When Hurricane Ike hit downtown Houston in the early morning hours Sept. 13, Harris County assistant district attorney Murray Newman (pictured) was among those watching the storm’s advance from the lobby of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center. “It was like a front-row seat at an IMAX event,” recalls Newman, who worked a 28-hour shift in the DA’s emergency intake division, screening and processing criminal defendants during Ike’s assault on the Houston area. Newman says the approximately 10 ADAs who staffed the intake division chiefly handled family violence offenders before Ike hit and then looters after the storm moved through. But, Newman says, despite being tired, he and the other ADAs watched with fascination as Ike blew through the downtown area. Whipped by the wind, the rain beating against the buildings looked like smoke, Newman says. “You could see all the force of the wind and the rain,” he says. “I was really kind of cool, if it wasn’t so scary.” But those at the criminal justice center also had to contend with problems. After the storm, one of the biggest problems was a sewage backup on the center’s first floor, Newman says. Harris County ADA Donna Hawkins, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, says the center remains closed today but that she anticipates it will open Sept. 17. “We’re waiting for approval from the fire marshal and building maintenance to make sure the building is safe,” Hawkins says. While the Harris County criminal courts have been unable to work in the criminal justice center, Hawkins says, the courts have been hearing pleas and conducting probable cause hearings at 49 San Jacinto. Fred King, spokesman for the Harris County district clerk, says civil courts are open today but are operating without juries. King says Harris County has canceled jury service through this week.
-- Mary Alice Robbins