Thursday, July 30, 2009

Free CLE Today - Pt. 2

The make up session for the free CLE that was cancelled back in April will be held today on the 20th Floor of the CJC from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is hosted by HCCLA and the topic is Balancing Life and the Practice.

No reservations are necessary -- just show up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Good News from the 5th Circuit

I was very happy to hear the good news today that Scott Durfee was exonerated by the 5th Circuit for allegations of wrong-doing during the Chuck Rosenthal fiasco of 2007-2008.

Out of all of the Assistant District Attorneys that had to endure the embarrassment and hardships caused by Rosenthal after the Ibarra Brothers scandal, few can say that they had it as bad as Scott. From his personal e-mails to his family being aired on Channel 11 to being sanctioned by Judge Hoyt, Scott endured a lot over the past two years that he shouldn't have had to.

As Pat McCann pointed out when Scott was originally sanctioned, Scott was in the unenviable position of his "client" (Rosenthal) actually being his employer, as well.

And Scott suffered for Chuck's actions. Throughout it all, he maintained himself with composure and grace, and as much cheerfulness as he could possibly muster. We all watched as he lost a dramatic amount of weight due to the stress he was going through, and it was heartbreaking to see.

I couldn't be happier that Scott's exoneration on this is as public as what he had to go through. He didn't deserve what happened to him.

I'm glad the 5th Circuit agreed.

A Meeting Today

Today's going to be a big day for Lykos and the Davidians, as Roger Bridgwater will actually face the Defense Bar and talk to them about the new Pre-Trial Diversion Program for DWI first offenders.

The show is taking place at noon on the 7th Floor of the CJC, and when I say "show", I mean it. Expect Roger to finally be getting some tough questions that needed to be asked before they decided to "accidentally" announce their program during a press conference. Oh, and this time, Rog, you can't complain to the Disciplinary Committee on anybody for questioning you for a dumb plan.

Some of the questions that I have that are immediately coming to mind are:

1. What are you going to do when a County Court judge doesn't want to follow your policy and won't allow the case to be reset for a year?

2. Who is going to decide what infractions are worthy of getting a Defendant's Pre-Trial diversion yanked?

3. Are there going to be any lesser sanctions for lesser violations? If the Judge of the Court can't be doing admonishments for some of your customers, who will?

4. Have you thought about the effect of indigency on your Pre-Trial Diversion customers? What if somebody can't afford the Interlock Device, or they don't have a car at all? Do they get their Diversion yanked?

5. What happened to your initial policy of saying that the Pre-Trial Diversion would only be used in "appropriate cases"? Since, the alternative, under your new policy is 30 days in the Harris County Jail, how can you claim with a straight face that the program isn't an "across the board" treatment for DWIs. Also, how are you going to argue that you aren't coercing pleas?

Those are just a few thoughts I have before I run to court. I'm sure Troy McKinney and Robert Fickman will have a couple of more for you, Rog.

By the way, the Over and Under is 10 minutes before Roger storms out of the meeting.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Loss for the Office

Prosecutor and new Mom, Carvana Cloud turned in her letter of resignation this morning.

Given the way Pat Lykos and the Gang treated her during the past several months, it is no surprise that she decided to leave a place where she was no longer appreciated. Given that Lykos campaigned on diversity, common sense would have seemed to dictate that she and her minions should do everything in their power to have talked Carvana into staying. Unfortunately, common sense isn't something the Office possesses any longer.

I wish Carvana my sincere congratulations -- first (and most importantly) on the New Baby!

But second on escaping an office that is going down the tubes and never appreciated all you did for it.

Best of luck, Carvana!

Prosecutorial Quote of the Day

From an Anonymous Prosecutor:

"Man, I've got to set a damn Ecstasy case for trial today. I don't think I'll get much time on it. It's not like cocaine. I mean, what's he [the defendant] going to do? Lick somebody to death?"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blogging in a Lykos World

For those of you all in and around the CJC, the obvious topic of the past week has been the rise and fall of the blog known as Life After Esquire (LAE), written by a female Baby Prosecutor.

The blog itself had been around for quite awhile, and I had been reading it for several months. In my opinion it was excellent writing and more importantly, very valuable writing. To some degree, it was like The Wonder Years from the perspective of a rookie prosecutor, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. She did a great job with showing prosecutors (especially young ones) as the bright-eyed and eager public servants that they are.

And all was well with it until last week when she did a little too much over sharing about something that happened at Baby Prosecutor's school and Mark Bennett brought it screamingly to everyone's attention. Based on her post, she has been ridiculed on Bennett's blog, in the Houston Press, and she was disciplined. Obviously, she scrapped her blog immediately.

Although I was a big fan of what she generally wrote on the blog, I do have to admit that this particular post did fall under the category of "What were you thinking?!". And, as much as it pains me to do so, I think the Lykos Administration's disciplinary response to her was actually pretty fair, all things considered.

Now, I'm not writing this post to open the door to bashing her. Quite frankly, she's been punished enough for something where she clearly had no bad intent -- just bad thought process. So, let's try to keep our comments a little more cerebral than usual this time, if we can. Since I, too, have lost my job (twice) because of a blog, I think I might be able to shed a little advice on it.

Here are a couple of thoughts that I have about blogging for any prosecutors or HCDA personnel that might want to consider doing it:

1. Lykos and the KGB have the same definition of "transparency"-although Patsy campaigned, partially, on the premise of the Office being more "transparent", it has (shockingly) turned out to be about as sincere of a platform as, well, um, pretty much everything else she campaigned on. I mean, seriously, the entire upper echelon of the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight stay off the e-mail system almost entirely to make sure that they stay off the "Grid". I mean, seriously, the last I heard Lykos herself had sent a grand total of two (2) e-mails to all prosecutors.
Read between the lines on this one, aspiring bloggers: Snookems doesn't really want her Office's business aired.

2. If you are going to be writing about the Office, stay positive or at least stay non-negative-I think the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot straight can tolerate some generalized press about how wonderful the Office is, or even things that were introspective (yet not negative) that a prosecutor goes through. For instance, I thought LAE's post on getting a "not guilty" verdict was very well done, and it brought back memories of my first "not guilty" (which was followed by about five more of them before I finally won a trial!). But if you want to keep the Upper Admin really happy, try some phrases like this in your blog:
-"Saw Judge Lykos in the hallways today. She is as beautiful as she is wise."
-"I really wish Judge Bridgwater would let me donate him a kidney. Not that he needs one, but just having shared a kidney with such a great man would be a life dream fulfilled."
-"The water from Judge Chow's water cooler is the best water I've ever tasted in my life." OR
-"I think Leitner was looking a little taller today."

3. Don't talk about pending cases in any detail-there's just nothing to be gained by this. One of us defense attorneys is going to get ahold of it, and if you share too much, you might be in trouble with more than just your bosses. It's a fine line whenever you are talking about cases. Towards the end of my career with the Office, I did mention that I was getting ready on my last trial as a prosecutor, but I stayed away from the details. Never ever write about details that aren't already public record.

4. Don't implicate your friends in embarrassing stories-just because you decided to write a blog doesn't mean that your friends agreed to be the identifiable subject matter. If you have something you'd like to blog about that might name or identify somebody you like, ask them how they feel about what you would be writing. Me following this rule is why I have never posted an audio recording of a certain attorney singing "My Way" (even though the temptation to do so is freaking HUGE!)

5. Don't necessarily identify yourself as a Harris County employee-I've seen some other blogs that identify themselves as working in a "big city" District Attorney's office. Word of mouth will eventually identify where you are writing from, but you don't need to put in print. And on that related topic, make sure that it is very clear that your opinions are your own, and you aren't speaking on behalf of the Office or in your capacity as a prosecutor.

6. Realize that true Anonimity is very fleeting- I tried very hard to keep my anonymity for about a month or so into writing the blog. Then, of course, Motormouth Murray had to start letting a person here and a person there "in on" the big secret. By the time of the Republican primary, it was the worst kept secret in the courthouse (largely due to me). The night of the Republican Primary run off, I was completely out in the open about my identity. I just never posted it on the blog in print for the reasons stated in #5.

7. You are absolutely going to be held accountable for the statements of your commenters-now, unlike Mark Bennett, I will allow Anonymous comments, because I think prosecutors should be able to speak freely on here without worrying about losing their job just for speaking. Lykos and the Davidians don't like to see a prosecutor's name in print unless they pre-sanctioned it. I think it would be rather chickensh*t of me to be exalting my opinions and then demanding people identify themselves before speaking.
That being said, all we really need to do is look back to the infamous "12 Days of Lykos" from December to realize that the comments from your readers can, in fact, get you fired . . . for a second time . . . in a month . . . and on Christmas Eve.
Good times. Good times.

8. Be prepared to accept the consequences for what you write-you are going to get bashed from one side or the other, and you may get bashed very publicly (like Bennett did with LAE's post). One of my earlier posts on Batson picked up the attention of Scott Greenfield in New York's blog, and I damn near had a panic attack. I had never considered that my bashing would go nationwide.
The bottom line is don't go putting stuff on the web and thinking it won't have a reaction and, quite possibly a consequence. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

And finally . . .

9. In spite of all these warnings, I personally hope you will write anyway-the stories and insights of prosecutors are just as valuable as the ones coming from the Defense Bar. Maybe it is just the History Major in me, but I like hearing all the perspectives available. There are a lot of talented writers with humorous and insightful views of how the process works, and I'd like to hear more of them.

If you piss off Lykos and the Gang in the process . . . well, we'll just consider that a bonus.

And to you, the Artist Formerly Known as Life After Esquire, please realize that this, too, shall pass. You are getting a lot of attention this week and it may still be around next week, too. But then it will fade away. Keep doing your job and you will be fine. I will miss your writing, and I do sincerely wish you the best of luck. I went through something very similar, and it all turned out just fine in the end.

Hang in there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Adios, Arthur

It is with great sadness that I must report that the most excellent blog Saturday Night and Monday Morning hosted by Arthur Seaton has apparently been scrapped.

The rumors that Arthur and his life long companion, Rage Judicata have eloped are unconfirmed as of yet.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Craig Washington

The trial for Craig Washington is scheduled to begin today in the 208th District Court.

My knowledge of the facts of that case are limited to only what I've read in the newspaper, so I don't really have much to add to that particular conversation (other than to say it does sound somewhat similar to the Joe Horn case).

But I did want to say something about Craig.

When I first started working in Harris County, I knew who Craig Washington was. He had defended a man back in the 1970s/1980s named Eroy Brown who was accused of Capital Murder in the deaths of a prison warden and a prison guard. It just so happened that one of the victims in the case was the (step) grandfather of my best friend. My understanding when I was growing up was that there had been a couple of hung juries on the case before Eroy Brown had been found not guilty.

Obviously, that wasn't something that had sat well with my best friend's family, but he and I were way too young to understand what had happened.

So, the first time I ever spoke with Craig Washington, I actually flagged him down and asked him about the Eroy Brown case. Craig stopped everything he was doing, sat down with me in court and told me the story for over an hour. The point he emphasized over and over and over again in telling me the story was, "Please tell your friend that his grandfather didn't do anything wrong. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Coming away from that first meeting with Craig, I couldn't help but like him.

I had seen the respect he commanded in the courtroom from all of the other members of the Defense Bar. Craig is a tall and very noticeable man with a deep, booming voice. When he entered into a courtroom, I would see people line up just to talk to him.

Maybe it was because of his distinguished history as a Defense Attorney. Maybe it was his history as a legislator at both the State and National levels.

I'm not sure which, but after that initial meeting with Craig, I knew I just flat out liked him.

A couple of years down the road, Craig and I tried a mildly high-profile murder case against each other where Craig took the unusual (and never-before seen by me) step of putting himself on the witness stand to testify. Craig and his co-counsel, Lance Hamm (also an excellent attorney) fought a very tough and sometimes heated fight. I can remember getting angry at one point with Craig over something in the trial, and he just looked me straight in the eye and said "Okay, I'm sorry."

It was impossible for me to stay irritated with Craig for more than five minutes, and I walked away from the trial getting to know that I had tried a murder case against one of Texas' best. When the trial finished, Craig went and hugged the victim's mother. He talked to her for a long time about her loss. She appreciated it more than words could explain.

But that's the kind of man that Craig Washington is.

After the Alex Morris trial, Craig called me and invited me to lunch. It started a tradition that we don't follow like we used to, but we got to know each other well. He told me about his days in the Legislature. We'd talk about politics and trials.

But mostly Craig liked to talk about family, and he always asked me about my son.

"These are the days he will always remember, Murray," Craig tells me all the time. "Cherish them. They are so important." Every time I see him in the hallway, he stops and asks me what my boy has been up to. And every time, he tells me those words.

As a father, those words mean the world to me.

On Father's Day of this year, I spent the weekend up at the lake. The first message I got on my phone that Sunday morning was from Craig Washington.

"Happy Father's Day, my friend."

I immediately showed it to my father who was there, and I realized that Craig Washington was someone that I'm very proud to know.

And I'm even more proud to call my friend.

So, today, as Craig goes on trial, it makes me very sad and upset. The Craig Washington that I know should never be in a courtroom except as the distinguished attorney that he is.

My thoughts and prayers are with Craig this week.

No matter what the outcome, though, he will always be someone that I'm very proud to call my friend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A New First Assistant

Okay, I'm going to admit to the title of this being somewhat misleading (although accurate).

You can rest assured that Harris County still has the same First Assistant (at least in title) and that Jim Leitner's huevos are still resting comfortably in Pat Lykos' purse.

However, the Galveston County District Attorney's Office apparently has a new First Assistant . . .

Donna Goode.

One of the increasingly cliched statements I keep hearing on this blog is "Pat Lykos vowed to create the best District Attorney's Office in the Nation, and she has . . . just in another county." Both Galveston and Montgomery County have reaped the incredible benefit of dedicated public servants who have joined them when the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight became too unbearable to work for.

I think it is worth pointing out that Donna Goode more than had her retirement points in and could very easily have settled into a well deserved retirement, but she didn't.

There is something special about prosecutors -- especially career ones. Lykos, Leitner, Bridgwater, and the rest of the Branch Davidians may have been successful in running Donna out of Harris County, but nothing they did could take the prosecutor out of her.

The situation that Bridgwater created (and Lykos condoned) with Donna has now proven itself to be a clear definition of winners and losers in Harris County. I'll let you decide for yourself who is who.

Right now, I'm too busy applauding Galveston County and Donna Goode.

On a side note, speaking of huevos and who has them (and who doesn't), major kudos to George Weissfisch for his speech at Baby Prosecutor's school today. George, a former Harris County prosecutor spoke at the semi-annual seminar hosted by the Texas District and County Attorney's Association. His topic was prosecuting DWI offenses in Texas, and his audience was the entirety of rookie prosecutors in the state.

If Roger Bridgwater didn't like Donna Goode disagreeing with him during a Tuesday morning Show and Tell meeting with an audience of about 25, he probably nearly imploded with George blasting the new Pre-Trial Diversion policy and Bridgwater himself to a room filled with hundreds of prosecutors from across the State.

Don't you just know that Bridgwater was wishing he could rehire George for the sole purpose of firing him? Doesn't it suck when your bullying power isn't there any more, Roger?

My message to George is simple: You rock, dude.

I'm glad that you took the opportunity to call out a bad administration and let them know that what they were doing is wrong.

And reminding them that the First Amendment is still alive and well.

So, this evening, if you're around a beverage of an alcoholic nature, raise your glass and have a toast.

Here's to Donna and to George.

I'm glad there are some people out there that can still remember what being a prosecutor is all about.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Institutional Memory

I was having a conversation at the elevator bank today with my friend and fellow defense attorney, Todd Bennett, and our conversation turned to talking about Todd's father, Bob Bennett, who is a retired attorney. Back in the late 60s/early 70s, Todd's dad had been involved in one of Houston's most notorious murder cases that was detailed in Thomas Thompson's book Blood and Money. (NOTE: I'm not giving the details of the book, because I'm hoping you'll go actually read it yourself. It's a great book.)

But anyway, what Todd and I were talking about was the sad fact that a lot of lawyers around the CJC sometimes pass through that building and deal with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges without ever realizing some of the amazing things these members of the Bar have done or been involved in. As time passes, the newer attorneys lose the institutional memory of some of the "Old Dogs" and the fascinating cases that they tried.

I think that's a shame.

So, in an effort to combat that, I'm recommending to you three books that you ought to read to learn more about the lawyers you interact with on a daily basis. I guarantee you that you will see some very familiar names and faces in them. Learn a little about the legal footsteps we're all following in and go talk to those folks about their cases.

God has yet to invent the lawyer that doesn't like telling War Stories, and they are always entertaining.

So, here's my list:

1. Blood and Money by Thomas Thomspon-this is a fantastic and well-written book about a murder in River Oaks. I don't want to give anything away on it, because it is extremely suspenseful.

2. The Cop Who Wouldn't Quit by Rick Nelson-also an outstanding book about former-HPD Homicide Sergeant and Harris County District Attorney's Office Investigator Johnny Bonds. I don't think this book is in print anymore, but you can still get a used copy off of Amazon.com. If you can't find one, give me a call, and I'll loan you my copy. It's a great book and you'll learn why Johnny had such a great reputation as an investigator.

3. Daddy's Girl by Clifford Irving-this one was a big fan favorite at the D.A.'s Office because of a certain picture in the photo section of a prosecutor that we shall just refer to here as "Big Poppa". I first read Daddy's Girl when I was in college, because my friend and mentor, Gil Schultz, was one of the lead investigators on the case. His partner at the time was Sgt. Paul Motard, who is still with HPD Homicide. Those guys were my heroes. Hell, they still are. The case is also interesting because the lead prosecutor on the case was Rusty Hardin.

Okay, so there's my Top Three. If you've got some additional suggestions, let us know about them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Me and My Blog

Last year when I was still relatively new at this blogging thing, I went several days without doing a new post. I began the next one I did by apologizing for having gone so long without writing, to which a sarcastic (yet funny) commenter wrote in something to the effect that they found it amusing when a blogger apologized for actually not writing for awhile (as if the entire world was waiting on the next words of wisdom to come from said blogger).

It made me laugh, because it was true, and I always think of that guy's commentary whenever I've gone a bit without writing.

But then I get a comment like the one at 5:13 a.m. this morning on my last post talking about "When Blogs Go Blank" and I'm not sure what to make of it. I can't tell if they are taunting me for not having written in a while or just encouraging me to write something new.

Either way, I can assure you that the Old Life at the CJC blog has not gone completely blank and I don't have any plans of taking the site down anytime soon. I truly apologize if my absence over the past week has given the false hope to Lykos, Leitner, Bridgwater and Chow that I had died. Quite frankly, if I were them, I would just be touting the fact that they've gone over a week without committing a public screw up. Good job, guys.

The bottom line, though, is that I do thoroughly enjoy writing this blog and I'm glad that (at least some of) you enjoy it. I'm glad that there is a place where some attention gets paid to what is happening in the CJC and if the comments section provides a place for people to vent, then I'm glad for that, too.

But sometimes life does get in the way of writing.

I just got back from an absolutely AWESOME weekend at the lake with my three-year-old Little Man, and I'm actually closing on a house today. So, the old personal life has been somewhat busy the past couple of weeks.

In addition, I do have this whole law practice thing going on, and as it picks up steam, I have less and less time to write.

And, in all seriousness, Lykos and the Gang didn't really do much of significance last week. Sometimes there just isn't that much to write about.

As a side note, if you are looking for something about the legal field coupled by some really excellent writing, I highly recommend my friend Scott H. Greenfield's Simple Justice. Scott is one hell of a brilliant and talented writer, not to mention a very nice guy.

I do have several things that I'm looking into and want to write about in the near future, and there is one VERY BIG rumor circulating right now that I'm not quite willing to put into print yet (NOTE: that's called a "teaser" in the blogging biz.) I will get back to writing more frequently in the near future.

But in the meantime, please rest assured that this blog isn't going away any time soon.