I’m not originally from Hidalgo County, and until recently my most notable interaction with judges had involved reciting marriage vows. I’ve been blessed in that my in laws have been supportive and have remained my family even though I’d be delighted to never see my hubby, their son/brother/uncle, ever again.
My brilliant and clever sister in law, Sharon, may add Introducing Kelly To The Awesome OWLS to the karma IOU I keeping racking up with her!
Objective Watchers of the Legal System. In all of my ranting and rambling, I somehow hadn’t yet really brought up this volunteer watchdog group.
As I understand it, at any given time there are one or two dozen active members of the OWLS. The group formed in the 1970’s, and by attending city commission meetings, county forums, and as many cases in the county and district courts as possible, they have become a force that won’t be ignored.
You can’t miss the fire engine red shirts that the members wear when this human “parliament of owls” steps into the courthouse. When they stepped out of the elevator on the second floor of the Hidalgo County Courthouse (at my request, to attend a hearing in my divorce) every attorney present took notice. It was a delicious moment when they sat down in my courtroom…and the opposing council asked in a panic “What are the OWLS doing here?!”
The answer to that is simple. They are there to watch. They aren’t attorneys, elected representatives or members of any of the cabal-like families that tend to dominate valley politics. They are citizens who let the ones who make decisions, interpret law, and are accountable for taxpayer money, know that the public they pledged to serve, are paying attention.
The OWLS take copious notes during public hearings, trials, meetings. They report on any indescrepancies between what the public is told and what is actually said or done, abuse of power, waste of resources, ethical conflicts or old fashioned stupidity. Their various avenues of reporting make me think of an analog Twitter – retweeting the facts to their fellow citizens, the media if they feel a spotlight is needed, and contacting professional (like the State Bar) or more regulatory organizations with critical complaints. Their quiet but vivid red presence serves as a warning to those who would prefer a less informed public: you work for the people, and you will be held accountable for your actions.
The OWLS don’t sue, have rallies, hold office, or provide legal assistance. The organization isn’t part of a political party. I’ve never heard of them asking for donations of anything but the time of other concerned citizens, and I think that the members cover any costs associated with their service to the community, out of their own pockets – fuel, parking, copies of documents… and the infamous red logo shirts.
I cannot thank effusively enough, Fern McClaugherty and the several other members who : generously spent entire days sitting through the coma inducing tediousness of district court. Visibly rattled the cages of attorneys who (in my opinion) are ignorant, unethical, and are almost certainly the soulless undead. Reaffirmed my lofty opinion of several attorneys I consider The Good Guys (Javier Pena, Jaime Drabek, Rene Guerra and my father-in-law, Rafael H. Flores Sr) when those same lawyers had nothing but praise for the watchdog group. Most importantly to me, they were moral support and a reminder that I wasn’t alone, not to give up, and that justice will (eventually) prevail.
I encourage anyone on the docket in Edinburg, Texas to invite (or beg) the OWLS to be in the courtroom. Unless you happen to be one of the vermin with parents of questionable morals, who is inclined to retain the services of an ethically bankrupt lawyer who apparently isn’t confident in his ability to be a GOOD attorney, and so chooses to rely on stalling and sleight-of-motion tactics to compensate for ignorance.
In that case, you don’t need luck or truth. Just a willingness to purchase what you lack. And a place to store your conscience.