Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of eight columns on the criminal justice system in Galveston County and the third from the judge’s perspective.
Bill Sargent, who authored this series for The Post Newspaper, is a former Chief Deputy Clerk of Elections in Galveston County and is a member of the Galveston Citizens Police Academy Alumni.
How do you know whether to sustain or overrule an objection?
Both Judges Kerry Neves and John Ellisor said it comes from experience. “If you haven’t tried a lot of cases as an attorney before becoming a judge, then there is a learning curve,” Neves said. “It’s more than just having a law degree, its actually trying cases firsthand.”
If the question or the witness’ response is too flagrant that it could impact the trial’s outcome the judge may need to declare a mistrial. However, “the appellate courts have opined that jurors listen to judges and follow the instruction to disregard,” Ellisor added
What if the jury made a bad decision?
“What the jury finds goes,” Neves said. “This applies to the finding of guilt or innocence in a criminal case as well as the penalty phase. In the latter, if the jury disregards my instructions (e.g., sentencing a person to life when the law only allows 2-10 years), then I can send them back to change it, so it is within the guidelines. However, this seldom happens in real life.”
How does a change of venue work?
“I have never had such a request,” Neves said. “But if we grant a defense motion for a change of venue, then the entire court – the judge, bailiffs, court reporters, and attorneys – all move to the new location. The only change is that the jury pool is different.”
How about determining bond amounts?
“I rarely see the initial request for bail,” Ellisor said. “That’s usually done at the magistrate level. Issues of bail normally come to me after the time of arrest when one of the parties says it is too high or too low.”
How’d you handle claims that an executive order has gone too far?
Both judges said these kinds of case are more likely to go before a federal court. Both indicated if they got such a case, they’d first look to the statutes upon which an executive order is based to determine whether there is legal authority for its issuance and also look at whether it passes constitutional muster.
What Has been your greatest challenge in being a judge?
Both judges said one of their initial challenges was keeping their mouths shut on how attorneys should present their case. Neves said in the beginning he was concerned he would become bored. “I found out I’ve never been bored,” he said. Ellisor said he had to remember he was not an advocate for one party nor the other.
What part does your faith play in being a judge?
“My faith doesn’t impact my job as a judge,” Neves said. “Nor do my personal feelings. I don’t interject them into my judgements.”
“Faith plays a big part.” Ellisor said. “It is about integrity. Being the same person no matter where I am, with the Truth being my guide in any setting, professional or personal… …I often pray for wisdom, to be fair, and to treat people as I want to be treated.”