Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Phenomenally Bad Year

Good-bye and good riddance to the Year 2008.

This year has been so damn bad, that I came to Florida just to get the year over with an hour earlier.

I can remember like it was yesterday when I came into the Office on December 27, 2007 and another prosecutor pointed out to me the online article on Chron.com about Chuck Rosenthal's e-mail scandal, and I felt a feeling of dread over what the New Year would bring. My cousin was in town, visiting from Baltimore, and I tried to explain to him the significance of what was happening.


Something inside of me knew that I had a year left at the D.A.'s Office, if that long.

Sadly, my worst fears on that day were not only met, but exceeded.


The first part of the year was filled with embarrassment after embarrassment as the e-mail scandal went from bad to worse. At one point, as prosecutors, we were even having to ask potential jurors how bad the E-Mail Scandal had affected them and whether or not they could still be fair to the D.A.'s Office. It was terrible.


The Republican primary battle was hard fought and exhausting, and ultimately, our side didn't prevail. The damn run-off system bit the Siegler Campaign in the butt. (NOTE: I still think its interesting that if you add the total number of votes from the General Primary Election and the Runoff Election, Kelly Siegler had about 5,000 more votes than Lykos did.)

I lost more friends to untimely deaths in 2008 than I had in the five years preceding added together. So many of them came from our CJC Family. From Melissa Harper to Dick Wheelan to Sharon Levine, it seems that this year never gave any of us the chance to finish mourning before we had to start all over again.

In November, the people of Harris County elected their Lesser of Two Evils for District Attorney, but I guess the events of December showed us all that the "Lesser of Two Evils" is still Evil. I ultimately was fired, and sadly, I'm feeling like one of the lucky ones when compared to those that will be staying.

Yep, this year was without a doubt the Worst of my Entire Life. At some point, it got to be comical over how much could go wrong in just 365 days.

My cousin from Baltimore came back to visit this Christmas. He asked me if things had turned out as badly as I thought they would back on December 27, 2007.

I shook my head as I thought about all that had happened since I had seen him last. It seemed like a lifetime worth of tragedies.

"It was actually a lot worse than I had imagined," I told him.

But as in all things tragic, none of it ended up being a complete knock-out blow.

In 2008, time and again, we all got knocked to the canvass.

And time and again, we all got back up and kept on fighting. That's what we do -- what we all do.

This round of fighting will come to a merciful end tonight at midnight, and if you are reading this post, it means you went the distance. You may be bruised, battered, and spitting blood, but you survived it like Warriors do.

Good-bye 2008. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Here's to hoping for a much better 2009 for all of us.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Case You Missed It . . .

Phil Archer did a piece on the Ceremony Honoring the Prosecutors and Investigators that Pat Lykos fired for completely political reasons.

Once again, I nearly did a spit take as Lykos said the firings weren't political.

I guess if she keeps lying to herself and the camera, maybe she thinks somebody will believe it eventually.

The Value of a Prosecutor's Discretion

Of all the decisions that have been made thus far by the Lykos/Leitner Administration, probably the only one that I've truly understood thus far was the decision not to renew my contract to work for her. I mean, she and I are very much equal in our mutual dislike of each other, and I certainly wouldn't have had her working for me had the shoe been on the other foot. So, for those who feel that I've been "whining" on the blog about her decisions regarding the Office, please know that it isn't my departure from the Office that I'm griping about.

It's the departure of morale and, by extension, prosecutorial discretion that I mourn.

I'm sure that some of you are now thinking "why do you care if the prosecutor's have good morale or not? You're a defense attorney now."

It's a valid question, and it has two answers:

#1 - that Office is still staffed by excellent prosecutors, investigators, and secretaries that I worked with and I still care very much about them as my friends; and (more importantly)

#2 - the loss of prosecutorial discretion is going to affect every aspect of criminal cases and how they are handled from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012.

Say what you want to about Chuck Rosenthal (and God knows we all have), but one thing you can give him credit for was that he let the prosecutors be prosecutors. He didn't micro-manage or second guess the decisions of his staff on a day-to-day basis. He also wasn't scared to stand by unpopular decisions if he felt that they were the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, there were other things wrong with Chuck that led to his downfall, and the downfall of the Office, as a whole. But under his reign, prosecutors didn't have to sweat over the safety of their jobs if they dared to displease him. I should know. I was never one of his favorites.
But this article isn't about the past. It's about the future.

The future under Lykos is bleak. Her firings, demotions, and transfers of prosecutors who were less than enthusiastic about her campaign have sent out a clear message about what her Administration stands for.

That message is that when it comes to job security, one's performance or devotion to the job comes in a distant second to loyalty to Lykos, herself.

Her firings of the secretaries three days before Christmas also show that she's got no qualms about what she's doing to people or their families. In short, she's already fostered an atmosphere of Fear in the Office, and she hasn't even taken the reins yet.

My friend, Mark Bennett and Miami Defense Attorney and blogger Brian Tannebaum have suggested some civil disobedience to Lykos by not showing up at her mandatory Coronation on Thursday. I doubt that the prosecutor who knows what's good for him will fail to attend, however. There would, without a doubt, be retaliation on her part.

So, what does that have to do with a Prosecutor's Discretion?

A Prosecutor's Discretion gives them the ability to do what they feel is right:
-If a case can't be proven, they can rely on their own training and experience to dismiss it.
-If a Defendant is charged with a crime and the punishment range is disproportionate to what a fair resolution is, they can make a reduction.
-If they have the opportunity to show compassion or just make the right call, in general, they have the power to do so.
-They can also try cases the way they want to. (NOTE: Given the fact that even the Misdemeanor Baby Prosecutors who passed the Bar Exam in November will have more prosecutorial trial experience than Lykos does, that's probably a good thing.)

But under the atmosphere that Lykos has fostered, will prosecutors still be so willing to exercise their discretion and feel like their boss will have their backs even if she disagrees with them? Will public perception matter more to her than doing the right thing?

Or will they risk being unceremoniously canned the second they do something she would not approve of? If so, I can guarantee you that Prosecutorial Discretion just went out the window.

What will be the tangible effects the Judges, the Defense Bar, and everyone else involved will have to suffer through?

One word: Backlog.

When prosecutors won't be free to move within the guidelines for a just result, the only remedy that the Defense will have is to set cases for trial.

Lots and lots of cases set for trial.

Trials take time, and most courts can't try more than two of them (if that many) in a week. A backlog means that cases will take lengthy amounts of time to even get a trial setting, and we all know the old saying about Justice delayed being Justice denied . . .

Mark Bennett said that the Lykos Administration was already appealing to the Anarchist in him. I have a strange feeling that he ain't seen nothing yet.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Today's Chronicle Article

Brian Rogers has an article in today's Chronicle detailing the fact that acting District Attorney Ken Magidson is honoring those Assistant District Attorneys who are not being kept on by the Pat Lykos Administration.

It is a nice gesture by Mr. Magidson and recognizes my fellow ADAs who dedicated their careers to helping the victims of crime in Harris County.

It does mention my termination due to the writing of this blog and my criticisms of the new Lykos/Leitner Administration. So far, my favorite comment from one of the readers of the article is "God help the person who dared to criticized the head of the new Gestapo, I'm surprised he's not already been arrested on some trumped up charges and died a mysterious death in the Harris County Jail. "

Although that gave me a pretty good laugh, let me assure you that I'm alive and well. I'm working hard at getting up and running in my new practice. I've been working on getting my new website up and running (it's www.murraynewman.com, if you are looking. It should be up on the web in the next 24 hours or so) , and I look forward to a new start in 2009.

As for those of you who were honored, it was an absolute honor to work with all of you. I thank you for all you taught me over the years and for the Public Service you provided to Harris County. I look forward to working with all of you in the future.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everybody!

I hope that everybody has an excellent Christmas today and gets to celebrate and enjoy their families.

Now stop thinking about the CJC and reading this blog for the day and go play with your kids!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I'm Done

Well, I am now officially no longer an Assistant District Attorney.

As I mentioned in my goodbye e-mail to the Office, I came to Houston to work here on August 16, 1999, and I've always considered it one of the best days of my life. I hardly knew a soul at the D.A.'s Office, but over the years the people I worked with grew into my family. We've stood by each others' sides through the good times, the great times, the bad times, and the tragic times.

My Dad was a Marine Corps Officer in Vietnam, and he kept re-enlisting (to the point that my grandmother said she felt guilty about praying for someone who was so stupid). The reason he kept re-enlisting, he told me wasn't because he particularly enjoyed being in Vietnam and having people shoot at him, but because he felt a kinship and camaraderie with the people he served with.

On a much smaller scale, I have always felt the same way about the people I worked with at the Office. It's an Office I'm proud to have been a part of, and despite the criticisms it has always taken, I believe it to be one of the best District Attorney's Offices in the world. The prosecutors that I worked with were some of the most talented trial attorneys in the State and the Nation. I was very privileged to work alongside them. If I were to name them all, this post would be about twenty pages long.

I knew that today was going to be my last day. I planned on leaving at noon and going ahead and getting a jump on traffic as I headed home for the holidays.

It didn't go exactly as planned. At eight thirty this morning, Mr. Magidson called me into his Office and told me I was fired effective at noon. He was upset about the blog post yesterday on the Twelve Days of Lykos. He said it reflected badly on the Office and he couldn't tolerate that. Out of respect for Mr. Magidson and the Office itself, I have taken that post down.

I started this blog back in February to defend against the constant barrage of attacks the Office was getting from Lloyd Kelley, Pat Lykos, and the media. Nobody wanted to write anything on behalf of the Office for anything positive, and I figured it would be my small contribution to be one small voice shouting back at all the criticisms that so many good prosecutors didn't deserve.
I didn't think anybody would ever really read it, but it made me feel better to write it.

My intent was to stand up for this Office when nobody else would publicly do so.

I think in the end that it has been productive, and I hope that those people that read it from the outside looking in fully appreciate the good, hardworking, most importantly, human, faces that do the job every day.

It was never my intent to disparage the Office. I have nothing but the utmost love and respect for the people that I worked with. Did I come out swinging too hard against Lykos and Leitner? Perhaps. But I never targeted the Office itself.

I do hope that those who end up working under the new administration will be treated with the respect that they have earned during their years of service, and that Pat Lykos fully realizes the gold mine of talent that she has working for her. The prosecutors aren't children who need to be monitored. They are hardworking public servants that deserve thanks.

I still have no regrets.

This blog has served as a sounding board for people from both the defense, the prosecution, and the general citizenry. I hope it will continue to do so.

I look forward to starting my new criminal defense practice and still getting to see everybody on a daily basis. Although I will be zealously representing my clients, that won't change the respect I have for the District Attorney's Office.

This coming year will bring a lot of changes to the Office and all of our lives.

To the prosecutors, when times do get tough, just always remember that you do this job for the victims of crime in Harris County, Texas, and not necessarily for the person who will be sitting on the Sixth Floor. She's a figurehead, but you all will always the Heart and Soul.

And when all else fails, remember that you always have each other.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Interesting Read

Our friend over at The County Seat published this interesting post on some of the new imported higher ups on the Pat Lykos flow chart. I had no idea who some of these folks were.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Secretaries' Day

The Pat Lykos bloodletting continued today with several Administrative Assistants around the Office being told, three days before Christmas, that their services would not be needed under the Reign of Queen Snookems.

I have to say that I honestly don't get the timing of this one, because, quite frankly, it couldn't have been worse for the hard working folks that help us all get our jobs done every day.

You know, I expected to get fired by Old Patsy the second she won the election. I had pretty much been planning on it all year. I had campaigned very diligently against her and I knew her reputation of not tolerating political opposition.

But for me, it was a calculated gamble. I'm an attorney and even if my services weren't needed with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, I still have the potential to make a living outside of it - whether that be hanging out a shingle (which I'm doing) or trying to get on with a law firm.

The Administrative Assistants have it a bit more difficult. In spite of their priceless support to the prosecutors of the Office, they can't really set up their own shops if they lose their jobs. They have to find somebody to hire them in order to continue their profession.

And in today's economy, that's getting to be more and more of a challenge.

Now, Lykos was barely able to land her broom in front of the CJC before she had Jim Leitner fire me and the other attorneys. That has given me more than ample time to get my ducks in a row and get ready to set up my next career move by January 1st -- more on that later.

But for some reason, she elected to wait until three days before Christmas before letting go the secretaries. These are the folks that will have to fan out their resumes wherever they can and hope that somebody has an opening.

It won't be easy for them, and they needed as much advanced warning as they possibly could have to give them time to look. Considering how most businesses in the legal field are closed down (or on extremely light schedules) because it is three days before Christmas, that is going to be no easy task.

My sad prediction is that thanks to Lykos' timing, most (if not all) of those terminated today will begin 2009 with no jobs lined up.

It didn't have to go down that way. There are a lot more attorneys than there are secretaries, but Lykos wasted no time in gleefully starting her firings on the prosecutors.

Why did she wait so long on the secretaries?

None of the secretaries that were fired today actively campaigned for anyone that I'm aware of. If one were to assume that they were fired based on job performance, what exactly does that say about dear Snooks?

What it says is that her lust to fire her political enemies far outweighed her desire to get rid of people based on their job performances.

As a result, some very qualified Administrative Assistants will begin the year amongst the ranks of the unemployed. In this economy, you can guarantee that is a terrifying prospect.

You are doing a bang up job so far, Patsy. You've put the Office morale in the crapper worse than Chuck Rosenthal ever did (even during the scandal).

And you haven't even taken office yet.

Good God, it's no wonder the Coronation is mandatory. I imagine attendance would be pretty damn thin if your people had the choice of whether or not to attend.

Oh, and in case I failed to mention it earlier, Lykos did this three days before Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Flow Chart Cometh

At long last the Leitner Administration took time out of their busy schedule of planning the Coronation of Queen Lykos and finally published the new Flow Chart for the Office that will take effect January 1.

I will be quite candid in saying that the choices they made ranged from Excellent to Good to Iffy to WTF?!?!.

First off, I actually applaud them for all of their Chief promotions today. These were good people that got promoted to positions that they are very qualified to hold. Congratulations to Eileen Bogar, Craig Still, Denise Nichols, Anna Emmons, Darin Darby, and Joe Vinas on their promotions to chief. I'm probably forgetting one or two. I don't mean to, but congratulations to anyone I forgot.

There were some interesting calls on the Office structure as well. I'm not really sure about the reasoning behind the "Cold Case" division being blended into "Animal Cruelty", but maybe I'm just missing something.

Outstanding call on putting Kevin Keating in charge of the Mental Health docket. Kevin is a class act who has a tremendous amount of understanding and compassion (not to mention brilliance), and I fully expect to see him making the Office a leader in the State when it comes to effectively dealing with Defendants suffering from mental health issues.

On the questionable side, Lykos retaliated against several folks who dared to support Kelly Siegler. Moving them to less than desirable positions throughout the Office. I won't name anybody specific, but she really is wasting some MAJOR talent by putting them in spots where they will get nowhere near performing at their full potential. That's a shame.

As to be expected, she moved a lot of her supporters into top positions although they had not previously been with the Office. Honestly, I don't know many of the names that now occupy the top spots, so I'm not going to comment on them. Maybe they will be great. For the sake of Harris County, I certainly hope so.

My replacement in my court will be Lance Long. I had the opportunity to sit second-chair with Lance on a death penalty capital murder last Fall, and the things I learned from him could fill volumes. I didn't really know him all that well before the trial, but spending two months on a case with him led me to realize 1) he's one of the best trial lawyers I've ever seen; and 2) he's probably the smartest guy I know.

On a personal note, I'm very glad to know that the 339th District Court will be in excellent (and truth-be-told, much more capable) hands once I'm gone.

That's pretty much all I have to say about the new Flow Chart, although I'm sure some of you will be posting your own opinions. All-in-all, I think that the D.A.'s Office will be set up to make a pretty smooth transition come January 1st, and that's in everybody's best interest.

Although I do have to mention that I found it rather amusing that suddenly we have a new "Protection of the Elderly" Division in the Office under the Lykos Administration. That's okay, if I'm ever elected District Attorney, I plan on establishing a "Crimes Against the Bald" Divison, myself.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where's the Flow Chart?

As you all know, I will be vacating my office at the end of this year.

Actually, my last day at the Office will be December 24th, and then I will be headed for some much needed rest and relaxation in Florida with my Mom and my Little Boy.

Ever since I received notice of the fact that I wasn't going to be needed in the next Administration, I've been pretty anxious about finding out who my replacement in the court is going to be. I really need to talk to them.

The new Office "Flow Chart" was due on Monday. As of this writing, it still hasn't come out yet.

I've got some serious cases pending in my court, folks. I need to bring my successor up-to-speed and I need to do it before I leave. Just because I'm heading out the door doesn't mean that I don't still care about these cases.

My successor will get to handle the cases of:

Biondi Rolle and Company: Charged with the capital murder of a 9-month pregnant woman during a home invasion.

Patrick Esters and Marchristian Thomas: Charged with the capital murder of a taxi cab driver.

Clifford Gratton: Charged with the capital murder of two young men.

Theodore Rogers: Charged with Injury to a Child causing serious bodily injury to a newborn baby.

Adrian Hawkins: Charged with two counts of Aggravated Robbery that involved the stabbing of two women at Sharpstown Mall.

There is a lot of information that I need to share with my successor before I leave the Office, and for some reason Leitner and Lykos are dragging their heels on this deal. I honestly want to make sure that I give them every bit of information on my cases that I possibly can, before I leave.

I know that Lykos and the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight are busy planning her Prom, but really, they should be putting First Things First.

And the Living Shall Come to Envy the Dead . . .

I'm trying to be good. I really am.

I ended my trial career for the D.A.'s Office yesterday on a very high note, and my true intent was to stay positive, no matter how silly the Leitner/Lykos Administration became.

But I'm only human, and sometimes, I just can't help myself.

Today, there were more hijinx from the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.

Around lunch time, I (as well as all other current D.A. staff) received an e-mail from Jim "Brains of the Operation" Leitner inviting me to attend the swearing in of Judge Patricia Lykos as the new elected District Attorney.

Although I honestly wasn't trying to play "hard to get", I felt that I would not be able to attend the ceremony, since I wouldn't be one of the Assistant District Attorneys raising their hands at the event.

I tried to be polite. I did RSVP.

"Thank you for the invitation," I responded to Jim. "But I will not be able to attend."

(TIP TO MR. LEITNER: Create these things called "Distribution Lists" on your Microsoft Outlook. It will help you refrain from inviting people to events that you don't really want them to attend.)

Although I found it somewhat amusing, I didn't really think all that much of it.

In spite of the fact that I was playing hard to get, Jim was persistent.

At 5:17 p.m., I received yet another e-mail from this head-strong, young First Assistant.

Again, I was invited to attend the swearing in of Snookems, but this time, there would be rules involved.

#1 - Attendance is mandatory.
#2 - "the dress is the same as if you were going to trial that day".
#3 - there will be free parking in Congress Plaza.
#4 - my family may attend if I RSVP first.

Hmm. Let's address this item by item.

Issue # 1 - although I'm pretty sure that my absence will be excused by Patsy, I think she may need to take into account that other ADA's (who actually will be sworn in) absences need to be excused, as well. While she may not exactly be a hot ticket at her extended families' reunions, some of the ADAs may actually have plans in advance that prevent their attendance.

Issue # 2 - the "dress is the same as if you were going to trial that day" is an absolute crock of B.S. The issue of ADAs being sworn in for a new term is a formality that allows them to continue to do their jobs as they have been doing long before a crusty old political opportunist took over. They need to be sworn in so that they can legally perform their jobs on January 2nd. It isn't designed for everyone to be conscripted into a mandatory party for Lykos. If the ADAs have a life that doesn't involve running for an Office (any Office) and they need to show up in blue jeans and a shirt, then more power to them. It is a County Holiday, after all, Snooks.
The requirement that they show up dressed as if they were ready for Prom is just a requirement designed to boost the Lykos ego. Under the leadership skills that Lykos and Leitner have shown thus far, they should just be grateful if the ADAs show up at all.

Issue # 3- free parking. Woo hoo! While that idea is always exciting, one would think it would be a given on the day after New Year's Eve. That almost makes it worthwhile to drag your hungover rear-end into Downtown while everyone else in the County is sleeping off the night before!

Issue # 4 - our family may attend, but they have to RSVP first.
Really? Why? Do the family members need to go through security screening of some sort? Are we nervous about some sort of assassination attempt or something (kidding)?
Their family member elects to pursue a life of public service and they need to go through some sort of screening process to be able to watch it? Wow. Way to tell them that they aren't worthy!

All kidding aside, the swearing in of the ADAs at the beginning of a new political term is designed to make sure that they are sworn in to do their jobs when they come back to work after the holidays. It's not a party and it certainly isn't church.

Looks like the Lykos Administration is showing their new underlings that the new boss is going to bring back the prudence of the Victorian Era, and the ADAs better comply unless they wish to face the Fate "suffered" by some of the rest of us.

Thus explains the title of this post . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mrs. Bates

I became the Chief of the 339th District Court in July of 2007. It was my first (and as it turns out, only) Felony District Court where I would serve in that position. I had several cases set for trial for me, and a host of others pending. Some were capital murder cases and some were regular murders.

In the middle of the pile of cases that I was inheriting was a Tampering with Evidence case, which, at first glance, seemed a little odd on it's face. A Tampering with Evidence case is a third degree felony, and normally involves a Defendant trying to dispose of narcotics that a cop saw him with. I thought it was strange that my predecessor in the court had assigned a Tampering case to himself as a chief.

When I actually picked up the case, however, I quickly learned why it was a "Chief Case". It involved a badly decomposed body found in the trunk of a car, parked in the garage of a townhome in Midtown Houston. The file was littered with notes regarding a pending autopsy report and phone calls to return to Sgt. Carrillo of HPD Homicide. The file on the case was very thick.

The Defendant's name was Steven Weinstein.

I set the file aside for a bit while I was preparing for a series of trials involving four defendants on an unrelated murder case, which occupied most of my summer of last year.

It was during the first of these trials when I was first introduced to Patricia Bates, the mother of Jerry Glaspie. Jerry Glaspie was the man whose body had been found in the trunk of the car.

I was on a break during trial and was briefly introduced to her. I apologized to her for not being up to speed on her son's case, but promised I would get to it as soon as I got free from my trial. She could not have been any nicer or more understanding. She smiled and thanked me, but stayed on in court to watch me trying a case that didn't involve her or her son.

She came back for each setting involving her son's death, and it seems like every time she was there, I was involved in another trial. Each time, I had to apologize to her for not being able to discuss her son's case more in depth.

Each time, she smiled, thanked me and said she understood.

As Summer moved on into Fall of 2007, I sat second chair on a death penalty capital case, and again, her son's case got pushed to the back burner.

And each time I talked to her and apologized, she smiled, thanked me and said she understood.

Ultimately, the autopsy report on her son came in, and I was able to upgrade Weinstein's charges to murder. In a phone call that was probably too rushed, I explained the upgrade to Mrs. Bates. She listened and had a few questions. I told her it would still be awhile before we could get the case to trial.

I explained to her that when it came time to go to trial on her son's case, that it would would have my undivided attention. She thanked me and said she understood.

In April, after the Republican primary run-off had ended, I knew that my time at the Office was limited. I told my Judge that I wanted to get three specific trials done before the end of the year.
Two of the trials, Dennis Andrus and Dennis Driver, were men who had killed their children.

The third was Steven Weinstein.

Mrs. Bates had shown all the patience in the world with me when I wasn't able to devote the attention to her son's case that it deserved.

And I was bound and determined to try that case if it was the last thing I did.

As it turns out, it looks like it actually was the last thing I did at the Office.

This week, after almost a year and a half, I was finally able to take the Steven Weinstein murder case to trial. This case had a little bit of everything and was challenging from both a legal and evidentiary stand-point.

For those of you who have been keeping up with me for the past month, you may have already heard me griping about me, my investigator, and my co-counsel, Priya McMorrow chasing a crack addict who just happened to be my star witness all over South Houston. We finally found him, only to have him re-disappear on us again in the middle of trial. (NOTE: A special thanks to my investigator, Barry Saucier, for finding him again!)

For me, the case was emotional both inside and outside of the courtroom. I got to have a final trial on behalf of the State of Texas, but more importantly, I got to be reminded one last time why I loved being a prosecutor.

It was always about trying to make things better for victims and their families.

In the end, Steven Weinstein got 30 years for the murder of Jerry Glaspie. Although I had asked for a higher sentence, I was very satisfied with the jury's decision. But more importantly, so were Mrs. Bates and the rest of Jerry's family. Their words to me and Priya and Barry were kind and appreciative and I felt proud of the job we had all done.

As sweet as always, Mrs. Bates smiled and thanked me for my work on the case.

But in the end, it should have been me thanking her.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Reminder: Dick Wheelan's Memorial

Remember that this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. is the celebration of Dick Wheelan's life. For details, click here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Family

Goodness.

I've been in trial all week so I've kind of been half-assing it when it comes to blogging. It's almost as if I have a "real job", no matter how temporarily.

The blog here has been lighting up with comments and attacks on one another like there is no tomorrow.

In the Spirit of the Holidays, I'd like to make a request:

Stop it.

And for my part, I'm going to try to stop writing anything that would inspire you to light up things against each other. Maybe in January, I will feel more ornery.

Life is changing around the CJC, folks. Maybe for the better. Maybe for the worse. Either way, things are going to be different.

But one of the things that I have always tried to emphasize on this blog is that those of us who come in and out of the CJC are all part of a family.

On a daily basis, we deal with subject matter that would absolutely send the rest of the Harris County population into a thumb-sucking catatonic trance sitting in the fetal position in the corner.

And we handle that with dignity and class. On both sides of counsel table.

Like it or not, both prosecutors and defense attorneys share a common trait: we take on emotionally gruelling cases for amounts of money that in no way compensate for the toll it takes on us.

Each and every one of us is jaded in ways that no human being should have to be, but we take on the job gladly because we know that we are tackling a task that we believe makes the world we live in a better place. We have mutual respect for each other, as well we should. And odds are that the counsel you are opposing in a trial case could very easily be your biggest defender should your back ever become placed against the proverbial wall.

I suppose it would be easy to tell me, at this point, "Well, yeah, you are about to become a defense attorney, so it's no wonder you are writing such conciliatory stuff now."

I hope that those of you who know me realize that my position on the issue of us all being a "Family" is nothing new.

I know that my last couple of posts definitely contained the aura of bitterness, and it was probably more present than I would like to admit.

But I will say this: When I was told that my contract would not be renewed under the Lykos Administration, I was supported with words of encouragement from prosecutors, Judges, and defense attorneys. I am grateful for that in ways that words can never express, and I have never been more assured that if I got nothing else correct on this blog, I definitely was right in saying we are a Family.

So, as we rapidly approach the Holiday Season, I would say let's all take it a bit easier on one another and be grateful for the things we do have in life.

Hopefully, we have our Health.

God willing, we have our families.

But if all else fails, we have each other.

And regardless of what else may occur this year, I will always be thankful for that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just a Thought . . .

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm in trial one last time on behalf of the Great State of Texas. I posted the night before last about Transparency and the Toxic Avenger, and although I've briefly scanned the comments coming in on it, I haven't really had the time to weigh in with my own opinions. (As a side note, I will say that one thing that I will not particularly miss about working for the D.A.'s Office is the role of "cat herder" when it comes to trying to get all my witnesses ready for trial!)

I made mention in my earlier post about someone I considered a friend making reference to my "toxic blog". Obviously, the comments have brought to light the fact that the person I was referring to was Donna Goode, and the reaction to that on both sides of the issue has been very loud (and often angry).

Let me say this about Donna Goode:

She's a damn fine prosecutor and public servant. Although I was saddened to learn that she referred to me and this blog as "toxic", a disagreement with someone doesn't make them a bad person, nor diminish their reputation as a prosecutor.

Donna, as many of my friends who work for the D.A.'s Office (and read this blog), is in uncharted territory with a newly elected District Attorney coming in. I would imagine that those who survived the "purge", nonetheless remain frightened and paranoid about what acts they may or may not commit to incur the wrath of their newly elected leader.

Donna made a stand that said she was loyal to the Office, and there wasn't anything wrong with that. Yes, it felt a bit judgmental towards me, but, in the end, I don't think I can really blame her for it.

As the Lykos/Leitner Administration takes over, there have been firings and demotions on a daily basis. These changes are very frightening to everyone. Especially to those who have families that they need to support. Showing loyalty to the new boss is a wise move in keeping your job when dealing with Lykos.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't fault Donna for what she wrote in her e-mail, even if it was kind of sad. My fault is with Lykos and Leitner for fostering an atmosphere of uncertainty that would cause her to feel the need to write it.

This blog is going to continue, and I hope that people will continue to read it. I'm sure that, to some degree, it will continue to be controversial, as well.

Ultimately, I hope that prosecutors who read it won't be scared to be caught reading it. This Office is a good office, and I don't think even Pat Lykos can screw that up entirely. Odds are that if you've passed the dreaded Bar Exam and have become an attorney, you are probably a grown up, too.

I hope that, at some point, the atmosphere in the Office will change to the degree that people will feel the freedom to express themselves without bowing to the pressure of what they think Lykos would be pleased with. Maybe Lykos and Leitner will develop a thick enough skin to realize that they are going to be disagreed with on occasion -- and they should stop scaring the bejeezus out of their fellow prosecutors.

At the end of the day, good prosecutors are the ones who don't fear doing what they believe is right, regardless of the ramifications. I would strongly encourage Lykos and Leitner to take in that fact and let the prosecutors under them know that their door is always open to different points of view. Doing so will help in developing strong prosecutors who realize that Justice is their master, not the Elected District Attorney.

In the meantime, I would just like to say that I think that Donna Goode is an excellent prosecutor and a good administrator.

And, in the end, although she may no longer feel the same, I still consider her my friend.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Transparency and the Toxic Avenger

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of good friends this morning that I found to be rather thought provoking.

We were discussing the irony over Pat Lykos' campaign promises of "transparency" within her District Attorney's Office and the fact that she decided not to renew my contract because of this blog. I guess that "transparency" under the Lykos Standardized Dictionary means only those things that illustrate what a damn fine job she will be doing.

She will fire or demote anyone who dared to even look at another candidate during the D.A.'s race. She proved that over the past few days with her administrative decisions that, amongst other things, had her demoting prosecutors from specialty positions such as White Collar Crime, Appellate, and Consumer Fraud in favor of some of her political cronies.

Yeah, I have a strong feeling that her view of "transparency" will leave some longing for the good old days of the McCarthy era when it comes to being able to speak freely and voice your opinion of the Office policies.

Hell, even today I learned that someone that I considered to be my friend was railing against my "toxic blog" in an e-mail to all the misdemeanor prosecutors. That kind of hurt, but I guess those types of things are going to be expected in the days to come under the Transparent Lykos Administration.

So, I guess for the purposes of this post, you can refer to me as the Toxic Avenger.

Now, at the risk of sounding like I'm whining, I'd like to point out a few things:

#1 - I knew from the second I started this blog that I would be fired if anyone other than Kelly Siegler was elected. I didn't care because I stood up for what I believed in, even though there was professional risk involved. As I've mentioned time and time again, I don't regret that in the slightest. (NOTE: I'm sad to see that the new first assistant isn't quite as willing to stand up for what he believes in, even if it is a professional risk to him.)

#2 - I, ultimately, endorsed Pat Lykos over Clarence Bradford in the general election, and (believe it or not) I don't regret that, either. I liked Chief Bradford on a personal level, but the ultimate direction he wanted to take the Office wasn't a good one, in my opinion. I know it disappointed a lot of my readers, for which I'm sorry. But, as I said back then, what was best for me wasn't what was best for the County. I stand by my endorsement of her over Bradford, regardless of what has happened to me personally.

#3 - I am truly saddened to be leaving the job, although I am optimistic that it may end up being good for me in the long run.

#4 - I am keenly aware of the fact that this Office existed long before I came to it, and it will exist long after I leave. Although several excellent prosecutors got canned, there are still a Legion of excellent prosecutors that remain. Ultimately, the Job will get done, and it will still get done well.

#5 - Items # 1-4 do not in any way, shape, or form change the fact that Pat Lykos is a blowhard politician who is already showing the County that she is firing and demoting people based on her own political vendettas and public perception that is not accurate. In a Nostradamus-like moment back in March, I predicted this type of thing occurring under her Administration.

My friend, Grits for Breakfast, pointed out to me that given what I had written about Lykos that it would be difficult for her to develop any type of trust between the two of us. That's a very valid point, and I don't disagree.

But here's some food for thought:

There are very few things in life that I've been particularly good at, but being a prosecutor is one of them. I don't mean to sound egotistical, but I think I served this County well during my tenure. So did Craig Goodhart. So did Luci Davidson. So did Mike Trent. So did Vic Wisner. So did Bert Graham. So did Joe Owmby. So did all of the prosecutors that got demoted this week.

These were prosecutors who tried Cop Killers, Baby Killers, Rapists, Robbers, and a whole host of other violent offenders.

And we all tried those cases well.

So the irony of the situation is that back in October I endorsed Lykos over Bradford because I thought it was the best thing for the County, even if it wasn't in my own best interest.

Sadly, our newly-elected District Attorney is making her firings and demotions based on what is in her best interest rather than the County's. At least partially because she doesn't take well to being criticized.

The bottom line is that Lykos has already broken her campaign promise of transparency before she has even taken Office. Those of us who got fired weren't fired because of our job performance ratings. We got fired for opposing or criticizing her. In some cases (such as Vic and Joe), the firings were based on a public perception that they somehow did wrong in their jobs (which they didn't).

Yes, Patsy, your administration is clearly going to be very transparent in the days to come.

Just probably not in the way that most people assumed you meant.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

One Last Rodeo

I've talked to all my witnesses.

I've got all my exhibits marked.

And tonight after I put my little boy to bed, I'll finish writing my voir dire.

Tomorrow morning, for one last time, I will pick a jury on behalf of the Great State of Texas.

I'm trying a murder case against an excellent and diligent defense attorney.

One of my favorite prosecutors in the Office will be sitting second chair with me.

And I'll get to try the case in front of the Best Damn Judge in the Courthouse.

I know that time and life experiences can change a person's outlook on things as years go by and circumstances shape you.

But as for tomorrow, I can honestly say that when I stand up in front of those 65 people on the jury panel, as I represent the State of Texas and the Harris County District Attorney's Office one last time . . .

. . . there won't be a place in the World that I'd rather be.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Leitner On Leadership

On Thursday, the Baby Misdemeanor Prosecutors had a mandatory CLE (that's "Continuing Legal Education" for you folks not in the legal field) seminar on Ethics on the 20th Floor. In attendance was District Attorney 1st Assistant-Elect Jim Leitner.

At the end of the seminar, Leitner was given his first opportunity to address the "Troops" who were all there.

Now, keep in mind, this was a captive audience of more-or-less rookie prosecutors and it was two days after the mini-purge that had cost me my job on Tuesday. The Babies (which is the Office's affectionate term for the misdemeanor prosecutors) are probably the most shapeable, inspire-able, and potentially loyal employees that Lykos could get her claws on.

Setting aside the fact that Lykos herself didn't bother to attend the event (on Ethics, no less), this was a big moment folks, and Leitner stepped up to the plate to address them for the first time ever.

HERE IS WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE SAID
"Guys, I know it's been a crazy week and you have a lot of questions. Things are going to change around here, but Justice never changes. Your jobs are all safe on January 1 and Pat Lykos is excited about having you all work for her and looks forward to working with you in the years ahead. Guys, this is the greatest job in the world, and as well as I know Pat Lykos, the next four years are going to be some of the most rewarding of your life."

HERE IS WHAT HE DID SAY (PARAPHRASED)
"A lot of people have been asking me if Pat is going to let the women still wear pant suits. I had lunch with Pat yesterday and she was wearing pants. She said pantsuits will be fine. She is concerned with some of the short skirts she's seen."

The awe-inspired Baby Prosecutor's filed slowly out of the meeting to go do some Justice!

Good job, there, General Patton.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The ABA Blog Poll

My good friend, Mark Bennett is in the running on the ABA Journal's Top 100 Blawgs regarding criminal justice.

Help a local guy out by clicking here to vote for Mark's blog for #1 so we can show them that those of us who practice in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center support our own.

Vote early and vote often!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Celebration of Dick Wheelan's Life

On Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 5:00 p.m., there will be a celebration honoring the incredible and fascinating life of our friend Richelieu Edward "Dick" Wheelan.

It will be at Christ Church Cathedral, located at 1117 Texas Street, Houston, Texas 77002. That's between Fannin and San Jacinto Street.

Dick was one of the most well-loved and well-respected attorneys to ever grace the halls of the CJC, and the man had probably about the most fascinating life out of anyone I've ever known personally.

Please mark your calendars to come by and celebrate his amazing life with his family and friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Couple of Random Things

First and foremost, I would just like to say that words alone can never express how amazed, thankful, and humbled I was by all the condolences and well wishes that I received today from fellow prosecutors, Judges, members of the Defense Bar, and even people I had never met. I was absolutely overwhelmed by everyone's profound kindness. I kept thinking that it was like getting to attend my own funeral and hearing all the nice things people usually reserve to say about you until after you've died.

I've said over and over again that I consider our CJC group as a Family. Today, you all let me know that you felt the same way, and I will never forget that. I will be eternally grateful for the wonderful friends and colleagues that I have been fortunate enough to work with over the years.

On December 31st, I will walk out the door of the District Attorney's Office with some excellent company. Luci Davidson, Bert Graham, Craig Goodhart, Vic Wisner, Mike Trent, Joe Owmby, Rob Freyer and Don Smyth are some of the most talented prosecutors in the Nation and they've dedicated their careers to public service. (NOTE: For the record, Rob and Don were not "unrenewed" by Lykos. They both will be leaving of their own accord).

I am honored to work with them all. I'm equally honored to call them my friends.

As a side note, if you are planning on using the comments section of the post to speak badly of any of the aforementioned prosecutors, don't waste your time. Not here. Not now. I won't publish it. If you want to talk badly about me, knock yourself out.

And speaking of speaking badly of people, I'm highly confused by the angry rants of whoever is calling himself "Jeff's Dad". I've got no idea who he is or the reasoning of his very volatile rants on any blog that will post him. If you have a beef with me, I do wish you would tell me why. I will be happy to discuss with you whatever actions I committed that seem to have you so riled up. However, my guess is that your rants are probably more aimed at prosecutors in general, rather than me in particular.

Moving on . . .

Some people claim that my post yesterday was "whining" about getting the old heave-ho. If I sound like I'm whining, I don't intend to.

Are there things about leaving the Office that make me angry? You bet.

Do I have some anxiety about my financial situation for the first couple of months out on my own? I'd be foolish not to.

Am I going to miss the camaraderie and friendship of the Office? I would have to be dead on the inside not to feel that loss.

But am I crying in my beer because I really really really wanted to work for Pat Lykos?

Um, not so much.

Yes yes. I know that it now sounds as if I have shifted from "whining" to "sour grapes"? Oh well. If you don't like what I'm writing, feel free to check out another website. Or you can stick around and rant about the Blogger you love to hate. Doesn't really matter to me.

The bottom line is that leaving the District Attorney's Office is a big change in my life on every level, and I've got a lot to say about it. Hopefully I can refrain from being too repetetive about it, but I find it kind of cathartic to write about this stuff.

And finally, Joe Owmby and I were interviewed by Phil Archer from Channel 2 this morning, and I stated my unshakeable belief that these firings were politically motivated. If you have some strange desire to see my pasty bald head in action, you can click here. When it comes to being on TV, I'm certainly no Will Womble (NOTE: Inside joke.) Don't get me wrong, as far as I'm concerned, a political firing is pretty much fair game (as long as it doesn't violate the 1st Amendment).

I nearly spit out my beer when I saw that Lykos flatly denied that any of the firings were politically motivated. She added the beautiful statement that she wasn't going to say anything bad about us (thus implying that there are a lot of bad things to say, but she is rising above such pettiness).

Yeah right.

I got a certified copy of my personnel file just in case Lykos wanted to insinuate something like that. It has all my evaluations. It has all my trial statistics. What it doesn't have is any reprimands, disciplinary actions, or complaints.

There weren't any.

I tried around fifteen murder cases. Two capital murders (one death/one non-death), and many many sexual assaults of children, aggravated robberies, and other felonies. My trial record was 51 convictions, 2 acquittals, and 2 hung juries.

And keep in mind that out of all those listed prosecutors, I was the most junior.

NOTE: Before anyone starts beating me over the head for "you prosecutors only caring about convictions", let me say that I do believe that trial statistics actually are important in evaluating a prosecutor. They certainly aren't the end-all-be-all by any means, but they are indicators. If a prosecutor has a really lopsided trial record, they are either a) not properly evaluating their trial cases or b) they aren't getting the job done in trial. Both are things that prosecutors need to be able to do.

My point is that I don't think there was anything in my file or about my reputation as a prosecutor that would warrant my ultimate termination.

But I did support Kelly Siegler against Pat Lykos (and I would do it again).

Coincidentally, the folks I'm walking out the door with supported her too.

Like I said, a political firing is fair game for the most part as far as I'm concerned. All is fair in love and war, and all that good stuff. I'm not whining about that.

I just find Lykos' assertion that the terminations weren't politically motivated is about as disingenuous as . . . well, pretty much everything else Lykos has to say.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Day

The Lykos Administration took effect last week with District Attorney Ken Magidson extending the professional courtesy to Jim Leitner of hiring him on to do Pat Lykos' bidding prior to her taking office on January 1, 2009.

Yesterday, all District Attorney employees learned the drill: Leitner sent you an e-mail that invited you for a "meeting" where he told you that the Lykos Administration would not be re-hiring you as an employee. By the end of yesterday's count, he had taken out four investigators and one prosecutor.

So when work started today, all prosecutors knew that if they got an e-mail from Leitner, it was time to say goodbye to their jobs.

I got my e-mail around noon-ish while I was at lunch. I was having lunch with a close friend who knew that the e-mail may be coming.

Leitner misspelled my name, which I thought was a bit rude. I mean, seriously, if you are going to can somebody from their job after 9.5 years, you could at least spell their name right, couldn't you?

He asked me to meet with him at 3 p.m., which conflicted with my schedule since I had a witness meeting on a murder case at 2 p.m. that kept me out of the office.

"I've got a meeting at 2 p.m.," I responded. "Can you fire me earlier?"

He didn't respond.

But when I got back to the Office from lunch, as luck would have it, he was at the elevator bank.

"Can we go ahead and get this sh*t done with now?" I asked him.

"You want to come up now?" he asked.

"Why not?" I said.

We rode in the elevator up to the 6th floor. He refused to look at me.

We walked into his Office, where former-Judge Roger Bridgwater was working.

Jim started fumbling with his desk, saying he didn't know where "the letter" was. Judge Bridgwater told him it was in his desk. Jim ultimately found it.

It was a letter from Lykos thanking me for my service, but letting me know that my services were not needed under her administration. I found it a bit disingenuous considering the letter she had sent all District Attorney employees after the Republican primary run-off where she told us all that as long as we didn't campaign for Bradford that our jobs would be okay.

Wow. Never trust a politician. Who knew?

So, anyway, I read my "thanks for trying 55 felony cases more than I will ever try" letter from Lykos and calmly put it back in the envelope.

I smiled at Leitner and Judge Bridgwater.

"Good luck guys," I said. "It's a great job."

I shook Judge Bridgwater's hand and walked out the door.

And thus ended my career in public service.

By the way, for the 3 of you who may not have known. My name is Murray Newman.

And as of January 1st, 2009. I will be a member of the Criminal Defense Bar.

On a personal note, do you want to know what the most hurtful thing of the whole ordeal was?

The Old Goat didn't even have the courtesy of signing the letter "Snookems".

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

I wish everyone from our Little CJC Family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

It's been a tumultuous and crazy year, but we've all got so many things to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for every last one of you guys and, as always, I'm proud to work with you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A New Blog

I happened to stumble across a new blog (as in created yesterday) that is written from the perspective of a new prosecutor. I look forward to reading it in the days to come and I've linked to it in the side bar. I've also been meaning to let you guys know that Defense Attorney Herman Martinez also has a blog about what we do around the CJC that is worth a read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Academician Retires

Tomorrow will be Felony Trial Bureau Chief Lyn "Big Poppa" McClellan's last day in office.

To say that his departure from the Office will be a tremendous loss is like saying that the Titanic took on a little water back in 1912.

Lyn was one of a handful of prosecutors that I had heard about and read about prior to my joining the Office in 1999. One of my early mentors in life was a former HPD Homicide Sergeant named Gil Schultz who had his biggest case tried by Lyn and Rusty Hardin. It was the Cynthia Campbell case that was documented in two books -- Daddy's Girl by Clifford Irving and Cold Kill by Jack Olsen. If you haven't read them before, I highly recommend both books. For those of you who have read them, you know there is a priceless photo of Lyn in one of them.

Shortly after I started at the Office, Lyn became the Division Chief of Misdemeanor, meaning he was one of my supervisors. It was hard to fathom that a prosecutor of Lyn's stature would be supervising me while I was trying first time DWI cases, but yet that was what happened.

When I was still a Baby Three in Misdemeanor, I argued a Motion to Suppress in front of Judge Pam Derbyshire and Lyn showed up to assist. He backed me up and argued the points of the case with me.

To be honest, it may have been the coolest moment I ever had as a prosecutor. For the first time in (at that point) a very short career I felt like I was part of a Team. And to be a part of that team was exactly where I belonged.

During my time in Misdemeanor, Lyn and I had some rather contentious dealings with each other. For some reason, we couldn't help but pick on and harass one another. He thought of me as a goofy gossip with some severe maturity issues. I accused him of being an inventor of words that did not truly exist -- such as Academician, for example. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure we were both correct in our respective assessments.

Although I would never tell him to his face, however, I admired the Man immensely.

Lyn was a Leader amongst Leaders. He was the guy who backed his people with everything he had, and those who worked under him knew it. To countless prosecutors, both current and former, he earned our undying admiration and loyalty.

In addition to his leadership skills, Lyn was a phenomenal prosecutor who had absolutely no fear of trying any case. He was an expert in so many fields of prosecution, especially those having to deal with the insanity defense. I had the opportunity to watch him during his individual voir dire on the Rafael Resendiz-Ramirez case. The issue of insanity in a criminal setting is not a simple one, but Lyn had a way of making it seem like the easiest question on Earth to answer. I learned a lot from watching him, and I copied what he did when I had a murder case with an insanity defense years later.

He was an authority on many legal issues, and he always had time to explain it to even the most junior of us.

I was talking to a Felony Three this morning about McClellan, and we came to the conclusion that pretty much everyone in the Office had a "Lyn story" or two about great moments they had working alongside him.

My favorite personal story about working with Lyn was when I was in Judge Ross' court and got into it with C. Tom Zarrati. Zaratti had told me "Listen kid, when you are dealing with lawyers like Racehorse Haynes, Dick DeGuerin, and me, just give us the bottom line." He went on to announce "the reason I hate you prosecutors is that when you can't get the Defendants, you go after us lawyers".

At which point, McClellan jumped out of his chair and yelled: "Well Goddamn Tom! After all these years of wondering why you hate us prosecutors, we finally know the reason! I've been wondering all these years, and now you've finally told us!" Zaratti turned beet red and promptly shut up on his diatribe.

And I knew from that moment on that Lyn McClellan was someone who always backed up his prosecutors.

In a post that I wrote back in the Spring, I mentioned that the best thing about practicing criminal law in Harris County is that it provides you the opportunity to walk amongst Giants.

Lyn McClellan was one of those Giants I had in mind when I said that.

Happy Retirement, Lyn. You deserve it.

On behalf of the countless young 'uns that you mentored, I offer a very sincere "thank you" for everything.

P.S. "Academician" is not a real word.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dick Wheelan

For those of you who had not heard, Dick Wheelan passed away this morning after a courageous battle with cancer.

I'm hesitant to post the notice of a person's passing on something as impersonal as this blog, but I received a request to do so from some people very close to him. I hope this doesn't offend anyone.

I've known Dick since I've worked in Harris County, but I know that so many people knew him much better than I did.

The Dick Wheelan that I knew was the ultimate Gentleman, a skilled attorney, and a person whose word was his bond. He was a very kind man who led a very interesting life.

As one person just wrote me: "While his life was cut short, he sure made the most of the time that he had. He learned to fly fighter jets in the Navy, was a New York City police officer, then homicide detective, then lieutenant. A corporate lawyer living in Hong Kong, and then a defense attorney here. Very few people could claim to have done as much in a lifetime."

This terrible year seems to have claimed so many people from our CJC family, and this is yet another tough loss to accept.

My understanding is that there will be a celebration of Dick's life after the Thanksgiving holidays.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Phillip and Dick's family.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Dick with the rest of us.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Official

The final votes were tallied today, and C.O. Bradford conceded the race for District Attorney, making former Judge Pat Lykos the new boss at the D.A.'s Office.

And immediately around the Office, rumors of changes and firings and hirings began to swirl.

I'm reminded of a story that one of my favorite professors at U.H. Law School, the late Yale Rosenberg, told his students before their first law school final. We were all extremely nervous.

He relayed a story of going with his big brother to Coney Island when he was a little kid, and subsequently freaking out on one of the roller coasters as it approached its first big dive.

Professor Rosenberg said that his brother looked over at him and told him the following words:

"Sit down. Shut up. Hold on. And it will all be okay."

His words applied very well to a room full of nervous law students.

I think that they apply here very well, too.

Change is always scary, folks. But the anticipation of it is much often worse than the reality.

Interesting Column

Interesting article by Lisa Falkenberg this morning on her analysis of the 351st Judicial Race. Um. not quite sure what to say about it, so I'll let you guys do the talking.

On an unrelated side note, I will be legally changing my name to Joe Kickass.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of Anonymity

I've made mention in several of my posts that I'm hardly anonymous anymore. When asked if I'm "The Blogger", I never deny it [anymore]. I just don't officially state on the blog who I am for various and sundry reasons.

I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of the people who read this Blog know who I am, so I figured I would post a poll and see if I'm correct in that assessment.

Quote of the Day

From Ellis McCullough today after a particularly hectic day of fighting with the CJC Elevators:

"I hope I live long enough to see this building imploded."

Well said, Ellis. Well said.

I'm Back

I've gotten a couple of comments on why I haven't posted lately.

No particular reason. Just didn't have a lot to say. I'm still taking in all of the ramifications of the November election and still trying to figure out what exactly happened at the Voting Booths.

I may post on those thoughts a little bit later.

But in the meantime, I thought I would let you guys know that I'm still alive.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Election

Wow.

What a wild night. At the moment, I'm still rather speechless at the county-wide rejection of some of the finest Judges in the Country.

It is incredibly sad to me that Judicial Races still carry partisan titles with them, because that (and only that) is the reason the races ended today in the way which they did. Excellent judges were swept out by uninformed voters that pulled straight ticket. I'm still slightly confused by how one survived when the rest didn't (although I'm happy for Judge Ellis).

As I've discussed before (ad nauseum) the race for District Attorney was a tough one for me to evaluate. Ultimately, I'm satisfied that Lykos won the race, because I know that she will continue to prosecute as the job dictates that she should. I sincerely wish her luck in the job. It's not an easy one, and given the circumstances, it's going to keep getting tougher.

As for me, I believe that I will get up tomorrow morning and go do my job.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Race for Harris County District Attorney

It's been over six months now since Judge Pat Lykos defeated Kelly Siegler in the Republican Primary for the District Attorney's race, leaving her to face Democratic candidate and former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford in the November election. The last time I wrote anything definitive on the race was immediately on the heels of the run-off vote.

Many things have changed over the past six months. Time has passed and life has settled back down to a large degree -- just in time for everything to get all stirred up again for November! In the meantime, I'll try to take a little less emotional look at what is probably the most important race affecting those of us in and around the Criminal Justice Center.

In the wake of the Republican run-off, I, along with several other prosecutors had a sit-down meeting with Chief Bradford. I was impressed by his easy-going demeanor and his very apparent earnestness at explaining the direction he wanted to take the Office. He was very nice. He answered the tough questions about his past with HPD, and he stayed as long as we had questions. At the end of the meeting, I realized that he was a charismatic leader and I liked him very much.

The flak that Chief Bradford largely gets obviously comes from his time as Chief of the Houston Police Department, with the DNA Lab Scandal and the K-Mart Raid being the Top Two marks against him. It is true that some of the blame of those two events rests with Chief Bradford, but I don't think they should be the factors that are necessarily fatal to his campaign.

The crime lab was already in disarray long before he took over the helm of HPD. It is true that he didn't give the problems the proper attention that they deserved, but I think that he has gotten the lion's share of the blame without being the one most responsible for what happened there.

As for the K-Mart raid, you can count me as one of the citizens of the county that thought the motorcycle racers that regularly hung out at the K-Mart on Westheimer were a bad nuisance to the community. There was more than one occasion that I was driving on 610 when those bikers would all leave the parking lot and go jetting down the highway, causing chaos on the pavement. That raid needed to happen, and if it had gone as planned, it would have been loudly praised. Unfortunately, it got out of hand at the scene for whatever reason. Chief Bradford wasn't at that scene, and I think that we all know that sometimes the best laid plans can often go awry.

No, Chief Bradford's past with HPD does not concern me when looking at his ability to be District Attorney. There is also something to be said for his ability as a manager of large amounts of people in a major law enforcement entity in a large county. Those are relevant skills.

What does concern me about Chief Bradford as the elected District Attorney is that everything I hear him talking about on the campaign trail seems to have more to do with being well liked than creating an effective District Attorney's office. Yes, it would be great if the Harris County District Attorney's Office was the most beloved of all D.A.'s offices throughout the country, but unfortunately, that's not really the job description.

Bill Turner, the elected District Attorney in Brazos County (and someone I consider to be a mentor to me) once told me that "being the District Attorney is the slow alienation of your community". What he meant was that the District Attorney and the prosecutors under him or her have to make tough decisions, and those decisions are often unpopular with the people they affect. But that's part of the job. Everybody cheers the traffic cop who saves the citizen trapped in a burning car, but we'll be cussing his name the second he writes us a traffic ticket, won't we?
(As a side note, if you are reading this in Brazos County, please vote for Bill Turner. He's one of the greatest prosecutors I've ever seen and he makes my old hometown very proud).

The bottom line is that a person doesn't become the District Attorney to be loved. They are there to do a job and it is a job based on tough decisions that have to be made. Often times public opinion has to be set aside to do what is legally correct. Over-exerting yourself trying to be well-loved will set a leader up to doing the wrong thing in the name of popularity. I would rather hear from a candidate who is talking more about being tough on crime than talking about building a public defender's office. That's not the D.A.'s job, and Bradford's devotion to community relationships and public perception greatly concerns me.

The lack of familiarity with what the job entails for him concerns me greatly.

Judge Lykos actually does have that familiarity with the job description. It is also my firm belief that (all campaign slams against Kelly Siegler during the primary campaign aside) she knows that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is the best damn D.A.'s Office in the Nation. While Chief Bradford is talking about a complete dismantling and rebuilding of the Office, she knows that it is an Office filled with the most talented Public Servants in the world. It may need some tweaking, but it doesn't need the massive overhaul that Chief Bradford is promising.

She knows from her experience as a judge how the Criminal Justice System works from inside the courtroom. She knows that the basic structure of the Office is a pretty amazing system that day in and day out meets the needs of a very crime-ridden community. She knows the difference between cases that can be legally proven and those that can't. She also understands that being the District Attorney often means doing the unpopular thing in the name of Justice.

There is also the high likelihood that she will be bringing along Jim Leitner as a part of her upper-Administration. Awhile back, I took some pretty serious potshots at Jim, when I was feeling angry and disappointed with him over his endorsement of Lykos.

For that, I'm sorry. Jim Leitner is a good attorney and a good person. If a Lykos Administration brings Leitner with it, then that's a definite positive.

So, I'm caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here.

On a personal level, I like Chief Bradford a lot, and I would gladly work for him. On the flip side, I think that the way that Lykos ran her primary campaign drug our Office through the mud and it ran one of the greatest prosecutors in the Nation out of public service.

I spoke out about it then, and I don't regret that. I stood by my friend who I believed to be the best candidate for the job and I did it wholeheartedly. I wouldn't be the kind of person I want to be if I had handled it any different.

I would imagine that Pat Lykos will probably fire me (uh, if I actually work there) if elected.

That would be her Right.

But the election isn't about what's best for me. It's about what is best for Harris County.

You can pick at and blast me all you want, but I'm proud of being a member of the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Chuck Rosenthal was not a representation of what we stand for or how we conduct ourselves on a day to day basis. From the top to the bottom, that Office is filled with people that I'm proud to say I work with every day. What was needed to restore the reputation of that Office was for Chuck to leave, which he did. Look at how well the Office has done under the few short months that Ken Magidson has been in charge there.

Ultimately, I think that Pat Lykos is the better of the two choices for Harris County, as much as it pains me on a personal level to say.

The next four years are going to be really interesting, no matter what.

If it gets too bad, just remember this slogan:

AHCL in Twenty Twelve!

The Chronicle's Judicial Endorsements

The Chronicle made its judicial endorsements in today's newspaper on the 9 races up for grabs in the CJC.

I disagree with them on their endorsement of Reuben Guerrero over Bill Moore for reasons I've stated here, but other than that, I was kind of amused to see that we agreed on eight of the nine races.

I'm glad to see that the Chronicle editorial board has some sense.

But on the other hand, I feel like I've totally lost my street cred.

Happy Birthday to My Best Friend

On a personal note, today is my little boy's third birthday.

In a world that is often very dark, he is truly a Bringer of Light.

I wish a very Happy Birthday to my Reason for Being, my Best Friend, and, pretty much, just my Everything.

I love you with all my heart, Little Man.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The 351st District Court Judicial Race

The race for the 351st District Court has Republican incumbent Judge Mark Kent Ellis facing Democratic candidate and defense attorney Mekisha Walker Murray. In this instance, my personal knowledge of Judge Ellis is only in passing, but Mekisha is a former prosecutor and a personal friend of mine.

Judge Ellis is an 8-year veteran of the District Attorney's Office, which he followed with 3 years of private practice. He has been on the bench since 1997. He has handled numerous death penalty Capital Murder trials and brings to the table eleven years of experience on the Bench. He is known as a very capable and intelligent judge who truly loves the law.

If anything, it could be said he might actually love the law a bit too much, as he is well known for spending upwards of about four hours during his portion of voir dire educating the jury panel on the "ins and outs" of how criminal law works. Now, this is often times rather aggravating to the prosecutors and defense attorneys (who are already quite familiar with the law), but Judge Ellis regularly gets compliments and thanks from the jurors who listen to his lecture. I don't think that anyone could make an argument that Judge Ellis is cutting any corners when it comes to ensuring well-educated jurors will end up on juries in his court.

In addition to his regular duties in the 351st, Judge Ellis is a former-member of the STAR Court judges dealing with defendants with substance abusers. In 2006, however, he switched from working in the STAR Court to being one of two judges supervising the Harris County Mental Health Court, which is a specialized court dealing with Defendants suffering from mental health issues.

I think that both prosecutors and defense attorneys alike can agree that dealing with mental health issues in the criminal court system is a complex and often troubling prospect. Everyone agrees that the criminal justice system and the way it is currently set up is ill-equipped to deal with persons accused of crimes who also suffer from legitimate mental illness. There is a line that must be walked that balances fairness to people who don't fully grasp the consequences of their actions and still takes into account the safety of the general public.

It's not an easy task, but it is one that Judge Ellis has volunteered his time to help work through.

Mekisha Murray, as I mentioned before, is a former prosecutor and current defense attorney. I like Mekisha and I think she has a brilliant legal mind and is an extremely hard worker.

When she was in the Justice of the Peace Division, Mekisha was known for doing legal research on Class C violations and case law regarding the traffic code. She was known for being an extremely intense prosecutor who worked very hard on her cases, often very late into the night. She served at the D.A.'s Office for somewhere around five or six years, I believe, before leaving as a Felony Two.

For those of you not familiar with the Office, the position of Felony Two is one of the most difficult positions in the Office. A Felony Two carries an enormous case load of serious felony trials ranging from high amounts of narcotics to Aggravated Robberies to Aggravated Sexual Assaults to Murders. Pretty much the only case that a Felony Two is not considered qualified to try is a Capital Murder case. A prosecutor will spend anywhere between four to five years in the position of Felony Two before being considered for promotion to Felony Chief. If the prosecutor has been able to survive those years of being a Felony Two, they can pretty much handle anything.

Mekisha left the Office fairly early on into her tenure as a Felony Two and didn't rise to the level of Felony Chief.

I don't say this to disparage Mekisha, because I think that at some point she will gather the credentials to be a good candidate for Judge. But as it stands now, she has been attorney for slightly less than six years. There's something to be said for experience, and she is still in the process of acquiring it at this point. I, myself, have only been a lawyer for almost ten years now, and I don't consider myself qualified to be a judge at this point based on my years of experience. I have a hard time thinking that Mekisha is quite there yet, either.

In the case of Judge Ellis, you are dealing with a long-standing judge who, not only has experience, but also is trying to make a difference in the community. His work with both the STAR Court and now the Mental Health courts clearly illustrate that it would be in the public's best interest to keep Judge Ellis on the bench.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The 339th District Court Judicial Race

In all of the political contests involving the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, there is probably no greater disparity between the candidates' qualifications and ability than there are between Republican Incumbent Judge Caprice Cosper and her Democratic opponent, Municipal Court Judge Maria Jackson.

As I've written before and my friend, Mark Bennett has written, Judge Cosper is the best Judge in the Criminal Courthouse. Please keep in mind that although Mark is one of my very good friends, he and I seem to disagree on damn near everything. But we are in agreement here that Judge Cosper is an amazing Judge and the thought of her losing her bench to a judge that tries only traffic cases is both nauseating and sad.

I've mentioned previously that there are four judges who comprise the supervision of the STAR Court Program. All of their roles are equally important in the success of the program, but (call me biased) I would describe Judge Cosper as the heart and soul of the program. She was one of the founding judges who helped start it, and she takes personal pride in the program.

When the STAR Program was first established, I'll admit that I was skeptical over the possibility of really making a meaningful change in the lives of hard-core addicts. I was very wrong about that. Under the guidance of Judges Cosper, Thomas, Anderson and Wilkinson, I've seen some amazing stories of recovery and redemption. I've also seen the pride and happiness in the faces of people who are winning their fight with their addictions.

That type of meaningful change couldn't have happened without judges like Judge Cosper.

When not working in the STAR Program, Judge Cosper is even better on the bench in the 339th District Court.

Trying a case in front of Judge Cosper is like trying a case in front of a Westlaw data base. She keeps up to date on all of the latest case law and legislation. During a tricky (from a legal standpoint) case in many courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys often are having to take "time out" to do some last minute legal research. It doesn't happen in the 339th, because the Judge knows the law off the top of her head.

As far as her judicial demeanor, she approaches each case with an open mind. Somehow she manages to tackle her job with a combination of compassion and toughness that is difficult to describe without seeing it in person.

Those defendants that appear before her on non-violent offenses that deserve a second chance will get them. But, Judge Cosper will order them into a treatment program that will do everything possible to ensure that defendants won't find themselves back in the criminal justice system again. She is the Judge who won't let a young person take a final felony conviction on a first time drug case, if she feels that a deferred adjudication will give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves and avoid a final conviction.

On the other hand, she will hand out the maximum sentence to violent offenders without batting an eyelash when appropriate. She knows the difference between people with legitimate problems and those who are just grasping on to any excuse that they can find for their behavior. She can cut through the difference and administer true justice.

She consistently does the right thing over and over again. She plays no favorites with either the State or the Defense, and I doubt that anyone could find a defense attorney who has practiced in front of her that would describe her as anything less than completely fair.

Like I said, she is the best Judge in the Courthouse.

Her opponent is a municipal court judge that has been a lawyer for less years than Judge Cosper has been a judge. Municipal court judges serve an important function in government and I do not mean to diminish that. But the bottom line is that the municipal courts handle only Class C Misdemeanors. For those of you who read this that aren't familiar with criminal law, a Class C misdemeanor is only punishable by a fine.

That basically translates into the fact that Maria Jackson has never had the power to sentence a person to a day in jail and now she seeks to hold a position where she would be handing down life sentences and signing death warrants. Her experience is primarily with traffic violations and now she seeks to deal with Capital Murders?!

The disparity between the two candidates is beyond enormous and is probably the best illustration why Judicial elections should have absolutely no ties to partisan politics.

Sadly, there is a real danger that those people who are still foolish enough to vote "straight ticket" on their ballots could remove from office the Best Judge in the courthouse in favor of a person who isn't even remotely qualified. I've never voted "straight ticket" in my life, nor will I. If anyone is so weak-minded that they can't put individual thought into who they are voting for, then they shouldn't be voting in the first place.

Folks, do me a favor and get the word out to all of your friends who might possibly be voting straight-ticket Democrat and tell them about the mistake they would be making.

Unless Judge Cosper is re-elected, everybody loses on this one.

In case you missed it the first two times, she's the Best Judge in the Harris County Criminal Justice System.