Monday, March 3, 2008

Heroes

Growing up, I never wanted to be a lawyer.

I actually wanted to be a cop (or an FBI agent to be more precise). As I got older, I realized that getting shot at and risking getting killed on a daily basis was probably not the most stable way to raise a family. So that fell by the wayside, although most cops remain my heroes to this day.

Ultimately, I decided I wanted to be a prosecutor by the time I reached high school. I went to law school, not to become a lawyer, but a prosecutor. I had no interest in civil law, trusts and wills, torts, contracts, or any of that. I suffered through three years of dry material so that I could be a prosecutor.

I wanted to do what the police did, but I wanted to do it in a courtroom. I wanted to stop bad people from doing bad things. I wanted to help people who had been hurt by crime.

I was an intern when I first met Kelly Siegler.

Ironically, she and Vic Wisner were trying the one death penalty case that she didn't get the death penalty on.

The defendant's name was Brian Gonzales. He had shot and killed a young man named Omar Aycox while robbing an AMC movie theater. Mr. Aycox was a young African-American man who was home for the summer from college, and helping his family out by working through his summer vacation. If I recall correctly, Mr. Aycox had a mentally handicapped older brother that he had a special bond with. Mr. Aycox's brother thought that the sun and moon set by his baby brother.

Omar Aycox was shot four times in the back as he fled from Mr. Gonzales during a robbery.

I watched Kelly Siegler try that case through the guilt/innocence phase as if Omar Aycox was her own child. After a quick guilty, she proceeded into the punishment phase with the same passion. (NOTE: The only thing that saved Brian Gonzales from death row was a pregnant juror that went into early labor during punishment deliberations, thus resulting in a mistrial.)

But as a first year law student, watching Kelly Siegler try that case, she became my hero.

I watched Kelly Siegler prosecute him, and I wanted to be just like her. I wasn't a five-year-old kid who thought being a fireman would be cool. I was a 25-year-old law student who was in awe that a lawyer could be that passionate about her case.

That good at what she did.

I doubt Kelly remembers me back from those days, or knows what the effect of watching her in trial had on a young law student.

It made me want to be the best prosecutor in the world, and I knew that where I wanted to be was in Harris County. I wanted to walk amongst the Giants of the Criminal Justice World. I wanted to work for Johnny Holmes. I wanted to try cases against lawyers like Racehorse Haynes and Dick DeGuerin.

What can I say? I was a starry-eyed kid.

And ultimately, I did become a Harris County prosecutor, and other than my family, there's nothing I'm more proud of in my life.

I don't consider myself a "hero", but I don't see anything wrong in being proud of the job I've done. I'm proud of the people that I've done the job with. And I'm equally proud of the people I've done the job against. Whether you are a prosecutor or a defense attorney, if you have practiced in Harris County, you have truly walked amongst Giants.

Tomorrow, one of my heroes is on the ballot to become the District Attorney of Harris County, Texas. In a less controversial time and place, the decision would be one that there could be no question about.

A true leader. A prosecutor's prosecutor. A true hero would be the unarguable choice.

But instead, we have whispers and gossip. Stones overturned by a newspaper that is more willing to embrace a person convicted than a person victimized.

Innuendos by a practiced and polished politico who's "passion" for justice is no more than a cloak disguising political ambition. That same politico will most certainly begin to unceremoniously fire people who dare to cross her, regardless of their skill, talent, or passion for the job.

Has Kelly said or done things in her life that she wishes she could take back? Of course.

But, Dear Reader, so have you. So have I. So have we all.

Tomorrow Kelly Siegler will be on the ballot to become the leader of the job that she was born to do. For 22 years, Harris County has had the benefit of having a Legend of the Game walking amongst the Giants on the State of Texas' behalf.

The thought of this job that I have loved in the hands of anyone else is physically sickening.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Kelly Siegler will always be one of my heroes.

29 comments:

anonymous c said...

That was truly goosebump-inducing!

Please pardon my shameless effusiveness, y’all, while I stand up and cheer…

Amen, Reverend AHCL! AMEN!

pro.victims said...

Chuck would be proud to lead us on the charge to the gates of hell. I'd be proud to lead the charge on hell too. Who wouldn't?

The difference is - we'd follow Kelly.

David said...

AHCL,

You need serious help. Attacking Alan every day. Attacking Pat every day with some bizarre attempt to paint her as anti-Semitic.

Face it - you're in love with an older woman. Hey, it happens.

Mark Bennett said...

pro.v -- good point. Chuck revealed something about himself in his resignation letter. Who we are is not defined by who we would be willing to lead, but who would actually follow us.

But -- truthfully, now -- can you say that you wouldn't have followed Chuck on the same charge six months ago?

AHCL, when you talk about "the one death penalty case that she didn't get the death penalty on" you don't seem to be including the cases that were flipped on appeal -- where "her" death penalty didn't stick. Strange omission, since part of the prosecutor's job (not even the most difficult part) is to get a result that will survive appeal.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

David,
You're defending Pat Lykos, and I'M the one in love with an older woman?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Mark,
Fair enough, but it's the one case where she didn't get it from the jury. And, if memory serves, those cases (or case) "as the case may be" were reversed based on the underlying police actions, not Kelly's behavior. I'm only aware of the cases that dealt with the murder-for-hire of Farrah Fratta. She's already gotten the death penalty again on Guidry.
Am I missing more than that?

pro.victims said...

Mark, yeah, truthfully (I see the bait, I'm biting anyway) - I would have bowed out of the charge on hell with Chuck leading. Now: ask me your questions, Bridge Keeper! I am not afraid!

And David. Seriously. Pat's old enough to be the subject of a fetish film. Dude. A fetish film that is unapologetic to Jewish people.

Mark Bennett said...

AHCL, I'm not a student of Kelly's career, but I think there have been at least three reversals on capital cases. >15%? Is it Kelly's line that those reversals were the fault of the police?

Because -- correct me if I'm wrong -- it was my understanding that the prosecutor was the one who offered into evidence the evidence that the police obtained, so that if the police screwed something up the prosecutor didn't have to offer evidence based on the "underlying police actions."

Maybe a better spin would be "those cases were reversed based on the judges' actions, not Kelly's behavior."

You're a funny guy, pro.v. Now please excuse me. I think I'm going to be sick.

Anonymous said...

JAGJO writes:
To be heard, you must vote. We can sit here day in and day out and exchange banter and political snipes and share opinions but in the end, if we don't take those opinions to the polls, it is all for naught. My Father gave some great simplistic advice and when I was young I didn't really place a lot of importance on it but as an adult I see EXACTLY what he meant: Which is," If you don't vote, keep your mouth shut". Here Here.. Thanks Dad! I would venture to say that there are several that have been posting here ( perhaps the most antagonistic of all) that did not vote early and will not for whatever reasons, whether it be the weather factor, work factor etc,will not vote tomorrow and to those people I have only one thing to say, " keep - your- mouth -shut"! :-) For those of you who are voting, select the candidates that you truely believe in your heart is the best person for the job. I want to make one final push and bang the drum for Bill Moore. I think he is by far the best candidate for the 174th district court and perhaps the only candidate that did not accept contributions from sources that pose a conflict of interest to the 174th bench.

Hopefully, Lykos will be looking at retirement brochures come Wednesday morning...

Nice post today, AHCL !!
It is a "good thing" to have heros and feel passion for anything. It is those that have no passion or conviction or the guts to stand up for what they think or feel, that I pitty.


VOTE>>VOTE>>>VOTE>>>VOTE>>>VOTE

~JAGJO

pro.victims said...

Hey man, sorry you have a bad memory about an unapologetic Jewish fetish film. Involving elderly people.

Clearly, you have marginal tastes as it is. Who knew?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Ah Mark,
You clearly woke up on the cranky side of the bed today.
I'm only aware of Guidry and Fratta as reversals, but I'm not certain about that. I thought that they were based on the admissibility of the statements. When I qualified it by saying police actions, I was trying to illustrate that the reversal weren't based on what Kelly's detractors typically criticize her for (in court demonstrations, too skilled cross-examinations, too good closing arguments, etc.)
And don't be making fun of pro. vic for saying he wouldn't follow Chuck into hell. Chuck wasn't exactly awe-inspiring in his troops. Kelly, on the other hand, goes to speak at Baby Prosecutor's school twice a year for the keynote speech, just to get the rookie prosecutors fired up about a their new jobs.

pro.victims said...

I saw the vote/poll closed on snookems.

It's 78% sure she's Lykos. A Landslide.

But not beyond a reasonable doubt . . . .

Not guilty. But I'm still suspicious.

Mark Bennett said...

pro.v, if the idea of Pat Lykos in a fetish film is okay with you, you have a stronger stomach than I.

Jagjo, I'm not buying Bill's bull. I doubt that any of the Republican candidates for the 174th took political contributions from much of anybody. I sure tried to give money to John Jocher, and he sure refused it. (On the other side of the ticket, I have trouble imagining anyone wanting to give money to either of the Democratic candidates for that bench.)

All four candidates are honorable men; you'll have to find some other way to distinguish Bill (assuming that you aren't actually he) from the rest of the pack.

pro.victims said...

Not my kind of film. Ick. I'm more of a fan for A Princess Bride.

Man, it's a hard cull for the 174th. They are all gentleman and damn good lawyers.

Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying your blog, and I really enjoyed the unabashed feelings expressed in this posting. I left combat arms in the military with the intent of becoming a lawyer (had a stint as a legal investigator for the Staff Judge Advocate Office). I worked as a deputy sheriff while obtaining a degree in criminal justice. I decided on a career (recently retired) in law enforcement due to the great job satisfaction I felt in dealing with folk's problems (and the occasional adrenalin rush). Reading your blog, my current working relationship with a couple of prosecutors, and my fond memories of a military defense counsel that threw up prior to every trial....my opinion of lawyers is starting to creep upward again.
I enjoy your thoughts.

jigmeister said...

Mark,

Guidry and Fratta were reversed because the Supremes changed the rules when they trapped themselves deciding Washington v. Crawford. That case came as a surprise given how we perceived the direction of that august body when those cases were tried. That happens a lot in capital cases. Did you see that case coming?

whltng said...

I'm going to chime in on the 174th race. I'm supporting Keating. Here is why.

He was a trial lawyer for many years -- a good one -- before he went to the appellate division. He is a supervisor there now, and he tends to get the hardest cases on appeal. (Clara Harris, Guidry, the David Temple new trial hearing to name just a few) He's argued in front of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, and most of the lower courts of appeals. He's also handled capital cases in the United States Supreme Court. (Indeed, he just won the Joubert case last week -- persuading SCOTUS not to grant cert in a case that, at first glance, appeared to have a legitimate chance of getting their attention).

The bottom line is that he has handled cases from JP courts here to the Supreme Court in Washington DC. Many people rely on him for his legal expertise. People trust him to shoot straight -- he's never been afraid to tell other prosecutors that the rules of evidence don't always permit them to do what they want.

At the same time, he has been a real leader in finding creative alternatives for handling non-violent offenders. He volunteered to be the first prosecutor to handle cases in the drug court. He did this in addition to his regular appellate duties, and he did it by himself for almost two years. He even helped draft the grant applications that funded it and helped get it off the ground.

He helped draft legislation that rewrote our laws governing the insanity defense. If you remember the legislature repealed Article 46.03 back in 2005 and replaced it with Article 46C. He helped make sure that it included many provisions that make it easier for criminal practitioners to handle those cases, and he spearheaded the effort to get more resources available for people found NGRI of violent offenses.

Keating is a legal expert, and has a record of being tough on crime. He has handled appeals involving just about every kind of issue you can imagine. At the same time, he's looked for ways to improve the system and get more and better alternatives for non-violent drug offenders.

He is kind of quiet, probably not the best politician in the bunch. But he's thoughtful and has the right temperament to be a judge.

I don't think any of the other candidates can say they have ever handled an appeal, and while some of them have emphasized valuing sentencing alternatives, Keating was pushing for those kinds of things before it became fashionable.

He's smart, he's fair, and he's balanced. I think he will make a fine judge.

Anonymous said...

JAGJO Writes:

Mark I respect what you do and that you have your own opinions but you can not and will not put words in my mouth ( or in this case words into my writing) that are simply not there. I did not claim or allege that I was Bill Moore or that Bill Moore has made claims that his opponents have not taken political contributions. I , like you, was merely stating MY opinion that he is "perhaps" ( please note the choice of words I used in my previous post) "perhaps" the only candidate to not take political contributions. I know that Bill has made a pledge to not take any contributions from any lawyers that would appear before him in his court and pose a conflict of interest and open an avenue to creat distrust with the residents of Harris County and insinuate any impropriety of the 174th. That is called integrity. Now before you get your feathers all ruffled,you should review the candidates contribution reports filed with the state. I have nothing personally against your boy, Jocher, but honestly, he was never going to be a front runner in this race. Whatever his personal reason was for not accepting your offer is his business. I have my theory if what you say is true. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he knew Bill Moore made a pledge right off the bat not to accept any and he was trying to be at Bill's level of competition. Who knows. Who cares at this point. I personally find it disturbing for ANY criminal defense atty to be making contributions to a criminal court judge. Period. Conflict of interest. Bad ethics. As I stated at the beginging of my post, I respect what you do and your opinion but this is mine and baby, Im sticking to it. Now, as far as the candidates on the dem side of the fence, I believe Guerrero has reported contributions as well. I believe I read that in his reports.

I have given numerous prior posts regarding all 4 repub candidates and what distinguishes Bill Moore from the rest. I am sure you read them and due to the hour, I am not about to dredge them up. You should recall, as one of the topics was about prior ADA work experience topic.

To reiterate what I said earlier, make it count, vote your opinion. Using school yard bully tactics to "call me out" is, well, it's just plain ass funny is what it is.

It is no guess who you will vote for if you vote.... all I have to say is, may the best qualified of the four honorable men win the nomination and in the event that there is a run off between Moore and Windham,then you get to decide all over again to not vote for Moore.

Free will is a beautiful thing, isn't it?


~JAGJO

Texpat said...

There is something I brought up on LoneStarTimes.com which is of concern to me and others. I do not have first-hand knowledge of Kelly Siegler's management or leadership abilities and yet, I think there are questions to be answered. Clearly, Kelly is the the no shit, hot dog deal in the DA's office. Why does that translate into the person who should be leading the HC prosecutorial staff ? Rather than having the office run by someone who is over the top, gung ho 24/7, would it not be better to have that person be someone who can say no, not this time - or never, not in this office ?

I've observed in my professional life, of almost four decades, the most high performance numbers oriented player most often makes a lousy manager or boss. I've seen, several times, careers implode because a highly competitive performer was promoted to a senior management position wherein their greatest strengths became their greatest weaknesses. Why are Kelly Siegler's talents better deployed, for herself and the DA's office, as the head of the department rather than as its best gunslinger ?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

TexPat,
Thanks for stopping over.
The argument you make is one that seems to be coming quite a bit from the Lykos camp, and, no offense, it seems a bit silly. "She's too good at her job, and therefore will never make a good leader"?
How would that argument play out with a military anaology? "A good captain who is extremely talented should never be made general, let's bring in a civilian instead"?
Besides, if your answer to that problem is to bring in Lykos, rest assured that she'll fire Kelly, along with a host of other extremely prosecutors who have dedicated their lives to this profession. She'll fire them for no other reason than they supported Kelly.
The thought makes me nauseous. As someone who has dedicated almost the entirety of their professional life to that, the thought of some grand standing politico kicking dedicated "lifers" out is extremely upsetting.

jigmeister said...

Because the DA's office is not a business. Kelly inspires the staff to become the best trial lawyers they can be. She also knows what the staff is going to be doing and how they do it. She also knows what's wrong and will really try to fix it. Chuck has had a chilling effect on the office for a while.

In addition to getting the best of the trial lawyers, you are getting a philosphy. That's tough fair no nonsense treatment of the very bad people.

If you want an accountant, vote for Perry. If you want a politician vote for Lykos. If you want a more liberal philosophy on crime, the vote for Leitner.

Believe me there are people on the staff now that are budget and personnel types. Kelly won't do those jobs. (Johnny didn't either-Chuck tried but didn't do them well), Kelly will provide you with the most competent and professional trial attorneys, along with the ability and talent to try the most demanding case.

I guarantee you would never regret your vote for Kelly.

jigmeister said...

Kevin,

Just to put my 2 cents in on the 174th race, since as you know, I can't vote from up here. And did not have the benefit of listening to any of their speeches.

I have tried several cases with Terrance Windham and know him to be a great guy with lots of talent and intelligence. I also know of his military background and personal life experiences. He is older than the other Republican candidates and perhaps the most conservative despite having run as a democrat in the past. I think that was a family thing he had to get over.(Sorry for using the C term Mark-can't think of another word). Bill has limited experience with the big case, Kevin is not a bad choice, and I don't know John well enough to express an opinion.

Texpat said...

HCL, I originally made those comments early during speculation about a future DA race, well before Chuck Rosenthal resigned. There was no consideration of Lykos, Leitner, Bradford or others in my questioning. It is genuine, and not tactical, since I have no other dog in this hunt but the best possible person to be the next HC DA. It is not a personal challenge to Kelly Siegler's abilities, but a broader question about management dynamics that I thought might well be answered in a forum like this. Maybe not...

And HCL, trust me, I really, really don't want to see Lykos or Bradford as the next DA.

Texpat said...

After reading again your comment above, it occurs to me I may have inadvertently given ammunition to the Lykos camp with my comments on LST about Ms. Siegler. That certainly was not my intention, however, I think, perhaps, I should bill them for the idea. Maybe I could accept payment in yarmulkes.

Ron in Houston said...

Texpat

You're in partisan country here. AHCL is a big fan of Kelly.

However, it does appear that a whole lot of other people at the DA's office are big fans of hers also.

Which means that the rank and file will readily accept her leadership.

I really don't think it's the Peter principle at work. It's not like Kelly would be raised to the level of incompetence by being elected DA.

For a lot of people who aren't DA's, the question is whether she will just be a female Johnny Holmes/Chuck Rosenthal. We often don't like to look at our own warts. It's a question of whether someone who grew up in that system can truly acknowledge all the warts.

Mark Bennett said...

"Jagjo", my apologies: I forgot the two cardinal rules of the interwebs -- 1) thou shalt not question the identity of an anonymous commenter; and 2) thou mayest say whatever thou wantst as long as thou precedest it with "probably".

I don't have anything against Bill, but I am not a big fan of uncorroborated anonymous sources. It seems like I struck close to home; if you're not Bill, then you might be his brother, his wife, or his campaign manager. Who the heck knows? This is why anonymous commenters shouldn't be surprised when they find themselves called out on their unsupported opinions.

Since you couldn't be bothered to take the five minutes required to confirm or refute your "probably", I went ahead and did it:

Bill reports that he hasn't taken any political contributions at all; neither has John Jocher. Both Kevin Keating and Terrance Windham have taken contributions from lawyers who might appear before them on both sides of the bar (your man, incidentally, only expresses concern about taking contributions from lawyers representing individuals before him).

I haven't heard any concrete or anecdotal evidence that campaign contributions have affected the outcome of any Harris County criminal case. Nevertheless, I'd like to see money taken out of judicial campaigns altogether. For that matter, I'd like to see partisan politics taken out of judicial elections altogether.

If Bill feels the same way about contributions from prosecutors as about contributions from defense lawyers, then I think his position is laudable. If (as his website implies) it's a one-way street, then it's dishonest and probably actionable under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

The people who best know whether a person is qualified to be a judge are those who have practiced with, against, or before him: the lawyers (on both sides of the bar) who might appear before him. While money is a factor, there's nothing dirty about these people using their money to support the people whom they think are best for the job.

You'll be happy to hear that I didn't vote against Bill this morning, and won't in any possible runoff. (I didn't vote against Lykos or Rains either, though.) Not directly against any of them, that is; I think what happens at the top of the ticket is likely to drive the final outcome of all of these races. We may well be calling Lloyd Oliver "your honor" come January; I did my part this morning to prevent that.

Mark.

jigmeister said...

Thank you, I am sure that would come out, "your horror"

Harris County Voter said...

Interesting. Maybe a few details that could out you though.

Basically, I would be happy with either Leitner or Siegler running the DAs office. Neither of those candidates would physically sicken me, and it is too bad that the Republican machine decided it was better to throw their support to an unqualified person, instead of two established, qualified people.

Pat Lykos is spectacularly unqualified for the job, and to make it worse, is by all accounts of people I've known who have practiced in her court in the past, a completely unpleasant human being and a goofy judge.

Yeah, the Chronicle is hushing up the Jewish stuff, but that is just the tip of the iceberg of her poor temperment. Regularly, as a judge, she would not accept agreed pleas, pleas of first offenders. The prosecutors would have to wait until their was a visiting judge to clear the stupid cases off of the docket.

Who knows what sort of really stupid stuff she would do as the DA? The DA sets the standards of what is acceptable for the prosecutors to do or not do plea-wise.

I figure I can't trust the Chronicle at all about their political endorsements given that they supported both Pat Lykos and...double ugh...Brian Rains. They haven't got a clue.

I can't think of a single reason why anyone would support Pat Lykos but for getting a candidate in the general election who is so unpleasant and unqualified that the Democrat will defeat them.

futureADA said...

Kelly is looking good tonight. I am confident she will own Lycos in a runoff.