Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Um, Mom?

So, I had the following e-mail exchange with my 60-something year-old mother on Facebook on Monday. She was writing from College Station.

MOM:

Mur-

[My friends] and I went to the Adult Bookstore Friday. We had a great time. I told them you worked on a murder there. They were impressed.

MY REPLY:

Um, that's great, Mom. I won't ask why you were there.

MOM:

Oh, it is a great new Mexican restaurant now. We will have to go the next time you are in Bryan.


Good to know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Race for District Clerk (With Updated Links)

As election season is rapidly approaching, I realized that there probably wasn't going to be time for me to write the big, comprehensive reviews of candidates like I did in 2008 and in the primaries of this year. I'll put something out eventually, I'm sure. I may even focus on some races in particular, but I just don't have time to write the voluminous stuff I've written in the past for every race.

But, I did want to write something semi-voluminous about the Race for District Clerk, because it is a position that affects both lawyers and citizens across the board.

And for the past year or so, District Clerk Loren Jackson has been doing a freaking amazing job as District Clerk.

Prior to Loren Jackson taking over the Office, you probably would have been fairly hard pressed to come up with the name of the District Clerk of Harris County. Now, Jackson's name is one of the most recognizable for a Public Servant in Harris County.

And with good reason.

Jackson took the helm of the Clerk's office and has taken it into the 21st Century. His efforts to streamline public records in an easily accessible manner on the Internet has been nothing short of monumental.

And he's achieved the goals he set forth.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys marvel at what Loren Jackson has done with the District Clerk's office. As you can imagine, in the legal world, needing documents and records is an extremely frequent occurrence. Getting those documents used to be like pulling teeth. You would have to go to your computer and search for a case number associated with the name you were looking for (and Lord help you if you didn't have the exact right name and spelling during your search). You would have to find the volume and page of where the records could be found. You had to put in a written request to the clerk of your court for those records.

And then you would have to wait for several days for the clerk to pull that information up for you and certify it.

It was not a good system, but at the time, there was nothing better.

Loren Jackson now has alleviated the workload on his clerks by giving attorneys the ability to search for the information online without the assistance of a clerk, and we can now print out copies of those court documents on our own printers in our own offices immediately.

That may seem like a small thing to some people, but it is literally saving hours, days, and weeks worth of legwork that were so commonplace just five or ten years ago. The work he's done to improve his office has been nothing short of Monumental.

In addition to the technology side of what he's done for the Office, he's also brought a level of enthusiasm to his job that makes it so much more than just an elected spot for somebody to hold onto before running for County Commissioner or something. He goes and greets both the morning and the afternoon jury panels that come over daily.

I've never even met Loren Jackson, but I'm a tremendous fan of all that he has done for that office. It is (and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest) absolutely amazing.

Loren Jackson is such an amazing District Clerk that anybody who would want to run against him is actually doing the public a very large disservice.

But, of course, somebody is running against him.

Because Loren Jackson is a Democrat, the Republicans have found a candidate to run against him named Chris Daniel.

And where they got this guy, I'm not real sure. Based on his campaign website, it just appears that his major credentials are being very adept at having his picture taken with famous politicians. I used to want to have my picture with famous NFL athletes when I was a teenager -- and they still didn't let me play in the NFL.

It is also very transparent from Mr. Daniel's resume that he is just looking to use the District Clerk's position as a springboard to higher office.

I've got a big issue with that -- especially since Loren Jackson is kicking butt and taking names with how well he is doing with the Office now.

Only a die-hard Republican who was completely unfamiliar with the job Jackson is doing would think of voting against him.

Voting for anyone other than Loren Jackson for District Clerk of Harris County would not only be foolish, it would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Please tell your Republican family and friends who vote in Harris County to stay away from the straight-ticket vote, and actually pay enough attention to the ballot to vote for the far-and-away best candidate for the job.

Get the word out.

For more input on the Race for District Clerk, check out the Houston Chronicle's article here and Mark Bennett's post on it here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another Friday, Another Good Prosecutor Leaves

Today marks the last day of prosecutor Sean Teare, who is leaving the Harris County District Attorney's Office to join the world of civil practice. Sean leaves as a second-time Felony Three in the 339th District Court. (ON A RELATED NOTE: We are currently now looking for a foster parent for Ryan Mitchell.)

I got to know Sean on the day he actually learned he had passed the Texas Bar exam, and I didn't really get the chance to work with him as a prosecutor.

I did get the chance to work with him as a defense attorney, however. Sean was a damn good prosecutor who had the cajones to make a call on a case based on what was right or wrong, and not out of fear of getting in trouble with schmucks like Bridgwater and Leitner (who lately can't even seem to decide what their policy actually is.)

Over the past year and a half, I've noticed (with concern) as senior prosecutors were leaving and the experience level that was leaving with them. Sean's departure actually shows that Lykos and the Gang are burning the talent pool at both ends. Prosecutors like Teare (and Womble before him) at least gave some of us hope that there were good lawyers coming up through the ranks.

Now Lykos and Crew are running off the Next Generation of Prosecutors as well.

Pretty soon, the Office will be filled with nothing more than those who have successfully managed to suck up to either Lykos, Leitner, Chow, or Bridgwater. The promotion requirements will be based only on who you know and not how you do the job.

So, good luck to you, Sean. You'll do great in the civil world.

And soon a Legion of Palmers will have filled your spot at the Office.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pat Lykos' Accomplishments

For those of you who may have missed it, apparently Pat Lykos took time out of her busy schedule to have her staff write up a memorandum on all of her "accomplishments" she was able to achieve during her first year. Now, never mind the fact that it took her and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight until freaking September to come up with what they had done so great in 2009, I think it is kind of cute that she did that.

I was especially moved by Lykos' latest sound byte:

"Justice is the highest good and injustice is the worst of the bad," Lykos said.

Lykos then followed that statement by thanking Hannah Chow for being her "bestest friend".

After reading over the review of herself (in which she gives herself very high marks for awesomeness), I realized that old Snooks sold herself short. So, I thought I would help her out with the following Top Ten list:

TOP 10 ACCOMPLISHMENTS LYKOS FAILED
TO RECOGNIZE HERSELF FOR

10. Lost no arguments over the validity of the sodomy law in front of the Supreme Court.

9. Making the office feel safer by having Leitner wear his badge on his belt and introducing him to people as "Festus, my chief deputy."

8. Has successfully boosted morale despite a hiring freeze by the handing out of creative titles in lieu of actual promotions (according to Rear Admiral Roger Bridgwater).

7. Totally kicked Chow's ass in the "upper echelon putt-putt match".

6. Created her own weight-loss video: Chain Smoking to the Oldies.

5. Made Special Crimes truly special by having Bureau Chief Joni Vollman give a hug to all visitors.

4. Instituted the punitive method of "double secret probation" to punish erring prosecutors that was so secret that not even the erring prosecutor would know whether or not he or she was on probation.

3. Successfully invented CrimeStoppers in March.

2. Drastically increased fairness to defendants by encouraging experienced prosecutors to quit.

1. On October 3rd, 2009, she received no letters of resignation.



Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I Remember from 9/11

There isn't anything particularly moving about my particular experience on September 11, 2001. I didn't lose a loved one. I had never even been to New York City before.

But I received an e-mail about that day from a friend of mine this morning, and I guess I just wanted to write about what I remember from that day.

When citing moments of historical importance that "everybody remembers where they were when they heard", people who were born after the assassination of John F. Kennedy often cite the Challenger disaster or when Ronald Reagan was shot. I don't think those moments, although tragic, even begin to scratch the surface of the National Shot-in-the-Heart that we all felt on the morning of September 11th.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office at that time was under flood conditions. Tropical Storm Allison had knocked out the CJC. After a month or so of the entire Office being crammed into the early voting offices of the 1319 Texas Avenue, the felony divisions had moved back into the old District Attorney's building at 201 Fannin. Some of us were lucky enough to even have our own office.

I was a first time felony three in the 263rd District Court. My chief was Jeff Laird and my two was Valerie Turner. We still were very limited on available computers, so internet browsing was highly discouraged if it wasn't necessary for the job. So, I had foregone my morning routine of browsing all the news websites after pulling the docket together.

I got there at seven o'clock that morning and pulled my docket together, as my position required me to.

As I was about to get ready to go to court, my cell phone rang. It was my friend, Peter DeLeef.

Peter, God love him, often has a strange sense of humor. So, when he told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I didn't think much of it. The vision of I had in my mind was something similar to this event when a small plane had struck the Empire State Building. I remember making some comment about the pilot being some "dumb ass" that didn't know how to fly.

I certainly didn't think there was any tremendous significance based on what Peter had told me.

As Jeff and Valerie and I left 201 Fannin to walk over to the courts (that were operating out of the old courthouse at 301 San Jacinto), I think I may have casually mentioned it to them. Their responses at the time were nothing more than mild curiosity.

But, as we got to the street level in front of 201 Fannin, somebody (I don't remember who) told us that a second plane had hit the other World Trade Center. I think at the time, I had so little knowledge of New York City that I didn't even really know there were two towers back then. But when that person told us about a second plane hitting, we all knew that something was terribly wrong.

We rushed over to 301 San Jacinto and got to the 263rd as fast as we could. Because of the flood conditions, the few computers available in the courtroom ran really really slowly. So many people trying to click on www.cnn.com made it even slower. There wasn't any TV that had a connection that we could watch news coverage on.

Jeff was in a murder trial against Larry Douglas, and Judge Robert Jones was visiting that week. The jury was already selected, and I remember Judge Jones giving them all the option to go home and be with their families that day if they didn't feel they could focus on testimony.

Much to my surprise, the jury in the box all said they could stay and participate.

Judge Wallace had a radio in his office, or maybe Judge Jones had just brought it with him. Either way, he tasked me with listening to the radio and to come give him updates during the trial. I remember being stunned as the frantic reporters began to report that the first tower was beginning to crumble. I would dutifully reported it all to the judge. It seemed like everything was happening all at once. The Pentagon. The downed flight in Pennsylvania. The towers falling.

Judge Jones, an ex-military man, took the news stoically, and there was something about that which I found oddly comforting.

I didn't worry much about anything happening to us at the courthouse, but my wife at the time worked in one of the Allen Center skyscrapers. I was worried about her. I called her, and she was extremely emotional. Her bosses were sending them home, and I was relieved to hear that. She went home and began taping the news. She called me throughout the day to give me updates. In all the time that I knew her, I don't believe that I ever saw her so upset.

Later in the week, I picked a jury, and during Judge Jones' voir dire, a woman raised her hand and asked to approach. The attorneys approached with her, and she cried in front of the bench. She told Judge Jones that the events of 9/11 were all she could think about, and she couldn't sit on a jury.

I'll never forget what happened next. Judge Jones, who can easily be labeled as one of the gruffer judges that sit in Harris County, gave her a sad nod.

"I understand," he said. "I lost two of my best friends at the Pentagon."

He quietly excused her.

Last year, I was in New York City quite a bit. I went to the site of where the Towers had once stood. They are doing some rebuilding projects there, and it is pretty difficult to comprehend what had once been there.

It is even more difficult to comprehend what had once happened there.

I don't think it really hit home to me that I was in the place where it happened until I went and visited the New York City Police Museum. The museum itself is fairly small, as museums go, but obviously has a large portion of it dedicated to what happened on 9/11. There is a presentation that focuses on three police officers who had all been photographed at one point or another during the morning.

All three officers profiled had been into the Towers, helped rescue people and bring them out.

All three of those officers went back in.

All three of those officers died when the building collapsed. Their bent and melted badges, their gun belts, their radios are all in the museum.

It was all so simply displayed, yet gut-wrenching to look at.

And at that moment, I think I truly missed not being a prosecutor anymore. The admiration for the bravery of the policemen and firemen who died that day, and the ones who survived were certainly a large part of that feeling. I missed working alongside those men and women that I think so highly of.

But another part was how that was a shared experience that I had with my family of prosecutors -- how we moved forward and adapted to what happened in the wake of September 11, 2001.

I know that what I write of that day is of absolutely no significance to anyone other than myself.

But, as we mark the anniversary of that terrible day, I just wanted to be one of the millions of voices from across our country that still says "I remember".

I remember that day very well.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Right Reverend Still Retires

Sometimes it is difficult to write a Prosecutorial "Obituary" for my friends and former co-workers as they leave the D.A.'s Office.

And sometimes, it is very easy.

Friday marks the last day at the Harris County District Attorney's Office for my best friend, the Reverend John Craig Still of the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California, who will be departing the Office after 9 years of service. So, without further ado, here's his obit:

John Craig Still aka Flip Johnson will be departing his life as a Harris County Prosecutor on Friday, September 10, 2010. He will be moving on to a new life as a Criminal Defense Attorney effective Monday, September 13th.

Craig first joined the Office as a full-fledged prosecutor in the Spring/Summer of 2001, and I first met him when all of the D.A.'s Office had been relocated to 1319 Texas Avenue because the CJC had been decimated by Tropical Storm Allison. When I first met Craig, he didn't have a lot to say. Come to think of it, he still isn't particularly chatty.

It seems just like yesterday that Craig was trying one of his first cases in front of Judge Sherman Ross. When asked if the State was ready, he looked his chief right in the eye and asked: "Do you happen to have any Imodium?" I tried to label him with the nickname of "Imodium" after that, but fortunately for Craig, the name never stuck.

Once he recovered from his stomach issues, Craig grew into an extremely talented trial attorney. During his felony stint, he was able to master the difference between a duvet and a bidet while on the fly in trial, just in time to secure a conviction from a very confused jury.
Also during his stint in felony, he would achieve celebrity status as the Quilting Avenger, after aggressively prosecuting a man who had decided to wreak havoc on the quilting community by destroying a highly valued quilt at the Quilt Show at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Rumor has it, Craig can still get you a back stage pass to any quilting convention in the nation.

Craig sometimes angered the defendants he was prosecuting. In one particular case, he tried a defendant who practiced some sort of voodoo religion, and had to proceed with trial despite the fact that the defendant left a dead rooster's head in the courtroom.

He still has a picture of the rooster's head in his office.

But in all seriousness, as Craig's talent grew in the Office, he was called upon to handle more and more serious cases. He went to Child Abuse, and although the subject matter of the cases he handled bothered him tremendously, he excelled at the job and secured some excellent results against some people charged with doing very bad things.

His skills in trial also extended to other cases. I can recall being in court one day when a visibly rattled Vic Wisner came in. He was actually trying to keep from crying. When I asked him what was wrong with him (since I was unaware of the fact that Vic even had tears), he told me he had just seen Craig give one of the most amazing closing arguments on an Intoxication Manslaughter that he had ever seen.

Craig truly found his calling, however, when he was moved to the Special Crimes Division where he prosecuted white collar crime and major fraud cases. Although he didn't get to trial nearly as often, he found that working on complex "paper cases" were the exact thing he should be doing. He thoroughly enjoyed working under the leadership of John Brewer, and he would spend almost the next two years in the Division. Craig's methodical readings of bank records and mortgage papers coupled with his knowledge of the law meant that most cases he prepared were air-tight by trial time.

And that's why most defendants took a plea deal rather than face off against that kind of preparation.

Although he was excellent in the major fraud division, the Lykos Administration chose to move him to the 338th District Court as a Felony Chief when they took over, and he has served there for about a year or so now, I believe. As always, his reputation as a reasonable and well-prepared prosecutor has followed him.

So, on Monday, Craig will bring his considerable talents as a prosecutor to the Defense side. As I said about our friend Kristin Guiney, prosecutors are going to need to get themselves prepared if they see Craig Still sitting across counsel table from them. He's smart and he's good in trial.

Craig's, um, "wake" to celebrate his leaving from the Office will be held Friday, September 10th at the World-Famous Char Bar. We'll be starting up around 4:00 p.m. So come by to say "hello" and "goodbye" to Craig.

Craig leaves behind him at the Office his long-time companion, Ed McClees, and a son, Scott Pope.


The Man Trap

Christine Haas is continuing her investigation into the CJC and the overcrowding it experiences every day. In this piece (which I believe aired yesterday), she gets County Judge Ed Emmett and the Fire Marshal's Office to finally weigh in on what's happening there.

I was disappointed to see both men give a soft-sell to what was happening with the building. Emmett notes that he's sure that sometimes the capacity of the building goes over 350 people? Dude, I'm totally voting for you in November, but seriously, "sometimes"????

But Emmett's quotes are nothing compared to Assistant Fire Marshal who called the problems at the CJC that they've addressed to be "minor", and notes that the reason there hasn't been follow up at the building since 2008 and was because nobody called in to complain.

What? Let's analyze that for a moment.

1. Is he seriously stating that the Fire Marshal only responds to inspect public buildings if there has been a complaint, and never for any other reason? So, basically, it isn't their fault, it's been the community's fault for not complaining?

AND

2. Is he really trying to say with a straight face that there actually hasn't been a complaint since 2008.

Kind of reminds me of the old phrase about pissing on someone's head and telling them it's raining.

At least Judge Emmett has some ideas in mind, but he's looking at the one that will be the most inconvenient while saving county money. I'm not sure how I feel about the ideas of staggered dockets. I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if they did all felony in the morning and all misdemeanor in the afternoon (or vice versa).

But if you have to start keeping track of different random courts with different random hours, I think you are going to have some chaos going on for Judges, Attorneys, and Defendants.

Either way, a major thanks goes out to Christine Haas for keeping on this story and hopefully changing that damn building for the better!

The best part of the clip is the Fire Marshal acknowledging that the CJC is actually a "Man Trap".

If that doesn't give you an idea of how dangerous the building is, I don't know what will.