It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Tropical Storm Allison. In some ways, it seems like yesterday. In others, it seems like another lifetime ago.
In June of 2001, the Harris County Criminal Justice Center had been up and running for almost a year and a half, and we learned that we were going to get a little rain that weekend. I don't think that any of us at the D.A.'s Office had any idea what would come next. Unlike a hurricane that we can nervously track for weeks in advance, Tropical Storm Allison ended up being a rainstorm that severely overstayed its welcome.
I was a first time Felony Three in the 263rd District Court with Jeff Laird as my chief and Valerie Turner as my Two. I was a proud first time home owner of about two weeks, who was coming to grips with the idea that he hadn't gotten flood insurance as the water slowly crawled up the front yard toward the house. Luckily, it stopped about six inches before coming inside.
I thought the worst was over by that Saturday morning, until I got a phone call from my Division Chief telling me what had happened Downtown.
We had lost our brand new office building over a weekend, as well as our cool new courtrooms with all of their "state of the art" technology. There was no power in the 20 story building, and we had no place to go. Nobody had prepared or packed up their office for their essential files. We all got caught off guard.
And out of the experience that all of the prosecutors simply called "the Flood", came probably the best, most enjoyable, and camaraderie-building time that the District Attorney's Office had experienced in recent memory.
Although everyone at the District Attorney's Office had been excited about moving into the CJC in late 1999, the Office was spread out across several floors and the Divisions and Bureaus all seemed to keep to themselves for the most part. The Flood transferred the entire freaking office into a one room building located at 1319 Texas. Everyone from the elected D.A. to the greenest intern was piled in there.
And we were having a blast.
We didn't have to wear suits because there were no courts to go to. Many of us are still scarred for life remembering Bill Hawkins' shark patterned shorts covering his pasty white legs. Some of the prosecutors volunteered to be part of the moving missions to go back into the CJC with flashlights and start boxing packing up the files to move them out. We worked with inmates from the jail to load things onto moving vans and bring them over.
We put together a couple of desks per court and they became our new offices. Each court had to share one telephone (and the Two usually was hogging it). As I recall there were two computers for the entire office to share. People forgot to log off their profiles on a regular basis and had to suffer the practical jokes that came with leaving your e-mail open.
And we all got to know each other, regardless of where we were in the Office. The newest Misdemeanor Three could be hanging out with upper Admin. People would go to lunch in groups of ten to twenty people every day. When Bar Results came out, half the Office went with the pre-commits (who were all smoking complimentary cigarettes from Luci Davidson) to celebrate. If there was nothing to do (before the courts had re-opened), large groups of us would all comp out and go grab a beer together. Felony chiefs, misdemeanor twos, Justice of the Peace prosecutors.
The Office "rookies" were people like Mark Donnelly, Craig Still, and Kristin Guiney.
Ultimately, the Felony Division headed back to temporary accommodations at 201 Fannin (the old D.A.'s Office building), and courts started operating regular dockets out of 301 San Jacinto. The Misdemeanor Division stayed back at 1319 Texas, and "1319" became the cool place to hang out.
A year later, when we finally moved back into the CJC, I think all of us were a little sad to be leaving what had become our refugee camp. We even had t-shirts made to commemorate the fact that we had "Survived" the flood.
If the Office hadn't been a family before that, it certainly became one during that period of time.
It was during that time that the Andrea Yates tragedy occurred, and we as an Office felt the sadness over the loss of the Yates children. Even though Joe Owmby and Kaylynn Williford were the prosecutors handling the case, I think the close proximity we had at 1319 made us feel as if it was all of our case.
On a personal level, during the time at 1319, I would go through my first divorce and I would lose my last grandparent. With both occasions, I retreated to the comfort of the Family I now had at the Office. And like true family members, they were all supportive and amazing.
The time serves as a very stark contrast to how the District Attorney's Office is now.
The Upper Administration has little to no regard for the well being of those they reign over. Some of the remaining "survivors" of the Holmes/Rosenthal era have turned into Various Independent Contractors Having Yearnings For Recognition Ending Near Complete
Hypocrisy, which is saddening. The idea of your fellow prosecutors as "Family" is a very distant memory.
But there are days when I think back to that Family I found in the Flood and I feel deeply nostalgic.
It was, without a doubt, the best year of my tenure as a prosecutor.