Cobler: Texas tries nation’s first virtual criminal trial

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Chris Cobler

A Texan’s speeding ticket put her in the legal history books last week.

To combat the backlog in criminal cases created by the pandemic, a Travis County justice of the peace conducted the nation’s first virtual criminal trial. The case was livestreamed on YouTube, and the jurors deliberated in a private Zoom room.

Legal experts debated whether trial by Zoom properly balanced constitutional concerns such as the right to a speedy trial and the right to confront witnesses.

The test case? A nurse’s misdemeanor ticket for speeding in a construction zone. The jury found the nurse, Calli Kornblau, guilty of speeding but acquitted her of the construction zone violation. She received a deferred sentence and was ordered to pay a $50 fine, plus court costs.

The jury is still out on whether Zoom is the courthouse of the future. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association had some fun on Twitter with the practice: “A JP is having a virtual jury trial this morning on a speeding ticket. Does that mean the JP will have to have virtual coffee with the police officer before the trial starts, too?”

Texas docs: Get your shots

Texas doctors are taking their best shot at encouraging people to get immunized.

August is National Immunization Month, and the Texas Medical Association is distributing a series of columns by physicians in support of vaccinations.

“Vaccines are among the safest and most effective tools available to and used by physicians. Yet vaccine hesitancy and even refusal are increasing,” Dr. Sue Bornstein, a Texas Medical Association board member, wrote in her column.

Doctors should make recommending vaccinations a part of routine patient visits, she said. The pandemic makes this even more important as researchers race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, she added.

This job will take you places

SpaceX aims to put people on Mars from its launch site near Brownsville. First, though, the spaceport needs an out-of-this-world resort.

The company placed an unusual help-wanted ad last week: for a resort manager in the tiny unincorporated Boca Chica Village near Brownsville on the mouth of the Rio Grande River. The right candidate will develop the resort from inception to completion, according to the ad.

The job requires a bachelor’s degree and five-plus years of experience in construction management. One additional requirement: Must be able to travel for short and extended trips as needed.

SpaceX, which made history recently as the first private company to send astronauts safely to space and back, also released footage of a successful 150-meter hop Aug. 4 by its Starship SN5 prototype.

Ports-to-Plains plan

The Ports-to-Plains corridor study of Interstate 27 will be navigated during a virtual public hearing at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, and Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Texas Department of Transportation officials will make the presentation and allow time for public comment. People also may mail or email comments about the study until Sept. 10.

The Legislature approved last session a study of expanding I-27. The interstate runs from Amarillo to Lubbock. The plan calls for extending the road north of Amarillo and south about 500 miles from Lubbock to Laredo.

To join the WebEx public hearing, go to TxDOT.gov. For questions, call 512-486-5106.

How many hats can a Texas deputy wear?

People who live in Texas small towns are used to wearing a multitude of hats.

But the Culberson County attorney isn’t sure a chief deputy also can serve as an elected alderman, or city council member. County Attorney Stephen Mitchell filed a request last week for an opinion from the Texas attorney general’s office. He attached a 1975 AG opinion that such wearing of multiple hats was not legal.

The deputy ran for and was elected as an alderman in Van Horn, the Culberson County seat in West Texas. He has since been promoted to chief deputy.

“Issues have been raised about ‘dual-office holding,’ inasmuch as both ‘offices’ pay sums of money to the deputy on a monthly basis,” the county attorney wrote. “Additionally, there appear to be issues regarding common law or constitutional ‘conflicts of interest.’ ”

The yin and yang of ranching

“The Future of the Wildlife Enterprise” will be at your fingertips through a free Zoom symposium Oct. 29-30 offered by two departments at Texas A&M-Kingsville.

The sessions will highlight the challenges and opportunities of balancing ranching and wildlife resources. Registration is required and free. Visit krirm.tamuk.edu/symposium to register and download the complete agenda.

Correction: The Texas Primary Care Consortium sent an open letter to Gov. Greg Abbotts to ask him to take a variety of steps to increase residents’ access to health care. Last week’s column incorrectly reported the organization’s name.

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.