The Defense Bar Remembers Hon. R.H. “Sandy” Bielstein

“I am heartbroken for the loss of a great man and my great friend.  Sandy meant so much to so many of the lawyers and staffers in the Fort Bend Justice Center. He was a mentor to so many, and a friend to all. But he remained special, and occupied a unique spot in my heart.

On my first day as a licensed Texas attorney, a wrong turn brought me to Sandy.  The new judge took me under his wing when I showed up in this new place, with no friends, no guidance, or experience to do the job. He taught me to be a lawyer. He taught me that standing up for justice sometimes meant standing up to fight an unwinnable fight. As a Judge, in both words and actions, he taught me that respecting every person without regard to race, religion, status, or fortune, was the mark of a good attorney, a decent person, and the key to a fair justice system.

 Truly, Sandy was more than a friend. In my times of hardship and illness, he stepped up to help me. When I could barely walk, he stepped up to pull me along. When I was distressed, and thought I could go no further, he was my calming influence to get me through the pain.  He was my counselor, my guide, my leaning post, and the man who encouraged me to be better than I ever dreamed I could be.  I know I will miss his booming voice and smiling face, but I will keep a smile knowing he’s resting in a much better place.

In time, someone will come along and fill his seat, but no one will ever take his place. His words and deeds will be legend, and his professional legacy will live on through us, his mentored.  My family and I, along with the people of Fort Bend, owe a great debt to Sandy, and to his family, for allowing us to share him.

I will forever miss my accidental friend.” O’Neil Williams


“Of the things I loved about Sandy, perhaps what I enjoyed the most, was his wry sense of humor. He loved to tease people, giving many of us nick-names, and it was something of a badge of honor to receive one from him because it meant he really liked you. Years ago a mutual friend named Jim suffered the loss of 1/2 of a finger in a shooting accident. Whenever they met, Sandy would smile, hold his hand out flat and say ‘Hey Jim, give me 4 1/2!’   In chambers one day Sandy asked me, ‘Have you seen ‘ole 4 1/2’ lately?’ No name needed. I won’t tell you the nickname he gave to me because it would take too long to explain. But ‘Ole 4 1/2’ and I are going to miss our good friend, and his keen sense of humor.  You were our one of a kind friend, servant of this nation in the USMC, servant of the City of Houston with HPD, and servant of Fort Bend County as an outstanding judge. Rest in peace, amigo.” Timothy Quill


“I remember when they came for my stepdad. It was in the middle of the night when I ran downstairs and saw the police inside our home. I watched helplessly as he was handcuffed, shoved into a police car, and taken from me. Falsely accused by a corrupt family attorney and subsequently indicted of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, my stepdad reached out to a fellow Vietnam veteran and former U.S. Marine, R. H. “Sandy” Bielstein. The only thing my stepdad did was save my mother from a hell another man created, raise her children as his own, and teach me that the greatest power known to man is that of unconditional love. Sandy defended his honor against this injustice and fought for him all the way to trial. It was years later, after I had enlisted in the Marine Corps, that the verdict came back. Not Guilty.

It has been over 20 years since that night and never would have thought I’d end up becoming a trial attorney, let alone have a criminal defense practice in his court. Judge R. H. “Sandy” Bielstein dedicated his life to defending this country, defending his community, and preserving the rights of those falsely accused both from his private practice and from the bench. His calling to live a life of service and to help make the world a better place is not only what made him my hero, but also my mentor and friend. I hope that everyone, when such people cross their paths, never take someone like Judge Bielstein for granted. I certainly never did, and never will. He was truly Liberty’s last champion. Rest in peace, Your Honor. Semper Fidelis.” Mark Metzger


“Judge Bielstein was one of the very few Judges who thanked me for helping bring a case to conclusion without costing the County/State a lot of money.  He said, as a Private Investigator, our jobs were equally as important in his court.  I found him to be a man of his word, a man of integrity and honesty.  I will miss seeing him on the bench.” –Anonymous Private Investigator


“When I started my own practice focusing on criminal defense around 2006, I had a serious problem: I had no experience. I had heard that a Judge down in Fort Bend, a man I would later know well as Judge R.H. “Sandy” Bielstein, would appoint rookie lawyers from the bench. So I went down there and met with him. I mentioned that my trial advocacy Professor at UHLC was David Cunningham and he told me that he would appoint me some cases and that I should continue my tutelage under David (and David still mentors me to this day). I got my first hung jury in front of Judge Bielstein, and I also got my first not guilty. He also gave me a recommendation to TCDLA’s Trial College.

Many years later another lawyer told me that Judge Bielstein had told him something along the lines of ‘I didn’t think Fox would make at as a lawyer, but I was wrong.’

I love that man. He gave me a career, even when he wasn’t sure that I would have it in me to make it as a lawyer.

Judge Bielstein gave me a shot. He gave a lot a lot of people a shot.

He was a good man and a fair man and it breaks my heart to know that he has passed. I wouldn’t have a career without him, and I know many other lawyers are in the same boat. We are all poorer with his passing.” Fox Curl


“When I was starting my life as a Defense Attorney, well…I  wasn’t. I wasn’t anything. Some people say during their whole careers they have been standing on the shoulders of giants. Little did I know I would meet three of them at once. I remember parking my car that August day in 2004 thinking to myself “Where am I?”  Little did I know, I was parked in front of the office of my future mentors and future adopted family. I nervously waited for my mentor while his secretary calmly told me he would be coming. Finally, in walked Ralph Gonzalez.  He and his office mate, Diana Adams, would mentor me and show me the ropes here in Fort Bend. I remember him hurriedly coming in, welcoming me to his office. He then whisked me away to “the courthouse.”

I literally didn’t know where the courthouse was. We went up the elevator of the Travis Building and went to the Court. Not only did we go to court, Ralph and I went back to the Judge’s chambers. By the time we got there, there were other attorneys sitting in chambers and behind the Judge’s desk was this large bearded man smoking a cigarette and speaking with this loud booming voice. That man was R.H. “Sandy” Bielstein. Ralph introduced me to him and he welcomed me to his court and Fort Bend.  After introductions I observed my first juvenile docket with Judge Bielstein on the bench. I remember thinking to myself…I would kill to have his voice!

Months and many questions later, I received the news that I passed the bar. People asked me if I was going to Austin to be sworn in, and I thought to myself that there’s only one person I would have swear me into becoming a bonafide attorney. That was Judge Bielstein. I still remember standing in front of that giant man trying to get the oath right. I was so nervous. He took his time with me and after that he took pictures my mother would keep asking for.

He would later be the Judge that gave me my first appointed case. I still remember it was an assault case. My first check.  From then on his chamber door was always open. He always had time for me, even when his chamber was full of other attorneys vying for some time with him. He would sit with me through good times such as those, and was there for the bad times. I still remember his voice of anguish when I talked to him about the bad turn of events that took the life of Diana Adams. Though he and Diana had been adversaries at one time, they became fast friends soon after. I could see it hurt him when I told him the terrible news.

I learned so much from him over the years. Like “it never hurts to ask” the Court anything. You’ll never know what may come of it. I also learned that regardless the individual, mercy is due. That is rare in these “tough on crime” days.

When I moved my dad in with me after my mother succumbed to pancreatic cancer, Judge Bielstein would take time to ask me how he was doing. How I was doing. And after my father passed recently the last conversation we had started with Judge Bielstein asking me how I was doing. Even though I know he wasn’t feeling well, he was still concerned about how I was.
Last Sunday I lost another giant. We all did in the legal community. Rest In Peace Judge Bielstein…you will not soon be forgotten.” Scott Martinez


“Although I don’t have a special Sandy story to tell, I’ve known him for nearly 30 years.  I first met Sandy when I was in law school and knew him when I was a prosecutor and he was in private practice.  I always had an enormous amount of respect for him, both as a lawyer and for his service to the city of Houston and our country.  When I first started going to Fort Bend County regularly, I stopped by his office.  He presented an earnest welcome and extended an invitation to visit any time.  I remember thinking walking away impressed with how nice and welcoming he was to me.  That seemed to be the way he always was.  He was warm-hearted and friendly and he seemed to be that way with everyone.  He was a great judge and will be missed by the citizens of Fort Bend County.” –David Kiatta


“Judge B was the most influential person in my legal career.  He was the presiding Judge at my first jury trial as 3L intern at the Fort Bend DA’s office, as ADA in Fort Bend,  and as a defense attorney.  He was a scholar and a gentleman.

As the presiding judge of very first trial as 3L intern, he was kind, patient, and reassuring.  After a 3 minute Not Guilty, he invited me back to his chamber for a cigarette and to help dissect my direct of the officer and closing statement.  He gave me great insight into my presentation and comfort of the courtroom.  As the presiding judge my first trial as ADA, he was fair, tough and always patient.  After a long deliberated Guilty, we once again sat in his office to discuss the case, but he had quit smoking by this time.  As a prosecutor in his court, he made me a better lawyer and legal analyst.  He demanded that I know the facts and the law, otherwise it was the demise of my case.  As a judge over my first trial as a defense attorney, he was jovial and once again patient.  After long day of deliberations, and a guilty and not guilty, we again sat in his office to discuss the case, my plans for the future and just how I was doing.  We laughed at how during my closing, I accidently asked the jury for a guilty verdict (old habit).

On so many different occasions through our 10+ years of friendship, I would lose my demeanor for what I thought was a just right or equitable.  He would kindly listen to me blow my smoke and make his ruling.  But what I loved most was how he would gently let me huff and puff  if I disagreed.  Always listening and but kindly say, “Mr. Tu…” if I got too far out of line.

There is a hole in my heart for the citizens of Ft Bend County, to the personnel at the courthouse and to me personally for such a great and unexpected loss.”  Paul Tu


“I received my first court appointment in Fort Bend from Judge Bielstein in the early 2000’s. He asked who I was, and when I told him, we went back into chambers and talked. I let him know that I was a vet and he told me that he was a Marine; once a Marine, ALWAYS a Marine.

He was a crass, chain-smokin’ cool dude. Told me about his time as a vice cop for HPD in the late 70’s in the Montrose area. We had a good laugh about some of the places he patrolled and some of the busts he made. The guy was the best and fairest judge that I have EVER been before. He treated the defendants and lawyers with the utmost respect. Judge Bielstein knew how to talk to and treat poor people, which sadly, alot of local judges in this area (Harris Co.) have no clue how to do. They have NEVER been around poor people but for a court setting and it shows. He was different. He had empathy AND integrity.

Rest in peace Judge. Semper Fi.” Kendric M. Ceaser
“I met Judge Bielstein approximately 2001 having been introduced by a mutual friend. He was very friendly.  He gave me my first appointment in Fort Bend and told me how to get on the misdemeanor and felony appointment lists.
He was an extremely fair Judge. He was very stern when he had to be, but went that extra mile to save a probationer.
He was always fair in his rulings, and pleasant to be before.
I will miss him.” – Lawrence T. Newman


“The news of Judge Bielstein’s passing was devastating for so many people, and it was a harsh and unwelcome blow to the legal community in general and to Justice in particular. I feel that kind words just seem so insufficient to honor the memory of such an exceptional man, but these are the words that come to my mind when I think of him:  He was a remarkable man who gave invaluable advice, possessed immeasurable grace and compassion, was always there for you when you needed  him, had a golden heart the size of Texas, was a staunch advocate for Lady Justice, and he could always, always make you laugh. And then laugh some more. I will miss him so very much. ” –Leigh Love


“I met Judge Bielstein several years ago in his judge’s chambers, introduced by another mentor of mine who urged me to come to Judge Bielstein’s court to get some appointed cases as I was starting my fledgling practice. Hardly a rare story, as it seemed Judge Bielstein had a soft spot for fresh, young attorneys looking to make their way. After that, hardly a week went by when I wasn’t in his court working cases that he had appointed to me. We talked in his chambers often, and he would always ask how I was doing and how my practice was going.

Judge Bielstein became a mentor to me, as he did with so many young lawyers, and his words of wisdom and advice constantly resonate in my mind, especially those that came in a conversation in his chambers after trying my very first trial as lead counsel. Every trial lawyer will always remember his first trial, and as luck would have it, Judge Bielstein would preside over mine, making it that much more memorable.

So much can and will be said about this great man. He possessed the qualities and character which make not only a great judge, but a wonderful human being, whom I am both grateful and proud to have known. I will always hold him in the highest of regards, and will be forever grateful for everything he did to help me as a young lawyer. He will be truly missed.” –Wade Smith


“There are always people in one’s life who have an impact that is often not fully appreciated until years later. They say and do things that one realizes only long afterwards mattered a great deal.  Some people set out a path that they point out for others to walk.  I have been very fortunate in my life to have had contact with such people, both men and women.  Some have stayed in my life to this day; others had a brief but powerful impact that even now I still find myself contemplating.   They have included many folks from all walks of my life – school, service, the legal profession, friends and loved ones.  One man in our local courts here also had that kind of impact on my life.  His name was R.H. [he never liked his first name much] “Sandy” Bielstein, judge in the County Court Number Four in Fort Bend County, Texas. I know many of my colleagues have older, funnier stories of him; I do not pretend I knew him as well as others did.  I only know what he meant to me.


I began practicing out here almost twenty years ago. I was young, green, and thought I knew something.  Sandy was the first one to remind me of the limits of my knowledge, yet he still kept encouraging me to work here, to take appointments in his court, to help juveniles, and to handle more difficult trial and capital work once he knew I was qualified to take those matters.  There are countless times when I would sit in his chambers, having a cup of hot coffee while talking with him and absorbing some sense of his views on life and the law. He had crammed a lot of living into his years; he had been a Marine, a cop, a defense lawyer, and a judge.  He had seen quite a bit of life and more of lawyering than I likely ever will.  I tried to glean what I could from those times in his office, but there were three times that stand out to me most.


The first was when I had come back from Bosnia, and a tour of duty that profoundly changed how I viewed the world and my place in it.  He, along with his friend Susan Lowery down the hall, were the very first judges to welcome me back and put me to work to rebuild the practice I had shut down when I left on recall.  His constant encouragement to handle more difficult and challenging work helped me move up to more serious trial cases out here, and he introduced me to the district court judges with approval, approval I have tried hard to keep earning.  The second was during one of the most challenging and difficult trials of my professional life, a capital murder case that seemed destined for a bad outcome from the start. His exact words to me as I sat slumped and exhausted in the chair in his office after a long day of grueling jury selection, were these “Son, there ain’t nothing that says you have to like this job, or the clients, or the outcome.  You just have to do your best, and never quit trying.”  It was spoken like a Marine, and it put some steel back into my spine so I could keep going the next day.  I have never forgotten that.


The last time was when, a little while back, I had foolishly volunteered to help on difficult juvenile cases that came into his court.  These included cases of the mentally ill, the violent, the sex offenders, and the indigent and abused who fell into his court.  I found the work humbling, because there were often no good choices for these kids, and he knew it as well.  I kept on doing the work after a particularly sad case of a mentally ill youngster whom it seemed had been cursed by a very uncaring universe.  I kept on doing it because he took me in back for our one thousandth cup of coffee, and said to me ‘If you were a medic, and you could not save some, would you stop trying to save the next one?’  I knew the answer, and so did he.  He just had to remind me.

I will miss his often bawdy and always irreverent humor.  I will miss his gruff kindness, and his antipathy for those who had no sympathy for the ones that God seemed to have left behind.  I will miss his spirt, and his desire to always find a way to get justice done.  We all will.

Most of all, I will miss hearing that voice saying, ‘Come on in, sit down, have a cup of coffee,’ to me and so many others.” –Pat McCann



“Just as countless others can say, Judge Bielstein appointed me to my first case. That is not all he did for me as a new attorney. Being in Judge Bielstein’s Court allowed me to constantly experience what I think is the greatest part of working in criminal law, being able to truly help people strive to live a better life. With each case that came before Judge Bielstein, as he talked to the defendant about their case, you could see and feel the genuine concern he had for them and the positive changes he hoped to impress upon them. Judge Bielstein showed me that no matter where you are or what you are doing, if you take every opportunity to help and show compassion, others will see and follow your lead. Judge Bielstein truly cared about all the people that came into his courtroom. He was a great person and Judge, I will miss him.” – Nina Marie Amadi


“Judge Bielstein will be missed, but never forgotten!  Many years ago Judge Bielstein had enough faith in me to offer court appointments. I was merely a rookie’s rookie. However, Judge Bielstein’s confidence in my ability to defend defendants instilled a desire which developed into a passion for criminal defense. To this day I am unable to think of any other jurist, in any jurisdiction that could compare to Judge Bielstein and his assurance that justice will prevail.  Rest in peace, your honor!” Louis Salmon


The Disabled Among Us And Our Prisons

I want the reader to picture an unkind time in their lives – middle and high school.  A time when most of us were struggling to fit in, or to stand out on our own, in our own way.  A time when, to be charitable, we were not always kind to our fellow students, when we said or did cruel things to those who were singled out by the rest of the insecure and frightened for special abuse.  I am talking about how we, in school and today, in our very cruel, real world, treat the “slow kids.”


You remember them:  They were the ones in Special Education, or if you are as old as I am, the ones in the “remedial classes.”  They struggled to read, to understand the rules in school, to hold conversations with the rest of us.  They could not do the simplest of math problems, or diagram a sentence.  Perhaps the school system you were in didn’t label those young children “retarded” or the newer, more generous phrase “intellectually disabled.” Perhaps they were just placed in remedial reading or left to languish in the back row. They could not function in the classroom or on the playground without someone looking out for them, and there were never enough people willing to look out for them.  They weren’t bad kids, they were just dramatically different in the ways their minds worked- but too many times we didn’t really understand that difference.


The difference was not a helpful one.  The difference made them an easy target for the other insecure youngsters who needed to feel stronger or smarter than someone else, because they were afraid.  For the rare but occasionally truly cruel young person who simply wanted a human fly from which they could pull the wings, they were a source of evil delight, and only once in a while would the teachers or a good-hearted protective student step in to prevent the ugliness.


You remember them now, don’t you? You are thinking, in fact, of at least one little face.   You remember the sick feeling in your stomach when you watched but did not step in when someone picked on her, when the teacher rolled her eyes at him and everyone laughed.  You remember how you turned away, felt ashamed, when she waved to you on the playground?  How you felt when he was pushed to the ground or made a laughingstock by one of the inevitable little sociopaths who tried to rule that small penal colony we sometimes called high school?


Those disabled boys and girls grew into disabled adults, at least biologically, and unfortunately our adult world has been no kinder to most of them. Sadly, some of them wound up in our criminal justice system, because no one thought of how those hapless young underdeveloped minds would cope when faced with a criminal charge.


Picture those kids dealing with a police officer- not kind and understanding Andy Griffith, but a real street cop with little patience and a suspicious and paranoid mind.  Picture how afraid they would be.  We are all afraid when the police pull us over, at least a little.  Imagine the panic in those simpler eyes, just for a moment.


As far back as 1966, in a study of prisons and the population, the numbers of the mentally retarded were at ten percent of prison population.  That number was doubtlessly wildly under-reported, since many prison systems did not test for IQ in those days, and other measures of intellectual disability were yet undeveloped. That was before the explosion in our prisons, before the traumas of concussions were realized by our modern medicine and the traumatic brain injuries of those in our multiple wars in the last five decades. So, let me be very clear: the intellectually disabled exist in significant numbers in our jails and our prisons, largely because, just as when we were kids, we stand by or turn away.


Picture how one of those kids would have fared in an interrogation room with an experienced, cynical detective.  Picture how they would have done on the witness stand against an experienced, hardened prosecutor whose only job is to eviscerate even skilled, expert witnesses. Picture how those scared kids from your school would do in a jail awaiting trial.  How afraid would you be if you were in an open bay sleeping area with twenty rough men, accused of assaults, robbery, and addled by drug use? Now see in your mind’s eye how desperate would they be to do anything, even take a plea for something they did not do, just to get away from one more night where they were so scared they could not sleep?


Most of the struggling kids from our school days would qualify for a guardianship, for someone else to take care of all their adult decisions, including where to live or what to do with their money.  Most of them could qualify for disability from the Social Security Administration. Most used car dealers would hesitate to have them sign a contract for purchase of a car if they spent more than ten minutes with them.  Yet we continue to arrest them and convict them and sentence them with an alarming frequency for minor crimes, which at some point become major crimes, at least as far as the system is concerned.


We on the defense side of things are lucky.  We can, every once in a while, be that kid in school who stood up to the bullies who were hurting the kids who were different.  We can, if we take the time and make the effort, find a way to show that our clients are actually disabled under the law, and that makes a universe of difference once we get there.  Once we can show someone is truly not competent legally due to intellectual disability, we have just changed the world for this one client.  Instead of rotting in jail or prison, they could go home.  Instead of being convicted, they might go free, or they might be placed on community supervision with a diagnosis that could enable them to get the help they need.


You readers on the jury side of things are lucky too, at least once in a great while.  When you are called to serve on a jury, and someone provides you evidence of disability, you can take it into account on your verdict.  You can do whatever you want on those verdicts – acquit someone, find them incompetent, convict only of a lesser offense, be merciful in a sentence, or recommend probation.  I envy you that.


We do not do this enough on the defense side.  We do not recognize the signs of disability, such as time in special education classes, having a history of having someone else intercede when issues pop up, needing help in writing or reading even as adults, and leaving school at a young age.  We do not ask the follow-up on questions enough.  We do not ask the right questions.


I do not do this enough. I wish I did.  I wish I had gotten more testing done by a mental health professional whenever I have had a question about capacity of a client. I wish I had listened to a family more closely when they expressed a concern.  I wish I had fought harder for a client whose disability was masked from me because sometimes people do not ever want to be called or labeled slow or stupid.


Most of all, I wish I had done more for those kids back in school.  Maybe today I can. Maybe we all could.

Lessons After Dying

Allison contacted me and asked me if I would consider writing a PSA for this blog.  At the time,  I was 18 days post-incident and I asked her to give me two weeks to submit something. Without procrastinating any further, I sat down today hoping it was a soft deadline. (Editrix’s note:  fear not, gentle Rand and Dear Reader, all deadlines for the blog are soft, as is your darling Allison).


For those of you who do not know, I suffered a heart attack at mile 15 of the 2017 Houston Marathon and died.  Compensating for any bad luck or fortune I have ever had in my life, I found myself surrounded by half a dozen people who knew CPR and fell within yards of a geriatric facility that had a defibrillator and four staff people that ran it out to me. The odds of someone similarly situated to me surviving that scenario outside of a medical facility is low single digits. As you can imagine, I am thankful for those people on the ground with me who saved my life as well as every new day.


Upon arrival at the hospital, I learned that not only had I suffered a heart attack but I had suffered a prior incident.  The heart attack du jour was because I was 99 percent blocked on the right side and my prior incident had completely obstructed blood flow; however, secondary routes had formed and that, among other things, was responsible for my survival. A stint was put in and once I am recovered, I should be good for decades.


I have been running for thirty nine years and very cognizant about what I ate for most of that time so you can imagine that no one was more surprised than me that I suffered such an incident. At an early age I realized that there was heart disease aplenty on both the maternal and paternal sides of my family and I needed to take responsibility for my own health.


I won’t go through all of it here, but there were a lot of classic warning signs that I missed.  I was beyond overworked in November and December.  During that time I had been plagued with heartburn and what I thought to be pain in my ears. The pain in my ears was actually jaw pain.  I believed these maladies to be caused by stress and playing music too loudly in my car. It would have never occurred to me that these were warning signs of a cardiac incident. Additionally, I ran a marathon one month before and really struggled to complete it even though I’d had great shorter distance races earlier in the season.  Despite oppressive conditions, I reasoned that my age was finally catching up with me and perhaps my long distance days were over. Again, it never occurred to me that my body was not getting enough blood or oxygen.


What else can I share with you? Over two years ago my general practitioner saw something he did not like on my EKG. He sent me directly to a cardiologist.  Two weeks later the cardiologist performed a nuclear stress test and an echocardiogram.  It was never mentioned to me by the cardiologist or my general practitioner that I had a prior incident. I question whether the cardiologist ever sent his findings to my GP. The cardiologist never told me I needed to follow up with him.


I clearly lost the genetic lottery.  I also overlooked warning signs of an impending cardiac incident. Prior to this I took what I believed to be responsibility for my health by exercising and eating what I believed to be the optimal diet for heart health. I have been told that I benefitted from these positive steps. However, it appears that taking responsibility for your own health includes reviewing your own records and personally supervising the transfer of information between health care providers. Perhaps a stint could have been put in during a planned procedure instead of following such a traumatic event.


Finally, I have two more things to share.  First of all, take four hours of your life and learn CPR. If it was not for the timely and proper administration of CPR, I would not be here physically and mentally intact. I am working with the Honorable Paula Goodheart to have a class at the CJC for everyone to attend. Since my incident, Mark Metzger saved the life of a woman with his CPR training. Any one of you can possess the skill to save someone’s life. You do not need to be a health care professional or look like Superman as in Mark’s case.


Secondly, the love, affection, offers of help, and actual assistance that washed over me from the CJC touched me beyond words. As George Bailey stated in It’s A Wonderful Life, “No man is a failure who has friends.”






“I Had To Call The Police”


I was at a birthday party last weekend in the Heights. As the party dwindled down, conversation grew more relaxed and an intimate group was left sharing life with each other. One guest said, “So, I had to call the police the other day…”


The story unfolded: as she was driving up to her house she saw a parked car she did not recognize in front. She noticed “two white suspicious looking men sitting in a Cadillac”, and one of them had a glove on. She pulled in, went in her house, and the men eventually drove away. But, she kept a look out. She saw the same car drive back and forth a couple of times about a block away on the cross street to hers. So, she called the police and reported these suspicious men. Officers came very quickly, and she told of how nice and helpful they were. They found the men, asked them what they were doing, and reported back to the caller. Everything ended well. She felt safe, and now had a cocktail party story to tell of her lovely experience with police.


What were the men doing? They had answered: playing Pokémon Go.


And this is the accepted and normalized system we live in today…one built around and justified by fear. A couple people are playing a harmless game, and cops are called. No disturbance occurred, no weapons were seen, no illegal activity of any kind was observed, but cops were called.


What if my friend had simply walked up to the car and asked what they were doing?


Why not? Fear.


She could have knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked them to approach these men with her.


Why not? Fear.


Her call to police was her immediate response to this fear, and most people at the party completely agreed. Not one person questioned the need for this call. So, what’s the problem? The problem is a lack of consideration of real, tangible consequences of this candid call to police. These two men having a fun day were subjected to questioning by people who, if they dislike anything, could and likely would put chains on them, lock them in a cage, and attach a label on their life forever. A light question in my friend’s mind could have easily led to an enormous amount of trauma and taxpayer dollars. She’s a good accountant, but the cost-benefit analysis when fear enters the equation is not considered.


The problem is what if these police officers were young and thirsty, and had a call about two suspicious white men? They could stop, search, question, and arrest almost anyone in a car in that neighborhood. They could then write an offense report giving their link to the call and whoever they arrested, and our system would begin turning its chains against that person. A conviction almost certain, and redemption almost impossible.


Now, what if my friend or the men in the car were less educated? What if her mind allowed a rampage of fear to call and demand justice against these men for scaring her in her front yard? What if these men did not know how to respectfully and calmly respond to the officers? What if they had seen police officers beat and abuse friends, colleagues, and neighbors? What if they didn’t have the resources to be playing a well-known game? What if they had made up a game? Would the police officers believe them? What if the officers didn’t believe they were playing Pokémon Go?


All of these questions never enter the minds of people like my friend. The consequences of slight alterations to the story never entered the mind of my friend. She just felt she had to call the police. And everyone and everything in the culture around her validates that mindset.


To me, it seems unconscionable to allow the potential for such harm to these two men, and to society, to honestly believe that calling the police was a justified response. But, I’m not allowed to speak against it in public. If someone were to say something completely irrational in any other context – like if she described how a dish came out of her washer dirty, so she threw the whole dishwasher away – people would immediately speak against outlandish ideas. But in the context of fear and police and criminal justice, we’re not allowed to question her rationale. Me? I murmured something to my wife, she shushed me, and the party went on. I wish I felt comfortable enough to question her actions. But the result would have likely been a more forceful shushing, hurt feelings, distance created, others’ encouragement of fear, and ultimately, love being lost.


How has society gotten to this point? How has this accusatory system of fear grown to be so monumentally accepted?


Fear is winning.


Our societal response to fear of any kind is to rely on police officers, who job description is to issue out fear to all accused. I imagine and hope and pray for a world that relies on love in response to fear, not police officers. I am thankful for police officers who recognize this and miraculously operate with love. We need more who can put a love response in front of their job descriptions, training, and guns. We need to demand that love as a society and from ourselves.


And I won’t finish without addressing the even more obvious question in the story. The question that leaves my stomach dropped… What if the two men in her story were black?


Is our system racist? People can get by with nodding to messages of fear and simultaneously rejecting racism. But the realities in the difference of this story if those men were black sings a different tune. The mentalities and reliance and justifications of fear from this story are how each person in a system can deny racism, but the system itself operates with widespread racial discrimination.


Being a criminal defense attorney, my ears always perk to police comments for many reasons, but primarily because I think a lot about the role of police in our society and why and how they have affected our culture. I hope we all consider real consequences a bit more in stories that we think, “I had to call the police.”

Report from the Trenches

I’m an Orthodox Jew, and I spend a 25 hour period from Friday night to Saturday night, the Jewish Sabbath, in a tech lockdown. No TV, no phone, definitely no social media. When I checked my phone five minutes after the Sabbath ended that Saturday night, January 28th,  I was shocked at what I saw. I had heard something about the executive order before entering my electronic isolation, but I had no idea that while I was in my synagogue praying for peace in the world, the whole country was melting down over another Trump action. This time, I knew I had to do something. I was inspired to go and volunteer like the dedicated attorneys I saw fighting in JFK, and I dedicated my next free day to going to IAH to do what I could.


Oddly enough, the day started out at Hobby; I was picking up someone from the airport. She was an older, religious woman from out of town, and I knew right away what the rest of the car ride was going to be like when she asked me who I had voted for. We spent the next half hour going back and forth about Muslim Americans, America’s responsibility to refugees, security threat posed by terrorist organizations abroad, and the general fear that Americans have towards Islam and Muslims. It was something that was definitely on my mind already.

I got to IAH that evening not knowing what to expect. I had seen pictures with thousands of protestors, and I was afraid of what kind of chaos I would encounter. The scenes when I got there couldn’t have been further from the madhouse of the weekend. There were no protestors, just families waiting for their loved ones, chauffeurs milling about and chatting, and some tables by the Starbucks with a big sign saying free legal services. I walked over and introduced myself to an assortment of lawyers, none of whom worked immigration. There were PI attorneys, litigators, and a kid who managed his family’s IHOP that was helping with Arabic translation. We had no real instructions, just some general ideas of what we could do and what worked over the past 48 hours. We talked for 30 minutes about our practices and our politics, and about what was happening at other airports.

The first person that came over for help ended up having the same story as everyone we helped that day. Her husband was an Iranian and a legal permanent resident who had decided to fly home sooner rather than later after the ban had come into effect. She knew that he had been detained in secondary screening, which is meant for people on visas, but had no communication with him since. He spoke perfect English, had a masters degree, and a career here. His wife was calm, but obviously afraid. She said that he was actually supposed to be naturalized in two weeks.

We talked with her, told her the current status of the EO. We told her that it shouldn’t apply to her husband because he has a green card, and that he knew not to sign away his residency (as other border patrol agents had done across the country). We told her that we could fill out a form to be her representative to Customs and Border Patrol to see where he is, but that they probably would not tell us anything. Last, we told her that while we would do anything we could to help her and her husband, we were facing a situation where the law might not help. An immigration lawyer that came to help put it best: we weren’t practicing immigration law anymore, we’re practicing Trump law.

Thankfully, everyone that asked us for help eventually saw their loved ones come through the sliding glass doors in the international arrival section. When I left, there were still over a dozen people, all legal permanent residents, sitting and waiting to be released. They weren’t being asked questions about their supposed “increased security risk,” they were just made to sit and wait. An exercise in power to make them feel insecure about their legal rights because they were Muslim.

Listen, I understand that there’s a novelty to an Orthodox Jew fighting for Muslims to be able to freely enter the country, free from persecution. There’s a million reasons I could give why it shouldn’t be an amazing sight to see a man in a yarmulke working alongside a woman in a hijab to fight for an Iranian. I could say that so many in my community are the descendants of refugees from Czarist Russia, post-Holocaust Europe, or even from the waves of anti-Semitism that caused the Jewish population of the Middle East to flee from Arab nations after the creation of the State of Israel. I could say that I pray side-by-side with men who fled Soviet Russia and still bear the scars of Siberia. I could say that my wife’s family is only here by the grace of G-d that they were able to flee the Inquisition and pogroms.

The reality is that those experiences, the fact that my people have been refugees for over 2000 years plays only a part in why I helped and why the image of men and women torn away from their families strikes me to my core. My faith, my beliefs about humanity, center around the core tenet that we are all created in G-d’s image, and that I need to love every person out there as much as I love their Creator. Its something that I believe is the foundation of our democracy and our legal system, that everyone has inalienable rights because they are all equally valuable creations.

Its only shocking to see me working alongside Muslims for Muslims because so much of the world still doesn’t get that idea, that necessary belief that my Muslim friend is as much loved by G-d as my Christian friend, my atheist friend, my white friend, my black friend, and as much as me. That’s the message I think that we send as attorneys when we work together to help those targeted by these executive orders. The image of a diverse group of attorneys, working pro bono, against the odds sends an important message to the kind of thinking and thinkers that led to that divisive policy.

We were doing more than just filling out paperwork, talking with police, or even just counseling our clients; we were advocating for the core principals of a just society ruled by law, and no one could stop us.