Friday, June 11, 2010

Baby, Please Don't Go!

Things are getting kind of crazy over at the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Last week, Misdemeanor Chief Angela Smith went to turn in her two weeks notice to the Office and was met with a surprising reaction from the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight: they begged her to not quit.

Obviously, this is a stark contrast to the Administration's dealings with Trial Bureau prosecutors, which heretofore was pretty much a firm policy of "Screw them." However, with the budget constraints and the county-wide hiring freeze in place, I think that Lykos and Crew may suddenly be realizing that they are headed toward a personnel crisis of epic proportions.

And Angela Smith is a damn good prosecutor.

I dealt with her on a few occasions when she was in the 262nd, and her level of preparation, knowledge of the law, professionalism and courtesy was excellent. I certainly don't fault Lykos for giving her a hard sell on begging her to stay.

But the lengths that they were willing to go to keep her at the Office were pretty dramatic. Apparently, Angela was told that if she agreed to stay, she could write her own ticket as to where she would go in the Office.

This is an absolutely unprecedented amount of power to be handed to a person on the Misdemeanor Chief level (which is roughly about a 2 year lawyer in most circumstances). Angela chose to go to Public Integrity, which is considered a very prime position within the Office, and one where (in years past) there was never a slot for someone below the level of Felony Two.

So, what's behind that?

Did Lykos finally realize that her prosecutors are more talented and dedicated than she and her crew of boneheads have been giving them credit for? Doubtful.

The more likely situation is that as people are leaving the Office and realizing that they can't be replaced because of the hiring freeze, Lykos is starting to panic. They are headed toward a serious shortage of prosecutors and the Gang is trying to operate within their budget constraints to keep those prosecutors that they do have.

But this was a very dangerous precedent to set.

They are already promoting people to higher level positions within the Office with out the corresponding pay raise. I have heard from more than one source that if a prosecutor doesn't wish to accept the "more work for the same pay" position, they are told not to be expecting the opportunity for the promotion to come around again.

There is also word that Lykos has issued the edict that from now on, in Misdemeanor cases, each case can have three settings and then must be set for trial. I'm not sure exactly how that is supposed to help with the budget, but it does seem to guarantee that the remaining Misdemeanor prosecutors are going to be forced to bust their asses to get ready for trial a lot faster.

At the same time, the Administration is trying to restrict the earning of comp time by those misdemeanor prosecutors.

So, to do a brief recap --

1. Lykos has less prosecutors available to do misdemeanor work.
2. Lykos is encouraging the work rate be drastically sped up.
3. Lykos is cutting the amount of time the prosecutors have to work outside of regular business hours (which, keep in mind, at least half of which are spent in court docket).

Folks, the D.A.'s Office is cratering and it is cratering profoundly. I anticipate that more prosecutors are going to be realizing that they can't keep up working under those conditions.

I wonder what Lykos will offer them to stay.


Anonymous said...

I think it is wrong to put Angela's personal business out there - especially if she is staying with the office.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:44, I completely agree. But since we can't unring that bell, I think Murray should correct his post. I am very familiar with how this went down, and Angela was NOT given her pick of spots. They did call her up on Monday and tell her that they were considering a few different options- grand jury, writs, or public integrity. Then a couple days later she was called up and told they would send her to public integrity. THAT spot was actually created for a misdemeanor prosecutor who left to accept a position in another country, so it was already available. In addition, Angela actually has prior public integrity type experience when she was in the military, so it's a good fit, and not a charity position.

There are lots of rumors swirling around the office. Angela is NOT working part-time. She is working 8-5 M-F like everyone else. She just had some temporary personal reasons why she could not be in the trial bureau at this point (even as a misd chief, which has suddenly becomeless flexible than felony). Angela is a fine prosecutor and a good person, and I don't want anyone to harbor ill will towards her over some perceived favortism.

Anonymous said...

Come on peep. If she went to them about leaving and they kissed her ass, then a deal was made. It doesn't matter how good she is. That would never have happened under any other admin.

Anonymous said...

Angela is a fool if she thinks there will be no ill will. May not be her fault, but she knew the consequences of making a deal with the devil. Angela is a good prosecutor, but no better than anyone else. Did the beg Guiney to stay? Did they beg Womble to stay? When Michelle Mishoe asked for a temporary break from the trial bureau because she had a baby, did they care? No. She didn't even wNt to leave, she just wanted a break.

Essentially, they GUARANTEED Angela a position where she will not have to work anything more than 8-5 and certainly not weekends... Where the rest of the prosecutors at her level have to work way more than that just to keep their heads above water. If they only worked 8-5, they'd be negligent in their duties.

Angela may be a professional and organized and a fine prosecutor, but what is so special about her that she deserves to go to public integrity and have exceptions made for her? How has she proved to be such an asset to the office... say, moreso than Guiney... that they are willing to promise her the hours she wants to stay? She's not the only new mother at the office... Do they carve out spots for others that just had babies? No... They go wherever they're told.

There's simply got to be more to it. Angela is fine, but she's no better than the rest of the talent at the office. She is recieving preferential treatment for some reason other than her skill ability.

Anonymous said...

Angela tried to leave before fulfilling her three year commitment. And yet she's the one they beg to stay? Kinda fishy...

Anonymous said...

So they will promote people that are senior to Angela to felony 2 without pay, yet guarantee her an 8-5 gig, no weekends? Why does she deserve special treatment??

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:13pm:

"8-5 M-F like everyone else?" Really? What cush gig do you have? The 8-5 gigs go to people who have busted their asses for years and have proven themselves and need a break. Not to someone who is a misd chief and doesn't want to pay her dues and go back to felony.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

First of all, Anon 6:44 p.m., detailing an Office decision regarding personnel is not putting "peronal business" out there. If I detailed Wombelina's life long battle with toe jam, THAT would be putting personal business "out there".

Second, I don't get the Angela-bashing. She wasn't trying to bait the Office into giving her a better position. She was planning on leaving. She wasn't expecting them to beg her to stay. They offered her a sweet gig that she understandably took. I would have taken it too, under the circumstances. I would imagine most of you bashing her for a decision that the Office made would have accepted the offer as well.

What the real point of this post was about was that this Adminstration has treated the rank and file prosecutors like crap for the past 18 months and now that they are looking for some Office loyalty, they are having to result to bribery. Back in the olden days (when I walked to court barefoot, backwards and in the snow), the camaraderie and the job inspired the loyalty. I loved my job when I was there. Raises and promotions were great, but the reason I stayed there was I loved the people and the job itself.

The tyranical treatment of Pat Lykos is coming home to roost for her, and she and the Flying Monkeys who advise her still don't get it. This post was designed to point out that if 15 prosecutors turn in their resignation on Monday, where is she going to promote them to?

Angela is a good prosecutor. I wouldn't be blaming her for the things that Lykos and crew have done.

Anonymous said...

You ARE putting Angela's business out there - maybe you think you have a good reason for doing it - maybe you are thinking of "the greater good" - but you are still doing it.

Sorry - Murray - I like your blog, you are wrong to do this. If you think she's such a great person, you wouldn't make her life more difficult.

Do you really think you are helping her by writing about her personal business?

Anonymous said...

It's not Angela's fault. But that doesn't mean plenty of people in the office aren't pissed off - as they should be. There's nothing wrong with posting on a topic that everyone is alreadyxtalking about and upset about. It's not an attack on Angela. If it had been any other prosecutor at her level the sentiment would have been the same.

Anonymous said...

Personnel moves are not strictly personal business.

Anonymous said...

Is anybody concenred that she is putting inexperience in the position of "fox"? I recall her saying that she doesn't want the fox guarding the hen house. Ms. Smith may be an up and coming prosecutor but based on her short tenure she cannot have the experience required.

Anonymous said...

murray - you recently posted how much you admire and respect bert graham. i challenge you to call him and ask him what he thinks about this post.

Anonymous said...

Bert is capable of posting on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Doing a blog post about a move that the office is buzzing about is not a personal character attack. Stop following the 6th floor's standard operating procedure of sticking your head in the sand and hoping to hell the problem goes away.

Anonymous said...

"Did the beg Guiney to stay? Did they beg Womble to stay? When Michelle Mishoe asked for a temporary break from the trial bureau because she had a baby, did they care? "

The obvious difference here is that Womble and Guiney weren't leaving for the same reasons. Look, I think that they were totally shitty to Guiney, and that they should have at least acknowledged all her service (or at least RESPONDED to her resignation letter). But I doubt that either Guiney or Womble would have stayed had they been offered a temporary gig somewhere. It was clear after Angela put in her notice 5 days after returning from maternity leave that there might be a temporary solution that would keep a long-term prosecutor.

Moreover, ANGELA IS NOT THE FIRST PERSON THIS OFFICE HAS GIVEN SIMILAR CONSIDERATION TO. [EDIT] Others over the years have been moved to positions to allow them to remain as prosecutors. This is not favoritism, THIS IS GOOD BUSINESS. If a short term adjustment can keep a good long-term employee, then this helps fight the drain of good DAs.

It seems obvious to me that some of this animosity might be coming from people who feel they have gotten the shaft from the office at some point. Look, lots of people have been treated badly, forced out of the office--some deservedly, some not so. But I bet some of these sour grapes are coming from people who have been forced out or marginalized and are taking this out on Angela. Just because the office decides that she is a quality prosecutor, doesn't make this a commentary on you as a DA or former DA.

jigmeister said...

Don't think the point of the post is to criticize any prosecutor, but to point out that morale is so low that an unprecedented number of people are leaving. Obviously Patsy has finally figured out that she will be in trouble if the numbers continue at a time she can't hire. Any ideas on why the morale is so bad, does Patsy have a clue?

Ted said...

This is not about personal business since she is a public employee and those in the office are not the only ones talking about it. Further, Murray is merely pointing out that she is being handed a sweet position that is way out of her experience level, the precedent of doing so far more troublesome than the specific case.

Scores of people have left in the political purges of the last 18 months. Many others have been marginalized out of spots they rightfully earned until they left in disgust. Still others have been told that they will never promote, typically for reasons completely unrelated to their performance but for spiteful reasons or perceived slights. That has led even more to find employment elsewhere and now the results are coming in, requiring those in misdemeanor courts to suck up the extra work resulting from a lack of manpower.

The bottom line is that morale will continue to suffer when those that have served well are bypassed for capable people that simply lack the depth of experience needed for such a position as public integrity. Make no mistake about it that this is not a short term accommodation for Angela either, it was a full fledged attempt to stop the exodus during a hiring freeze by a political hack that will take a long time to fix.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this post and these comments are not an attack on Angela but an attack on the Lykos administration. The inconsistent treatment of trial bureau prosecutors is partially to blame for creating this mess. Everyone knows if you're in a specialized division (specifically CAC) you get treated differently. How long have those chiefs been down there anyway? And what do they do again? I digress...

I appreciate the desire to keep a good prosecutor from leaving. Angela is no doubt a good prosecutor. The administraion handled it all wrong, and yes, once again inconsistently, i.e. Guiney and Womble.

The inconsistence goes even further. When this administration came in, we had a prosecutor who stated she had cancer, they backed her, and put her in a low stress, 8 to 5 job. As they should have. But now, as everyone knows, including the adminstration, she lied about her cancer. And the adminstration is failing to react. She reamins in her low stress, 8 to 5 job. She still has a job despite the fact that she has openly and outwardly lied. Fire her! How about charging her with a crime. Why is the administration hiding this? Embarassment that someone under their watch committed a crime? And this isn't the first employee under their watch. Why let the misdemeanor investigator quit who lied on his timesheet? IT'S A CRIME! You're the DA. Do your job and charge them accordingly. The administrations failure to do this has shown that they have no backbone, no integrity, and no respect for what WE do. And they wonder why morale is low?

What will help morale? Just as a start, you have to do more moves and more consistent moves. There are felony threes who have been in their spot too long. Second time threes are pushing burnout.

Misdemeanor is a mess. How about treating them like people? Or better yet, attorneys? Instead you are monitoring their time sheets? Come on folks...this is where the future of OUR office comes from.

Anonymous said...

It's gonna take a long time to fix MOST of what has taken place over here and if it continues at this pace, I feel sorry for the next DA in 2012.

There have been many good points made here, and taken without a grain of salt it is not hard to see where we are heading and what we put up with daily.

My thanks to Murray and those of you who post here to show what is happening to us at a once great office. It goes well beyond exposing Pat for her shortcomings. It is a chronolgical history of how she is single handedly destroying the office she was elected to and when the general public comes to realize, it may be too late.

Remember this - What gets posted here is only part of what goes on day after day ... Eventually we get so immune to it that we take as routine. SHAMEFUL, but true.

Anonymous said...

What [the prosecutor that faked cancer] did is not only unethical and potentially illegal, but it is a slap in the face to everyone in that office that went out of their way to help her and be there for her. People worried for her and took time away from their own lives and responsibilities to cover her duties and to be with her as she was "dying." It's sick.

Anonymous said...

Somebody faked cancer and is still getting away with it? The balls on that woman!

Anonymous said...

I was pondering the reason this blog exists when I realized how unprecedented it is. Having worked in the criminal justice system under Carol Vance, Johnny Holmes, and Chuck Rosenthal, despite any of their worst moments, nothing like this blog existed, nor would it have.

That is a profound fact that is apparently lost on the Lykos Administration. The fact that the blog is still pointing out HUGE gaffes and administrative foolishness a year and a half into the Lykos term of office, speaks volumes. It is also a fact that Lykos and her top management staff read the blog themselves. Unfortunately, it has no effect on the way the Office is run. This confirms Lykos' mistaken belief that she is competent and "smarter" than her predecessors. One can only hope the voters will stop the madness in 2012. There won't be much of a professional office by then and the re-building process will take years.

Anonymous said...

Personnel decisions at the DA's office are not personal. What is, however, is the conversation wherein she was allowed to pick her new job (assuming that's what happened, since there is at least one conflicting account, above). Because she is the only person who knew the details, the fact that they are printed here shows that she spoke to others about them, which is what can get her in hot water with Lykos. Sure, she's the one that blabbed and as a result should bear the consequences, but you could have posted it in a way that was not traced so directly to her. I think the possible ramifications to her are what half the posters are concerned about. The other half could care less because they're pissed at her. I don't know why, they'd all do the same thing.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the JUDGE determine how many times a case can be reset?

Anonymous said...

This office is a public entity. Everyone in Harris County has an interest in how it is run, decisions like this included. When you work for a public agency, like it or not, you check some freedoms at the door. Heck, even a half assed google search will find everyones salary. Angela got a nice deal, good for her, but now the precedent has been set, and like every other shoot from the hip idea, the 6th floor has to deal with the consequences...if they even care to knowledge them.

Anonymous said...

10:10, we all know that if the prosecutor wants a reset, they get it. If the defendant does, hey may, unless the prosecutor fights it, in which case he will not. The bench and DA's office are far too cozy. Yes, even some of the new Democrats, like Roll. You telling me that arson isn't a lesser included offense of murder by arson? Give me a break.


Anonymous said...

Fake cancer? People are prosecuted for that in other jurisdictions. How about a post about that?



Anonymous said...

For those of you with no experience outside of Harris County, you might be astonished to know that other DA's offices suck as well.

Not only do their electeds suck, but the way they treat their employees. As Durfee once said in a State Bar lecture a decade ago, [assistants] are nothing but "fungible assets".

Check out the pay in Fort Bend and other counties. It sucks. No comp time in Fort Bend for attorneys, in fact, you're expected to work overtime, all the time. No intake overtime pay either. The DA there takes great delight in assigning "special projects" to prosecutors who are not only underpaid but overworked already.

Meanwhile, the Fort Bend DA hasn't tried a case in 14 years, and he has had massive turnover in the past decade. There's like 4 prosecutors (give or take 1-2 more) who have been there since 2000, and that DA took office in 1992. All the vets left a long time ago there, either for private practice or other offices.

You may bitch about Patsy and the rest of her crew, but don't forget life sucks in other places for prosecutors as well.

Take some solace that there are some offices where prosecutors are treated well. You've sometimes got to be willing to move away from Houston, but there are several offices in the state where pay is almost as good as Harris (and some where it is better...Denton, Collin) and where the DA treats you with respect with no draconian time clock policies.

For many years, particularly under Briscoe, Vance and Holmes, Harris County was a well respected office. The folks working there were still respected under Rosenthal, but he was not. Anyone who knew Chuck knew that trouble was coming, somehow, somewhere.

So when you're crying in your beer about Patsy and her band of morons running the show, remember, at least you're making some bucks and there are other ada's elsewhere treated as bad or worse than you are.

Anonymous said...

You are only scratching the surface with the problems in misdemeanor. Keep scratching, Murray. This is all of our business, and everyone deserves to know.