For several months now, those of us who participate in this blog have been speculating about the future of Harris County District Attorney's Office 1st Assistant Jim Leitner. Every few weeks, there have been (what appeared to be) credible reports that he was turning in his two weeks notice. The rumors started before the election in May, and have continued fairly regularly since then. I hear new reports every week or so that he is finally leaving the Office. I don't even bother to report them anymore.
The situation is interesting, however.
Since taking over the 1st Assistant position on January 1, 2009 in an unholy alliance with Pat Lykos, Jim has seemed to relish in the role of chief "bridge burner." He started in 2008 by vowing to his friends in the D.A.'s Office that he would never support Pat Lykos if he failed to make the runoff and then contradicting himself the moment he lost. His endorsement of Lykos coupled by his later appointment to 1st Assistant smacked of an illegal back room deal that didn't do his reputation any favors.
His blind bullying on behalf of Lykos has alienated the prosecutors that he has been supervising for the past three and a half years. During his tenure he hasn't exactly earned too many new friends in the Judiciary or the Defense Bar, either.
Whether Leitner leaves on December 31st at 11:59 p.m. or tomorrow, the only certainty is that he will definitely not be the 1st Assistant come January 1st, 2013. (NOTE: Unless Lloyd Oliver wins, in which case, all bets are off.) The big question now is, "What becomes of Jim Leitner once he no longer has that shiny badge that he likes to wear on his belt?"
The answer to that question may be in the works as we speak.
First, let's jump back in time to November 2007.
Kelly Siegler and her career arch-nemesis, Dick DeGuerin, have been embroiled in the hotly contested murder trial of David Temple. The case is a whodunnit murder that dealt with a prominent Katy football coach charged in the murder of his 8-months-pregnant wife. Much of the case is based largely on circumstantial evidence, with no confession from the defendant nor any forensic evidence that can definitively link him to the crime.
Unfortunately for David Temple and Mr. DeGuerin, circumstantial evidence is still evidence. A jury convicted Temple of the murder of his wife and sentenced him to Life in prison.
DeGuerin complained loudly -- both publicly and privately -- that an innocent man had been convicted. The appellate courts have disagreed and David Temple continues to serve his Life sentence as of this writing.
On January 1st, 2009, the Lykos Crew came to town. According to reliable sources, soon after Lykos was elected, DeGuerin lobbied the Lykos Administration, specifically 1st Assistant Jim Leitner, to review the Temple case and agree to a reversal of the case. My reports indicate that Kelly Siegler's trial file on David Temple has been sitting in Leitner's office since very early in 2009. Why the First Assistant would take such an interest in a case is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is because Mr. DeGuerin is such a high profile defense attorney. Maybe Leitner was still angry after the bitter campaign between Kelly Siegler and Pat Lykos?
Whatever the motive was in 2009, nothing really became of the Temple case under the Lykos Administration -- at least nothing helpful to Mr. Temple or Mr. DeGuerin.
But in May of this year, Jim Leitner learned that his boss, Pat Lykos, was going to be out of a job at the end of the year. He was savvy enough to know that when Lykos' job ended with the D.A.'s Office, his job would end as well. Leitner knew that on January 1, 2013 he was going to be a defense attorney again, and the folks he would be dealing with would be a group of prosecutors that he had proudly treated like crap for the preceding four years.
Where is that Temple file? Mr. Leitner must have wondered to himself. Because if there was anything that might give him a little bit of goodwill in his job search beginning January 1st, surely the gratitude of Dick DeGuerin would count for something, right?
So, according to multiple credible sources, 1st Assistant Jim Leitner has picked up the David Temple file again. DeGuerin is still claiming that his client is innocent. DeGuerin has even hired former Harris County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant (and current defense attorney) John Denholm to work on the Temple case for him. That's interesting, since Denholm was the Lieutenant in HCSO Homicide when the Temple murder occurred.
Leitner has the District Attorney's Office doing all they can to help DeGuerin, Denholm and David Temple, too. He has an investigator assigned to do all he can to help them in their investigation. That particular investigator has been given permission to log as many hours of overtime as he could possibly need with no questions asked -- all at taxpayer expense.
Leitner (who was rumored to have been leaving last Wednesday) has told others that he is staying on at the District Attorney's Office a little bit longer to take care of some projects. It would appear that one of those "projects" is getting the murder conviction of David Temple overturned. Although some of the details are not confirmed, apparently a jailhouse snitch heard somebody other than David Temple confess to the murder. Supposedly the "confessor" is now in Mexico. That would make this a third-hand confession that Leitner is desperately trying to prove to be true.
If Leitner finds the information he is so desperately seeking, a District Judge would have the power to let David Temple walk out the front door of TDCJ.
Mr. DeGuerin and Mr. Temple would doubtlessly be grateful.
And if Mr. Temple walks out the front door of TDCJ, we should all keep a careful eye on what door Mr. Leitner walks in through.
Having powerful friends can often soften the landing for you when you lose your job.