Mark Bennett's Defending People did a post last night on a recent memo from HCDA's Misdemeanor Chief John Jordan to the younger prosecutors in Misdemeanor offering them incentives for going to trial. In it, Mark rightfully points out that morale over at the D.A.'s Office must be "in the basement" for John to be offering a "fratboy game" that encourages the less-senior ADAs to go to trial more often (and win) for such prizes as the opportunity to sit on big felony cases or get a Friday afternoon off for things like bowling. Mark (also rightfully) points out that this type of incentive program seems to fly in the face of the seriousness of a person being charged with a crime.
Do we really want a prosecutor in closing argument to be telling the jury: "Ladies and Gentlemen, by convicting Mr. McCann for assaulting Mr. Fickman, not only will you be sending a message that violence is not acceptable in our community, you will also be assuring that I can spend all afternoon at Ninfa's next Friday with my friends." ?
The incentive program outlined in John's e-mail was not a well thought-out idea. Putting it in an e-mail was also not a well-thought-out idea.
But, you can't blame John Jordan for what he was trying to accomplish with it -- trial stats are down at the D.A.'s Office and morale is in the toilet.
When addressing the trial numbers, I'm not talking about the win-loss ratio. I'm talking about trials in general. From one report I received, the stats show that in 2008 (the last pre-Lykos year at the D.A.'s Office) there were 436 felony jury trials tried. In 2010, that number of jury trials had shrunk to 248. Lykos will already have a tough time explaining to her Republican cronies in the 2012 primary why she more or less legalized crack pipes and created lighter sentences for DWI, but now she's going to have to explain statistics! God knows how much politicians love their statistics.
From a political standpoint, the Office is going to want to show that they have more prosecutors trying cases. Hence, an incentive program trying to get the prosecutors to trial more.
Regarding the morale issue, I'm glad to see John doing what he can to make the Office a more pleasant place to work -- even though the execution of said plan was flawed. John and I started in the same class and back then, the morale was very high.
Lykos has systematically destroyed the morale through a series of pointless personnel and policy changes. As I've pointed out in the past, that's going to bite her in the ass when she's in the middle of a hiring-freeze and can't replace the droves of prosecutors who leave because the job just isn't fun anymore.
So, as my public service of the day, I will once again tell Lykos and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight some tips on how to improve morale. I'm sure I'll get a thank you note in the mail by Friday.
Tip # 1 -- Stop being so blatant about playing favorites.
You've had some folks there who have risen to supervisory roles without ever earning their stripes in the trenches. Thus far, their only real skill set that they've mastered is kissing crony butt. Case in point -- Rachel Palmer. She's been Deputy Dawg in Misdemeanor for how freaking long now? The Deputy Dawg position used to be one awarded to a prosecutor who had been a Felony Two for several years and had tried numerous murder and sex assault and robbery cases to juries. They had the respect of the Misdemeanor folks because that earned it. Did Rachel ever get around to trying her first murder?
Rachel, instead, is more known for being a Lykos-loyalist who is much more inclined to rat out a misdemeanor prosecutor for a screw up than try to back them up and help them learn from the mistakes.
Why don't you try to put a Senior Felony Two in there that the younger folks might actually respect?
Tip # 2 -- Use some of that Asset Forfeiture Money to hire some law students as paid interns
With the budget crunch and the resulting hiring freeze, the ADAs that you still have left are over-worked in a serious serious way. You can't use Asset Forfeiture Money on salaries, but you can use it for contract employment. Pay a law student who aspires to be a prosecutor $10 an hour to do "To Do's" while the prosecutors are in trial. They can make RIP calls and pull offense reports.
Give your prosecutors a little breathing room.
Tip # 3 -- Make Leitner and the other upper-Admin Guys quit crawling up prosecutors' butts with a microscope
Letiner seems to have embraced the role of being the Vice Principal of the Office. Last year, he and some other upper-echelon guys decided to start calling prosecutors up to the 6th floor and demanding they explain themselves for plea bargains that had happened months earlier. And on small cases, too.
Good Lord, Jim, give it a rest. Shouldn't you be working on managing the budget or something? Or at least polishing up your belt-badge? You going through old disposed cases just to find out if a prosecutor was too lenient eight months earlier does nothing but instill paranoia in the people you've got left. Stop being a jackass.
Tip # 4 -- Repeat After Me "A prosecutor who earns comp time can do whatever the hell they want with it whenever the hell they want with it. It is their comp time."
If a prosecutor has given up their weekends or their evenings to try to keep on top of the monumental amount of "To Dos" that have piled up, then let them take their freaking comp time whenever the hell they want to. If they get back from a long day in docket and want to take an afternoon off, let them! If they want to go home and take a nap or if they want to go drink a beer, that's their decision.
Stop making them fill out requests long in advance, and have to justify why they need it.
Tip # 5 -- Give your Chiefs and Division Chiefs the okay to sponsor social get-togethers, even if (gasp) alcohol is served.
Part of what makes any group stick together during hard times is a genuine affection for each other. Promoting events where they all get together and unwind helps that. Back in the old days, there used to be monthly office birthday parties over at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin (R.I.P.) and they would be well-attended.
Let John Jordan send an e-mail for an Office Happy Hour at 5:00 on a Thursday, instead of one that sounds dangerously close to "counting scalps". And if people comp out at 4:00 to go early, don't give them a ration of crap about it.
Speaking of rations of crap, I'm sure that I will get plenty of it from Lykos supporters who will bring out the usual tired old accusations of saying all of us folks from the old administrations wanted to do was drink. But the bottom line is that the Office is going through a tough time right now because of the budget. But the job is still a good one. Good people will stay through the tough times if you stop making the job miserable every chance you get.
If you don't understand that, then you don't understand leadership.
Then again, leadership was never the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight's strongest point.
[UPDATE: In cae you missed it, Brian Rogers did an article on "the Contest" in today's Chronicle. The readers' comments aren't too favorable to Lykos and the Gang."