Thursday, November 17, 2016

GUEST POST: Trepidation and Chronophobia …

Editor Note:  I got a request from a friend in law enforcement who asked to write a blog post focusing on changes at the HCSO.  

I have many friends who walk the halls of the CJC, conducting their daily business.  Some always seem to have a smile on their face, and some have that eternal scowl.  However, recently, I noticed that people’s nonverbal cues have become disheartening.  I work for another part of the justice system, and have been a part of the justice system for over 20 years.  I have been a part of quite a few regime changes, and have been an onlooker to several regime changes at the CJC.  

Murray has been quite eloquent, and has usually been on-point, in regards to the politics at the CJC.  However, even he realizes he is not an expert in the politics of the law enforcement side of the CJC.  So, I decided to step up to the computer and write some comments.

When Adrian Garcia took office years ago, those two words from the beginning of my post were very prevalent.  The Sheriff’s Office had gone through many years of the likes of Johnny Klevenhagen and Tommy Thomas.  The agency had gone through some tough times, with the fiscal problems with Commissioner’s Court, to a string of deputies losing their lives on duty.  But, the agency had some good times as well, through most of Sheriff’s Thomas’ tenure.  But, when Garcia took office, nobody had a clue that there were going to be as many problems that actually materialized.  From low morale to jail problems, budget cuts, to the department becoming more top-heavy than it had ever been, I watched as the HCSO went downhill, and fast.  But, then Garcia went to run for mayor and Ron Hickman was appointed.

Now, the general consensus was that we couldn’t do any worse than Garcia, even though the rank and file knew that Hickman came over from Precinct 4 Constable’s Office with some baggage.  But, in the short amount of time that Constable Hickman became Sheriff Hickman, I saw firsthand that many of the problems from the previous administration started to change.  People were generally happy to be a part of the Sheriff’s Office.  With the pending election, many employees of the HCSO started saying, not if, but when Hickman gets elected, the department will finally get back on the path to becoming one of the top law enforcement agencies in the State of Texas.  But, as Lee Corso says on Saturdays, “not so fast my friend.”  Hickman lost to Ed Gonzalez.  

Now, with the election over, I was immediately drawn to the following quote, “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.”  For the rank and file of the Sheriff’s Office, we believe that we are back in 2008, with the promises being the same and the results starting to look more disastrous.

So, now when those of you who read Murray’s wonderful column, and thank you Murray for letting me hijack it for a time, walk through the CJC and see a deputy with a long face and a disconcerting scowl, you now have some insight into our plight.  So, for all my friends in the CJC, on both sides of the table, as well as my friends, brothers and sisters who wear the badge, please don’t forget that we are all in this together, whether you want to believe that or not.  Hopefully, we have learned from the past.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Happens Now?

Walking through the halls of the CJC this morning brought a very unwelcome feeling of deja vu.  Eight years have passed since November 5, 2008, but there were many unpleasant similarities between that election's "morning after" and today.

To be fair, there were some minor differences, too.  In 2008,  we prosecutors had known since May that someone from outside the D.A.'s Office would be taking over -- we just had to wait until November to find out exactly who that person would be.  We had a politically neutral caretaker in the form of Ken Magidson, who was there to facilitate the incoming Pat Lykos Adminstration, and he had been a calming force in the transition.  We had been through so much turmoil earlier in the year that Lykos' victory seemed somewhat anti-climactic.

And then the morning after arrived.

The rumors started swirling immediately.  Rumors of who was getting fired.  Rumors of who was getting hired.  Rumors of demotions, promotions, and policy changes.  Rampant speculation was asserted as fact.

We learned who our friends were.  There were plenty of defense attorneys who could not have been more kind, sympathetic and supportive to all the assistant D.A.s who were facing an uncertain future.

And then there were the jackasses.

The ones who floated rumors of a "list" going around of all the people sure to be fired by Lykos.  The ones who gleefully spoke loudly in the courtroom of which prosecutors they couldn't wait to see fired.  And then there were the mega-jackasses, who insinuated that they had a significant amount of influence over what prosecutors would be placed on "the list."  I even had one defense attorney come tell me how pissed off he was that Lykos wasn't firing a prosecutor that she had promised to fire when he (the defense attorney) had donated to her campaign.

And then came the Gatekeepers to the Defense Bar.  These loud-mouthed attorneys warned that prosecutors who had previously crossed them would be neither welcome nor successful if they found themselves attempting to become a defense attorney.  Apparently they felt that they were privy to some sort of Star Chamber that had the exclusive right to grant passage to the defense bar.  Some said that a seasoned prosecutor's tenure at the D.A.'s Office was a worthless attribute if one wanted to be a defense attorney.

I've now been a defense attorney for closing in on half of my legal career, and I still get the occasional jab about not having let go of my prosecutorial roots.  I have a large number of clients, past and present, who would beg to differ.

All of this was so very reminiscent of the popular kid in grade school who felt threatened when a new kid moved into the class.

It was silly, stupid and unbecoming of a grown-up -- let alone a lawyer.

I bring this up, because I saw all of this bullshit happening again in the courthouse today and it annoyed the crap out of me.

The reality is that some of the current prosecutors will lose their jobs during the transition from the Anderson to Ogg Administration.  If you find yourself having to start over on January 1st, it will suck and it will be scary. It will also pass.  You will find yourself stronger and wiser for the experience.

Trust me on this.  I have a little bit of knowledge on the topic.

There will be defense attorneys who will be glad to help you get your feet back under you and explain the ropes.  You will never forget their kindness and they will become people you consider your mentors.  I have a laundry list of people that I feel eternally indebted to.  Pat McCann, Dan Cogdell, Charles Thompson, Charley Davidson, and Mark Bennett (yes, I said Mark Bennett) are just a few that immediately come to mind.

You will also always remember the ones that weren't kind -- just like you remember that schoolyard bully from grade school.

Most important, if you do decide to become a defense attorney, do it with pride and dedication.  It won't take long before you realize how much you generally like your clients.  Sure, there will be the ones that piss you off royally, but the vast majority are decent people, scared shitless of the criminal justice system, that need and deserve your help.  You will have the power and ability to change (and sometimes save) lives.

If none of what I've said thus far makes you feel better, then let me share, once again, the obligatory story of my last day at the Office.  Misery does, in fact, love a bit of company, I have learned.

In December 2008, I knew that my contract as a prosecutor wasn't going to be renewed by Pat Lykos.  I was going through a contentious divorce and wasn't getting to spend Christmas with my then-3-year-old son.  My parents were spending Christmas in Florida and my sister and I weren't speaking to each other at the time (bygones).  I looked forward only to a lonely Christmas with my dog and I planned on my final departure from the Office to be at noon on Christmas Eve.

And then Ken Magidson fired me (for the second time) at 9 a.m. that morning because of things written on this blog.

I went home to my sad and pathetic bachelor apartment, wrote a blog post about getting fired, and then got in the car with my dog to just get the hell out of town.  As I slowly navigated through stop and go traffic on Highway 290, I checked my e-mail on my Blackberry.  Much to my surprise, I had an email from Chuck Rosenthal, who had apparently read my blog post about getting fired.  It read simply:
You were never my favorite prosecutor, but at least I respected your First Amendment right to write what you wanted.
At some point, the absurdity of the situation became so much that I just started laughing.

To be honest, the first day walking into the CJC as a defense attorney felt unnatural and awkward.  It took me at least a month to stop offering State's Exhibit 1 during pleas.  But each day got better than the one before.  I came to realize that although it would have never been my choice to leave the D.A.'s Office, it ultimately became one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.

But I won't ever forget those days in between.  My heart goes out to those of you at the Office dealing with uncertainty.  I promise you it gets better and no matter how it feels right now, it will be okay.

As always, if any of you need anything -- from help, advice, or just a sympathetic ear, call me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

2016 Election Post-Mortem

I think it is safe to say that almost everyone who practices within the Harris County Criminal Justice System is disappointed in at least some element of how the 2016 election turned out this year.

For some time now, we've known that a Democratic sweep was a very real possibility, but I don't know that any of us realized what a tremendous margin was coming.  When you lose judges like Kristin Guiney, Ryan Patrick, Stacey Bond, and Brock Thomas, it becomes pretty clear that our little world is ultimately controlled by voters who know nothing of the judges' reputations or what they've done to make this System better.

Devon Anderson's loss was a foregone conclusion.  Even if she had been in the good graces of the Republican Party, it wouldn't have saved her from the ultimate outcome of what happened tonight.

The straight ticket voters who pulled the Democratic lever (as of this writing) outnumbered the Republican straight ticket voters by over 65,000 votes.

Once again, we are sadly reminded that partisan politics have absolutely no place in the Criminal Justice System.  

My personal belief is that a backlash against Donald Trump is what sunk Republicans in Harris County.  The irony (as of this writing) is that it appears he's going to succeed in his race, while he left a trail of destruction in Harris County.

I would say that I'm stunned, but this is a repeat of 2008 -- just with more dramatic margins.  The more interesting analysis will be whether or not Harris County voting blue is a permanent thing.

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 ...