Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Services and Remembrances for Jordan Lewis

The family and friends of Jordan Lewis have asked me to share the planned events for our friend's services and remembrances and to share their thanks for the outpouring of sympathy during this very sad time.  

Services will be tomorrow, Thursday, April 15th at 1:00 p.m. at Congregation Emanu El in Houston.

Due to Covid restrictions, there are limits to the number of people who can attend Jordan's funeral.  In-person attendees are limited to family and close friends who have been specifically invited by the family.

Jordan's family does want all of his friends to be included, however, and they have made arrangements for the services to be live-streamed.  You can find the link by clicking here.  

Additionally, there is reserved space at Kirby Ice House (3333 Eastside, Houston, TX 77098) at 1:00 p.m., where the funeral services will also be live-streamed.  Drinks and a food truck will be available and masks will be required to attend.  

Services will be ending at approximately 1:45 p.m., at which time Jordan's family will be coming to Kirby Ice House to meet with friends who were unable to attend in person.  They are looking forward to meeting with everyone there and hearing any and all stories you can share about our friend and colleague.

Plans for a scholarship that honors Jordan's legacy of service and devotion to the practice of Criminal Defense are underway.  The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, you please consider donating to that scholarship once it has become established.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Jordan Lewis

 Our Criminal Justice World was absolutely rocked today to learn of the sudden and unexpected passing of our friend and colleague, Jordan Lewis, at the age of 40.

I honestly don't even know where to begin with what I'm writing here because it seems so surreal to think that he's gone.  

He was my friend, although many knew him far better than I did.  He became a defense attorney in 2008 which was around the time I was wrapping up my career as a prosecutor, so I never dealt with him in an adversarial situation. I'm pretty sure that we first met around that time when we were both single and hanging out at Char Bar.  

Back in those days, the younger lawyers came to hang out and hear war stories from the older lawyers.  He was part of that group.  He was an extremely nice guy.  Fun to hang out with.  He was very earnest about his approach to defending clients.  He was very zealous with his ideals, but he wasn't naive about the way the System treated them.  He was very obviously the attorney who did his homework and wanted to work hard to be the best at what he did.

In the next couple of years, I remarried and had a second child, so I didn't hang out with the old guard at the Char Bar anymore.  I know Jordan got married and had two children, as well.  I didn't see him out and about socially anymore, but I'd see him at the CJC regularly and we'd always stop and talk for a minute.  

Jordan was always on the move in the profession.  As I mentioned, he did his homework and he worked hard.  He zeroed in on the laws and the procedures governing Driving While Intoxication offenses.  He challenged accepted protocols and he made a name for himself.  It seemed that in the blink of an eye, the rookie defense attorney that I met at Char was suddenly a highly respected authority in his field.  

It would have been very easy for him to keep that knowledge to himself as a very profitable source of revenue, but it was important to Jordan to pay forward what he had learned.  He was well known for being a constant resource for attorneys that had questions about anything -- from DWI to financial planning.  He was somebody who was there to help others find their way in a tricky business that he had mastered.  He gave speeches.  He answered phone calls.  He showed up in court when people needed help.

He was, without question, one of the Good Guys.

Facebook and the HCCLA Listserve have been filled today with heartbroken tributes to a good man who gave so much of himself to so many other people.  Our hearts are heavy with grief for a young father and husband with so much professional talent.  He was well-known and very loved by his CJC family and we are devastated for what his family is going through.

You will be missed, Jordan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Kirby Taylor

The Harris County Criminal Justice world was heartbroken to learn of the unexpected passing of longtime defense attorney Kirby Taylor this week.  

Most of us have known Kirby since starting our careers in the CJC world.  I remember meeting him as a baby prosecutor back in 1999.  To use the term "universally beloved" would be a very appropriate way to describe this dear, sweet man.  He was kind and friendly to all and everyone that I know found him to be one of the most endearing people at the courthouse.

He was a lawyer who handled the most serious of cases with compassion coupled with common sense.  He fought hard for his clients with credibility and honesty that worked well for him in his practice.

If you ever met Kirby, you doubtlessly knew of his trademark "crazy socks" that became his calling card.  Regardless of whether he was wearing a three-piece suit or casual clothes, he was guaranteed to be wearing socks that could potentially zap your retinas.  He also carried with him the largest wallet I've ever seen in my entire life.  It wasn't filled with money (he once showed me) but with receipts, notes, cards, and other things.  It resembled a large rock and was held together with rubber bands.

Several years ago, he and his son were the victims of a horrific act of violence that left Kirby both physically and emotionally scarred for life.  If there was anything positive that came from that tragedy, it was the opportunity for our CJC community to let Kirby know how much we all loved him and hurt for him.  He came back from that tragedy and returned to the courthouse.  He was the same sweet man that he had always been, but there was a sadness with him that never left.

He still smiled and laughed that distinctive laugh of his, but it was different.  It was impossible to see him without feeling somewhat emotional about what he had suffered through.

It goes without saying that all of us will miss Kirby Taylor.  He was definitely a giant (both physically and metaphorically) of the CJC.  I'll miss his laugh and his smile, but most of all, I will miss the kindness that he showed to everyone he met on a daily basis.

It has been suggested to me that maybe we wear our craziest socks in honor of Kirby.  So, this Friday, wear them if you got them.  Kirby would have gotten a good laugh at that.  

Rest in Peace, Old Friend.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Perils of Zooming

 Since I felt it was appropriate to make my critiques and observations about others' Zoom behavior in this post last May, I felt it would only be fair to tell on myself for something that happened this morning . . . 

If you are reading this blog and don't know me personally, then you may or may not have picked up on the fact that I like to mess with people.  99% of the time, the people that I harass or tease are my friends and it is all good-natured.  I was known for pulling practical jokes when I was a prosecutor and I still like to do them when the opportunity presents itself.

Because of this, I am keenly aware of the fact that I have a very large target on my back for retaliation at any given moment.  It's kind of like surfing on a giant wave, and knowing that you are eventually going to wipe out at some point.  I strive on a daily basis to avoid giving some of my more frequent targets any ammunition to get back at me.  Some days, I'm more successful than others.  

As per usual, for New Year's this year, I decided to try to lose some weight and get into something that could loosely be described as being in shape.  I keep hearing about the "Dad Bod," and have decided that I would be lucky to get to that point with some effort.  I'm pushing 50 years old, so I'm trying to manage my expectations.

I bought a Peloton last year and I've got some free weights in the playroom/home office.  I quit drinking beer at the house and I'm trying to lay off the desserts.  I made it through the first month of the year okay.  None of it is very pretty to watch, and I will not be joining the ranks of people posting "gym photos" to document their exercise progress.  

This morning, I'm working from home with a couple of courts that I need to appear in via Zoom.  My first stop was in the 182nd, where I had a brief conference with Judge Lacayo and the prosecutors before resetting the case.  I texted the prosecutor I was working with for my next case of the day and she said that she needed about five minutes before logging on in the next court.

So, I decided to do a couple of reps with the free weights.  

To be clear, this is not a pretty picture.  The weight isn't particularly much.  My form is probably terrible.  I'm overweight.  The overall picture is not good.  

But dammit, I'm working on it.

I go hit my weights and struggle through a quick set before docket.  I then set the weights down and start to go back my computer . . .

. . . and that's when I see the little green light that indicates my computer's video was on.

My heart rate goes up.  I wasn't sweating before, but I'm starting to now.  

I had opened up the District Clerk's website to look up a reset date for another client, but that wouldn't have slowed down the camera from working.

I was faced with the terrifying idea that I had not completely logged out of the 182nd Zoom Courtroom and just performed my very sad efforts at exercising in front of Judge Lacayo and staff, Casey Little, Missy Wheeler, and all the defendants logged in for courts this morning.

Y'all, I thought I was going to throw up.  Seriously.  I thought my day of reckoning for all of the practical jokes and smart ass comments had finally come to pass.

I rushed back to my computer -- for some reason, moving to the side in an attempt to be off-camera as if the damage wasn't already done -- and closed the clerk's website.  

I was expecting to see the entirety of the 182nd courtroom staring back at me.

But, fortunately, I live to fight my practical joke war with humanity for another day.  I had apparently opened Facetime on my computer at some point, but mercifully, had not actually called somebody.  My ugly exercise routine had remained private.

I was fully prepared to fake my death and move to another country, otherwise.  

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Civil-Prosecutorial Alliance

Although it has been almost twenty years, I still vividly remember the first intoxication manslaughter case that I handled as a prosecutor.

Like most cases of that nature, it was heartbreaking.  More heartbreaking than most, actually.  The victim was a young student at Rice University.  She and three of her friends had gone to her parents' house to eat dinner before going to get ice cream at Amy's Ice Cream at Shepherd & Highway 59.  When they were finished with their dessert, they headed back towards their dorm on campus.  It couldn't have been a more innocent evening for a group of college students.

Traveling down Bissonnet at over 70 miles per hour was the highly intoxicated defendant in a large-sized pick-up truck.  He'd been drinking all day and had reached the point where he had no inhibitions about how recklessly he drove.  As he approached the intersection with Durham, there was a red light, and a car stopped in the lane ahead of him.  Not to be slowed down, he swerved around the stopped vehicle, moving into the turn lane so that he could just keep on speeding down Bissonnet.  

The car full of Rice students proceeded into the intersection because they had the green light.  The defendant's truck t-boned their small car at well over 70 miles per hour.  The students' car was flung like a toy across a neighboring parking lot, coming to rest against the concrete steps leading into a small bookstore.  The young lady driving, who only an hour earlier had told her parents that she was going for ice cream before going back to the dorm as she said goodbye to them for the last time, was killed instantly.  The other three passengers were badly injured but ultimately survived.

While the case was pending trial, I got to know her parents. They were wonderful people.  Their daughter was their only child and they were understandably and irreparably devasted by her loss.  

At least one of the surviving passengers initiated a civil lawsuit against the Defendant.  One day, the civil attorney for the survivor showed up at the Office unannounced and subsequently told me that she was there to review my evidence in the case.

And although my heart and spirit were definitely aligned with her motivations, I had to tell her no.

And it was a very firm "No."

It wasn't just the fact that sharing evidence with a civil lawyer was against office policy at the time (although it was).  There was just something unseemly about it.  No matter how noble the civil lawyer's motivations were or how noble mine were, one did not need to be sullied by the other.  My goal was to put the man who had killed one innocent girl and injured three others in prison.  It wasn't to seek money from him, regardless of how much he should be paying out for the lives he destroyed.

Ultimately, a jury sentenced him to twelve years in prison.  He served his time.  I have no idea what became of the civil suit.  I wasn't supposed to know.  The purpose of my role as an Assistant District Attorney was different and it wasn't affected by monetary motivations.

I'm reminded of that case because of the apparent alliance that has developed between Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and private civil attorney Michael Doyle over the pendency of charges stemming from the infamous botched Harding Street raid that led to the deaths of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle.

For those of you following along at home, Michael Doyle is a prominent Houston civil attorney, and apparently a supporter and/or friend of Kim Ogg.  I have no idea what their initial tie to each other was.  Perhaps it stems from Ogg's days as a civil lawyer with her father, where some of her "ethics" decisions were every bit as questionable as they are now.  

As I wrote in my previous post on the ill-fated Arkema case, when the District Attorney's Office bit off more than it could chew by filing a huge environmental case against a chemical company, it quickly became apparent they needed some serious help.  Like a knight in shining armor, Michael Doyle suddenly and inexplicably stepped in to try it pro bono.   For those of you who aren't familiar with the business side of running a law firm and what his involvement entailed, suffice it to say that he donated hundreds of thousands (if not more) dollars worth of his (and his firm's) time and effort into trying a case for free.

That's a huge gift to us taxpaying citizens of Harris County, in theory, but it really begs the question as to "why on earth would he do something like that?"  Spending that much time and effort on being a special prosecutor on a case as complex (and yet still weak) as Arkema is what could be called a "firm killer."  A lawyer could potentially drive his firm into bankruptcy while working on such a large pro bono case.  I honestly don't know the answer to this question, but what's in it for Doyle?  If his volunteerism was really so magnanimous, Harris County should be honoring him with a parade or something -- despite how poorly the trial ultimately turned out for him and Ogg.

While the Arkema case was still pending, the disastrous raid on Harding Street occurred.  Within days of the raid, a prominent civil attorney suddenly appeared like a knight in shining armor to handle the wrongful death civil cases against those responsible for the debacle.  Coincidentally (or maybe not), that attorney was Michael Doyle.

I look at the facts surrounding the deaths of Tuttle and Nicholas as akin to the intoxication manslaughter case I tried.  It is heartbreaking.  It is not a case that lends itself to inspiring people to want to look at "both sides of the story."  Something terrible happened -- a terrible injustice -- and the vast majority of those who know about the case will more than likely feel impassioned that accountability should be swift and harsh.  While the intoxication manslaughter case could be the poster child for harsh punishment against drunk driving, the Harding Street case could be the poster child for harsh punishment against police abuses.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office has been on a charging spree for all things Houston Police Department in the wake of the Harding Street Raid.  It goes past the events of that day two years ago.  Deep dives have been made into payroll irregularities and any other misdeeds possibly attributed to HPD Narcotics.  Again, there is nothing wrong with looking into abuses of power, but one has to wonder what the driving factor truly is.  From a legal standpoint, it seems that Ogg's indictments are designed to show that Harding Street was merely an example of a systemic problem that was known about and condoned by the City of Houston Police Department.  That sure could be helpful in a civil suit against the City of Houston as illustrating that the City as a whole should be liable for what happened.  It would serve as strong evidence that Harding Street was the fault of more people than just one rogue cop.

To be clear, my issue here is not that Kim Ogg is aggressively investigating and/or prosecuting the officers involved in the Harding Street raid.  Of course, she should do that and would be grossly remiss if she did not.  I also don't fault Michael Doyle for aggressively pursuing a civil suit against those same officers.  He should absolutely do so on behalf of his clients.  However, the scope, as well as the timing of many of Ogg's charges have given a very strong appearance that they are designed to assist (and work in conjunction with) Doyle's lawsuits.

In my opinion, the civil cases and the State's prosecutions should function as two parallel lines that never cross.  To cross those lines creates an appearance of impropriety that has no reason to exist and it damages the strength of those cases.  It also creates a very slippery slope for the future.

As agents of the State of Texas, prosecutors with a District Attorney's Office have significantly more power than a civil lawyer.  They have access to databases that only law enforcement is entitled to.  They can compel testimony in Grand Juries.  They can expedite personnel records from law enforcement officers, hospitals, and a whole host of other entities with an ease that no civil attorney would experience.  They can subpoena things as part of an investigation prior to a case being filed, even if it is just exploratory.

If Doyle has a direct pipeline of discovery coming from the investigations that Ogg has come up with, he's doing pretty well for himself and his clients.  That's what the attorney on my case wanted from me so many years ago, and that was something that I wasn't going to give.  I could cheer the attorney on and root for a bazillion dollar verdict for the victims, but I could not offer my assistance.  That was a parallel line that I would not and could not cross.

The most powerful tool that a prosecutor has that a civil attorney does not, however, is the ability to charge someone with a crime.  I don't practice civil law so I can't speak to all of the advantages of having someone you are suing charged with a crime, but here are some that seem self-evident.  In addition to all of those discovery tools available mentioned above, a criminal case can often get to trial quite a bit faster than a civil case in most (non-pandemic era) instances.  There can also be Grand Jury testimony, the leverage of incarceration, and just the general stigma of being charged with a crime.  

Last week, several people noted that the statute of limitation to file lawsuits related to the Harding Street raid would run this week.  As a matter of fact, today is the two year anniversary of the shooting.  Some really smart people believed that District Attorney Ogg would fire off another round of indictments just under the wire to help bolster Doyle's lawsuit. (NOTE:  Kim Ogg has tweeted something on January 23rd about holding people accountable for Harding Street.  She apparently deleted it after I responded with this tweet.  I did not realize she had deleted it until I was writing this post.)

Sure enough, Ogg issued a round of new indictments on January 25th and like clockwork, Doyle filed lawsuits -- just under the wire before the statute of limitations ran.  For good measure, Ogg also dissolved her own Major Narcotics Unit within the D.A.'s Office.  What amazing timing!

As I acknowledged above, given the heartbreaking and extreme circumstances of Harding Street, I realize that the general response to the Doyle/Ogg relationship may be an overwhelming "so what?"  The unseemly actions of this particular Civil-Prosecutorial Alliance pale in comparision to the misdeeds of HPD Narcotics.  I can understand that reaction.  I really can.  

But in the instance of the Harding Street Raid, it is all so uneccesary.  The facts of that day are dark, disturbing, and perfectly capable of standing on their own merits in both the civil and criminal arenas.  The parallel lines of those jurisdictions did not need to be crossed.  In creating this alliance, Ogg has opened the door to attacks that many of her prosecutions related to the case are "politically motivated."  I can assure you that is what the defense attorneys for all of the officers involved in these prosecutions are loudly pointing out to the Courts.

And as I mentioned before, it is such a slippery slope to begin down.  

What if the next case isn't as egregious as Harding Street?  What if the District Attorney's Office decides to do a favor for a civil lawyer on a less compelling case?  What if the next case isn't quite so clear cut?  What if it's a neighbor dispute where the right civil attorney has the ear of the elected D.A. and can maybe get some charges filed?  What if it's a fatal traffic accident that would be stronger with some manslaughter charges?  What if you can get theft charges in a civil dispute?

It is a dangerous pathway to follow.