Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Holiday Dress Code Violations

Despite last year's public service announcement regarding Courtroom Dress Code Violations during the holidays, it appears the message was lost on some of our more elderly attorneys. This year's violation is ten times worse than last year.

Somebody please alert the fashion police and have them arrest this man on sight.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Adios Andrew

Today marks the last day of Felony Two Andrew Leuchtmann, the Two in the 263rd District Court. Andrew is headed for greener pastures over at the Feds, like several other Assistant D.A.'s have done over the past few months (including a certain sock-tie wearing Chief who shall remain nameless).

Andrew started at the Office several years after I did, and I never had the occasion to work with him when I was a prosecutor. He did have an excellent reputation as a smart, hard-working prosecutor who was good in trial.

Shortly after I left the Office, he was moved to the Special Crimes Division where he worked under John Brewer in the Major Fraud/Identity Theft Division. Like Craig Still before him, Andrew took to the new job division like a fish to water. He was highly respected amongst the Defense Bar as a prosecutor who was knew his cases and what he was talking about, and was willing to work with whatever information an attorney provided him with.

I got to deal with Andrew on a case last year, and I was really impressed with the way he handled the case. He had an extremely strong case against my client, yet he didn't have any type of desire to throw my client under the bus just because he had the upper hand. He worked diligently on achieving a fair resolution to the case that was the right thing to do. He took into account those factors which deserved consideration, and he proceeded with what he thought was best.

His reputation with the Defense Bar for handling ALL of his cases like that is very well known, and that is why he is so highly respected.

Andrew's departure from the Harris County District Attorney's Office is unquestionably yet another huge loss for them. He brought a level of maturity and knowledge to that place that will be difficult, if not impossible to replace. Fortunately for the general citizenry, he has elected to stay in public service.

I wish you the best of luck, Andrew. You will do great with the Feds, just as all the other Harris County departures who went there have done.

My only regret is that you left before we got to try that Bigamy case against each other. I know that breaks your heart.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brian Rogers "Expose"

In what is clearly the "harshest" treatment of Pat Lykos by the Houston Chronicle, Brian Rogers wrote an article about the "two sides" of Pat Lykos.

Brian has been working on the story for some time now, and I'm glad to see that the fan club over at the Chron allowed it to actually be published. All in all, it is a pretty fair piece to Lykos, due in most part because they let her rebut (and by that I mean "spin") those negative things said about her.

I'm keenly aware that most fans of Lykos label me and the commenters who blast her as "malcontents" who are suffering from "sour grapes" and who are so bitter over our "reign of terror during the Rosenthal Administration" ending that we can't see that Pat is the second-coming. That's fine. But those who would argue that my motives in blasting the current Administration are somehow tainted never seem to actually rebut the facts and the message that I'm writing. They just throw in the random references to "Chucky" and figure that their point has been made.

And such is the world of politics.

But let's take a critical eye at Brian's article and address some of the things that Lykos has said in her response to some of the criticisms:

1. As Brian points out, "Prosecutors under Rosenthal had much wider latitude on decisions, especially on plea bargains. Shaving years off sentences, lowering felonies to misdemeanor charges . . . are daily decisions that used to be entrusted to line prosecutors . . ."

Lykos responds that "Justice should not be at the whim of any particular individual."

Okay, "at the whim?" Seriously? A prosecutor who has handled the case and worked it up who makes a judgment call on appropriate sentences is NOT doing it on a whim. They are going to be the most informed person employed by the District Attorney's Office about that case. Lykos' recent policy changes have set parameters that her "line prosecutors" know better than to work outside of. This has led to an increase in cases set for trial, which comes with the added side effect of clogging up dockets for months.

Not to mention that this policy of Lykos and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight is the equivalent of her giving the finger to her prosecutors in the trenches every day and saying that she doesn't trust their judgment to do the right thing. My suggestion is that maybe she should go work a docket one morning and actually handle a freaking case before she makes foolish blanket policy decisions that take the power away from the people who actually know what they are doing.

2. Brian makes mention of the departure of Donna Goode as an example of the numerous seasoned prosecutors that Lykos has run off from the office. Lykos responds that "the attrition rate is normal".

Um, yes, I suppose the attrition rate is normal if you were to compare it to Pickett's Charge. But other than that, the number of senior prosecutors leaving the office during her first two years of her Administration have been staggering. Life long prosecutors have fled. According to my unofficial numbers, around 60 prosecutors have left during her tenure.

That's roughly about 25% of the Assistant District Attorneys.

I'm sure the uninformed will again say this is a good "house cleaning" of the remnants of the Rosenthal Administration, but those who practice in Harris County know better. A seasoned prosecutor is the one most often to recognize a bad search or the lack of provability of a case. They are also the ones who will stand up and say a policy is bad for criminal justice. More importantly, they are the ones who know that a defendant with two prior pen trips that is caught with 1.1 grams of cocaine doesn't deserve 25 years.

The younger ones are usually the more over-zealous, hang 'em high prosecutors. I know that I was in my earlier days.

But the point is kind of moot, I suppose, since Lykos seems to be running everybody off on all levels of the Seniority Spectrum.

3. Lykos "heralds" herself for the major initiatives that she has put forward. Brian specifically cites the injunctions against Gang Members at Haverstock Hills and now lobbying for a new law to target "pill mills" that prescribe dangerous drugs for recreational use.

I actually find the Gang Member Injunction thing fairly interesting. Kim Ogg is spearheading that project and she'll be good at it. That move has worked in some other larger communities. I would point out, however, that I'm curious as to whether or not the District Attorney has the legal authority to go after them. As someone much smarter than me pointed out, only the County Attorney has the authority to initiate a law suit under the Texas Government Code (see Sec. 43.180 versus 45.201).

The pill mill thing is, again, political grandstanding. Doctors who provide wholesale drugs or prescriptions when not necessary are just as susceptible to be charged under the Obtaining Prescription Drugs by Fraud statute as parties as those who actually get the drugs. Perhaps, Lykos might want to familiarize herself with the laws already on the books before lobbying for new ones. However, Lykos coming up with "new" laws is nothing new for her.

4. Lykos created the controversial DIVERT program, which basically allows for pre-trial diversions for DWI cases. The law, as it currently stands, forbids even a deferred adjudication for an intoxication defense. Lykos has bypassed that law with her program, which was created for some rather iffy reasons.

Brian did a good job on following up on this particular issue by interviewing 25 year veteran and former Bureau Chief of the Appellate Division, Calvin Hartmann. Calvin correctly points out that what Lykos is doing isn't following the law or her duties as a prosecutor. Instead, she is unilaterally deciding which cases not to prosecute. This may make her a darling of the defense bar, but it isn't what she was elected to do.

5. Finally, Lykos points out to Brian that she thinks most people are happy at the office. She points out that if they aren't, they are surely members of "some of the old guard". Brian disappointingly gives her some credence on this issue by pointing out that her critics may not like her because she is "an outsider".

Technically, Ken Magidson was an "outsider" when he took the D.A.'s Office under his command. He had been gone for decades from Harris County, and none of us knew him. But Ken Magidson knew what he was doing as an elected D.A. He didn't politicize or pander. He did his job and the Office generally loved him.

Hell, I loved the guy, and he fired me!

I find it an interesting statistic that early on in the article Brian mentions that he interviewed 12 current prosecutors for the piece. He wraps it up by saying "two prosecutors said they like Lykos and complimented her on changing the office."

Wow. 2 out of 12. That's impressive.

But, of course, I'm sure that the other 76% of the prosecutors are just malcontents experiencing sour grapes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Veteran's Day

With Veteran's Day tomorrow, and the Marine Corps Birthday today, I wanted to post something about the Veterans in my family that I am very proud of.

My father, Louis Newman, was a Marine Corps Officer who served three tours of duty in Vietnam between the years of 1967-1969. During that time, he earned the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts, amongst other medals. He is, without a doubt, the toughest man I know, and I don't think I tell him enough how proud I am to be his son.

His father before him (also named Louis Newman) was an Officer in the Army Air Corps and a pilot of B-29s (just like the Enola Gay) and he was based off the island of Tinian in the Pacific Arena of World War II in 1945. He flew bombing raids over Japan, and even piloted his plane over the USS Missouri during the official surrender ceremony of Japan to the United States.

My dad was one year old when his father went to Japan to fight. On the day of his first birthday, my grandfather (who I knew as "Pa") wrote him the following letter, shortly before leaving.

In honor of Dad, Pa, and all of those who have served our Country, I thought I would share it with you all today:

Army Air Corps

30 Jan 1945
Lincoln, Nebraska

Dear Louis,

This is your first birthday. One year ago today was the proudest day of my life. I shall never forget it.

I'm writing you this letter because I miss you and because I love you, and most of all, because I want you to know how important you are to me. I would also like for you to know what kind of person I am.

Tonight I was handed the names of seven men. I'll meet those men in the morning, and as I am to be their pilot, they are going to wonder, rather desperately, what kind of man I am.

I think the best answer to that is a small picture I carry in my pocket. It's a picture of your mother, Louis. And she is holding a sturdy little tow-headed, blue-eyed boy in her arms. You are both laughing.

I may show my crew that picture, Louis, and tell them I'm that kind of a man. You see, I've got a son -- I've got you to live for . . . and so I'm not likely to throw those men's lives away because of carelessness, or just to show off. I have also got you and your mother, to die for if need be, Louis -- and I say this with humbleness and all reverence; I don't mean to sound heroic . . . so those men will know that I'm not likely to quit easy or disappoint them.

I pray that whatever happens between this night and the time when you can read and understand this letter, when that time of understanding comes I want you to be as proud of me then as I am of you now. I want to help you build your life. I want to be a good influence in that life. And I want your life to be better, happier and more worth-while because I have lived.

That is the kind of a person I strive to be, Louis. That's how important you are to me . . .


Happy Birthday, Young Fellow -- and many of them!

Your Dad

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The New Public Defender

Local news stations are reporting that Alexander Bunin has been selected by Harris County to be the new head of the Public Defenders Office.

I am not familiar with Mr. Bunin, but those folks that I've heard from who do know him are giving very glowing reports about him as a defense attorney and administrator.

He's got a big task ahead of him. The PD's office is going to have to find a place to house itself, and then find the staffing necessary to manage the caseload it is tasked with. It will be interesting to see where Mr. Bunin will recruit those new Assistant Public Defenders from. As an anonymous, large, Irish defense attorney friend of mine suggested, perhaps the pool will come from departing Assistant District Attorneys, but I kind of doubt it. Most prosecutors that leave the D.A.'s Office generally leave for the freedom of being their own bosses and the opportunity to make more money. A transfer over to another government entity would seem to negate those goals.

Either way, the months and years ahead are going to be interesting for Mr. Bunin and the Public Defenders Office. I wish him the best of luck.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Congratulations to Jack Roady!

I know that this blog tries to focus mainly on what is going on in Harris County, but I am so very excited about my friend, Jack Roady, winning the Galveston County District Attorney position.

Jack started at Harris County about the same time I did, and I can honestly say he is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He has spent the majority of his time in the appellate/writs section of the Office, so Galveston citizens can expect not just a very kind elected D.A., but also a brilliant one.

For the prosecutors in Galveston who don't know Jack, you don't need to be scared of him. He is going to be a fantastic boss to work for. For the defense attorneys who practice in Galveston, you'll be happy to have him there. He'll listen to everyone's input and carefully consider all sides of the story.

I don't have anything bad to say about the current sitting D.A., because I don't know him.

But I do know that you can't go wrong with a prosecutor like Jack Roady.

Congratulations Jack!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election 2010

Well, it doesn't look like the 2010 Election is going to be much of a nail-biter. All the Republicans on the criminal bench are easily winning as of this writing. Quite frankly, the only reason I'm even writing this post is to hear your feedback on the elections, because this certainly isn't that shocking news.

I'm terribly disappointed that Loren Jackson seems to be headed for defeat. He truly brings something special to the office of the District Clerk, and I feel pretty confident in saying that he brought about more positive changes during his short tenure than Chris Daniels will over the next four years.

Once again, straight-ticket voting has proven itself to be an evil, evil thing.

However, one thing that does seem to have died during this election is apathy. As sad as I am about Loren, I'm glad to see voter involvement making such a dramatic comeback after 2008.

Hopefully, we'll see this kind of involvement again in 2012. Especially during the Republican primary.

The Sound and the Fury . . .

. . . signifying nothing.

Word is that a jury has just sentenced Susan Wright to 20 years on her punishment retrial for stabbing her husband, Jeff Wright 193 times.

The reality is that the change in her sentence is minimal in the big scheme of things. She received 25 years the first time, and after monumental legal wrangling, she got just a five year discount. She'll be eligible (not entitled) to parole two and a half years early.

I know that prosecutors Connie Spence and John Jordan did an excellent and thorough job.

I know that defense attorneys Jon Munier and Tommy LaFon also did an excellent and thorough job.

But the bottom line is that this case involved trashing the reputations of Neal Davis and Todd Ward, when they didn't deserve it. They did a thorough and good job the first time around. They made judgment calls during the first trial that, quite frankly, I agreed with from a defense standpoint.

Jeff's family, who are some of the sweetest people I've ever met, had to go through this all again. Jeff's children, now beginning to approach their teenage years, may have to be shielded more from the spotlight that the retrial has cast upon them.

All for a five year discount from the first trial.

Hopefully, Susan Wright will be happy that she's at least eligible for parole a little earlier.

Because I think we all know that at the end of the day, we don't want to make Susan angry.

Episode Seven: The Voters Awaken - A One Act -Sci-Fi Play

SCENE:  The Death Star orbits over Downtown Houston. [INTERIOR] The Imperial Council Chambers. EMPRESS OGG sits at the head of a long table ...