Friday, December 17, 2010

Rifi Newaz

Unfortunately for the citizens of Harris County, the departures at the District Attorney's Office are now coming in so rapidly that I can't even keep up on the official "obituaries" that I've been doing for the Assistant District Attorneys who are leaving. The past couple of weeks have seen the departure of Environmental Law prosecutor Will Graham, Felony Prosecutor Samantha Cox, and Misdemeanor prosecutor David Zeitzoff. There may be more I'm not aware of.

This week has seen prosecutors Colin "Judo" McLaughlin and Daphne "Jazz Hands" Newaz turning in their resignations. Judo and Jazz Hands are headed to be prosecutors in other regions -- Tarrant County and the U.S. Attorney's Office in El Paso, respectively.

Felony Two Abraham Hamilton is also having his last day today as part of the "normal rate of attrition".

All of these guys were/are great prosecutors.

Also leaving along with Daphne, will be her husband, Rifi Newaz, who will also be joining the Feds in El Paso.

Now, as most of you know, Rifi and Mark Donnelly were both the victims of, single-handedly, the most chicken shit thing that Pat Lykos has done during her two year tenure. But I don't want to focus on what that Old Goat did last year for the purposes of this post -- she can deal with her own demons over a few Jack and Cokes while boycotting Christmas.

Mark left the Office in October of last year and is enjoying a successful career with the Feds. Rifi's last day will be December 24th. NOTE: I'm just assuming that Rifi picked that day as a symbolic gesture of solidarity, since that was the day I got canned the second time.

But on a serious note, man, the Office is losing an absolute Class Act when Rifi leaves. And all of us, on both the prosecution and defense side, will be losing a good prosecutor and friend.

I first met Rifi in the early part of 2006. I had just transferred into the 209th District Court as the Two. Mike Trent was the Chief and Rifi was the Three. I had seen Rifi around the Office, but I had never heard him speak a word. Although he had been around for awhile, we were really first introduced on the day I started in Judge McSpadden's court.

I had been a Felony Two in several courts by the time I landed there, and I had worked with some great Threes, good Threes, and some downright bad Threes. The work that Rifi did on a day to day basis of just managing the docket brings to mind the term "brutal efficiency". Every docket was always together. Every "to do" was always done. It seemed like he had the facts of every case he handled memorized and could discuss them with defense attorneys without even having to refresh his memory. He knew the law that applied to his cases because he researched it ahead of time.

Even though I got to know Rifi a little better at first, he still didn't say all that much. I didn't figure that such a quiet man would be a very good litigator.

Boy, was I wrong.

I first observed Rifi in trial when he fought an uphill battle on a case against Tucker Graves. Although the State didn't prevail in the end, Rifi's closing was excellent. Sadly, I guess he just couldn't overcome Tucker's poster that read "Wang is Not Right". You'll have to ask either Tucker or Rifi about the rest of that story.

Over the next several months, I learned that Rifi could actually be quite talkative, and pretty damn funny, too. As a practical joker myself, I had great admiration for Rifi's placement of an Annoy-A-Tron in a co-worker's office. Needless to say, Rifi and I became good friends. His dry sense of humor and his sad devotion to losing sports teams like the Houston Texans, Houston Rockets, and Texas Longhorns were things that I could identify with.

And we stayed friends after I left the Office.

When what I shall refer to as the "Dark Moment" happened to Rifi and Mark, saying that I was beyond outraged doesn't scratch the surface on describing the anger I felt for what Pat Lykos did. And the response of support and solidarity that both Rifi and Mark received from both prosecutors and defense attorneys showed that I wasn't alone in my outrage.

Rifi and Mark handled the incident with their typical class. Although upset about the damage to their reputations that Lykos had done, neither immediately resigned, nor did they complain publicly. They kept on serving the Citizens of Harris County to the best of their ability -- and with their heads held high. They both knew that their reputations would survive intact and they were right. It would be Lykos' reputation that was forever doomed within the Office.

Rifi ultimately would return to the Trial Bureau -- landing as the Two in the 337th District Court.

And it was here, that Rifi and I would do battle. A lot of freaking battle.

Rifi and I ended up on opposite sides of a murder case most familiarly known as the "Baytown Five". At the beginning of this year, Rifi and I picked a jury on the case.

Or at least, we tried to. You see, being in trial against Rifi is like a chess match. Every question he asks, every comment or objection he makes is strategic. And it was without a doubt one of the most mentally grueling duels I have ever been in for a trial.

On the first jury panel, Rifi eliminated so many potential jurors for cause that we "busted" the panel before I even got to speak a word.

So, we brought a new panel over the next day. This time, I got to do my portion of voir dire, too, but the results were the same. We busted that panel too.

So we brought over a new panel, and busted it again, but this time we kept those still eligible venire members and combined them with a fourth panel that we picked the next day. It was only then that we were able to seat a jury for trial.

Which, of course, after a week-long battle of wits, ended in a hung jury.

So, later this year, we picked our fifth freaking panel on the same case. And of course, we busted it too. It got reset to April now.

I now can recite Rifi's voir dire in my sleep, I've heard it so many times -- especially the Wheel of Fortune part ("I suppose it could be 'banana splot'") and the West Side Story dance moves.

Sadly, I won't get to hear it again, since Rifi is finally leaving the D.A.'s Office. Part of me is glad that I won't have to face him in trial again, because damn, he is without a doubt, the best prosecutor I've faced off against in my time as a Defense Attorney.

But the other part of me is very sad to see my friend leaving the Office, no matter how happy I am for him to get out of that increasingly toxic environment.

Hell, part of me will even miss hearing that damn "banana splot" analogy one more time.

Best of luck to you and Daphne, Rifi.

You'll be missed around here.


12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should start a weekly column on who IS STILL working at the office, rather than who is leaving. It would probably be much shorter.

You should give Lycos a couple of cartons of cigs for Christmas with the note "inhale deeper".

Signed,

The anti-matter Rage. (In the opposite universe, Rage actually is not an asshole.)

Anonymous said...

Rifi was a great No. 3. He handled the workload without complaint, even though it was considerably heavier with Murray as his No. 2. Rifi is one of the smartest, nicest, least pretentious lawyers down at the courthouse, with a sense of humor drier than the deserts around El Paso. Good luck where you're going, Rifi. I will miss you, my friend.

Mike Trent

Anonymous said...

Best damn dildo prosecutor in the history of dildo prosecutions!

Anonymous said...

Who is left at the DA's Office from the old days and what are they doing?

I know Carl Hobbs is still there.

Anonymous said...

So is John Gault.

Anonymous said...

Carl Hobbs is one of the top people there now.He has been nominated for prosecutor of the year. Supposedly the Chronicle is doing a major story on Carl,s career. They are supposed to do a video story to show at baby prosecutor school as an example of a Texas prosecutor.Go Carl

Anonymous said...

It is no secret that 48 Hours has done Houston crime stories. the story on Carl will show how he went from farm boy to prison guard to prosecuting some of the most dangerous people in society. No disrespect to Carl, but truth is stranger than fiction.

Anonymous said...

Good for Carl. He is one of the hardest working people here.He deserves the recognition.

BEVO said...

Murray,

Don't compare the Longhorn Legacy to Houston's semi-pro teams.
I hope you recorded this year's UT-Aggie fluke since it will be decades, if ever, before the Aggies beat Texas again on Thanksgiving.....

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Bevo,

It was no fluke. Especially since our new quarterback will be --- Carl Hobbs.

Merry Christmas,
Murray

Sid Crowley said...

Carl was my chief in County Court 2 when I was a misdemeanor prosecutor in the fall of 1980, Great guy. I believe Russell Turbeville is now the longest serving Assistant DA with the office.

Crackhead said...

I heard Texas Monthly will name Pat Lykos, "Texan of the Year".
Who knew?