First Lakay Roberts
Now Diane Tran
What is going on in Texas?
With the jailing of Texas honor student, Diane Tran (see new links below), by Houston Justice of the Peace Lanny Moriarty ( http://judgepedia.org/index.php/Lanny_Moriarty, http://www.mctx.org/courts/justices_of_the_peace/justice_of_the_peace_pct_1/index.html ), the Texas educational system continues to generate controversy. Last month, I blogged on, and began organizing for, Lakay Roberts, a brave five year old girl with severe cerebral palsy in New Caney, Texas. Since March, she has not been allowed to use her walker by the very educators who should be celebrating her achievement. (http://www.rethinkingpatientsafety.com/my-blog/2012/04/let-lakay-walk.html and https://www.facebook.com/groups/letlakaywalk/)
In an unusual ruling being followed by international media, Houston Justice of the Peace Lanny Moriarty had Diane Tran handcuffed and arrested in court. He sent her to jail. Despite the publicity for "No Child Left Behind," Texas seems determined to leave some children behind.
Jailed: Honor Student Working 2 Jobs to Support Sibilings
A straight-A honors student at Willis High School carrying a heavy academic workload, junior Diane Tran also works two jobs to support two siblings. Her parents divorced and disappeared. Diane courageously assumed responsibility for supporting the children her parents left behind. Sometimes staying up until 7 AM completing homework assignments, Diane Tran has sometimes missed school as a result. When the school reported her absences, she was brought before Justice of the Peace, Lanny Moriarty. According to news reports, he warned her not to miss any more school. When she did, he jailed her for contempt of court creating a criminal record that could haunt her for the rest of her life.
Lanny Moriarty: "Make an Example"
According to many news sources, Lanny Moriarty explained that he was making an example of her. KHOU News quotes the judge offered this reasoning in support of his decision to jail Diane Tran:
"If you let one run loose, what are you going to do with the rest of them? Let them go, too?"
The story has gone international with articles appearing in Canada ( http://www.torontosun.com/2012/05/30/honour-student-jailed-for-missing-class ),
Australia ( http://www.news.com.au/world/honour-student-diane-tran-sent-to-jail-for-school-absence-under-harsh-texas-law/story-e6frfkyi-1226369371401 ),
Vietnam ( http://kenh14.vn/c4/20120530120822211/cong-dong-mang-my-quyen-gop-50000-usd-cho-nu-sinh-goc-viet.chn ) and
Great Britain ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2150123/Exhausted-honour-student-shown-mercy-jailed-truancy--Works-jobs-support-family.html?ito=feeds-newsxml ). An online fund has raised $100,000 in less than a week with donations from 50 states and 16 countries. With this press coverage, it seems likely that in the short run Diane Tran will receive the support she needs. The underlying problems need to be addressed. There are many community resources in the Houston area. Why were those supports not made available to this child?
Diane Tran - An Impressive Role Model
Diane Tran is a remarkable role model for any of us. When her parents abandoned their children and their responsibilities, Diane stepped up. Determined that her siblings would be cared for, she worked two jobs to support them. She maintained an A average carrying a difficult load of advanced courses. Few who read about her could have shouldered this burden. She did this after her support system, her parents, disappeared. Her resilience has been remarkable. One is reminded of John Kennedy's description of courage as "grace under pressure."
Lanny Moriarty, Justice of the Peace, jailed her. After he had warned her not to miss any more days of school, she did. Apparently, she was too tired one morning to get to school on time. For that, he jailed her. He explained that he intended to make her an example. Why? If anything, she deserved a standing ovation, an award, a celebration of her resilience under difficult circumstances. Instead, he jailed her.
One struggles to understand his motivation. Searching the internet for clues, one might trip across this web page apparently maintained by teacher Donna Moriarty https://sites.google.com/a/misd.org/dmoriarty/ .
"I have been working in the teaching field since 1991, most of my career has been teaching kindergarten at Montgomery Elementary School. I am a graduate of Sam Houston State University with a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education, a minor in Early Childhood and a Masters Degree in Mid-Management Administration. I am married to Lanny Moriarty."
I have not been able to determine if this is the same Lanny Moriarty, but if it is, one has to wonder. Moriarty admitted that he was trying to send a message. He did not base his decision on what was fair for this unbelievably hard working child. He was sending a message. To whom? To the students in his jurisdiction? To the teachers in the district? To the administrators?
We wonder about his motives. Was his decision influenced by his wife's employment with one of the local school districts? Every time Lanny Moriarty emphasized his intent to "send a message," he was suggesting that his goal was not trying to be fair to Diane Tran but to impress someone.
Lanny Moriarty should have recused himself from this case. Hopefully, an attorney for Diane Tran will file a motion to preclude any future involvement by Lanny Moriarty.
What Happened when Lanny Moriarty Broke the Rules?
Further searches for information about Lanny Moriarty suggest another reason for his harsh focus on Diane Tran's failure to comply with the rules. Lanny Moriarty has been embarrassed in recent years with his own failure to follow rules. In early 2009, the Texas Ethics Commission issued an eleven page order identifying numerous violations of election law. http://montgomerytx.countymonitor.com/files/2009/05/tec_moriarty_reso.pdf
In August of that year, it was reported that his court had more than 23,000 of the 1.7 million outstanding warrants in the Houston area.
http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2009/08/houston-swamped-with-warrants-for-petty.html. Apparently, the failure to comply with rules has been rampamt in Houston.
Lanny Moriarty failed to appreciate Diane Tran's courage and resilience. He could not understand what all his critics see so clearly: Diane Tran is a remarkably resilient and courageous young citizen. She deserves celebration, not punishment. Where was Lanny Moriarty's sense of compassion and justice? Why couldn't he understand that her parents had left and she was working two jobs in addition to attending school to support her siblings? Don't we expect judicial decisions to consider these factors?
Instead, Lanny Moriarty needed to "make an example" of Diane Tran and humiliate her by jailing her overnight? Why?
When he failed to follow the rules, the Texas Ethics Commission publicly chastised him. When the Houston courts failed to enforce 1.7 million warrants against Houston area citizens, the media raised embarrassing questions. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/1-7-million-warrants-out-in-Houston-area-1736210.php.
Given this background, it certainly is curious that Lanny Moriarty chooses this girl who tries to fill her parents shoes and support her siblings as the one he wants to use to "make an example." With all the resources available to him, he fails to follow election law. His court develops a backlog of 23,000 warrants.
And then he chooses to "make an example" of Dianne Tran?
What should have happened?
Both the schools and the courts should have mobilized Houston's network of social agencies to support these children. A few phone calls should have been made to try to find support for this brave young woman. I hope to supplement this blog piece shortly with some additional information in that regard.
What can we do now?
1. The first goal is to persuade Lanny Moriarty to remove his finding of her in contempt of court from Diane Tran's record. His contact information can be found here. http://www.mctx.org/courts/justices_of_the_peace/justice_of_the_peace_pct_1/index.html The fax numbers listed are (936) 788-8399 and (936) 788-8379 . Here are some of the applicable standards of judicial conduct.http://scjc.texas.gov/
2. Al Hoang, a member of Houston City Council, has taken up the cause. Expressing your support of Diane Tran to Councilman Hoang may help his advocacy on her behalf. ( Al Hoang website: http://www.houstontx.gov/council/f/index.html See this news article about Al Hoang's comments on this issue. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/05/30/group-raises-more-than-70g-for-texas-honor-student-jailed-for-truancy/?test=latestnews Phone: 832.393.3002 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
3. Diane Tran's courage should be celebrated. Can she be nominated for any awards? What groups in the Houston area give awards to students? Do any local organizations give awards for character or courage?
Can you suggest any awards?
4. You may want to support Diane Tran and her family with a donation or some supportive comments. See http://www.helpdianetran.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/HelpDianeTran.
5. Share with us your ideas about how we can make sure that this does not happen again, in Houston or elsewhere? Should some person in each state department of education be assigned the responsibility of ensuring that social services available in the community be accessible to staff at each school? Should someone in the legal system be assigned a similar responsibility? Is there a better solution? What do you think? What suggestions do you have? Share them.
We have to wonder how something like this could happen. How could it happen in America and in a large city like Houston with so many charities and great resources? Why weren't those resources directed towards Diane Tran until her jailing provoked an outcry? Likely, this is not the only case in which such circumstances exist. Can we both rally to the support of Diane Tran and try to think about how to prevent circumstances from evolving as they have in this, and similar cases? I hope to collect and share suggestions in future blog items on this subject.
News reports on
Justice of the Peace Lanny Moriarty
jailing honor student Diane Tran.
Links from body of essay: