Friday, March 25, 2011

The Budget Crunch Settles In

The effect of the budget shortfall has hit home over the past two weeks at the Harris County District Attorney's Office.  The Office, like all the other county offices, is having to do significant cutbacks on their operating budgets and that has unfortunately led to layoffs.  They hit the support staff first, with members of the Central Records team being terminated a week or two ago, and then a few secretaries this week and last.  Today, there were three prosecutors who were laid off (NOTE:  I'm not going to put their names on here, and if you are leaving comments, I ask that you don't either).

The budget crunch isn't the Lykos Administration's fault, but they have a big job ahead of them -- they must continue to keep up with the massive amounts of cases in the courts and they have to do so with dwindling personnel.

It is time for a shake up in the Office's Organizational Flow Chart.  They need more prosecutors in the courtroom and less in their offices in the morning.  Here are a few of my thoughts on what might help:

1.  Get Rid of the Deputy Dawg Positions (both of them) -- as I've mentioned before the Deputy Dawg position is one whose primary purpose was to coordinate the recruiting of pre-commitsfrom the various law schools around the State.  The Office isn't hiring right now, so their position is about as useless as having an extra orchestra member on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

It is time to send Rachel Palmer and Justin Keiter back into the trial Bureau to do some real work, rather than just keeping stats.  John Jordan will do just fine in his position of making sure the Misdemeanor Courts run smoothly.

Having two Deputy Dawgs when you have felony courts that aren't fully staffed is completely inexcusable.

2.  Downsize or Eliminate the Child Abuse Division --  no, I'm not urging that the Office stop prosecuting Sexual Assault of a Child cases.  I'm just saying that it is something that can be part of a Felony Two's job description.  That has always been something that Felony Twos were expected to try.  I never spent a day in the Child Abuse Division, but I tried more of the "kiddie cases" than I care to remember.  Having a Division that just handles those cases within certain parameters is wasteful.

I can see Child Abuse remaining in place for child fatality cases involving such things as Shaken Baby Syndrome.  Those involve some specialized medical knowledge.  But having a specialized division that just tries the same types of cases that any trial court Two does is work duplication.  Your resources would be better served with having a more fully staffed court.

3.  Figure out what exactly Roger Bridgwater and Hannah Chow do around there -- since Chow's water cooler placement program at the beginning of the Lykos Administration and Bridgwater's implementation of the DIVERT program, what exactly have they been doing with their time?

At last glance, Chow was somehow supervising intake and grand jury or something like that.  Here's a newsflash, that's not a particular branch of the Office that needs a lot of supervision.  And now that Bridgwater has DIVERT firmly in place, what exactly is he doing now?

I'm not naive enough to think that Lykos would ever cut lose one of her cronies, but I'd sure like to hear her justify why they are making the top salaries while we are laying off lower-payed, yet more useful court prosecutors.

4.  Move Felony Threes/Misdemeanor Chiefs into Grand Jury rather than Felony Twos --  this idea actually kills two birds with one stone.  Using Felony Twos (who are normally trying murders, sex cases, and other serious crimes) to do the mindless work of shuffling cases in and out of Grand Jury is like hiring Peyton Manning to be a football team's waterboy.  The job of Grand Jury prosecutor isn't difficult.  Those cases that are difficult to present to the Grand Jury should be presented by the trial court prosecutor handling the cases.

Furthermore, right now, your biggest spot of stagnation is at the Felony Three/Misdemeanor Chief level. You've had Felony Threes in their slots for well over a year because of lack of movement.  I've mentioned before that this is ripe for some extreme burnout.  If you add the spot of Grand Jury prosecutor to their position, you can give them a little more breathing room.  Let them go from Felony Three to Misdemeanor Chief to Grand Jury Prosecutor and then back to being a Felony Three again.

5.  Spend Your Freaking Asset Forfeiture Money on Some Part-Time Paid Interns --  you can't use the money on salaries, but you can use it for contract positions like law students eager for some criminal law experience.  This isn't the first time I've mentioned this suggestion, but the logic still stands.

6.  Send Your Special Crime Major Offender Prosecutors Back into the Trial Bureau --  under previous Administrations, Special Crimes was truly special.  You had the best prosecutors handling the toughest cases.  Now it is a reward position for favored prosecutors.  If you are downsizing, and not spending the resources to go proactive on cases anymore anyway, why even bother having it?  Seriously, if you aren't even going to bother sending a Special Crimes member out to the Tata crime scene, what exactly are they supposed to be doing.

Move those prosecutors back to being the Chiefs of Felony Courts and give younger prosecutors the benefit of their knowledge.  As a general rule, Felony Chief prosecutors assigned to courts were never all that excited to have the big cases taken away from them by Special Crimes, anyway.

7.  Think It Out Before Eliminating the Divisions You Do Truly Need -- Put the best prosecutors in those specialized divisions and keep them there!  One of the Office's biggest assets right now is having John Brewer in White Collar and Identity Theft.  He knows the material and he's good at training other prosecutors to be good with the material.  This is a Division that actually needs to be growing despite the cutbacks in the budget, as these types of cases become more and more prevalent.

8.  Lighten Up on the Non-Violent or (so-called) Victimless Cases and Return Some Discretion to Your Trial Court Chiefs --  you can save a lot of time and resources by giving more thought to those cases you are going to take to trial.  I'm not talking about doing wholesale dismissals on drug charges or prostitution cases, but you might want to evaluate how much it is worth to you before going to trial.  In my opinion, there is no excuse to ever be going to trial on a low-level PCS case over a year or two difference in the plea bargaining process.  Especially not if there are murder cases set for trial and waiting to go.  Let your chiefs make those decisions and let them make them without the fear of the Upper Administration going through old disposed files to chew them out later.

Times are tough right now in the D.A.'s Office, and they are apt to stay that way for quite some time.  There are things that can be done to weather this storm, because you just simply have to.  I don't envy the Upper Administration for having to make these tough calls, but they need to be thinking about the big picture in how to keep the Wheels of Justice moving.  The more bad cuts they make keep To Do's from getting done on the average cases.  Those To Do's mean more cases taking longer to work out or go to trial and that leads to jail overcrowding (not to mention the high potential for unjustified incarceration on people who can't make bond).

The bottom line is that there are some really big decisions to be made, and I hope that Lykos and the Gang is weighing out the big picture before making their decisions.


Anonymous said...

What happened today was complete bullcrap. One of the best young prosecutors got the axe because a felony chief had a personal vendetta with her. Malaise at the office continues. Thank you Pat. It should be noted that the beloved elected DA didn't even have the fortitude to show up and fire people herself. She had Jim do it for her while she took the day off. Not very surprising.

Anonymous said...

In case people aren't aware, Patsy isn't around very often on Friday's. I think she's hitting the Jack & Coke pretty early those days. Actually, that's how she keeps Leitner on by letting him be DA for Day.

Murray, you have some really good suggestions but I have no hope Lykos will listen. As for Hannah Chow, she's a much better cook than CFO. She has no idea what she's doing. Bridgwater is sitting in his office with his back to the door counting his Intake shifts and plotting his hopeful escape via a Judgeship. He can't be bothered with trivial administrative issues.

Anonymous said...

I can't even imagine working in a place SO insanely short-staffed AND that is also firing. Why on earth would you stay?

Isn't someone better than no one?

I'm having trouble thinking of a way morale could be made worse. Public humiliation? That's standard, I guess. But it takes work for the elected DA to actually show up to humiliate you in the paper.

Jason said...

Like my agency. We came into work to find about 20 officers laid off and our work week cut to 32 hours thus cutting our pay by 20%. Imagine having to make a house note and bills on 20% less income.

Anonymous said...

The beatings will continue until morale improves...

Anonymous said...

Nobody has mentioned the intake cut. All prosecutors now make 1.5 times their hourly rate at intake. That means some senior #2s will be making more than the chief on duty.

Anonymous said...

Murray, did ALL of Central Records get cut, or just some?

The intake cut is interesting. It used to be that chiefs made $94/hr, regardless of actual salary, which was more than 1.5x what most chiefs made (the top of the pay grade was around $60/hr a few years ago.)

Less and less attractive. What a great place to work!

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Not all of the Central Records people were cut, but three of them were.

I haven't crunched the numbers on the Intake pay cuts, so I'm going to have to rely on the commenters for that information.

I've often commented that with as much as I dislike Pat Lykos, she probably did me the greatest favor of my life when she gave me the boot out of that Office.

Anonymous said...

Lets compare the way the County Attorney's Office handled this matter and the way the District Attorney's Office is handling this matter. The CAO sent out and email to everyone letting them know cuts were coming and telling what day they would notify those who were being let go. When the day ended, another email went out telling everybody all the cuts had been made. Although clearly a uncomfortable event, everyone knows it is over and they can get to work.

Lykos' left hand, otherwise known as Jim Lietner, was left to deal with the terminations. Rumors spread about who was let go and how many were being let go. People were checking the DA's home page to see if their photograph and information was still there. Still no definitive answer as to whether there are more terminations to come and if so, how many. Come Monday, people will still be checking and looking over their shoulder. Jim, is this the way you ran your command in the Coast Guard? If so, I have a suggestion, read It's Your Ship.

Anonymous said...

I bet that fat bitch still has her driver, too.

Anonymous said...

There is a chief out there who should be ashamed. He knows who he is and lightening should strike him down for being a hypocrite and a spineless bastard.

Anonymous said...

The scariest part for the surviving ADAs is WHY that one was fired. That reason could have happened to anyone, absolutely anyone in that building.

There has been some mistreatment of ADAs for sure, but I don't think anyone thought this would happen. And now it's clear that they will go along with it, and not even give that ADA a chance to quit before the public flogging. Everyone better watch their back.

Palmer's looking pretty reasonable and qualified, eh?

Anonymous said...

I concur with 1-3.
#4 - Felony 2's need a break too, and that is what GJ is for. Try spending a year in the 184th or 177th, you need some time off and GJ helps you with that. Also, I'm not sure a #3 needs to be taking cases into GJ that they have never tried before.
#5 - is that even allowed by law?
#6 - I concur and don't concur. Some of the specialized spots need the experts, but I also agree you need to get #2s in there to learn.

Two more things to add:

9. If you are going to fire someone for being late (i.e. Slyvia), then apply those rules to everyone in the office. There are two chiefs that can't be found in the office before 9:30, and are gone before 5.

10. Felony and Misd Chiefs need to take more of the work load. #3's are dying, take some of the damn cases and help them out.

11. Pay the people you've promoted. Wes and John still aren't getting Chief pay and went from $96 a hour on the Chief intake to about $68 an hour. There is a felony #2 who was promoted 10 months ago and still isn't getting paid #2 salary....

As to the issue about the felony 3 that was fired..... her Chief didn't have a vendetta and there is nothing false in his evaluation of her. Unfortunately, we are in a huge budget crisis and anyone on the radar is going to get canned. She will make ten times as much money now working on the other side and life will go on. But you can't hate the Chief for giving an honest review. Would you rather him lie and then two years later we are reading about how crappy that person is and they are now making bigger decisions (i.e. Rachel Palmer).

Murray - thanks for keeping the blog up, it allows a lot of us current ADA's to vent...


A Current felony #3.

Anonymous said...


A Harris County Lawyer said...

A Current Felony #3,

Thanks for your great comments. I just have one point of clarification.

Sylvia was not fired. She quit.

We were going through a divorce and our (then) 2-year-old was acting out and refusing to cooperate in getting ready in the mornings. She asked for temporary and reasonable accommodations from the Office at the time due to her schedule (i.e., a temporary move to Writs or Juvie) and was denied. Instead, she had her intakes taken away from her as punishment for her tardiness (and Jim and Roger divided them up between the two of them). She quit the following week. The irony of it being that when Sylvia went to turn in her letter of resignation at 8:00 a.m., nobody was there.

Don't get me wrong, Sylvia was never much of an early riser, but under the old administration, her Division Chief had still given her a good evaluation. He apparently took a nice healthy swig of Kool-Aid from Lykos and reversed that position under the new administration.

Anonymous said...

Re: the intake post. You're shitty at math. Senior 2s and junior chiefs are hit the hardes ($20-$30/hr). Senior chiefs like Jim and Roger are hit around $3-$5/hr.

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of the interns. And a few I've spoken with recently have said they're treated pretty poorly and are not instructed how to do their job by anyone yet are expected to carry the weight of a full prosecutor because of the staffing shortages. I know one intern who is leaving (in part) because he was told he was "lower than the person who cleans the courthouse" by a misd. prosecutor. For an intern to work there for free, without any instruction by the chief or anyone else, and for that person to be held to the same standard as a prosecutor while he or she is in law school (remember, law school has its own share of burdens and stresses) is asking too much. I agree that it's stupid to have two deputy dawgs. But even if that were cut back to one, someone in misd. needs to take the time to train the interns (how to make a RIP call, how to type up a subpoena, how to pull an offense report, and whatever else they are being asked to do), who have recently numbered around 100. It's one thing to hire them, it's another to ensure that they are properly trained and appreciated for their contributions to the office. So for all of you out there with an intern, please tell them you appreciate them and make sure that you (yes, you) have taught them how to do everything you are asking them to do for you. If they leave because they're mistreated or being asked to do too much, that's just more work that you'll be doing.

Anonymous said...

3/27/2011 @ 2:54
Can you please let me know where to find the current list (website) of ADA's, to help see who is still employed there? I'm not a county employee but concerned about who may be the latest DA to be handling a specific case. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

@6:40 am -
I want to be sure that I understand you... you believe in the uniform application of standards (re: time, for example) yet you feel strongly enough about the #3's evaluation, subsequent termination, and projected success at the HCDAO that you comment on it? Surely you realize that any new felony #3 could receive a poor evaluation if every infraction were documented. The first point that all readers should know is that it is highly unlikely that you have any idea what her evaluation read. Second, most of us in that position feel, regardless of our hard work and competence, that but for the grace of our supervisor we could be in the same boat. I won't defend her to you as it is not necessary or productive - maybe you truly are just that much better than the rest of us. Then again, maybe you have very little personal knowledge as to her work product and performance and should consider that before adding any credence to the very sad end of another person's career. I am quite certain it is the latter.

Anonymous said...

Do Not get to CC 5 early if you think the chief will be there.She storms in after 9 30. The person who was given a bad evaluation by her chief was excellent. She was treated very badly and we all know here who to be careful of now. It is bad when you can not trust the people you work with. STILL HERE BUT LOOKING

Anonymous said...

Funny how you are protecting those that have been laid off (which is the right thing to do) but you haven't taken the time to protect others who have been asked to leave or left because they were forced. Most of which were commented on in this blog. Whether that played a role or not, who knows?!? At least everyone is enjoying the daily gossip.

Anonymous said...

It's just common decency to announce when (if?) there is a cease-fire.

Every single ADA at that office checked to see if their name was still up after court. How sad is that?

Rumor is more this Friday. Gang cannot confirm or deny.

Anonymous said...

Stop seeking death on cases.

Anonymous said...

No one was there for my resignation letter either. I had heard that some people had an exit interview. Not me. I am so sad for the office and my friends.

Anonymous said...

We are all walking on egg shells because of what is happening. We hear new rumors every day. People who do little seem to be the ones that are favorites.They will tell you one thing and then do another.Most of us are documenting everything we do so we can try to CYA when and if we are called in.

Anonymous said...

Some of those who got fired need to realize that unless someone steps up to the microphone as a whistleblower, this gang will continue to screw good people over. Do you think the citizens are getting their day in court? Do you think justice is being served? If not, then be a the one that blows the whistle.

Anonymous said...

Several of us feel uncomfortable when the Judge takes us to lunch. We are afraid to decline ,but always feel like it is not proper.It may harmless,but some of the comments made make us wonder.What do you all think?

Anonymous said...

How the hell did this turn into a whiny little bitch session? Does the office atmosphere suck right now? Sure it does. But there are victims out there and cases to be tried. Do the right thing and cover your bases, and you don't have to walk on egg shells. And if you get fired, remember that there's a silver lining in there somewhere. Suck it up people! We've all been working too long for too little pay, but we need to keep our heads up and stick together as best we can. Look out for your friends, look out for yourself, and kick some ass!

Anonymous said...

Murray, it prolly took Lykos two years to figure out Sylvia's connection to you.


Anonymous said...

I have taken all the comments about the abilities of the persons who have been terminated with a block of salt. I don't know these folks but I do know Lykos has established a management leadership team that has shown no management or leadership so anything they do is suspect.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sick that this person is sitting at home thinking that it's true they sank the ship. Because it's not true, the ship has been sinking a long time, and it's just so sad to me because no one stood up for that person? No one?

You would think by now administration would understand the concept of true enemies.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:54, I had to look up "It's Your Ship". Since there is not a "Dora the Explorer" version, the odds of Leinter or anyone else on six reading the book are non-existent.