Friday, May 9, 2008

Kelly Siegler's Resignation

I'm sure by now that all of you have heard that Kelly Siegler resigned, effective immediately from the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

I know that death penalty opponents nationwide are rejoicing that the most effective voice for victim's advocacy has retired, but I think that there are many more who fully realize the tremendous loss that Harris County has suffered today. There was probably no person who tried harder to assure that justice was done, regardless of where and when a crime was committed, or who the Defendant was (or who he hired to represent him).

The cynics may laugh and say that it's not like she could completely stop crime in Houston. Fair enough, I suppose, but if there were more hours in the day, she just damn well might have.

Without Kelly Siegler:
-A man who fired a shotgun into the head of his eight-month pregnant wife may still be going to work every day without ever feeling a single repercussion of his actions.
-a young man who killed a woman in a wig shop so he could experience "the thrill" of taking another human's life might be still partying it up in college.
-a man who paid another man to kill his wife, rather than divorce her, might be relaxing at home.
-the man that took that money to kill may have done other unspeakable acts to finance himself.
-the murderer of a Precinct One Deputy Constable may be sitting around, having a beer, bragging to his friends about "that cop he killed".
-one of the murders of Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena may have been the grand leader of the gang he was joining that night.

And that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all she has done.

I'm proud to call Kelly Siegler a friend and a mentor to me. She was a prosecutor's prosecutor who could pick up a file and understand the pain that a victim or a victim's family had been through.

She never thought of doing anything other than being a prosecutor.

I mean, hell, look at it. Her first day as a private practitioner and she picks up a gig as a special prosecutor in Wharton County. It may not make good business sense, but it speaks volumes of who Kelly is, and who she always has been.

You can't be a prosecutor anywhere without picking up some enemies along the way, and I'm sure that the family members of murderers and criminals that she put in prison are having a cathartic release over on the Chronicle message boards. Members of the Defense Bar have recognized her talent as a formidable opponent, and only those with a bitterness that bred classlessness took joy in her departure.

But for those families whose lives she touched- the ones she drove out to talk to-the ones she met with for hours in her office-the ones that she would spend her time consoling during every break in a trial-they know that the job of being a prosecutor is one where you make a stand for what you believe in.

She was accused of being "win at all costs" - an easy phrase from ill-informed critics. I think she's more aptly described as a prosecutor who gave everything she had for a case she believed in.

Seriously, what did her critics expect?

"Hey Kelly, would you mind kind of half-assing it during the cross of the defendant? Thanks."

Kelly Siegler never did anything half-assed in her life, and the Harris County Criminal Justice System and the District Attorney's Office has never had another prosecutor with more dedication or talent.

In the history of the Office, there has probably never been a prosecutor more deserving of the name "Legend".

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

AHCL,

No disagreement with what you've said. She did her job and, quite frankly, she did it very well.

The problem is that she was tainted with the Rosenthal scenario and she could not overcome that.

Siegler was extremely dedicated, possibly to a fault. She had the tendency to be rather judgmental, sometimes to her detriment. She gave a lot of people the impression she was a zealot.

Her comments about the Lakewood Church members were stupid and angered a lot of voters.

Her time at the DA's office was over. Nothing against Siegler, but her time and her style simply had to go.

It appears that all of those police endorsements meant nothing.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

I don't see any point in analyzing the value of endorsements, actually. Kelly still earned 7000 more votes than Lykos ever did. The problem was that not enough people got out and voted in the Republican runoff. When there were only two races on the ballot, and your personal life has never involved the Criminal Courthouse, you probably weren't real motivated to take time out of your day to vote.
I think many jurors who served in Kelly's cases would probably strongly disagree with you that "her time and her style simply had to go".
Apathy had a much larger role in this election than probably anything else.

Anonymous said...

AHCL, so what is the source of the apathy you criticize anonymous for?

If this was a serious issue to the voters of Harris County, don't you think Kelly would be on top of this?

Michael said...

I see no connection between death penalty advocacy and victim's rights. Killing a murderer is an act of vengeance and bloodthirst, not justice, and the prosecutor's master is rightly the entire population of her jurisdiction, not just the victims -- the one group who perceives crime the least objectively. (When I was burglarized in 2001, my initial response was the death penalty would be appropriate.)

With regard to the notches on Siegler's bedposts, I gather these were vicious crimes committed by vicious folks. Is there some objective reason to believe those particular defendants would not have been convicted if Siegler didn't handle their cases? When I think of the really bad murder cases I'm familiar with in Austin -- from the Henderson baby killing to the Pitonyak dismemberment of his girlfriend-- I don't get the impression the prosecutors had challenging evidentiary or legal hurdles.

By the "families she's touched", I'm assuming you're not referring to the families of the Lakewood Church she referred to as screwballs and nuts, right?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Re: In the history of the Office, there has probably never been a prosecutor more deserving of the name "Legend".

If there was, it certainly wasn't her husband's most famous medical patient!

Actually, I largely agree with both your comments and also with 10:33's, who hit the nail on the head several times, penultimately "Nothing against Siegler, but her time and her style simply had to go."

I think the main reason is one AHCL identified: "She never thought of doing anything other than being a prosecutor." That mentality can result in a limited field of vision, in particular, as 10:33 put it, "the tendency to be rather judgmental, sometimes to her detriment." That characterization also applies to her past two bosses and a lot of the top leadership in the DA's office.

Also, let's not pretend the Harris DA's office is remotely in the ballpark of "completely stop[ping] crime in Houston." The era where Siegler predominated in the DA's office coincided with Houston suffering one of the worst crime rates in the country among large cities. Crime has declined, as it did nationwide, but Houston saw less benefit from that reduction than most large cities. It's just true. Maybe a different approach will reduce crime more.

I'm assuming no one forced her out, so this was Siegler's choice. Nobody was going to fire her if she wanted to stay and prosecute cases on the front line, she just wasn't going to get to run the show.

I'm sorry you lost your friend and mentor on the job, and I wish Siegler luck in whatever she pursues next. But I won't be unhappy to see Chuck Rosenthal's leadership team disassemble in the coming months. It's time.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 11:38,
The voters were on top of it in the general election, when Kelly outpaced Lykos by around 9,000 votes. The apathy arose when it came time for people to go back to the runoff. That's where Lykos won by 2000. The apathy I'm talking about is for the folks that didn't take time to vote in the run off.

Michael!
Where've you been, man? I was about to issue a missing persons alert for you.
I think it is fair to say that some cases are easier than others, but the David Temple and Dror Goldberg cases were extraordinarily tough. And I think people often think getting a jury to vote for death penalty (as she did on the other cases listed) is a lot easier than it actually is. So, no, I don't think just any attorney could achieve what she did.
And, come on, man. This was a nice little tribute post to my friend. Was the Lakewood dig really necessary? Be nice.
But, seriously, welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Kelly is a loss for the office. I'm sorry as well, about you losing your friend and mentor. And I know she has been, at one time or another, a mentor or a hero to many prosecutors across the state. There is hardly a prosecutor in the state who doesn't know who Kelly is, and about her victories, and even if they don't like some of the dirt that came out in the campaign, they still admire and appreciate her trial skills.


But I weary of the "world wise" perspective of Grits Henson beating down prosecutors and law enforcement. I mean, let's put his comments in perspective.

If you read the grits blog, you know he is neither a fan nor friend of law enforcement. Take for example the mormon children story. Before all the facts are out, he's is lambasting honorable prosecutors, cps workers, Texas Rangers and others, when in fact any person with the sense God gave to come in out of the rain knows the government investigation is not only legally right, but morally right to save these abused children.

So here we have an unemployed guy, with no college degree or specialized education, NO REAL EXPERIENCE IN LAW OR LAW ENFORCEMENT, who basically is even persona non grata with his former homies the ACLU, who begs for money from readers on his so-called blog, and he dares critique public servants like Holmes, Rosenthal or Seigler? Who gave grits the right to judge another? For what I can see, his blog attracts the fruits and nuts of disenfranchised Texas politics as commenters who see things his way. And he relentlessly attacks all prosecutors with rumor and hyperbole in his so-called statistics.

Although I did not think Seigler was the ideal choice for DA after some of the disclosures that came out in and before the campaign, I know she is a helluva prosecutor, and even though there are many fine Harris County ADA's who are more than capable of filling the void left by her departure, there will always be a chapter on her in the history of the office.

Finally, the special prosecutor gig in wharton may not be such a bad business idea. The AG's office is overwhelmed with the Eldorado thing, and their availability for capital trials is very limited. Their personnal have a wait time of over a year to be able to try a capital case.

There are many small and medium sized counties with no Seigler in their DA's offices to handle the ever-increasing number of capital cases, particularly those involving the deaths of children. And even if they do have personnel experienced enough for these cases, often times they can't afford to use that manpower for a cap case, lest the rest of the office fall by the wayside.

Thus, as many say, everything happens for a reason. Maybe all the things that have happened that led to this point were designed to put Kelly out across the State to help other DA's and communities. Kelly has the reputation and credibility amongst the tdcaa leadership, as well as with small town DA's across the state, and I think it is highly possible that she could fill her time acting as special prosecutor in many communities that need help with capital and murder cases.

Tex

Anonymous said...

What a loss this county has suffered. I don't care what anyone says -- when you have a friend or family member who is murdered or seriously injured, I doubt, no, I KNOW, that there is no other prosecutor other than Kelly Siegler that you would want to handle the case. Anyone who says otherwise is full of crap.

If we are going to have these "intellectual" discussions about rule of law, defendant's rights, ethics, etc., then victims have to be discussed as well. Granted, there are some wonderful discussions that take place on these boards. But I cannot recall ever having seen a murder victim or a murder victim's family having posted a message about how the crime against them has ruined their world forever.

Kelly got that. Other prosecutors get that. Many defense attorneys get that. Many don't, and are blinded by their goal -- NOT JUSTICE, but victory, which they mask with what they call "zealously defending their clients". They know that for many of their clients justice would mean some form of punishment, fine, etc. But yet they still seek absolute exoneration for their clients. Justice? Hardly.

Kelly played hard ball; she pushed the limits. There is no doubt that is how she worked. I admire that. You have to be tough, if you are going to seriously prosecute the most heinous crimes.

Rules are rules though. Prosecutors, for example, should not commit Brady violations, and those who do should be punished. Harris county has an "open file" policy, which has most likely created more transparency in this county than most others. On the other hand, defense attorneys should not tamper with witnesses in cases. THEY DO. All the time, in fact. There is no worse feeling than talking to a victim's mother and father and have them explain to you how the "jerk's attorney" came to the house and sat in their living room and convinced the victim not to testify against him. You try your hardest to locate your witness, but there is only so much you can do on the eve of trial.

Kelly got that. They play dirty. They know they do. She played hard ball, and was not ashamed of it. Best of luck Kelly, I know that you will do a wonderful job in your upcoming ventures.

Anonymous said...

Siegler is a survivor and will no doubt move on to other opportunities. She's good at what she does...putting people on death row.

However, that being said, it's long past time for some major changes and shakeups at the DA's office. This county has a reputaton as a "conviction machine" and there needs to be some balance.

The pendelum is now swinging back toward the middle. Sielger is the first of what will probably be a large number of prosecutors who will be seeking new employment.

But, hey, some change is necessary and good.

Anonymous said...

This is only the beginning. Others will follow suit. Harris county is going to lose more prosecutors than people are willing to admit. The county has spent a great deal of time and money training these prosecutors and now will see no benefit from it. Serves the voters right.

Prosecutors young and old feel the lack of job security and are looking to get out of there. Even those who are only a year or two away from retirement realize that they could lose everything and are weighing their options. The Office is a sad place to be these days.

Why stay when you can make more money and have security elsewhere? The love of the job just isn't going to be there with the "new" office. When you look around and can't trust anyone enough to go to them with a problem there is going to be no other choice but to leave.

TxGoodie said...

Very well said "Tex"!

Anonymous said...

Having worked for a government agency for many years, I have seen situations when you get people who have "topped out" and have no where to go and they simply get stagnant and entrenched.

Not to say that Siegler was either, but those bureau chiefs have been sitting there for twenty plus years.

Some change is inevitable and here it was despereately needed. On the plus side, this should open the door to creative young prosecutors to move up the ladder and infuse new ideas and attitudes.

Basically, I see this as a short term loss for a long term gain. There's a lot of good legal talent in this city and in the long run, the DA's office should be better for it.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Michael,
I got your message that you didn't want published. Please send me an e-mail directly at ahcl2008@gmail.com if you wish to discuss more, my friend.

FOP98 said...

Kelly Siegler will be missed. I enjoyed watching her career florish over the years. She has the extra drive in her to go on to bigger things. Good Luck Kelly!

Anonymous said...

The departures of Siegler (and now Paul Doyle too I think) are no doubt just the beginning.

Maybe it would be intereting if you could publish periodic summaries of everyone who leaves between now and next year. The numbers could prove interesting and perhaps you could provide updates as they occur.

Dallas County had an enormous turnover when Craig Watkins took over. I suspect we'll see the same thing here.

David said...

Thank you, anon 8:55. About time someone said that.

David said...

Anon 8:55, 'bout time someone said that.

Anonymous said...

It is about time the DA office in Harris County starts to dissimalate. No one is indispensable and some of the lawyers there have needed to go for some time. If that office is comletely cleared out and replaced by non-Rosenthal people, maybe Harris County will loose the horrible name it has obtained through the actions of it's court system

Next item on the agenda, remove some of the Judges from the bench. One in particular is so unprofessional, she should never have been re-elected and maybe her run is now over also.

Then start with the CCA 1st and 14th and clean that court out also. They don't do their job and simply rubber stamp every case that comes across their desk. Anything to get home right after 5:00 PM.

Let the changes continue and get fair justice back into the courts!!

Allison Thompson said...

I LOVED HER !! She put everything she had into Prosecuting Scumbags. I am sure there was a lot of Jealousy over her SPECTACULAR RECORD. She did not need to prove anything, she was the best.

Allison Thompson said...

I LOVED HER ! She always put everything she had into prosecuting SCUMBAGS. My belief is that there was MUCH Jealousy over her incredible record. She had nothing to prove to anyone, because she was the best. Now she's a TV Star !The best revenge is living well and SHE IS !!

married2mb said...

You Allison Thompson, are true & correct about that. She is one hell'va person to devote all her knowledge to helping people find justice. Sad thing is...I have heard every victim's family members say: "I am glad this is over, now we can try to have some type of closure"..."however years later to hear them say it didn't make them feel any different. Only because winning didn't bring back their loved ones!". I admire this woman Kelly Seigler. She isn't afraid of people. She is very confident in her course of examination of the cases to have that gut instinct to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, if she prosecuted them? They went to jail...PERIOD! I do not think this woman valued her "WINS". She is the only one I can say that IT DID MATTER if that person was guilty...she never tried to rush things & just assume someone was guilty. She had to know or be convinced NOT ONLY by evidence, but by talking to people directly & getting to know how this person fits into a situation, & how she feels they are lying or telling the truth. I think she has a sic sense or something. She is sharp as a tack & no doubt this was her talent in life. She reminds me of the person who won't half ass something....gotta be done right or not worth doing at all. Texas born & has the soul of an old southern woman. She is funny, beautiful, & prides herself on not only talking, but showing & doing. She is not one to give herself the credit. That means nothing to her. GETTING JUSTICE DOES!

Anonymous said...

I saw a tv documentary that she proved someone who had been in jail for a long time innocent and the prosecutor in that case has committed some misconduct. Is this why Kelly retired?