Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Supporting Other Candidates in a Kim Ogg World

Around 9 a.m. on December 24, 2008, Acting Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson called me into his office and told me (for the second time in a month) that I was fired.

"I'm firing you for what you wrote on your blog.  It's too much."

He actually uttered those words.

Under the circumstances, I was caught off guard.  I was already planning on that day being my last at the Office and taking comp time for the remainder of 2008.  My contract wasn't going to be renewed so I was done effectively at midnight on December 31st, anyway.

But getting fired cost me some money.  There was no taking comp time if you didn't work there anymore.  I think all in all, Magidson's decision to pull the trigger as an early Christmas present cost me around $4,000.  Given the fact that I was going through a divorce and had child support looming, that was kind of a kick in the financial crotch.

Over the past eleven years since that fateful day, I've revisited the idea of whether or not I should have filed a lawsuit on many occasions.  I thought about it.  In the end I decided it really wasn't worth the effort.  My life was going through a reboot at the time, and adding the pet project of a lawsuit wasn't really all that appealing.

There is still a part of me that wishes I had, because when Magidson uttered those words, he was telling me that he was terminating my employment because of words I had written -- outside of work -- while expressing my opinion.   Sometimes I wish I had made a different decision at the time, just for the principle of defending my 1st Amendment rights. On occasion, I get really angry at 2008 Me for not doing that.

I bring this up now for a couple of reasons.

Campaign season is upon us, and as I have mentioned before, there are already six candidates lined up to challenge incumbent District Attorney Kim Ogg for her job.  Several of those candidates are immensely more popular with prosecutors at the Office than Ogg is.  Given their druthers, most prosecutors that I know (and I know a whole lot of prosecutors) would love nothing more than to support the candidate of their choice.

But unfortunately, they work for Kim Ogg.  And as Ogg demonstrated last month by firing Andrew Smith, she is not afraid to fire an employee for blatantly unethical (and quite possibly illegal) reasons.  Although the job of a prosecutor is to seek justice, in Ogg's paranoid world, the primary job is to be loyal to her.  As she demonstrated with Andrew, she ain't afraid to shank somebody for crossing her.

As a result of Kim's erratic and ruthless behavior, don't expect to see too many current prosecutors exercising their 1st Amendment right to support a candidate other than her Royal Oggness.  Ogg's level of paranoia and retaliatory nature make Pat Lykos seem like Mahatma Gandi.  And keep in mind that Lykos had some of her loyalists staking out fundraising events for Mike Anderson, and she also seriously jacked with Carvana Cloud to retaliate against Carvana's support of Clarence Bradford for D.A.

I would imagine that Kim Ogg will be far more retaliatory towards any employee that she finds supporting any other candidate.  I say this in advance because I hope that nobody thinks that a lack of current prosecutors showing up at fundraisers for other candidates means that they don't support those other candidates.  They just don't want to get fired for that support.

From the outside, looking in, it is easy for critics to say, "Well, if they hate working for Kim Ogg so much, why don't they just quit?"  I heard that line a lot in 2012 when Mike Anderson was running against Lykos.  I'm sure we'll hear it again over the next few months.  It was a stupid criticism then and it would be equally stupid now.  Losing a job is a devastating event -- especially when you have a family to support and need things such as money and insurance.

Not to mention being a prosecutor is a fantastic job.  One can be loyal to the job without being loyal to the paranoid despot who is the current District Attorney.

If you are a current employee of the Harris County District Attorney's Office and you don't want to risk your job by supporting another candidate, there are still many things that you can do to give support. 

First and foremost, tell your family, friends, and neighbors your thoughts in private conversations.  Let them know what you think of your current boss and tell them why you think somebody else would make a better choice.  Encourage those same family, friends, and neighbors to learn more about those candidates and attend those fundraisers and "meet and greets" that you can't safely attend.  Let them know why you can't speak out in public, but find a way to educate them.  Encourage THEM to make a donation since you can't.

Although I don't know if this is still the current law, back in 2012, a candidate only had to list a donor who gave $50.00 or more to a campaign.  There were a lot of folks who donated $49.99 to Mike Anderson's campaign back then.  You don't have to go out in a blaze of glory by starting a blog that bashes Ogg or anything stupid like that, but you can still help other candidates if you so choose.

Sometimes, those little gestures of support are far more sincere and powerful than any donation or attendance at a fundraiser.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Episode Four: A Glimmer of Hope - a One Act Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Star Destroyer Jefferson hovers over Downtown Houston.  It has been two years since the Death Star was destroyed by Harvey and workers are now occasionally working to make it fully operational again.  [INTERIOR] The Observation Bridge leading into the Imperial Throne Room.  Two Imperial Officers are standing outside the entryway to the Throne Room, speaking in hushed whispers.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Corporal Leitner, do you have news?

CORPORAL LEITNER:  Yes, Vice Admiral, and I'm afraid it is all bad.


CORPORAL LEITNER:  Bad enough that I'm afraid to tell her.  She's been in such a terrible mood since firing Denholm the Hutt.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Yes, I know.  I had hoped that firing Andrew Wan-Kenobi would have cheered her up some, but it hasn't.  As it turns out, most of the Jawas were big fans of his and when she struck him down, he became more powerful than she could have possibly imagined.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  What can we do?

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  I do not know.  We hired Jar Jar Rogers as a full-time stormtrooper so that she could give around-the-clock press conferences.  Those do make her so very happy.  He and Cad Dane are in with her now.

As if on cue, the doors open and Jar Jar Rogers and Cad Dane exit the Imperial Throne Room.

JAR JAR ROGERS:  Mooey mooey Boss Ogg!  Deesa be the bestest pressa conference ever!  Even da Cad Dane Schiller say so!

CAD DANE:  Yes, Empress.  You are truly beloved by the masses.  Only a truly biased person would find error in any of your ways.

JAR JAR ROGERS:  Deesa deferred adjudification plan off your is the besta ever, Boss Ogg!  Yousa the smartest prosecutor ever for inventing it!

EMPRESS OGG:  You two are wonderful.  You know I love giving press conferences.   Have a press release out immediately about my deferred adjudication program.

JAR JAR and CAD DANE leave.

EMPRESS OGG:  Mitcham and Leitner, you may enter.

MITCHAM and LEITNER enter the Throne Room.

EMPRESS OGG:  This had better be good news.

MITCHAM and LEITNER look at each other uncomfortably.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Did I hear correctly that you are starting a new deferred adjudication program?

EMPRESS OGG (smiling):  Why, yes.  It is very exciting and innovative.  I'm glad I invented it.


EMPRESS OGG:  A new program where a Defendant enters a plea of guilty, but the judge withholds a finding of guilt and places the Defendant on community supervision.



EMPRESS OGG:  So, I hope you bring me good news.  The year has been terrible.  First there was the Temple Disaster.


EMPRESS OGG:  No.  David Temple.  I was really hoping that Admiral Schneider could pull that one off.  Darth DeGuerin is livid.  He won't return any of my phone calls.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  You did all you could, Empress.

EMPRESS OGG:  Yes.  I know.  And then we had that whole scandal with Amir promising cantina owners on Mos Eisley that he would legalize their gambling clubs. 

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Speaking of Mos Eisley . . .

EMPRESS OGG: What about it?

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  There have been protests from the locals and the Stormtrooper Union president.

EMPRESS OGG:  Over what?  We investigated and Greedo shot first.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  Accounts vary.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  There is still a lot of backlash over Denholm the Hutt asking about Greedo's legal status.

EMPRESS OGG:  And after careful consideration over 8 parsecs, I jettisoned Denholn into hyperspace.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Some feel that you should have dispatched him as quickly as you dispatched Andrew Wan-Kenobi.

EMPRESS OGG:  Don't be ridiculous.  Kenobi made me angry.  Denholm?  Not so much.  Andrew should have learned the lessons of former Vice Admiral Berg that you should only disagree with me if you wish to spend the rest of your days frozen in carbonite.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Speaking of all the people you've been terminating, Your Worship, we have still not received approval from the Galactic Senate for the budget for more Jawas.

EMPRESS OGG:  This is an outrage.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  The situation is critical, Empress.  You may need to slow down on firing people . . .

CORPORAL LEITNER:  Speaking of which, Your Highness, I can't help but notice that everyone but me got a promotion.  I've been a corporal since you took over.  You know, under Emperor Patricia, I was a Vice Admiral.

EMPRESS OGG:  Meh.  We all kind of talked about it and decided you were good where you are.


EMPRESS OGG:  What news do we have for the upcoming battle of 2020?

CORPORAL LEITNER:  The news is bad.  There are many who are lined up to take your place.

EMPRESS OGG:  I know of Audia and this Skystreeter person.


EMPRESS OGG:  Whatever.  Who else?

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Lloyd Oliver, Lori Deangelo, Mary Nan Huffman, and there are rumors that Carl from maintenance is eyeing a run.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  And I'm afraid that I have bad news about an additional candidate.


CORPORAL LEITNER:  Carvana Skywalker.

EMPRESS OGG:  Why does that name sound familiar?

CORPORAL LEITNER:  She worked here until last Friday.

EMPRESS OGG:  Hmm.  I can't be bothered to know everyone who works here.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  You handpicked her as part of your staff when you took over.  Made her Bureau Chief recently.  Houston native.  Lifelong Democrat.  Highly respected amongst her peers.  A really really strong candidate.

EMPRESS OGG:  Not ringing a bell.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  You have a picture with her on your desk.

EMPRESS OGG:  No I don't.

CORPORAL LEITNER:  Yes, it's right there.

EMPRESS OGG:  Boba Clappart, please escort Corporal Leitner to the carbon freezing chamber.

BOBA CLAPPART, head of security drags CORPORAL LEITNER kicking and screaming out of the Throne Room.

VICE ADMIRAL MITCHAM:  Well, it isn't like he didn't know what happens when someone disagrees with you . . .

EMPRESS OGG:  I mean, seriously.  Right?! And he wonders why he never got promoted above Corporal.


Episode One:  The Phantom Kimness

Episode Two:  Attack of the Clowns

Episode Three:  Revenge of the Fifth (Amendment)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Tale of Two Firings

As I alluded to at the end of Friday's blog post about The Belated Firing of John Denholm, the former Intake Division Chief was not the only person who found himself on Kim Ogg's chopping block last week.  On Monday, Ogg fired Section Chief Prosecutor Andrew Smith from the Writs Division following a heated argument with Smith that occurred Thursday.

Unlike Denholm, Andrew Smith was a longtime prosecutor from within the Office who actually earned his position as Section Chief through years of hard work, intelligence, and honesty.  Unlike Denholm, he wasn't fired for anything improper or racist.  Unlike Denholm, Kim Ogg didn't spend eight days deliberating over whether or not she was going to fire Andrew.  She decided to fire him on Thursday evening.  The only reason he wasn't fired on Friday was that he had taken a sick day.  When he returned to work on Monday morning, he was promptly given the opportunity to resign or be fired. 

On principle, he chose the latter option.  As a result, the highly respected Section Chief Writs Prosecutor was ushered out of the Harris County District Attorney's Office under escort.

The grounds for his immediate termination?  He had contradicted Kim Ogg on the record in a Writ Hearing.  

The lengthy details are in this article written by the Houston Chronicle's Keri Blakinger, published this evening.  If you are not able to access the story, here is the most condensed version I can muster:

Shortly after taking Office, Ogg had a conversation with Andrew regarding former HCDA prosecutor Gretchen Flader.  Flader had been one of 38 prosecutors that Ogg had fired/not renewed their employment contracts when she took Office in January of 2017.  In this conversation, Ogg mentioned that she had felt compelled to not renew Flader's contract of employment due to Flader's romantic relationship with another prosecutor, Nick Socias (whom Flader subsequently married).  Ogg was terminating Socias' contact because of the notorious "Jenny Scandal" that was an issue during the 2016 D.A. Race. 

NOTE:  Again, for the record, I would like to point out that Nick got a really bad rap on that, but I'm not going to argue that point here.

There were at least three people Ogg terminated on "Bloody Friday" that lost their jobs because of whom they were married to or in a relationship with.  When Ogg told Andrew that Flader was terminated because of her relationship with Socias, that seemed to make sense.

After Flader's termination, she filed for unemployment.  Inexplicably, Ogg decided to fight Flader on the issue and the Office hired attorney Katherine Mize (who coincidentally was a large donor to Ogg's campaign) to litigate the issue.  Mize argued, on behalf of the Office, that Flader had been non-renewed for prosecutorial misconduct -- a direct contradiction of what Ogg had said to Andrew.  

NOTE:  The amount Flader sought in unemployment was roughly $1500.  I'm not sure how much Mize was paid to fight the case.

Fast forward to last year.  Andrew finds himself in the middle of a Writ hearing against prominent Writ Attorney Randy Schaffer in the State of Texas vs. Feanyichi Uvukansi, a case that Flader had prosecuted at trial.  During the hearing, Schaffer asserted on the record that Flader had been fired for prosecutorial misconduct.  Andrew, recalling his earlier conversation with Ogg, responded on the record by saying:
"Ms. Ogg told me the reason she let go of Ms. Flader is because she was sleeping with the man who was dealing with the Jenny case."
It seemed like a rather innocuous comment at the time it was uttered.  He simply recalled an earlier conversation with Ogg where she said something contrary to what Schaffer was claiming on the record.  In the big scheme of the Writ Hearing, the grounds for Flader's termination were tangential at best.

But if you're Kim Ogg and you've hired one of your campaign donors an outside lawyer to fight an unemployment claim for reasons contrary to what you've previously stated, Andrew's on-the-record statement becomes a little more troubling to you.

On Thursday, she called Andrew into her Office and told him that he must have "misremembered" and that he needed to fix the error.  Andrew told her that he recalled the conversation distinctly, noting it was the first time he had a one-on-one meeting with Ogg.  He noted that he still had the meeting on his calendar, so he could even specify the date, as well.    Nevertheless, she insisted he "correct the record" and he refused.

As noted above, Andrew was encouraged to resign on Monday.  When he refused, he was fired.

Take a moment to fully appreciate the courage of Andrew's actions.

He loved his job at the D.A.'s Office.  He loved it a lot.  He had extremely close friends there and he was good at what he did.  All he had to do to keep his job was to say that he made a mistake on the record.

Except, Andrew knew he didn't make a mistake so he refused.  It would have been so easy to have just said "maybe I was wrong" and get to keep his job.

But he knew he wasn't.

He wasn't going to be bullied into lying, no matter how much the angry elected District Attorney was screaming at him.  Not a lot of people would have had the intestinal fortitude to stand and deliver like Andrew did.

So, in front of his colleagues, he was marched out of the Office.

Yesterday Kim Ogg took it upon herself to file a "Correction of Record" in the State of Texas vs. Feanyichi Uvukansi, which said Andrew had made a "false statement."  The "correction of record" makes no mention of why exactly Andrew would have been motivated to make such a statement.

That's probably because Andrew didn't make a false statement.  And if that's the case, it would seem to me that Kim's sworn statement to correct the record might be construed by some as aggravated perjury.

In an amusing side note, Ogg claims in the "Correction of Record" that she only learned of Andrew's statement last week.   Ironically, Randy Schaffer attacked Ogg's credibility for entirely different reasons.  He pointed out that he had emailed Ogg about Andrew's statements in August.  Confronted with this easily provable point, Ogg noted that she would be filing a Motion to Correct the Correction of Record.

For the unofficial record, I don't know of anyone in the CJC that would put Ogg's credibility ahead of Andrew's.

On a personal note, I would like to specifically tell Andrew how much I admire the stand he made against our elected District Attorney.  He lost a lot in the process.

The world could use more people like Andrew Smith.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Carvana Makes It Official

In the midst of all the chaos and scandal going on over at the Harris County District Attorney's Office this week, um, month, um, year, um entire Administration, lately, it is nice to see some positive news coming out the Criminal Justice World.

Former Bureau Chief Carvana Cloud has announced her official candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the Office of the Harris County District Attorney in 2020.

Her official website is https://www.carvana2020.com/.

As I mentioned in a post last week, I think the world of Carvana as a person with honesty, integrity, intelligence, and kindness.  I was a fan of hers when she was a brand new prosecutor, and I have always remained a fan and a friend of hers.  

When Kim Ogg hired Carvana to be in her Administration, I thought it was the best move Ogg could have possibly make, and I was glad to see Carvana promoted to Bureau Chief earlier this year.  As you probably know already, Carvana announced her immediate resignation the week before last.

Over the weekend, her website went up, confirming her candidacy for District Attorney.

Carvana is a tremendous candidate and a force to reckoned with.  She has a large amount of support from within the Harris County District Attorney's Office, which will be interesting.  Given Kim Ogg's level of paranoia and low threshold for accusing people of disloyalty, that's going to be a really horrible challenging place to work until the primary on March 3, 2020.

Somewhere, somehow this all seems familiar.  I think I heard a story once about a District Attorney who was wildly unpopular with her prosecutors.  She treated them with suspicion and paranoia and ruled with an iron fist.   And then a charismatic and better-qualified candidate ran against that District Attorney and beat her in her own primary.   

Seems like there is a moral to this story somewhere.  Something about people who don't learn the lessons of history being doomed to repeat it?   

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Belated Firing of John Denholm

So, after eight days of looking desperately for excuses not to have to fire careful deliberation about John Denholm, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg fired the former Intake Division Chief.  As I'm sure you know, Denholm was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week after rejecting charges on an attempted sexual assault case because the victim on the case might possibly be "an illegal."

Ogg had apparently hoped that the story of Denholm's absolutely inexcusable behavior would blow over with a little time.  Unfortunately for Ogg and Denholm, however, statements from the Houston Police Officer's Union (HPOU), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Texas Congressman (and former Harris County Assistant District Attorney) Gene Wu have made it clear that the story was not going away.  The story broke on television a few nights ago and Keri Blakinger followed up with an article in the Houston Chronicle.  This morning, the Washington Post brought Denholm's stupidity to the level of national attention.

Why it took Ogg eight days to arrive at the seemingly obvious conclusion escapes me.

Ogg is far more well-known for her impetuous decision-making and general hotheaded responses when angered than she is for using cool rationale to respond to problems.  The fact that she waited eight days before firing Denholm is indicative that it was not a decision that she wanted to make.  That's not all that surprising, I suppose, given her history.  Let's not forget how long it took her to decide to recuse the Office from the David Temple case, despite extremely obvious conflicts of interests she had with the case.

But, alas, poor John Denholm's last day did come today.  It is my understanding that Denholm was given the option of resigning, but he refused.  Apparently, in his mind, he did nothing wrong.  He certainly wasn't willing to "take one for the team" and bow out gracefully.  So, Kim did what she had to do and finally sent a minion to take Fredo fishing.

Kim's belated firing of Denholm is not likely to placate anyone with any common sense, and the fact of the matter is that she wouldn't have found herself in this situation if she wasn't such a shameless politician.  Denholm was an unabashed political hire who was put in a position of leadership that he had neither the credentials nor the intellect to handle.

Before I go into Denholm's credentials (or lack thereof), I will, once again, point out that he and I have a personal grudge with each other that I will cover below.

I first met Denholm when he was a lieutenant with the Harris County Sheriff's Office Homicide Division.  He seemed alright to me back then, but I didn't know him particularly well.  His group of Homicide Investigators drank beer with the group of prosecutors that I hung out with back in the early 2000s.

Denholm went to law school and when Kelly Siegler was prepping for trial on David Temple, she asked Denholm to use his law school "expertise" to play defense attorney in a mock trial run-through.  John thought he did a wonderful job, but told Kelly that if he had been the lead homicide investigator on the case when it first happened, he'd have gotten a confession out of him.  Denholm was never short on confidence.

After Temple had been convicted and Denholm had gotten his law license, he started up with his talk about how David Temple was innocent.  One of the people he told about it was none other than Dick DeGuerin, Temple's trial lawyer.  It was a dramatic reversal of opinion coming from Denholm, and many of his former co-workers at HCSO looked at it as Denholm saying whatever he could to ingratiate himself with the famous defense attorney.  One HCSO Homicide Detective went so far as to tell me: "If Denholm dropped dead tomorrow, you couldn't find six guys around here who would carry his casket."

Although Lisa Falkenberg would later portray Denholm (and his cohort, Steve Clappart) as heroes who lost friends for making a stand for Justice in their defense of David Temple, that wasn't the reality.  The reality was that the two of them lost friends because none of those former friends believed that Denholm was doing anything other than trying to advance his defense attorney career with the help of Dick DeGuerin.  The fact that Denholm and Clappart were willing to file capital murder charges on a kid (that not even Temple's own defense team would accuse during the second trial) didn't go over very well with those former friends, either.

I can't help but wonder what Lisa thinks about Denholm in light of this week's events.

A few months after I had blogged about what Clappart and Denholm had tried to do with their secret warrant, I received notice from the State Bar of Texas that John Denholm had filed a grievance against me for trying to "subvert justice" by exposing their plan in my blog.  The State Bar dismissed Denholm's complaint as meritless, of course, but I won't lie -- it was infuriating to know that he had pulled such a pathetic ploy.

When Ogg took Office and hired Denholm as a Division Chief, I was shocked.  I knew that he was a campaign donor, but he had only been a lawyer for about eight years.  Eight pretty undistinguished years.   He had the credentials to maybe start as a junior Felony Two, at best.  The idea of making him a Division Chief was absurd.

Yet, thanks to political patronage, there he was.

Unsurprisingly, Denholm did about as well as one would expect in the Intake Division slot.  He considered himself to be an all-knowing combination of ex-cop and super prosecutor.  Multiple officers claimed he was condescending and rude when they called in for charges. He seemed to enjoy rejecting charges that didn't live up to his high standards.  Those charges that he did take were often baffling.  His reputation with the Defense Bar and his fellow prosecutors ultimately coined the term "Denholm Special" for describing charges that were inexplicable.

For those of us who know John Denholm, learning that he had refused charges on somebody because the victim "might be illegal" didn't really come as too much of a surprise.  Stupid is as stupid does, after all.  The only thing truly shocking about this was Kim Ogg's utter lack of appropriate reaction to Denholm's actions.

Upon learning of Denholm's actions, what Kim should have done was suspend him with pay pending an investigation. 

But, that's not what she did.  What she did was immediately announce that he had been promoted to a coveted spot in Special Crimes reassigned.  Make no mistake about this fact:  any attempts that Kim Ogg makes to pretend she was "investigating" Denholm for the past eight days are utter crap highly suspect.  They knew everything that had transpired immediately.  Another prosecutor had already filed the charges that Denholm had so flippantly rejected.  The decision to move him had already been made.

If it hadn't been for HPOU President Joe Gamaldi's press statement and demand that Denholm be fired, it is reasonable to believe that Kim thought the issue had been handled.  She had removed Denholm from Intake and she probably thought that would alleviate the problem.

The fact that she waited for eight days and a Washington Post article before firing him clearly illustrates that her decision was based more on politics than on outrage over what Denholm had done.  Kim has fired many other people for far less and she has done so far more quickly.  Hell, she's fired other people for less and more quickly today, according to some information I received this evening.

We'll talk more about that later.