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Houston Chronicle
Section A, Page 13
Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2000

Hispanics protest order that mother speak English to child

Hispanic leaders on Monday demanded a judge rescind an order that requires a woman to speak English to her child and apologize for issuing it.
State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, said state District Judge Lisa Millard’s order violated First Amendment free speech rights by ordering Natalia Gonzalez to speak English to her 6-year-old daughter Carolina at home.
This type of “action by Judge Millard is frequently reserved for the kinds of countries that don’t have a democracy. I think an apology is in order,” Noriega said.
Noriega was among the Hispanic leaders who criticized Millard’s ruling at a news conference held outside the Family Court Building.
Joel Salazar, president of the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, said Millard revealed a bias against Hispanics and the idea that a bilingual education is as good as an education received primarily in English.
Would this judge would order a redneck to speak proper English?” Salazar said.

The court, we believe, was abusing its discretion,” he said.

Millard has come under fire after it was reported last week that she issued the order in spring 1999 following testimony from Carolina’s teacher that the child would continue to fall behind unless her parents spoke English to her at home. Her parents signed off on Millard’s order, and her father, Ramon Gonzalez, continues to support it.
Carolina’s parents are entangled in a custody battle in Millard’s family law court.
Natalia Gonzalez has asked that Millard be recused because, the mother’s lawyers say, the judge has demonstrated bias by requiring English be spoken in the home and failing to let the mother’s witnesses testify on her behalf at a May hearing.
State District Judge Fred Edwards of Montgomery County is expected to rule this week on the motion to recuse Millard.
At the hearing in May, Millard made changes in who has custody of Carolina and extended the order banning Spanish at home. Ramon Gonzalez’s lawyer, Tom Conner, said he put in the extension of the no-Spanish requirement when he and Natalia Gonzalez’s lawyer drew up the agreed-on order for Millard to sign.
Conner said court-appointed investigators were to have interviewed Carolina and other family members in the coming months before Millard decides on permanent custody arrangements. Conner said he sought to force the parents to talk English to Carolina so they wouldn’t speak to her in Spanish and tell her what to say when English-speaking investigators came.
Natalia Gonzalez’s lawyers didn’t oppose the ban on Spanish in the home in spring 1999 or May, Conner said.
Natalia Gonzalez has disappeared with the child, and she may have fled country, Conner said.

Houston Chronicle
Section A, Page 21
Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2002

No-Spanish order punctures First Amendment

Of all legal tangles, child custody cases are among the most complicated, emotional and difficult to devine.
The case of Natalia Gonzalez, her former husband, Ramon Gonzalez, and their daughter, Carolina, seems a textbook example of all of those descriptions.
At the heart of the case is a disturbing order issued by the state District Judge Lisa Millard in April 1999 that Natalia Gonzalez should not be allowed to speak Spanish in the presence of her daughter.
Teachers for the child had told the parents that she would do better in school if her English improved. Attorneys in the case say the Gonzalezes signed off on the judge’s order, this even though there is research to refute the belief that eliminating the child’s first language would help her in school.

Now attorneys for the mother are asking to have the judge recused from the case on the grounds that the no-Spanish ruling shows a disregard for the First Amendment and bias on the part of Millard.
It gets even more complex. Natalia Gonzalez was to have turned Carolina over to her former husband’s family Aug. 6, but didn’t do so and appears to have left the area with the child.

Attorney Richard Orsinger, who represents the woman, has argued further that Millard revealed bias when she threatened to put the child in a foster home if the parents didn’t work out a temporary custody arrangement. With this threat hanging over her, the mother signed off on the custody arrangement and the provision that she not speak Spanish to the child at home, Orsinger said.
Ramon Gonzalez’s lawyers argued Natalia Gonzalez is raising this issue as a ploy because his former wife is upset the judge took primary custody from her.
Another judge will decide whether Millard should indeed be recused.

However it all turns out, there is merit to the First Amendment portion of Orsinger’s argument, which is also being made by Latino community groups. We skirt dangerously close to losing a basic, right when we allow a judge, for whatever noble purpose, to dictate what we can say and how we can say it, even in our own homes.
The fact that the weight of judicial authority could have played a role in pressuring either or both of the Gonzalezes into signing away their free-speech rights ought to be al the more disturbing to all of us.
We understand that Millard had difficult and complex circumstances with which to deal. The no-Spanish order was issued, say attorneys, “mostly to prevent the child from being improperly influenced by either parent” during supervised visitations by non-Spanish –speaking personnel.
Sounds as if the court needs to hire more bilingual personnel.
Meanwhile, Judge Millard may want to think it all, for amid all the confusion one thing remains certain: With regard to the freedom of speech – in any language – the Constitution is in pretty plain English.

Houston Chronicle
Section A, Page 21
Friday, Jan. 30,1998

Man arrested by mistake had same license number as suspect
By Jerry Urban

A Houston man was released from a Northeast Texas jail Thursday after being mistakenly accused of a Chicago-area aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Othon Alfredo Diaz, 37, was arrested last Friday after Athens police stopped him for a traffic violation.
He was then held in the Henderson County Jail in the sexual assault case because he had the same birthday, Texas driver’s license number and Social Security number as Jose Alfredo Dias, the actual suspect, said Joel E. Salazar, the attorney representing the Houston man.
Dias was released after officials confirmed his fingerprints were not those of their suspect. But it’s uncertain how the suspect came to have the same Social Security and driver’s license numbers as Diaz, said Salazar.
Salazar said no lawsuit is expected to be filed against Athens police, because the men had “sufficient similarities” to cause confusion. Salazar added the Diaz family is not “litigation-oriented, and they’re not trying to take advantage of the situation.”
Diaz, who works at a Houston grocery store, was in the Athens area to buy a vehicle when stopped by officers.
The suspect remains at large.

Houston Chronicle
Saturday, Oct. 24, 1998

Hispanic groups want another grand jury to look at Oregon slaying
By Carlos Byars

Officials of two Hispanic law groups and the league of United Latin American Citizens called Friday for District attorney John B. Holmes Jr. to conduct a second grand jury investigation into the shooting death of Pedro Oregon Navarro.
They said the first jury’s failure to indict the six Houston officers involved on felony charges was a whitewash and that Holmes should recommend indictments to another panel.
Oregon was shot 12 times in July when the six officers raided his apartment looking for drugs.
One was indicted on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespassing.
The other five were nobilled. Holmes has said he never asks grand jurors to indict police officers involved in shooting but leaves that decision to them.
He has also said he has no intend to present the case to another panel.
“My complaints are with the way it was presented to the grand jury,” LULAC national president Rick Dovilana said. “The key is for district attorney to make a recommendation.”
Antonio Balderas Jr., president of the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA) of Houston, said that if one officer committed criminal trespass, everything that happened afterward was illegal. AT the very least, he said, there should have been an indictment for criminal negligent homicide.
Balderas also said that if the public does not know if the public does not know all the evidence – as Holmes has said – and that evidence should be made public.
Joel Salazar, vice president of the bar association, said that when a case is presented to a grand jury without the district attorney’s recommendation, the jury does not regard the case as seriously as it should.

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