Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tonight's Reasonable Doubt (6/30/11)

Please join me and Todd Dupont for tonight's Reasonable Doubt at 8:00 p.m..

Our guest will be CrimeStoppers Director (and my favorite ever former-Chief [sorry, Warren]) Katherine Cabaniss.

As always, you can (allegedly) watch it live streaming by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sights of Downtown

Isn't parking in a crosswalk illegal?  Just wondering.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mr. Grant

From the day I first walked into 201 Fannin as an academic intern for the Harris County District Attorney's Office, back in the summer of 1998, there was an iconic gentleman at the front door to greet me and all other visitors to the Office.  He was an older, distinguished man with a gravelly voice and a friendly smile that we all knew as "Mr. Grant."

Without knowing a thing about him, he generated the impression that he had been at the District Attorney's Office long before I had even considered law school and he would be there long after I was gone.  Despite his tenure being vastly more significant than mine would ever be, he was kind and conversational with me and anyone else who might wander in the door.  During the day, if I went out for a smoke break, he was usually outside having one, too.  He was a master at light conversation, whether it be talking about sports, the weather, traffic, etc.  He seemed to be in a perpetual good mood.

In fact, his kind-hearted light spirit often served as a very stark contrast to the subject matter that was dealt with inside the rest of the building.

When we moved from 201 Fannin to the CJC, it was mentioned more than once that it wouldn't be the same experience of arriving at work in the morning without being greeted by Mr. Grant.  Fortunately, he did come to work at the new building -- usually working in the back sallyport, where those of us nasty smokers would still get to see and visit with him.

He had his health problems over the years, and Terrance Windham (who referred to Mr. Grant as "the General") would keep us updated via e-mail on his condition.  Mr. Grant, although not being an Assistant D.A., investigator or support staff, was unquestionably part of the D.A. Office family.

A quite significant member of the family, actually.  Everyone loved Mr. Grant.

Elbert L. Grant, Jr. passed away on Tuesday, June 21st at the age of 80.  He was a former Merchant Marine and a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea.  He lived a long and distinguished life.

My memory of him will always be that he was the first person I saw when I walked in the door of 201 Fannin for the first time on a hot summer day in 1998.

Life changed a lot after that.

But Mr. Grant never did.

He was a good, sweet man whose memory will be a part of the history of that Office as much as (if not more than) any other person who walked through the door he manned for so long.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ken Magidson

At 8:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve of the worst year of my life, Ken Magidson fired me from a job that I had held and deeply loved for a little over nine years.

Today, I learned that President Obama has nominated him to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

My thoughts?

President Obama could not have made a better selection.

Ken Magidson came to the Harris County District Attorney's Office in a time when the Office was experiencing discord and turmoil unequalled in its history.  Hell, it was probably experiencing more discord and turmoil than any District Attorney's Office had ever experienced in its history.

And like the Captain of a ship at sea in the middle of a hurricane, Ken Magidson calmed the passengers and rode out the storm with a leadership that was desperately needed at the time.  He told us to all sit down, shut up, do the right thing, and this too would pass.

And he was right.

As the scandal of Chuck Rosenthal was impugned upon every last Assistant District Attorney's integrity, he was the calm in the Storm.  He assumed the leadership of an Office in crisis and led it back to stability.  He was a stranger and an outsider to those of us who were too young to have known him when he had worked at the Office, but his leadership skills calmed and reassured us all.  He made us all stop focusing on the scandal that didn't affect our day-to-day job and go back to doing what we had sworn an oath to do.

Seek Justice.

With his offbeat manner and strange habit of snapping two fingers and then clapping his hands as he spoke, he got all of us re-focused in a time that was very difficult to focus.  He became a leader of people that did not know him, and he did it seamlessly.

He was a prosecutor's prosecutor that had us all refocused on doing the task at hand.  Despite our personal differences (and argument over the definition of the First Amendment), I loved the guy.  The Harris County District Attorney's Office would be in a much better place than it is now if only Magidson had remained in charge of it.

On a personal level, the way I feel about Ken Magidson will always trouble me.  I liked him.  I respected him.  I was sad that my relationship with him ended on a bad note.

On a professional level, he is a leader that I would follow into battle at a moment's notice.

I wish him the best in his new position, and think that any politician who would question his ability to do his job is a fool.

He is a good man who will make any institution he leads better through his leadership.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Post on the Chronicle Blog

I continue my two-timing blogging with a new post on the Chronicle website about Facebook and the 5th Amendment.  You can check it out by clicking here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tonight's Reasonable Doubt (6/23/11)

Tonight's guest on Reasonable Doubt with me and Todd Dupont  will be Public Defender Alex Bunin.  We've been trying to line Alex up as a guest for several weeks and are extremely excited to finally get him on the show.  Please tune in and call with questions.

As always, you can tune in by clicking here at 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Petroff's Going Away Party

There will be a going away party tomorrow (Wednesday, June 22nd)  for Kevin Petroff at the Char Bar starting at 5:00 p.m.  All are invited and his last day is on Friday.

As a going away gift, I thought I would share from the archives the memo that Kevin sent upon becoming named the Deputy Dawg of Misdemeanor back in 2002.  You're welcome, Kevin.


From: Petroff, Kevin  
Sent: Tuesday, July 30, 2002 6:11 PM
To: Davidson, Luci; McClellan, Lyn; Satterelli, Michele; Aguirre, Juan; Baker, Wendy; Arnold, Charles; Ansari, Tina; Beedle, Nathan; Capitaine, Christian; Craft, Johanna; Daigre, Eleanor; Deleef, Peter; Devlin, Eric; Donnelly, Mark; Doyle, Paul; Eaglin, Barbara; Exley, William; Gilbert, Alexis; Gooch, Lori; Gostyla, Tracy; Guerinot, Eileen; Guiney, Kristin; Gupta, Ritu; Halpert, Steven; Harris, Jamey; Harrison, Heather; Herrera, Heather; Joachim, Carson; Jocher, John; Johnson, Kelli; Jones, Bonner; Jordan, John; Kennedy, Collin; Kerbow, Fran; Kibler, Dawn; Kidd, Tammy; Kolski, Andrea; Lehman, Victor; Markland, Clive; McGee, Meg; McMahon, Gina; Moore, Michael; Mostia, Jamie; Needham, Jessica; Newman, Murray; Nichols, Denise; Philips, Rebecca; Reid, Cicely; Richardson, Dan; Spalding, Michael; Stornello, Rosario; Streeter, Sam; Summerlin, Robert; Taylor, Araceli; Underwood, Collin; Voigt, Denese; Weissfisch, George; Wesselmann, Stephen; Yborra, Mark

Subject: New Policies from Your Deputy Dawg-Elect

As the new Deputy Dawg, effective August 5th, I think it is only fair that I inform you of some policies that I will be implementing.  As you know, especially you Misdemeanor Chiefs, that I will be instrumental in your evaluations.  Therefore, I feel it only fair to warn you of what will be happening.

1.  Sneak Attacks-on a daily basis I will be popping into your office and your courtrooms.  You may or may not be in your office, but I will go through your desk looking for contraband.  Specifically, anything that mocks me in any way.  I will also go to the courts to see if you are mocking me in front of anyone.  This includes defendants and judges.

2.  Jazz Music-I will be filtering in my own weak musical tastes through the intercom.  I would like to politely ask Denese Voight and Barbara Eaglin not to sing along.  If there are any complaints about the music, this will severely affect your evaluations.

3.  Fitness Program-as you all know, I've spent much time at jazzercise and at the gym to develop the body of a pre-pubescent 12 year old.  I will expect my underlings to soon have my physique.

4.  Clothing-you shall all dress in the same 1980s era suits that I wear.  You can find these at K-Mart.  Mention my name, and you'll get a discount.

5.  The Misdemeanor Investigators shall be my personal bodyguards should anyone attempt to retaliate for this list of rules.

6.  Any person setting a case for trial shall submit a 3 to 4 page memorandum on the facts of the case, and what you believe would be the best outcome for the interest of justice.  

7.  I want everyone's voir dire, opening statement, direct examination, ideas for cross-examination, and closing arguments written and professionally bound for my approval.

8.  All prosecutors who lose a trial will be forced to wash my car.

9.  I shall be referred to as "Mr. Petroff" or "Deputy Petroff".  Or, if we are particularly close, you may refer to me as "Sport".

10.  All CLE classes will be conducted on Friday afternoons from 5 pm to 7 pm in my front yard.  No alcohol shall be permitted.

These are just a few of my preliminary thoughts, and if you think about it, they are all pretty much common sense.  I'm sure that Luci will approve them, because I am the Man.  If you have any comments or questions, I would strongly suggest that you submit them anonymously.  That way, I can punish you all as a group.
Sincerely,
Deputy "Sport" Petroff

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Judge William Hatten

I just learned that Judge William Hatten passed away this morning.

He lived a long, happy, and distinguished life.

He was retired from the bench and doing only his visiting judge job when I first met him.

I extend my sympathy on his passing and my congratulations on a life well lived.

Tonight's Reasonable Doubt (6/16/11)

Tune in for tonight's Reasonable Doubt with host Todd Dupont.  I know you will all be devastated and beside yourselves to know that I will not be co-hosting tonight as I will be out of town, but Franklin Bynum will be filling in with the guest-hosting duties (I hear this is how Jay Leno got his start).

Todd and Franklin's guest tonight will be Jani Maselli from the Public Defender's Office.

As always, you can tune in by clicking here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Milestones

Yesterday, this blog reached a milestone by getting its one millionth "click."

Although I'm excited about reaching that number, I have to admit that "clicks" can be a little misleading in their perceived numerical importance.  A blog basically registers a statistical "click" every time you, well, um, click on it.  If you come to the website in the first place, and then click on a post to see the comments, and then come back to the main page, that was three clicks right there, for example.

On average, this blog gets around one thousand to twelve hundred clicks a day, with about five hundred to six hundred individual readers (according to www.statcounter.com).  As I've mentioned to many people, when I started this sucker about three years ago, I never would have imagined how much I would enjoy writing for it and keeping it running.  It is so bizarre to me how it seems to have taken on a life of its own and how many people I've gotten to know through it.

Although I get bashed quite regularly by folks who disagree with my opinion or content, I do think it is important to keep writing on the topics as they cross my mind.  It is amazing to me how little information people have about the Criminal Justice System when they aren't a part of it, yet when they do actually hear about it, they are generally very interested in learning more.

I believe that we as Defense Attorneys, Prosecutors, Judges, Police Officers, or other Courthouse Personnel have the most interesting jobs on Earth.  And naturally, I think Harris County has some of the best in the business at what we all do.

But, anyway, I just want to say thank you to all of you who read the blog -- whether it is because you like it, or you just like to read something to make you mad every day.  Obviously if you guys didn't do what you do, there wouldn't be a whole lot to write about.

I also want to thank my Favorite Editor in New York, who first gave me the idea of starting to blog many moons ago, and who constantly corrects the grammar and spelling that I botch in my posts.  If you pay attention, you might notice that sometimes my grammatical screw ups miraculously heal themselves the longer a post has been up.  That's what having a good editor with your log-in ID will do for you.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Moving On

The Harris County District Attorney's Office continues its loss of prosecutors this month with the departures of two District Court Chiefs and a senior Felony Three.  Kevin Petroff, Darin Darby and Jamie Collier Burns have all announced this month that they will be moving on to greener pastures.

Back in the olden days, a felony chief leaving the office was an occurrence that happened maybe once or twice a year.  It is kind of interesting to see that two are leaving in the same week now.

I'm not sure what Darin and Jamie will be doing with their future careers, but Kevin is headed down to Galveston County to be a Felony Division chief.  It is a good match for both him, and District Attorney Jack Roady.  I spoke with Jack on the phone today, and he is very excited to be getting Kevin.

I mean no disrespect to Darin or Jamie, but Kevin's departure from Harris County is a particularly significant loss for the Office.  Despite his uncanny resemblance to Howdy Doody, Kevin was a leader within the Office and his diplomatic abilities had earned him the position of Legislative Liaison under Rosenthal, Magidson, and Lykos.  He was a good chief and a good representative of the Office.  He was a teaching chief who backed up his people -- a character trait that is no longer highly valued there.

This is clearly one of those situations where we can all agree to say that Harris County's loss is Galveston's gain.  I'm sure, as per usual circumstances, the general population will not pay any attention to what members of the rank and file are leaving the D.A.'s Office.

But they should.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Things We Found in the Flood

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.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Local Boy Makes Good

I was glad to see my friend and fellow Harris County District Attorney Alumni David Harbach is still doing well with the United States Department of Justice.  I learned from a mutual friend today that David is one of three prosecutors assigned to prosecuting the John Edwards case. You can read more about it by clicking here.

If you worked at the D.A.'s Office within the past ten years, I'm sure you remember David.  He was a great guy and a great prosecutor.  I'm glad to see that the Feds are (wisely) trusting him with such a big case.

Congrats, David.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Reversal of Fortune

Congratulations are in order to my good friend, Patty Sedita, for getting the Jeri Montgomery case reversed with an order of acquittal by the 14th Court of Appeals.  The opinion is a very interesting read.

If you will recall, Ms. Montgomery was the young lady convicted of Criminally Negligent Homicide for being involved in an automobile fatality while talking on her cell phone.  She was convicted and sentenced to ten years probation.  As a parting shot, name-calling enthusiast and Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos called Ms. Montgomery "selfish and narcissistic".

No word yet on whether or not Lykos will be retracting her name calling and issuing an apology.

Kind of doubt it.

Tonight's Reasonable Doubt (6/2/11)

Join me and Todd Dupont on Reasonable Doubt tonight at 8:00 p.m.  Our guest will be defense attorney Franklin Bynum.

As always, you can tune in by clicking here for live streaming video.