Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Pre-Commits Get Screwed Over

The budget woes of the Harris County District Attorney's Office continued to deepen reportedly today. This time the folks losing out because of Pat Lykos' spending habits were the Pre-Commits.

As I've mentioned before, the term "Pre-Commit" refers to recently (or soon-to-be) graduated law students who have been hired as interns for the District Attorney's Office. They are promised employment conditioned only upon them passing the Bar Exam. Prior to the Bar results arriving, they are employed by the Office as interns. My understanding is that they are paid about $12 an hour during their internship.

Upon passing the Bar Exam, the Pre-Commits are then upgraded to a starting "real" salary, and they get sworn in by a judge in a nice ceremony that family can attend. At present time there are somewhere between 10 to 15 Pre-Commit Interns who are awaiting their Bar results.

This week was supposed to be a big one for the Pre-Commits, because the Bar results are due to be released on Thursday or Friday. It's time to upgrade from working for beer money to a real salary, right?

Apparently, wrong.

Pre-commits were told this morning that due to a "budgetary shortfall," the Office can't afford to actually pay them "real attorney" salaries. The Office is hopeful that they will be able to start paying them a real salary in December, but for now, the Pre-Commits are just sh*t out-of-luck.

These poor rookie prosecutors have made a commitment to the Office and the Office has made a commitment to them for employment. These attorneys bypassed employment with other people to work for the D.A.'s Office and now they are getting absolutely screwed over financially. This is beyond ridiculous.

As my NYC editor pointed out, you can get paid more for babysitting.

Most of the prosecutors and support staff around the Office have already come to terms with the fact that they won't be getting raises this year, but not paying the Pre-Commits jeopardizes these kids' ability to afford to live. It's insulting and dishonest. Lykos and the Gang are breaking a promise to the Pre-Commits that is beyond shameful.

But, hey, on the plus side, I hear that the hardwood floors in Lykos' office look fantastic! Oh, and the driver she hired to drive her around hasn't had a fender bender in months!

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

And the reputation of the Harris County District Attorney's Office continues to fall, just when I thought it couldn't get any lower. If I were the pre-commits I think I would be looking for another job because you don't have one now. Where's the money? Lykos can afford to hire their friends but not the pre-commits? Where's the money? Where's the press? Why aren't they on this story?

Anonymous said...

Imagine if a REAL DA or even Rosenthal had done this! The media would be up in arms over the exploitation of the proverbial "little guy".
Political whores do have their perks don't they? Maybe Rachel Palmer will get elected after all.

Anonymous said...

This begs the question, what the fuck has Leitner been doing? He hasn't tried a case, he supported a batson violation, his emmy winning appearance on the Ted Oberg show.....

Bert Graham offered assistance for this exact issue and Pat and his bitch Jim told him to take a walk. They then loaded up the top with high salaries and dead weight (see Chow, Bridgewater, the Driver, the media consultant) and now can't pay a lawyer more than 12 an hour. Why can the office not HONOR their committment?

Maybe they shouldn't have hired all of roger's family friends. Are they that bad at planning? These young lawyers relied on the promise they received.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Lykos get her political crony Robert Eckels over at Fulbright to bail her out again? He and his firm have already funneled over $100,000 her way. At least they would be paying for "real" prosecutors this time.

Duke said...

Screwed over is right.

Pre-commits, do yourself a favor and bail now. If it's trial experience you desire, nut up and put yourself out there. There are plenty of us in the defense bar who would be more than happy to assist you in your practice. Just ask.

Anonymous said...

As a law student, I guess I feel a little ambiguous about what I'm taking away from this article. It sucks, and yes, that's terrible pay. But, they probably are getting benefits, and they have a job. I go to a top 20 school, and there are tons of people who would be happy to have something like that lined up. There are total hiring freezes up here in the midwest, and most places are still deferring recent grads. I would just hope that if some of them choose to leave that Lykos doesn't play games with the 3-year commitment and screw their reputations.

Anonymous said...

12:08,
Bingo! Bert covered the Chuckster's ass and could've done the same for Political Pat. But that old quid pro quo thing got in the way so we ended up with Jimmy, Roger and Hannah....3 Blind Mice wrecking havoc at 1201 Franklin.

12:27,
I had forgotten all about Bobby Echols. Mr. DIVERT himself sure could divert some funds to help out these pre-commit folks. But wait, how would Bobby benefit from that move? That old quid pro quo thing has been rearing it's ugly head over and over at the CJC lately.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:26,
And you think actually working three (3) years for Pat Lykos would be better for their reputations?
Whatcha smokin' boy?

Anonymous said...

"This begs the question, what the fuck has Leitner been doing?"

Ans. Lighting Pat's cigarettes and positioning himself to be the next DA....he's just not very well equipped to handle the task.

Anonymous said...

Leitner has evolved from a little minnow in a big pond to a bloated bottom feeder of a cesspool.

When 2012 rolls around the question will be Jimmy who? Oh that's right he was the Lykos clown.

Anonymous said...

I had the same reaction as 1:26. Lots of firms in this market have delayed incoming attorneys' start dates, and at least one (Arent Fox, according to abovethelaw) has revoked offers.

Not to say the pre-commits aren't getting screwed, but it is to say there is a lot of that going around in this market.

I DO think it's in extremely poor taste to tell them this week, just days before results come out, and I agree with other comments that they should be released from their commitments if they so desire.

Also, upon further reflection, the DA budget probably isn't as fluid as firm revenue, so the office probably had the opportunity to foresee this issue and either plan for it or provide much earlier notice. If the office is really paying for a driver and a media consultant, then that is ridiculous in this economy but also probably not enough to cover the entire salary for all the commitments.

Bottom line, this is a tough time to be a baby attorney, and still a relatively easy time to be a senior decision-making attorney.

Anonymous said...

How can they run out of money? Doesn't the county authorize funds for a certain # of attorneys? Are some attorneys getting 2 salaries? Anyone know how it happens?

OUTRAGED said...

anon 2:11
The lessons on "causation" should still be fresh in your mind from law school.
The factors that determine budgets in the private sector are vastly different than those in government.
The questions I would ask in your position are as follows:
1. Why exactly are the funds not available?
a. did the "bad economy" result in Commissioners Court cutting the DA's budget?
b. were extravagant and
/or unnecessary expenses signed off on by the DA resulting in my salary shortfall?
c. when did the DA know or should have known about this budgetary mishap?
d. did cronyism result in unjust enrichment for others at my expense?
e. are there any areas in the office that can be leaned up without adversely sacrificing the mission statement in order to free up the necessary funds to pay my salary?
2. What is my recourse?
3. Is this job really what I bargained for?
4. Where do I want to be in 5 years and is this going to get me there?
5. How much is my integrity worth?

Remember that the DAs office is a non-profit government entity so the rules and circumstances are not the same as in a private for profit law firm.

Your bottom line is wrong.
The "ignorance is bliss" theory only gives pretentious solace to the Lykos lieutenants.
The baby prosecutors have great opportunities ahead of them if they believe in themselves, work hard and act with honor. However, if they instead choose to subject themselves to self flagellation they will be defeated before swearing in.
I submit that this is too important a job for cowards.....it is your choice boys and girls.

Anonymous said...

1:26,

No benefits until you have been a salaried employee for 90 days. The pre-commits' clocks would have started ticking when they got the bump they've been waiting for since August now. Now even that seems to be up in the air.

BLACK INK said...

Wait a minute here. It's not like the DA's office is dependent on billable hours or contingency fees to meet a basic payroll?
There's something missing in the story.

Anonymous said...

3:14,

This is 1:26. I didn't realize that, and that hurts.

1:40,
That's not the issue, since no one will care at the end of the day because if you are that junior your typical interactions are probably no more 3 tiers above you. But, if you leave early, if Harris County is anything like NYC counties, the DA offices will smear you up and down, and that would be unfair.

Anonymous said...

The Commissioner's Court mid-year budget review that came out two or three weeks ago placed a hiring freeze on County operations and announced there would be NO cost of living raise this fiscal year.

The 'pre-commits' got caught in the middle (or tail end) of the county fiscal plan.

I'm just saying...

Anonymous said...

1:26,
With all due respect you missed my point. Your situation is not as black and white as you think. The Trolls shit will roll downhill and taint the entire HCDA organization nationally. Lykos is a master of guilt by association and karma will be her legacy in that regard.
Anon 1:40

WTF said...

so 417 are you saying that the new baby prosecutors will be 12/hr employees at will without benefits for 6 additional mos? who the f*ck R U kidding?

Anonymous said...

I doubt many of them passed up other jobs. For many, it was probably their only chance at a job besides hanging out a shingle and taking appointments.

This happens in many counties, anyway. Good friend of mine was hired only part time as an ADA at first, then made a name for herself and has been on the rise ever since. These guys can do the same.

Anonymous said...

so 417 are you saying that the new baby prosecutors will be 12/hr employees at will without benefits for 6 additional mos? who the f*ck R U kidding?

He's saying it's a county-wide hiring freeze that has nothing to do with one single department, genius.

In other words, it's not Lykos' fault, no matter how badly you want it to be.

Rage

Anonymous said...

Hearing it's a total hiring freeze, wow. If I remember correctly, there are relatively few pre-commits, and most new prosecutors are hired after the bar results come out.
Wonder if or when those people will get jobs?

Anonymous said...

Funny, the hiring freeze just occurred but two months ago I heard they may not have the money to pay the pre commits. Very interesting?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Let's say just for the sake of the argument that there is a hiring freeze. That doesn't mean that they got rid of slots for prosecutors. There is still turnover happening and slots that need to be filled. That is part of the regular budget that has been in place forever.

To not be able to give the pre-commits their previously promised spots suggests to me that the alotted money was spent elsewhere, but I could be wrong about that.

Either way, if the hiring freeze was initiated two months ago, why in the hell are they just now telling the pre-commits about it today? That's chickenshit.

Anonymous said...

Murray,

"Let's say just for the sake of the argument that there is a hiring freeze."

There is a hiring freeze. 100% fact. All Harris County departments are covered by it. It was imposed by Harris County Commissioners Court, not the District Attorney. It's not hard to check it for yourself - just check the minutes of the Harris County Commissioners Court meetings.

"There is still turnover happening and slots that need to be filled."

I couldn't agree with you more, but a hiring freeze is just that, a hiring freeze. No promotions that involve pay raises and no new hires without the express approval of Harris County Commissioners Court.

I have to agree with Rage (as much as that hurts) that this is not the District Attorney's fault. If you want to ride a group hard about not honoring the Harris County promise to the pre-commits, email County Judge Ed Emmett and each of the Harris County Commissioners.

I hate to see you directing your angst at the wrong people. Commissioners Court is 100% responsible for this. No one else.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:54

"I doubt many of them passed up other jobs. For many, it was probably their only chance at a job besides hanging out a shingle and taking appointments."

Are you f*cking kidding me??? I don't know any pre-commit in the last 10 years that didn't pass up other job offers to work for the HCDA. Wow... I'm not even sure where to begin with that ridiculous and inaccurate blanket statement. That was a really shitty thing to say about a bunch of talented people enduring a tough situation they did not create. Shame on you. Next time do us all a favor and think what you want, but don't hit the publish button.

Anonymous said...

Sure, they should have been told earlier. But that isn't terribly uncommon. I can list any number of firms or companies that make stupid HR decisions.

As for certain slots being funded in advance, that's the whole point of a freeze. It affects every department and nobody gets hired, even for open slots. My old home town did this just last month and it affects everyone from accounting to janitors to landscapers.

Assuming there really is a hiring freeze, all that can be said of Lykos is that she could have disclosed it sooner.

Rage

Anonymous said...

you have got to be sh@tting me.....

Anonymous said...

All the hiring freeze means is hiring ADDITIONAL personnel. Not for filling open spots. Problem is that Lykos has authorized money spent on other things. And yes, the "three blind mice" as they were referred to are getting more than their predeccessors did. At whose expense? Well it appears that we have one answer to that question now. Lykos and her cronies were angling for this in January when they told one precommit not to contact them, they'd contact her after she took the bar." They weren't sure if they were doing precommit spots. ". Its just an indicator of mismanagement at its finest.

Anonymous said...

I hear Chow could not meet with the pre-commits to explain to them why they would not be paid as attorneys after passing the bar. It seems she was tied up with a press conference about the therapy dog the office is using. Perhaps they should have sent the dog with Barnhill, the meeting might have gone better. At least you know you can trust what the dog says.

Anonymous said...

They ate being put on the commissioner's court agenda as soon as they pass the bar. Assuming the commissioner's court approved the pay (as they have indicated they will), they will be salaried as of 12-05-09. That is the earliest it can happen since the CC meets every two weeks and they won't be put on the agenda prior to results coming out.

Anonymous said...

The entry level legal market is in shambles nationwide, government entities are certainly not immune. Many DA offices nationwide are similarly frozen, and the Texas AG had a lengthy freeze last year.

Anonymous said...

Pre-Commits are not a bunch of law school graduates with nothing better to do. In past years, the office interviewed 700+ people from around the country for the program each year and hired about a dozen. Not exactly the bottom of the barrel.

Anonymous said...

I think what's worse is that they could have planned for this. But because they didn't have time to go commissioners court, it didn't get done. Not only did it not get done, no one was told. Not a priority for Lykos. The only way she is getting bad press is if Murray exposes her shenanigans. The public will probably vote for her when she runs for reelection because on the outside, she appears to be doing a good job. And that's all the public cares about.

Thomas Hobbes said...

Anon 7:22P said:

"All the hiring freeze means is hiring ADDITIONAL personnel. Not for filling open spots."

Not true. All of the following require review by Management Services (the County Budget Office), which will then make a recommendation to Commissioners Court:

- Requests for new positions

- Requests to fill open positions

- Requests to increase the maximum salary for a position

Management Services is recommending against requests to fill open positions when there is not sufficient money in the requesting department's budget to fund the position through the end of the fiscal year. It doesn't matter that the position is authorized; the point is whether their budget can fund it (just like in real life, when you run out of money before your next payday). This is affecting a number of County departments, not just the HCDAO.

BLACK INK said...

Leadership and common decency are not skills Lykos concerns herself with.
Notwithstanding Rage's blind defense of Lykos as a victim, as soon as Lykos became privy to the "hiring freeze" any of her subordinates who even remotely could have been adversely affected should have been given actual notice immediately.
Secondly, a leader's responsibilities are not limited to barking out orders. A leader is also responsible for his/her troops' well being and preparedness as it relates to their duties.
Lykos had an obligation to these pre-commits to insure that every possible means available to her were exhausted prior to throwing in the towel on their salary issue.
Was Commissioner's Court even aware of the pre-commits situation contemporaneous with the "hiring freeze"? Did Lykos even go to bat for these guys?
Considering Lykos' fiscal irresponsibility: interior decorating of her office, cronyism payouts, personal perk payoffs and the damn dog; it is even more offensive to see how this so-called leader prioritizes and mismanages her human resources.
Morale is a measure of leadership and it must be at an all time low.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

So, Mr. Hobbes,
If I understand correctly, the D.A.'s Office could have gone to the Commissioner's Court and at least ASKED for approval to pay the pre-commits? It just didn't get done?

The pre-commits have been there for several months. It isn't like the Bar Exam results suddenly just popped up out of the blue, unexpectedly.

Anonymous said...

To Thomas Hobbes, my understanding from senior ADAs/Investigators was that they were sure that they weren't going to approve any additional spots because of the hiring freeze/budget problems. And that they were only going to ask to fill spots. And their concern was what kind of hoops they were going to make them jump through to fill the spots they have money for, or should have money for because if those people hadn't left, they should still be paid a salary, should they not? So the money to fill open spots should be there unless they have diverted it to other avenues.

And yes, I believe it is affecting all of Harris County. But do you think that people are in danger of not getting paid a salary? That can't be possible.
The problem is, they didn't even try to go to CC for approval of the precommits. Especially if what anon 801pm said is right about CC already approving that pay. They are stuck with freaking out about if they passed the bar, and when they can start earning money.

Cutting spending on new things sure, but I find it hard to believe that CC doesn't intend to fill open spots. They just want to sign on them. (And by no means do I know anyone on the CC but think about it.... Othwerwise, any one of the ADAs are in danger of not having their position funded the next year.)

Anonymous said...

Try googling "County Budget Cuts" and see what everyone else in the Country is going through. Or "City Budget Cuts" It's happening all over.

For example, the City of Chicago is cutting 9% of their payroll by making all 12 holidays unpaid and forcing everyone to take 1 day off unpaid per month.

Do you really want your taxpayer-funded government to grow when the resources are not there? If you are looking for a politician to blame for all of this, look nationally not locally.

BLACK INK said...

12:37'
No doubt about it. That does not, however, explain away Lykos' fiscally irresponsible behavior. You can't have it both ways. Look at what Lykos decides to support and what she blows off. Priorities and creative thinking to facilitate the greatest and most appropriate needs are what differentiate leaders. We are all faced with adversities but how we CHOOSE to tackle them is demonstrative of our character.

Thomas Hobbes said...

Anon 10:11A

I'm only telling you what is occurring. If a department's budget does not have sufficient funds allocated to salaries to fund an open position through the end of the fiscal year, Management Services will recommend against allowing the department to fill the position. Believe it or don't, but that's how it is.

AHCL - At least in theory, the HCDAO could have made the request prior to mid-year budget review and it likely would not have encountered opposition.

As I said, there are a number of departments affected. The Sheriff's Department, for example, was somewhat chagrined to learn that a number of exployees they recently promoted would not receive a commensurate pay increase because there was not sufficient money in the Sheriff's budget to cover the raises. It's not just the HCDAO that searching for a handle on the moment.

Anonymous said...

Chow makes $140K
Bridgwater $140K
Lyko's driver $80K

All new positions. Do away with them and that gives Lykos $360K to pay salaries for 6 precomits.

BLACK INK said...

"AHCL - At least in theory, the HCDAO could have made the request prior to mid-year budget review and it likely would not have encountered opposition."

Ya think?
Of course the funds would have been approved. That was and is the whole point. But we'll never know since leadership skills are absent at the DA's high command center.

GalvestonLawyer said...

Pretty bad form by the DA, if you ask me. If I were on of the Pre-Commits I would be looking for other employment opportunities. An administration that bungles this type of thing is simply incompetent and will be hell to work under. Get out now, guys!