Sunday, January 13, 2008

Racism in the D.A.'s Office?

I opened today's Houston Chronicle this morning and nearly died of shock. For the first time since December 27th, something that the D.A.'s Office had dropped the ball on wasn't the front page news.
But after the week that the Office has had, I guess they (at a minimum) deserved Sunday off. It seems like the media has finally given up on anything happening with Chuck Rosenthal. I guess he is firmly planted in his office and he ain't coming out. The new focus of the media seems to be part of a one-two punch: Kelly Siegler's "nuts and screwballs" comment about Lakewood Church, and the "Canadians" e-mail sent by Assistant D.A. Mike Trent. The poor ADAs seem almost punch-drunk after the bad publicity that they've had all week.
I don't really know that there is more that can be said about either of these two stories, because they both pretty much speak for themselves.
What I do find interesting is that the source of both stories seem to track back to defense attorney, Alvin Nunnery. He appeared on the Fox 26 news story about the Canadians e-mail and said the Office needed to be cleaned from "the inside and out" and that such a cleaning could not be done by someone from within the Office (a slam at Siegler's candidacy). What many don't realize, however, is that Nunnery was directly involved in the case that spawned the "nuts and screwballs" comment from Siegler, as well.

Is there a personal vendetta that Nunnery has for Siegler?

Well, maybe.

It seems that at some point during the Guidry trial, Alvin got cross-ways with Siegler and her co-counsel, Luci Davidson. This altercation led to him recusing himself from involvement in the trial, and apparently some degree of anger and/or embarrassment for him. I'm guessing that revenge is a dish best served, but damn, it sure is effective. Nunnery may single-handedly sink the whole D.A.'s office. I wonder if he realized how many people's lives would be affected by these news releases.
Is there racism running rampant in the D.A.'s office? Not that I've seen, but then again, I'm not African-American, either. I can't imagine in this day and age that any government institution would be blatantly and outwardly racist and expect to get away with it. Say what you want to about the ADAs, but they aren't dumb. Well, the vast majority of them aren't.

More on this later.


Mark Bennett said...

"Blatantly and outwardly racist"? Well, no, but isn't the hidden sort of racism just as bad, if not more so?

Anonymous said...

"Nunnery may single-handedly sink the whole D.A.'s office. I wonder if he realized how many people's lives would be affected by these news releases."

If ADAs have been doing their jobs properly, what is there to worry about? If not, I would expect licensed, experienced lawyers would land on their feet somewhere.

I'm much more concerned about the ordinary citizens who are directly and seriously affected by what ADAs do every day.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Mark and Anon, thanks for your posts. Both of them are thought provoking, and I'll address them both.

Mark, of course racism in any form is horrible, whether it be hidden or blatant. The problem with hidden racism is that who gets to declare that it exists? I think we all know someone that harbors racist feelings but isn't open about sharing them. My concern is that in our goal of achieving tolerance for all people that we start throwing around the "you're a racist" card a little too freely. I would hate to see it become a more well-meaning version of the "Red Scare" from the 1950s.

Anon, your comments are also well-taken, and I agree with you completely that those D.A.s who have been doing their jobs properly shouldn't be worried. My issue was more with Alvin's phrase that "the office should be cleaned from the inside out", which to me, implies that everyone should be fired. I take issue with that. If Alvin's intent behind his statement was to say something more along the lines of what you said, then I have no issue with it.

As to your concern about "ordinary citizens" and how they are affected by the D.A.'s office, I think all citizens should be ever-vigilant against an abusive government entity. But I do think that it's worth pointing out that with all of the scandals coming out of the D.A.'s office at the moment, there hasn't been a story yet that shows an abuse of power to the detriment of an "ordinary citizen". There are a lot of stories that seem to reflect some bad things about the character of some of the people in the office, but I've yet to see the e-mail that says: "This guy is probably innocent, but let's prosecute him anyway, because he's black."

I do think your point is very debatable, however, and I look forward to more messages from you.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to take Nunnery's comments (or your interpretation) as hyperbole. No one is going to run off 200 lawyers, if for no other reason that it's logistically impossible. But the culture does need to change and most likely will, unless Kelly gets the job.

I'm not surprised no one's sent the email you throw out, but I've seen actions very close to it. I interned at the office in 2002-3. I saw and heard an attitude of "this guy is a bad one, if he didn't do this one I'm sure he's done other stuff as bad or worse" from both police and ADAs to justify continuing prosecutions that should have been dropped.

I also recall inheriting a DWI to try from a young ADA who had moved on to felony land. She left written instuctions to whoever got the case to be as difficult and uncooperative as possible with defense counsel (Richard Frankoff, or "Jerkoff" as she referred to him in writing) because he was pressing for an early trial date. I passed the letter on to my felony chief, who expressed shock and dismay. But it didn't hurt the ADA. She moved through a Misd chief job and was in appellate last time I heard. I would have fired her on the spot.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon, I think I recall the issue with Frankoff that you are talking about. It was during the days of the flood conditions? I recall a female prosecutor getting into a pretty big pissing match with Frankoff. If it is the person I'm thiknking about, I don't think she is still with the Office anymore. Maybe she is in appellate.

You make a good point. Prosecutors should know better than to take their irritation with a defense attorney out on the attorney's client. I know that if I ever have to deal with that kind of situation, I would go straight to the prosecutor's supervisor and explain that there is a big (and unfair) problem with that prosecutor handling the case.

Anonymous said...

I am a prosecutor. I love what I do. I try to do it to the best of my ability and be as fair as possible. I have had defense attorneys that have annoyed the crap out of me, though they are very few. Ultimately, I look at the case, and if what they say is right...I dismiss it. And I have SOMEONE else deliever the nolle to the defense attorney. My attitude is at that point, if the defendant is really bad, he will do it again, and you will get him or her then. But what stinks about that is...when they are the defense attorneys (similar to the ones that have been nominated for the
"unsung heroes") when they bring you some point, we are much more happy to dismiss the cases...but still have the same opinion....that we'll get him or her on the next one...
I have been at the office awhile, and have not experienced the outright anger against a specific defense attorney, whatever race, or sex.

Frankly, the civil attorneys that come over to CJC, they are far more annoying, pompous, and condescending than the worst of the criminal counterparts. And I may dig in my heels, just for a contest, against them. Or if your client truly deserves it. Game on.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

You raise several interesting points in your response. I think I will probably address some of them further on down the road in posts.

Sammy said...

"I recall a female prosecutor getting into a pretty big pissing match with Frankoff. If it is the person I'm thiknking about, I don't think she is still with the Office anymore. Maybe she is in appellate."

I checked, she's still there.

btw, I'm the first anon poster above. I've picked an alias to separate me from the other anons.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Hey Sammy,
I'm glad you got a posting name to set you apart from the rest of the Anons.
I think based on the information you mentioned in your earlier post and this one that I know who you are talking about. Just remember, it's a BIG office, and there are plenty of people who disagree with each other over certain tactics and outlooks.
We can't vouch for everybody!