As most of you in our courthouse community have probably heard by now, Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson passed away overnight after a battle with cancer. As someone who practiced in front of him, campaigned for him, admired him, and considered him a friend, I don't think I can adequately express how heartbroken I feel.
I know there are so many other attorneys and friends of Mike who knew him much longer and much better than I did, but I looked up to the man ever since I met him. When you're a young baby prosecutor, it is very easy to be intimidated by judges, but Mike was always the friendly judge. He conveyed to you that he was glad you were as interested in criminal law as he was, and his enthusiasm was contagious.
Mike's enthusiasm was contagious because he was a born leader.
I know that I have told the story here before about the first time I ever really had a conversation with Mike, but I'll tell it again. We were attending the funeral of Harris County Sheriff homicide detective Jim Hoffman, and he drove me, Dan Rizzo, and John Jordan to the church for the service. John and I were first time felony threes, I think, and we knew of Mike as not just a District Court judge, but a legendary former prosecutor. We thought he was awesome.
Yet, Mike spent the drive telling us how we, the new generation of Assistant District Attorneys, were the awesome ones. He talked about the camaraderie of the Office and how it was a proud tradition and he was so glad there were still those who wanted to carry on the torch. To have been that young in our careers and to hear that from somebody we admired so much was so meaningful that I remember every word ten years later.
He loved working in the Criminal Justice System and he very much reminded me an old school Texas Lawman. Before he shaved off his moustache, he actually always reminded me of Sam Elliott. Prosecutors loved having cases in his court. Defense attorneys . . . well, maybe not so much. Mike definitely had a reputation for being tough on crime, which unfortunately overshadowed the work he did on Drug Court and other rehabilitative efforts.
After the 2008 election, as the morale in the District Attorney's Office plummeted, he was approached by many, many people (myself included) who begged him to run for District Attorney. He had announced that he wasn't running for re-election in 2010, and that only intensified the speculation that he might do so.
When I first approached him, he didn't seem to think he was going to be running for office again. He had his retirement planned out and was looking forward to it.
But, I could tell he was struggling with the decision.
As time went by and things got worse at the D.A.'s Office, he ultimately changed his mind. I highly doubt that any one person convinced him to run. I think it was his love of the Office. As I get older, the idea of a peaceful retirement off in the country somewhere sounds more and more attractive. The thing that I think so many people fail to realize about the 2012 election was that Mike had that retirement in his hand when he decided to run for District Attorney.
The job of Harris County District Attorney needed Mike Anderson much much more than Mike Anderson needed the job of Harris County District Attorney.
But when duty calls, true leaders rise to the occasion. Despite the fact that he had a well-deserved retirement in his clutches, Mike returned back to public service. I don't know how many others would have done the same. The world of politics in the Harris County arena is nasty and brutal. Some of his political enemies have (tastelessly) wondered aloud if Mike knew he had cancer when he was running.
I don't know if he did or didn't, but if he did and kept running, that makes him even more heroic in my book. People going through cancer treatment usually don't have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, let alone make five campaign appearances a day. Mike knew that Office needed him and he did everything in his power to live up to the expectations of those who asked him to run -- even at the expense of his own health.
Mike did accomplish what he set out to do and that was evident at his swearing-in ceremony on January 1st this year. The Office may still be far from perfect, but that morning it was very evident that the enthusiasm was back. Mike's inaugural speech reminded me so much of that conversation we had ten years earlier. The prosecutors there were so pumped about their jobs again. Even though I wasn't one of them, seeing their enthusiasm did my heart good. To witness true leadership in action is an inspiring thing.
I last talked to Mike about two weeks ago. He called me about my blog post on the overcrowding in the CJC mornings and said he was committed to doing something about it. He said he agreed it wasn't fair for people to have their bonds forfeited when it wasn't their fault they couldn't get to the courtroom in time. He told me he wanted to work with the defense bar on finding solutions. Mike was definitely still "on the job" and he sounded great. During our conversation, I mentioned to him that I was going through some medical issues at the moment. In typical Mike fashion, he wanted to know what he could do for me.
I am so very glad that I was able to have that last conversation with him.
The loss of Mike Anderson the leader and District Attorney is a tragedy. The loss of Mike Anderson the husband and father is heartbreaking.
Mike had the all-American family and the love he had for Devon was so evident and inspiring. He never missed an opportunity to talk about how lucky he was to have her and how in love he was. It was only rivaled by the love and pride he had in his children. Nothing makes me sadder than to think of all his family is going through during this horrible time. My heart goes out to them all.
My condolences go out to his family at the D.A.'s Office as well. He was so proud to lead that Office and he was made proud by you all.
I am proud just to have called Mike Anderson my friend.
My heart goes out to Devon, the children and his parents.
Calvin A. Hartmann
I never got to know Mike Anderson very well until we happened to be on the same flight to D.C. for our oral argument at the Supreme Court last Spring in the Salinas case. I'll never forget how excited he was to go the Supreme Court, and how humbled we felt to be part of this seminal case. Devon was with him, and they looked so happy together.
I spoke to Mike for an hour or so, and what struck me was how down-to-earth, modest, and nice he was. He was truly one of the most interesting people I've ever met, someone you could just hang out with and talk to for hours about bowhunting or parenthood or history or whatever else came up. What you saw is what you got with him--a leader with a deep conviction of right and wrong, a loving husband and father, and someone who took his role seriously as District Attorney and cared deeply for Harris County.
Even though we only spoke for an hour or so, I felt like I lost a close friend today when I heard the devastating news of his passing. That's how much of an impression he made on me. He was the real deal...
I also will never forget an engaging 8 year-old girl testifying about a horrific sexual assault, and glancing up to see the tiniest bit of a tear in Mike's eye.
Devon was my first felony chief. She taught me not only about the law, but also about life. I remember how she loved Mike with all that she was. I hoped that someday I would love like that. A few years later, I too, met my soulmate.
Devon, my heart is breaking for you and your family. Mike died far too young. I feel helpless. I can only offer you my thoughts, my prayers, and my heart. God bless you all.
Calvin A. Hartmann
Mike prosecuted my very first capitol case when he was just starting the "gang unit" at the HCDA's office. That seems like a long time ago. I ran into him and Devon at the State Capitol and he started laughing about a new machine to use for crime scenes he was shown the other day. He smiled and told me that all he could think about was the drive by shooting we had and used the yarn to show the path because there were so many rounds fired we ran out of arrows.
God Bless you Mike. You will be missed.
Baytown P.D. Retired
Mike and I served together in the Special Crimes Bureau. Ninety-seven percent of the time we worked in different divisions: Mike in the "The Blood and Guts, two confessions, 5 pen-packets” Major Offenders Division with Casey “Jigmeister” O'Brien; and me in the “Paper cut, obese bookkeeper, gullible doctor/investor/businessperson” Major Fraud Division.
In-between office moves, there was a short period, when Mike was, ever so briefly, transferred to this “paper” division and assigned to the office next to mine. He was so “thrilled” to have an office 1/10th the size of his former one and the look on Mike’s face when he saw all the brown boxes with financial records and spread sheets was just precious.
Never shy to go to trial, within a few weeks, Mike found himself preparing for a one defendant “Disorganized” crime trial before the Hon. Judge Mary Bacon. It didn’t take Mike long to figure out that even in THESE type cases – “less is more”. I watched intently as he whittled the four large boxes of insurance fraud records and five felony trial folders down to just one, skinny brown folder! You see, Mike discovered this particular fellow wasn’t just charged with four Organized Crime felonies--he spied that beautiful fifth file labeled: “Credit Card Abuse” (with two very lovely – Enhancement paragraphs, not to mention those ever so familiar blue backed legal sized pen packets). Well, it was Christmas morning for Mike! Blink, Blink…..Blink.
So Monday morning the “Stock Market bell” at the old criminal courthouse and off Mike went to pick a jury. “T” one up! I asked if he needed any help (Ha! – A Credit CARD case – Help? RIGHT! I THOUGHT) Surprisingly, Mike said “Sure, come on along……..it’ll be fun!” I FELT IT an honor, and besides, if I take just one witness – BAM- got me one of those second chair jury trial credits.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, I need to get a commitment from each of you, that if I am able to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt, that in Harris County Texas (One finger on Mike’s right hand appears out of his fist), on or about March 12th, 1991, (another), This man right here – Mr. “Defendant”, (One more – and the tension mounts) “WITH INTENT TO DECEEEEEEVE! (Yep another finger) “DID” (ad-libbing here a bit) “THEN AND THERE PRESENT (another) “TO” (Store Clerk’s name) (Another finger)……A CREDIT (long – very long pause and no more fingers) “What tha?” ...Mike’s head turns to the side, he smiles nervously, scratches his head, looks at me, then to Charlie. Charlie is grinning. No, Charlie is LAUGHING. Then Mike starts to chuckle…then frown. As they both approach the bench I join them and Mike slides over the toilet paper thin legal size ”State’s Copy” of the indictment my way and there it was. Rather
there it was NOT: One word left out – C A R D!
Judge Bacon looked over at Charlie and sheepishly asked: “I guess you won’t waive your ten days?”
“ Nope! I mean NO MAM, Yer Honor.”
She actually leveled the gavel and said firmly, “Reset six months – ladies and gentlemen you are excused!”
Walking back to the office Mike was just shaking his head and cussing himself: “Damn pleadings, humph, haven’t done THAT in a while, damn - one word: C-A-R-D! .”
Looking back after all these years I learned four things from this experience: 1) You never look as bad as you feel while public speaking; 2) Never take yourself too seriously; 3) Check my pleading once the case is set for trial; and 4) Mike, I’ll miss you, brother!
May the Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your family always…God Bless YOU!