Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Things We Found in the Flood

It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Tropical Storm Allison.  In some ways, it seems like yesterday.  In others, it seems like another lifetime ago.

In June of 2001, the Harris County Criminal Justice Center had been up and running for almost a year and a half, and we learned that we were going to get a little rain that weekend.  I don't think that any of us at the D.A.'s Office had any idea what would come next.  Unlike a hurricane that we can nervously track for weeks in advance, Tropical Storm Allison ended up being a rainstorm that severely overstayed its welcome.

I was a first time Felony Three in the 263rd District Court with Jeff Laird as my chief and Valerie Turner as my Two.  I was a proud first time home owner of about two weeks, who was coming to grips with the idea that he hadn't gotten flood insurance as the water slowly crawled up the front yard toward the house.  Luckily, it stopped about six inches before coming inside.

I thought the worst was over by that Saturday morning, until I got a phone call from my Division Chief telling me what had happened Downtown.

We had lost our brand new office building over a weekend, as well as our cool new courtrooms with all of their "state of the art" technology.  There was no power in the 20 story building, and we had no place to go.  Nobody had prepared or packed up their office for their essential files.  We all got caught off guard.

And out of the experience that all of the prosecutors simply called "the Flood", came probably the best, most enjoyable, and camaraderie-building time that the District Attorney's Office had experienced in recent memory.

Although everyone at the District Attorney's Office had been excited about moving into the CJC in late 1999, the Office was spread out across several floors and the Divisions and Bureaus all seemed to keep to themselves for the most part.  The Flood transferred the entire freaking office into a one room building located at 1319 Texas.  Everyone from the elected D.A. to the greenest intern was piled in there.

And we were having a blast.

We didn't have to wear suits because there were no courts to go to.  Many of us are still scarred for life remembering Bill Hawkins' shark patterned shorts covering his pasty white legs.  Some of the prosecutors volunteered to be part of the moving missions to go back into the CJC with flashlights and start boxing packing up the files to move them out.  We worked with inmates from the jail to load things onto moving vans and bring them over.

We put together a couple of desks per court and they became our new offices.  Each court had to share one telephone (and the Two usually was hogging it).  As I recall there were two computers for the entire office to share.  People forgot to log off their profiles on a regular basis and had to suffer the practical jokes that came with leaving your e-mail open.

And we all got to know each other, regardless of where we were in the Office.  The newest Misdemeanor Three could be hanging out with upper Admin.  People would go to lunch in groups of ten to twenty people every day.  When Bar Results came out, half the Office went with the pre-commits (who were all smoking complimentary cigarettes from Luci Davidson) to celebrate.  If there was nothing to do (before the courts had re-opened), large groups of us would all comp out and go grab a beer together.  Felony chiefs, misdemeanor twos, Justice of the Peace prosecutors.

The Office "rookies" were people like Mark Donnelly, Craig Still, and Kristin Guiney.

Ultimately, the Felony Division headed back to temporary accommodations at 201 Fannin (the old D.A.'s Office building), and courts started operating regular dockets out of 301 San Jacinto. The Misdemeanor Division stayed back at 1319 Texas, and "1319" became the cool place to hang out.

A year later, when we finally moved back into the CJC, I think all of us were a little sad to be leaving what had become our refugee camp.  We even had t-shirts made to commemorate the fact that we had "Survived" the flood.

If the Office hadn't been a family before that, it certainly became one during that period of time.

It was during that time that the Andrea Yates tragedy occurred, and we as an Office felt the sadness over the loss of the Yates children.  Even though Joe Owmby and Kaylynn Williford were the prosecutors handling the case, I think the close proximity we had at 1319 made us feel as if it was all of our case.

On a personal level, during the time at 1319, I would go through my first divorce and I would lose my last grandparent.  With both occasions, I retreated to the comfort of the Family I now had at the Office.  And like true family members, they were all supportive and amazing.

The time serves as a very stark contrast to how the District Attorney's Office is now.

The Upper Administration has little to no regard for the well being of those they reign over.  Some of the remaining "survivors" of the Holmes/Rosenthal era have turned into Various Independent Contractors Having Yearnings For Recognition Ending Near Complete 
Hypocrisy, which is saddening.  The idea of your fellow prosecutors as "Family" is a very distant memory.

But there are days when I think back to that Family I found in the Flood and I feel deeply nostalgic.

It was, without a doubt, the best year of my tenure as a prosecutor.


Anonymous said...

So the Nazis are off-limits but the Vichy French are fair game, eh? If I were Vichy French I think I would be insulted.

Anonymous said...

Murray - I started shortly after y'all moved back in - and even then I felt like part of the family!!! It really is sad to see and feel how different it is now. I'm still there, in body anyway, but my days are numbered! It will never be like it was - and I'm so grateful I got to be part of that!!

Normal Rate of Attrition said...

Honestly, if I left today I think I would look back on this undisputed Lykos misery with the same nostalgia. Sometimes I see little glimpses that remind me why I once loved my job and my co-workers.

Anonymous said...

Let's see: lykos and chow have no idea what family means. Leitner and bridgewater have know idea what loyalty and honor means. Vollman has no idea what integrity or leadership means. welcome to your DA's office is all about Harris County.

What we found in the flood 10 years later was a ship that sunk from incompetent and dishonest people.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Luci Davidson said as she was packing her bags, trying to encourage the troops who were left behind, that it really didn't matter on a day to day basis who was in the corner office on the 6th floor, but that the troops could fight the good fight in each court on a daily basis and whoever the DA was, we could still protect the community and do what we came here to do. So now, I guess Murray and Black Ink take the position that those of us who stayed in enemy territory and tried to do the best damage control we could are traitors? Sorry to have let you jerks down. Easy for you to criticize when you aren't surrounded on all sides. Murray, at this point, it's safe to say, you aren't 'helping' anyone still in the office while you pursue your anti-Lykos agenda. You think you are, but while you post anti DAO posts purportedly targeting the administration, you attack the troops as traitors. Easy for you to attack, when the admin can't punish you. Far harder to keep your head down, while still doing the best you can to put rapists and murders in prison while avoiding arbitrary and capricious 6th floor discipline for doing things that might be viewed as politically unfavorable by your boss. Walk your high road, while crime victims get screwed because you couldn't tough it out and find a way to stay to help them despite the politics. You're a GD saint.

Shirley Cornelius said...

Vichy French? Pretty good, but as I have told you before Murray, the trick is to make an acrostic down the left margin. I am still upset that when writing my notice of retirement letter last year, I ran out of time because I wanted to then rearrange the content to spell "Fuck you" down the left margin. But, I'm sure Skip wouldn't have allowed me to keep that in -- he made me take out my reference to Harry Potter! Has anyone familiar with the series, particularly The Order of the Phoenix, noticed the similarities between Hanna Chow and the dumpy inept Deloris Umbridge character sent by the Ministry of Magic to spy on Hogwarts? What about Crabbe and his mate or Draco Malfoy? I'm thinking they are all still in the office. Maybe in drag. Well Hell, maybe I'll rewrite my letter and resubmit it anyway.

Murray Newman said...

Anon 19:54,
Feeling a little defensive this evening?

When Luci said that about it not nattering who was on the sixth floor, none of us (not even me) would have EVER thought it would be as bad as it became. Who would have ever foreseen good prosecutors called negligent and incompetent by their boss in the newspaper?

You think I'm criticizing the rank and file? Then your reading comprehension sucks. My heart breaks for the good prosecutors who are truly trying to keep their heads down and do their jobs. But don't you dare insult them by claiming to be one of them while condoning that God Awful administration.

No prosecutor is a sell out for remaining a prosecutor. They only become a sell out for feeding on their own in the name of Patricia R. Lykos. If that description is hitting too close to home, then that's your problem. Not mine.

Anonymous said...

I still love MY job - I focus on my WORK. That is what I am there to do.

Yes - it is frustrating. But, nothing lasts forever and I am making a CHOICE to focus on the things I can control - that includes my attitude.

I also focus on having a good, supportive, and positive relationship with my immediate co-workers.

Maybe you think I am naive - but I'm not. I've been here almost 20 years and I'm planning on staying and being in control of the things I can control.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 10:54 and 7:46. Some people are just trying to do the job they love. It doesn't make them cowards.

Lykos Akbar said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Just Sayin' said...

11:44 it's not showing up at work but rather how one performs that is controlling on the issue of cowardness.

Mice show up at the feed lot every day.

BLACK INK said...

Anon 10:54,

Luci Davidson is a leader and you are simply a follower.
So keep your head down and your radar detector on.

If you think timidness and making excuses is the best way for a prosecutor to protect victims then I submit you ought not be quoting Luci Davidson.

Your acceptance of the trapped rat philosophy in the name of righteousness rings hollow.
Murray and Luci were both fired.....they are not quitters. They are also not cowards; and I submit had either of them been retained they would not have performed in fear or submitted to intimidation. That evaluation is based on past performance.

Current ADA's do not have an exclusive interest in restoring integrity to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and I will not stand down as you suggest by your actions and words.

Pat Lykos MUST be defeated in 2012 and I am committed to do all in my power to facilitate that end, your objections notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

10:54 ...is that you, Lance?

Anonymous said...

After all the nightmare that this Titanic-class building cased after the flood, Commissioner Radack, said that it was still cheaper to fix it after the fact than it would have been to build it right the first time.
Low bid, it's the Harris County way.

PS-Have you all notice the new "park" across the street? A whole city block with a little jury assembly building on it, and a huge landscaping covering the rest.

Luci Davidson said...

Anon 11:44 am:

Read it again. Murray never said you were a coward.....only you did.

Luci Davidson

Murray Newman said...

Anon 5:00 p.m.,

It isn't Lance who wrote that. I know who the author is, and it isn't Lance.

Anonymous said...

I dont think most of these comments were the real point of the post.

Unless Im totally wrong, the point of the post is to point out a time that looked like the worst of days, but even though the facilities were terrible and the conditions were difficult, there was an incredible bright point in that the individual prosecutors worked together and looked out for each other. In the end we all learned a lot from that time.

Jigmeister said...

Some have apparently lost sight of the post. I have some great memories of our time during the flood. I was head of Major Offenders then and the whole squad virtually moved in with the cops. Kelly Seigler Moved in with HCSO Homicide,Craig Goodhart and I moved into HPD Homicide, and other squad members manned the phones and wrote warrants sharing the few computers in that big bay. And since homicide cops were on the street investigating cases, that's where we were. Had a blast. I do remember how we all pulled together Pushing dollies full of case files, passing around newspapers and getting to know people we ordinarily never saw. I also remember thinking once we got back into the old Fannin building how much better I liked it. No elevator crowds and frankly it was our building. Unfortunately, 9/11 occurred before we moved back to CJC, putting a big damper on that feeling.

Throughout my career, I thought of the office and the people who worked there (down to the old doorman) as family and friends; but the aftermath of Alicia was a special time. We all banded together for a common purpose and we all helped each other.

Anonymous said...

Sure the main point of the post was about the good ol' days, but as always a goo dthought is ruined by the constant anti-Lykos barbs, and I have thought (and commented once or twice) for some time that every time you criticize the office as not having any good prosecutors left, you speak poorly of those who stayed.

Black Ink is doing all he can to defeat Lykos? WHat is he, shaking both tiny fists at his computer screen? Typing really fast?

What a joke. I hope he does run. I can't wait to see his disappointment when Lykos wins, and she will. I don't want her to, but I'd rather keep her in office than deal with a bigoted Rosenthal apologist like Black Ink. I know, I know, y'all say Black Ink doesn't like Rosenthal. But was he posting anything or "doing all he can" to get rid of him?



Anonymous said...

When I was in the office I recall being told by former prosecutors how great the office used to be. Mind you these people worked for the same Johnny Holmes that I worked for, but nostalgia had taken over. There was a great deal of comradery after the flood. There was comradery when the misdemeanor division used to host social events at the old building and the veterans would come down and tell war stories.

The fact of the matter is that things change. Things changed at the office when Holmes left, when Rosenthal left, etc, and we all have things in our life and surroundings that make us change.

I don't make it to the courthouse any more and don't feel qualified to comment on those who work in the trenches. I assume, however, that there are good ones and bad ones, just like there have always been. There are those who look after their own office aspirations, and those who just do their jobs. I know Lykos, and am certain that had my path not changed before her election, it certainly would have after. For those of my friends who chose to hang in there, good hunting.

That being said, thanks for bringing back some fond (and shark filled) memories. It was a great time, even if I did have to put up with Murray and his antics during all of it.


Anonymous said...

Laird is awesome. I love that guy.

Murray Newman said...

Anon 5:32 p.m.,

Jeffy is an awesome guy and was a phenomenal chief. He was there to teach and lead. Any chief could evaluate by saying "good job", but he gave constructive and practical advice. I've often said that a prosecutor's first felony chief will be the most influential on the type of prosecutor they ultimately become. I'm glad Jeff was mine.

Anyway, thank you for writing in, Mrs. Laird.

Anonymous said...

This blog is understandably written and commented on by attorneys and the issues they deal with; having said that they aren't the only group that's getting screwed over on a regular basis.

The secretaries in our office are probably the most over looked group of people in the D.A.'s office. Their numbers have been gutted and most all the secretaries now have to take care of two courts. That means pulling two dockets everyday; finding lost files for two courts; that means answering phones and taking messages for two courts and other requests that are made of them by prosecutors.

Does anyone ever think what it's like to search for one file in a sea of 900files all the while having to forward phones to whatever office they're searching so that the dang phone can be answered? That would drive me crazy personally. Have any of the attorneys ever actually listened to the calls these women take from some really crazy people and how well they handle them?

I'm not a secretary but I can look outside myself long enough to see that they're working their butts off and the 6th floors only thought of what they do is how can we give them more work; more useless reports to generate each month.

Do this, next time you're thinking about asking your secretary to do something that you could do yourself give them a break and do it yourself.

If we had a contest of what group of people in the office had the lowest morale contest, the secretaries would win hands down.

From those of us in the office who see what you do for us everyday let me say "thanks".