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Letters are posted as we receive them during the week, and before they are printed in the paper, so check back frequently to see new letters. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor, use this postmarks submission form, or email your letter directly to mail@austinchronicle.com. Thanks for your patience.
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Survivor's Experiences

RECEIVED Tue., June 23, 2020

Dear Editor,
    As a victim advocate, thank you for your coverage of one survivor's horrific court experience in "A Question of Compassion for Travis County's Family Violence Court." [News, June 19] This story represents all too many survivor's experiences with the justice system and I am grateful to know that one of the current Family Violence Court judge candidates deems it appropriate to use a survivor's previous trauma history to discount them in court. Survivors deserve better.
Abigail

In Memoriam: Barbara Irwin

RECEIVED Sat., June 20, 2020

Dear Editor,
    2020 wrenched another jewel from Austin’s violet crown when Barbara Irwin died at 78 on May 12. If she were here, she would have caught that gem as it was pried off and built a nest for it out of spun rusty metal and Victorian hearts. Barbara’s art treasures taught us the rich magic in everything, from Technicolor dream-quilts and catnip mice fashioned from remnants to protected worlds inside discarded birdcages to her magnificent welded flowers growing out of gravel in her living room. Barbara felt she was blessed with an indestructible sense of wonder. Only she would find the litter around bus stops to be a candy store of beauty there for the picking.
    Shermakaye Bass described how the “wow” of Barbara’s multitude of talents coalesced into an astonishingly beautiful gallery. Thomas Blom explained how Barbara’s art felt sacred yet familiar – immediately accessible yet refined. Perhaps you experienced the sumptuous celebration of her home during the Weird Homes or East Austin Studio Tour or in a visit complete with foot bath. If not, treat your world-weary mind to www.foundobjectart.com.
    Barbara breathed as an artist in all she did, be it as an interior designer, Montessori teacher, store buyer, herbalist, seamstress, housecleaner or gardener. She and her ex-husband built a boat and sailed it to Hawaii, where she spent 20 years before returning to Texas. At 65 when many people slow down, she marked becoming a welder off her to-do list. Barbara was tenacious about sharing her work, scoring shows at the Wildflower Center, Seton Cove, City Hall, Georgetown Arts Center, and Davis Gallery.
    Barbara always called on your birthday to sing “I Just Called to Say I Love You” perfectly off-key. She believed and lived love was the answer. Sweet friend, I just wrote to say I love you.
Joni Sager

ACDLA Response

RECEIVED Fri., June 19, 2020

Dear Editor,
    A Travis County jury believed a Black man over a white woman. The Chronicle’s Sarah Marloff’s response is to help two disgruntled ADAs violate an expunction order, slander the defense and criticize a jury ["A Question of Compassion for Travis County's Family Violence Court," News, June 19]. We assume the Chronicle published such a biased political piece for one purpose: to sway the upcoming County Court 4 election.
    Not long ago, a Black man accused of sexually assaulting a white woman would not even receive a trial in this country – he would be lynched. If the race of the participants were reversed, would Ms. Marloff still be so outraged? There are many ways of victimizing people. Domestic violence is one way. Falsely accusing someone of sexual assault is another. Race-based prosecution is yet another. All are dangerous.
    Ms. Marloff conveniently overlooks that it is the role of a judge to be impartial. Samantha’s story is not about the injustices done to survivors of sexual assault. It is a brazen attempt to keep a finger on the scales of justice. This was an editorial suggesting the Black man’s attorney—a woman of color—must have cheated ethical rules in order to win.
    The jurors in this case returned a verdict of acquittal because they did not believe the crime had occurred. Period. It is irresponsible to criticize the verdict of a jury simply because it does not fit your personal agenda. It is irresponsible and illegal for members of the D.A.'s office to openly comment on an expunged case. It is irresponsible and reprehensible for the Chronicle to participate in the poisoning of future jury pools.
    ACDLA [Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association] has made no endorsement in this judicial race; however, we are deeply concerned that the Chronicle questions the fitness of defense attorneys for the Judicial bench because of their work against systemic racism, mass incarceration and wrongful conviction.
Gene Anthes
   News Editor Mike Clark-Madison responds: We agree it’s unfair to shame the defense bar for the often unpopular but critically important work attorneys do to safeguard the rights of the accused. That’s why this story discusses the obligation to present a zealous defense; that’s why we reached out to Blackwell and Chacona for perspective. (Our reporter says, and her notes and correspondence substantiate, that she did not discuss, or seek to discuss, this specific case when talking to the two.) The question raised by the woman at the center of this case is whether the defense counsel should be elected as a judge. If a candidate’s actions as a practicing attorney are not relevant to voters, then what is, and why not? Judicial candidates run on their record as attorneys all the time. The viewpoint that has so upset the defense bar is, again, that of the woman at the center of this case. (For the record, neither the prosecutors nor the opposing campaign brought this story to us.) That framing is intentional. We believe that there are challenging intersectional issues we all must face as we seek to remake the justice system to best safeguard the accused and survivors who are so often mistreated and marginalized. The ethnicities of the persons involved in this case are not irrelevant; the candidate herself speaks to her own background in the piece. But nor do they solely define the dynamics of this case. As vigorously as the defense bar has contested claims our story does not make, it has not engaged with what it does say, which is why we think such stories need to be told.

Disturbed and Disappointed

RECEIVED Fri., June 19, 2020

Dear Editor,
    I was disturbed and disappointed to read your article on Margaret Chen Kercher who is running for Travis County Court Number 4 ["A Question of Compassion for Travis County's Family Violence Court," News, June 19]. To attack her as being unqualified for having zealously represented a person who was presumed to be innocent was not only unfair, it totally missed the point. The article implies that all people who are accused are guilty and that all people who defend them are guilty too. Sadly, victimization comes in many forms. Domestic violence is one way. Falsely accusing someone of it is another way. Both are dangerous. To protect the public against all forms of victimization, our courts need fair and impartial judges, not judges acting as advocates for either side. To take the position that Dimple Malhotra should be a judge because she used to prosecute the accused and that Margaret Chen Kercher should not be a judge because she defended the accused is demeaning to each of these candidates.
Scott C. Smith

The Role of a Defense Attorney

RECEIVED Fri., June 19, 2020

Dear Editor,
    I read with interest “A Question of Compassion for Travis County’s Family Violence Court,” [News, June 19] naively hoping that The Austin Chronicle was breaking from the habit amongst local media covering courts to trot out the same old, tired themes: Criminals are very bad, they should be punished harshly, and that attorneys that represent people charged are also bad people. My hope was misplaced, and I was disappointed again. Completely disregarding the categorical unfairness that is commonplace in Travis County’s family violence courts—including a lack of access to the right to a speedy trial and disproportionately higher rates of conviction and harsher sentences for Black and Latino men—Sarah Marloff disparaged the work of defense attorney Margaret Chen Kercher, and in doing so, undermined the critical, constitutionally mandated function of a legal defense in our system.
    The role of a defense attorney is to advocate zealously on behalf of each client. That role isn’t only mandated by the Constitution and legal ethical rules imposed on attorneys, it’s absolutely essential to our system. Why do we not question the function of prosecutors in convicting people and sending them to prison when a prosecutor runs for judge? Because we lazily assume—and shallow media coverage continues to tell us—that the purpose of the system is to punish people, harshly, no matter what. Chen Kercher is immensely qualified to be a judge, especially because she has done the work of defending people in court. This work is essential, because the function of a criminal legal system is ensuring fairness to those charged, not assembly-line conviction delivery. Asking whether someone who not only did her job, but did one of the most important jobs enshrined in our Constitution, is qualified to be a judge is asking the wrong question and dangerously misleads the public.
Rhiannon Hamam

Full Ballot

RECEIVED Fri., June 19, 2020

Dear Editor,
    I want to acknowledge your correction to include all 6 candidates on the ballot in the July 14 special election for Texas Senate district 14. I think all of your readers appreciate receiving accurate information. Thank you!
Pat Dixon
Libertarian, Texas Senate district 14

In a World

RECEIVED Fri., June 19, 2020

Dear Editor,
          In a world where all lives mattered, President Trump wouldn’t hold a rally during a pandemic and only be concerned about attendees holding “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; ...liable for any illness or injury."
           In a world where all lives mattered, our president wouldn’t ask already overtaxed nurses and doctors to treat patients whose COVID-19 was due to his reckless narcissism.
           In a world where all lives mattered, Trump would model social distancing and wear a face mask to inspire Americans to follow epidemiologically approved safe practices.
           In a world where all lives mattered, there would be no red states like Oklahoma who hypocritically claim to be pro-life but are willing to sacrifice the elderly, the immune-compromised, and those with underlying conditions to the economy.
           In a world where all lives mattered, the president would act as if they do.
Barbara Chiarello

Re: A Question of Compassion

RECEIVED Fri., June 19, 2020

Dear Editor,
    I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not condone the conclusions of Ms. Marloff in her article entitled "A Question of Compassion." ["A Question of Compassion For Travis County's Family Court," News, June 19] The author requested that Krista Chacona and I answer her questions concerning a victim feeling that she was not treated with respect in a jury trial. We spoke to her, hoping that she would understand that the criminal defense lawyer must do their job of questioning the credibility of all the witnesses in the case, or they can be sanctioned. She did not. She allowed the victim to repeatedly claim that Margaret Kercher had acted unethically. MARGARET DID NO SUCH THING. She was assigned this case as a court appointed attorney and she did her job with integrity and professionalism, and the jury found her client not guilty. The conclusion Ms. Marloff draws from that is that a defense lawyer then can not be a good judge. This comes right before the run-off election, in which Margaret is running against a prosecutor to be the judge of County Court #4.
    A jury of 12 people, who did not know the victim or the accused, heard all the evidence and they did not hear any evidence that the judge ruled was inadmissible under the rape shield law. After careful deliberation they made the decision that the accused was not guilty.
    We should make our decisions for judge based on what lawyer seeking the job will uphold our constitutional rights of a fair trial, due process, and the right to cross examine the witnesses, not on a misleading and obviously politically motivated article.
Betty Blackwell

Project Not Connecting

RECEIVED Thu., June 18, 2020

Dear Editor,
    Considering how badly the Capital Metro management and board previously botched public access to basic public infrastructure like clinics, hospitals, schools, and government facilities with “Remap,” does anybody now seriously believe they have the basic functional capacity to now coherently execute let alone run “Project Connect.” Certainly not those of us with experience!!
Robin Orlowski
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