Tuesday, February 12, 2008


As early voting is only a week away, I realized that some of my readers (if not the entire world) was probably waiting breathlessly for my endorsements in the criminal courthouse races.

This will be a shock to most of you loyal readers, but I strongly recommend Kelly Siegler for D.A. I think a lot of Jim Leitner, but frankly, I think he does the community more of a service as a defense attorney, zealously and skillfully advocating for those accused of crimes. Kelly has taken a lot of lumps in the six weeks that she's been a candidate here. She knows the problems the Office has gone through. She knows what needs to be changed, and she will change it. I think that those people both prosecution and defense who know her personally know that she is the best candidate for the job. Even if the Chronicle is afraid that she'll be just too damn good at the job.

Now, once you've picked yourselves up off the floor after that shocker, let me move on.

In the 174th Judicial Race between John Jocher, Bill Moore, Kevin Keating, Terrance Windham . . . I'm not picking.
These four guys have got so much honor and class amongst them that I wouldn't dare insult three of them by saying that one was better. This primary between the four candidates is what all political races should be. They are all extremely qualified and any one of them would make this community proud. I wish they had "fanned out" a little bit into some other races, rather than running against each other. This is truly a case of "may the best man win". Good luck to all of you.
(NOTE: I do find it wildly amusing that the Chronicle will have no choice but to recommend an Assistant D.A. in this primary race. I'm sure that the editorial staff is beside themselves.)

In the 176th Judical Race, there is no issue in picking who I recommend.

The race is between Michele Saterelli Oncken and incumbent Brian Rains.

Judge Rains has been on the bench ever since I've been a lawyer. And ever since I've been a lawyer he has had the reputation of being one of the rudest and most unkind judges on the bench since . . . well, Pat Lykos.

He claims that Michele Oncken is running against him "because I made her husband mad."

If only it was that simple, Judge Rains. The fact is that you've upset everybody.

The rudeness from this bench has gone well beyond the boundaries of being a "tough judge", and into the range of just absurd vindictiveness. The fact that a person is a jerk to both sides of the bar doesn't make that person any less of a jerk.

Throughout the years, Rains has steadfastly refused to put people on probation. When probations were agreed to, he would passive-aggressively agree to the probation, but throw in 180 days in the Harris County Jail as a condition (thus nullifying the point of giving probation). He has sworn he considers the full range of punishment on any PSI hearing, but all attorneys know that it just isn't true.

Rains' refusal to consider the full range of punishment has led to more recusal hearings than any other judge that I'm personally aware of. One hearing even had the unlikely alliance of the District Attorney's Office and Dick DeGuerin.

His questionable bond decisions have led to at least two tragic murders committed by people out on bond in his court. His impatience with the pace of a trial has led to at least one capital murder conviction being reversed.

Michele Oncken was the Chief in his court for a year or two. Normally, the Chief/Judge relationship is one of some sort of fondness (or at least mutual respect). The fact that she is running against a Judge where she was previously a chief says a lot, in and of itself. She's been a Chief prosecutor for at least five years now, including stints in Capital Writs, District Court, and now in Juvenile. She certainly has the background for the job.

Sorry, Judge Rains, but its definitely time for you to go. Nobody deserves to be treated the way that you treat people.


Mark Bennett said...

"I think that those people both prosecution and defense who know her personally know that she is the best candidate for the job."

Aw, c'mon now. You don't really think that, do you? (If you do, you're wrong.)

I pick Jocher for the 174th for his real-world experience, which I think should be a prerequisite for the bench.

Of course I agree with you on Satterelli. I had to try a meth lab case in Rains's court with a raging sinus infection once because he wouldn't give me a continuance. It damn near killed me.

If Satterelli is running against Shawna Reagin in the general election, we'll know that, whichever party sweeps, at least one race is going to turn out okay.

Mark Bennett said...

I should add that Windham also has the sort of real-world experience that we should require in our judges.

Unknown said...

I'm shocked at the people you've endorsed. I'm curious to know, however, just how much weight should we accord the endorsements of a person who chooses to remain anonymous?

Mark, what is Mr. Jocher's real world experience to which you refer?

Mark Bennett said...

John was a legislative aide to a U.S. Senator before law school, and was in private practice for three years after law school.

"But wait," you might say, "that's not the real world!"

Compared to what the vast majority of prosecutors did between college and law school and between law school and government lawyering (i.e. nothing) it is.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: experience outside of government makes better prosecutors, and should be mandatory for judges.

Murray Newman said...

Are you really shocked? I think you should afford me the weight that you would afford any other anonymous arm-chair quarterback. We are a growing number!

The key term in my statement is the word "personally". In retrospect, I suppose my statement is pretty absolute. Kelly has numerous supporters within the defense bar, most of them are office alumni, I acknowledge.

Murray Newman said...

Not to take anything away from John and Terrance, but I think you may be a bit off with this idea that other ADAs don't have "real world experience". It's not like ADAs are summer camp counselors. Lawyers who practice on both sides of the bar in the CJC deal with every thing from theft, drugs, DWIs, robberies, rapes and murders. We also meet with and deal with people from walks of life that are vastly different from our own home lives.

Um, how much more "real world" can you get than that?

Unknown said...

Mark, are you saying that Bill Moore and Kevin Keating have no "real world" (i.e. outside the criminal courthouse) experience? or just that you're unfamiliar with them?

Mark Bennett said...

J, I am personally unfamiliar with Bill and Kevin's experience; everything I was able to find, though, suggested that they followed the usual High School - College - Law School [- Judicial Clerkship ]- DA's Office career trajectory. That's a career trajectory that lacks the depth of experience that a judge should have (and that the best judges do have); it is an extremely privileged existence. A judge should at a bare minimum recognize -- no, feel -- how fortunate she is to be sitting way up high at the bench instead of standing down in the well in orange pyjamas.

AHCL, I think it's hard for people who have lived such lives of privilege to comprehend how fortunate they ultimately are; it's much easier for them to pretend that their lives of privilege have ulitmately been because of the choices they've made. I think that'd be the topic of a good blog post; maybe I'll get on it tomorrow.

CJ Social Worker said...

I agree that life experience helps us all do better jobs. I remember the first time a woman I worked with was murdered by her estranged husband. Until then, while I certainly believed in my work, it wasn't until she died that I really UNDERSTOOD the risk. One day I was talking with her, the next she was dead. She was a mother and a really sweet person. It has been over 10 years, but I'm sure her children still ache for her.

Many of us start out like that - ready to "make a difference" with clear ideas about how things should be. And - yes - we learn. We learn what our limits are and that things are not black and white. And - many of us gain compassion and fortitude.

I've also learned that we can't make assumptions about people.

I can think of several under-20s co-workers who are insightful, empathetic, and have good judgment. I can think of some over-40s who will never get it.

You never know what people have in their backgrounds. I have known people who grew up around domestic violence, poverty and racism. They may be young, but they "get it." They may appear "privileged" but they've experienced real hardship.

Just because we're government employees doesn't mean we don't get it. That isn't fair to lump us in that category.

Anonymous said...

JAGJO said:
This may be one of those topics where we have to agree to disagree! As I most definitely disagree with " real world" exp as a judicial prerequisite. Thank you for chiming in AHCL 8:49p. I agree with your response. I also chuckle at the comment " a privileged life" when referring to ADA's who have dedicated their entire careers to public service because that is their passion. There is something to be said for having a driving strong conviction for ANY occupation and ADA's are no different. In fact, I think it is admirable knowing going in, you are going to work your ass off, get nominal pay and as a standard, not much recognition. Admirable at a young age when the lures of ladder climbing and financial gain are very intoxicating. When speaking of real world experience I think that can be a double edged sword. The quality of that 'real world experience' is up for debate. Just having other career endeavors like clerking for a senator after college does not make a candidate more qualified on any grounds. And my take on being in private practice and then leaving to go to an ADA position.. well, think about that for a moment. Why would someone leave working /practicing in the "real world" to go to work in a "fake" pretentious world? Please know I am using Mr. Jocher's resume only because it was used above. Who are we to decide why Mr. Jocher or any other ADA left private practice to join the ADA ranks... maybe it was a personal and financial security move or MAYBE it was because he and others realized later rather than sooner, they wanted to play on the ADA side of the fence. Perhaps it is a more intricate reason and that person's goal is to become a judge all along. I find no glorification in a judicial candidate having pre ADA work experiences whether it be in the legal field or otherwise. And I do not think it makes for a more compassionate empathetic well rounded judge. I'm not sure what field of private practice Mr. Jocher was in but if not criminal then how would he or others have empathy for an orange jump wearing inmate? To imply such is implying that judges use an ala carte law/sentencing menu to choose how they rule on cases and offer up lesser sentences based on their personal empathy. As a citizen and tax payer, that is a scary thought and screams impropriety. Life deals some unfortunate circumstances and occasionally good people get caught up in something illegal but I have to have faith in the system that the Judge is going to take into consideration all circumstances and rule the case based on the laws set before him and not some touchy feely, singing purple dinosaur style empathy because the meth lab runner needed money to pay for a Tahitian vacation or to open another lab on the other side of town. Like I said, we are going to have to agree to disagree. Life is about choices. Crime is a choice.

It's boring.... this " defense attorneys" are better than prosecutors spin.(Yawn) The implication is that prosecutors are a generic version of " lawyer".Like they are a watered down version. Both sides of the bar are equally needed to create societal balance and a democracy. Both sides are going to win and loose cases.

My "prediction" on the aforementioned races is:

Lykos will be the next DA (I got nauseated writing that) I think Sielger is the only Candidate that could handle the job with the highest percentage of satisfaction from all sides of the equation.
Lykos should be slipping into retirement at 67, going to Branson, Mo. on the weekends with the rest of the retirees and discovering brand preference for false teeth adhesive.

Bill Moore will get the 174th bench. He is the most qualified candidate across the board. It's not a popularity contest. It's who has the best credentials to support that bench. It is a criminal court. A little reading on them all and you can see what separates Moore from the rest. While Windham has more years in experience, he has ran in so many races, that I lost count and yet, he has never won. His motivation seems to just get "any" bench without reverence to which bench. This year he flipped political parties. The other two candidates, while being nice guys, they do not have the extensive experience that Moore has. He is the only one to have served in all 22 criminal courts as a felony chief for 15 of his 19 yrs of service. He is also the only one to have been a deputy chief of the misdemeanor division and 10 yrs in the special crimes bureau. You do not have to personally know them to see the qualifications. check out the websites for more info: Although Mr. Windham does not have a website for public access that I am aware of . If you know, different please let me know.

In the 176th, while Judge Rains may be an pain in the neck to deal with, he will get reappointed.

Predictions are not necessarily endorsements. If we, as " the people", do not like how things are being run , it can be corrected by exercising a simple yet often over looked privilege and that is the right to vote.

Happy Valentines Day, Everyone.

CJ Social Worker said...

P.S. I meant to say "under 30s" instead of "under 20s"...I think my age is showing because they do look very young sometimes...(or I feel so much older - not sure which.

Happy V-Day!

jigmeister said...

Outside experience is nice, but I am more concerned about what their fairness, and what their judicial demeanor will be. I wish you could figure that out in advance. All of them have enough experience. Being on bench ain't that hard. Ask Lykos.

Can't fault Terrance's prior affiliations. They don't mean anything other than electability in judicial races.

Anonymous said...

Amen on your comments about Rains.

I'm not a terribly political person, and the Democratic presidential race seems more interesting to vote for in the primary, but Rains is such an amazingly discourteous, unprofessional person on the bench, I think I HAVE to vote in the Republican primary if only to vote against him.

Also, the idea of a Lykos-Bradford DA's race gives me the shivers. That is just awful.