Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Race for Harris County District Attorney

It's been over six months now since Judge Pat Lykos defeated Kelly Siegler in the Republican Primary for the District Attorney's race, leaving her to face Democratic candidate and former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford in the November election. The last time I wrote anything definitive on the race was immediately on the heels of the run-off vote.

Many things have changed over the past six months. Time has passed and life has settled back down to a large degree -- just in time for everything to get all stirred up again for November! In the meantime, I'll try to take a little less emotional look at what is probably the most important race affecting those of us in and around the Criminal Justice Center.

In the wake of the Republican run-off, I, along with several other prosecutors had a sit-down meeting with Chief Bradford. I was impressed by his easy-going demeanor and his very apparent earnestness at explaining the direction he wanted to take the Office. He was very nice. He answered the tough questions about his past with HPD, and he stayed as long as we had questions. At the end of the meeting, I realized that he was a charismatic leader and I liked him very much.

The flak that Chief Bradford largely gets obviously comes from his time as Chief of the Houston Police Department, with the DNA Lab Scandal and the K-Mart Raid being the Top Two marks against him. It is true that some of the blame of those two events rests with Chief Bradford, but I don't think they should be the factors that are necessarily fatal to his campaign.

The crime lab was already in disarray long before he took over the helm of HPD. It is true that he didn't give the problems the proper attention that they deserved, but I think that he has gotten the lion's share of the blame without being the one most responsible for what happened there.

As for the K-Mart raid, you can count me as one of the citizens of the county that thought the motorcycle racers that regularly hung out at the K-Mart on Westheimer were a bad nuisance to the community. There was more than one occasion that I was driving on 610 when those bikers would all leave the parking lot and go jetting down the highway, causing chaos on the pavement. That raid needed to happen, and if it had gone as planned, it would have been loudly praised. Unfortunately, it got out of hand at the scene for whatever reason. Chief Bradford wasn't at that scene, and I think that we all know that sometimes the best laid plans can often go awry.

No, Chief Bradford's past with HPD does not concern me when looking at his ability to be District Attorney. There is also something to be said for his ability as a manager of large amounts of people in a major law enforcement entity in a large county. Those are relevant skills.

What does concern me about Chief Bradford as the elected District Attorney is that everything I hear him talking about on the campaign trail seems to have more to do with being well liked than creating an effective District Attorney's office. Yes, it would be great if the Harris County District Attorney's Office was the most beloved of all D.A.'s offices throughout the country, but unfortunately, that's not really the job description.

Bill Turner, the elected District Attorney in Brazos County (and someone I consider to be a mentor to me) once told me that "being the District Attorney is the slow alienation of your community". What he meant was that the District Attorney and the prosecutors under him or her have to make tough decisions, and those decisions are often unpopular with the people they affect. But that's part of the job. Everybody cheers the traffic cop who saves the citizen trapped in a burning car, but we'll be cussing his name the second he writes us a traffic ticket, won't we?
(As a side note, if you are reading this in Brazos County, please vote for Bill Turner. He's one of the greatest prosecutors I've ever seen and he makes my old hometown very proud).

The bottom line is that a person doesn't become the District Attorney to be loved. They are there to do a job and it is a job based on tough decisions that have to be made. Often times public opinion has to be set aside to do what is legally correct. Over-exerting yourself trying to be well-loved will set a leader up to doing the wrong thing in the name of popularity. I would rather hear from a candidate who is talking more about being tough on crime than talking about building a public defender's office. That's not the D.A.'s job, and Bradford's devotion to community relationships and public perception greatly concerns me.

The lack of familiarity with what the job entails for him concerns me greatly.

Judge Lykos actually does have that familiarity with the job description. It is also my firm belief that (all campaign slams against Kelly Siegler during the primary campaign aside) she knows that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is the best damn D.A.'s Office in the Nation. While Chief Bradford is talking about a complete dismantling and rebuilding of the Office, she knows that it is an Office filled with the most talented Public Servants in the world. It may need some tweaking, but it doesn't need the massive overhaul that Chief Bradford is promising.

She knows from her experience as a judge how the Criminal Justice System works from inside the courtroom. She knows that the basic structure of the Office is a pretty amazing system that day in and day out meets the needs of a very crime-ridden community. She knows the difference between cases that can be legally proven and those that can't. She also understands that being the District Attorney often means doing the unpopular thing in the name of Justice.

There is also the high likelihood that she will be bringing along Jim Leitner as a part of her upper-Administration. Awhile back, I took some pretty serious potshots at Jim, when I was feeling angry and disappointed with him over his endorsement of Lykos.

For that, I'm sorry. Jim Leitner is a good attorney and a good person. If a Lykos Administration brings Leitner with it, then that's a definite positive.

So, I'm caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here.

On a personal level, I like Chief Bradford a lot, and I would gladly work for him. On the flip side, I think that the way that Lykos ran her primary campaign drug our Office through the mud and it ran one of the greatest prosecutors in the Nation out of public service.

I spoke out about it then, and I don't regret that. I stood by my friend who I believed to be the best candidate for the job and I did it wholeheartedly. I wouldn't be the kind of person I want to be if I had handled it any different.

I would imagine that Pat Lykos will probably fire me (uh, if I actually work there) if elected.

That would be her Right.

But the election isn't about what's best for me. It's about what is best for Harris County.

You can pick at and blast me all you want, but I'm proud of being a member of the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Chuck Rosenthal was not a representation of what we stand for or how we conduct ourselves on a day to day basis. From the top to the bottom, that Office is filled with people that I'm proud to say I work with every day. What was needed to restore the reputation of that Office was for Chuck to leave, which he did. Look at how well the Office has done under the few short months that Ken Magidson has been in charge there.

Ultimately, I think that Pat Lykos is the better of the two choices for Harris County, as much as it pains me on a personal level to say.

The next four years are going to be really interesting, no matter what.

If it gets too bad, just remember this slogan:

AHCL in Twenty Twelve!

14 comments:

TxGoodie said...

I held my nose and voted for her only because she ran as the Republican candidate. If she's half as bad as folks say she'll boot her own self out of office soon enough (right, Chuck?).

In times like these a voter has to do what a voter has to do and throw up later. It's tacky to hurl on the machine.

Anonymous said...

Probably one of your best blogs yet.

A few notes though - I am yet to talk to an HPD officer who served in the Bradford administration who liked him. Also, I have only heard one attorney (out of a sample of 50) say anything positive about Lykos.

I heard a RUMOR (capitalized for emphasis) that if Bradford is elected he will bring in a panel of defense attorneys to go through the current ADAs and determine who should stay or go. Which means, if you have ever crossed paths and got heated over a case you were passionate about-your job is now in jeopardy. Makes no sense to me at all.

The office is still 50 ADAs short of being fully staffed; a massive cut will only hurt the community and conviction rates will plummet.

Part of me hopes Ken will run in 2012, he did get us printers and disband the dress code committee (no one to yell at me about wearing hose anymore……)

CO Badfor Harris County said...

Only Pat Lykos has the knowledge and experience to be Harris Co.'s next DA!! Whether Republican, Independent or Democrat - vote Pat Lykos!!

Vote Pat Lykos - www.patlykos.com - Vote Pat Lykos

Anonymous said...

I have read this blog thoroughly 3 times to be sure what I read.

I know it was hard for you to write some of the things you did but it takes a bigger man to admit when he has been wrong.

I can't still agree with you regarding Kelly. She was part of the problem and would have continued some of the same issues that negate the dignity of the office.

It is/was unfortunate that Jim Leitner did not receive the backing of the idiots at the Republican party. He was the best candidate on either side of the aisle. Ask members from both!

If Lykos is elected, the first positive move she could make is hiring Leitner. That would be the beginning of restoring the office.

I hope that you remain in the office if you so choose (and coninue this blog).

May Tuesday be the best for all whatever that may be.

Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

AHCL must be more of a Republican than he admits.

Ron in Houston said...

Well, you could always not cast a vote. That way no matter what you can honestly say, "Well, I didn't vote for that clown."

A Harris County Lawyer said...

I was raised a Republican and I think I'm still Republican when it comes to finances and national security.

But I think I'm pretty much a Democrat when it comes to social issues.

Anonymous said...

Bradford is going to win. I've been around the DA's office since the early 1970s. I thought Carol Vance was a great DA. He hired professional people and expected them to behave professionally. And, he always had a superstar to replace the superstar who was quitting. He had some clinkers, but he had some wonderful people. You only have to look at Columbus and Colorado County, where Ken Sparks, a Carol Vance alum, is county attorney. Don't get in trouble in Columbus because if you do, you're in REAL trouble.
Johnny Holmes was a friend but sometimes I thought he made the office too bureaucratic. On the other hand, with 200 lawyers working for you, you have to have rules.
Chuck, well, Chuck was Chuck. One former superstar in the DA's office once told me Chuck had only 51 cards in the deck and only 1 oar in the water. He was a disaster because he had no moral compass. The worst example was when he and another DA sent an undercover cop into the jail to tell a prisoner, "Hi. I'm your court appointed lawyer."
Between Pat, who I've known for many years and had more than a few drinks with, and C.O., I have to go with Pat. She's been in a courtroom and has a feel for what assistant DA's do for a living. And, while she can drive you mad sometimes, I think she will get rid of the bad DAs and identify the good ones.
But, she won't get the chance.
We need more prosecutors who worry about seeing that justice is done, not just about getting a conviction.

Mark W. Stephens said...

I read Rick Casey's column today in the Chronicle about Lloyd Kelly's apparent fraudulent invoices. He brings up a very good point. The next DA may have to prosecute Lloyd Kelly.

I was an investigator with HPD's Public Integrity Review Group and Office of Inspector General for several years.

Considering the fact that Bradford tried to stop two of our investigations of Lloyd Kelly while Kelly was the City Controller, and the fact that Bradford...the Chief of Police...was overheard giving Lloyd Kelly...the subject of a criminal investigation..."updates" on our on-going investigation, I doubt very seriously that Bradford would allow the prosecution of Lloyd Kelly.

By the way, one of our investigations was in response to an allegation that Lloyd Kelly had misused city computers in the Controller's office. Bradford ordered us to stop the investigation, but we seized the computers anyway.

What did we find on those computers?

Besides a ton of pornography, we found documents that indicated a private law firm was being run out of the City Controller's office, using those city computers.

What was the name of that law firm?

Kelly and Bradford, LLC.

Yes, the same Lloyd Kelly that released Chuck Rosenthal's emails to the media and the same Clarence Bradford that recently declared he would investigate/prosecute Chuck Rosenthal for misusing the county computers. Bradford and Kelly had a law firm together and it appeared as though it was being run out of the City Controller's office. No wonder Bradford tried to cover it up.

More than a bit hypocritical don't you think?

In my opinion, Bradford is as corrupt as they come. And I think its a real tragedy that he's this close to becoming the next DA.

This is just a small example of what I saw first hand of Bradford's corruption. There's plenty more.

The sad thing is, the media has all of this. They practically beat down my door begging for an interview back at the first of the year...and they've since decided to sit on the story. Go figure.

I heard someone say the other day that true journalism is dead. Seems pretty accurate.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, even though I lean Democratic Bradford is definitely not the choice. This race is a classic example of voters probably not making an informed choice. From the outside it may look logical to elect a former police chief as DA. After all, aren't they on the same side in the public's mind? And that's where their analysis will end.

While he may be a nice guy, he has no idea how the DA's office should be run. The mission of HPD is not the same as the mission of the DA's office. Managerial skills aside, most people want bosses who have some idea what they do and how they do it.

Lykos is right. The office does need to be reformed. In my opinion the blind obsession with docket numbers needs to stop. A nice guy with no experience inside a courtroom can not be an effective reformer. Every decision his regime would make will be second guessed or accompanied by a sotto voce "He doesn't have a clue." After all, what does he know about being a prosecutor.

While there are some fine prosecutors, there are some who are not. If the lesser prosecutors are an example of the finest DA's office in the nation then I shudder to think what occurs elsewhere.

While Lykos may have a (well earned?) reputation, she does know what happens inside a courtroom and will be able to see through the BS she is being fed. If she is elected perhaps some of the more carefree prosecutors would realize that they have to shape up or hit the road.

Anonymous said...

Frank Briscoe is the only DA I've ever really respected.

Sincerely,
Old Lawyer Guy

Mark Bennett said...

"It is/was unfortunate that Jim Leitner did not receive the backing of the idiots at the Republican party. He was the best candidate on either side of the aisle. Ask members from both!"

Too bad the ADAs encouraged Jim to run, then threw him under the bus when Kelly decided to run. If Jim had sued to challenge Kelly's and Pat's places on the ballot (for untimely filings), Jim would be our next DA.

Pat Lykos will do okay; she appeals to the anarchist in me.

Anonymous said...

Just to set the record straight, Mark, there were MANY of us at the DA's office who supported Jim and prayed he would reign victorious... despite the intense pressure we were receiving to support Kelly. It was not an easy time for those who refused to drink the kool-aid. Some of us are still being shunned for that decision.

Anonymous said...

TxGoodie said...

" I held my nose and voted for her only because she ran as the Republican candidate."


Huh. You wouldn't happen to be one of the people in the more current post bemoaning the straight-ticket voting that ran many judges out of office, would you?