Monday, March 30, 2009

Comes A Prosecutor

I'm proud of my service at the District Attorney's Office.

I make no apologies for that.

What has transpired in that Office over the past 90 days has been absolutely devastating to that Office in ways that not even the biggest Pat Lykos detractor (um, that would be me) could have imagined. Her actions since last Thursday have gone far beyond even the worst case scenarios that I could have imagined.

As a prosecutor, I was always used to being insulted by Defendants, Defense Attorneys, and often the Media. Sometimes making the right decision meant making unpopular decisions and that came to as part of the job.

What I never had to deal with as a prosecutor was my boss encouraging me to fail to do my job.

But under the Lykos Administration, that's exactly what prosecutors are having to do. After the absolutely disgusting and morally reprehensible actions by Lykos against prosecutors Mark Donnelly and Rifi Newaz on Thursday, there was a follow up by Lykos' Chief Peon, Jim Leitner. Leitner entered into a series of meeting with Special Crimes, Division Chiefs, and Chief Prosecutors, in which he reiterated the his moronic platform from his ill-fated campaign of more or less abandoning peremptory strikes.

For those of you who don't practice law, scenarios like the following could happen under the Lykos/Leitner in dealing with a juror during voir dire:

PROSECUTOR: So, Juror # 13, have you ever had any bad experiences with the police or the D.A.'s Office?
JUROR # 13: Absolutely. Two of my children were wrongfully arrested and convicted by a bunch of corrupt and lying police officers and prosecutors.
PROSECUTOR: I'm guessing then by your answer that you could not be fair to the State.
JUROR # 13: Heh heh heh. Nah, I can be fair. You bet. Heh heh heh.

Under the Lykos/Leitner Rules, that juror is going to be on the jury. At least, they will be if they are a member of a protected class.

That's absolutely ridiculous.

Call me old fashioned, by I kind of like voting for a District Attorney who is actually going to be a prosecutor--not a defense attorney who is going to spend more time pandering to voters than actually doing the job that they took an OATH to do. That is the message that Pat and Jim sent out to their people with what they did to Rifi and Mark.

And prior to today, I thought that this new found attitude had all of the prosecutors beaten down.

So, it was with a great deal of relief and admiration when I saw my friend, Division Chief Bill Hawkins walk into the court where I was working today. A jury trial in the near future was being discussed and a prosecutor under Bill's supervision asked if the new Leitner rules would be those that governed jury selection.

Bill's response was something to the effect of: "In this Division, we're going to continue to follow the Law."

I know very well that Bill has had his controversial moments in his career as a prosecutor, and Lord knows I've disagreed with him on plenty of occasions.

But Bill Hawkins is a Man with a Code of Honor that he follows, no matter what his detractors may say about him. To paraphrase Davy Crockett (at least the one played by Fess Parker), he decides what is right and then he "goes ahead".

Incidentally, Hawkins was also one of the people that stood up to Leitner in defense of Mark and Rifi during one of Jim's special meetings.

Bill Hawkins is a leader in that Office. More importantly, he's a prosecutor.

Which are two things that most decidedly do not describe Lykos and Leitner.

I'm hoping that more and more prosecutors will continue to follow Hawkins' lead -- Know what is right, and then go ahead. Stop worrying about getting fired or punished by Lykos if you follow the law. Even that horribly misguided Politico and her Lap Dog must know that if she were to retaliate against her prosecutors for violating the law by either firing, demoting, or transferring them that they could turn around with a lovely whistle-blower's lawsuit.

It's time for prosecutors to be able to get back to doing their job without fear of retaliation from their boss, who is a politician, and actually much more of a defense attorney than a prosecutor.

If you need an example of how a prosecutor is supposed to act, just go look to Bill Hawkins right now.


Rage Judicata said...

Well if he didn't have a target painted on him before, he probably will now.

As you mention, his style has been a bit controversial. And his habit of certifying youth as adults after the lege took away the ability to send them to TYC is a decidedly Rosenthalesque tactic that puts him at odds with Lykos' campaign promises.

Leadership has a price. We'll see if he pays it here in the next few weeks, I'm betting.

Jela said...

I understand that there may be some queasiness about removing a Black juror given what happened last week. Nevertheless, the process is geared toward being adversarial, that's the point, just not racial. I think the prosecutors (I am not one) should have the right to excuse people, just like the defense, for race-neutral reasons. If the prosecutors can point to why they excused a juror and that reasoning is logical and takes you to the end, I do not see why they can't use their strikes appropriately. Voir dire is, arguably, the most important aspect of the trial.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Murray.

Anonymous said...

Bill Hawkins is one of the finest men I have ever met in my life. His code of honor extends to all areas of his life. That said-- I doubt he'll bw at the office much longer. Well, you write a hell of a eulogy, Murray.

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering how many more people have to be canned or leave on their own before Lykos and Leitner are the ones copying offense reports. We can't be too far from that now, seeing how there are felony district courts with unfilled spots.

Michael said...

I am not sure whether you meant for your example to be absurd or not. Why would the Lykos/Leitner rules prevent an ADA from using a peremptory strike to keep juror #13 off his jury? It would be easy to articulate a race-neutral reason for keeping him out of the box. Are you saying that L/L want all minorities on the jury no matter what? If so, where's the evidence to support that? I don't think it is established by the Whitfield case.

jigmeister said...

That had to be campaign retoric. No one who actually tried cases with hope of winning could possibly believe in waiving their strikes. Certainly not the defense.

Murray Newman said...

Anon 7:32 AM,
If Hawkins leaves, they are going to have to fire him, if you ask me. The man does not quit. He's committed to the goal of finishing whatever he sets out to do.

That is the message the Leitner has been spewing at the meetings. Yes, I meant the example to be absurd and extreme, but under his and Patsy's rules, if you can't get the juror for cause, you will not be getting them at all.

Jim quickly backed off of his stupid campaign promise, but he did say it. I'm surprised to see him back on it again.

Anonymous said...

Once again, a bad case makes for bad case law (or policy in this "case"). :~)

Anonymous said...

What would happen if every ADA grew a pair of balls and traded fear for justice?
This is reminiscent of when terrorists hijacked 4 commercial airliners. One of our planes did not hit it's intended target, the White House, but instead crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania. The passengers stood up for what was right. They took the risk at their own personal peril to do what was right for others. I in no way mean to detract from those heroic efforts by implying that this situation is anywhere equal to that bravery, but merely suggest that the principle of self sacrifice for the good of society is honorable and noble. We must do our jobs with integrity not fear. If that means losing our jobs or being demoted or publicly ridiculed and scorned in the process so be it or resign but do it with honor lest you be reduced to one of them.

Anonymous said...

There are other DA's offices in the area and in the State who would gladly hire members of the Harris County DA's office. They do try serious cases in those offices, and some actually pay quite well.

Keep that in mind. That and the AG's office, which you might get to spend alot of time in Houston even if your family can't relocate now.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you outed Bill like that. You claim he's your friend?

Murray Newman said...

I spoke with Bill prior to writing the article. I've never burned anyone who has talked to me confidentially, and I never will.

Give him credit. He's got guts.

And give me a little more credit than that, too.

Murray Newman said...

And just to clarify my above statement, Bill isn't the one who told me about the staff meeting, and he wasn't addressing me when he made the comment in court. I told him that I thought it was great what he was doing but didn't want to draw attention to him by publishing it in the blog.
He never sought me out to give me that information.

Anonymous said...

Good for Bill and the HCDA office. It seems it is still the duty of prosecutors to seek justice. As long as prosecutors remember that and abide by it, there will be more suspensions. The current administration is only interested in promoting Lykos. Image over substance.

Anonymous said...

There was an in-house lecture on how to effectively conduct voir dire today. I was told the lecturer actually said that ADA's job was to make the DA look good. God forbid they follow their oath to seek justice. Jeeeez.

Anonymous said...

To piggyback anon 6:23, we were told today in "training" that our job is to make the da look good.

Maybe someone changed the oath since I took it, but our job is to see justice done. Period. This elected troll isn't mentioned anywhere in that oath. Besides, how does she honestly expect us to want to "make her look good" when she destroys two of the best of us for the sake of the five o'clock news cycle.

Tenderfoot said...

Think Bill could educate some of the folks over at intake?

Anonymous said...

When did DAs stop being political animals? Sorry, I must have missed that memo. When was an ADA not supposed to make the DA look good? Shucks, musta been on vacation when that policy went down.

You act like Lykos is the first DA in the world to stick a wet finger up into the political wind. Yeah, the wind blows in a direction you don't like, but don't act like all other DAs have been altruistic pursuers of true justice with no thought to politics.

Also, the example that you gave was purely hyperbolic vitriol with a large helping of personal animosity. If you want to argue about a policy, then argue about the policy like a reasonable person, not like some political extremist trying to stir people up for his own personal or political agenda.

Your example was about as helpful as the "death panel" debate in health care. Keep it up and you may be just as successful in keeping people from thinking about THIS set of issues in a serious way.