Friday, December 31, 2010

Double Standards

I love being a member of the Defense Bar.

And I remain eternally appreciative of the help that I have received from other members of the Harris County Defense Bar over the past two years as I began a defense practice.

I've been honored to work alongside some of the best in the criminal defense business.

And I've been a very enthusiastic and dedicated advocate to those clients who have entrusted me with their cases.

Contrary to the belief of some, this wasn't all that big of a transition from my job as a prosecutor, which I held for a little over 9 years.

I never relished in the misery of a defendant that I was prosecuting.  I was always keenly aware of the repercussions prosecuting somebody had on collateral matters such as a defendant's family, his job, etc.  I've written here before about one of the most memorably heart-breaking moments of my career was when a small child came waddling up to me moments after his father had been sentenced to life in prison as I had requested of the Court.

That's a memory that makes me incredibly sad.

But it doesn't change the fact that the defendant in that particular case deserved a life sentence.  He had ordered the death of a 17-year-old kid and that death had occurred.  He had ordered two other murders that had not.

I guess I'm rambling, but the point that I am (poorly) trying to make is that prosecutors often do jobs that are heart-breaking and sad, but nonetheless, important.  And necessary.

Somewhere along the way, people picked up the erroneous perception that prosecutors, and by extension, police officers do their jobs because they just truly enjoy ruining people's lives.  They enjoy the power trip.  They enjoy the chaos.

I am sure that there are probably some prosecutors and police officers that fit that description.  And maybe I'm naive, but I truly believe they are in the small minority.

I hope they are.  The ones that I worked with during my time with Harris County certainly weren't representative of that.  At least not to my knowledge.

But for some reason, some of my brethren in the Defense Bar regard prosecutors and police officers as power-mad authoritarians who do their jobs solely for the reason of suppressing the rights of citizens who were simply minding their own business.

Those same defense attorneys, who will gladly stand by any accused murderer, rapist, or pedophile, will vocally celebrate if a police officer or (fingers crossed!) a prosecutor gets arrested for anything.  Die-Hard civil libertarians who will (rightfully) proclaim any citizen's Presumption of Innocence, suddenly forget that standard if the person accused is a public servant enforcing the law.

It is a double standard beyond comprehension to me.

If every Defense Attorney ultimately fancies themselves to be a modern-day-Atticus-Finch, why do they forget the principles Finch stood for solely because it is a prosecutor or police officer charged?  If they were truly devotees of the principles of Atticus Finch, it would seem to me that the more unpopular a person or more scandalous of a charge they faced, the more they would dig their heels in to stand beside them.

The irony of the situation is stunning, because as members of the Defense Bar celebrate and rebroadcast the arrest of a prosecutor or police officer, they are abandoning the most sacred principles of the Constitution.

First, they are presuming them guilty.

And second, they are relishing in the idea that they should be treated more harshly under the law because they are different.

We've all had friends who have been arrested.  Today, I had a friend who was arrested for DWI.

Unlike 99.9% of the population, his DWI arrest made the paper.

Unlike 99.9% of the population, he may lose his job simply because he was arrested.

Unlike 99.9% of the population, morons will have the opportunity to make idiotic comments about him on the news blogs.

Unlike 99.9% of the population, many people will be hoping he is guilty.

Why?  Because he just so happened to be a prosecutor at the time of his arrest.

For those who will comment on this blog about me still being a prosecutor at heart, go ahead and knock yourself out.

But, I can do my job as a Defense Attorney every day without having to vilify my opposition, or rejoice in their troubles.

I will look any prosecutor in the eye and tell them that I think they are wrong about my case and I will fight them tooth and nail in a courtroom.

But I will never think that they are bad people deserving of trauma in their lives simply for being prosecutors, because that is nothing short of absurd.

And I would never take pleasure in the troubles.

Just like I would never take pleasure in the troubles of those I prosecuted.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lykos 2010: A Year in Review

JANUARY

January 4 – Upset that her goddaughter, Rachel Palmer, didn’t get the free walk to a judgeship that she wanted for Christmas, Pat Lykos asks Palmer’s opposing candidate, ADA Don Smyth, to switch races.  He declines. Moments later, Smyth is approached by Jim Leitner and asked when he is planning on retiring from the Office.

January 12 – A massive earthquake strikes the island-nation of Haiti, ultimately causing the death of approximately 250,000 Haitians.  Arch-conservative Pat Robertson and Republican sleaze bag activist Terry Lowery argue that this is punishment from God.  Lykos takes the high road, announcing there was no earthquake, but that 250,000 deaths was the “normal rate of attrition” for Haitians.

January 15 – Longtime legendary Administrative Assistant Barbara Eaglin retires after decades of harassing baby prosecutors that have come through the Office.  Lykos and the Gang celebrate.  Their initial plans to fire all popular members from previous administrations had been thwarted by Barbara, who they worried might kick their asses.


FEBRUARY

February 3 -- Houston Press writer John Lomax does an article on HCDA’s criteria for filing vehicular homicide cases.  Fearing a panic attack from Leitner, the Office has Catherine Evans explain their policy to Lomax.  Evans handles the interview knowledgably and competently.  This immediately places her on Lykos’ Enemies List.

February 6 – Following a weekend of a larger than normal number of homicides, Lykos describes local area law enforcement as negligent and incompetent and declares she will be launching her own investigation into this.  She and the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight quickly create their own Harris County Justice League of Super Heroes to roam the streets fighting crime.

February 7 – The Harris County Justice League disbands after Lykos cannot find tights that are flattering to her.

February 15 – Still despondent over the break up of the Harris County Justice League, Lykos launches a new investigation into who (if anyone) had accessed a highly top-secret HPD offense report relating to Deputy Dawg and Lykos favorite Rachel Palmer and her fiancĂ©e, Don Hooper.  The resulting investigation is a huge success with numerous office members disciplined for accessing the offense report.  NOTE:  As of this writing, there has still been no investigation by Lykos into whether or not Palmer or Hooper did any wrong-doing, or whether or not Palmer herself pulled a copy of the offense report.  Just saying.


MARCH

March 2 --  The Texas Primaries are held, and faith is renewed that sometimes the good guys do win, as political newcomer Don Smyth handily trounces the heavily supported-by-Lykos favorite Rachel Palmer.  Lykos consoles Palmer by promising to buy her a pony.

March 5 – Judge Kevin Fine stuns Harris County and the rest of the Nation by declaring the Death Penalty unconstitutional.  A confused Lykos angrily insists that although she doesn’t really use it anymore, the Republicans would be furious with her if the death penalty is abolished on her watch.  She vows to talk to Judge Fine the moment she can figure out where his courtroom is.

March 19 – In the wake of the demolition of the Palmer Campaign, die-hard Lykos loyalists put their support in for former (fired) prosecutor Danny Dexter, who is running against Assistant D.A. Marc Brown for the 180th District Court Bench.  Dexter, who has a penchant for inflating and out-right lying about his record as a prosecutor, is a natural favorite for Lykos, who announces that voting for Dexter is the best thing she’s done since she cured cancer.

APRIL

April 13 --  In yet another triumphant moment, ADA Marc Brown defeats Danny Dexter for the bench of the 180th District Court, despite Dexter’s endorsements from Gary Polland, Steve Hotze, and low-rent political whore Terry Lowery.  Ironically, the 180th Bench was once held by none other than Pat Lykos herself.  Lykos is heard grumbling in the hallways:  “So those damn voters are looking at qualifications now, are they?”

April 25 – Given the recent decisions to not prosecute crack pipe cases or to follow the law in DWI cases, Lykos lets the general public know in an editorial that she is going to start prosecuting some selected crimes such as Failure to Stop and Give Information.  Having no understanding of the fact that there is already such a law on the books or how it works, she asks DA Office counsel Scott Durfee to write the paper and let her sign her name to it.  Some speculate that this is how Lykos actually got through law school, too.

April 26 – Despite an absolutely crippling budget crunch that affects the entire county, Lykos uses office funds to send herself, Bridgwater, Chow, and Leitner to the Bench Bar conference in Galveston.  Very few other prosecutors are allowed to attend.  Lykos is seen polishing off a Jack and Coke before dragging Leitner onto the dance floor to “Party Like It’s 1899.”

MAY

May 4 – Despite the fact that Lykos is up-in-arms over Judge Kevin Fine’s abolition of the Death Penalty, Lykos pleads Capital Murderer Randy Sylvester to Life in prison despite the fact that he kidnapped and burned his two children to death on Father’s Day of 2008 and announced he would fake insanity to beat the rap.  When asked why she even needs the death penalty since she never uses it, Lykos responds: “Well, we need it in case somebody actually does something really bad.”

May 9 – After downing a couple of Jack and Cokes, Lykos goes on Channel 11 for an interview with Mark Greenblatt.  During the interview, she tries to turn the tables on Greenblatt by making him state his name, accusing him of fuzzy math, and then stating he has initiated a “urinating contest”.  Lykos then “pulls a Leitner” and storms out of the interview.

May 13 – As part of a large set of moves, Lykos creates the Capital Trial Divison.  She also adds the position of Co-Deputy Dawg of Misdemeanor.  Other meaningless positions created are the “Prohibition Study Coordinator” and the “Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Review Team.”  Lykos also moves Don Smyth to the less-than-prestigious welfare fraud, and is later heard telling Rachel Palmer, “See what I did to that mean old man who beat you in the election?”

JUNE

June 11 – In an effort to stem the bleeding of prosecutors fleeing the Office, Lykos attempts to convince prosecutors to stay with the Office by offering them promotions.  When confronted with the possibility that inexperienced people in higher positions might cause problems, she responds, “Dude, I’m the f*cking D.A. and I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.  How bad could it be?”

June 25 – Former Memorial High School quarterback and child star Will Womble announces that he will be leaving the Office.  Womble’s gamble is that the long-sought-after promotion to Misdemeanor Two will be offered to him under Lykos’ new promotion policy.  Instead, Lykos offers to let him “help out Carl in maintenance” as a new job.

JULY

July 1 – Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland issues a controversial memo stating that no HPD officers are allowed to talk to defense attorneys without the express consent of a prosecutor.  Despite prior promises of “transparency,”1st Assistant Jim Leitner clarifies by insisting that officers can only talk to defense attorneys with a prosecutor present.  When informed that this idea smacks of witness tampering, Leitner lamely admits his clarification on the rule was because he was lonely and just wanted to be included on something.

July 12 -  Long-time Judge of the 180th District Court, Debbie Stricklin retires slightly early, leaving the post open, briefly.  Long-time lawyers noting the vacancy point out that the court is still run more professionally, knowledgeably, and courteously with no judge on the bench than it ever was when Pat Lykos had held it.

July 30 – After 33 years of distinguished service, ADA Don Smyth retires from the Office.  In an obligatory going-away party, Lykos tells Smyth that she hopes to have as lengthy of a career as he did, as long she won’t have to do any of those “trial-thingies.”

AUGUST

August 4 – The mother of a child sexual assault victim is charged with child endangerment after complaining to KHOU about the District Attorney’s Office’s handling of her daughter’s case.  Lykos and company deny that they would ever file charges on anyone as retaliation for that person speaking ill of them in public.  They then go back to preparing their 5,432 count indictment against local blogger,  Murray Newman.

August 31 – After a few too many Jack & Cokes, Lykos decides it would be a great idea to no longer provide reasonable accommodation to prosecutors with exceptional needs, such as long-time ADA Shirley Cornelius (who is the primary caretaker of a son with special needs).  As icing on the cake, Lykos henchwoman Hannah Chow attempts to get Shirley to illegally alter her timesheet as a budget-saving measure, which Shirley refuses to do.  Instead, Shirley resigns, pointing out to Lykos that it is actually important to follow all this “law stuff” that Lykos has sworn to uphold.

SEPTEMBER

September 2 – Local media seems to finally catch on to the fact that the Harris County Criminal Justice Center is poorly constructed with a bad elevator system that could create a tremendous danger to human life in the event of a fire.  Seeing the public interest, Pat Lykos suddenly declares that she is opposed to people being killed in a dangerous building – unless, of course, those people are illegal aliens.

September 16 – Despite limited funding and a now desperately low amount of prosecutors staffing the courts, Lykos publishes her long-awaited campaign propaganda piece paid for by taxpayer expense memorandum on all of her accomplishments during her first year in Office.  Accusations of Lykos committing plagiarism arise when somebody points out that all of her “accomplishments” were stolen from another book – the Texas Penal Code.

September 29 –The Houston Police Department issues a public warning that a possible serial killer may be on the loose, after the murders of three women in the Downtown area.  Lykos assures the public that there is no serial killer on the loose Downtown, and that the deaths are just the “normal rate of attrition” for women in Downtown Houston.

OCTOBER

October 6 – Never one to shy away from capitalizing on a tragedy, Pat Lykos announces in the wake of a teenager’s suicide that she will be launching an investigation and prosecution into those who commit “bullying.” The investigation seems to stall out after someone points out to her that if bullying was a crime, Lykos herself would be the new Charles Manson.

October 18 – Despite budgetary cuts across the county, Lykos begins changing the layout for business cards held by the Assistant District Attorneys.  The former cards which had printed the title “Harris County District Attorney’s Office” across them are now replaced with campaign propaganda piece paid for by taxpayer expense cards that read “Office of Patricia R. Lykos,  District Attorney.” The move is actually the first intellectually honest thing Lykos has done during her tenure, since she never really was looking out for Harris County’s best interest.

October 30 – Former ADA and 2008 District Attorney Kelly Siegler makes national headlines after clearing former-Death Row inmate Anthony Graves of the capital murders he was charged with.  An infuriated Pat Lykos screams at Baldwin Chin and Alicia O’Neil, “You nimwits are going to sit in your office until you’ve found and exonerated somebody off of death row for ME!!!!!!!”

NOVEMBER

November 2 – Republicans rejoice as they sweep the elections in Harris County.  Pat Lykos cautions her party to “not get too excited,” citing that it wasn’t as much of a Republican sweep as it was the “normal attrition rate for Democrats” in a non-Presidential year. 

November 15 – Alexander Bunin is named as Harris County’s First Public Defender.  Lykos, despondent over the idea of not being main media darling for the Houston Chronicle, takes out her aggression on her underlings.  While holding the Office dog, she asks the Tuesday morning meeting: “What has four legs, is neutered, and is always sniffing my ass?”  She then cackles and tells the group,  “Roger and Jim!”

November 20 – Brian Rogers decides to make himself the “Bad Boy” of the Houston Chronicle by writing an article that is less than flattering of Pat Lykos.  In it, Lykos explains the approximately 20% rate of experienced prosecutors leaving under her tenure as the “normal rate of attrition.”  In a related story,  Jim Leitner has to be treated for bumps and bruises after being trampled during the mass exodus that occurred in November.

DECEMBER
December 7 – The showdown over the Death Penalty reaches its zenith in Judge Kevin Fine’s court, as Judge Fine opens a pending case to testimony over the unreliability of capital punishment.  Lykos successfully lobbies the Court of Criminal Appeals to stop Fine’s hearing by begging on her hands and knees and saying:  “Please, for the love of God, don’t let that moron take away the death penalty!  My Republican supporters will kill me!!!”

December 13 --  In lieu of the Office Christmas party, Lykos instead sponsors numerous thirty minute mini-get-togethers which she calls “holiday cheer.” During the party, Lykos is seen talking to two children in front of a gingerbread house.  Unfortunately, the children are never heard from again.

December 29 --  The first Assistant District Attorney of Collin County is indicted for Tampering with a Government Document for doing THE EXACT SAME THING that Hannah Chow had ordered Shirley Cornelius to do.  Lykos is seen consoling a very rattled Chow by assuring her that the guy from Collin County wasn’t actually indicted – that was -- you guessed it -- just the "normal rate of attrition"  for prosecutors in Texas.

December 31 – An angry Pat Lykos adds count number 5433 to local blogger Murray Newman’s proposed indictment after reading this re-cap.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve to All

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas Eve to everybody down at the CJC.

As per tradition, I have begun the morning by the Ceremonial Firing of Myself. I know it is a late start, but if anyone wants to do the 12 Days of Lykos for 2010, feel free. You can seek inspiration from past lists here and here.

Or, you could just enjoy the day with friends and family, which is what I'm planning on doing.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season.

Merry Christmas,

Murray

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.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interesting Moves

Today, the District Attorney's Office issued the memo on moves across the board for their personnel. It is an interesting read. Quite frankly, I don't know that I've ever seen as massive of a shift in positions since I've been in Harris County. Some of the moves are great calls. Some are reflective of the budget crunch. Some are just downright bizarre.

Here's my take.

1. The promotion of Wes Rucker and Jon Stephenson to Felony Chief was an absolutely outstanding move. These two guys represent everything that is right about being a prosecutor. They are honest, straightforward, and fair. They need more prosecutors in leadership positions like them.

2. The promotions of Amy McCauley, Lauren Bard, Amanda Skillern, and yeah, even Scott Pope to Felony Two are also solid decisions. All four (even Pope) are hard working and dedicated prosecutors who will be good down the road. I'm glad the Office finally recognized that.

And here's where things get weird . . .

3. Misdemeanor Division Carl Hobbs is now the Division Chief of Grand Jury in addition to remaining the Misdemeanor Division Chief.

Huh? He's a double Division Chief now? That's a big move for somebody who started out the year as the chief of the relatively obscure Welfare Fraud Division, which is now being run by Felony Two (and Lykos-hire Alex Azzo).

If you are worried about Carl getting overwhelmed at being a double Division Chief, have no fear, because we have Bizarre Move # 4 . . .

4. Felony Chief John Jordan is being moved from his position in Child Abuse to be the "Section Chief" of Misdemeanor.

Um, "Section Chief"? What the hell is a Section Chief? I mean, if the Gang is going to be making up new titles, couldn't they come up with something cooler? Like Squadron Leader or something? Seriously. What in the world is this move? Did they make John an honorary Deputy Dawg? What happens to Keiter and Palmer?

Is this a promotion, demotion, lateral move, or just a bad acid trip on Lykos' part? I'm so confused.

But the most Bizarre Move of the Day, absolutely goes to . . .

5. Bill Hawkins is the head of the Capital Murder Division AND the District Court Chief of the 178th.

Holy Split Personalities, Batman. So Hawkins, (who has dutifully served as soon-to-be-Judge Denise Bradley's intern in the Capital Murder Division since its inception -- just kidding, Bill) will be a Division Chief and a District Court Chief serving in an actual court.

The funny part about this idea is that Hawkins is a very senior Division Chief who is highly respected amongst the rank and file prosecutors at the Office. He is the leader of all things capital murder, and yet he will also be doing the day to day grind in a court. One of the people that he is senior to is Julian Ramirez. Julian, who is less senior, will ironically, be Bill's supervisor since Julian is the Division Chief over Bill's court.

Sound stupid? Well, it is. I have a mental image of Bill and Julian taking turns evaluating each other at the end of the year.

I guess that hard financial times are calling upon some desperate measures.

In a related move, I hear that Hannah Chow will be in charge of custodial, and Bridgwater and Leitner will now be spending their lunch hours working the food line in the cafeteria.

Life is very strange at the D.A.'s Office these days.

Strange days, indeed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Cheer- Every Half Hour on the Half Hour!

Back in the Olden Days, when the Harris County District Attorney's Office used to resemble an actual pleasant place to work, we used to have these things called Christmas Parties. No tax payer money was spent. Funds were collected from the prosecutors, secretaries, and investigators, etc.

And the parties were fun. It was a great time unwinding with the people you worked with and getting to meet their families.

This has now, apparently, been replaced by the Lykos version known as "Holiday Cheer".

Well, I'll agree that it is a holiday, but "cheer" might be something in shorter supply than prosecutors around that office lately.

The funniest thing to me is that the "invitation" to Holiday Cheer has been regimented down to half hour increments that each floor has gotten where they will be allowed the honor of hanging out with the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight Executive Leadership Team. The 1st & 6th floor get to celebrate from 2:00-2:30 p.m. The 5th Floor gets to party from 2:30 p.m.-3:00 p.m. The 2nd Floor gets the 3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. shift, and the 4th Floor gets that ambiguous 3:30 p.m. -- ??? invitation,

What will happen during this magical 30 minutes of Holiday Cheer? Do you get to sit on Snookems' lap and wish for a new D.A. for Christmas? Do you meet Hannah Chow under the mistletoe? Do you have some alcohol-free egg nog with Bridgwater? Do you get a gift from Leitner or one of the other elves?

I don't know what magic is in store for you, but you better get it done in under 30 minutes and then you have to hit the skids.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Making Positive Changes

You know, I have never over-estimated the influence of this blog. I write to inform. I write to amuse. I write to hopefully make some positive changes every once in a while.

Those positive changes are often few and far between, but when you do write something that was so influential that it changed someone's life, you never forget that moment. Today is one of those days. Clearly after writing this post last month, I helped change the life of one of our elder generation of lawyers.

Today, my heart was warmed to see this positive change:

It does my heart good to see that, working together, we can make the CJC a better place.

You're welcome, Pete. And from all the pimps who now have clothes for the winter, thank you for your donation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The 177th's Death Penalty Hearing

The media (especially the Houston Chronicle) has been abuzz this week over the hearing going on in Judge Kevin Fine's court about the death penalty. Specifically, this morning, the Chronicle seems aghast that District Attorney Pat Lykos would order her appellate division (represented by Alan Curry) to remain silent during the hearing.

The Chronicle calls Lykos' move "bold".

I'll call it something else -- smart.

Yes, I know you are probably shocked that I agree with Pat Lykos on something, but let's look at what other choice does she really have in this matter at this point? The Harris County District Attorney's Office has registered their objection to the hearing taking place at all. They have put those objections in writing and Judge Fine has overruled them and is proceeding with the hearing anyway.

So, the move Lykos and Company are making is really the only one they can play now. They don't believe that the hearing has any legal value because it isn't something authorized by the Code of Criminal Procedure. Legally and respectfully, they aren't going to justify its existence by participating in it.

And, in this, I think they are taking the right tactic.

When I was in law school, I interviewed then-District Attorney Johnny Holmes about the Death Penalty. One of the many things he pointed out to me when I interviewed him that afternoon was that he would never participate in a Death Penalty debate, despite the fact that he was constantly bombarded with invitations to do so. The point that Mr. Holmes made to me was that the Death Penalty is something that is such a hot-button issue that it is deeply ingrained in the way a person thinks and feels. Much like issues of abortion or anything else that ties into a person's definition of religion and/or morality, one's feelings on the Death Penalty aren't going to get changed by a debate.

He was right, and the Lykos crew is treating the hearing in Judge Fine's court as a very public debate in a courtroom. What is the point in entering into it?

I like Judge Fine, and I think his heart is in the right place. I also think he has courage in his attack on the Death Penalty. It is certainly not going to be the most politically savvy move he has made on the bench.

But he knows that.

And he's proceeding anyway.

I find his principles admirable, even though I don't really agree with what he's doing.

I had a talk with Pat McCann last night over, um, coffee, about whether or not the hearing in the 177th would actually change anything. We disagreed over whether or not it would. Personally, I think the hearing will bring a lot of attention to the Death Penalty in Texas, but I don't think it will change anything directly.

But, I could be wrong about that. I have been before.

In the meantime, grab some popcorn and sit back and watch. It should be interesting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

John Jocher

Friday marks the last day of 248th District Court Chief John Jocher from the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Out of all the prosecutors who have left the Office over the past two years, for some reason, John's leaving has kind of brought about a melancholy feeling for me. I couldn't be happier for him as he heads to the Federal side of the street, and I know that he'll be happy there. But John is like a brother to me, and seeing him leave that place for good almost feels like losing family.

John and I interviewed for the job of Assistant District Attorney on the same day back in the summer of 1999. We'd never met before, and we didn't actually meet that day either. I remember seeing him waiting for his interview with the hiring committee, though. A few weeks later, on August 16th, we both started on the same day as prosecutors.

I was sent to the Justice of the Peace Division and he went the Juvenile route. We didn't really get to know each other until we all returned to the Misdemeanor Division around November of that year. John was a little bit older than the rest of us in Misdemeanor and he was clearly more sophisticated than folks like myself, Summerlin, Exley, and certainly DeLeef. (Just kidding, Peter).

John was polished, more mature, and smart. He was the very picture of what you would think of as a prosecutor. He was ethical, reasonable, yet unafraid of trial.

And more importantly, John was family.

When I left the D.A.'s Office at the end of 2008, the thing that I knew I would miss the most was the sense of that family in my co-workers. Nobody seemed to understand and exemplify that to me as much as John did.

He and I "grew up" in the Office together -- although some may make the argument that John was already grown up, and I never quite achieved that.

We became Misdemeanor Twos, Felony Threes, Misdemeanor Chiefs, Felony Twos, and ultimately Felony Chiefs together. Often times on the exact same day.

When I got married in Mexico, John and his lovely wife, Betsy were the first to say they were hopping a plane and coming down for the reception. The next year, John and I went to a book signing together. I'll never forget that day -- because about an hour earlier, I had just found out I was going to be a Dad.

John was always there for all of his friends and the good times. But more importantly, he was there in the bad times too. If a friend had lost a loved one, got a divorce, or was just going through a tough time, John would come by their Office just to make sure that they were doing okay. His concern and care for his friends was since -- and appreciated.

It was those qualities that made him a leader within the Office. In addition to being a damn good prosecutor, he actually truly cared about those he worked with.

And although I always worked with John at the same level when I was at the Office, I would have worked for him without question.

John Jocher is the kind of leader that should be running the D.A.'s Office -- not leaving it.

John, my brother, that place won't be the same without you. It is really the end of our era, I think.

There will be a party congratulating John on his move to the Feds tomorrow (Thursday, December 2nd) at Bubba's on Washington and Westcott starting at 5:01 p.m.

I hope to see you there.