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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Brent Webster- Smart, Charming, Running Hard to Be the Republican Nominee to Replace Cheryl Johnson

As candidates for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals go, he's young and he's fresh, he's Brent Webster, an assistant district attorney from Williamson County, running against Sid Harle for the Republican nomination for the seat left vacant by the leaving of Cheryl Johnson.
Born in Houston, he grew up in the Cypress-Fairbanks area there. His high school speech coach, Walter Willis, went to high school with me, and now works near me in The Woodlands in Montgomery County. He testified that Mr. Webster was an extremely memorable and talented student. After high school, Mr. Webster went to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas where he met the lady sharing the photo with him above, Amanda Webster, with whom he has three children, the youngest seven months old. A UH Law grad, he got his first job in the Williamson County Attorney's Office. Apparently Ms. Webster's parents live near Round Rock, and, this, Mr. Webster says, is why he started there. After five years as an assistant county attorney, he joined the D.A.'s office. A child when Michael Morton's case went down, his main professional memory of the thing was John Bradley's struggle against DNA testing for Morton. An admirer of Justice Antonin Scalia, Mr. Webster speaks well of his conservative, but protective of defendants' rights, decisions.

He does not appear to have ever run before for public office

Mr. Webster appears to have answered a question of a San Antonio newspaper editorial board with a reference to Mr. Webster's duty as a Christian to defendants before the court. I have seen a photo of Mr. Webster helping to lead children's church at the Crossroads Church in Austin-- I think he meant Crossroads Community Church, but it might be another. The first word in the first subhead of his web page is "faith." When I spoke to him on the phone, I did not get the smarmy, itchy feeling I get from some political candidates. Some political actors appear to have compartmentalized their religion and their actions in the world. Their religion only informs their actions in that the past was better was better than the present and that, therefore, oppressing women, homosexuals, racial or ethnic minorities, brutalizing the poor, and not observing limits on killing our adversaries in war, indeed killing our enemies preemptively are signs of the True Faith.  I heard him neither say nor hint at anything immoral or unethical. He may be like many people-- even most people-- who cannot distinguish morality from religious faith. A person would have to have a very narrow acquaintance for the only good people a person would know is a member of their own religious sect.
This leaves three possibilities for Mr. Webster:
  1. That he is a naif-- that he is speaking awkwardly about his morality, using religious language when he need not.
  2. That he is a person of faith whose morality arises in the context of his faith. What is needful for people to be productive and moral in our work and in the public sphere is much more common for people than what is needful for people in their inner lives to have right relation to the Divine. That he would think that he came to his understanding of justice through protestant Christianity, that justice is justice whether it come from a protestant Christian, a Catholic Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a nonreligious person, even a Hindu or Muslim.
  3. That his campaign ad copy and photographs are dog whistles for the Christian base of Texas Republican primary voters.
I tend to believe, and I am not alone in tending to believe that Williamson County is not fastidious about following rules and common court practices intended to protect the rights of defendants. Mr. Webster suggested that he and his friends in similar positions in the Travis County District Attorney's Office which has a much better reputation, compared the felony plea bargains they made with their respective defendants and that they turned out to be similar-- for whatever that's worth. 

He said that he thought that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals should not be a retirement court, that he reforms in mind to streamline processes there. He said that he supported working to sentence not necessarily longer, but smarter, and that he thought that non-violent offenders get overly long incarcerations in Texas (that might not mean shorter sentences, parole changes, etc., could be made).

I have no reason to think that he has any experience as a defense counsel at all.

He appears to be a hard-working, smart, charming, energetic fellow. If he fails to win, he will certainly be a person to watch for the future.




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