May 7, 2020 5:17:47 PM

The Future of the Legal System: A Conversation with Judge R.K. Sandill

Brian Beckcom

Brian Beckcom

May 7, 2020 5:17:47 PM

In this episode, Brian Beckcom speaks with Harris County Judge R.K. Sandill about how our judicial branch is serving on the frontlines of democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Sandill also offers his advice on dealing with adversity and treating each other with kindness during challenging times. 

They discuss: 

  • Judge Sandill's battle with cancer and the perspective it gave him for taking on difficult challenges in life
  • Public health, safety, and jury trials 
  • How judges in Houston and across the country are taking unprecedented steps to keep the wheels of justice rolling
  • "COVID-19 Courts" 
  • How Zoom may have changed the legal and judicial landscape forever
  • His thoughts on mindfulness during the pandemic and how to avoid being blinded by immediacy
  • The value of compassion
  • And other topics  

Judge R.K. Sandill is a thought leader. He is a civil court Judge in Harris County, the second-largest filing jurisdiction in the country. Judge Sandill grew up in a military family and went to high school in England before attending the University of Texas in Austin. Sandill was elected as Judge at the young age of 32 and has routinely made an impact in shaping a judiciary which is now renowned as one of the youngest, most sophisticated, and progressive court systems in the nation.

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[00:00:00] Brian Beckcom: [00:00:00] Hey everybody, I've got,  judge Ravi sandal here.  judge sandal, as you've heard in the introduction is Harris County district judge. And this is a real,  for me as a lawyer because judge sandal has been one of the leading juror as one of the leading figures down at the courthouse in Harris County.

[00:00:24] And,  putting together the efforts to try to keep the wheels of justice rolling. During these very, very strange times we have. So, first of all, thank you for coming on today. How are you doing? 

[00:00:37] Judge Sandill: [00:00:37]  you know, I'm doing as well as can be. I want to thank you for having me. You know, I've heard of Brian back on for quite some time.

[00:00:45] I know you've had some cases in my corporate, I think this is the first time we've actually sat down and talked. 

[00:00:50] Brian Beckcom: [00:00:50] Yeah. Yeah. And you know, it's interesting because before the,  before we started this interview, of course, I would do a little bit of research. You know, [00:01:00] if you're a lawyer in Harris County and you don't know who Chad sandal is, you're not paying that much attention.

[00:01:05] But, but I learned some interesting things about your back. So before we get into.  some of the things that you and the other judges are doing in Harris County, why don't you tell us,  the listeners who aren't lawyers, who may not know, who you are, a little bit about, you know, who you are, where you come from, a little bit about 

[00:01:25] Judge Sandill: [00:01:25] your background.

[00:01:26] Well, you know, it's, I, I'll give you the abbreviated version. I can give you the long version later.  but you know, both my parents are immigrants. They both immigrated from India to Canada separately. I was actually born in Toronto. And then my dad immigrated to the States. My family immigrated to the States where my brother was born in Philadelphia.

[00:01:46] And at that point, when I was, I want to say six or seven years old, my dad joined the U S military,  the army first. And he spent a tour at Fort hood in Texas and then decided he wanted to [00:02:00] switch over to the air force. And so. Well, I was an air force brat,  from that point until I graduated from high school.

[00:02:08]  I went to high school in England, spent,  three and a half years at like any American high school there, and then went on to UT. Did you teach for years?  while I was there, I was involved in,  in federal government. Worked a little bit with representatives doggit, worked with,  Senator Kerry at the time, who later became secretary Kerry.

[00:02:30] And then,  did white house advance,  the president,  and the first lady of Bill Clinton and, Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton. I was trying to figure out her title 

[00:02:45] Brian Beckcom: [00:02:45] at the time, 

[00:02:47] Judge Sandill: [00:02:47] and I did some work. The white house of the white house has counseled his economic advisors as well while I was,  while I was an undergrad and then came to law school, continued doing my advance work for president Clinton.

[00:02:59] And then after [00:03:00] graduating clerk for a year,   with justice co and the first court of appeals and then went into private practice.  and then sort of, that's when my life sort of went off script and I was diagnosed with cancer about three months into my practice,  did a first line treatment for about eight months, relapsed, and had a STEM cell transplant.

[00:03:22] And then,  know, got back on the horse about four to six months later,  continued my practice. And then in 2007, I was asked to run vocally on the democratic ticket,  for judicial spot. And you know, there hadn't been a democratic elected in Harris County since 1994. And so I'll tell you this, I went to my judge who was elected the last time he was elected was as a Republican.

[00:03:48] And I asked him what he thought. He said, listen, rather, he goes. You know, they're asking you today if for some reason the Democrats win and you're not on that ticket, they're not going to ask you again. [00:04:00] And I was like, and I was like, I don't know if that's a compliment or what that is, judge.  and so I decided to run, and you know, it was elected in 2008 in November.

[00:04:12] And you know, he came a judge at the age of 32 and it was a interesting experience. 

[00:04:17] Brian Beckcom: [00:04:17] Yeah, I'll, I'll bet sir. So,  let's break that down just a little bit. So,  my father was in the air force two and I moved around quite a bit growing up. I lived, I was born in Barksdale air force base, Louisiana and,  lived in upstate New York where my brother was born and then lived on the Guam islands for about six months because my dad was flying.

[00:04:40] B 50 twos over Vietnam and I lived in Kansas and then Carswell air force base where we're, so we, we moved around quite a bit. I chose a and M over Texas, although I did, I did go to trade school in Austin. I tell people 

[00:04:58] Judge Sandill: [00:04:58] I can. 

[00:05:00] [00:05:00] Brian Beckcom: [00:05:00] But,  yeah. So, so tell us a little bit about, and then I have a history in my family of cancer too.

[00:05:09] My mother died when I was 10 of cancer, and actually that's, now I end up ultimately becoming a lawyer because my dad,  it was very, very bad,  malpractice by the United States government. My dad sued the United States government, which is, you know, it was very, very difficult to do. And yeah. And, uh. And so that kind of inspired me at a young age to become a lawyer.

[00:05:34] But tell us a little bit about, if you don't mind, how your, whether it's your military background or the experience with,  surviving cancer or your experience and DCR or all that stuff, how, how has that,  impacted kind of your views of the legal system and kind of what you do as a judge? Well, 

[00:05:55] Judge Sandill: [00:05:55] you know, and Brian, you've been in my court.

[00:05:57] I mean,  I am, it's, [00:06:00] it's an interesting place as you probably tell other, I mean, it's, uh. I don't fit any mold. Right. I mean, I'm, I'm Indian.  I was the only South Asian everywhere I lived.  and I mean, and that was, it's interesting growing up that way in the military because it's not like the military is not,  it is not homogenous at all.

[00:06:22] I mean, it is there definitely, it is a mixed race community. Absolutely. At the time that, that I served, my dad served, there weren't any of me. Yeah. And so I always have to find a way to fit in. And that's sort of,  that's helped me, I think in one way because I've had to be adaptable my entire life. But also at the same time, I've never felt like I had to fit in into,  and I can always give me a little bit of room to be me.

[00:06:51]  the cancer, I think, you know, I was diagnosed at the age of 26, and the good thing about being. The good [00:07:00] thing for me that what came out of cancer was at the time I, I was 26 I'd seen most of the world. I'd had a lot of experiences that most people will never have in their entire lifetime. So I mean, as scary as the was.

[00:07:14] I had done a lot and I was, I was aware of that. I mean, I was blessed and I've been blessed my entire life. And,  so the cancer diagnosis is scary, but dying without, I didn't have that sense of like, you know, I didn't get to do this. I didn't get to do that cause I'd done so much. But it also, it makes you a little bit brazen, right?

[00:07:32] When you're 26 and you've sort of been told, you know, there's a 50, 50 chance you're going to survive. It's pretty advanced cancer. You sort of live life to the fullest. And I, I sort of,  I'm always ready to come out the gate as fast as 

[00:07:47] Brian Beckcom: [00:07:47] possible. 

[00:07:48] Judge Sandill: [00:07:48] And so I think it, it kind of, it's a little bit frustrating to others, but I think for me, I, I doing things that I feel are right, I'll do, I won't let perfection be the enemy of [00:08:00] good sometimes.

[00:08:01]  I'll come out the box and I'll set up. A system or a procedure, and it may need to be tweaked, but I think it's what it needs to be done to, to make things work for the betterment of, of the legal system. And so, you know, I think, you know, sometimes, you know, I can rub people the wrong way, but you know, I'm not doing it for me.

[00:08:23] I'm doing it because I think it's what needs to be done to make things more equitable and usually more economically efficient. 

[00:08:32] Brian Beckcom: [00:08:32] You know, I remember growing up on some of these military bases and you talk about the diversity there.  there would be a, there would be a Protestant religious service, a Catholic religious service, and a Jewish religious service.

[00:08:45] And that was it. And if you were Methodist or Baptist, or,  it was just all one service, but it was, it would be so neat because, you know, I would get to go to these,   Protestant services, and there would be these. Southern [00:09:00] Baptist gospel choirs that I would have never gotten a chance to see had it not, 

[00:09:03] Judge Sandill: [00:09:03] not 

[00:09:04] Brian Beckcom: [00:09:04] been in the military.

[00:09:05] And I also got a chance to see a lot of different places, meet a lot of different people. I've got friends all over the world and that is a, that's had a big influence on me as well. I think judge, it's fair to say, and I want you to talk a little bit more about this because you were talking about thinking outside the box.

[00:09:23]  and, and, and being creative as a lawyer. And I think it's fair to say, I don't think this will be too controversial to say that lawyers have a reputation sometimes and judges of being a little reluctant to change, like a little reluctant. We like doing things a certain way and we're a little bit hesitant to try new things.

[00:09:46] And so obviously. You know, we don't have any choice right now, 

[00:09:50] Judge Sandill: [00:09:50] I don't think. 

[00:09:51] Brian Beckcom: [00:09:51] And so you've always had a reputation as being one of the judges that that really kind of looks around the [00:10:00] corner and tries to make things better and more efficient. So let's just jump right into it right now. Tell the ladies and gentlemen, they're listening to this podcast right now that live in Harris County.

[00:10:11] What, what the judges, what you and some of the other judges. What, what you have done and kind of made sure the wheels of justice keep moving forward and what you've got planned for the future and just let us know kind of how the justice system is going. And judge, I think it would also be fair to say that,  some of the things you're going to talk about are happening in other jurisdictions as well.

[00:10:36] So this is not just for Harris County. This can know you don't live in Harris County and a lot of our listeners don't. You're probably going to have some judges and lawyers in your community. That are doing the same or similar thing. So Jesuit, what are we doing to keep things rolling? 

[00:10:51] Judge Sandill: [00:10:51] Well, let me, let me give a little plug to the judicial branch, right?

[00:10:53] I mean, we're the least,  the least vocal. However, we're where people [00:11:00] hate democracy. I mean, we're on the front lines of government.  as I tell my, my panels of jurors that come in, I got very few of you will ever be elected to the legislature and even, even fewer will be an executive. But every single one of you gets to participate as a member of the judicial branch today.

[00:11:17] Yeah. And so we're on the front lines of this, and I think it's incumbent upon us to protect the people. And when it comes to a public health pandemic and a public health emergency, the first issue was, you know, what do we do with so many people to come down to serve as juries? I mean, our, our entire form of government is built on people coming in and making it work.

[00:11:41] But we also have to protect those people. So that was, I think the first act we did was the canceled jury service. And as you know, in Harris County, we've canceled jury service through the end of may. We're trying, we're trying to find ways to have jurors on standby because there are some [00:12:00] cases that weren't a jury trial.

[00:12:02] So if you, let's say, Brian, you get sick and you refuse to quarantine, and we say, no. You know, the government says, Brian, we're going to have to quarantine you. That's a fact question whether or not you need to be quarantine. So that's chapter 81 and you have a right to jury trial. Yeah. But that's the type of case that it's incumbent and it's.

[00:12:25] We have to get you a jury cause we need to get you quarantine if you're a risk to the public. And so we're trying to figure out ways to do that.  I think most courts other than the criminal courts have done away with personal appearances and I in, in the criminal courts, they've done, it's very few personal appearances have to be done.

[00:12:43] And they're trying to socially distance air as well. Going forward. I mean, we're looking, we're already looking past may,  the federal courts in the Southern district. I've already said there'll be no jury trials through July 6th at least.  going forward, [00:13:00]  we're discussing if we were to ever, the next time we bring in members of the public to serve on jury duty, where do we bring them in?

[00:13:09] Brian Beckcom: [00:13:09] The questions I was going to ask you upfront. I mean, I went to jury service. I couldn't have been more than about five or six months ago. And of course, in Harris 

[00:13:18] Judge Sandill: [00:13:18] County, you're in the 

[00:13:18] Brian Beckcom: [00:13:18] tunnels and there's hundreds and hundreds of people there, and you're all packed in close together. So I think a lot of us are wondering if you ultimately get called for jury service this year, where do you go?

[00:13:30] Judge Sandill: [00:13:30] And that's what we're trying to figure out. I mean, it's not only where do you go. Right? It's where, what location will you meet? I mean, in Travis County, you know, they're, they're a much smaller County than Harris, but they have an eye jury system in which,  you email or you check in online, I think a week or two before your jury service and you submit your email address and they, they email you where to go.

[00:13:55] So you show up at the courtroom or on the floor that you're supposed to be at. The concern [00:14:00] that we have in Harris County currently is under the public health emergency. We're not allowed to have more than two people per elevator, which 

[00:14:07] Brian Beckcom: [00:14:07] is another thing that Harris County has a little bit of an issue with since the hurricane is.

[00:14:13] Yeah. The facilities, they were damaged by the hurricane, the elevators. And some of the other facilities have not been repaired. 

[00:14:20] Judge Sandill: [00:14:20] And so, I mean, and so you know, Brian, and I'm going to answer, I'm going to try to unpack that cause that creates a lot of issues for me as a judge. And I think, and for the public as well, we have,  we have suffered from Harvey.

[00:14:34] It was three years, three and a half years until our commissioner's court decided that we needed to fix the jury assembly room. Yup. Right. And so that works started, I believe in October of last year, and it's been interrupted a little bit by the pandemic, not much. There's still on schedule, from what I understand.

[00:14:55]  the one, the one bright spot of the pandemic is by the time we get back into the courthouse, I [00:15:00] think that everyone will be in their own building. Criminal judges will be in the criminal building, and the civil judges will have their civil building back.  but, but the real issue that Harvey plus pandemic has created is a backlog in cases.

[00:15:15] Yeah. Right. And so not only does this affect people who are serving as citizens, because people who serve as citizens, they'll come into the one 27th and we'll go, I don't believe that I'm sitting here on a 2015 case. Right. And that's my. And I say the same thing. I go, I don't believe that you're sitting here on the 2015 case.

[00:15:33] But you know, I've been made a part time judge had my courtroom two weeks a month for three years. And now with the pandemic, you know, I don't know when we're going to try 2019 cases, 2020 cases, 2021 cases, right? So we've created a backlog and you know, and as we've heard 

[00:15:55] Brian Beckcom: [00:15:55] from people who don't understand how the district courts work.

[00:16:00] [00:15:59] One of the things that I think most of the judges try to do is they try to give some priority to the older cases, right? And so now you can't always do that, but just so people understand what you're talking about, the backlog is in the older cases, the cases from 2015 2016 2017 and a lot of that has absolutely nothing to do.

[00:16:23] With the way the lawyers and the judges handle it is just hurricane Harvey in Houston particularly, really backed us up quite a bit. So, 

[00:16:32] Judge Sandill: [00:16:32] no, and so, I mean, that's a huge issue, right? I mean, the public's confidence in the efficiency of the judiciary is massive, but you know, we're not the ones who decide our budgets.

[00:16:42] We're not the ones who decide, you know, where our facilities are going to be. And so w we're hampered by that. And now we've got this added layer of making sure that. The folks that we bring in are safe. Yeah. From a public health perspective. Yeah. And so,  you know, going forward, I was on a [00:17:00] call yesterday.

[00:17:01] And one of the topics was where even if you were to get a jury, even if you could bring in members of the public to sit for what we call jury selection, or what the lawyers in Texas all for dire,  which is actually a French term.  but in Texas, we don't, apparently, we don't like the French very much.

[00:17:18]  but,  but even if we were to bring in a panel of people in, most, in most, most jury selections, excesses. 36 to 48 people on a normal case. That's how many jurors we bring in potential jurors. There's only four places in Harris County that we've located that we could do jury selection. 

[00:17:38] Brian Beckcom: [00:17:38] Yeah. And 

[00:17:39] Judge Sandill: [00:17:39] so, and that issue is we've got 24 civil district courts.

[00:17:43] We've got 60 district courts in Harris County. So if you've got four available spots for board dire, that means if you have to break that up, I mean, each court gets a case. Every 15 weeks. 

[00:17:56] Brian Beckcom: [00:17:56] Yeah, 

[00:17:58] Judge Sandill: [00:17:58] yeah. Right. So we're [00:18:00] really hampering,  the process in that way. And so. And you've got to understand, Brian, and I know you do have the public often made sense, understand that criminal cases get constitutional priority 

[00:18:12] Brian Beckcom: [00:18:12] for sure, and as they share it, but you know that that doesn't alleviate the concerns that somebody with a civil case may have, but all of a sudden now they've got to wait another year or two.

[00:18:25] To get their day in court. Well, you know, one thing I heard somebody mentioned a couple days ago, and I don't know if,  any of the judges or lawyers have thought about this, but has there been any discussion or thought about, maybe you brought up the example of somebody that needs to be quarantined, like basically a covert 19 court or like a separate court to handle issues related to the pandemic.

[00:18:53] Judge Sandill: [00:18:53] So there've been 31 judges, I think appointed statewide that are solely dealing with that issue, really have [00:19:00] sole discretion to deal with those quantity and issues and they actually have statewide jurisdiction. Okay. So,  if the judge here,  out of Harris County has judge,  Hawkins out of the 11th district court, Oh, she can exercise her authority uncovered 19 individuals anywhere in the state of Texas.

[00:19:17] Well, that's 

[00:19:18] Brian Beckcom: [00:19:18] really interesting. I didn't, how long has that been in effect, as I was not aware of that. I think a lot of lawyers, citizens in general, are going to be really interested to hear that. 

[00:19:27] Judge Sandill: [00:19:27]  I think that started. Mid March, end of March. I will say, of the leadership in Texas, and even even nationally, the Texas Supreme court's been pretty proactive.

[00:19:39] I mean, I will say that, and you know, this is the brag on Harris County, but what happens in Harris County happens in Texas. So we tend, we tend to lead the way, not only because we represent 6 million people, but I think we're a younger judiciary. We're a more progressive judiciary, and we're, we're more mindful of our communities.

[00:19:59] And [00:20:00] so,  you know, and I'm like, what was it last year, two years ago, I think I was a first court in the nation that did,  parental leave. And then,  starting last year, almost, I think half the Harris County judiciary adopted it. And now the Texas. Now, Texas is going to adopt it. And so, I mean, what happens here really leads the way, not only, and you know, I was on a call with Jason Adrian, who you probably know Brian the other day, and he said, I mean, he was in Missouri on a case and the Missouri judges were well aware of what was happening in Harris County and trying to follow the lead.

[00:20:36] Now what the Houston courts were doing, what we're the second largest filing jurisdiction in the country. 

[00:20:40] Brian Beckcom: [00:20:40] Well, you know, one of the things I was going to say, in addition to being a little bit younger judiciary, 

[00:20:46] Judge Sandill: [00:20:46] a little bit more 

[00:20:49] Brian Beckcom: [00:20:49] progressive in terms of the core system is also, I think it's fair to say that Harris County historically has had a very.

[00:20:57] Sophisticated judiciary. In other words, [00:21:00] I, and you could probably give us some examples. One day you may be trying car wreck over somebody with a, with a, with a bruised elbow, and the next day you're trying multibillion dollar antitrust case. Like we have the ability in Harris County and the sophistication in our judiciary to handle just about any type of case,  civil or otherwise, it comes up.

[00:21:24] And so. You know, I have seen, and I'll, I'll, I'll reiterate what Jason told you, that some of the other courts in Texas that I practice in front of are asking what we're doing in Harris County. Like they're specifically asking what we're doing in Harris County. And so, for instance, one of the things that Harris County has done, we're mostly, the judge in Harris County has said.

[00:21:49] Know, like, cause in a civil lawsuit there are certain things that have to be done before you go to trial. A lot of people's things watch TV, you just show up to court and then you argue your case. But there's depositions and [00:22:00] hearings and things of that nature. And so one of the things the judges in Harris County have done is they've said, if you want to take a deposition, which is just questioning witnesses under oath, we're normally altogether, you can do that by zoom.

[00:22:13] And it's not an excuse. For a lawyer not to show up because he's on Zam instead of in person. And that's really important because you know, you gotta keep the process moving forward. 

[00:22:29] Judge Sandill: [00:22:29] You gotta keep it moving. I mean, and you know, we went,  and when I say we, I use the Royal week cause I really, my team is way better than I am, but,  we've gone as far the one 27 to any time and, you know, and I'll explain a little bit more.

[00:22:44]  when someone seeks to find information that's all discovery. And a lot of times in order to stop that, the other side will follow like all the motion to quash, which means we don't want this discovery to go forward.  at the beginning of April, [00:23:00]  we instituted a rule that any motion to quash is automatically separate hearing within 96 hours.

[00:23:05] Yeah, we did that because we want people working. Cause what we don't want happening is. When we're ready to try cases, people have said, well, we still have all this outstanding discovery because we couldn't get a hearing or we couldn't get this, we couldn't get this done. We couldn't get that done. And we want to make sure everyone is primed to go to trial because you know, we all know both plaintiff's lawyers and defense lawyers know the really thing that gets, the one thing that gets cases to settle are real trial dates and 98.9% of all cases settle.

[00:23:36] Brian Beckcom: [00:23:36] Yeah. Yeah. You know, that's there. There's absolutely no question about that at all. The vast majority of mine that everybody that does what I do, as long as they're evaluating cases appropriately, the vast majority of the cases settled. But they only settle typically when there's an impending trial date.

[00:23:58] So that's, that's [00:24:00] really, really important. So, judge, let, let me ask you,  what, what do you. For see in terms of changes longterm, like in other words, do you foresee any sort of a change in the pattern of showing up to hearings in person? For instance, like, you know, it used to be before I was practicing.

[00:24:25] Hundreds of lawyers would show up on Monday and they'd be assigned to it, and they all be in the courthouse and they just get called to trial called the hearings and stuff. And then, you know, w w during our generation, your, your, your, your generation and mine, it's Friday morning or Monday morning, everybody shows up for hearings to you.

[00:24:44] Do you foresee that changing?  

[00:24:48] Judge Sandill: [00:24:48] and of course 

[00:24:49] Brian Beckcom: [00:24:49] it's going to change in the short term, but what are you, what are you saying beyond the short term that that kind of thing looks like? 

[00:24:54] Judge Sandill: [00:24:54] I think this is great for the practice. I think it makes,  the judges, the judiciary [00:25:00] much more available. I just think you're going to go back when it's safe to having in-person hearings.

[00:25:05] But what I also believe is going to happen, at least it's going to happen for me, is I'm going to set hearings every day. Yeah, and I'm going to set them during lunch or before. I know the jury is going to be there, and so if you have an issue, it can, it can be dealt with. The other thing is everyone has email, so if I need to get ahold of you and we need to have a hearing, I don't need to call you.

[00:25:25] I can send you a zoom invite. Yeah. And you know, I know you've received it cause it did bounce back and I can set it and I can give you two hours notice that we're having a zoom hearing on this issue and we, you know, you're available. And I think what we're going to see more and more of, because a lot of times in the more complex,  mostly, you know what I'd like to say catastrophic injury cases.

[00:25:51] You have site inspections and then you have issues that come up at a site inspection. But you can't really explain that to a court. But if you [00:26:00] set up a zoom hearing and the parties are at the site, it's a lot easier for the court to understand what's going on when the parties are actually were, where the, where the occurrence took place.

[00:26:15] So I think it's going to help litigation. I think it's going to help,  courts be a lot more flexible. And I think parties and you know, and the thing is we always say as judges, be careful what you ask for, right? If you really want intervention, I mean, we're going to give you intervention. You're going to get it much quicker now.

[00:26:33] It's not going to be, I don't think you're going to be in a situation where you're waiting six weeks to get a hearing date. Give me a situation where, Oh, you need a hearing date, hearing date three days. 

[00:26:42] Brian Beckcom: [00:26:42] So I'm smiling a little bit right now because I read an article yesterday or the day before about all the new excuses that people have with zoom meetings, right?

[00:26:52] So judge, just be ready when you send the Zim meeting to a lawyer for him to say, Oh, the microphone on my camera broke. [00:27:00] And so I can't get on zoom. But it was, it was a whole list of new excuses. You know, one thing I've noticed in a lot of my colleagues have noticed, judge, I'm curious whether this is intentional or this is just kind of how it's worked out, but a lot of the,  emotions and the, and the legal hearings and issues that we've had over the past three weeks, we can't do them, obviously in person or in some of the time you don't even do them.

[00:27:25] By video, but we've been doing it by submission, which for what? For people who don't know what that means, sometimes you have legal arguments where you, the lawyers are actually doing it like they do on TV, where they're in front of the judge and they're making their arguments. Sometimes you just do it on written paper.

[00:27:41] We call that submission. And one of the judge of the things, I've noticed is,  you, you and your colleagues seem to be signing orders at a absolutely furious. Hey, so like very, very quick and responsive. And I'm wondering whether that is, whether that was intentional, whether you all talk about it [00:28:00] or whether that's just kind of happened as a result of this pandemic.

[00:28:03] Judge Sandill: [00:28:03] I mean, I can, I can speak to my, my experience and my experience is I'm having fewer submission hearings and so on a normal week, and I, you know, I'm, part of this is just to give a a greater scope and, and go to the, and sort of Pat the Supreme court on the back. Beginning in March.  we've got,  we've got a group of judges on the 10th floor here in Harris County who are all basically the same age, who have children the same age.

[00:28:30] And so,  we talked about it and the judge Gomez, judge Carter, and judge Collier and I talked about this and we decided that we weren't going to do foreclosures or defaults during the pandemic. Is it just, a lot of times the default is when someone sues you. You get a piece of paper saying, I've been sued, and you just ignore it.

[00:28:48] Yeah. So once you receive that, 10 days later, they can come in and get a judgment against you.  and so we talked about it and,  decided that, you know, a lot of times what ends up happening is someone gets that piece of paper. They don't [00:29:00] have the money to afford a lawyer, so they just show up on the date of submission or the date of the hearing.

[00:29:06] And that does away with the automatic judgment against them. And we figured if we're in the middle of a pandemic, we can't expect people to show up. Yeah. So a lot of our traffic and what I'm getting at is a lot of our traffic on defaults. I pushed all the way to June 8th. Right. And then,  and foreclosures have been pushed off the June eight.

[00:29:25] Yeah. So those types of things that are a little bit more document intensive and take a little bit more time on our end to make sure all that all the I's are dotted and the T's your cross. I've gone away. Yeah. So we have fewer hearings on, on submission than we're used to. So you're getting them out. But I think there is a concerted effort in the judiciary not to create bottlenecks.

[00:29:46] Yeah. I mean, and so I think it's, it's to the benefit, cause I think, you know, at the end of the day, it's one of the very few professions where you, the people that, that make the decisions are, are the same as you. [00:30:00] We're all, we're all in this together. I mean, we're all lawyers. We've all been there. We all understand what.

[00:30:05] Making the rule, and regardless of whether it's right or wrong, that was to a case, it moves the case 

[00:30:10] Brian Beckcom: [00:30:10] forward. 

[00:30:10] Judge Sandill: [00:30:10] Yeah. So we're doing our best to make sure that the lawyers are able to do what's best in the best interest of their client and ultimately in the best interest of the people of Harris County.

[00:30:20] And sexist. 

[00:30:21] Brian Beckcom: [00:30:21] And, and S and so speak to this issue a little bit, judge, if you don't mind. So I think a lot of people have,  an image in their mind of the legal system of either being what they see on TV in terms of like criminal cases or big civil lawsuits and things of that nature. But the reality is you and your fellow judges handle a lot of what, what is basically kind of routine legal work.

[00:30:48] But without that legal work.  the, the economic machinery just grinds to a halt. So can you, can you tell,  can you tell us from your [00:31:00] view why it's so important? Set aside the big criminal cases, set aside the big civil cases. Let's just talk about why on a day to day basis, it is so important for the economy,  in Harris County in Texas to keep.

[00:31:17] The wheels of justice moving as best we 

[00:31:20] Judge Sandill: [00:31:20] can because we deal with real people and we deal with real dollars. I mean, six I've got, I'm running a caseload right now about 22 to 2,500 cases, 60% of which are probably valued under a hundred thousand dollars 

[00:31:35] Brian Beckcom: [00:31:35] yeah, 

[00:31:36] Judge Sandill: [00:31:36] right. But I mean, in the scheme of things, and when you think about lawsuits and you're talking about a hundred thousand dollars most people are like, Oh my God, why would you, I mean, that's a small amount of money.

[00:31:46] A hundred thousand dollars a lot of money for me. I'm sure it's a lot of money for you, Brian. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And the issue is, but, but these cases of all real Harris County individuals, not only that they represent, they're represented by [00:32:00] attorneys who make their money by defending or prosecuting these cases.

[00:32:04] And secondly, they Cate, and most of those cases, the 60% of those cases are usually involving some, some sort of insurance. 

[00:32:12] Brian Beckcom: [00:32:12] Yeah. So it also 

[00:32:13] Judge Sandill: [00:32:13] helps set premiums for Harris County. Right, right. I mean, we really, you know, I, I tell,  jurors when they come in, you know, we are the TMZ of Harris County. When you come into jury service.

[00:32:26] You know where the Twitter, where the Facebook were were, were where it's at. If you want the gossip, you get it at the courthouse. You find out who's died, who got married, who got divorced, who bought a piece of property. I love that. Yeah. And so, I mean, we, we're, we're making a difference incrementally every day for every person in Harris County.

[00:32:47] Brian Beckcom: [00:32:47] Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's what I think. You know, before I knew anything about it before I became a lawyer, saw what judges actually do on a day to day basis. [00:33:00] I didn't really appreciate how much non-criminal and non like big civil case work that judges did. So for instance, like if you have a family law issue, it's not like you can just call timeout.

[00:33:16] For the next three months. If it's an emergency issue. I mean, you have to, you have to get some relief from the court on some of these issues and you have to get it sooner rather than later. And so without that,  like we've been talking about that the whole system just kind of grinds to a halt. So judge, tell us, and by the way, I'm cognizant of your time and I appreciate your time.

[00:33:37] This has been super informative so far. 

[00:33:40] Judge Sandill: [00:33:40] Tell us, tell us about, 

[00:33:43] Brian Beckcom: [00:33:43] I think a lot of us in the legal community consider you to be something of a thought leader on the judiciary. And so tell us a little bit about maybe give our listeners both the lawyers and just the general [00:34:00] populous areas, County, maybe some advice on, on mindset.

[00:34:05]  some, some things they can be thinking about right now, whether that has to do any anything at all to do with it, Sherry, but just kind of tell us how you're looking at this time period right now. Like what, how are you seeing this and what are you trying to do personally or professionally? To get to get out the other end of this thing, either the same or better position as, as you went into it.

[00:34:33] Judge Sandill: [00:34:33] You know, we discussed a little bit about this before Brian. I mean, I'm reading a lot. I mean, I'm trying to read a book a week, a while we're under this and I, and I've been doing a lot of yoga. I've been biking a lot. I've been out playing ball with my 13 year old, but I think. And I've, I've stressed this for quite some time and I don't know, this was sort of, this hit a switch for me at 38, about five years ago.

[00:34:59] I mean, [00:35:00] I'd ask everyone to be mindful of everyone's humanity, right? It's, it is a tough time. I mean, even if you're not,  affected, your health is not affected. Your, you know, your finances aren't affected. It is a stressful, stressful time. And. When you layer other issues on top of that. I mean, it just, it's not, it's, it's not an additive process.

[00:35:25] It's an exponential. Amount of stress. Yeah. And so I think people, you know, at the supermarket or driving, you know, people are easily annoyed. And I think, you know, taking a step back and, you know, like those old ads we used to see, you know, take 10 seconds before you react, you know, take some time. And I think we need to be a little bit more open,  to outside the box leadership.

[00:35:51] You know, I, I think we need to. Not try to solve problems like we've solved them in the past because this is not, this is unlike any problem we've [00:36:00] seen in our lifetime and in generations. I think the last time we saw something like this is 1918 during the swine flu.  and you know, and I'm, I'm not the biggest fan of the president, but I will say when he talks about,  putting infrastructure spends in the stimulus, I think you've got to look beyond the pandemic, right?

[00:36:19] I mean, you've got to look at what do we need? How do we keep people employed? You gotta look at, you know, what, what are not, what's not? Let's not look at what step we take tomorrow, but let's look at the steps we need to take an 1824 36 months. Yeah. Right? We need the leadership with the vision. And I think we're, we're in a mindset, and I don't, I, part of this is media.

[00:36:42] Part of this is sort of, you know, we're hit, you know, we're, we're solving problems in 280 characters or less, but.  we sort of lose sight. We lose sight of the future because we're blinded by, by immediacy. Yeah. And I think [00:37:00] somethings, even though they, they look like they may have heard in the next week or two that they don't make sense in the next week or two, but if we play them out for weeks, months, or years in the future, I think it helps us dig out of the hole,  that we're in.

[00:37:13] And there are no fault of anybody's, I mean, this is. This is nature. And I think we just have to be a little bit more forgiving on not only of our, our local and national leaders, but also of each other. 

[00:37:28] Brian Beckcom: [00:37:28]  

[00:37:29] Judge Sandill: [00:37:29] I can't tell you how 

[00:37:29] Brian Beckcom: [00:37:29] happy I'm that you said that. I can tell you a personal experience I had with that.

[00:37:35] So,  I was listening to some podcasts and some reading, some other information sources in January that really frightened me. And it wasn't that I knew anything about virology or epidemiology, it's just that I kind of knew who to listen to. And so I was listening to these scientists and they really scared me a lot.

[00:37:56] And I started getting on social media in early [00:38:00] March, basically trying to warn people about this, and I was extremely frustrated because it, it was like I couldn't get through to about half the people. That follow me on social media and, and looking back, I frankly, I think I was being a little bit of a jerk about it, and you know, because I understood it, but there's a lot of people that either didn't listen to the podcast or didn't have it read the same stuff.

[00:38:26] And it doesn't mean they're bad people. It doesn't mean they're have bad incentives or morals or anything like that, but, but you know, some, I think it's so easy to fall into the social media trap. It's just yelling at each other. And if somebody thinks differently from you about, for instance, what we should do right now about open the economy, it's so easy to just tell them they're wrong and tell them they're stupid or tell them they don't know what they're talking about.

[00:38:55] And, and that, that, as you and I both know that not only does it work, [00:39:00] that's probably gonna cause whoever you're talking to, to, to dig in. So I've tried really hard to be a little bit more compassionate. 

[00:39:09] Judge Sandill: [00:39:09] And I, you know, and to that point, I mean, I think, you know, I've been doing this this last week, and,  going into may, we're going have to continue doing it, but being, being mindful of the people that are invisible to us.

[00:39:20] All right? The people who stock our groceries, the people that have to show up at work,  and you know, and appreciating them and just, it is,  we often live lives, and I mean, not. I, I don't know what the lives of your, of the majority of your listeners or viewers are, but I mean, I live a very privileged life and,  everything, you know, I know it doesn't happen automatically, but things happen that I don't know how they happen 

[00:39:49] Brian Beckcom: [00:39:49] and, 

[00:39:50] Judge Sandill: [00:39:50] but I know there are other people involved and you know, to be thankful and taking a moment of gratitude, even if you don't, if you don't do anything, but just, you know, just to think of it.

[00:39:58] And so the next time you see. [00:40:00] The person checking you out at the grocery store and they screw up, you know, ringing up your orange, you know, 49 cents instead of 29 cents. You know, having a little bit of a, a little bit of a pause and just understand that they're human too, and they're, they're in a place, and not only do they, are they, they're not only dealing with this code situation, but they're being put in front of people on a minute by minute basis.

[00:40:23] Right? It's just,  it's, it's, it's, it's an interesting time. 

[00:40:28] Brian Beckcom: [00:40:28] You know, it's very, very interesting time. And in some ways I think if we look, if, if we look at this situation the right way, if we're mentally flexible in some ways, we have a tremendous opportunity here. There's virus.  this pandemic I think has opened a lot of people's eyes about some of the things you're talking about.

[00:40:50] Like the, the, the people that without them, we do not have a functioning society. And they are so critical to our society. [00:41:00] And yet, like you said, they're invisible to us most of the time. And that, you know, if anything comes out of this, maybe kind of refocusing our attention on. What's really important in our country, and, and focusing on maybe some different values and priorities.

[00:41:20] So, judge, let me ask you this question. What do you see as a, as kind of a thought leader, what do you think? Let's, let's not talk anymore about the next couple months. Let's talk about the next six months, eight months, 12 months. What do you, what do you say?  the future holding. 

[00:41:40] Judge Sandill: [00:41:40] I think,  in terms, do you want me to talk about the judiciary?

[00:41:44] You want me to talk about 

[00:41:46] Brian Beckcom: [00:41:46] whatever's on your mind? Whatever's on your 

[00:41:48] Judge Sandill: [00:41:48] mind? I think you have a more mindful populace.  I think you have people that understand the risks,  of going out and doing things. And. You know, and when judge , who's our [00:42:00] County judge here in Harris County, tells people that need for mass for 30 days and people,  lash out at her for whatever reason.

[00:42:07] I think when you see others taking it seriously, you understand that it's serious. And even if you disagree,  and you have every right to disagree that you understand these, these issues are serious and they're going to affect a lot of people. I think you see a world that,  puts a lot more focused on family.

[00:42:27] Brian Beckcom: [00:42:27] Yeah. 

[00:42:28] Judge Sandill: [00:42:28] I mean, because you've been stuck with your family now for, you know, 60 to 70 days. I think you're gonna see a higher focus on family. I think you're gonna see a higher focus on cohesiveness within your own sort of community unit, whatever that is. If it's just your immediate family, or if it's you and your friends and I, and I think you're going to see a lot more appreciation.

[00:42:49] Of people. I really think you are, and I think longterm, I mean, if it were up to me, and this is some, this is all outside of my ballywick, but I mean, if you [00:43:00] can lose 30 million jobs in four weeks tying employment. I mean tying health insurance to employment is the silliest thing in the world. 

[00:43:09] Brian Beckcom: [00:43:09] Do you know where that comes from?

[00:43:11] Do you know where we originally tied 

[00:43:13] Judge Sandill: [00:43:13] labor unions 

[00:43:14] Brian Beckcom: [00:43:14] now it was actually after world war two when the veterans were coming back, they were offering benefits because they couldn't pay them enough money and income. 

[00:43:21] Judge Sandill: [00:43:21] So point is 

[00:43:23] Brian Beckcom: [00:43:23] it was a complete historical accident that insurance is connected to employment and I couldn't agree with you more.

[00:43:29] Well. Well, judge, I know you, you've got to go. You're, you're super busy. You've got thousands of cases. You're still in charge of not, not all of your cases, but now you've got to organize all of us lawyers and help with,  just keeping everything moving forward. I got to tell you, this has been,  getting an hour of your time has been,  extremely, extremely valuable to a lot of people.

[00:43:55] I think in Harris County, I think a lot of people are gonna really like here. And. What'd you [00:44:00] have to say? And I think this is going to hopefully give both lawyers and the citizens generally confidence that our judges and our legal system is on it, on top of things as much as we can be. So judge, before I let you go, tell, tell a total at the listeners where they can find you online.

[00:44:23]  whether you're on Twitter or Facebook or your website, where can I find you if they're looking for you? 

[00:44:29] Judge Sandill: [00:44:29] My website is judged Sandell, S. A N, D, I L l.com. I'm pretty active on Twitter at RK. S. One, two, seven. T. H. Okay. Yes. One 27.  and then I've got a Facebook page in my own personal Facebook Facebook page, and then a judge, our case Sandel Facebook page.

[00:44:47] I'm pretty active on all my social media.  and, you know, I think mostly it's because it's fun. It's an outlet.  and,  and then secondly, I think it's, you know, it's, at some point I [00:45:00] like to give, I like to let people know that judges actually have a voice and think outside of what they do in the courtroom.

[00:45:08] Brian Beckcom: [00:45:08] As I said, it's been a. It's been a huge privilege and a huge pleasure. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you setting aside an hour of your extremely valuable time, and I hope we can do this again sometime soon. And if you need anything from the lawyers’ side of things, just let us know and we'll do whatever we can to help you with what you're doing and your colleagues with what they're doing.

[00:45:34] Judge Sandill: [00:45:34] Well, Brian, thank you for thinking of me. Be safe and take care.