Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Tale of Two Firings

As I alluded to at the end of Friday's blog post about The Belated Firing of John Denholm, the former Intake Division Chief was not the only person who found himself on Kim Ogg's chopping block last week.  On Monday, Ogg fired Section Chief Prosecutor Andrew Smith from the Writs Division following a heated argument with Smith that occurred Thursday.

Unlike Denholm, Andrew Smith was a longtime prosecutor from within the Office who actually earned his position as Section Chief through years of hard work, intelligence, and honesty.  Unlike Denholm, he wasn't fired for anything improper or racist.  Unlike Denholm, Kim Ogg didn't spend eight days deliberating over whether or not she was going to fire Andrew.  She decided to fire him on Thursday evening.  The only reason he wasn't fired on Friday was that he had taken a sick day.  When he returned to work on Monday morning, he was promptly given the opportunity to resign or be fired. 

On principle, he chose the latter option.  As a result, the highly respected Section Chief Writs Prosecutor was ushered out of the Harris County District Attorney's Office under escort.

The grounds for his immediate termination?  He had contradicted Kim Ogg on the record in a Writ Hearing.  

The lengthy details are in this article written by the Houston Chronicle's Keri Blakinger, published this evening.  If you are not able to access the story, here is the most condensed version I can muster:

Shortly after taking Office, Ogg had a conversation with Andrew regarding former HCDA prosecutor Gretchen Flader.  Flader had been one of 38 prosecutors that Ogg had fired/not renewed their employment contracts when she took Office in January of 2017.  In this conversation, Ogg mentioned that she had felt compelled to not renew Flader's contract of employment due to Flader's romantic relationship with another prosecutor, Nick Socias (whom Flader subsequently married).  Ogg was terminating Socias' contact because of the notorious "Jenny Scandal" that was an issue during the 2016 D.A. Race. 

NOTE:  Again, for the record, I would like to point out that Nick got a really bad rap on that, but I'm not going to argue that point here.

There were at least three people Ogg terminated on "Bloody Friday" that lost their jobs because of whom they were married to or in a relationship with.  When Ogg told Andrew that Flader was terminated because of her relationship with Socias, that seemed to make sense.

After Flader's termination, she filed for unemployment.  Inexplicably, Ogg decided to fight Flader on the issue and the Office hired attorney Katherine Mize (who coincidentally was a large donor to Ogg's campaign) to litigate the issue.  Mize argued, on behalf of the Office, that Flader had been non-renewed for prosecutorial misconduct -- a direct contradiction of what Ogg had said to Andrew.  

NOTE:  The amount Flader sought in unemployment was roughly $1500.  I'm not sure how much Mize was paid to fight the case.

Fast forward to last year.  Andrew finds himself in the middle of a Writ hearing against prominent Writ Attorney Randy Schaffer in the State of Texas vs. Feanyichi Uvukansi, a case that Flader had prosecuted at trial.  During the hearing, Schaffer asserted on the record that Flader had been fired for prosecutorial misconduct.  Andrew, recalling his earlier conversation with Ogg, responded on the record by saying:
"Ms. Ogg told me the reason she let go of Ms. Flader is because she was sleeping with the man who was dealing with the Jenny case."
It seemed like a rather innocuous comment at the time it was uttered.  He simply recalled an earlier conversation with Ogg where she said something contrary to what Schaffer was claiming on the record.  In the big scheme of the Writ Hearing, the grounds for Flader's termination were tangential at best.

But if you're Kim Ogg and you've hired one of your campaign donors an outside lawyer to fight an unemployment claim for reasons contrary to what you've previously stated, Andrew's on-the-record statement becomes a little more troubling to you.

On Thursday, she called Andrew into her Office and told him that he must have "misremembered" and that he needed to fix the error.  Andrew told her that he recalled the conversation distinctly, noting it was the first time he had a one-on-one meeting with Ogg.  He noted that he still had the meeting on his calendar, so he could even specify the date, as well.    Nevertheless, she insisted he "correct the record" and he refused.

As noted above, Andrew was encouraged to resign on Monday.  When he refused, he was fired.

Take a moment to fully appreciate the courage of Andrew's actions.

He loved his job at the D.A.'s Office.  He loved it a lot.  He had extremely close friends there and he was good at what he did.  All he had to do to keep his job was to say that he made a mistake on the record.

Except, Andrew knew he didn't make a mistake so he refused.  It would have been so easy to have just said "maybe I was wrong" and get to keep his job.

But he knew he wasn't.

He wasn't going to be bullied into lying, no matter how much the angry elected District Attorney was screaming at him.  Not a lot of people would have had the intestinal fortitude to stand and deliver like Andrew did.

So, in front of his colleagues, he was marched out of the Office.

Yesterday Kim Ogg took it upon herself to file a "Correction of Record" in the State of Texas vs. Feanyichi Uvukansi, which said Andrew had made a "false statement."  The "correction of record" makes no mention of why exactly Andrew would have been motivated to make such a statement.

That's probably because Andrew didn't make a false statement.  And if that's the case, it would seem to me that Kim's sworn statement to correct the record might be construed by some as aggravated perjury.

In an amusing side note, Ogg claims in the "Correction of Record" that she only learned of Andrew's statement last week.   Ironically, Randy Schaffer attacked Ogg's credibility for entirely different reasons.  He pointed out that he had emailed Ogg about Andrew's statements in August.  Confronted with this easily provable point, Ogg noted that she would be filing a Motion to Correct the Correction of Record.

For the unofficial record, I don't know of anyone in the CJC that would put Ogg's credibility ahead of Andrew's.

On a personal note, I would like to specifically tell Andrew how much I admire the stand he made against our elected District Attorney.  He lost a lot in the process.

The world could use more people like Andrew Smith.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Carvana Makes It Official

In the midst of all the chaos and scandal going on over at the Harris County District Attorney's Office this week, um, month, um, year, um entire Administration, lately, it is nice to see some positive news coming out the Criminal Justice World.

Former Bureau Chief Carvana Cloud has announced her official candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the Office of the Harris County District Attorney in 2020.


Her official website is https://www.carvana2020.com/.

As I mentioned in a post last week, I think the world of Carvana as a person with honesty, integrity, intelligence, and kindness.  I was a fan of hers when she was a brand new prosecutor, and I have always remained a fan and a friend of hers.  

When Kim Ogg hired Carvana to be in her Administration, I thought it was the best move Ogg could have possibly make, and I was glad to see Carvana promoted to Bureau Chief earlier this year.  As you probably know already, Carvana announced her immediate resignation the week before last.

Over the weekend, her website went up, confirming her candidacy for District Attorney.

Carvana is a tremendous candidate and a force to reckoned with.  She has a large amount of support from within the Harris County District Attorney's Office, which will be interesting.  Given Kim Ogg's level of paranoia and low threshold for accusing people of disloyalty, that's going to be a really horrible challenging place to work until the primary on March 3, 2020.

Somewhere, somehow this all seems familiar.  I think I heard a story once about a District Attorney who was wildly unpopular with her prosecutors.  She treated them with suspicion and paranoia and ruled with an iron fist.   And then a charismatic and better-qualified candidate ran against that District Attorney and beat her in her own primary.   

Seems like there is a moral to this story somewhere.  Something about people who don't learn the lessons of history being doomed to repeat it?   

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Belated Firing of John Denholm

So, after eight days of looking desperately for excuses not to have to fire careful deliberation about John Denholm, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg fired the former Intake Division Chief.  As I'm sure you know, Denholm was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week after rejecting charges on an attempted sexual assault case because the victim on the case might possibly be "an illegal."

Ogg had apparently hoped that the story of Denholm's absolutely inexcusable behavior would blow over with a little time.  Unfortunately for Ogg and Denholm, however, statements from the Houston Police Officer's Union (HPOU), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Texas Congressman (and former Harris County Assistant District Attorney) Gene Wu have made it clear that the story was not going away.  The story broke on television a few nights ago and Keri Blakinger followed up with an article in the Houston Chronicle.  This morning, the Washington Post brought Denholm's stupidity to the level of national attention.

Why it took Ogg eight days to arrive at the seemingly obvious conclusion escapes me.

Ogg is far more well-known for her impetuous decision-making and general hotheaded responses when angered than she is for using cool rationale to respond to problems.  The fact that she waited eight days before firing Denholm is indicative that it was not a decision that she wanted to make.  That's not all that surprising, I suppose, given her history.  Let's not forget how long it took her to decide to recuse the Office from the David Temple case, despite extremely obvious conflicts of interests she had with the case.

But, alas, poor John Denholm's last day did come today.  It is my understanding that Denholm was given the option of resigning, but he refused.  Apparently, in his mind, he did nothing wrong.  He certainly wasn't willing to "take one for the team" and bow out gracefully.  So, Kim did what she had to do and finally sent a minion to take Fredo fishing.



Kim's belated firing of Denholm is not likely to placate anyone with any common sense, and the fact of the matter is that she wouldn't have found herself in this situation if she wasn't such a shameless politician.  Denholm was an unabashed political hire who was put in a position of leadership that he had neither the credentials nor the intellect to handle.

Before I go into Denholm's credentials (or lack thereof), I will, once again, point out that he and I have a personal grudge with each other that I will cover below.

I first met Denholm when he was a lieutenant with the Harris County Sheriff's Office Homicide Division.  He seemed alright to me back then, but I didn't know him particularly well.  His group of Homicide Investigators drank beer with the group of prosecutors that I hung out with back in the early 2000s.

Denholm went to law school and when Kelly Siegler was prepping for trial on David Temple, she asked Denholm to use his law school "expertise" to play defense attorney in a mock trial run-through.  John thought he did a wonderful job, but told Kelly that if he had been the lead homicide investigator on the case when it first happened, he'd have gotten a confession out of him.  Denholm was never short on confidence.

After Temple had been convicted and Denholm had gotten his law license, he started up with his talk about how David Temple was innocent.  One of the people he told about it was none other than Dick DeGuerin, Temple's trial lawyer.  It was a dramatic reversal of opinion coming from Denholm, and many of his former co-workers at HCSO looked at it as Denholm saying whatever he could to ingratiate himself with the famous defense attorney.  One HCSO Homicide Detective went so far as to tell me: "If Denholm dropped dead tomorrow, you couldn't find six guys around here who would carry his casket."

Although Lisa Falkenberg would later portray Denholm (and his cohort, Steve Clappart) as heroes who lost friends for making a stand for Justice in their defense of David Temple, that wasn't the reality.  The reality was that the two of them lost friends because none of those former friends believed that Denholm was doing anything other than trying to advance his defense attorney career with the help of Dick DeGuerin.  The fact that Denholm and Clappart were willing to file capital murder charges on a kid (that not even Temple's own defense team would accuse during the second trial) didn't go over very well with those former friends, either.

I can't help but wonder what Lisa thinks about Denholm in light of this week's events.

A few months after I had blogged about what Clappart and Denholm had tried to do with their secret warrant, I received notice from the State Bar of Texas that John Denholm had filed a grievance against me for trying to "subvert justice" by exposing their plan in my blog.  The State Bar dismissed Denholm's complaint as meritless, of course, but I won't lie -- it was infuriating to know that he had pulled such a pathetic ploy.

When Ogg took Office and hired Denholm as a Division Chief, I was shocked.  I knew that he was a campaign donor, but he had only been a lawyer for about eight years.  Eight pretty undistinguished years.   He had the credentials to maybe start as a junior Felony Two, at best.  The idea of making him a Division Chief was absurd.

Yet, thanks to political patronage, there he was.

Unsurprisingly, Denholm did about as well as one would expect in the Intake Division slot.  He considered himself to be an all-knowing combination of ex-cop and super prosecutor.  Multiple officers claimed he was condescending and rude when they called in for charges. He seemed to enjoy rejecting charges that didn't live up to his high standards.  Those charges that he did take were often baffling.  His reputation with the Defense Bar and his fellow prosecutors ultimately coined the term "Denholm Special" for describing charges that were inexplicable.

For those of us who know John Denholm, learning that he had refused charges on somebody because the victim "might be illegal" didn't really come as too much of a surprise.  Stupid is as stupid does, after all.  The only thing truly shocking about this was Kim Ogg's utter lack of appropriate reaction to Denholm's actions.

Upon learning of Denholm's actions, what Kim should have done was suspend him with pay pending an investigation. 

But, that's not what she did.  What she did was immediately announce that he had been promoted to a coveted spot in Special Crimes reassigned.  Make no mistake about this fact:  any attempts that Kim Ogg makes to pretend she was "investigating" Denholm for the past eight days are utter crap highly suspect.  They knew everything that had transpired immediately.  Another prosecutor had already filed the charges that Denholm had so flippantly rejected.  The decision to move him had already been made.

If it hadn't been for HPOU President Joe Gamaldi's press statement and demand that Denholm be fired, it is reasonable to believe that Kim thought the issue had been handled.  She had removed Denholm from Intake and she probably thought that would alleviate the problem.


The fact that she waited for eight days and a Washington Post article before firing him clearly illustrates that her decision was based more on politics than on outrage over what Denholm had done.  Kim has fired many other people for far less and she has done so far more quickly.  Hell, she's fired other people for less and more quickly today, according to some information I received this evening.

We'll talk more about that later.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Implosion of Kim Ogg

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is having a rough year.

It started back in February when she incurred the wrath of the Texas Criminal Justice Commission by having the audacity to ask for funding for more prosecutors at the Office.  As it turns out, Ogg's progressive supporters don't want money spent on more prosecutors, because they believe it only leads to more prosecuting.  They preferred that any extra money received by the D.A.'s Office be spent on rehabilitative programs instead.  Ogg defended her request by pointing out that overworked prosecutors were no gift to Justice either, and she repeated her request several more times throughout the year.

As it turns out, she was using some seriously fuzzy math when making her non-progressive plea for prosecutors.  In June, Houston Chronicle reporter Keri Blakinger called out Ogg for using misleading stats to inflate the number of cases each individual prosecutor supposedly carried.  So, not only did Ogg violate the progressive spirit in asking for more prosecutors, she kinda sorta lied to the Commissioners' Court in doing so.  Oops.

Even though things were rough with her Progressive base, Ogg could at least rely on some stability in her upper Administration, right?  Not quite.  In April, Blakinger wrote an article noting that 140 prosecutors had left the Office since Ogg took over the reins.  Ogg and her supporters dismissed this as "normal" and blamed the departures on Hurricane Harvey and prosecutors not willing to embrace her awesome progressiveness.  The following month, Ogg fired her own 1st Assistant, Tom Berg.

The firing of Berg was probably one of the most telling moments of the Ogg Administration.  As I noted in this post, Berg was (and now is again) a highly respected defense attorney and military veteran.  He was handpicked by Kim Ogg when she became District Attorney and he lent credibility to her tenure.  Although all of the details have never been clearly established, Ogg fired Berg because he disagreed with her.  In doing so, she clearly demonstrated that advice from a respected colleague did not stand a chance in the face of Ogg's ego.

By the end of the summer, Ogg had two of her former employees, Audia Jones and Lori DeAngelo, announcing that they would run against their former boss for D.A. in 2020.

With Ogg's support waning with her progressive base, Ogg seemed to shamelessly shift into a new "tough on crime" campaign.

On October 11th, Ogg posted a photograph on her Twitter account that showed her walking with Cassidy Stay, the surviving victim of a rampage that left Stay's entire family dead.

In this clearly staged photo, Ogg takes implied credit for the jury delivering the death penalty to Ronald Haskell for the murders. In addition to this sending a decidedly unprogressive message about Ogg's willingness to seek death on some cases, it was also insanely disingenuous.  Ogg had absolutely nothing to do with Haskell's trial.  Her post neglected to mention that prosecutors Samantha Knecht, Lauren Bard, and Kaylynn Williford actually tried the case.  

Personally, I find this egregious on so many levels.  First of all, rolling out the victim of a horrific crime for your own personal photo shoot is mortifying.  I mean, beyond words mortifying.  The fact that Ogg did it on a case she didn't have anything to do with is a level of shamelessness that I don't know that I've ever encountered before.  The true prosecutors didn't publish any photos with Cassidy.  They just did their jobs.  

Ogg wouldn't understand that.  She's not a prosecutor.  She's a politician.

Moving on . . .

In October, Ogg napalmed the last bridge between her and her progressive base with an abrupt about-face on her feelings towards the notorious "Bail Bond Settlement."  Asserting herself into a lawsuit settlement (to which she was not a party), Ogg invited "about 100 police chiefs" to come to court with her and oppose the settlement.  My, how far we have traveled since the days when we were cutting off HPD's access to criminal databases!  

I just have this visual image of how this news was received at Progressive Prosecution headquarters:  Kim is doing what?!?!  And she invited who?!?!

If Ogg was hoping that the month of November would be better for her, she was sadly mistaken.  Late last week, Bureau Chief Carvana Cloud announced her resignation from the District Attorney's Office, effective immediately.   The ramifications of this development cannot be overstated.

To begin with, Cloud is immensely popular with both prosecutors and the defense bar.  She is highly regarded as smart, honest, and kind.  She was initially hired as a prosecutor during the Rosenthal Administration and rose quickly through the ranks.  She supported 2008 Democratic candidate Clarence Bradford for D.A. and was retaliated against when Pat Lykos prevailed in the election.  She left the Office in July of 2009.

Cloud was recruited to return to the Office by Kim Ogg in 2016 as the head of the Family Criminal Law Division -- a move that I was very excited to learn about.  Earlier this year, she was promoted to Bureau Chief by Ogg.  Given her history with Ogg, her abrupt departure last week speaks volumes.  Although she has yet to confirm anything officially, it is all but certain that she plans to challenge Ogg in the Democratic primary in March.

Ogg should be afraid.  Very afraid.  Cloud is charismatic, experienced, and respected.  Unlike Ogg, she is not at all controversial.  She's a stellar candidate.

And, as if all of that weren't enough to make Kim Ogg want to just hibernate until 2020, we have this late-breaking news.  Today, the Houston Police Officer's Union issued a statement blasting the Harris County District Attorney's Office for refusing attempted sexual assault charges at intake.  It reads, in part:
Our officer contacted Assistant District Attorney John Denholm and relayed the details of the attempted sexual assault, a 3rd degree felony.  Denholm asked the officer whether the complainant was "illegal."  The officer advised that he did not ask and did not think it was relevant.  Denholm then advised the officer that the officer should know if the complainant is illegal or not and futher inquired whether the complainant had a driver's license.  The officer advised Denholm that the complainant had a "Mexican Consulate ID card."  Denholm then stated that he would not touch that case since the complainant is "illegal" and declined any charges.
Now, anyone who reads this blog knows of my opinion that John Denholm has been an unethical idiot and suck up.  He once filed a grievance with the State Bar because I did a negative blog post about the ludicrous warrant that he and (now Chief Investigator) Steve Clappart drafted in their defense of David Temple.  That being said, I knew that Denholm was stupid when he tried to draft a Capital Murder warrant against an innocent kid, but I never knew he would be so dumb as to do something like deny charges on someone because they were potentially in the country illegally.

Some might call Denholm's response somewhat . . . insanely racist?

Inexplicably, rather than firing Denholm, the Ogg Administration just chose to "reassign" him.  They moved him from the Intake Division to the Gangs Unit which I believe still falls under the umbrella of Special Crimes.  Maybe things have changed drastically since I left the Office in 2008, but when I was there, Intake was a punishment (or starter) position and Special Crimes was a reward position for talented and senior prosecutors.

So, the Ogg Administration more or less just rewarded a numbskull prosecutor who was rejecting charges at Intake based on the status of the victim?   In what world does that make any sense?

Kim Ogg's repeated implosions make the scandals that rocked the Lykos Administration seem tame by comparison. It will be interesting to see if Ogg makes any attempt to start making things right, or if she will just continue to double down on disaster.  If things continue the way they have been going, Ogg seems destined to suffer the same fate that Lykos did in her own primary back in 2012.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Voice-To-Texting With Clients

Thanks to the miracle of Siri and voice-to-text technology, a road trip to Brazos County can usually provide an opportunity to catch up on returning some phone calls and text messages.

Unless your voice-to-text technology is as bad as the one I use.

ME:  I have already talked to my investigator about your case.  He will be calling you shortly.  His name is Roy Underwood.

SIRI:  Texting [CLIENT]: "I have already talked to my investigator about your cats.  He will be calling you shorty.  His name is Roy Underwood." Ready to send?

ME:  No!  Change message.

SIRI:  Okay.

ME:  I have already talked to my investigator about your CASE.  He will be calling you SOON.  His name is Roy Underwood.

SIRI:  Texting [CLIENT]: "I have already talked to my investigator about your case.  He will be calling you too.  His name is boy underwear."  Ready to send?

ME:  No!  Change message.

SIRI:  Okay.

ME:  "I have already talked to my investigator about your CASE.  He will be calling you SOON.  His name is ROY UnderWOOD."

SIRI:  Texting [CLIENT]: "I have all ready talk to my investigator about your case. He will be calling you soon.  His name is Roy Underwood."  Ready to send?

ME:  Close enough.