APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE - This one is long and rambling. There should be a point in there somewhere:
When it comes to politics in Harris County (and perhaps any county), I've always considered the races affecting the Criminal Justice Center to be somewhat of an oddity. Let's face it, as a wise Homicide Investigator once told me, we deal with probably less than 5% of the population (if that much). The President, the Governor, or the Legislature can enact laws that affect us all, yet most citizens' involvement with the criminal justice system comes from jury duty.
For those of us regularly involved in the System, whether it be as a lawyer, a judge or a police officer, it can easily become 95% of our lives (if that little). We know each other. We work with each other. We socialize with each other. Sometimes, we even marry each other. Whether we like it or not, we know the way the cogs and wheels within the Harris County Criminal Justice turn and how the System works. Prosecutors know what defense attorneys are good and bad. Defense attorneys know what prosecutors are reasonable and which aren't. How a judge will react to certain sets of facts usually doesn't involve much guesswork.
And every election year, the path and direction of the Criminal Justice System can potentially get turned on its ear by the, well, the Other 95%. Well-meaning voters who diligently flock to the polls (as they should) are deciding something that they know so very little about. They vote for a candidate that perhaps they've met at a function or whose name sounds familiar to them, or maybe even just the person whose name comes first on the ballot. Even very politically active voters who work hard to inform themselves, such as my friend Dave Jennings (AKA Big Jolly) can end up getting mislead on some of the real issues involving the criminal justice system.
Those of us who are within the System try to do the best we can to inform our friends, neighbors, and family members about what we know and who we think are deserving of votes. Often, that's not enough.
I came to the Harris County District Attorney's Office in 1999 and had been there all of three months before longtime elected District Attorney Johnny Holmes announced he wasn't going to run for re-election. On the same day of his announcement, Chuck Rosenthal announced his candidacy. He was a controversial Division Chief from within the Office who was regarded by most of his co-workers as rather aloof and somewhat odd. But Chuck was politically active within the Republican Party and when he made his announcement, nobody else from the D.A.'s Office was going to run against him. Mr. Holmes wasn't particularly thrilled about Chuck's candidacy, but said he was staying out of it.
Mr. Holmes had to change his position when Judge Pat Lykos announced she too would be seeking the District Attorney's position in 2000. Lykos had been off the bench in Harris County for quite some time, but her memory lived on -- and not in a good way. She was known by the older lawyers as mean, crude, vindictive and dishonest. Almost any attorney who was practicing in the 1980s to 1990s has a Lykos horror story. Although Johnny Holmes was far from being a fan of Chuck Rosenthal's, he felt that was the better choice than Lykos.
Ironically, my group of friends at the Office at the time were all Baby Prosecutors. We had heard a lot of bad things about Chuck and all we really knew about Lykos at the time was that she had presided over the Karla Fay Tucker trial. We thought that was pretty cool and some of us (yes, I said "us") thought we should vote for Lykos. I had met her before and even smoked cigarettes with her when she was a visiting judge. I kind of thought she was cool. (NOTE: this is the blog equivalent of me doing a walk of shame).
But after hearing what other attorneys (both prosecutors and defense attorneys) had to say, Chuck became the choice as the Lesser of Two Evils. He won in 2000 and again in 2004. There wasn't much change or disruption at the Office. Chuck was kind of like a groundhog who would appear at infrequent occasions. He didn't get involved in how we tried out cases. He was kind of like a weird uncle that you keep in the basement. He would come out every once in awhile, do something dumb, and then go back to his Office.
Those of us who say we loved working for the Office loved the Elected-District Attorney's absence from our day-to-day dealings. Those of us in the trenches were supervised by others in the trenches and decisions that were made were made by people in the trenches. We fought hard. We played hard. We respected each other. Every once in awhile, that weird uncle would escape from the basement and do something that embarrassed the rest of the family, but up until 2007, it was usually not too terribly devastating.
In 2007, obviously, that changed with the e-mail scandals. The ADAs wanted to keep doing their jobs as best they could under the media circus that surrounded Rosenthal. We were all worried about what would happen. We were all grateful when our best and most famous prosecutor in the Office, Kelly Siegler, tried to salvage the ship. Unfortunately, we lost that battle, and ultimately we got Lykos on the bench.
Obviously, many ADAs stayed on under the Lykos Administration. Some got promoted and have done well for themselves and for the Office. There are plenty of outstanding prosecutors still there to this very day. Others, however, who had gotten promoted abused that power. Which brings us to Rachel Palmer.
I had known Rachel in passing when I was at the D.A.'s Office. I didn't know her well enough to like her or dislike her, although I had heard about the cat fights that she was getting into with other prosecutors almost from the day she stepped in the door. She was controversial. She had a circle of friends that really liked her, but a larger contingency of those who didn't. The bottom line was that, much like Pat Lykos, she was just kind of mean. When Lykos promoted her to Deputy Division Chief, I didn't think it was a good idea, because she just doesn't get along with people. But, given all the other massive screw ups Lykos was committing at the time, the Palmer to Deputy Dawg one seemed minor in comparison.
Soon, the inevitable happened. Rachel took her new position of power and it went straight to her head. Her catty comments and criticisms of the baby prosecutors that she supervised were becoming widespread knowledge. Her troops hated her. I know that Rachel thinks that she was my "favorite topic on the blog", but if you go back and look at the old posts, you will see the origins of Rachel-bashing occurred in the comments section. I'm not passing the buck here, but the gripes about her came from within the D.A.'s Office. (And by the way, Rachel, if you think the comments that end up on the blog about you are bad, you should see the ones I refuse to publish).
When Rachel announced that she was running for Judge, well, that sounded to me to be about the worst damn idea in America. She was mean, petty, and vindictive, much like Pat Lykos. She treated her people like crap and God only knows what she would be like if she actually were to assume the bench. But Rachel, like Lykos, knew how to play to the Other 95%. She was buddies with Carolyn Farb, the Houston Socialite who grew up on the mean streets of River Oaks. Farb became one of Rachel's benefactors without knowing the first thing about criminal law.
And then came Don Hooper. Rachel's fiancee was an absolute loose cannon at play in Houston. His penchant for posting on blogs as other people, his rage issues at polling sites, and his liberal use of Rachel's badge were definitely not age appropriate actions for a 50-year-old. Yet, there seemed to be no consequence for him coming from the Lykos Administration, and that is frightening. A guy is out there doing all that Hooper was doing and yet because he was a Republican benefactor to Lykos, nothing was done to even get him to simply shut up? I hope that Big Jolly can see that those of us who didn't want Rachel being a judge had some pretty damn good reasons for that.
Don Hooper was incensed when Rachel lost to Don Smyth. The rest of us were just relieved. Then came the Danny Dexter/Marc Brown race for the 180th District Court. If Rachel Palmer and Don Hooper think that Judges Marc and Susan Brown have "bad blood" with them, I can assure you that it was not initiated (nor continued) by the Browns. Hooper did everything he could for Danny, including harassing Marc Brown supporters at polling locations (if you don't believe me, ask Edward Porter).
Danny was a former prosecutor who I had worked with when I was there. He was a really really nice guy. But he was a terrible prosecutor. I really didn't want to write anything bad against him as a person, but he had absolutely no business being on the bench. But, like Rachel and Lykos, he also played well to the Other 95%. He was wealthy and charming and had a lot of support.
Big Jolly mentions in his latest post that he thought it was below the belt when Danny's evaluations from his time at the D.A.'s Office hit the media. Really? How on Earth is that below the belt?
Unlike whether or not a Criminal Court Judge is Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, an evaluation of one's performance within the criminal arena is RELEVANT. Very relevant, actually. If pictures of Danny taking out the trash in his boxer shorts or rumors of a love child with Lady GaGa had been leaked to the media, that would have been below the belt. But evaluations based on his job performance, work ethic, and knowledge of the law are probably those things that the Other 95% should be aware of.
I like Dave Jennings a lot, and I appreciate the fact that he works very hard to learn about the candidates, but he is just flat out wrong on that issue.
The whole reason I wrote this insanely lengthy post is because all of this talk of a "Conspiracy" to get the Lykos Administration and/or Rachel Palmer is something designed by Lykos supporters to play to the Other 95% -- Those who have met Pat and Rachel at a tea party and can sympathetically nod their heads with them when they speak of their persecution woes. There are people who do not like Pat Lykos and Rachel Palmer and Don Hooper to be sure, but they are disliked with reason. We aren't talking about Crips and Bloods and other silly partisan games here. We are talking about real tangible reasons that people feel they are doing a terrible job and will oppose them.
The 5% of us (or less) that continue to deal with the Criminal Justice System on a daily basis do tend to know what we are talking about. We know the good defense attorneys from the bad -- the reasonable prosecutors from the unreasonable -- the fair judges from the unfair. We really don't care if a Republican or a Democrat holds a bench or even the D.A.'s spot, as long as they are doing a good job.
We all wish that those races were non-partisan, actually.
Then maybe the Other 95% might not fall for those conspiracy theories so much.