AUSTIN, Texas — The longest-serving justice in the history of the Texas Supreme Court wasted no time with pleasantries in his "State of the Judiciary" address to the legislature Wednesday.
Justice Nathan L. Hecht dove straight into the impacts Hurricane Harvey had on Texas Courts.
"The Texas Justice System took a staggering blow," Justice Hecht said.
He asked lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 40 by Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to give the courts more flexibility when it comes to hearing cases during a disaster.
From Harvey, his address turned political.
"Historic as was the blow Hurricane Harvey dealt the Texas Judiciary, so was the blow from the November election," Justice Hecht said.
Hecht noted Texas voters elected 443 new judges; choices he implies were not well informed, but based on red or blue.
"Knowing almost nothing about judicial candidates, they end up throwing out very good judges who happen to be on the wrong side of races higher on the ballot," he said.
So, he's asking lawmakers for more qualifications for judicial candidates.
He also talked about the need for common sense reforms, starting with children.
"A 12-year old steals a car from a neighbor, and he is adjudicated in the juvenile system," he said. "There's no criminal penalty and no criminal record, for stealing a car. But a 12-year old who steals a $10 die-cast metal car from a general store is prosecuted in the criminal system for theft! For a Class C misdemeanor. It makes no sense."
Justice Hecht wants to keep kids out of the criminal justice system and dangerous criminals in with The Damon Allen Act.
"Trooper Damon Allen did not celebrate Thanksgiving Day 2017 with his family, as most of us did with ours," Justice Hecht said. "He was on patrol."
Just outside of Fairfield, Trooper Allen stopped a speeding car at 3:45 p.m.
"Trooper Allen returned to his cruiser to check the driver's license," Justice Hecht said. "The driver stepped out of his car with a rifle, walked back to where Damon was sitting and shot him. Again, and again, and again."
The 41-year old husband and father of four died with his gun still in his holster.
The man accused of killing him was out of jail on a $1,550 cash bond for having led police on a 105-mph chase. The judge that issued the bond didn't know he was previously convicted of beating a deputy.
"The killing of Damon Allen was not a fluke. A Judicial Council study shows that individuals released on money bond based on schedules are nine times more likely to commit felonies or other weapons offenses than when bond is based on objective risk factors," Justice Hecht said.
The Damon Allen Act would change how bond is assessed based by requiring magistrates to use a validated risk assessment program that gives them information about past history, something they don't have now.
Justice Hecht said the act would also require magistrates to set the least amount of bond for non-violent defendants, many of which can't afford bail and are therefore sitting in jail. He noted three-fourths of the current Texas jail population is people awaiting trial.
"Most of those detained are non-violent, unlikely to re-offend, and posing no risk of flight. Many are held because they're too poor to make bail," Justice Hecht said. "Though presumed innocent and no risk to public safety, they remain in jail, losing jobs and families."
"It's time, it's actually past time, to make sure defendants who pose no risk to the public are not jailed and those who do are."
Justice Hecht also asked lawmakers to pay judges more and equip them with more technology. But ended his address saying the state of the judiciary in Texas is strong.
Click here to watch his full address. (NOTE: Address starts at 2:10:20.)