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Showing posts from 2009

Lykos 2009: A Year in Review

As a kid, I always enjoyed reading Dave Barry's Year-in-Review every December, so in the spirit of Dave, here is a review of our first year with Snookems and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight . . . JANUARY January 1 -- a beaming and freshly polydented Pat Lykos is sworn in as District Attorney while hundreds of Assistant D.A.'s are forced to attend the ceremony at gunpoint. During the ceremony, she criticizes the minister who swears her in for mispronouncing her name. Noting that Lykos is pronounced "Like us", it will be the only time that anyone says anything about "liking" the new administration. After the ceremony, there are numerous reports of Lykos shaking down prosecutors for cigarettes. January 7 -- in an effort to promote a lack of familiarity with cases, Jim Leitner detaches his lips from Lykos' posterior long enough to announce a new policy against prosecutors holding onto cases that they've worked on if they switch courts.

Black Ink's Take on the CCL 13 Race

It's worth reading. Check it out here.

Petition Signing for Don Smyth

For those of you who are interested, there will be a petition signing get together for Don Smyth tomorrow (December 29th) from 4 - 6 pm at Cielo's Mexican Restaurant located at the intersection of Main and Congress. The deadline for signature collection is January 4th so all help will be greatly appreciated.

Don Smyth runs for County Court at Law # 13

As mentioned in the comments section of my last post, there was a lot of excitement generated on Wednesday by the announcement of Division Chief Don Smyth's candidacy for Judge of County Court at Law # 13. Don is currently the Division Chief of Division A in the Trial Bureau of the District Attorney's Office, and he has been a prosecutor with the Office for over 32 years. He has held pretty much every position that the Office has to offer, from Misdemeanor Three all the way to Bureau Chief. He was the former Division Chief of the Civil Rights Division, before becoming the Bureau Chief of the Governmental Affairs Bureau (which encompassed the Civil Rights and Public Integrity Divisions). He served as a Bureau Chief for 8 years. During his tenure as an Assistant District Attorney, he also served as the Division Chief of the Misdemeanor Division. Don is a graduate of the University of Texas Law School, and also got his undergraduate degree from UT, as well. He has been married

The 2009 Twelve Days of Lykos

On the First Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me One D.A. endorsed Brady Violation. On the Second Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me Two Stellar employees crucified in the Chronicle. On the Third Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Three Washed Up judges demanding to be called "Judge". On the Fourth Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Four people who actually care that Snooks testified before Congress. On the Fifith Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Five DIVERT and Trace Case flip-flops. On the Sixth Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Six weekly resignations from career prosecutors. On the Seventh Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Seven Leitner bobbleheads, nodding to the Judges. On the Eighth Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Eight unfilled spots in the Trial Bureau. On the Ninth Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Nine friends of Bridgwater and Chow hired to fill positions. On the Tenth Day of Lykos, Snookems gave to me, Ten Golden parachutes for 10 Repu

The 2009 Rookie of the Year

Congratulations to Judge Shawna Reagin of the 176 th District Court who won the 2009 Rookie of the Year at the CJC by a very large margin. For those of us who practice regularly in her court, that comes as no real surprise. Judge Reagin has done a great job of combining intelligence, fairness and compassion to prove herself as an excellent judge in her first year. She is backed up by a great court staff that make a visit to her court both a professional and pleasant experience. Congrats Judge!

Christmas Dress Code

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I realize that it is Christmas time and everyone is in a more relaxed mood around the courthouse. However, I think it is very important that we don't let the court room attire dress code to lapse to such total fashion faux pas -- And yes, Brian, I know your glasses cost like $50, but couldn't either of you afforded a real tie?

Holiday Classics

Last year I got canned (for the second time) for running the 12 Days of Lykos (that YOU GUYS wrote, I might add!). Looking back on the list now, it seems so absolutely non-abrasive compared to what Snookems and the Gang actually did during their first year in Office, doesn't it? So, without further ado, I'm re-running the 2008 Days of Lykos . I'm also taking suggestions for the 2009 Days of Lykos . Y'all remember how to play this game right?? Oh, and by the way, I will be ceremoniously firing myself again Christmas Eve so that Ken Magidson doesn't have to do it this year. Merry Christmas everybody! The 12 Days of Lykos - 2008 Edition On the 12 th Day of Lykos , Snookems gave to me 12 jurors chosen without a preemptive strike; 11 free "crooked cop passes" from Mr. Police Integrity himself; 10 internal memos regarding unprofessionalism of reading toxic, antiregime blogs; 9 new ashtrays for the 6 th floor smoking lounge; 8 days of Lykos Hell

Petition Signings

Channel 13's Miya Shay is reporting tonight from the trial of Judge Don Jackson that controversy has arisen over the signing of a political petition. The gist of the story is this -- Don Jackson was the judge of County Court at Law # 3 of Harris County, Texas. In the race, there is a Republican challenger named Cary Hart (who would be a freaking excellent judge, by the way, but there will be more on that later). As part of her preliminary steps towards running for judge, she asked friends and other supporters to sign a petition that allowed her to run without paying a massive filing fee. It's THE common practice for all candidates who run for office. It is common for there to be big political party events (both Republican and Democrat) where party faithful can sign petitions for all the candidates. I signed Cary's petition gladly. So did plenty of other defense attorneys who know and support Cary. So did plenty of prosecutors who know and support Cary. One of those

The Race for County Court at Law # 13

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With Denise Bradley's departure from the Republican Primary for County Court at Law #13, controversial Assistant District Attorney Rachel Palmer now sits alone as the only candidate in the Republican Primary. The fact that this is happening is not sitting well with a lot of readers of this blog, including the poster known as Black Ink, who has posted his own commentary on his blog known as Stealth. As I've said before, Rachel has never done anything to me personally, but I do have my concerns about her. One of which is her description of herself as the "Deputy Chief of the District Attorney's Office". This seems to imply that 1) there is a singular "Chief" of the D.A.'s Office [there isn't]; and 2) therefore there is a singular "Deputy Chief" which is her [there isn't and she certainly isn't]. Rachel is a Felony Two who is on the cusp of being promoted to a District Court Chief. She is the Deputy Chief of the Misdemeanor

Rumors Are Flying

In case you hadn't noticed, I've refrained from doing any posts on the upcoming Judicial Elections of 2010 so far. The reason for that is that the races aren't closed until the first part of January and who knows what could happen in the next two to three weeks? A clear example of how things can change in a heartbeat happened today when the Assistant District Attorney Denise Bradley (formerly Nasser) announced that she was moving from the race for County Court at Law # 3 to run for the bench of the 262nd District Court. Accompanying the notice was the announcement that Judge Mike Anderson who is the current judge of the 262nd was not going to run again in 2010. And rumors started going crazy at that point. People are posting comments on my other posts speculating that Judge Anderson will be beginning an early campaign for District Attorney. My answer to that? I have no freaking clue. I'm sure that me stating that I have no clue will do absolutely nothing to st

The Veterans' Court

Due to the hard work of some very dedicated Defense Attorneys and Public Servants in the Texas Legislature and the CJC, this past week Harris County proudly held the first docket of its newly established Veterans' Court. The Veterans' Court was the product of bipartisan work from the State Legislature, most notably Senator Rodney Ellis and Representative Alan Vaught. Representative Vaught is the Vice Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and my understanding is that his staffer, Jo Cuevas, was instrumental in keeping the bill from dying along the way. Also along the way, the project was assisted by Defense Attorneys Pat McCann and Jack and Terri Zimmerman. According to Pat, the Harris County District Attorney's Office was also instrumental in helping to redraft the bill into a workable form. To use Pat's quote, the effort to get the creation of the Veterans' Court, literally "took a village." Also instrumental in the administration of the V

The Final Four

Congratulations to the Final Four Finalists for the CJC Rookie of the Year -- Judge Shawna Reagin , Judge Kevin Fine, Judge Herb Ritchie, and D.A. Pat Lykos . Commence to voting for the winner, folks. Polls close next Sunday at 8:00 p.m.

Now THAT'S What I Call Decisiveness

Ya know, I try to work on our relationship, Snooks, but I can't do it all by myself. Just after I supported your move to stop filing crack pipe residue cases YESTERDAY, you've turned around and changed your mind about it today . Looks like you are going to be rethinking things at HPD's urging. Now, I'm all for Lykos and the Gang making some attempts to start thinking , but damn, I was really getting behind her new policy before she hauled off and changed it. I love that Lykos is so adored by the Houston Chronicle that she has no qualms about announcing a policy in the Wednesday edition and then turning around and reversing her position the next. By the way, Pat, that doesn't make you look inept, clueless at your job, unprofessional or anything. Really. I promise. But once again, I wanted it noted for the record that I tried to support you on an issue, but you wouldn't work with me. I just don't know if our relationship is going to make it.

The New Crack Pipe Policy

Pat Lykos has gotten herself back in the news today with the announcement of her new policy of the Office no longer filing crack pipe "residue" cases . As the Chronicle article points out, the move is being met with polar opposite reviews from police officers and defense attorneys. For those of you unfamiliar with the lingo, a crack pipe residue case is typically called a "trace case" by most criminal lawyers. The typical scenario is that a person is arrested for a Class C offense (in the poorer neighborhoods, that's usually a jaywalking, walking in the street where a sidewalk is provided, or a bicycling without a headlight). Once a patrol officer arrests the Class C scofflaw, the "search incident to arrest" will often times recover a crack pipe with no crack rock in it. However, a quick test with a field kit will show that the pipe tests positive for cocaine residue and voila , we have felony charges. The reality of the situation is that the crack

Rookie of the Year

As we begin wrapping up 2009, I thought it might be fun for y'all to get to pick the Rookie of the Year from our new elected candidates. There were eight new District Court Judges and one new District Attorney, so the question for deciding who the Rookie of the Year is for 2009 is who do you think has done the best job in their new position. Because of the way the Blogger Dashboard runs, I can only put a maximum of five candidates on an opinion poll, so it looks like we're going to go to the playoff system again. The top two vote-getters in each individual poll will be placed in the final poll. As a side note, although I'm not including him on the poll, I think some major credit needs to be thrown to District Clerk Loren Jackson for the major technological advancements he's made with his Office. He has quietly done some very impressive things and word on the street is that we ain't seen nothing yet from him. So, that being said, commence to voting!

Post-Thanksgiving Wrap Up

Since I first set foot in Harris County as a lawyer over ten years ago, I've always loved this time of year at the courthouse. Things are starting to wind down for the year. Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys are a little less snippy with each other. There's kind of an aura of goodwill towards each other that will disappear on the first work day of the new year. But, sadly, that also means that it is a really dull time to be a blogger. Yep, there just isn't too much to report on around the old CJC generally this time of year. About the only thing worth noting last week was that the Pre -Commits finally got sworn in as bona fide prosecutors. In typical fashion, Lykos kept it a closed ceremony so none of the new lawyers' families could attend. That was some PR genius, Snooks . But on the whole, things are quiet, and that's a good thing, I suppose. I will point out that my friend, Pat McCann , wrote a great piece in the Chronicle today about the executio

10 Years Ago Today

Ten years ago this morning, I woke up in a small house that I was renting over in the Timbergrove Manor part of town. I was a Baby Prosecutor of three months, assigned to the Justice of the Peace Division and I was due in Judge Patronella's court Downtown that morning. I got up, showered and got dressed with Good Morning America on the television set. I wasn't paying much attention to it until I saw that it was covering the Aggie Bonfire. I'm from Bryan, Texas and I grew up in a house about a mile and a half from the polo fields at Texas A&M. I graduated from there in 1995. So, when I saw that a national TV show was covering my hometown, my initial reaction was "oh, cool". I figured they were just doing a profile on the traditions of college football and they were covering the A&M tradition. It took me about ten seconds to realize that what they were covering was probably the worst tragedy that ever hit the community where I grew up. I stopped ever

The Paralegal

I received a comment on the blog this morning under my previous post on Ethics Training that I thought was worth posting in its own article. If you recall, during the Brady hearing last month , the testimony of Denise Oncken was contradicted by longtime Child Abuse Paralegal Kim Flores. Shortly thereafter, Kim turned in her resignation and accepted a job working for Bill Stradley. In what I think is a pretty stand up move, Stradley was willing to give her a job after she made the courageous stand by testifying against her employers. Some might even call Kim a whistleblower . . . All was well in the wake of the Brady hearing. Lykos and company held an Ethics Training and then went about sweeping the whole incident under the rug. The media stopped paying attention to the violation and Kim turned in her two weeks notice. It was looking like Lykos and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight were going to successfully dodge the issue until yesterday. I'll just let "T

What to Do With Susan Wright

Back in the Spring of 2004, I got the opportunity to sit second chair with Kelly Siegler on the State of Texas vs. Susan Wright -- a highly publicized murder case at the time which was made even more highly publicized during trial. The short version of the case was that a young mother tied her husband, Jeff Wright, to their bed and stabbed him over 190 times before burying him in a flower bed right outside their bedroom door. She then reported him to the police as having beaten her and then left their home on foot. For a more detailed version of the case, here is an article I wrote for TDCAA several years ago. The case got National attention when Kelly had us reconstruct the bed in the middle of Judge Jim Wallace's courtroom and did a re-enactment of the stabbing for the jury. (NOTE: No, I was not the dude in the bed. That was Paul Doyle.) Ultimately, Susan Wright was convicted of the murder of her husband and was sentenced to 25 years in TDCJ . The jury had rejected a claim

On a Lighter Note . . .

Congratulations to all the Pre -Commits who passed the Texas Bar Exam today! There is nothing quite as miserable as those three to four months waiting for the results, and today should be one of the happiest days of your life. Although as you progress in the Office you will eventually get to know all of your fellow prosecutors, there will always be a higher level of camaraderie and friendship with the ones who are in your "starting class" with you. They will be the ones that you will celebrate your victories with, drink after your losses with, and grow up in the Office with. The longer you stay at the Office, the more they will become a second family to you. You've got some great times ahead of you. Enjoy them. And congratulations, again, for getting that damn test in the rear-view mirror.

Ethics Training

In response to the tremendous Brady blunder committed the week before last by the Harris County District Attorney's Office, fearless leader and speed-spender Pat Lykos decided to jump into action. Rather than take any sort of definitive action such as publicly calling any prosecutors names or issuing any type of apology on behalf of the Office, Lykos decided just to throw some money at the problem. She hired TDCAA representative Clay Abbott to come to Houston and give a lecture on Brady material. Now, I like Clay Abbott and he is a very good speaker. He speaks every term at Baby Prosecutor's School in Austin about Ethics. In addition to being an incredible resource on DWI cases, he is also a great teacher. I've got no gripes about him. That being said, the early reports that I've gotten about the training seem to indicate that the message was put forth that an open file policy was adequate to comply with Brady. I wasn't there, so if anybody wants to ch

Your Friendly Neighborhood Office Lobbyist

While Pat Lykos and her Gang seem to have been incapable of approaching the County Commissioner's Court to try and drum up a little money to pay their pre-commits, she seems to have had no problem in approaching the Court for money for an Office Lobbyist. Historically, the District Attorney's Office has sent a legislative liaison of some sort to Austin when Congress was in session to work with the Representatives and Senators on upcoming criminal law bills. This has generally drawn a disgusted eye roll from members of the Defense Bar, who assume that this was an example of a Police State trying to come up with more laws to imprison the poor citizen. However, the liaisons in the past have often worked along with TDCAA in trying to help the legislators keep from putting laws into effect just because they seemed politically popular. (EXAMPLE: Harris County actually tried to talk Legislators out of expanding the death penalty to non-Capital murder situations like sexual assau

The Pre-Commits Get Screwed Over

The budget woes of the Harris County District Attorney's Office continued to deepen reportedly today. This time the folks losing out because of Pat Lykos' spending habits were the Pre-Commits. As I've mentioned before, the term "Pre-Commit" refers to recently (or soon-to-be) graduated law students who have been hired as interns for the District Attorney's Office. They are promised employment conditioned only upon them passing the Bar Exam. Prior to the Bar results arriving, they are employed by the Office as interns. My understanding is that they are paid about $12 an hour during their internship. Upon passing the Bar Exam, the Pre-Commits are then upgraded to a starting "real" salary, and they get sworn in by a judge in a nice ceremony that family can attend. At present time there are somewhere between 10 to 15 Pre-Commit Interns who are awaiting their Bar results. This week was supposed to be a big one for the Pre-Commits, because the Bar

Open Range

Okay Boys and Girls, I'm on vacation this week, so I don't feel like blogging on a topic right now. So you all can talk about whatever you want in the comments section (in an idea I totally am borrowing from Lone Star Times ). Have fun and keep it semi-clean. Sincerely, The Blog Czar (inside joke)

Adios, Amigo

Tomorrow (Friday, October 30th) will be my friend, Mark Donnelly's last day at the Harris County District Attorney's Office before he heads off to work at the U.S. Attorney's Office. To say his departure is a loss for the D.A.'s Office is a tremendous understatement, but given the way he was treated by Pat Lykos , the move comes as no surprise. I first met Mark when I was a Misdemeanor Chief during the Summer of 2001. The offices at 1201 Franklin had been abandoned in the wake of Tropical Storm Allison and we were operating under Flood Conditions out of the old Early Voting location on Texas. He was a rookie prosecutor who had the audacity to wear some sort of prissy little bow tie to work. It was a pretty bold move for a rookie, and I decided to harass him about it. If I recall correctly, he had no hesitation about hurling back a barrage of bald jokes in response. Even though it was totally at my expense, it was hysterical. Mark pretty much fit right in from

Brady & Over-Reliance on an Open File

Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys alike were buzzing about on Friday afternoon, discussing the hearing in the 180 th District Court over whether or not prosecutor Denise Oncken had wilfully withheld Brady information on a Sexual Assault of a Child case. At issue was whether or not the head of the District Attorney's Child Abuse Division had failed to notify defense attorneys Bill Stradley and Lisa Andrews that the child victim in the case had initially stated she had been sexually assaulted by a black man when the Defendant in the case was white. As noted in Brian Rogers' article, Judge Van Culp ruled that the exculpatory evidence had indeed been withheld, but since it had been discovered before the trial was over, the error was harmless and therefore no mistrial would be granted. That's a good thing for the District Attorney's Office because if a mistrial had been granted due to prosecutorial misconduct, Glen Kahlden (the Defendant) would be a free man. The Sta

The Not Ready for Prime Time Player

It's tough being one of the spokespeople for the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight. Your boss doesn't understand the law and good policy making. You don't understand your boss. You have to go on camera and defend what your boss is doing. It's kind of like the Perfect Storm -- just ask Jim Leitner, who found himself in front of Channel 13's Ted Oberg this week to answer some questions about the District Attorney's new policy of reviewing vehicle fatality cases. The problem is that (as I pointed out in this post ) there doesn't seem to be any guidelines for what cases make the grade for Pat Lykos and crew and what cases don't. So, poor Jim Leitner was pretty much a deer in the headlights when Ted Oberg came a calling for an explanation on the cases. Bless his heart, Jim didn't even make it past "State your name" before he apparently decided to bail out on the interview. Clearly violating the Office's earlier motto of "Look

Ghosts of Cases Past

Something that occasionally arises when you are a former or current Assistant District Attorney is the scenario where you are out and about in town and get flagged down by someone who recognizes you. I'm not talking about somebody that recognizes you from the TV or the newspaper, but recognizes you from a case that you worked on that involved them. When a current or former prosecutor gets the question "Aren't you a D.A.?", one thing flashes through your mind very quickly -- "Does this person love me or hate me?" Odds are that if you are encountering someone you once prosecuted or one of their family members, you could be dealing with a potentially dangerous situation (depending on the outcome of the case). Luckily, this situation has yet to happen me. But if you are seeing someone who you had as a victim or a witness on a case, the results can usually be very pleasant, or in some cases pretty funny. Coming back from lunch today, I was flagged down by a

A Tale of Two Cases

A couple of years ago, under the Chuck Rosenthal Administration, a specialized "team" was created that was specifically designed to assist in the investigation of automobile fatality cases -- those involving alcohol and otherwise. The group of prosecutors, under the leadership of Warren Diepraam , was called the Vehicular Assault Team (or VAT) for short. (NOTE: Personally, I found the alternative of Fatality Accident Review Team to be more appropriate only because of the acronym it created, but my idea never "officially" caught on). Prosecutors would be sent out to make the scene of auto fatalities to advise and assist the police officers as they were investigating the case. Although it may seem like an automobile fatality case would be a relatively simple one to investigate, nothing could be further from the truth. The assistance of prosecutors was something that could definitely be used in the drafting of warrants and making charging decisions at the scene.

Absence from the Keyboard

I've gotten a couple of complaints about my lack of posting lately. And by "a couple", I mean two. Thanks to Feroz and Kiatta for your enthusiasm towards the blog. I actually sat down and started writing a new post on Monday, but then a family medical emergency sprung up and I had to head to out of town ASAP. I'll get around to typing up something new soon. Anybody got any proposed topics?

Lise Olsen's Weekend Article

In the participation with the Chronicle's latest zealous campaign for a Public Defender's Office (which has already been approved), writer Lise Olsen assisted with this article over the weekend talking about indigent defendants spending inordinate amounts of time in jail. As usual, the Chronicle is missing their mark on the cause of the over-lengthy stays, but in this case, Ms. Olsen seems to have gone really overboard with some mischaracterizations and outright inaccuracies throughout her story. The first problem with her article is that it flat out just misses the boat. If the Chron was looking for why Defendants remain in jail for so long they can blame one main factor -- the enormous caseload of pending cases in each and every court in Harris County. It's been awhile since I last looked at the actual case counts for the individual courts, but before I left the D.A.'s Office, most courts were running between 900 to 1000 cases pending, on average. When you sta

After Over a Month of Careful Consideration . . .

The long awaited "Move Memo" from the 6 th Floor at the D.A.'s Office finally arrived over the weekend. Now, keeping in mind that the Division Chief who retired (which caused the need for the Moves in the first place) has been gone for almost two months now, it boggles my mind that Lykos and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight really needed all that time. But, the good news for prosecutors is that the Move Memo has now finally arrived. The bad news is that Lykos , Bridgwater and Jimmy apparently drafted it over a few too many Jack and Cokes at the TDCAA Seminar in Corpus. Here are some of the highlights comings from this brilliantly crafted document: 1. Marc Brown was promoted to Division Chief of Grand Jury . That's good news, because Marc had been quite an excellent Division Chief prior to the Lykos Administration. They had decided to demote him to a regular Chief because of political reasons when they took over. Good to see that they came to their se