Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Academician Retires

Tomorrow will be Felony Trial Bureau Chief Lyn "Big Poppa" McClellan's last day in office.

To say that his departure from the Office will be a tremendous loss is like saying that the Titanic took on a little water back in 1912.

Lyn was one of a handful of prosecutors that I had heard about and read about prior to my joining the Office in 1999. One of my early mentors in life was a former HPD Homicide Sergeant named Gil Schultz who had his biggest case tried by Lyn and Rusty Hardin. It was the Cynthia Campbell case that was documented in two books -- Daddy's Girl by Clifford Irving and Cold Kill by Jack Olsen. If you haven't read them before, I highly recommend both books. For those of you who have read them, you know there is a priceless photo of Lyn in one of them.

Shortly after I started at the Office, Lyn became the Division Chief of Misdemeanor, meaning he was one of my supervisors. It was hard to fathom that a prosecutor of Lyn's stature would be supervising me while I was trying first time DWI cases, but yet that was what happened.

When I was still a Baby Three in Misdemeanor, I argued a Motion to Suppress in front of Judge Pam Derbyshire and Lyn showed up to assist. He backed me up and argued the points of the case with me.

To be honest, it may have been the coolest moment I ever had as a prosecutor. For the first time in (at that point) a very short career I felt like I was part of a Team. And to be a part of that team was exactly where I belonged.

During my time in Misdemeanor, Lyn and I had some rather contentious dealings with each other. For some reason, we couldn't help but pick on and harass one another. He thought of me as a goofy gossip with some severe maturity issues. I accused him of being an inventor of words that did not truly exist -- such as Academician, for example. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure we were both correct in our respective assessments.

Although I would never tell him to his face, however, I admired the Man immensely.

Lyn was a Leader amongst Leaders. He was the guy who backed his people with everything he had, and those who worked under him knew it. To countless prosecutors, both current and former, he earned our undying admiration and loyalty.

In addition to his leadership skills, Lyn was a phenomenal prosecutor who had absolutely no fear of trying any case. He was an expert in so many fields of prosecution, especially those having to deal with the insanity defense. I had the opportunity to watch him during his individual voir dire on the Rafael Resendiz-Ramirez case. The issue of insanity in a criminal setting is not a simple one, but Lyn had a way of making it seem like the easiest question on Earth to answer. I learned a lot from watching him, and I copied what he did when I had a murder case with an insanity defense years later.

He was an authority on many legal issues, and he always had time to explain it to even the most junior of us.

I was talking to a Felony Three this morning about McClellan, and we came to the conclusion that pretty much everyone in the Office had a "Lyn story" or two about great moments they had working alongside him.

My favorite personal story about working with Lyn was when I was in Judge Ross' court and got into it with C. Tom Zarrati. Zaratti had told me "Listen kid, when you are dealing with lawyers like Racehorse Haynes, Dick DeGuerin, and me, just give us the bottom line." He went on to announce "the reason I hate you prosecutors is that when you can't get the Defendants, you go after us lawyers".

At which point, McClellan jumped out of his chair and yelled: "Well Goddamn Tom! After all these years of wondering why you hate us prosecutors, we finally know the reason! I've been wondering all these years, and now you've finally told us!" Zaratti turned beet red and promptly shut up on his diatribe.

And I knew from that moment on that Lyn McClellan was someone who always backed up his prosecutors.

In a post that I wrote back in the Spring, I mentioned that the best thing about practicing criminal law in Harris County is that it provides you the opportunity to walk amongst Giants.

Lyn McClellan was one of those Giants I had in mind when I said that.

Happy Retirement, Lyn. You deserve it.

On behalf of the countless young 'uns that you mentored, I offer a very sincere "thank you" for everything.

P.S. "Academician" is not a real word.


James Dixon said...

Academician is a real word, now. It's like I always say--Do you know how many words are made-up words? ALL OF THEM.

Thomas Hobbes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Lyn is undoubtedly the best attorney I have ever seen in a Capital Murder Voir Dire. His loss will be felt in the office and the community. I wish him the best in retirement.

Thomas Hobbes said...

So what's wrong with being an academician?

It's interesting that Tom would have identified himself as a lawyer; who would have guessed? I wonder whether Tom now similarly hates the prison guards with whom he shares his life.

I've spoken to Lyn in the hallways and elevators many time. His presence will be missed.


Anonymous said...

Simply put, Lyn is a bad ass. As Rusty Hardin said on Thursday, whenever there was a question between pressure from outside sources on one side, and what is right on the other, Lyn ALWAYS went with what was right. Perhaps the largest loss is the guidance and example he set for young prosecutors.

Anonymous said...

Tom Z has been paroled, is in the free world, and still is a member of the bar (no matter how incredible that may sound)

jigmeister said...

I am very happy for Lyn, but sad for the office. Lyn deserves the release and happiness that comes from calling it a good day's work and finally retiring. I recall telling him 2 years ago that you fail to understand what kind of stress you are under as a prosecutor (and that was before the Rosenthal debacle) until it's gone and you make peace with the loss of power and stature that defined you throughout your career. When your ready to go fishing, play golf, and ride the horses let me know Lyn.

Anonymous said...

Although I have always been a defense attorney, Lyn is someone who gained my immediate and immense respect in the HCDAO based upon my few dealings with him or observations of him. He came in to cases where the office appeared to have a conflict to remove any appearance of impropriety by standing by a young prosecutor who may have to cross a fellow ADA who happened to be a defense witness or make the call on when the office should recuse itself. He made the right call each time. I wish him the best.

Anonymous said...

Zaratti was disbarred 4/9/2008 (see and I don't believe he has been paroled.

Anonymous said...

He provided a great service to our community and is an excellent human being. I encountered him when I was an unknown lawyer and he treated me with the utmost dignity and respect. He was a higher up in Rosenthal's administration, but still was a gentleman and a class act. I was hoping we would continue on in the new administration because he was the "Rel Deal." He will be missed.