Friday, February 15, 2008

The Good is Oft Interred with Their Bones

In case you missed it, Chuck Rosenthal resigned today.

Somewhere, Lloyd Kelley is dancing a spiteful and tasteless jig.

Mark Bennett is already having a mini-celebration on his blog, and given the events of the past two months, I can't say that I blame him or the general public for their feelings. Chuck's resignation was overdue, and every day he stayed in office after the revelations of December 27th was a day too long.

He had told his staff that the idea of him having a problem with pain killers was insane, and then he tells the world the contrary in his letter of resignation.

That being said, I take no joy in his resignation. To me, Chuck's resignation today is very much akin to every time I tried a case and heard a jury pronounce sentence. I would be satisfied and happy that justice had been done, but I took no pleasure in the ruin of a person's life.

Justice can leave you feeling ambivalent at time.

I don't believe in absolutes.

No person is completely good. No person is completely evil.

In the blogs and postings I've read over the past two months, I've read people in a frenzy over Chuck's actions. One poster on the Chronicle's website said something along the line of "the worst person Chuck ever prosecuted can't be as bad as him."

That's ludicrous.

Chuck did very bad things. He left an Office that he led for seven years in utter chaos and shambles. He left a distrust between the general public and the Criminal Justice System that will take years, if not decades, to repair.

But does that make him worse than a people who have killed children? I think not.

History won't be kind to Chuck Rosenthal.

But in his 30 years in public service, he wasn't all bad. He prosecuted some very bad and very dangerous people. In some ways, he made this community safer, albeit through one case at a time. The oft told legend of what Johnny Holmes once said about Chuck when asked why he didn't fire him was that Holmes stated: "He keeps doing the wrong thing, but for the right reasons."

I don't know if that story was true or not.

There is the tale of Chuck working with homicide detectives on a case where a suspect was in custody, but a possibility still existed that a kidnapped child was still alive. Chuck supposedly sent in Homicide Detectives to pose as the suspect's lawyers in an attempt to determine if the child could still be found alive -- an unquestionably illegal and unethical decision on his part.

And he knew that when he did it. He also knew the consequences for it would be most probable termination from the Office and disbarrment.

But he sent them in with the hopes of saving a life, anyway.

You can make your own call about whether or not that action was good or evil.

Don't get me wrong. Chuck's resignation today was a relief, and a hope that things can now begin to get back to normal (even though there is a long road ahead of us).

But, I can't help thinking of that one portion of Mark Antony's oration:

The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones.

16 comments:

Kevin Whited said...

** But in his 30 years in public service, he wasn't all bad. He prosecuted some very bad and very dangerous people. In some ways, he made this community safer, albeit through one case at a time. **

His judgment over the past few months -- and maybe longer -- obviously hasn't been very good, but I don't think that should completely overshadow his record of service (although I'm sure many people disagree).

jigmeister said...

Right on Kevin, 30 years ought to count for something.

I know he had some health problems.
And he looks terrible.

I think it will hurt his legacy more that in writing, he blames his conduct on drugs. That comes off as hypocritical and it's hurting Kelly and the rest of the office. Public comments to his resigning point to Sam as his supplier, implicating Kelly as covering it all up. What a mess. Maybe the drugs are clouding his judgment!

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Kevin,
I agree with you, but I think it will probably take quite a bit of time before anyone will care to take a look at anything good he did.

Jigmeister,
I also agree with you completely about the drug comments. Chuck and his wife have both been furious with Kelly and the rest of the higher ups for not rallying around him after the e-mail scandal broke. I think you can safely assume that his comments about his drug problems as a parting shot at Kelly.

My hope is that this will bring some sense of stability back to the both the D.A.'s Office and the D.A.'s race.

DA-esque said...

AHCL - that is a really good post - you sum things up well..."He keeps doing the wrong thing, but for the right reasons."

Interesting and accurate. I think Chuck wanted to be a good DA - he wanted to be a good leader.

He made some really bad choices.

Still - I can't help but feel sympathy for him and hope that he and his family are OK.

Mostly, I just feel sad, though. Hard to put into words right now.

P.S. I do think it was really crappy of whoever leaked the press release early. Could you not just let him have this last little thing?

Whatever said...

In the oh-by-the-way category: I keep hearing bert is the "interim DA" under the Government code --- There is no such thing.

The Constitution provides that the DA serves until his successor is qualified.

that means that Chuck is the HCDA until someone else is appointed/elected.

Ron in Houston said...

I hope the lesson that Chuck teaches all the ADA's is that prosecuting people does not make you "good." Screwing up does not make you "evil."

We all need to find compassion for Chuck. He's only human. He puts his pants on one leg at a time.

DA Worker said...

One of Chuck Rosenthal’s positive legacies is supporting the Family Criminal Law Division – the DA’s family violence unit – a unit the primarily prosecutes crimes and files protective orders on behalf of women and children.

Under his administration, more social workers, prosecutors, support staff, and an investigator were added. His administration gave the staff good pay raises and regularly paid for professional training. They also supported projects like collaborating with advocates from outside agencies to provide more services to domestic violence survivors and public educational projects to raise awareness about domestic violence.

So on the one hand, he had these really offensive and damaging e-mails regarding women. On the other, when the rubber met the road – he and his administration supported the unit the helps women and children. For that, I am grateful.

The Phantom Bureaucrat said...

When you look at the many good things he has done over the three decades, often doing things to help others when it would cause him a world of grief, it's difficult to be too harsh on him for the things he absolutely crossed the line with. I'm not suggesting he shouldn't step down, the harm he has done in recent months greatly outweighs his ability to run the office effectively, but the entire matter shows our collective demand for perfection we aren't going to get from anyone.

That extends to a great many more things in life too; no product can possibly live up to our expectations, no spouse is exactly what we want, no friend is perfect, and it contributes to a mentality that admittedly makes many here a great deal of money. We spend far more time and effort tearing people apart for those flaws than recognizing their strengths; a major cause in the type of politician we elect all too often.

No one is perfect, the world doesn't run by our individual standards, and that is why we need those precious checks and balances to be as impartial as possible; something we all seem to take for granted.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think the leak was a big deal. I also think his response to the leak was childish and a window into his maturity level. Sorry, I don't feel sorry for him. He demonstrated a complete and total lack of respect for his position and only resigned to cover his own but. He is very selfish, just look at how he treats his wife.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

The leak was unfortunate, but hardly unexpected. The size of the Office made it inevitable that somebody would leak it. That person will just have to live with themselves.

I was surprised with his response, as well.

jigmeister said...

Whatever said, "I keep hearing bert is the "interim DA" under the Government code --- There is no such thing."

I don't think that is a problem. The office will run itself, the bureau, division, and court chiefs will continue to make good decisions and things will rock along. The structure that Johnny put in place 10 years ago and longer is still there; as is the premise and ethical foundation for what we do every day. Use reason, common sense and the moral compass we were all trained to use and the office will be fine at least until November.

After that, hell if I know.

In the Trenches said...

All I can say - whatever you want to call Bert - is thanking goodness we have him.

He has been the one holding things together for a long time. And - he'll keep things together through all of this.

I hope the next DA considers keeping him on in some capacity - he does a million things around there that keep things running. He works hard and he’s fair.

People all over the County respect him. Even Charles Bacarrise says good things about him on his blog.

Anyway - Bert - if you're reading this - THANK YOU.

P.S. I know the response to this already - why didn't Bert "stop Chuck" from doing some of these things? Been over that. Chuck did what he did - he's a grown-up. Bert did like everyone else - the best he could considering...

jigmeister said...

Trenches,

I didn't mean to denegrate Bert, and it would be naive to believe he could have stopped anything that Chuck did. Frankly, they have never been close professionally or socially. I would guess you could count on one hand the number of times that Chuck confided in Bert.

Bert's contributions to the office have been tremendous...even though he drove me nuts (not enough to make me take dope, but close).

Trenches said...

JM -

Just to be clear - I wasn't in any way saying you denegrated Bert.

Just giving him his due on this blog.

Yeah - Bert would probably be the first to admit he "drives people nuts" but that doesn't stop him from doing a thorough and good job. And - from being fair and trying to see things from all angles...

And - most importantly - trying to do the right thing - for the right reasons - whether people like him or not. That is a tall order.

- Trenches

Michael said...

AHCL:

I just got around to reading Steve McVickers' column in Texas Monthly, and wondered whether you thought it was a fair summation of Chuck's career.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/2008-03-01/letterfromhouston-2.php

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Michael,
Thanks for the link! I hadn't seen that. I read it, and I agree with about 98% of it, actually. McVickers was never really all that popular with the D.A.'s office during his time in Houston. He clearly wasn't a big fan of the Office, and I think that shows in the article.
But yes, I think his review of Chuck's career is accurate, for the most part.
Again, thank you for sending the link.