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Sugar Land 95 update: Court of Appeals halts Judge James Shoemake for third time, stays all proceedings

Sugar Land 95 update: Court of Appeals halts Judge James Shoemake for third time, stays all proceedings 

Fort Bend ISD (August 8, 2019) – A Houston court of appeals has for the third time issued an expedited order staying the trial court’s third attempt to appoint a lawyer in the Sugar Land 95 case and staying any further court proceedings.


The Houston Court of Appeals first stayed an order issued by Judge James Shoemake last December when the judge ordered the appointment of a lawyer to serve as a court master in the case. The District challenged the order and the potential assessment of costs to the district.


The district has since dismissed the lawsuit, filing a notice of nonsuit on July 25, 2019 and announcing that it would reinter the Sugar Land 95 in the spots from where they were each exhumed. Despite the dismissal, the judge has signed two additional orders attempting to appoint lawyers to the case.


On July 26, 2019, Judge Shoemake signed an order appointing a lawyer to serve as a guardian ad litem for the remains. In briefing filed with the court of appeals, the District’s lawyers cited legal authority providing that the judge no longer has jurisdiction over the dismissed case and that his order was void and of no legal effect. On August 5, 2019, the court of appeals for the second time issued an order staying the judge’s attempt to appoint a lawyer to the case.


The day after the court of appeals issued its second stay order, the judge signed a third order of appointment, this time attempting to reappoint the same lawyer that he previously appointed to serve as a court master. Earlier today, the Houston Court of Appeals issued a third stay order, this time staying all further proceedings in the case. It is expected that this order will prevent the judge from taking any additional action in the dismissed case.


“We don’t understand why the court continues to appoint lawyers to a dismissed lawsuit. This is now the third time the court of appeals has stepped in to protect the District from the judge’s efforts to appoint lawyers in this case with the expectation that the district will pay their legal fees,” said FBISD Board President Jason Burdine.


“The court of appeals’ rulings give us confidence that the District has correctly argued that the judge no longer has jurisdiction and that he has been acting without legal authority. Now that the court of appeals has stayed all proceedings in the trial court, the District will continue to focus its energies on honoring the Sugar Land 95 and ensuring that they are reinterred in their resting places as soon as possible, as the remains have been sitting on trays for a year. The District also looks forward to finalizing an agreement with the county that will provide a permanent memorial."


The District’s plans for reinterment are ongoing. District officials are in the process of procuring burial vessels and internment services. It is also in the process of transferring DNA samples to the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Curating the DNA samples with the UT archaeological research laboratory will allow future DNA testing that may help determine the identities of the Sugar Land 95 and their possible descendants.


The District and county are also continuing to work on an agreement that would allow the District to transfer the cemetery to the county after the reinterment process is complete. As part of the agreement, the District is committed to conveying 10 acres of district property to the county for a memorial park commemorating the lives of the Sugar Land 95.


The remains of the Sugar Land 95 were discovered during the district’s construction of the James Reese Career and Technical Center. The center will offer specialized courses available to all FBISD high school students, offering them a competitive advantage in preparing for their future, whether their plans include college, immediate entry into the workforce, or a combination of both.


The District is also developing a student curriculum that teaches students about the district’s discovery of the Sugar Land 95 and the State of Texas's convict leasing program. 


"We are very excited about the opening of the James Reese Career and Technical Center and think the community will be thrilled with the state-of-the art learning opportunities it offers our students,” said Jason Burdine, FBISD Board President. “We are also proud of the work our administrators have been doing in creating a curriculum about the discovery of the Sugar Land 95 and the State’s convict leasing program. It’s important for students to know this history.”