Long time, no talk.
I heard that your upper admin recently started some new thingy called "Selfies and Plans for Success" or something like that. If I understand it correctly, the "Selfies" component is for each prosecutor to keep a file on his or her computer of all the professional accolades accumulated over the years.
I'll be honest with you -- it seems a little silly to me. Prosecutors are too busy working their butts off these days to take time for patting themselves on the back. Self-aggrandizing is really more of a sport for the politicians. Not to sound too much like a grumpy ex-prosecutor, but back in my day, the upper admin knew the difference between the great, good, average and bad prosecutors. They watched them in trial. They read their evaluations. They didn't ask them to make a "sizzle reel" as if they were trying out for American Idol.
Real prosecutors ain't got time for that. But if you are keeping tabs on the compliments that the prosecutors in your office receive, let me pass one along:
Harris County prosecutors are the best in the business.
Now, I know I'm biased since I'm a former Harris County prosecutor and all, but over the past nine years I've spent in private practice and the last five years I've spent consulting on other projects, I've had the chance to see quite a few more jurisdictions than I had before 2009. I've dealt with prosecutors in numerous other counties and numerous other states. I'm not saying anything negative about the ADAs in those other locales, but there are few that can compare to a seasoned Harris County prosecutor.
Harris County prosecutors have seen every type of case and prosecuted it. They know the rules of evidence like the backs of their hands because they've gone to trial so many times that procedure is ingrained in them. They know the value of the case. They respect their adversaries. They honor their word. They know what in the hell they are doing in ways that too many other jurisdictions miss the boat on.
And since Hurricane Harvey, your prosecutors have been absolutely killing it.
I'm not just talking about keeping intake up and running through the storm. I'm talking about the aftermath. The past five or six months where they have had to drag buckets of cases to various and sundry makeshift courtrooms across the county. They have had to keep up with their Discovery obligations and learn a little bit of eFiling in the middle of all this too. They literally work around the clock on their jobs.
It has not been unusual during post-flood conditions for prosecutors to answer texts, emails and phone calls late into the evening. I got a (timely) Discovery notice the other night from a prosecutor at 11:45 p.m. I've seen prosecutors lug additional files to court so some defense attorneys who really really really hate driving in the Galleria area wouldn't have to come to your Office. I've had two prosecutors drop Discovery off at my house. I've had another let me come talk to her about a case at her house.
For a displaced group of prosecutors, they couldn't be more accommodating or professional. They do their jobs and do them well because they love what they do.
You should be proud. Actually, you should be honored to lead such a group.
But I kind of get the impression that you aren't honored. I keep seeing and hearing more and more horror stories about folks in your upper admin who treat your rank and file prosecutors like untrustworthy idiots with bad judgment. I keep seeing more and more outstanding prosecutors leaving Harris County to go to Fort Bend or Montgomery or Travis County. I know of others praying to get on with the Feds.
They don't want to leave the prosecutorial profession. They just want to leave you. That's a shame, because I'm really a big fan of your outlook on the Criminal Justice System. That's why I voted for you. That's why I normally defend you when the media is looking for somebody to give a negative sound byte about you. I know we had our differences on the whole David Temple thing, but on the whole, I still like your policies.
But dammit, Kim. You have got to start treating your prosecutors better. They've been through a lot and they've made you look good in the process. It's time you started treating them like the highly skilled professionals that they are.
And the first thing you need to do to make that happen is have a little chat with JoAnne Musick, your trial bureau chief.
I've known JoAnne since I was a baby prosecutor back in 1999. She was the misdemeanor chief of Court Six (I believe) back then and we were friends. It's a good thing we were friends back then, because I saw the way she treated people she didn't like. She was one of those chiefs who picked a favorite in her court, and God save you if you weren't it. I watched her nitpick the living hell out of prosecutors she supervised and then share her scathing reviews with all who wanted to hear.
She was a career prosecutor back then. She bragged about how she was "raised on the knee of Johnny Holmes" and she acted as though she was heir to the throne. Don't get me wrong. JoAnne was good at her job. She was smart and she liked to teach. But that mean streak, man. You didn't want to run afoul of that.
When plans changed for JoAnne, she moved to the defense bar. Now, as someone who initially believed himself to be a career prosecutor, I can tell you that the change to the defense attorney can sometimes be a little awkward at first. It wan't for JoAnne. Within the space of one job change, JoAnne's D.A. "family" became known as the vilest group of liars and unethical cheats known to mankind. The razor sharp tongue and opinions that she once used only on confused Misdemeanor Threes suddenly were being applied to the entirety of the Office. She was so angry towards the Harris County District Attorney's Office that her former co-workers honestly didn't know what to make of it.
I remember one very senior chief dryly remarking, "I don't know why y'all are so surprised that JoAnne is just as big of a [expletive deleted, but you can probably guess] for the defense bar as she was for us."
And of course, the Defense Bar just ate that up. They loved JoAnne and her insightful hatred of where she used to work. To date, she's the only person to serve as President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer's Association twice.
In the spirit of full disclosure (and in case you haven't guessed already), JoAnne and I aren't exactly buddies. We got crossways when I was still with the Office after she left. That got magnified greatly during the whole David Temple case reversal. She was blasting me on Twitter from the HCCLA account. It probably had something to do with the fact that one of her law partners at the time was Temple Defense Team Member John Denholm. Those were good times.
Many of us were stunned when JoAnne took a job with your Administration, Kim. After all of the things she had said about prosecutors, cops and victims of crime, we all thought those bridges had been burned, nuked, and spat upon.
But all we really needed to do to understand why JoAnne went back to an Office she hated so much was remember what she truly loves:
JoAnne loves being the person in charge and belittling those beneath her. It's like, her thing.
Her move to Felony Trial Bureau Chief (replacing the far more respected and liked John Jordan) was right up her alley. She's been going to town ever since she took over her spot, too. Calling out prosecutor after prosecutor over long-disposed cases and demanding explanations as if she were addressing a renegade pre-commit. You can call Harris County prosecutors many things, but "soft on crime" has never been one of them.
JoAnne clearly still has the same enthusiasm for belittling those under her as she did when she was a misdemeanor chief. I've heard the way she talks to prosecutors. I've heard about her memos. It is so very very vintage JoAnne.
JoAnne isn't talking to renegade pre-commits, Kim. She's talking to seasoned, trained, ethical, professional, stand up prosecutors. Prosecutors who have somehow managed to remain upbeat and together despite all they've gone through after Hurricane Harvey. I wouldn't talk to my dog the way JoAnne talks to prosecutors.
And I don't really like my dog that much.
In short, Hurricane JoAnne is having a far more detrimental effect on your prosecutors than Harvey ever did. I hope that you'll do something about it.
Many moons ago, when you were working for the D.A.'s Office under Pat Lykos, I ran into you at the elevator bank of the CJC. It was in the middle of all that crazy Grand Jury surveillance-era and you shook your head and said, "We really need to go grab a beer and catch up on what is happening around here." Over the months and years that followed, when you and I saw each other around the building and always noted how we still needed to have that beer.
We never did have it, and I'm guessing you probably wouldn't want to have one with me now. I understand. But all of this is what I would tell you if we were to have that beer today.
You have some of the best prosecutors in the world working for you right now. Treat them with the respect that they have earned and deserve, and they will help you accomplish all of those things that you want and need to do.