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Texas Judges: Don't You Just Love Them?

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by Sherry Williams/KHOU 11 News

HOUSTON—A judge threw a 17-year-old 11th grade honor student from Willis High School in jail after she missed school again.

Judge Lanny Moriarty said last month Diane Tran was in his Justice of the Peace court for truancy and he warned her then to stop missing school. But she recently missed classes again so Wednesday he issued a summons and had her arrested in open court when she appeared.

Tran said she works a full-time job, a part-time job and takes advanced placement and dual credit college level courses. She said she is often too exhausted to wake up in time for school. Sometimes she misses the entire day, she said. Sometimes she arrives after attendance has been taken.

The judge ordered Tran to spend 24 hours in jail and pay a $100 fine. Judge Moriarty admitted that he wants to make an example of Tran.

“If you let one (truant student) run loose, what are you gonna’ do with the rest of ‘em? Let them go too?” Judge Moriarty asked.

Tran said she is working so hard because she is helping to support an older brother who attends Texas A&M University and a baby sister who lives with relatives in Houston. Tran said her parents divorced “out of the blue” and both moved away, leaving her in Willis. Her mother lives in Georgia, she said.

“I always thought our family was happy,” the teen said tearfully.

Tran lives with the family of one of her employers. They own a wedding venue. She works at the Vineyard of Waverly Manor on weekends and at a dry cleaners full time.

“She goes from job to job, from school she stays up ‘til 7 o’clock in the morning,” said her friend, co-worker and classmate Devin Hill.

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All this from a judge who probably doesn't understand the meaning of honor student or working 3 jobs to support family.

24 hours in jail and a fine, someone needs to back the girl up and point out the error in this judge's decision...oh wait, this is Texas where the governor is Rick Perry, never happen. Lots of small minds in charge there and none of them honor students.

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Texas is one of those states I wish WOULD leave the union. We'd be a better nation without them.

Hell, you notice that Mexico didn't try very hard to get it back. I have relatives who live there and they love the place, but scenery is one thing and politics quite another. I suppose to the rest of the nation anything associated with the name Bush leaves a bad taste. Sigh.

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In this great nation if you are a member of the white "majority" you can slip and slide through the rules and regulations. You can drive over the speed limit, you can go through the intersection even as the light turns red, you can jaywalk across the middle of the block to save the longer walk. You can go to school late or not at all.

BUT if you are a member of a minority you had better obey every jot and tittle of every regulation, and maybe even go slower than the speed limit in your car. Maybe even show up for school ten minutes early...and better not schedule any of those doctor appointments during school hours, so you won't be seen on the streets while school is in session. Need to work to support your family? Only on your own time, citizen. Never mind that the white boy next door gets excused from last period study hall to go to his job.

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Y'all wish we'd leave the union? On behalf of Texans, fellow citizens of the United States of America, thank y'all so very much. We love y'all too!

Before you dismiss my comments, think about this young lady's case. Do I think that judge made a bad decision? Yes. He should've decided otherwise and should have given her good advice. That's his job, and he missed the mark there, badly.

That young lady is trying to do too much at once. It's not sustainable. If she isn't recorded as attending or isn't attending classes, how is she going to graduate? In order to be up for truancy in the first place, this has to be an ongoing problem, not just missing a day here and there. It has to be extended. I don't happen to know the number, but it's something over a week or more, I think, and yes, they are supposed to deal with the parents first and then there's some channel (social worker, Children's Protective Services?) before it goes before a judge. So her case isn't trivial of just a few days. Yes, students can be put before a judge -- in any state -- for truancy. They can still be sent to schools for at-risk youth or youth with records.

Is she missing work too? Or those college classes? She can't "afford" to skimp on high school any more than she can on paying work or early college. Obviously, her high school record determines whether she can get into a four year college. Her grades are great, she has begun taking college credits and will have those. But if she can't make it to high school classes, chances are she's not doing so well in other things too. She is doing too much at once. Something's gotta give. Once she graduates high school, she'll have to attend college or postpone it and work, then try for college later, if she gets the chance. She'll still have to meet obligations at college and work, like showing up and staying awake and not skipping out. That's not heartless, that's very real.

She is trying to support her family. Good. Not good if she can't keep it up and collapses, flunks out, or loses a job. -- Both parents left them and she's supporting her family? Good grief, that's ridiculous. Go grab the two parents and make them both pay child support. Even though they are out of state, it should be possible to have them remanded to custody in their new states or sent back to Texas to face the court there. The real problem is the two parents have abandoned their near-adult or nowhere-near-adult children. No, I don't blame Miss Tran for trying to do the right thing for her brother and sister and herself and any other siblings. I would assume her brother's working too, or will be.

She needs help besides the understanding of her full-time and part-time bosses, and it is great that she (and her sister) have somewhere to live. -- Bad, bad circumstances for her and her family. They need something that can help them before things get worse. That older brother is going to have a hard time staying in college unless he has scholarships and can pay all the other expenses that go with college. If he's working, he likely is not making nearly enough to pay even a tiny portion of his college expenses. -- I attended Texas A&M. I have some idea of what's around there. Pizza or other fast food delivery isn't going to cut it. Part-time or full-time for some local company or a work program there on campus will not quite do it either. Yes, there are part-time and campus work positions to get a leg up and yes, those can pay OK. But they don't necessarily cover him. He'll go into debt and may not be able to make current expenses. Understand, the costs for a single semester are way about $30K now. He likely can't contribute any to his sisters' care. Even with a full scholarship and college loans, he'll be lucky to make it.

Given the ages involved, these students are the children or grandchildren of first-generation immigrants, Vietnamese refugees. These students' parents...should know better than to skip out on their children. Unconscionable. (I am presuming the parents did not actually go elsewhere to get work.) -- Education, hard work, and family are highly valued in Vietnamese culture. Hey, I went to school with Vietnamese kids, refugees directly from the war. One of my classmates refused to write his city of birth, Saigon, as Ho Chi Minh City, on his college applications, even if it cost him a college entry. (I would bet he got in.)

Well, anyway, good luck to them. They are going to need it.


About Texas and the USA:

The "all or nothing" response is exactly what's wrong in our country today. The comments above from people? Come on, y'all, stop and think! Just because the governor or various gubernatorial candidates or some seated judges don't use good common sense or sound judgment, doesn't mean all Texans are like that. Just because many Texans are against gay rights issues does not mean all Texans are. What about those of us who ARE gay Texans...such as my own city's mayor, a woman who has been publicly out and partnered for years before in her previous position as City Comptroller.

Now, I know Gov. Perry has said maybe gay Texans like myself should just leave, but I was born here just the same as he was. This is my home and it was my parents' home state. (My dad was born in Virginia, another state that has had its governor say on record that gay people should leave there.) Excuse me, but the governor does not have the right to tell a lawful citizen that he should leave, just because he's gay. Neither do people from other states have the right to say my state or myself should leave the union. You all do not live here. I do.

What would happen if Texas left the United States? Texas is home to a sizable percentage of the US population, with two of the top ten largest US cities, Houston and Dallas. Texas provides a large percentage of cotton, rice, wheat, beef, sheep, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit including citrus fruit, wine and beer, bread, and so on to the US grocery list. Texas is home to a major portion of the US space program and to major military bases and civilian international ports and airports and trade. Texas provides several major universities. Texas is home to several high technology companies, including major computer hardware and software companies. If Texas left the union, you'd suddenly pay higher import fees on TI calculators and chips, Dell and HP computers, much of your groceries, and so on, and you could kiss the space program, manned or robotic, goodbye. It would be huge hit to the US economy. It would be a huge hit to the Texas economy too.

I may not like everything my state or ny nation do, but I am proud to be a Texan and an American even so. I want to see real change, real improvement, for my state and my country.

Before you say an entire state full of fellow citizens should leave, please consider what you're really saying.

Do I think anyone really intended what they said? Yes and No; I think people were not really thinking about what they were saying. -- And I don't hold it against anybody. But it makes me unhappy to see people say things like that without bothering to think what it says to your neighbors and countrymen. I am just as much an American as you are, and I care just as much as you do about what happens in my country and my state and my world. -- And I expect better from you all (and from me, incidentally).

I don't think that Miss Tran was treated fairly by that judge's decision. His decision lacks the compassion and larger consideration that are as much required of him as is the letter of the law. His job is, or should be, to be fair and to be an arbiter of acts to improve and correct the injustices in the lives of the people on whom he's called to pass judgment.

Please, folks, this is about that young woman and that particular judge's decision. Making it about an entire state's worth of people, or that state's place in the union is no better than that judge's actions, now is it? Stop and think about what you say! This all or nothing crap does no good for anyone.

Thank you, that's what I had to say. Stepping down from the soapbox now.

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Ben, this judge is an idiot. He did it less to make an example of Diane Tran than to get state-wide and national attention. There's a term for that: Self-aggrandizement.

This is the second time Diane Tran was brought in front of this judge for being truant. So he knew about her job and family situation.

I have a question: Why didn't the high school Diane Tran attended provide assistance for her? Didn't they know? I would think that they had to know if she told the judge why she was a truant. She would have told that school administration when they gave her detention for being late. So, assuming that they knew she was working two jobs, one full time and one part time, to help support her two siblings, they did nothing for a student who is taking several Advanced Placement classes. She gets good grades: she's an honor student. The kind of mindset that doen't support a student like Diane Tran is the same mindset as schools that ignore bullying and physical abuse of their students. It makes me sick.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I think the judge, a woman, should be horsewhipped. What kind of justice is it if the judge says, "I don't care about the facts in the case, I just want to make an example of this child so other children don't do that same thing?" A judge is supposed to find on the merits of the case, which include looking at the facts, the reaons, the people, everything involved. She didn't so that, but simply followed her own personal agenda.

Maybe horsewhipped twice. And then throw off the bench.


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I haven't been in that judge's court to know for sure, and I don't recall from the last elections, but the article says he's a he. (That article and reporter are from one of my hometown TV stations.)

Oh, I agree, Colin. I think Diane Tran is fighting a one woman battle without support and against nearly impossible odds. She shouldn't be expected to be able to do all that alone. It's just not humanly possible. I'm not trying to fault her. ...And it's almost six months, and I still fight to overcome burnout and exhaustion, after getting through a similar situation. She has my sympathy.

The judge made a bad decision and it'll hurt an A student, someone who's working herself into exhaustion, to do right for her family. Yes, I got that she's an honor student, AP courses, early college, two jobs, and it's no wonder she has to sleep sometime. The judge ought to show a little understanding and compassion, which I'd said.

Colin's also right about the school, which I didn't address. Her school counselor, principal, and teachers ought to know what is going on with her. They ought to be willing to help in some way, instead of merely pursuing a court battle over truancy. This is again where compassion and willingness to help, to go beyond merely enforcing rules, for the betterment of that student (and current/future leader) enter into it. Punishing your very best and brightest, when that person is doing more than required of her in all ways, and when she (very understandably) can't be expected to keep up the pace with everything at once...sigh. The school system probably sees it as, "Well, if we give her special treatment, then we have to do that for everyone, and we don't have the resources." OK, fair enough. But would it really hurt to help just one student who needs it, before she burns out, collapses, or turns to things that will not help anyone?

The judge and school system may not realize the real lesson they've taught a good student: That despite all her best efforts to do the right thing, she's being punished for it by the very institutions that are supposed to care and help her get help out of that situation.

Yes, I agree, Colin, absolutely.

Cole -- I agree, that judge was just looking to make a statement that'd be a "tough on crime" sound bite, good for re-election. He wasn't looking at the particular person in the case before his court. Yet it is his responsibility to do so. That's why the blazes a judge is put on the bench as a judge. A good judge is not just someone who enforces the rules only, but who uses the power he or she is given to bring about positive outcomes. It's within that judge's purview to set up help for that young woman and her family. Instead...he tossed her in jail? What a terrible lesson to teach.

However, that judge will be up for re-election in his district or position, if not this election, then soon. If my vote has a say in his seat on the bench, I know exactly what my vote will be: NAY.

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One of the things that always sticks in my craw is when some overly-officious person wants to strictly enforce the rules, no matter what, and refuses to see the "shades of grey" in life.

As one example: I know of a case where a muscular, body-building guy was in the Army, in top physical condition. But they weighed him and said, "hey! You're 20 pounds overweight for your height! According to the rules, you're too fat, so you have to lose weight or we'll punish you." He protested, pointing out that he had a 30" waist and like 5% bodyfat, with very low cholesterol, but the Army rules were very specific. Obviously, this was not a fat, unhealthy guy... but they still tried to apply the rules to him.

A girl who's an honors student and several part-time jobs does not fit the usual profile of a truant who's goofing off, doing petty crimes, using drugs, and otherwise causing trouble. The judge should have said, "you know, normally I would sentence you to X days, but as long as your grades are high, I'm going to make an exception. I also request that the principal review this case and use better judgement to avoid wasting this court's time. Case dismissed."

How hard is it to say this?

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Judge Lanny Moriarty is in fact a man. He serves on a Justice of the Peace court in Conroe, Texas. The article says Diane Tran is a student at Willis High School, which I'm presuming is in Willis, TX or else Conroe, TX. -- I don't have a vote in either place, darn it, I'm in Houston.

Reporter Sherry Williams for KHOU-11 Houston, Texas, had additional coverage:


^ The article is the same as the article Cole quoted. There is also video coverage. Very telling.


^ Video coverage there too, and more details.

by KHOU.com Staff


Posted on May 25, 2012 at 5:28 PM

Updated Friday, May 25 at 6:33 PM


HOUSTON—People across the country have expressed their support for the Willis honor student sent to jail Wednesday night for missing too much school.

Diane Tran is often exhausted because she works a full time job, a part time job, and takes honors classes at Willis High. She is trying to support a brother in college and a little sister who lives with relatives. Her parents divorced and moved away.

Tran stood alone before Judge Lanny Moriarty Wednesday.

"Now this girl’s got a record, which could hamper her later in life," said KHOU viewer David Byrne of the Woodlands. "My immediate reaction was there’s something wrong here, so that’s when I got in touch with you guys."

Judge Moriarty is off on Fridays so he has not made a decision as to whether he will throw the case out.

"I hadn’t thought on that issue because it turns me, ‘Well, he’s soft. He’s not gonna do nothing.’ I’m taking off at 11:30 today," said the judge.

Tran says her future could be greatly hampered. She may want to be a doctor some day.

Many people expressed their outrage on Facebook.

"Don’t you feel safer now that an honors student has been thrown in jail? This is ridiculous," wrote Bill Palmer.

Some comments have been critical of Tran’s parents and now her friends say she feels she has shamed her parents.

Tran lives with the family of her part-time employer. They are working on setting up a fund in her name at a local bank.

Note the judge's comment.

The first video does state that the judge still has to consider the case and could throw out the case. If he does, then she would not have a record of jail time.

But at least from the video coverage, it doesn't sound like he will. I hope I'm wrong about that, but it doesn't seem so. To Sherry Williams' credit (the reporter) she was trying to advocate for Diane Tran.

The articles were from May 24th and May 25th, and the court will not be back in session until after Monday.

According to the second article and video, this has been getting notice locally (Conroe and Houston) and across the country...and it should.

I don't get why the judge would say what he said on camera, which gave a possibility he might reconsider, but said too that he doesn't want to appear soft on truancy. How short-sighted, and from a judge!

Her first court appearance was alone before the judge, with no one else there (except the reporter) so far as was reported. Couldn't the famiy she's with have shown up, at least for moral support, if not allowed to speak before the judge? I don't understand that one.

People who know Diane Tran, including the family she's staying with (her bosses at one job) are speaking highly in her favor.

Sad thing: She doesn't want to speak in front of the camera now, for fear of what else might happen. Worse thing: She feels she has "shamed her parents" and her family. No she hasn't. Her parents have shamed themselves and have abandoned and let down their children and their responsibilities. Diane Tran hasn't shamed herself or her family. She's done what's right, except in being truant, for which there are quite understandable mitigating factors. It's her parents who should be shamed. And I think the judge and the school authorities should be shamed too.

As one commenter points out, Diane Tran taking shame upon herself -- is the response of someone who's been abused, when all she's done is right. Truancy, tardiness, are understandable, given what she's doing. Sure, she needs to be in school, of course. But neither should she have to work two jobs and not get enough sleep, and neither should she have to be the only one supporting her family without help. -- And again, the judge and school are the very ones in position to see she gets help, not throw the book at her.

It's official (and bureaucracies') responses like these that send precisely the wrong message to our own people. The way to change it? Vote out people who don't act in the public interest. If the system is bad, then change the system. -- Things like this make me wonder how people can stand it. I have no sympathy for heartless bureaucrats who will not act for the common good. They need to be voted out or lose their appointed positions, in favor of people who'll do right by the people they are elected or appointed to serve. Officials govern by consent of the governed, the voters. They seem to have forgotten that.

Note: Conroe is north of Houston by a fair distance, but many people make the commute from there to Houston for work, hours each workday both directions.

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Guest Dabeagle

I'd love to agree with Ben for trying harder to look at all angles, and even agree somewhat with the 'all or nothing' argument. Unfortunately, I can't. So many Southern states follow the same BS - Tennessee has been making news in this regard, but really several Southern states have really made one wonder if there isn't some competition for the 'Most Backward State' in the union. I don't think, for the record, this is an all or nothing - it's a case of not even trying to be reasonable, not even trying to work towards everyone's benefit. I realize that, as I say this , you can point the finger at Ruben Diaz in NYS, but his kind are clearly on the wane here, overall.

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Apparently the point of school, according to this judge, is not to get a great education, which she is doing, but rather to show up and be there. Just 'cause. Sheesh, what weird mixed up priorities.

If she doesn't go to school, the school district loses money. Now, we sure as shootin' can't have that going on! It just ain't right, pardner! I'm gonna lock 'er up, throw away the key. That'll show her, dag nab it! Oh... wait just a min'... if she's in jail the school district loses money. Must be Obama caus'n this. Or sum'p'n.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Well, at least she'll skew the grading curve in the jailhouse.

OK, yeah, it sounded funnier in my head.

I still can't believe this one. If ever there was a way to turn a model citizen and student and future leader against the establishment, I think that judge found the way.

Court was likely in session yesterday, but I didn't check the news for any follow up. I'll check tonight.

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Thanks, E.J. -- If anything, that article makes things more muddled.

The first half of the article offers more static from the judiciary, but the comments should be noted.

I get the feeling there's more here than is being said.

Check the bit about the fund at the end. There's noble and then there's refusing help when it's offered.

This might be the last we'll hear about the situation, unless something else develops.

Strange, isn't it?

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Slight follow up, he still doesn't get it. Nothing new on Diane Tran that I found.


Judge in Diane Tran case: I will continue to be tough on truancy

by KHOU.com staff


Posted on June 1, 2012 at 6:10 PM

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas – A Montgomery County Precinct 1 judge who initially sent a truant honor student to jail for contempt of court says he is dedicated to making sure children in his precinct get their high-school diplomas.

Judge Lanny Moriarty became the focus of public outrage after charging Diane Tran, an A-student at Willis High School who’s missed 18 days of school this semester, with contempt of court and sending her to jail for a day.

Tran’s case went international, with many supporters accusing Judge Moriarty of being too harsh on the teen, who reportedly missed school because she was exhausted after working two jobs to help support her siblings.

After Houston attorney Brian Wice took on Tran’s case pro bono Wednesday, the judge decided to dismiss the contempt charges.

But in a statement released Friday afternoon, Judge Moriarty said he was only concerned with the well-being of Tran and other young people in his precinct.

"[i have] an acute awareness of the dangers [young people] face in society and a genuine determination to provide whatever guidance or assistance might be necessary to guide them on the path toward a successful future," Moriarty wrote.

While declining to discuss the specifics of the Tran case, Moriarty said his intent is and always has been to make sure students earn their diplomas.

Under state law, any student between the age of 12 and 18 with more than 10 unexcused absences in a six-month period is truant.

Tran had appeared in truancy court before and was given a court order not to miss any more class. When she had additional absences, Moriarty charged her with contempt.

"Regardless of how high a student’s grades may be, if they have too many unexcused absences they will not receive credit for their classes. When a student who has already been to court and been court-ordered to attend school each day continues to have unexcused absences, additional steps must be taken to enforce the law that is meant to ensure they complete their high school education," Moriarty wrote.

Despite the reversal of the contempt charge in the Tran case, Moriarty said he plans to continue to be tough on truancy.

"I will continue to hold students, and sometimes parents, accountable for unexcused absences as we work to reduce truancy, lower the dropout rate, and instill in tomorrow’s leaders the belief that rules and laws must be followed by all for society to properly function," Moriarty wrote.

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