Friday, October 23, 2009

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 Good, Think Smart, and Win!" by spontaneously changing it to "Look Foolish, Don't Think and Run Away!"

Now that's the kind of leadership I'm looking for in my D.A.'s Office!

In Jim's absence, Oberg turned to my anarchist, former-HCCLA President and defense attorney buddy Mark Bennett to explain how the D.A.'s Office should be run.

That's just awesome. Does the term "fox running the hen house" come to anybody else's mind? See what happens when you don't know what you're doing, Gang?

To catch Jim in all his glory during the "non-interview", click here.

In the meantime, Jim's response to Ted Oberg reminds me of the Knights of the Holy Grail's response to the Killer Bunny in this old movie favorite.


Anonymous said...

What is Jim going to say (or not say) after the hearing in the 180th today?

Anonymous said...

Ted Oberg should be commended for exposing the incompetence at 1201 Franklin.
It is hard to believe no other media outlets are reporting on the odd new practices at the DA's office.
Do you know if Ted Oberg will continue his investigation of the rampant incompetence at the Harris County District Attorney's Office or will the powers to be quash further investigation?
I've always heard Ted Oberg does the right thing and is not a coward so we'll just have to wait and see.
BTW, is there any truth to the rumor that Jimmy Leitner is also reviewing certain "special" cases to dismiss as quid pro quo favors to certain defense attorneys and thereby avoid the appellate process? The media ought to be outraged if that is true!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but Ted Oberg apparently believes that only the guilty accept pleas and the DA never coerces plea deals. If you're depending on him to right any wrongs, real or perceived, at the HCDAO, you'll be disappointed. Still, Leitner or someone needs to give a public accounting of these decisions.

Anonymous said...


1. Ted Oberg is not an idiot.
2. Mark Bennett is not the spokesman or policy maker for the DA's office.
3. Jimmy Leitner's performance is an embarrassment to the citizens of Harris County....on and off camera.
4. Pat Lykos needs to step up or step down.

Anonymous said...

I think Jim Leitner is absolutely right to be reviewing these cases. This has been an area of the DA's office with no oversight and Diepraam made some really bad decisions before leaving.

It took courage to dismiss a case that he and Lykos knew would bring media heat. It may not be good for politics but it is good for justice.

I am sure Leitner will tell the public what the criteria will be for prosecuting when they get it hammered out. Even Mark Bennett acknowledges the difficulty in figuring out where to draw the line.

Murray Newman said...

Nobody is saying that there shouldn't be the possibility of reviewing the cases. Where Leitner and Lykos have screwed the pooch is implementing something that high profile without having any type of guidelines.
They did the exact same thing with the announcement of the DIVERT program. They looked stupid then and they looked stupid now.
Lykos campaigned on the platform of transparency. Transparency becomes pretty difficult to acheive when you can't even explain your decisions to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Leitner did explain publicly after dropping the wrecker driver case that there just wasn't enough evidence. I think he was not prepared to answer the broader questions about what to do with the cases they pulled.

Murray you are right about Lykos speaking too soon regarding the divert program. It seems they are thinking this one out before speaking publicly. Its a good move.

TxTransplant said...

Putting a new chief with a level head was an equally good decision.

Anonymous said...

"Even Mark Bennett acknowledges the difficulty in figuring out where to draw the line."

Well we can only hope that defense attorney Mark Bennett approves of how the Harris County District Attorney's Office runs their own office.
Have you lost your mind?

"I am sure Leitner will tell the public what the criteria will be for prosecuting when they get it hammered out."

Isn't Leitner the 1st assistant? Shouldn't he know this kind of information already?
He and Lykos have been in office 10 months--how much more time do they need?
Have Lykos and Leitner actually published in written form ANY "hammered out" policy changing ideas of import for their ADAs yet, let alone for the public?
What are you smoking man?

Anonymous said...

12:41 what it really demonstrates is an example of Lykos not knowing which end is up. This surprises no one who knows her.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:47,
Perhaps I am missing something?
Do you have new evidence to support the implied allegation that the wrecker driver was, in fact, coerced by an ADA to admit killing the couple he crashed into? I understand there is a mitigating factor of contributory negligence but that does not change who killed who? Whether or not it was an accident or murder is an issue for the jury? I guess you don't believe drunk drivers are capable of murder either? Maybe we can review those next. Precedent does not support your position.

TxTransplant said...

No, I don't think with everything they are working out that 10 months is enough time to set every policy.

I also don't think Mark Bennett should set the policy of the DA's office but mentioned him only to illustrate that people on all sides wrestle with what accidents should land in criminal court. Surely the test shouldn't simply be if the accident results in death.

Its awful when people die in car accidents and they can all be traced to some mistake in driving somewhere but not all fatal accidents should result in the loss of the mistake maker's freedom.

Anonymous said...

Senor Newman, the troll is as transparent as a lead box. Oberg is just the 1st outsider with an audience who is willing to reveal what's inside Pandora's dirty little box.
But wait until the experienced ADAs exodus is near complete after midterm elections. Baby prosecutors run by a band of cowards and/or politicos....chaos at the courthouse my friend.

Mr. October said...

Ms. September,
There is a difference with someone having a blow out and losing control of his vehicle and killing someone. The bus driver running over a little girl killing her all the while driving at a reasonable rate of speed and looking out as any other reasonable person under the circumstances would have been expected to do. Some accidents truly are unavoidable. Maybe you don't drive much in Harris County, but wrecker drivers tend to drive recklessly at high rates of speed on a regular basis. I have almost been run over by those maniacs on many occasions as they haul ass to make an accident scene. Sure there are many wreckers that drive safely, but excusing those that have a total disregard for the safety of others is irresponsible. Just because a case is tough doesn't mean you should capitulate. Using the excuse that "winning at all costs" is bad does not excuse mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

"No, I don't think with everything they are working out that 10 months is enough time to set every policy."

Please name the specifics of those policy changes that have been worked out.
The "culture of corruption" was going to be swiftly changed to conform to "The Rule of Law" and all would be well at the new HCDAO.
When is it going to morph into something good for the citizens of Harris County, let alone into the premier DA's office in the country? LOL!!!!


I'll be your Huckleberry.
Now tell Jimmy to turn out the lights....the party's over.

TxTransplant said...

There are many more African American faces at the DA's office. They may not be in high positions but if they stick around they will be.

There has been much movement allowing for fresh eyes to look at cases with a policy of not let DA's hold on to their favorites. Whether you agree with this or not there is some sound reasoning behind this policy.

Prosecutors are now being allowed to think outside the box family violence cases and being allowed to offer a dismissal in some cases in exchange for the defendant taking 18 weeks of a family violence course. In some instances, the counseling is much more needed than the conviction and may save lives.

Pre trial diversion is being considered more often on cases of first offenders who have extraordinary circumstances. These were routinely denied in the past in almost all cases.

A much needed look at how Harris County handles its DWI's is being taken. It is a serious problem here and our zelous prosecution of offenders has not seemed to curb our numbers. I'm not sure that the current DIVERT program is the answer but I am encouraged that there are attempts to address the issue.

The problem with keeping a regime around too long is the lack of fresh perspective and the accumulation of power which often goes unchecked. If you put any leader, especially a new one, under a microscope you can easily point out all the flaws. I encourage people to look at the dialogue that is finally taking place between all of the players in the system and to be encouraged by that.

Anonymous said...

septembersweetie said:
Prosecutors are now being allowed to think outside the box family violence cases and being allowed to offer a dismissal in some cases in exchange for the defendant taking 18 weeks of a family violence course. In some instances, the counseling is much more needed than the conviction and may save lives.

Sweetie, this has always been done around the office. Nothing new there. I don't know of many cases, unless the injury was pretty bad, where a 1st time offender, if the complainant agrees, hasn't been offered this opportunity. This should not be offered to second time offenders and I have seen many cases, where the person got to go to domestic violence classes and then came back with a new case, against the same complainant.

Sweetie also said: There are many more African American faces at the DA's office.

Where? Did I miss them? I'm only here everyday. Maybe they are hanging out with all the Hispanic and Asian prosecutors. Maybe I'm developing color blindness in my old age.


I'm assuming by African Americans you mean black folks and not merely South Africans (no offense Warren, I don't mean to impugn you as others have). Sorry, I'm just not a big fan of hyphenated nationalities and think we ought to pick one country and go with it.
So the proportion of qualified black ADAs is significantly higher now than ever before? That's great, if true. Obviously these black folks are not in leadership positions based on your caveat, but hopefully time will change that injustice.
I've always thought that continuity was a good philosophy when it comes to trial preparation; with diverse input from colleagues as conditions dictated. But hey, if you think arbitrary incongruity will improve the trial lawyer's effectiveness in insuring justice we'll just have to see.
Forced rehab., unfortunately sounds more effective than experience has borne out. But again, we'll see.
The DIVERT program is illegal, manipulative, discriminating and a mockery of the state legislature and needs no further comment.
I agree that fresh perspectives are essential in maintaining cutting edge services but the problems being addressed need to be understood by those offering solutions and I do not believe change for the mere sake of change is warranted.
So what are the new written policy changes exactly?
I think it's nice of you to advocate a kinder more gentle DA's office; unfortunately FEMA card logic might not be the best approach to fighting crime, sugar.

Public Joe said...

Most cases called "accidents" are no such thing so perhaps it would help to start calling them "collisions". Whether or not a foreseeable mechanical defect played a roll, debris on the roadway, or just poor driving by one or more people, virtually all collisions are caused by someone making a series of mistakes that escalate into the event.

TxTransplant said...

Just because a case is tough doesn't mean you should capitulate

Tough case my a@@!! The defendant pled guilty. The easiest thing for the Leitner and company to do at the point was to leave the case alone and not risk the public scrutiny that was sure to follow. They decided to do the tough thing and justice prevailed.

Public Joe, should you become DA or first assistant, you can make the really tough calls. I just hope you base it on the case at hand rather than your previous negative experiences. Your wrecker driver experiences, while entertaining, have nothing to do with the case that was dismissed.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the 6th floor saw this as a "tough call." Rather, I think someone who has their ear, and doesn't know or respect the law, talked them into this. Then to top it all off, I doubt they had any idea that the media would be calling. The media is a creature that has to be fed. But the non-transparency, and non-answers just make the media more hungry. Their keystone cops-like handling of issue after issue just makes it worse. And I bet Lycos thought she would get a pass in situations like this when she supported the media shield law during the legislative session.

Anonymous said...

TO ANON 12:48 pm

"Anonymous 12:48 PM said...
"Even Mark Bennett acknowledges the difficulty in figuring out where to draw the line."

Well we can only hope that defense attorney Mark Bennett approves of how the Harris County District Attorney's Office runs their own office.
Have you lost your mind?"


Anonymous said...

I'm with "public Joe" on this one. He probably has more experience prosecuting cases than the DA too.

Anonymous said...

Will you stop calling Mark an Anarchist? I think all he ever said was that Lykos somehow appealed to his inner bomb-thrower-not that he was one himself.

Anonymous said...

The Ted Oberg story illustrates what we all already know: the Lycos administration does not think before it acts. That is because it is run by incompetent idiots. Thank you Ted for exposing this truth.

Murray Newman said...

I think that it would break Mark's heart if I stopped calling him an Anarchist. Of course he isn't one, but I think that the title amuses him.

Don't make me get rid of my pet name for him.

Anonymous said...

I think Mark Bennett's new nickname should be "Balloon Lawyer." You know - in the tradition of the "Balloon Dad."

Public Joe said...

Sept, your observations as as faulty as a particular DA of 10 months but by all means make them in public for their entertainment value. There are not "many, many more..." of any group in the office unless you mean timid hacks unable to make a decision lest they potentially incur the wrath of the Gang that couldn't shoot straight. And if you take exception to my view regarding collisions, by all means go over to Mark's blog and start complaining towards him too since his recent blogs share the viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

These articles:

are a perfect example of where this adminstration is flawed. Leitner's response is why I regret having supported Leitner for District Attorney.

There is not a case in the criminal justice system where the prosecutor controls the evidence more than in a delayed outcry child abuse case. Leitner and Lykos campaigned on stopping this type of behavior and in this instance have done nothing but support it.

Compare this situation to what happened to the prosecutors on the Batson issue.

On the Batson issue, Lykos publically blasted her prosecutors as she ignorantly reacted to something she did not understand or have any information about. Once the dust settled, it was proven the prosecutors had not done anything wrong or illegal. If she apologized, I didn't see it.

In the 180th, the prosecutors are accused of hiding evidence, Brady evidence. Leitner, knowing that this allegation is exactly what he and Lykos campaigned against, gave a statement supporting the prosecutors prior to a hearing. Keep in mind, most judges do not allow for hearing on this topic unless there truely is an issue.

Leinter then sends his general counsel down to protect this behavior. Leitner proved to be wrong again when the Judge ruled that a violation had occurred but there was no harm (according to the Chronicle). Ironically, the general counsel was the same general counsel during the Rosenthal evidence destruction debacle.

Instead of worrying about a case where somebody plead guilty, Leitner may want to focus on cases where the court actually found that one of his "experienced" prosecutors did not disclose evidence that could have exonerated the defendant.

Lykos and Leitner try to do what the bafoon Craig Watkins has done in Dallas and they cannot even find a way to do that. Craig Watkins has more political savvy than Leitner, Lykos and the media consultant- quite humorous.

When AHCL started calling Lykos and Leitner "the gang who couldn't shoot straight," I thought it was a bit over the top. Sheez, it couldn't be closer to the truth.

I would be interested to hear from ACHL on this topic as well. As a former prosecutor who is probably close to the prosecutors involved in this, do you condone this behavior?

I understand I am relying on the Chronicle as my source, but rarely does Mr. Rogers write anything negative about this current administration so my assumption is that the facts may be more worse than he reported?

Anonymous said...

Both Ted and Murray should be commended for bringing this information to the public. The difference between Oncken's case and the wrecker's case are most telling. Oncken was found to have violated the most sacred rule of all to a prosecutor and Leitner defends her. The wrecker plead guilty with no complaints by the defense lawyers and Vollman/Leitner dismissed it on their own.

Traffic fatality cases had been run through a committee of prosecutors before being filed or sent to a grand jury. These prosecutors came from all sections in the office including some of the offices most respected appellate lawyers. They have hundreds of hours of training and have handled thousands of these cases (a testament to how bad the traffic fatality problem is in this county).

Now Vollman and Leitner are just willy nilly dismissing them with no foundation in the law or fact. Their experience with these sort of cases is about zero (except Leitner's experience was apparently as the grand juror who no billed that man for killing a cop according to commentors).

The DA's office has is experiencing the worst chaos I have ever seen at a major DA's office anywhere except for maybe the Nifong case.

Anonymous said...

Why was Leitner facing the media instead of Lykos' high paid Hanah Chow?