Thursday, October 20, 2016

The 2016 Harris County District Attorney Race

It's hard to believe that it has only been four years since the 2012 election, where Mike Anderson easily defeated Lloyd Oliver by 596,502 votes to 543,239.  So many things have happened since that night in November that it seems to have filled at least twice that amount of time.  During that election, 406,991 voters pulled straight ticket Democrat as opposed to 404,165 for Republican.  About 386,415 people actually gave more thought to who they were voting for and didn't go the straight ticket route.

The 2016 race for Harris County District Attorney could not be more different than 2012.  Mike Anderson was an even-tempered retired judge with virtually no controversy attached to him.  Lloyd Oliver was an unqualified buffoon who had inexplicably won the Democratic primary over a much more qualified candidate.  This year, Republican Incumbent Devon Anderson has several professional scandals attached to her Office and is not known for her calm demeanor under pressure.  Her Democratic opponent, Kim Ogg, is a qualified politician with an impressive resume and some pretty powerful backing.

The two have faced off before in 2014 in a special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Mike Anderson.  In that contest, Devon Anderson defeated Ogg by about 43,000 votes (354,539 to 311,648).  Although that was a decent margin, it was worth noting that most of the Republican judges in the criminal bench races all won their races by margins of over 60,000.  To some of us amateur political scientists, that closer margin seemed to indicate that Ogg had a decent number of crossover voters, which isn't surprising considering her resume with CrimeStoppers and her father's political and civil law ties.

As most of us know, there's a big difference in Harris County elections that occur in Presidential election years as opposed to non-Presidential years.  The races are much tighter in Presidential years, which is concerning to all of the Republican candidates, but to Anderson in particular.  Her closer margin in 2014, coupled with some bad press in the media, have most people in the Office concerned about what's going to happen on November 8th.

The vast majority of the Assistant District Attorneys working under Anderson want her to be re-elected, which is completely understandable.  A change at the top gives uncertainty to all below.  I should know.  I'm not just a political upheaval spokesman, I'm also a victim!  As one of my friends pointed out, the D.A.'s Office has been a picture of instability since Chuck Rosenthal's resignation in 2008.  Over the past 8 years, there have been seven different people at the helm (Rosenthal, Bert Graham, Ken Magidson, Pat Lykos, Mike Anderson, Belinda Hill & Devon Anderson) which is a stark contrast to the 21 years that Johnny Holmes held the Office.

While Anderson's prosecutors are enthusiastic about her candidacy, she's lost some of her fan base in other arenas.  The indictment of two anti-abortion activists for using false identification in a ploy to entrap Planned Parenthood alienated her hardcore right-wing conservatives -- and not in a small way.  Those same hardcore right-wing conservatives who are likely to turn out to vote for Donald Trump might be skipping a vote in the District Attorney's race.  Although I don't see them crossing over to vote for Ogg, a large amount of non-votes could be devastating.

For some of us, the indictment of the activists showed some courage.  The sudden dismissals of those indictments without explanation a few months later -- well, not so much.

The recent Harris County Constable Precinct Four evidence destruction scandal also seems to have landed some negative publicity at Anderson's doorstep, although that wasn't something that Devon should be blamed for.  Someone in her office did make the decision, however, not to inform the Trial Bureau (and subsequently the Defense Bar) about the evidence problems.  There's no excusing that.

Most problematic for the Anderson Administration, however, is the suspiciously timed lawsuit from a sexual assault victim who was jailed on a writ of attachment during the trial of her accuser.  As I've written here before, I think that portraying the Anderson Administration as unsympathetic to victims is a gross mischaracterization, regardless of what happened in that case.  However, the end results are something that the Ogg Campaign has sunk its teeth into and won't let go.  If any single issue sinks Anderson's re-election bid, it will be this one.

Kim Ogg has some baggage in her closet as well, although it doesn't garner the same amount of media attention that Anderson's missteps have.  During the 2014 election, the Houston Police Officers Association accused Ogg of failing to protect the privacy of victims during her tenure as head of CrimeStoppers.  She's also gained a lot of negative attention in the past week for taking a $500,000 donation from controversial billionaire George Soros.

The issue with Soros doesn't bother me all that much.  Are we concerned that he's going to get some traffic tickets fixed here if Ogg wins?  What concerns me more about Ogg is the fact that she's willing to promise prosecution for circumstances that she's knows aren't against the law.  I agree with her that the D.A.'s Office should have disclosed the Precinct Four scandal much earlier than they did, but Ogg wants a criminal investigation into it for criminal charges for Official Oppression.  That's a pretty big stretch.  Great vote-getter, I suppose, but what's next?  Attempted official oppression on all trials that end in a Not Guilty?

It frustrates me when Ogg goes down this road, because, as I've said before, she's better than that.  She's a qualified candidate and she's smart, but this is just blatant pandering and she knows it.  The danger in that is that it calls into question what she'll do in situations where two moron ex-cops come shopping around B.S. warrants.  Will she go sign off on the warrant to curry favor with the defense bar?  Will she abdicate her duty to get more votes?  Things like this truly bother me.

At the end of the day, this has become a tough race for me to decide who to vote for.  Ogg is definitely more progressive in her views on criminal justice, while Anderson clearly embraces a much tougher stance.  Anderson recently blasted me on Facebook for endorsing Democratic judicial candidate Herb Ritchie by pointing out that he gave deferred adjudication on Aggravated Robberies and he had a backlog in his capital murder caseloads.  I had endorsed Ritchie because I thought he was more neutral and gave a fair trial.  She may not like the idea of the a judge who gives deferred on an aggravated case, but the law allows it and I don't know of a judge on the bench who has never done it.  Clearly, she and I have a different view on what factors make for a good judge.

At the debate between the two candidates, Anderson pointedly said that defense attorneys will "say anything to get a case overturned."  That's a broad statement, and one that illustrates why the defense bar isn't flocking to support her.  Some of us pride ourselves on being ethical and honest even when defending people accused of doing terrible things.  I've never subscribed to the theory that all prosecutors cheat.  It is disappointing to hear that we have a D.A. that seems to think all defense attorneys lie.

Back in the 2008 election, I lamented how politics were infiltrating the Criminal Justice System and noted that they had no place there.  Unfortunately that's exactly what happened under the Lykos Administration and have now carried on into the Anderson Administration.  There is more of a focus on how things look than there was before, and that can present problems.  An Office that moves so quickly to tout all of its accomplishments is one that opens itself up to enemies looking for failures.  This has led to prosecutors being more reluctant to dismiss questionable cases or go to judges where the punishment might not be harsh enough.    There is a lack of discretion at the trial court level that is ridiculous, because there are many, many damn good prosecutors there exercise good judgment.  A now-former prosecutor once told me: "I don't know why doing the right thing makes me worry that I'm going to lose my job."

This campaign leaves me ambivalent about who to vote for.  An election that should have been about two well-qualified candidates having meaningful discussions about the future of the Criminal Justice System has led to sound bytes and shameless political pandering on both sides.  In an ideal world, that branch of the government would be immune to such things, but its not.  I want job stability for my friends and good prosecutors at the D.A.'s Office, but I also want them to have the discretion that many of us had when we worked at the Office.

Devon Anderson is far from being the monster that the Houston Chronicle and others have made her out to be, but there are a lot of things that need improvement in the Office -- mainly focusing on internal policies.  By the same token, Kim Ogg is a good candidate with some good ideas, but she needs to stop over-promising things on the campaign trail and get real about the actual job assigned to her.  For my friends at the Office who are understandably worried about their jobs, Kim Ogg is not the vindictive politician that Lykos was.

In the end, neither candidate is perfect, but nor are they disastrous.  They are just like any other two political candidates in a major race.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The defense bar should be all for Anderson. An Ogg administration would definitely lead to a drop in business. People who are not charged with crimes do not need criminal defense lawyers.

Tom said...

A couple of things. First, that liberal bogeyman George Soros is aligned with the conservative bogeymen like the Koch brothers on criminal justice reform. They may not be sending each other Christmas cards but they're saying the same things anout criminal justice reform. Soros is just putting his money where his mouth is.
As to Judge Ritchie being criticized by Devon for giving deferred in an aggravated robbery, the current judge of that court, Rene McGee, gave one of my clients deferred on an aggravated robbery and deferred to another for aggravated sexual assault. That just means that both are willing to consider the full range of punishment and will do what they think is appropriate in an appropriate situation. Just like judges are supposed to do.
The thing that gives me the most pause is a video I saw of Devon criticizing Kim for representing criminals for the past 10 years. First, that is an insult to all of us in the defense bar. Second, Devon was a defense lawyer for four years after she lost her bench in the 2008 landslide. Are we to assume that she limited her practice to innocent, wrongly accused persons being prosecuted by the Harris County DA's Office?
And as for Kim, when she was an assistant DA, she whipped my ass bigtime in a murder case. She and I have worked one case together with co-defendants. It was an insurance fraud and she recognized that what the DA's office charged wasn't a crime. It ended up with a well deserved nobill.
I have my choice but the republic will survive regardless of whether Kim or Devon wins Nov. 8.

A Casual Observer said...

I always love when you say that politics have recently infiltrated the CJC. Just because you agreed with the previous politics doesn't mean that there was no politics before Lykos.

Anonymous said...

Ask former board members of Crime Stoppers if they support Kim Ogg. Here's a hint. They DON'T. Nearly half the board walked out when the first vote to keep Kim Ogg as CEO passed. Not learning her lesson, later she got into a very pubic fight with HPD and Chief Hurtt threatened to end the relationship between HPD and Crime Stoppers.

Kim Ogg tried to get police officers fired because they disagreed with her. Fortunately, she didn't have near the influence she thought she had.

But if you were worried about Pat Lykos being vindictive, well Pat had nothing on Kim Ogg. Double that on the ego and narcissism.

Kim Ogg is Pat Lykos on steroids

Anonymous said...

Did Devon just say Lesbian like its a bad thing? Wow

Anonymous said...

Murray, I know you are acquainted with both candidates in different ways than many of us but years before you were a lawyer, Ogg was showing her foul temperament in the community. When she was given the political appointment to head up Houston's all new gang task force, there was heated discussion at city hall over her lack of credentials. Mayor Lanier explained it to those who wanted someone with expertise that it would be a figurehead job, everyone made to understand that it was her father that got her the job and how she would have no real power. She routinely walked around with a chip on her shoulder and tried to get back at those who were doing their job properly, state law changing so fewer people could be kept track of as gang members. Since that time, her narrative has evolved how she personally made changes to rid Houston of gang members, a laughable idea given that the move to make it much tougher to keep them in the database had nothing to do with their exploits.

The pattern followed at Crime Stoppers, the program garnering improved donations as the result of television shows and the efforts of many others yet Ogg continually tried to lay credit for it, offending many in the process. She was a dilettante with a respected daddy's connections, any who dealt with her for long doing their best to change that situation. Very few she worked with there support her campaign as well, her treatment of the juvenile rape victims only the tip of the iceberg, her continued demands for more control despite a lack of civility towards the staffers just as bad as when she worked for the city of Houston.

Now she aligns herself with the cranks of the GOP to misrepresent both her and Anderson, vilifying Anderson in any way possible in strictly political attacks while greatly embellishing her exploits with the kind of spin few credible sources would dare attempt, knowing the backlash sure to follow. How telling is it that those two halfwits that find fault in everything you say are her two biggest RINO champions? How badly does Ogg want the position that she has kept Wayne Dulcefino on staff, the man the local definition of sleaze? And your downplaying of the repeated attempts to George Soros to influence the election aside, it is not about fixing tickets but to get those anti abortion activists indicted and convicted, several sources pointing that out while the halfwits denied Soros contributed a penny. Given the number of people working in the Obama administration also contributing to Ogg's campaign, as well as many from Planned Parenthood, all while a few try to suggest Anderson is all but the CEO of that organization, at some point you have to take a step back and say, "enough!".

Regardless of the election shenanigans, the biggest concern some have with Ogg is her platform. Not counting her offers to start new initiatives that have already been in place for years, many of her ideas are well outside the areas she has any control over, her belief that she can steamroll harris county commissioner's court into greatly expanding her budget, instituting widespread and costly reforms by the state legislature, and even directing local policing authorities on what priorities they will have, just come across as someone not as smart as you think she is. And if you think she won't be vindictive toward local defense attorneys, just watch what happens the first time one of you are not on her side, embracing her vision in totality. You'll be on her no fly list and your clients will suffer as a result just as she has retaliated against others in the past. That's my opinion based on experience but you'll see if she is elected.

Anonymous said...

Say all you want about Ogg, Devon showed her true self with her hateful words. I wonder how the lesbians or gay males at her office feel this morning? Are they just like Ogg when it comes to taking charges and protecting Harris County?

Anonymous said...

Do you suggest we not elect a police chief and sheriff who want to reduce the crime rate just so criminal defense laywers will not have a decline in business?

Anonymous said...

Hateful words? She was calling out the political attacks of the right wingers upset over PP not being indicted and the two individuals trying to bust them who were. Her point was that they will most likely make lots of noise over a DA who is pretty much the opposite of everything they support. And since when is "lesbian" hateful or insulting? Anderson has been an extremely inclusive DA and if you look at her top level staff, you will see an abundance of diversity and that she has never made an issue of sexual identification or orientation.

This is just more despicable politicking by Ogg and illustrates why she is such a poor choice. I fully expect her to win and fully expect Lykos 2.0. The HCDAO has risen from the lowpoints of the Lykos administration back into an exemplary office leading the way on addressing isues including racial disparity in the CJS and conviction integrity. And while there are definitely areas of improvement, Anderson has never pretended the office is perfect or targeted those who suggest changes. If the voters are willing to flush all of that for a candidate who will make statements on cases she knows nothing about and trade integrity for unworkable campaign promises, than Harris County deserves everything it gets.

Anonymous said...

Police Chiefs aren't elected Anon October 22, 2016 at 10:18 AM. If you read the Chronicle, Houston's Mayor has a long list of qualifications for his next police chief, few of which involve reducing the crime rate to put defense attorneys out of business.

Anonymous said...

How is the word lesbian hateful per se?

noun
1.
a homosexual woman.


She did not call her a pejorative. Quit whining you ninny!

It is a fact. Kim Ogg is a lesbian.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has their view and I say its hateful. Period. Thats why everyone has a choice to vote for who they want. I dont even care if Ogg is ok with the comment. Im not. Blame who you want. Devon said it and if Ogg was offended thats her right. Sounds like people blaming Ogg because she was offend. Typical Gop these days...blame victim.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:00, what an asinine thing to say. (Also, you type like that idiot Hooper). By victim do you mean the women that Bill Clinton raped, or the women Donald Trump groped? By victim to you mean the one that Devon jailed or the one whose name Kim gave to the media when she was at Crime Stoppers?

By definition the word lesbian is not hate speech. Just like the words straight or heterosexual are not hate speech, If you want a litany of hateful words referring to lesbians or homosexuals, I am sure readers of this blog will be happy to accommodate. As for your "Typical GOP" remark, do I detect some hate? Should I be "offend" (sic)?

Anonymous said...

Despite the payback crowd making hay of anything Anderson does like it was a big revelation of some sort, the choices are pretty clear; pick Anderson if you want an administration even close to embracing conservative ideals or pick Ogg if you prefer a liberal agenda. Anderson may not be as conservative as the right wing extremists want and Ogg might not be as unhinged as extremists from the left demand but once you strip away all the false promises made, little will really change under either of them. If the extremists to the right think electing Ogg will open up the office to a more conservative in four years, they forget that the demographics are changing out of their favor and the incumbency factor will keep Ogg in office for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I'm voting for Ogg because I think she will return discretion back to the trial bureau. Under Anderson, it appears that no one has any discretion, and no one can make the office "look bad" under any circumstances. Mike Anderson promised an end to Lykos-style interoffice politics, and Devon brought it back threefold.

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for a response from Anon 4:00. Crickets......