News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
• Three Bad Ozone Days Away Push harder, Austin. That's the message from the city of Austin and the Clean Air Force of Central Texas. Last month, the CAF announced the "Big Push," an outreach effort asking citizens to cut back on air-polluting activities so that Austin doesn't fall into "nonattainment" (violation) of the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality standards (see "Can Austin Avoid the Stigma of Dirty Air?," July 24). CAF Executive Director Deanna Altenhoff and Mayor Lee Leffingwell renewed that call on Tuesday. If Austin registers three more days this year at 78 parts per billion or higher, we could be in violation. CAF warns that nonattainment could bring burdensome federal requirements onto Austin, especially regarding transportation projects. The standard for violation is based on a city's fourth-highest reading in a year, and thus far we've had readings of 80, 77, 77, and 76. "It is literally a matter of one or two parts per billion whether we violate the federal health standard on ozone," said CAF board Chair Jim Marston. Recommendations for citizen action include driving less, idling your car less, fueling vehicles in the evening, and using manual or electric lawn-care equipment; for a more complete list, go to www.ozoneheroes.com. – Lee Nichols
• Keller Goes to Court Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of Texas' highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, is in court this week – though not in a position to mete out justice. Instead, Keller is in court in San Antonio to answer charges that she improperly closed the courthouse doors to a death row inmate's final appeal. Keller is charged with official misconduct in connection with her actions on Sept. 25, 2007, when she allegedly blocked Michael Richard from filing a final appeal. When Richard's lawyers asked if the court would remain open to accept a late filing, Keller infamously announced that the court closes at 5pm. Richard was subsequently executed. According to press reports, Keller's attorney Chip Babcock told District Judge David Berchelmann that another judge, Cheryl Johnson, was also informed that Richard's attorneys would file late; during testimony on Aug. 17, Johnson reportedly denied that she was told Richard's appeal would be late and said she would have taken the late appeal had she known it was coming. The charges against Keller were filed by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct and could result in her ouster from the bench. – Jordan Smith
• Wrasslin' With a Rustler Get a rope: Special Ranger Doug Hutchison with the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association arrested Austin city animal protection officer Robert S. Kollman last week for cattle rustling in Caldwell County. According to the association, Kollman stole six calves and a cow from a Caldwell rancher and then sold them at the Lockhart Livestock Auction. Three of the calves were returned to the rancher, while the remaining cattle were sold at the auction; the money from that sale has since been handed over to the original owner, so the buyer has been allowed to keep the animals. The theft is a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years inside. Interestingly, the penalty for theft of livestock was increased during this year's legislative session to a third-degree felony – punishable by up to 10 years in prison – but that law does not take effect until Sept. 1. Good news for Kollman, perhaps, but not such sweet justice for the kidnapped bovine victims. – Jordan Smith
Hutchison in, Watson Out
When it comes to the race for governor, it was one in and one out last week. On Aug. 17, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison officially kicked off her challenge to Gov. Rick Perry in her hometown of La Marque by praising the man, then savaging his tenure for expanding the state payroll while property and business taxes skyrocket. She took particular care to attack one of his most notorious pet projects, the Trans-Texas Corridor. Dashing to the right, Perry's supporters responded with class by wearing pig noses and handing out "Kay Bailout Bucks" to smear the Washington veteran. Over on the Democratic side, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, ended several months of speculation on Aug. 14 by taking himself out of contention for the governor's race when he announced, "I will run for re-election to the Texas Senate in 2010." – Richard Whittaker
T. Don Hutto: What Next?
The kiddie prison that is T. Don Hutto Residential Center will be no more, federal authorities announced earlier this month. On Aug. 6, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a fact sheet saying the government will stop detaining immigrant families at Hutto, and those families "will now be housed at Berks Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania." Reacting to the news, activists were ecstatic. "It's a huge victory," said Michelle Brane – co-author of the groundbreaking report "Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families." Pressing concerns remain, however. When asked what will happen to current and future detainee families, Brane answered: "We're not sure. Berks is full." Hopefully, she said, they won't be held at the border longer than the 72-hour limit in "very cold" cinder-block cells "entirely inappropriate for families." Openly skeptical, activist John Wheat Gibson, in an e-mail to the Chronicle, lamented U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "shifting the misery from Texas to Pennsylvania," and said the fact sheet portends "what the feds have in mind." Indeed, it states that ICE will "maintain a significant, robust detention capacity to carry out serious immigration enforcement" in facilities they design, operate, and oversee, thus raising the question: If it quacks like mass detention, will it still be mass detention? – Patricia J. Ruland