As I posted in November, the Harris County Sheriff's Office had an item on the Commissioners' Court Agenda last month asking for $138,000 to pay for consulting services from Jim Leitner. Setting aside the argument for the moment about whether or not Jim's legal consultation is worth that relatively large amount of money, it does bring up an interesting question about him continuing to do any other kind of criminal cases (appointed or retained).
If Leitner is going to be representing the Harris County Sheriff's Office in a legal capacity wouldn't that tend to conflict him out of doing criminal defense representation in all cases that involve the Sheriff's Office?
My understanding is that Leitner has explained that he would not be taking on cases where HCSO was the investigating agency, which should be obvious. How can one defend an accused client when the accuser is also a client? By turning down those Sheriff's Office cases, Jim will be foregoing a large percentage of criminal cases in Harris County.
However, in my opinion, the conflict of interest that Leitner potentially faces is much more significant than just those cases where HCSO investigated the case-in-chief. Some conflicts of interest are more subtle.
Keep in mind that the Harris County Sheriff's Office is also in charge of the Harris County Jail. All defendants who are charged by any police agency in Harris County will ultimately reside in the jail, provided that they don't make bond. They will be booked in by Jim's clients. They will be housed by Jim's clients. If they commit any infractions in the jail, they will be testified against by Jim's clients.
Furthermore, if a defendant has a prior criminal history and a prosecutor has to prove up those prior records with fingerprint evidence, the fingerprint expert is always a Harris County Sheriff's deputy -- one of Jim's clients.
If you think about it, what criminal cases in Harris County don't utilize a representative of the Harris County Sheriff's Office at some point?
Based on all of these scenarios, it would seem that Leitner would be potentially conflicted out any criminal case in Harris County unless they 1) never get booked into the Harris County jail and 2) have no criminal history that would require a Sheriff's Deputy to testify. If you couple that with the fact that Leitner is not exactly fondly remembered by many of his former co-workers at the District Attorney's Office, one must wonder who thought this consulting gig was a good idea for him.
I'm not sure who was more short-sighted: Leitner or Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
Of course, making short-sighted decisions without thinking out the implications of them is something we've gotten accustomed to the past four years.