Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Aggressive Prosecutor

One of the things that I am not proud to admit about myself is that I do actually have a subscription to the Houston Chronicle. In my defense, it is only a weekend subscription and I have it because I do like to kick back on Sunday mornings and read the newspaper and drink coffee.

This morning's edition, however, has a column in it from Rick Casey that (as of this writing) still hasn't hit the on-line edition, so I guess for once, it at least helped me get a head start on writing a post. The title of Casey's column nearly made me laugh out loud. It read:

My Fantasy: Siegler puts DA on trial.

Now, nevermind the fact that Freud could have a Field Day with Mr. Casey based on the title alone, I was still shocked to see Casey write something that could even remotely be considered complimentary of Kelly Siegler. Let's face facts, the Houston Chronicle wouldn't say nice things about Kelly if she took a dinner spoon, dug a mile into the earth, and rescued 33 Chilean miners completely by herself.

Kelly Siegler represents to the Chronicle and its staff something that they disapprove of: an "aggressive" prosecutor. One who actually knows her job and the law, and enforces it to the best of her ability, regardless of public perception. For some reason, we live in a city where the local newspaper treats the profession of prosecution with same resentment of a high school senior who got caught spiking punch by his teacher.

And in the world of those kill-joy prosecutors, there was never anyone better at it than Kelly.

But damn, what to do when Kelly actually is pointing her accusations at the actions of another prosecutor?

One like Charles Sebesta who truly broke the law, pressured and manipulated witnesses, and sent a factually innocent man to Death Row. A guy who decided that the preliminary readings of a high-profile case were enough to demand prosecution in his small town county, and then bent the facts to meet his theory of guilt. Someone who clearly didn't know what he was doing, but wanted to look good while doing it in the public perception.

Well, then, Rick Casey guesses it would be okay if Kelly were to prosecute somebody like Sebesta. I guess, in Casey's mind, as long as she were feeding on one of her own profession, then it would be okay to let her do her job.

The reality of the situation, however, is that Casey is just finally acknowledging something that most prosecutors have always felt, and that is that bad prosecutors like Charles Sebesta are hated even more by other prosecutors than they are hated by the general public. Prosecutors like Sebesta (and Mike Nifong before him) give prosecutors ulcers because they rock the credibility of prosecutors everywhere.

And yes, before somebody else points it out, Chuck Rosenthal gave all prosecutors a pretty big kick in the crotch with his actions, too.

My point is that while Casey and the Chronicle staffers loved taking potshots at Kelly Siegler when she was running for D.A. because she was too "aggressive", they would suddenly love to have her back to prosecute somebody like Sebesta. It is almost like they are suddenly getting a perspective on what it is like to be a victim of crime and hoping you have a good prosecutor trying it.

And don't get me wrong, an "aggressive" prosecutor is not necessarily synonymous with a "good prosecutor".

But the biggest fallacy in logic that the Chronicle always seemed to make was that being a good prosecutor was mutually exclusive from being an aggressive one as well.

Kelly was always both, and I know that the actions of prosecutors like Sebesta, Nifong, and even Rosenthal made her sick to her stomach. In all the criminals she prosecuted over the years, I can guarantee you that she has much more contempt in her heart for Charles Sebesta than for, say, Susan Wright.

I'm sure that based on this post, I will get my usual taunts from folks like Rage and Grits, pointing out that a defense attorney such as myself shouldn't have any clients since I'm so pro-prosecution.


Yeah, you know what, I'll admit it. I'm very pro-good prosecution. Even when it is aggressive.

I will sing the praises of a good prosecutor who knows the law and knows the facts of his or her case. One who doesn't hide the truth or try to twist the law. One who will sign a dismissal when the facts or even compassion calls for it on one case, and then will turn around and seek the death penalty in the next one. One who, at the ends of the day, strives to do what is right, and isn't even afraid to do it aggressively.

I'm a defense attorney and the job of defending is on me. Dealing with a good prosecutor makes my life and my job easier, believe it or not. Even when that prosecutor is telling me things I don't want to hear. I can't change the facts of my cases, but I'll always respect a good fight with a good prosecutor who I trust.

And for the record, there are still many many good prosecutors left in the Harris County D.A.'s Office.

It strikes me as sad how much disdain the Chronicle had for Kelly Siegler during her 2008 campaign for District Attorney. I never quite understood why they thought Kelly's aggressiveness made her somehow less worthy of the job than a career-politician who was more adept at saying things the public wanted to hear. You would have thought that city newspaper folks would have dug a little deeper into what really makes a truly good District Attorney.

Who is truly the better candidate to be a District Attorney? A pandering politician or an "aggressive" prosecutor?

I'm sure that today Anthony Graves wishes he had an aggressive prosecutor like Kelly Siegler back in 1992.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Murray. I think that your post here ought to follow Casey's op-ed in the Comical.

As with all things, there is a cycle to good and bad governmental office holders, especially those we are charged with electing. The disaster at the DA's office will pass. It will have some casualties, but things will be OK over there and the next DA will show us just how bad Lykos has damaged the respect of the office.

Kelly and her supportees knew, and still know, that what they stood for was justice, not self service and this situation with the small town DA should be a shining example of the kind of integrity she has... More that Pat, Rachel, Hanna, Jim, Roger and the gang could ever wish for collectively.

Again, thank you for your insight and for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us. We have a tough job to do and despite our differences at the table, we can all agree that good people deserve to be honored for what they do, not simply what they get paid to say to a camera (or a news reporter who is trying to keep his job, too)..

BLACK INK said...

What a beautiful tribute and a shame all at once.

You have a true gift, Murray Newman.......

Anonymous said...

One who actually knows her job and the law, and enforces it to the best of her ability, regardless of public perception.

You know, I bet Sebesta uses all of these catch-phrases to describe his prosecution of Graves.

I'm sure that based on this post, I will get my usual taunts from folks like Rage and Grits, pointing out that a defense attorney such as myself shouldn't have any clients since I'm so pro-prosecution.

I don't know that I've ever said that, and in fact I've commented several times on your transition to prosecution to defense in a positive way. I'm sure it's been a challenge, and a growing experience for you in many ways.

I think pretty much everyone is in favor of prosecuting the right person for the right crime. I know for a fact that I've never indicated that I was anti-good prosecution.

You do, however, continue with your false dichotomy--that if Rage and Grits (not to speak for him) are pro-defense, they are inherently anti-prosecution. I'm pro-Constitution, which means that I believe the rules should be followed by both sides. My gripe has always been, and will continue to be, with prosecutors who abuse their position in the way Sebesta does. And despite the majority of your posters' opinions, it happens often. It happens here. It didn't stop when Rosenthal left, or when Sebesta retired. From police officers to ADA's, it happens more than we want to admit, and is bolstered with junk science in the court room in a way that stacks the system against defendants in a way that is simply not right.

Regardless of her reason for doing so, I think Siegler is to be commended for what she helped do here. Of course, it's easier to see others' mistakes than admit what may be some of your own, but the psychology behind the tunnel vision known as confirmation bias and the true effects of witness tampering and junk science in court rooms are subjects for another day, and most likely a forum where those issues are truly taken seriously.


Anonymous said...

A prosecutor prosecuting a corrupt prosecutor? Not a bad idea, actually. But I won't be holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

Rage - Would you please name names of prosecutors who are like Sebesta in Harris County? I agree with you that there are bad prosecutors here, Lykos topping the list (speaking as a citizen, not an attorney).

Is Siegler planning another run at DA?

Anonymous said...

"And despite the majority of your posters' opinions, it happens often. It happens here. "

Surely you ahve some concrete, plentiful examples of "often" right?? Surely you aren't just blowing smokey bullshit, right?

jigmeister said...

What Kelly did, I'm sure she would agree, are all in a days work for good prosecutors. Very happy some are beginning to see that.

Anonymous said...

I dealt with Charles Sebesta back in the early 90's. I would love to see someone like Kelly get hold of him. He was trying to railroad my client into prison after he was arrested in a drug task force sweep that involved a paid informant fingering "drug pushers" with no evidence other than the snitch's word. (pre-Tulia). My guy had no priors, was employed full time and went to school part time. There were 19 people arrested and my client came to Houston for an attorney because he said that the local bar would simply sell everyone out. I don't know about the guilt of the other 18, but my client was the only one who walked. Sebesta kept threatening me with going to trial and I kept saying let's do it, and magically the charges against my client were dropped. The other 18 went to prison.

Anonymous said...

S.Palin got it right when she described the media as "arrogant bastards." Clearly, she also probably had the Chronicle editorial staff in mind when she leveled her accusation. Possibly she was also describing Rage, a misearable, malcontent, who at least, has chosen an approrpiate "blog" name.
In any event, K. Siegler is a talented, and yes, aggressive trial attorney. If you had a family member who had been a victim of crime, however, you could not have had a better prosecutor aeeking justice than Kelly. It is a shame that those bastards and the blue-hairs did not see this; instead lunacy currently appears to prevail at the HCDA. I was proud to have worked with Kelly.
Calvin Hartmann

Anonymous said...

No doubt Casey wrote this piece with more than a "pinch" of his tongue in cheek. His piece is basically propounding the premise that it would be sick fun to see Kelly, prosecute herself. He even make the veil point by hinting Kelly would have an ethical problem prosecuting an accused simply because he is allegedly a corrupt prosecutor - ergo Kelly must have been the same. Bullshit, and bull shit subscribing and helping pay this guys rent or gas for his moped!

On 2 other another matters:

1) Why do the people on this Blog continue to even acknowledge certain Comic-Book sounding blogger names with even a response. I tried to make this point a while back but once another thread goes up it becomes another "ring in the dead tree" that is ultimately shredded to make the paper the "Dead Tree Scroll" is printed on.

2) Literally cancel your subscription. A one town paper is a no town paper anyway. With the internet - seriously who needs the damn thing. It's NOT News anyway by the time you get it. Read it online for free if you so choose but even then you are supporting advertiser revenue. On a more serious note: figure out how much you spend on this rag for two years and that's exactly YOUR contribution to the help Elect whomever in 2012!


BLACK INK said...

Rick Casey supports the toughest prosecution available when the allegation is prosecutorial misconduct. However, Casey expects extraordinary compassion and leniency when a defendant is on trial for Capital Murder.

I wonder how Rick Casey would feel about a Capital Murder suspect who also happened to be a prosecutor? Would the "battered bullshit" defense sway Mr. Casey?

Nah, the media's distain for legitimate prosecutors runs too deep for equity or compassion......

Anonymous said...

Excellent "PIN POINT ACCURACY" observation Black Ink.


Anonymous said...

Why do the people on this Blog continue to even acknowledge certain Comic-Book sounding blogger names with even a response. I tried to make this point a while back...

Because although they may be stupid, they're at least not all chicken shit, like you.

Also--I told you so.


Anonymous said...

TO ANON 11:57 :

You are correct that the HCDA disaster will pass, but not nearly soon enough. Additionally, the post-Lykos train wreck will take years to repair because quality prosecutors take years to develope. Lykos has run off so many of the good ones like Donna Goode, Kelly Siegler, and a host of others that the learning curve will be very steep. And, unless the public discovers how much of a charlatan and fraud Lykos is, she'll get re-elected.