fight, and I knew that on every ruling from the judge that didn’t go her way, Tracy would appeal it, all the way to the Supreme Court. If we go through three or six or nine more years of court battles, even if we win everything, what does that really look like? Even if the court gives you custody, will Tracy support your relationship with Meghan? What will it do to Meghan?”

And that was what cemented Vowels’ decision. She and O’Neil set an appointment for later to make the final decision, but Vowels already knew what she had to do.

“I was OK that night. I was OK that next week. But not really,” Vowels said. “Grief was knocking on my heart, and it was knocking hard. I realized that I had been in some phase of grief for 3 ½ years. I hadn’t been living; I had just been functioning. I functioned at a high level, yes, but I had limited myself emotionally.”

O’Neil said Vowels had stayed positive throughout the fight, always putting up a brave front. But she knew the struggle was wearing on her client.

“Every hearing, every meeting, Kristi came to that courthouse thinking, ‘Today’s the day that I’ll get to see Meghan again.’ Every time, even when she knew that it wouldn’t actually happen, she came with that attitude. It was really affecting her ability to just live her life.”

And so Vowels decided to end the fight. With her attorneys standing behind her, as they had done for more than three years, Vowels signed her name with a shaking hand to the papers that would end the case.

It’s been a long, hard battle, but Vowels said she is ready now to move on with her life, even though she will always love her daughter and will always think of herself as Meghan’s mom.

For the two attorneys, who describe themselves as “two straight, white, Republican women with husbands and children,” this case has been life-changing.

“I had just been practicing maybe a year when Kristi came to us with this case,” Russell said. “I was just learning to navigate the family courts system and figure out where everything fit. Then this case came along and blew that all wide open. I realized that there were all these people, all these families and children who don’t fit into these neat little slots made for us by the law.

“This case really heightened the awareness for me that in reality, people are not all treated fairly under the law, and that is not right,” Russell added. “You can only do the best with what you have, but we all have to fight for what is right.”

O’Neil said that she already had an idea of the legal barriers that LGBT people face, thanks to her time as a young lawyer working in the Texas attorney general’s office.

“That was when the attorney general was defending the sodomy statute in the case that eventually went to the Supreme Court,” O’Neil said. “And as a Baylor Baptist bow-head girl, that was a real shock to my system, believe me! But through that, I got exposed to the prejudices so many people are subjected to, and I really learned compassion [LGBT people and the defendants in the case], even though I was defending the statute.

“That experience really broadened my horizons, and I have always since then made it my personal policy that I would never withhold my help from someone just because they were different from me,” O’Neil continued. “And I think it is sad that some [LGBT] people think that there aren’t any [non-gay] lawyers they can rely on. There are prejudiced people, and there are prejudiced attorneys. But that’s not us. It’s sad to think that people might judge us on our orientation.”

O’Neil said she has never had another case like Vowels, which has proven to her yet again that “a child can never have too many people to love them.”

“This case,” she said, “certainly has given us an opportunity to try and make a difference. I believe we have made a difference, and I hope that it will continue to get better for others at least in part because of what we have done.”

While Vowels said she will never close the book on her relationship with her daughter, it is time to start writing a new chapter in her own life.

“I really believe we all have a path to walk. What matters is how you choose to talk that path,” she said. “I could not have gotten through this without Michelle and Ashley, and I couldn’t have gotten through it without my faith in God. My faith is even stronger now, and I think I can be an even better Mom now. I believe that my love for Meghan is what will allow me to open my heart and my life to another child.

“What it all comes down to is that we have created change; we have created opportunities,” Vowels said. “I always say you have to be the change you want to see in the world. That’s what I am trying to do.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas