Lindy Lou Layman, right, stands with her defense attorney Justin Keiter after making an appearance in court, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Houston. Layman is challenging allegations that she caused at least $300,000 in damage to a prominent Houston attorney’s art collection at the end of their first date. She is charged with felony criminal mischief for the Dec. 23 incident in the home of attorney Tony Buzbee.

It is correct that criminal mischief over $300,000 is a first degree felony under the Texas Penal Code, but under Sec. 12.32(a), the punishment for a first degree felony is imprisonment “for life or for any term of not more than 99 years or less than 5 years.” That is, the statute gives very wide discretion to sentence for a term as short as 5 years or as long as 99 years or else to sentence for life, so it is irresponsible and attention-grabbing, to borrow one of the reporter’s own phrases, for the article to begin by emphasizing the unrealistic possibility of a life sentence here. Moreover, an article in the Texas Lawyer should give specific citations to any relevant statutes and cases referred to in that article.

The article does end with an opposing analysis by criminal defense attorney Chris Mulder, but that is after the damage is done. A news article should be crafted so that the headline and 5Ws in the opening paragraphs tell the substance of the story, especially since readers don’t always follow an article until the very end. It may be possible that the government of North Korea will try to bomb the office of the Texas Lawyer tomorrow and possible that a house will fall on top of Tony Buzbee before the trial, but why report unrealistic speculation?

If I am wrong here, then please educate me. Has the reporter uncovered extensive precedent whereby courts in Texas or elsewhere have been handing down life sentences for criminal mischief? That would be a humdinger of a story. Show us the citations and discuss those cases, too. Did Mr. Buzbee or someone in the Harris County D.A.’s office hold a press conference demanding a life sentence for the accused? That would also be humdinger of a story. Am I missing something here?

We know that in most news publications, the articles on court proceedings and legal issues are written by reporters and other contributors who are clearly not experienced attorneys or even inexperienced law school graduates, but in a technical publication like the Texas Lawyer, I expect a higher standard of reportage.

— Lee Joffe