Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Aggressive Prosecutor

One of the things that I am not proud to admit about myself is that I do actually have a subscription to the Houston Chronicle. In my defense, it is only a weekend subscription and I have it because I do like to kick back on Sunday mornings and read the newspaper and drink coffee.

This morning's edition, however, has a column in it from Rick Casey that (as of this writing) still hasn't hit the on-line edition, so I guess for once, it at least helped me get a head start on writing a post. The title of Casey's column nearly made me laugh out loud. It read:

My Fantasy: Siegler puts DA on trial.

Now, nevermind the fact that Freud could have a Field Day with Mr. Casey based on the title alone, I was still shocked to see Casey write something that could even remotely be considered complimentary of Kelly Siegler. Let's face facts, the Houston Chronicle wouldn't say nice things about Kelly if she took a dinner spoon, dug a mile into the earth, and rescued 33 Chilean miners completely by herself.

Kelly Siegler represents to the Chronicle and its staff something that they disapprove of: an "aggressive" prosecutor. One who actually knows her job and the law, and enforces it to the best of her ability, regardless of public perception. For some reason, we live in a city where the local newspaper treats the profession of prosecution with same resentment of a high school senior who got caught spiking punch by his teacher.

And in the world of those kill-joy prosecutors, there was never anyone better at it than Kelly.

But damn, what to do when Kelly actually is pointing her accusations at the actions of another prosecutor?

One like Charles Sebesta who truly broke the law, pressured and manipulated witnesses, and sent a factually innocent man to Death Row. A guy who decided that the preliminary readings of a high-profile case were enough to demand prosecution in his small town county, and then bent the facts to meet his theory of guilt. Someone who clearly didn't know what he was doing, but wanted to look good while doing it in the public perception.

Well, then, Rick Casey guesses it would be okay if Kelly were to prosecute somebody like Sebesta. I guess, in Casey's mind, as long as she were feeding on one of her own profession, then it would be okay to let her do her job.

The reality of the situation, however, is that Casey is just finally acknowledging something that most prosecutors have always felt, and that is that bad prosecutors like Charles Sebesta are hated even more by other prosecutors than they are hated by the general public. Prosecutors like Sebesta (and Mike Nifong before him) give prosecutors ulcers because they rock the credibility of prosecutors everywhere.

And yes, before somebody else points it out, Chuck Rosenthal gave all prosecutors a pretty big kick in the crotch with his actions, too.

My point is that while Casey and the Chronicle staffers loved taking potshots at Kelly Siegler when she was running for D.A. because she was too "aggressive", they would suddenly love to have her back to prosecute somebody like Sebesta. It is almost like they are suddenly getting a perspective on what it is like to be a victim of crime and hoping you have a good prosecutor trying it.

And don't get me wrong, an "aggressive" prosecutor is not necessarily synonymous with a "good prosecutor".

But the biggest fallacy in logic that the Chronicle always seemed to make was that being a good prosecutor was mutually exclusive from being an aggressive one as well.

Kelly was always both, and I know that the actions of prosecutors like Sebesta, Nifong, and even Rosenthal made her sick to her stomach. In all the criminals she prosecuted over the years, I can guarantee you that she has much more contempt in her heart for Charles Sebesta than for, say, Susan Wright.

I'm sure that based on this post, I will get my usual taunts from folks like Rage and Grits, pointing out that a defense attorney such as myself shouldn't have any clients since I'm so pro-prosecution.

Whatever.

Yeah, you know what, I'll admit it. I'm very pro-good prosecution. Even when it is aggressive.

I will sing the praises of a good prosecutor who knows the law and knows the facts of his or her case. One who doesn't hide the truth or try to twist the law. One who will sign a dismissal when the facts or even compassion calls for it on one case, and then will turn around and seek the death penalty in the next one. One who, at the ends of the day, strives to do what is right, and isn't even afraid to do it aggressively.

I'm a defense attorney and the job of defending is on me. Dealing with a good prosecutor makes my life and my job easier, believe it or not. Even when that prosecutor is telling me things I don't want to hear. I can't change the facts of my cases, but I'll always respect a good fight with a good prosecutor who I trust.

And for the record, there are still many many good prosecutors left in the Harris County D.A.'s Office.

It strikes me as sad how much disdain the Chronicle had for Kelly Siegler during her 2008 campaign for District Attorney. I never quite understood why they thought Kelly's aggressiveness made her somehow less worthy of the job than a career-politician who was more adept at saying things the public wanted to hear. You would have thought that city newspaper folks would have dug a little deeper into what really makes a truly good District Attorney.

Who is truly the better candidate to be a District Attorney? A pandering politician or an "aggressive" prosecutor?

I'm sure that today Anthony Graves wishes he had an aggressive prosecutor like Kelly Siegler back in 1992.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last Day of Early Voting

Just a friendly reminder that today is the last day you can early vote.

For those of us who work Downtown, the ease and convenience of running over to the Harris County Administration Building to early vote is about 5 billion times than tracking down your actual polling location on Election Day. I hope you'll take advantage of that.

I've been excited to see the turnout so far. From what I'm hearing, a lot of the traditionally Republican strongholds around the county are generating the most traffic, which most folks are thinking is indicative of a good year for the 'pubs. I'm hoping that my Republican friends here will still take the time out to

VOTE FOR LOREN JACKSON FOR DISTRICT CLERK

But whatever you do, just get out there and vote.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tonight's Reasonable Doubt Halloween Episode

Join us for tonight's Reasonable Doubt, which will be a special Halloween episode.

Our guest will be defense attorney and former-prosecutor Mike Hinton, who is going to share with us his memories of prosecuting Ronald Clark O'Bryan -- the famous murderer from Houston who "ruined Halloween" back in the early 1970s.

You can tune to it on live video by clicking here. The show starts at 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Have You Early Voted Yet? Loren Jackson needs your help.

Normally, when I send out my reminders on this blog it is because of dismal early voting numbers. From the totals that I've seen so far this go-round, it doesn't appear that you guys need too much encouragement to get out the vote.

The number of early voters has been excellent.

Most folks that I've talked to seem to agree that the conventional wisdom is for a Republican Sweep this year. For the most part, I'd be pretty happy about that.

But as in every election there are several "babies" that we don't want thrown out with the bathwater.

Please please please remember to take your time through the ballot and make sure to vote for Loren Jackson for District Clerk. I don't care if you are so Republican that you make Dick Cheney look like Nancy Pelosi -- Loren has created a model District Clerk's Office that needs his leadership in the years to come.

Please vote for Loren, and remind your friends and family to vote for him too. Even if one of your friends or family members is, in fact, Dick Cheney.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The End of the Harris County District Attorney's Office


Well, you know, I always said that I thought Pat Lykos would destroy the Harris County District Attorney's Office, but I was just using that as a figure of speech.

Apparently, however, according to the new business cards that the Assistant District Attorney's are getting, the institution that I once worked for is no longer in existence.

It has been replaced by The Office of Patricia R. Lykos, District Attorney.


So, what are the artists formerly known as Assistant District Attorneys now referred to as?

Assistant Pats?

Lykosites?

Baby Snooks?

Little Jimmy and the Minions?

I'm so confused.

Oh, by the way, for all of you folks who staunchly defend Pat Lykos and say that the Office isn't just all about her and her ego.

I offer this as Pat's Exhibit 1.


Monday, October 18, 2010

From Our Society Column . . .

Last Friday, many of our Judges, Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, and other courthouse personnel put together a fashion show at the Magnolia Hotel benefiting The Jeanette Williams Foundation for Children's Cancer Research.

The event, entitled the Feast of Fashion, was for a wonderful cause, and was put together by attorneys Julie Jones, Sherah Miller, and I'm sure a host of other dedicated individuals who worked behind the scenes. The models for the fashion line included court coordinators, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and even Judge Belinda Hill. Julie's husband, attorney Ron Johnson, served as Master of Ceremonies, and attorney Tim Weltin provided the modeling music.

It was a great joint effort by a lot of different attorneys in the Harris County Criminal Justice Community.

Everyone involved looked amazing! (NOTE: Actually Ron and Tim only looked "okay" compared to the models.)

The proceeds of the sold-out event go toward sending children suffering from cancer (many of them terminally) to summer camp. You just can't find many better causes than that.

If you missed the event, I hope you will consider giving your money and time to such a wonderful effort.

In the meantime, a very enthusiastic congratulations goes out to Julie for putting together such an amazing event. She really deserves a round of applause.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Early Voting Begins Tomorrow

Monday, October 18th is the start of Early Voting. As one of my commenters mentioned below, given the confusion following the fire that engulfed the voting machines and who knows what else might cause confusion, the earlier you vote the better. You can vote wherever there is an open polling location during early voting.

The ballot for Harris County is apparently about five freaking miles long, but I hope you will take the time to go through each race one by one in making your selections.

Straight ticket voting is not responsible voting, and there are some great candidates on both sides of the ballot. As usual, the races that affect us at the CJC are going to be fairly far down the ballot. It is worth the extra time to work your way through it, folks!

Frankly, I'm hopeful that the vast majority of the incumbents will be returned to their benches on the judicial side. There are several folks running that have never seen the inside of the courtroom, and have no business being on the bench. Make sure to vote accordingly.

For what it's worth, here are my recommendations:

District Clerk: Loren Jackson (D)

County Court at Law # 1 - Paula Goodhart (R)
County Court at Law # 2 - Bill Harmon (R)
County Court at Law # 3 - Natalie Flemming (R)
County Court at Law # 4 - John Clinton (R)
County Court at Law # 5 - Margaret Harris (R)
County Court at Law # 6 - Larry Standley (R)
County Court at Law # 7 - Pam Derbyshire (R)
County Court at Law # 8 - Jay Karahan (R)
County Court at Law # 9 - Analia Wilkerson (R)
County Court at Law # 10 - Sherman Ross (R)
County Court at Law # 11 - Diane Bull (R)
County Court at Law # 12 - Robin Brown (R)
County Court at Law # 13 - Don Smyth (R)
County Court at Law # 14 - Mike Fields (R)
County Court at Law # 15 - Jean Hughes (R)

180th District Court - Marc Brown (R)
182nd District Court - Jeannine Barr (R)
183rd District Court - Vanessa Velasquez (R)
184th District Court - Jay Burnette (D)
185th District Court - Susan Brown (R)
208th District Court - Loretta Muldrow (D)
209th District Court - Michael McSpadden (R)
228th District Court - Marc Carter (R)
230th District Court - Belinda Hill (R)
232nd District Court - Mary Lou Keel (R)
248th District Court - Joan Campbell (R)
262nd District Court - Denise Bradley (R)
263rd District Court - Jim Wallace (R)

313th District Court -- Glenn Devlin
314th District Court -- John Phillips
315th District Court -- Mike Schneider

Whoever you end up voting for, just please vote. It matters.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Revelation of Rage?

Rage Judicata.

You know him. If you're an ADA, you probably don't love him.

He and I have had a contentious relationship on this blog. He makes some bombastic statements that I often disagree with. But sometimes he makes some good points and counter-arguments that I think add to the debate.

Rage attacks anonymous posters and the blogger known as Black Ink for their views and insults them for their anonymity. His frequent barbs with the late blogger, Arthur Seaton, were often mesmerizing battles of insults unmatched outside of a marriage.

However, in the comments section of my link to Black Ink's latest post, Rage threw down a challenge to an anonymous commenter that went something like this:

I tell you what, I'll make you the same deal I made Arthur Seaton, and now Black Ink, both of who were too chickenshit to take me up on it--you put your name out there, and I'll put mine.

This morning, said Anonymous commenter revealed his name: Harold Simons.

Nice to meet you, Mr. Simons. Thank you for reading the blog.

Rage, looks like the ball is your court, partner.

And to paraphrase another commenter on the earlier post, somebody please pass the popcorn.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Carol Vance's Boomtown D.A.

I normally don't do much advertising on this blog for a variety of reasons, but I thought some of my readers who were interested in the historical aspects of the Harris County District Attorney's Office, as well as the Harris County Criminal Justice System in general might be interested in reading former District Attorney Carol Vance's book, Boomtown D.A.

I was recently provided a copy by the kind folks over at Whitecaps Media, and I've started reading it. Unfortunately, given my schedule these days, I'm a little behind in my book lists.

I have read the first couple of chapters, and it is a very interesting book, especially to me as a former-prosecutor. The salaries and the (lack of) manpower that the office had back in the late 1950s is a stark contrast to what there is today, and it is hard to imagine Harris County ever being so small that that would be manageable. It is kind of like if they were doing a Mad Men version of the D.A.'s Office.

Back when I was a brand new felony Two in Judge Ted Poe's court and Caroline Dozier was my chief, Judge Poe got frustrated with the prosecutors and barked out: "Ms. Dozier, I want you, Newman, and the Mullet in my chambers right now."

At the time, I thought that Poe had come up with a wildly hysterical and original insult for our then-Number Three (which, I would have completely agreed with the Judge at that point on his description). I laughed about that moment for years.

But after reading a bit of Boomtown D.A., I learned that the "Mullet" was what the Three in a court used to be regularly referred to.

In the first couple of chapters, that is what makes for such enjoyable reading in the book. I look forward to reading the rest of it as Mr. Vance covers a very transitional time in Harris County. His tenure as a prosecutor would span through the 1960s and 1970s and encompass the period of time of some of Houston's most notorious crimes -- from the Joan Robinson Hill case to Dean Corll & Elmer Wayne Henley & David Brooks.

I look forward to finishing reading the book, and if you want to get a copy of it yourself, you can get it from the link to Whitecaps Media (above), or through Amazon.com. (NOTE: The link to Amazon.com also references a book called The Man with the Candy by Jack Olsen, which is also an outstanding book about the Corll/Henley murders. I read it a long time ago, and I highly highly recommend it.

Let me know what y'all think.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Black Ink's Latest

Black Ink has a new blog post that you can read here.

The post is excellent in its own right.

Black Ink's comment at 8:17 a.m. is downright inspiring.

Speaking of Lykos Investigations . . .

Hey Pat,

Have you wrapped up this one you announced yet? It has been over half a year and I'm still waiting on the results of your analysis.

Sincerely,
Commissioner Gordon

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Shamelessness of Pat Lykos

In this morning's Houston Chronicle, there is an editorial entitled "Laurels for Lykos".

In the editorial, the author of the editorial lauds Lykos from clearing out the DNA backlog (which was underway long before she got there) and for her launching the investigation into the death of Asher Brown (which I mentioned in the post below).

The praise that they are heaping on Lykos becomes so frenzied that the author even has to blurt out: "It's hard to imagine Lykos' predecessor, Chuck Rosenthal, concerning himself about such an issue [Asher Brown]. The DA's office has certainly changed, and for the better."

Well, the author of that is kind of correct about that, actually. Chuck Rosenthal wouldn't have launched an investigation into Asher Brown's suicide.

Because Chuck Rosenthal would have known that there wasn't a crime to investigate.

Asher Brown committed suicide because he was being bullied at school. The bullies who picked on him for being small, poor, or gay were despicable beyond imagine. They should be suspended from school. They should have to be known for what they did to that poor little boy for the rest of their lives.

But under the laws of the State of Texas and the laws of the United States, they committed no crimes. Under the First Amendment, which protects the rights of the Weak Minded to spew out idiotic opinions (like the Editorial Board of the Chronicle does every day), those nasty children that tormented Asher Brown can say whatever they want and be free of prosecution from the government.

And Pat Lykos knows that.

She also knows that Asher Brown's death is something that will garner National Media Attention. Announcing that there will be "an investigation" does nothing more than hitch Pat Lykos' bandwagon to Asher's death.

There is certainly nothing substantive that a criminal investigation will lead to.

Jeff Cohen over at the Chronicle should know better. He's married to a defense attorney. Hell, even Brian Rogers is an attorney.

And if you don't believe me that there isn't a charge to file on the bullies who taunted Asher, pick up a copy of the damn Penal Code.

What Pat Lykos did by announcing her "investigation" into Asher Brown's death was to stand over the grave of a poor and desperate child and attempt to turn it into a campaign rally. She hijacked a tragedy for her own selfish purposes.

It's called exploitation for you morons over at the Chronicle, and you are applauding her for it.

The editorial wraps up with this: "Her concern over Asher Brown's tragic suicide, and her decision to examine its causes, is a reminder that, even in Harris County, a DA can be both tough on crime and compassionate."

No. Not quite. As a matter of fact, during her tenure, Lykos has proven that she is neither tough on crime nor compassionate.

She is just a politician.

A politician who wants to ride on the shoulders of a dead 13-year-old into a second term.

With the Chronicle cheering her on all the way.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bullies

By now, I'm sure that you have heard about the tragic story of Asher Brown.

He was a 13-year-old eighth grader at Hamilton Middle School out of Cy-Fair who committed suicide last week by shooting himself with his step-father's handgun.

The reason for what in the world could cause a 13-year-old to truly believe his young life was no longer one worth living?

Bullies.

Apparently, young Asher was taunted mercilessly "for his small size, because he didn't wear designer clothes and because he was Buddhist".

It seems that since the Dawn of Time there have always been bullies in one form or another. I'm sure you dealt with them growing up. So did your parents. So did their parents.

There never seems to be a shortage of people who hold more power, strength, or popularity than someone less fortunate who elect to use said power, strength, or popularity to abuse. It isn't limited to 8th graders, either. In another highly publicized case this week, 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York City. The reason for his suicide was, again, bullies picking on him.

I think most of us were brought up to have nothing but disdain for those choose to be bullies. We are taught from a young age that bullies are usually people born out of insecurity regarding themselves. How many of us were taught cute little overly-idealistic methods of dealing with bullies when we were kids?

"Just ignore them?" or my personal favorite: "Try to be their friend!"

The bottom line is when it comes to dealing with bullies that the only truly effective method of dealing with one is to stand up to one. How often do parents preach that to their children anymore?

And how many times a day to we bypass the opportunity to do so?

How many times a day do we bypass the opportunity, maybe not to stand up for ourselves, but to maybe to stand up for somebody else who is being bullied?

It is very easy to cry on TV, hold a solidarity march (which changes nothing), or announce you are going to launch an investigation which will ultimately yield nothing (other than possible charges against the parents). But here again, you are talking about doing too little too late.

As lawyers, we have the opportunity to combat bullying more so than most. Prosecutors have the ability to stop some bullies by putting them in prison. Defense attorneys have the ability to stop some bullies by standing up for their clients' rights. Prosecutors have the ability to say they aren't going to follow an arbitrary policy that over-punishes someone for a minor crime. Defense attorneys have the ability to say we'll take it to trial if you try.

But there is always more that can be done.

Moments like this make me think of my friend, Mark Bennett. Mark, to be sure, often beats to the tune of his own drum, and has never been shy about espousing an unpopular opinion. But the guy has never been bullied out of his opinion, and he's never been shy about standing up against people he thinks are being bullies, either.

For that, I admire him. Even when we disagree.

When you ignore it, you become nothing more than a coward who condones it. When you stand against it, you'll often find many will stand beside you.

I know this is probably seeming kind of rambling, but what happened to Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi has got me kind of worked up today, I suppose.

So, I guess I'd say that my message today to bullies would be "grow up and knock it off".

And to the rest of us, I'd say we've got a duty to stop it where we can, and not be afraid of being bullied ourselves. To paraphrase The Once and Future King, it should never be Might that makes Right, but Right which makes Might.

Nobody should ever die over bullying.

Certainly not teenagers like Asher and Tyler.