Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why the Appearance of Impropriety Matters

Back in 2009, when I was first starting my career as a defense attorney after nine years as a prosecutor, one of the first courts I received an appointment in was the 338th District Court.  At the time the chief prosecutor in the 338th was Craig Still (who now works at the Public Defenders Office).  After I had read over the new case that I had just been appointed on, I went to discuss it with Craig.

When I started to hand him the case for him to review, he stopped me and politely pointed out that he was going to let his Two handle the case and he would not be involved.  He wasn't being rude.
The reason he didn't want to involve himself in any case I was handling was because Craig was (and is) one of my best friends.

Not that Craig would have ever done anything inappropriate regarding a case based on our friendship.  Nobody who knows him or his reputation in the courthouse would have ever accused him of such a thing.  However, Craig was savvy enough to realize that there was no need to create even an appearance of impropriety.

And that was just on a crack pipe case.

I've thought about that moment in the 338th many times over the past few months as I've watched Kim Ogg steadfastly refuse to remove herself and the Harris County District Attorney's Office from the handling of the David Temple Murder case.  Maybe Ogg's motives are pure.  Maybe they aren't.  Whatever her reasoning is, our new District Attorney certainly has not helped herself in avoiding an obvious appearance of impropriety.

The purpose of this particular post isn't to address whether or not David Temple is guilty of murder.  Volumes have been written about the facts of the case itself.  I would suggest reading Kathryn Casey's Shattered if you want to familiarize yourself with the details, or some of Craig Malisow's articles about the case in the Houston Press.  I will freely admit that there are many who are much more knowledgeable about the details of the murder than I am.

Additionally, the purpose of this post isn't to address what Kelly Siegler did or didn't do during the trial that resulted in Temple's murder conviction in 2007.  The Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that Temple deserved a new trial and no matter what happens from here on out, Kelly Siegler won't have any involvement in the case.  For all intents and purposes, the case is at Square One from a legal standpoint.  Although advocates for David Temple like to drop Kelly's name in hopes of inciting some level of outrage on David's behalf, the reality is that she is no longer relevant to the future of the case.

The ball is completely in Kim Ogg's court.  Unfortunately, she seems to be making every effort to demonstrate that the one person in Harris County who shouldn't be handling the case is Kim Ogg.

As Kim Ogg took office on January 1st, the Temple case was a very hot topic.  The Court of Criminal Appeals had just reversed the case in late November and Ogg had already raised eyebrows with her earlier announcement that Temple Defense Team members, John Denholm and Steve Clappart, would be joining her administration.  That's the two of them here with Casie Gotro and Stan Schneider, receiving an award for their work on Temple's defense team from the Harris County Criminal Lawyer's Association.

On January 1st, Ogg gave her inauguration speech, where she added fuel to the impropriety fire by thanking Temple's trial counsel, Dick DeGuerin, for the influence he had been in her own legal career.  DeGuerin had been calling for Temple's case to be dismissed from the moment he learned it had been reversed.

Ogg was also not done any favors with Temple attorney Stanley Schneider talking to the press and explaining how Ogg would be proceeding with the case.  Schneider expressing how "comfortable" he was with whatever her decision would be sounded as if he already had a strong indication of what that decision would be.

Additionally, Ogg issued an edict about a month ago that the Office would recuse itself from all first degree felony cases previously defended by anyone in her upper echelon (which would presumably include John Denholm).  Oddly, the Temple case was mysteriously left out of that recusal.  Ogg had initially told the Houston Chronicle that she would have a team looking at the case, but later retracted that statement, saying she and only she would review the case.  That's a pretty daunting task considering she would presumably be reading an enormous offense report, a full trial transcript, listen to multiple witness statements, not to mention re-interview those witnesses, read a writ hearing transcript and review all the corresponding documents associated with the case.  And further, it would be expected that she would also talk to the detectives involved in the case and (gasp!) probably even the original prosecutors.

The most blatant appearance of impropriety came last week when it was revealed that DeGuerin was headlining a fundraiser for Ogg on the eve of Temple's next court date -- a date when Ogg was scheduled to announce her decision about retrial.  In addition to DeGuerin, former Temple attorney Paul Looney was also on the host committee.  This was so egregious that even Brian Rogers was forced to write a mildly negative article about Ogg in the Chronicle.  Of course, in typical Brian Rogers style, he buried the mention of the controversial fundraiser somewhere around the tenth paragraph of his article.

The encouraging news in Brian's article was that Ogg was still open to the idea of recusing the Office from the case.  She should.  I've heard from former prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors and judges in other counties, who are astounded that she hasn't done so.  I've even heard from members of Ogg's own upper Admin who have expressed their belief that the Office should recuse itself.  And by the way, I'm talking about upper Admin that she brought in with her on January 1st.

I'm hopeful that Ogg is finally starting to realize what message she is sending to the public about her definition of Justice:

It is a message that there will be no checks and balances when it comes to what Kim Ogg wants to do with her administration.

It is a message that Kim Ogg has no interest in the advice of the legal community around her.

It is a message that the her concerns for the family members of victims of violent crimes are not very high on her priority list.

It is a message that the wealthy client who can afford a lawyer like Dick DeGuerin can get special treatment.

It is a message that the right connections can make even a murder case go away.

Some defense attorneys are rallying behind the idea of Ogg biting the bullet and just dismissing the case, because, you know, "Kelly Siegler."  Others are pointing out that the Disciplinary Rules which govern attorneys in the State of Texas do not require Ogg to recuse herself.  Many have correctly pointed out that donations from criminal defense attorneys are commonplace for judges and elected District Attorneys.

But the David Temple Murder case isn't just any case.  And Dick DeGuerin isn't just any defense attorney.

I started this blog post a couple of days ago, but I didn't have time to sit down and finish it until tonight, 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, 2017.  As I wrap up this post, the family of Belinda and Erin Temple sit at home, wondering whether or not the man who was once convicted of murdering their loved one will even face trial again.

And the District Attorney who will make that decision is at a party in her honor, hosted by that same man's defense attorney.

Is there really any question as to what kind of message that sends?


Anonymous said...

Kim Jong Ogg is bullheaded. She lost whatever sense of right and wrong she once had, long ago. Politics change people for the worse too often.

As for Brian Rogers, he has never been a real reporter which is why the Chron keeps him in the courthouse. He can't do any real damage there.

Anonymous said...

The message that sends, for now, is simple: elections have consequences.

Anonymous said...

Well stated, Murray. Regardless of whatever political favors she owes to Dick, Stanley, George Soros, or others, one would hope Kim would have a modicum of compassion in her heart for the grief stricken family of Belinda Temple and allow them their day in court. Should the victim's survivor's always have the final say in prosecutorial decision making? Absolutely not. But there's more than enough evidence of guilt in this case to warrant David Temple standing trial again. Perhaps Kim should go read the oath that grand jurors are given as mandated by Art. 19.34 of the Code of Criminal Procedure:

"You solemnly swear that you will diligently inquire into, and true presentment make, of all such matters and things as shall be given you in charge; the State's counsel, your fellows and your own, you shall keep secret, unless required to disclose the same in the course of a judicial proceeding in which the truth or falsity of evidence given in the grand jury room, in a criminal case, shall be under investigation. You shall present no person from envy, hatred or malice; neither shall you leave any person unpresented for love, fear, favor, affection or hope of reward; but you shall present things truly as they come to your knowledge, according to the best of your understanding, so help you God".

If we're going to expect our grand jurors to be fair, unbiased and objective in their decision making process, we damned sure ought to expect the same qualities in an elected District Attorney.

Anonymous said...

Kim Ogg is reportedly re-opening Buzbee's case, expunction be damned. I guess it was too much if an appearance of impropriety for her.

DPPooper said...

Uh oh. For how long can you re-open expuncted cases? Like road rage case. Is there a statue of libertations? I think refilling expuncted cases is vury bad.

Anonymous said...

How can you reopen a closed and expunged case? How can Ogg even mention it publicly? Not only will she not recuse the office from Temple but she is using her position to reopen a case for political reasons? She is really doubling down on the impropriety.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:22pm: If Buzbee got his case expunged, isn't it a crime to "reopen" it? I thought that is a felony to maintain any records after a case is expunged.

Anonymous said...

This really pisses me off. Not for any logical dispute about legal ethics, just because I went to jury duty last week. I was prepared to stand up in voir dire and point to an Oggian and yell "J' Accuse!" and remonstrate with the Judge about the poor ethics of the district attorney, standing my ground as a loyal reader of Murray's blog. I got seated on a jury for JP traffic court that defendant's counsel -- who made Jimmy McGill look like a senior partner at Gibson Dunn -- immediately settled as soon as the jury was chosen. After a long lecture about our civic responsibilities, pointing to the ADA as if the poor grey dumpling was going to suggest that we string up the defendant for 86 in a 60 on the toll road. All wound up and no place to go, and I blame this on my devoted readership here. Grr.

Anonymous said...

It's on the district clerk's website. It was dismissed 12-9-2016.

Anonymous said...

I am just shaking my head, I never believed it could get worse than Lycos. Even that winch would be better than the "thing" currently in office.

Anonymous said...

Almost the entire defense team for Temple is working at the office under Ogg
Clap part
Only missing TRICKY DICK