Friday, February 1, 2008

Racism, "Transparency" and the Office

I've often pointed out that Chuck Rosenthal "keeps his own counsel" when it comes to taking ideas from his staff. One of the more noteworthy ideas that he shot down was an idea from Kelly Siegler that the Office hire a media representative. Chuck's theory behind not hiring one was that ADAs should be allowed to talk about (and subsequently take credit for) their own big cases. It's a good thought, and I think that Chuck meant well, but what he failed to see was the downside of not having one.

If Kelly is elected, she certainly won't make the same mistake that he did.

Where am I going with this? Have a little patience, I'll get there.

Yesterday, Quannel X and a pretty sizeable group of protestors were in front of the CJC protesting. As I've pointed out, some of things they said were valid. Some were not.

But what was impossible to ignore was the fact that there was a vast vast disconnection between the (mostly) African-American protestors and the Criminal Justice System (specifically the HCDA's office). There were many things that were said by the multiple speakers, where I couldn't help but think "they just don't understand".

And then I realized that I may have just stumbled onto something. They didn't understand. Why not? Because the way the Harris County D.A.'s Office has been run for the past 8 years, it has made no successful attempts to help anyone understand. Chuck took the action that he deemed best for the Office, and made no attempt to explain his actions to anyone. From what I understand, he's still doing it now. Granted, he has other things on his mind at the moment, with the Federal case, but other than an e-mail to the entire office that he sent after "E-Mail Scandal Part 1" broke, he's been absolutely silent. Do you think its bad that he isn't explaining himself to the general public? He's not even explaining himself to the people who work for him.

What the Office lacks is "transparency", because, as I've said before, "preception is reality". If a group of this community feels alienated and discriminated against by the Criminal Justice System, then they are alienated and discriminated against for all intents and purposes.

Think about the situations where a little bit of explanation would have gone a long way:

1. The Andrea Yates case
2. The Supreme Court sodomy argument
3. The Houston Police Department DNA scandal
4. The "Crack pipe" policy
5. Um, the E-mail scandal

If Chuck had thought it out a little further, a PR representative could have been a big help to him, too. A PR rep would have given information to all the media outlets at the same time. If the Chronicle chose to sit on a story (as they seem to like to do quite frequently), the PR rep could call them out to the other media outlets.

And no, I'm not applying for a PR job.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that there have been multiple situations over the years where the community deserved a real explanation and failed to get one.

It's no wonder that there is such a disconnection with the D.A.'s Office and the African- American community.


Jen said...

You have really hit the nail on the head. Quannell and his ilk feed off of silence. While I understand fully that providing information will never make these race haters change their minds, the public is left hearing only one side of the issue. Since the DA's office isn't responding, the public assumes, correctly or not, that since Quannell is smoking, there must be fire. I also understand that sometimes you don't want to dignify anything Q10 says with any kind of response, but in an instance such as this, when it is obvious that “Houston, we have a problem”, making some sort of statement would be in everyone's best interests.

My own personal opinion: at this point, it seems as those Mr. Rosenthal cares more about his own pride than the wellbeing of the hardworking, HONEST men and women in the DA's office. His refusal to step down and take some of the steam out of the protest engines is putting a cloud over everything the ADAs do. I was so frustrated to read about the ADAs having to ask the Rosenthal Question during voir dire - he is tainting the entire department with his dishonesty, and that is just selfish, egotistical and arrogant. The pursuit of justice is a sacred thing in this country, and anything that casts a cloud over the integrity of those assigned to make sure justice is done should not be allowed to stand. No matter the outcome of the hearing, Rosenthal should step down, for the good of the justice system in Harris County, which is much, much more than just one man.

Anonymous said...

I give you applause. What you suggest doesn't require a PR person; it requires the right mindset and vertebrate leadership that is interested in serving the public. If the DA really wants the public to support his/her office's efforts, he/she also wants the public to understand the office and its actions.


Jason said...

I've been telling police officers the same thing. Often times agencies do themselves a disservice when they don't comment. There has to be a way to get the department's side out without compromising anything critical. For now, blogs do that job.

Mark Bennett said...

You're saying the public doesn't understand the DA's office because Chuck let the ADAs speak instead of hiring some professional spinmeister?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone is speaking out for the good people in the office.

Keep it up.

hcap said...

I have one thing I've been desperate to add to the discussion since the accusations of racism in Rosenthal's administration began to abound.

Rosenthal deliberately and pointedly chose to hire more African American attorneys than any of his predecessors. He changed the entire makeup of the hiring committee, from a group often referred to as the “Angry White Men” to a racially diverse group of men and women at different levels in the office. Furthermore, the group changes so the same people are not always in charge of these important decisions. The Hiring Committee change promoted the hiring of a more racially diverse group of prosecutors since its inception under Rosenthal. Under his administration he hired and promoted numerous people of color including African Americans, Americans of Korean, Vietnamese, and Indian descent to name a few. His actions would indicate anything but racism as his goal throughout the office.

Unfortunately, as your article points out, the lack of a PR person has failed to bring this to the public’s attention. No one knows the great strides he made to promote women and people of color throughout the office. Therefore, he is known now merely as a racist, sexist, lover of porn both nationally and internationally.

It is unfortunately that Rosenthal has once again chosen not to come to his own defense, and we now see how that choice has affected all the employees he wanted to protect, including Mr. Freyer and Mr. Trent.

But, knowing the facts, I hope others will choose to judge the man on his actions rather than some emails. I think the poster who discussed the “Chinese Firedrill” made an excellent point. Each of us will make an offhand comment at times that someone might consider offensive, or have a random thought that is politically incorrect. Therefore, I would hope that it is our actions we are judged by because they seem to speak the loudest about what is truly in our hearts.

This is just something to keep in mind while reading all the negative coverage.

Anonymous said...

Its all BS in order to repair their problems they need to act ethically and fairly toward all defendants and should forget their win at all costs attitude they should put a copier in their office an allow all defense attorneys an opportunity to copy files like they do in other counties. All sentencing should impose equally and not arbitrarily like they have done for the past 30 years. They should even create an inspector General's office for complaints about DA conduct...treat every lawyer with respect regardless of color... and lets not forget that every defendant, last I checked is innocent until proven guilty. They should fire every chief( who claims they were just following orders) in this organization ...the way CR has acted makes that building the Injustice time for him to lawyer up with a criminal lawyer and start pleading the Fifth.....

Anonymous said...

I am not a chron poster. You would be surprised at who I am. I am a white male. Of course, I won't put my name out of fear of retribution. Just like the blog mistress here won't put her name.

You are only 10% there in your reality check. A PR person WILL NOT solve your problems. You think that explaining yourselves will make everyone happy, but this assumes you are right. Nobody trusts the office right now.

I know many posters here are afraid for their jobs and concerned about the future of the DA's office in general. But you are ignoring the reality. The reality is, the DA's office no longer runs the show. With all due respect, it is somewhat frightening to read the blogger's post here talking about continuing the office with Kelly.

All of CR's good deeds, and I'm sure they are many, fade into obscurity and his legacy will be this. This scandal will always be the footnote to his name.

I never, ever thought I would say this, and it is scary on many levels. But for once, I agree with Quannell, and even more frightening, I actually agree with everything Brian Wice said on KPRC today. Everything.

And I have never agreed with either of these two gentlemen about anything dealing with the criminal justice system or with individual cases. Ever.

And for those who are discounting the protesters, what you need to know is that many of those folks have been protesting injustice since they were young, in the 50's and 60's. Some of their ideas may be skewed by passion and anger, such as the suggestion of freeing all folks sent to prison in the last 10 years, but what they are saying is being echoed in the white, black, hispanic, asian and other communities across the county. But what they know is that the cumulative effect of what has come public in the last month shows them they can't trust you. And it is not just Quannell followers that think this.

I spoke with an older white female today, who does not work in the criminal justice system. She is very educated and is retired. Like many Houstonians, she is following this ordeal very closely. She told me today she was voting for Pat, because the office needs a disciplinarian.

She won't vote for Kelly because it is status quo. No vote for Jim because he is a defense attorney and that is what he chose to be and that is what he should be. The cop has too little experience as an attorney or manager, and Bradford, well, his past work history is his demise.

She knows the things being said about Lycos, because she googled this blog and Bennett's blog.

I tend to agree.

Like James Bond's favorite drink, the office should be shaken, not stirred.

You know what the saddest sound byte has been during this scandal? Remember the older black minister who appeared on Fox 26's report after the KFC and Clinton emails were released? This minister, a fine gentleman, was about to cry as he spoke of praying with CR in CR's office, with other ministers, regarding the Sutton case. Then he found out what CR had in his email, and it really broke his heart. You could tell it was sincere. He was so devastated.

I don't think he is the only person in Houston who has lost faith. There are many fine ada's in Harris County, but they need to realize that they no longer hold the monopoly on what is right.

What would Jesus do if he had a bracelet that said "What Would Chuck Do"? I think he'd be hiring a good criminal lawyer for next monday. I think that is the reason for the abrupt recess, because someone should have taken the 5th.

Karma will get you every time.

Anonymous said...

anon 7:15 Amen to that brother, those are candid opinions that will put us on the road to recovery...

A Harris County Lawyer said...

What I was saying in this post is that Chuck has operated with a level of arrogance that led him to believe that he didn't need to explain himself to anyone, especially not the community that he was elected to represent. His refusal to hire a PR person was a symptom of a bigger problem. The bigger problem being that he need not have a discussion with people about his policies and views.

If you look at the bigger picture, it's this attitude that has created the Hell that followed it.

I'm a firm believer in the theory that if you believe you are right in what you are doing, you can explain yourself every time.

For example, the fairly recent change in the crack pipe policy. I think we all wish it hadn't happened. An explanation of the change in policy to, at least, the legal community. Granted, it may not be an explanation that anybody accepts, but it would be a start.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:15 - clearly, you've never been in the actual presence of Lykos. Mark Bennett should be D.A. before Lykos. At least he is empathetic about someone besides himself.

Anonymous said...

A new campaign slogan for Lycos?

"I'm no Mark Bennett".

Actually, I liked Mark's TV interview as well. But I thought he'd look taller on tv.

Put that in the catagory of Quannell/Wice things I thought I'd never agree with as well.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Mark's political stock seems to be on the rise!

Mark and I are on polar opposites on the vast majority of issues, but I think we are both in agreement that Pat Lykos would be a really bad idea as District Attorney.

A poster yesterday stated that all people who are chiefs and above at the Office should be fired. That's would get rid of every single person who has every tried a capital murder case and leave no one in the office with more than 7 or 8 years experience.

Are we real sure that's a good idea?