Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The District Attorney's Race

Nothing draws more attention to a political race than a good old scandal, and Chuck Rosenthal is ending his political career as the District Attorney with a big one. Even as this is being written, more and more embarrassing facts seem to be coming from the County's Top Prosecutor. The looming question is what effect that this will have on the election to replace him. There are five candidates vying for the job (four Republican, one Democrat), and they seem to cover the spectrum of backgrounds.
Here's my personal assessment over who's the most qualified for the job, as well as my thoughts on their odds of winning. Consider it my own, personal Top Five List:

5. Houston Police Captain Mark Perry (Republican) - I'm not real sure where this guy came from. I've been working around the CJC (and before that at 301 San Jacinto) for quite some time now, and I'd never heard of him before he showed up Republican Headquarters and filed as a candidate. Let's assess his qualifications: he was a Captain in the jail. Not even the Harris County Jail. For those unfamiliar with the division of duties in law enforcement, a Captain at a jail doesn't do investigations and certainly doesn't do any type of trial work. He holds a law degree, which is a minimal requirement for the job of District Attorney, but other than that, I fail to see any qualifications. From my perspective, it sounds like Captain Perry filed because he was bored being retired.

ODDS OF WINNING: Compared to everyone else, he's got zero name recognition to go along with zero qualifications. That adds up to zero chances of winning, in my opinion.

4. Former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford (Democrat) - being the only Democrat in the race, Bradford is the only name that we are guaranteed to see on the ballot in November. He's got name recognition from his years as Chief of Police, and the Democrats like that. Unfortunately for the Dems, that name recognition comes with a lot of bad press. During his tenure at HPD, the now infamous HPD Crime Lab Scandal was born. Although it was Chuck Rosenthal who had to handle most of the fallout from HPD's problems, everyone at the courthouse knows that this problem was Bradford's child, not Chuck's. He consistently ignored warnings of problems and they all ended up coming to light after convictions had already been secured. If you couple that with disastrous K-Mart Raid (where he separated small children from their law abiding parents and then blamed it on subordinates), the incredibly high retirement package he received in his final days, and an aggravated perjury charge he went to trial on. Yes, I know there was a directed verdict from Judge Rains. He's still never set foot in a criminal court (other than as a Defendant), and knows absolutely nothing about how to try a case or run the D.A.'s office.

ODDS OF WINNING: Sadly, not too shabby. He's the only candidate on the Democratic ticket, which means he can store up his campaign money longer than the Republicans. He also has that name recognition. His biggest help will come from the straight ticket Democrats who will be backlashing against the Bush Administration, and perhaps the Rosenthal administration, as well.

3. Judge Pat Lykos (Republican) - the biggest gap between qualified candidates definitely happens between Bradford and Lykos. Lykos has over a decade of experience as a District Court Judge, so she definitely knows the inside of courtroom. She's also a career politician who has sought higher office for Texas Attorney General and Harris County District Attorney. She is also a retired Houston Police Department Homicide Detective (is it just me, or is this starting to sound like an HPD Alumni Reunion?). The one thing that she has never been is a trial lawyer. What difference does it make? you might ask. Well, it's kind of the equivalent of an NFL referee deciding that he wanted to be quarterback after he retires.

ODDS OF WINNING: Pretty decent. Lykos is a practiced and smooth politician with a lot of supporters who remember her from the days when she was judge. She was done being a judge before I became a lawyer, so my dealing with her have been few and very far between. However, the Old Timers around the courthouse recall her as petty and mean, on occasion, and known to treat her court staff and attorneys in her court, very badly. She gave Chuck a run for his money in 2000, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her in a runoff with Kelly Siegler after the March 4th primary.

2. Jim Leitner (Republican) - as the hours ticked away for the filing deadline last Wednesday, Jim bravely through his hat in to run for D.A. In doing so, he earned the admiration of prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. Jim is a highly respected and well-liked defense attorney at the courthouse, who is by both the prosecution and the defense. Most folks at the D.A.'s office are privately saying that if Kelly Siegler isn't the winner of the election, that Jim is a close second in preference. He's been a prosecutor and a defense attorney. He handles death penalty cases and every other type of case in the District Courts. People respect his ethics, judgment, and ability.

ODDS OF WINNING - Probably not as good as Lykos. In the 2000 election, he placed third in the Republican primary, behind Rosenthal and Lykos. Although well known in the criminal law circles, his name doesn't have the name recognition of Siegler and Lykos. Also, his funding may be somewhat at a disadvantage, as well. Jim filed because he didn't think Rosenthal could defeat Bradford and wanted to give voters another option. For that type of integrity, he earned admirers and gratitude. Unfortunately, that type of integrity doesn't often translate well in elections.

1. Kelly Siegler (Republican) - Harris County's most famous prosecutor didn't start off the month of December envisioning herself running for any office, let alone the one held by her boss, Chuck Rosenthal. Kelly is a trial lawyer, and an astoundingly good one at that. She does an important job on tough cases because she believes in them. She didn't really envision herself as holding the title of District Attorney. However, she is completely qualified for the job, and her dedication to it is unquestioned. She knows how to run the office and keeps close watch on those she supervises. In addition, her outgoing personality and trial ability will bring a big fan base from her co-workers, in my opinion. Although most of the defense bar does not like the idea of going to trial against her, they genuinely like her. She also serves as an excellent liaison with the law enforcement agencies in Harris County, which is a benefit to the office. There's a lot more to this MENSA member than just trial skills.

ODDS OF WINNING - Pretty good. The biggest detraction from Kelly is how much of the Rosenthal debacle is going to spill over onto her candidacy. She's the only person running from the D.A.'s office, so obviously the other ADA's are going to be behind her full throttle. If Kelly wants to win, she needs to challenge the other candidates to debates early and often. Even the polished Lykos wouldn't stand a chance in a debate against Siegler (and thinking of what Bradford would look like against Kelly gives me nightmares). Look for the ADA's, former jurors, and victims of crime to support her in the race. If people can look past the Rosenthal administration and realize Kelly is her own person, she should become the first female District Attorney of Harris County.


IJ Reilly said...

Hey, just found your blog, and I'll be a regular reader.

Completely agree with your assessment of the race, fwiw.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Glad that somebody is reading it!

Mark Bennett said...


I just found your blog too. A HC prosecutor (and frequent commenter on my blog) steered me toward it. I've added it to my "read first" list.


A Harris County Lawyer said...

Thanks Mark. Glad that somebody is reading it. I also appreciate the listing on your website. I'll see if I can figure out how to link to your site, as well.

Anonymous said...

I like this post - ALOT! I am hoping Kelly wins and is able to call this title her own!

I am also wondering how the DA's office is able to bring charges against someone based sheerly on allegations by an estraged wife's boyfriend.

These allegations have absolutely no weight - as stated by several DA's during various hearings in Court 184. There is no proof of the crime taking place, no witnesses, no weapon, so supporting ANYTHING! Heck, the sheriff himself signed the bond release for the person these allegations have been made against.

How is it the DA's office can bring unsubstantiated charges against someone, then through the course of proceedings figure out they SHOULD NOT have brought these charges yet the judge call jolly well do what she wants? How does this sort of thing happen in our "free society"?

Is there anyone within the DA's office gutsy enough to review this case and have it dismissed?