Friday, April 29, 2011

Texas Woman Sentenced to Probation for Underage Drinking in Her Home

If you are the parent of a child who has not yet reached the age of twenty-one and that child asks you to make alcohol accessible in your home for his friends, the answer always needs to be "Absolutely not!" Your decision to offer your kids alcohol or, at the very least, leave it somewhere that they can drink it without your knowledge, can result in legal consequences and, even worse, human tragedy. Just ask Hutto, Texas resident Donna Crites.

Crites was arrested last year after her son and some of his underage friends made Jell-O shots in her home and then one of the consumers of the shots, who was only nineteen, drove his car into a utility pole and three of the five passengers in the car were ejected. Several of the young men and women suffered brain damage, one is partially blind, and another endured multiple fractures.

While the underage drinkers testified that Crites directly handed the alcohol to them, she maintains that she did not actively take part in the drinking preparation but did leave rum available in an accessible location. She was sentenced to three years' probation and must pay restitution to the accident victims. She also will serve three days in jail, followed by two additional days on the anniversary of the crash for the next two years.

What do you think is the responsibility of the parent in such situations? If she is truthful in insisting she just left the alcohol where her son could find it, does that mean that parents should not have alcohol in the house at all when minors are present? Or, does there just need to be more discretion in how the alcohol is handled?

If you are facing criminal charges, from a misdemeanor to the most serious of felonies, the criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Every person, regardless of the crimes for which he or she is being accused, deserves thorough and aggressive representation. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Texas Rep. Ron Paul Announces Exploratory Committee

As we all know, presidential campaigns seem to grow longer with every election cycle. In fact, it's surprising that at least one candidate did not announce his exploratory committee while standing on one of the floats at President Obama's inaugural parade. While no Democrat has stood up and declared a desire to challenge the sitting president, there have been several Republicans who have taken the initial steps necessary to participate in debates and, of course, raise money. We now have a Texan included in that group.

Representative Ron Paul, who has run for president twice before (as a Libertarian in 1988 and as a Republican three years ago), announced this week that he has formed an exploratory committee for a possible run in 2012. This means he will be taking part in the first Republican debate, scheduled for May 5, along with several other men who have publicly stated their interest in a run.

Paul is the oldest potential candidate at this point for that coveted seat in the Oval Office, being seventy-five years of age, but he comes with a galvanized group of supporters and name recognition that has heightened since his last effort. Time will tell if his exploring leads to the decision to enter the race as a declared candidate.

What are your thoughts on Rep. Ron Paul's third try at the presidency? Does he have a message that you believe will resonate with voters?

At Bertolino LLP, we have election law attorneys who are experienced in areas of voting rights, campaign and election laws, and election challenges. If you are a member of Rep. Paul's team, or any other person considering a run for office, and you need legal representation to ensure that all of your rights leading up and on election day are protected, we can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let's discuss strategy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Transgender Marriages May No Longer Be Legal in Texas

The fight over the legality of gay marriage is one that continues to be fiercely debated in state houses around the country, and it is unlikely that this issue will cease to be a hot topic in elections at any point in the near future. Meanwhile, though, there is another community fighting for their right to be married in the state of Texas.

Texas passed legislation two years ago that included an amendment allowing transgendered men and women to use proof of their sex change as documentation for approval of a marriage certificate. With the sex of one partner effectively changed through surgery, the marriage would be considered one between a heterosexual couple. However, Republican lawmakers now want to remove that provision, stating that the Texas Constitution defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and a person's gender is determined at birth.

The sponsors of the legislation are using a 1999 ruling by a state appeals court, which stated that, when concerning marriage, gender identification cannot be changed. Also, they assert that the provision allowing someone who has had a sex change to marry was quietly tucked a large piece of legislation and Governor Rick Perry never intended to sign such a idea into law.

What are your thoughts on the rights of those who have completed the sex change process being allowed to marry? Should Texas keep this law on the books, in line with most other states in the country? Or, are the legislators on the right track in their attempts to repeal the law?

At Bertolino LLP, we have experienced family law attorneys who are ready to guide you through all of the difficult issues that can arise concerning marriage, parenting, divorce, and other emotional situations. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today and let's discuss how we can help you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

James Franco to Study in Houston

Texas is already home to a wonderful variety of artists, musicians, athletes, and other celebrities Linkwho share their talents with our state and the rest of the world. Now, it appears that Houston will be rolling out the welcome mat for yet another high-profile resident next year. Oscar nominee James Franco will be joining the University of Houston's doctoral program for creative writing in fall 2012.

Originally accepted to start this year, Franco has asked to defer his studies until next fall and gained his admittance to the program based on his writing samples, letters of recommendations, and a personal statement. I have no doubt that his diverse portfolio of achievements--ranging from co-host of the Academy Awards to a role on a daytime soap opera--made for some interesting reading material to the academics who reviewed his application.

The University of Houston boasts a very selective creative writing graduate department, accepting only 20 applicants from the approximately 400 who apply every year. So, we will see if the inspiration provided from his fellow outstanding classmates and the amazing city in which he will be living will lead to some great writing material.

We hope that Mr. Franco enjoys his time here in Houston without any problems or difficulties. However, if he encounters any legal issues while enjoying his time in our state, the celebrity law attorneys at Bertolino LLP will be ready to help. We are experienced in working with high-profile clients and will provide the discretion and diligent representation that will keep their reputation and career intact. We welcome James Franco or any other celebrity to contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office at any time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Texas Legislators Look to Limit Junk Food

It is difficult to argue against the fact that we have an obesity problem in the United States, and particularly so in Texas. Nearly thirty percent of our state's population is considered obese and that number is expected to climb by nearly fifteen percent over the the next three decades. What is more difficult to determine, however, is the role that the state government should play in addressing the problem. Some legislators in the Texas House believe that one step to take is limiting the unhealthy foods that can be purchased with food stamps.

There are several bills before Texas legislators right now that focus on what can be bought with government assistance. One bill wants to stop the purchase of chips, candy, cookies, and sweetened beverages with food stamps. Another wants to restrict foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar, and refined grains. And, still other bills call on the federal government to ban certain foods from food stamp receipts across the country.

Those who favor such measures believe that something must be done to curb the obesity epidemic that shortens the lives of many Texans and leads to billions of dollars spent on medical bills and lost on diminished worker productivity. Opponents argue that the bills unfairly target the poorer members of our state who are simply trying to stretch their money enough to get food on the table for the entire month.

What do you think? Should the government play a role in deciding the groceries that people can purchase, particularly with food stamps?

If you feel like you have faced discrimination or unfair legal hurdles based on your race, gender, age, or even income level, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. This includes any hindrance you may face in providing for your family. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Texas Lawmakers Consider Bill That Would Expand their Gun Rights

Some people get really emotional about the more controversial bills that are debated in the halls of the Texas State Capitol. While protests and strongly worded letters usually provide the needed outlet to express one's disappointment with a particular vote or the lack of attention a certain policy is receiving, some of our elected officials seem to worry that political anger may be taken to a more violent level.

Several senators, representing both major political parties, have proposed legislation that would allow state officials and lawmakers to carry weapons into places that serve alcohol, sporting events, churches, and hospitals. Currently, only judges and prosecutors are exempt from the ban that is in place at these locations.

The bill was crafted, in part, as a response to the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was attacked by an emotionally disturbed young man who critically wounded her and killed several others. Supporters of the bill argue that lawmakers are regularly put in vulnerable positions like the one in which Giffords found herself and more protective measures must be taken.

Some who oppose the bill do so because they believe the Second Amendment should apply equally to all citizens, not just those in the public spotlight. Others simply don't like the idea of anyone walking around with a gun at all times.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has already approved the measure and it now waits to be reviewed by the full senate.

What is your opinion on extending carry rights to our elected officials? Should this same right be given to all Texans or should guns be kept out of certain places altogether?

If you are accused of a crime involving a gun that you were not allowed to carry, the criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP. We will work diligently to defend your rights every step of the way. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Speed Limit to Increase on Texas Highways

Have you ever driven on a highway in Texas and wished that you could get to your destination just a little faster without the worry of being stopped by a police officer for speeding? Well, the Texas House voted unanimously today to make that possible for you.

Assuming HB 1353 carries through the Senate with equal ease, which it is expected to do, the speed limit on major state highways would be raised from 70 mph to 75 mph on September 1. The bill also would remove the current requirement for motorists to lower their speed by five miles per hour after dark. Texas is the only state in the country that has a different speed limit after the sun goes down.

Supporters of the measure argue that the increased speed limit has proven safe in several other expansive states and that Texas highways will be made more efficient with the ability to move at a faster pace. Those who oppose the change, though, assert that any increase in speed leads to more of a chance for collisions and that those collisions will be severe. Also, they believe that even the best headlights and street lamps cannot fully compensate for the diminished visibility that comes after dark.

Texas already has an 80 mph speed limit on some rural highways, particularly in the western part of the state, and last week the House approved raising that limit to 85 mph on certain roads that were certified by engineers to handle the speed.

What do you think about the likely change to our speed limit come this fall? Will this improve movement on our highways or lead to more tragic accidents?

If you have found yourself in trouble with the law for your actions behind the wheel of a car, the criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our offices in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio today and let's discuss your case.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Texas State Legislators Unanimous for Property Rights

If you like where you live and you don't want someone telling you that you must move in order for a new store to be built or so that the government can use your property to make money, you can thank your legislators in the Texas state legislature for taking further steps to protect your beloved home. Today, the Texas House voted unanimously in favor of property rights, the same vote of confidence that was given earlier by the State Senate.

The eminent domain bill would ban any governmental entity or private organization from taking private property unless it was intended for public use. The government also would have to pay relocation expenses for those landowners who were forced to move and make a good faith effort to purchase the land from its private owner before condemning the property and taking ownership of it that way.

The bill now returns to the Senate in order for that body to review and vote on some changes made by the House. Once approved by both chambers, the bill is expected to be signed by Governor Rick Perry.

At Bertolino LLP, we have attorneys who are experienced in the area of eminent domain and are ready to help you if your home is being threatened. If you believe that you are being asked to vacate your property without justification or that you are not being sufficiently compensated for such a move, we can help. And, we certainly will be following this bill as it proceeds through the final stages of becoming law so that we are ready to represent you under the new guidelines. Please contact our Austin, Houston, and San Antonio office today to discuss your case.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Sanctuary Cities" Bill Divides the Texas House

If the Texas legislature is in session, you can be sure that controversial measures regarding immigration law are being discussed. From border enforcement to fining employers who knowingly hire people here illegally to the education of children who have come across the border with their parents, this topic always raises emotions and voices. The "sanctuary cities" bill that is up for a vote and likely will pass with ease along party lines is no exception.

This bill, HB 12, would prohibit local cities, counties, and other governmental entities from passing laws that would deny a member of law enforcement from asking someone who has been lawfully detained or arrested about their immigration status. If passed into law, this bill also would prevent local authorities from interfering with investigations by federal immigration officers while at municipal or county jails.

This measure would not go as far as the Arizona that made international headlines and caused months of heated protest as it would not mandate the questioning of one's immigration status, but just make it possible to do so without interference from elected officials at the local level.

While there are no costs associated with the bill at the state level, many opponents have raised the concern that the law would cost individual cities millions of dollars in additional jail space and staffing needs.

The bill has made it out of the State Affairs Committee and now will face its test on the House floor.

What do you think of HB 12 and the effort to allow police officers the discretion immigration status? Is this a step in right direction concerning immigration policy or a bad bill?

At Bertolino LLP, our immigration law attorneys follows all of these stories closely and know the latest in immigration policy at the local, state, and federal level. If you are need of assistance concerning an immigration matter, please contact our offices in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio today and let's discuss how we can help.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Texas House Passes Texting While Driving Ban

If you just can't wait until you have finished driving home from work to send a text message to your girlfriend about dinner plans for that night, Texas legislators want to make sure that you face a consequence for making such a poor decision. With the commonly understand conclusion that texting while driving is more dangerous than getting behind the wheel after drinking, the Texas House approved a bill yesterday that would make the act illegal throughout the state. If also passed in the State Senate, Texas would join thirty other states that have already banned the practice.

The bill, HB 243, would still allow drivers to read messages while operating their moving vehicle and the sending of texts would be permissible as long as the car is stopped at traffic lights or stop signs. Those drivers found in violation of the law when it goes into effect on September 1 would face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $200.

The bill passed in the House with a overwhelming vote of 124-16, with most lawmakers arguing that texting is a lethal threat on our state's roads and there must be some effort to curb the reckless behavior. The small group that opposed the bill stated that they did not like the idea of government banning certain driver distractions while other dangerous practices, such as eating food behind the wheel, still occur every day. Also, they argued that the law will be difficult to enforce.

What do you think of a statewide texting while driving ban? Is this a needed step? Will officers be able to enforce the law?

At Bertolino LLP, our criminal defense lawyers keep up with all of the latest news coming out of Austin so that we are best able to represent you and protect your rights. From a misdemeanor to the most serious of felonies, we can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Texas Man Receives Stay of Execution for Second Time

Texas is the state that leads the nation in the number of executions it carries out every year, a status for which it is both admired and condemned, depending on one's opinion of the death penalty. However, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider arguments against a Fort Worth's man execution in a case that could lead to revisiting the status of many other men and women on death row.

The execution of Cleve Foster, who was convicted of a rape and murder that took place in 2002, was delayed just hours before he was set to die when the Court decided to review evidence that Foster's attorneys in both his original trial and during the appeals process failed to provide adequate representation. This is the second time that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued such a stay, the first one taking place just minutes before Foster's scheduled execution in January .

At the same time, the Texas Supreme Court is reviewing a motion by Foster's attorneys concerning the drugs that are used in the three-drug cocktail used to put prisoners to death. In particular, they are concerned with the newly included pentobarbital, a drug that is typically used in euthanasia for animals. If our state's Supreme Court agrees with the protests raised against this drug, the ruling will impact many others who are awaiting that ultimate sentence on death row.

If you have been accused of the most serious of crimes, or you already have been convicted but maintain your innocence, the criminal defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. We are experienced lawyers who are committed to keeping up with court decisions and legislative actions that affect crime and punishments. We will fight for your rights in court and be by your side through the appeals process if your previous representation failed you. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Shooting Hogs and Coyotes from the Sky

If you are a farmer or rancher looking to make some extra money in an economy that has been difficult recently for people who make their living off the land, the Texas House just passed a measure that may help you in your search for income. By a vote of 137-9, the legislators offered their support for Texans to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from a helicopter.

This hunting practice is already legal in instances in which the landowners pay a contractor to take a seat in the helicopter and aim at the animals. With this new legislation, Texans could sell seats and the opportunity to shoot to other individuals for a profit.

The animals that are the target, literally, of House Bill 716 are seen as a nuisance and pests to many in the area. In particular, the one to four million feral pigs that reside within the borders of our fine state cost us $400 million in damages every year.

Opponents of the measure, and apparently there are not many, at least not in the House, criticize the practice as barbaric or state a concern for the safety of innocent people who may be standing anywhere near the gunner's line of fire.

The bill must now go to the Senate, a body in which it is not expected to receive such an overwhelming endorsement.

What are your thoughts on the for-profit hunting measure approved by the House today? Are these animals, which are present in every Texas county and seemingly in greater numbers all the time, really a problem that needs to be addressed? Have you had a negative experience dealing with coyotes or feral hogs where you live? Please let me know your thoughts!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Family Planning Services the Focus of Drastic Cuts in Texas

As states across the country are dealing with the reality of decreased revenue, some tough decisions are being made in state legislatures and governors' offices concerning the budget and which programs are going to receive less funding in the next fiscal year. In Texas, one contentious area of spending that is set to be the target of significant cuts is family planning services.

The initial budget that was proposed and put before the politicians in Austin already removed more than $25 million from family planning; amendments that have been proposed since would add another $61 million to the cuts. All that would be remaining in the budget for family planning clinics would be the $38.5 million required by the federal government to keep that money in the state.

While money in the state budget cannot be allocated specifically for abortions, it can be given to organizations that provide abortions as one of their services. Republicans are using this fact as a rallying point to support the budget-slashing amendments, and instead want to see money spent on other services for children or crisis pregnancy centers.

Opponents of these cuts argue that family planning clinics work to prevent unplanned pregnancies from occurring and actually save the state of Texas millions of dollars every year. These clinics, most of which would have to close if all of the budget cuts are approved, offer preventative medical care, including screening for HIV/AIDS and breast cancer.

What you think of the drastic cuts being proposed to family planning services, with the money reallocated to other services that are designated to benefit children? Is this a necessary step, or should our leaders being looking in other areas to save money?

Even in the emotional and personal issues that surround your family, there may be instances that an experienced attorney can be helpful. If you have any legal questions concerning your children or transitions that are occurring in your family, the attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.