New briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Fri., Oct. 16, 2009
Texas' iconic federal Judge William Wayne Justice died Tuesday, Oct. 13, in Austin. He was 89. Justice is a legend in legal circles and well beyond. He was responsible for desegregating Texas schools, for example, and for forcing changes behind the bars of Texas prisons in a case brought by inmate David Ruiz, which sparked a 30-year legal battle – the largest prison-reform case of its kind in the country. Justice started his career in Tyler but was transferred to the federal bench in Austin in 1998. "I love the law. I've been with the law all of my life," he told the Associated Press in 1985. "I was born and bred with the law." – Jordan Smith
A Budding Tree Treaty
The Heritage Tree Ordinance is working its way through the boards and commissions process and heading toward City Council. The proposed law, which would give special protections to trees over a certain size, has already been through four boards and next comes before the Electric Utility Commission on Oct. 19, the Planning Commission's Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee on Oct. 20, and then the Planning Commission itself Oct. 27. Council is scheduled to take a look Nov. 19. For more info, go to www.cityofaustin.org/trees. – Lee Nichols
Hold Your Water
The Los Angeles-based Intelligent Use of Water Film Competition has presented its top jury award to Austin filmmakers Jennifer and Christopher Gandin Le for their two-minute video "Small Changes." The film offers a humorous – but sobering – look at how drastically our lives could be altered if we fail to conserve water. View the winning film and other entries at www.iuowfilm.com. – L.N.
Parks In Peril
Padre Island National Seashore is one of the national parks most threatened by human-caused climate change, according to a report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the National Resources Defense Council. The report, "National Parks in Peril," identifies 25 U.S. parks under threat. Padre Island was the only Texas park on the list but could be the first to go – being right at sea level and most of it less than three feet in elevation, the barrier island will simply cease to exist if ocean levels go up two to four feet in the next century, as currently estimated. Aside from the obvious tragic consequences to spring-breaking college students, crucial habitat would also be lost to various bird and sea turtle populations. See the full report at www.rockymountainclimate.org. – L.N.
The Austin Region of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas – the state's largest police union – has honored Austin Police Department Officer Leonardo Quintana with its Officer of the Year award for his actions since the May 11 shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders II in an Eastside parking lot. The Austin Police Association's CLEAT representative, Detective Anthony Nelson, said the honor had "nothing to do with" the shooting itself but was given to acknowledge Quintana's professional conduct since then. Quintana has been "demonized" by many, Nelson said, but he's done exactly what an officer under investigation should do – contact union reps, consult with a union attorney, and sit tight, waiting for resolution. Nelson says he believes Quintana is an asset to the department and the community, which is in part why he nominated him for the award. Quintana was an Officer of the Year finalist in 2008 and in 2003 was awarded that title by the 100 Club. Some have suggested the timing is at best awkward (the investigation into the shooting is still under review), but Nelson said he doesn't regret it. Quintana "deserved [recognition] because of his professionalism," he said. – J.S.
Allen Slides Into Driver's Seat
To the surprise of no one, the Capital Metro board of directors on Monday named Doug Allen as interim president and CEO of the transit agency. Allen will begin work at 5pm on Oct. 16, when current CEO and President Fred Gilliam's retirement takes effect. The promotion of Allen, currently executive vice president and chief development officer, will likely get mixed reviews – some inside the agency view him as very competent, but others note that since his hiring in March 2008, he's headed up the much troubled effort to get MetroRail up and running. He came to Cap Metro from the successful Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency. Allen has not said whether he will apply for the job permanently, but he's believed to be a strong candidate. Because legislation passed earlier this year will change the composition of the Cap Metro board at the end of the year, a nationwide search for Gilliam's replacement will not begin until 2010. – L.N.
ACC Takes Slew of Cars Off the Road
The Austin Community College board of trustees approved a pilot program to provide free Capital Metro bus passes to all ACC students, faculty, and staff. That has at least the potential to remove quite a few cars from Austin's streets – Ben Ferrell, executive vice president for finance and administration, says ACC currently has 40,000 students and 2,000 employees. Ferrell says an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 of those students are already bus riders. "The new program will be heavily marketed to try to increase that," Ferrell said. The initial cost of the program will be $250,000, funded by an increase in parking fees and a "sustainability fee." Capital Metro will collect ridership data from the Green Pass program to gauge its success and see if any route modifications are warranted. – L.N.
Guzman Tapped for Supremes
Gov. Rick Perry on Oct. 8 named Eva Guzman as the first Hispanic woman to sit on the Texas Supreme Court. Guzman, a justice on the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals, is a "principled, conservative judge" and a "strict constructionist with an unmatched work ethic," a Perry statement noted. Guzman, 48, is a daughter of Mexican immigrants and worked for 10 years in private practice before being appointed first to the Harris County district court bench and then to the appellate court. She'll replace Scott Brister, who left before his term expired to return to private practice. – J.S.
Changes at the Texas Forensic Science Commission continued Oct. 9 when Gov. Rick Perry appointed Fort Worth defense attorney Lance Evans to replace Austin's Sam Bassett as the defense bar's representative on the nine-member commission. Bassett was one of three commission members Perry suddenly replaced on Sept. 29, shortly before the group was to meet with national fire-science expert Craig Beyler concerning his report on the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was put to death for the alleged arson and murder of his children. Experts, including Beyler, say the fire that consumed the Willingham family's house was more likely a tragic accident. Also last week, Perry named Bexar County Chief Medical Examiner Randall Frost to the commission, replacing Lubbock Chief Medical Examiner Sridhar Natarajan. Meanwhile, state Sen. John Whitmire told the Houston Chronicle he will hold a special meeting Nov. 10 of the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, which he chairs, to ask Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, the Forensic Science Commission's newly appointed chair, for a status update on the Willingham case. The move is meant to address concerns that the new appointments will delay or scuttle the investigative work on that case. Immediately following his appointment, Bradley canceled the meeting with Beyler, saying he needed time to review the case. – J.S.
Digital Fusion Fest
Austin kids applied a hands-on approach to Claymation at the Oct. 10 event, celebrating a $1 million upgrade of the community television studios in East Austin, home of channelAustin’s cable Channels 10, 11, and 16. The studios have been technologically transformed (with help from Time Warner) into a high-definition digital community media center, offering opportunities for digital media training, production, and distribution.