Friday, July 25, 2014

Memorial Service for Mrs. Albert Davidson

On Tuesday of this week, Albert Davidson, mother of our friend, Charley Davidson, passed away at the age of 98 years old.

There will be a memorial service for Mrs. Davidson on Thursday, July 31st at 2:00 p.m. at Chapelwood United Methodist Church, located at 11140 Greenbay, Houston, Texas 77024.

Please keep Charley and his family in your prayers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fundraiser for David Singer this Saturday

There will be a fundraiser this Saturday, July 26th for David Singer, who is running as the Democratic Candidate for County Court at Law # 14.

The event is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sam Houston Race Park Jockey Club.  It is open to whoever wants to attend and food and drink will be provided and people should have a fun time doing a little wagering on the races!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Will Womble, Eat your Heart Out

I'll admit it.  For years, I was totally jealous that my dear friend Will Womble had this.

For some reason, I was notified just this week that I now had this.

My life is now complete.

NOTE:  I've now worked on 10 different episodes of Cold Justice.  I don't know why I'm only getting credit for one.  I will have to take this up with the Screen Actors' Guild, I guess.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tunnel Vision & The Falkenberg Articles

If you pay attention to the goings on at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center with any regularity, you are probably already aware of Lisa Falkenberg's two outstanding articles on the Harris County Grand Jury that indicted Alfred Dewayne Brown for the Capital Murders of Houston Police Officer Charles R. Clark and store clerk Alfredia Jones.

Part One of the column ran on Thursday.  Part Two ran Friday.  As of this writing, we are still waiting on Part Three.   NOTE:  If the Chronicle's "premium content" website is blocking your access, the Washington Post did a pretty decent synopsis you can read by clicking here.  My friend, Scott Greenfield, has also weighed in on the columns here.  The attention these articles are garnering is just beginning, in my opinion.

The very condensed version of events are as follows:  Alfred Brown was suspected of being part of a group of males that robbed a check-cashing business and murdered the clerk and a police officer in the process.  Brown stated as his alibi that he was on the phone (landline, not cell) with his girlfriend, Ericka Jean Dockery, at the time of the offense and when Ms. Dockery tried to confirm that to a Grand Jury, they threatened her with financial, legal and even child custody repercussions.  She ultimately changed her story, but Harris County prosecutor Dan Rizzo filed Aggravated Perjury charges on her anyway.

Lisa's column is very much on point about the secrecy of the Grand Jury -- a fact that seems to have given several Pat Lykos/Rachel Palmer supporters new life in their never-ending war against the 185th Grand Jury Investigation of 2012.  Politics really do make strange bedfellows when you've got Lykos supporters rooting for a person accused of killing a police officer.

The bigger issue that Lisa's column covers is the extreme lengths that some people in the Criminal Justice System are willing to go to when they are suffering from Tunnel Vision.

As a former prosecutor, I can attest to the fact that Assistant District Attorneys are inclined to believe the version of events that are initially presented to them by police officers.  There is nothing wrong with that -- the System would come to a screeching halt otherwise.  Can you imagine if all calls from the police went like this:
OFFICER:  I stopped a vehicle for speeding and running a stop sign . . .
PROSECUTOR:  Oh really?  Are you really a police officer?  Was your radar calibrated?  Where was this stop sign?  Did anybody else see this?  Why don't you put this person that you are accusing on the phone and let me ask him what really happened.
 I can't fault prosecutors for believing the initial version of events presented to them by an investigating agency.  Where things become troubling is when they believe those events so strongly solely because they came from the police officer.

I think that if you ask any practicing criminal defense attorney if they know any prosecutors that suffer from Tunnel Vision, you will be in for a very lengthy conversation.  I'm not naming any names of prosecutors, but I was once told by a prosecutor that he was "insulted" that I would tell him I believed a client I was representing was factually innocent.

Insulted.  Not only were they not interested in examining my reasons for believing my client was not guilty, they were insulted that I would even dare approach them with it.

We used to joke about a prosecutor that was so determined to NOT dismiss a case that if you provided her with video footage of your client sitting behind the President during the State of the Union Address at the time of the alleged offense, she would only offer you a better plea offer on a lesser charge.

Of course, the prosecutorial counterpoint to my argument would be, "You have no idea how many B.S. stories we hear on a daily basis."  Yes, I do know.  I did that job for nine years.  I once had to call a very -- shall we say "country" -- gentleman and ask him if he had, in fact, "donated" his pride Dually pick-up truck to the very crack-addicted felon who was charged with stealing it.  My eardrum still twitches at the angry yelling I had to listen to in response.

But I made the call because that's what the defense attorney told me his client was claiming.  Sometimes you have to look down a lot of rabbit trails to avoid Tunnel Vision and unfortunately, that's part of the job of being a prosecutor.  You have to rule out Reasonable Doubt -- even if it doesn't seem that "reasonable" to you.

The prosecutor who believes an investigator's version of events so much that they shut down even the mere possibility of a contradiction becomes the most dangerous person in the courthouse.

Charles Sebesta shut down the possibility that Anthony Graves wasn't involved in the murder of six people in Somerville.  Ken Anderson shut down the possibility that Michael Morton didn't kill his wife.  Now, Dan Rizzo, with the backing of a Grand Jury, is on the hot seat.

To be fair, there are several people within the Harris County District Attorney's Office who have told me that although they agree Alfred Dewayne Brown deserves a new trial, they still believe he is factually guilty.  That was District Attorney Mike Anderson's position when the Office agreed that Brown deserved a new trial.

What is so frightening about Ericka Jean Dockery's case is that Rizzo filed Aggravated Perjury charges against her because he and the Grand Jury didn't believe her.  There wasn't a concrete piece of evidence that contradicted her.  There wasn't a change of story that had come from her own volition (change of stories based on extreme coercion doesn't count).  At the end of the day, the decision to file felony charges (of moral turpitude) against Ms. Dockery flowed from Rizzo and the Grand Jury's opinion that she wasn't being truthful.

Put yourself in the shoes of a person accused of something for a moment.  You have an alibi witness.  That witness is willing to testify and clear you.  However, that witness is told by prosecutors, in no uncertain terms, that not only do they not believe her testimony,  they will file felony charges against her for daring to back you up.

Take a moment and ponder how truly frightening that is.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guest Post on Clerks from Feroz Merchant

Since I am sadly way behind on writing anything these days (blame the 25 lb., 8 month old individual who lives with me), my dear friend, Feroz Merchant, asked if he could do a guest post to share his thoughts about some of our often overlooked court co-workers.

As an attorney that practices regularly in the criminal justice center here in Harris County, I get to meet and deal with a great number of people. In my 14 years as an attorney, I’ve been a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. This means being in court almost very morning. What I’ve noticed is that the clerks (sitting by the Judge) are always busy. They seem to get there before anyone and are there long after most have already left. They often spend lunches at the desk working and that too after continuously working and responding to several people at the same time. It’s multitasking that really amazing to watch. These folks are one of the hardest working people out there.

I decided to look up their job description and was amazed at what they are responsible. Since I work primarily in the criminal justice center, I have first hand knowledge about the clerks that practice there; having said that, I’m confident that the those in the other courts (civil, family & juvenile) work just as hard (where several trees worth of paper need to be sorted and filed).

They clerks are responsible for keeping the records of the court safe, record proceedings, enter all judgments under the direction of the judge, record all executions issued and the returns issued on the executions, keep an index of the parties to all suits filed in the court, and make reference to any judgment made in the case, keep track of who is on the jury panel, track those that are selected, take in all subpoenas, motions, attorney fee vouchers, determine and enter jail credit and to respond to all the attorneys various inquires while the courts in session. And all this has to be correct. And that too all the time, for every case. A mistake could affect someone’s liberty or a victim’s right to justice. This is a job that demands perfection and dedication.

I then decided to look up what someone in that position makes. I was shocked to learn that even after a few years on the job the pay is still at around $13/hour. Some may say that it’s a job and one should be grateful. I believe we are all grateful for what we’ve been blessed with. But a position of clerk, with all its responsibilities does require recognition; when one has been charged with great responsibility and they fulfill it each and every time – there has to be just compensation.

I think they deserve a raise. Not sure what is possible with budget constraints. And I’m sure the elected district clerk is aware and is in the process of doing something about it.  But I think they do deserve a raise, its something that needs to be acknowledged and I along with my fellow criminal defense attorneys thank them for always being there and doing a great job. Your commitment to your job and the community is appreciated.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rachel Palmer Turns in Notice

Rachel Palmer turned in her two-weeks notice to the District Attorney's Office.  It is my understanding that she is going to work for a civil law firm.

It is a move that is probably best for all involved.

Although there are probably many who would like to use this opportunity to dredge up the events of the past, I don't see much point in doing that from this end.

I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.