After many (mostly accurate) rumors, incoming Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the personnel for her upper administration today. With some glaring exceptions, for the most part the choices are pretty good. From the comments that are already coming in (before I had the opportunity to write this particular post), it is clear that there will be some criticisms, but the following are my personal opinions of the individual hires:
Vivian King -- Chief of Staff To begin with, Chief of Staff is a relatively new position within the Harris County District Attorney's Office, but it makes sense to have one. It wasn't there when I was there, but it has been brought to my attention that the position was created under the Anderson Administration. Kathy Braddock has held the position since it was created, which also makes sense because Kathy is awesome. The First Assistant position has traditionally been a de facto Chief of Staff position, but given the logistical duties typically handled by the First Assistant (i.e., dealing with the budget and Commissioners' Court), it makes sense to create a Chief of Staff who operates without having to deal with those particular duties.
With that in mind, I think Vivian King is an outstanding choice. Vivian, who was last seen starring in Sisters-in-Law, is a respected trial lawyer who has an extensive trial resume. She's defended death penalty cases with an impressive record, and has the street cred to function as the head of an Office where trial ability is vital. I tried a case against Vivian during my prosecutorial days and she was a talented and pleasant adversary. She will also be a reasonable mind when it comes to making decisions for the office. I was surprised to see her leaving the Defense Bar, but she'll be a great addition.
David Mitcham -- Interim First Assistant and Trial Bureau Chief I was completely surprised to see Dave going back to the District Attorney's Office after a multi-decade absence. I'm a big fan of his and have respected him during my time as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Like Vivian, he also has no fear about going to trial, which will serve the Office well in his role as Trial Bureau Chief.
I am mildly confused at the blending of the roles of Trial Bureau Chief and First Assistant, and I'm speculating that the "Interim" part of this indicates that this blending is only temporary. If it is temporary and a full time First Assistant is coming at a later date, it begs the question of who that First Assistant is going to be. It could be a defense attorney who needed just a little more time to wrap up his or her cases before joining the Office. That's just speculation on my part, though.
Hon. Barbara Hartle -- Administrative Bureau Chief I don't know anything about Barbara Hartle other than what I've seen from briefly scanning the internet. It appears that she is a Municipal Court Judge. The title of Administrative Bureau Chief is also a new one to me, so I'm not entirely sure what that is all about. It sounds like something resembling what Hannah Chow did under the Lykos Administration.
Yvonne Q. Taylor -- Training Coordinator Again, this is not a name I'm familiar with, and it appears she was also pulled from the City of Houston Municipal Courts. It doesn't sound like we will be seeing her in court much.
JoAnne Musick -- Sex Crimes Unit Chief Another surprising addition to the Ogg Staff was the return of former prosecutor and two-time President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association, JoAnne Musick. Since leaving the Office over ten years ago, JoAnne has been an extremely vocal champion of all things Criminal Defense. Most people I know were very surprised to see her leaving the Defense Bar.
JoAnne and I aren't exactly friends, but I respect her ability and dedication to whatever project she tackles. When she was with the Office, she was one of the ones who always tackled extra projects in an effort to make the Office better. She tackled being a Defense Attorney with the same gusto. She always kind of reminded me of the kid who turned in her school Science Project the day after it was first assigned.
Sex Crimes Unit Chief will also be a new position with the Office. I am curious as to whether or not it will incorporate child sex crimes and adult sex crimes under the same Division.
Carvana Cloud -- Family Criminal Law Unit Chief This is probably my favorite hire under the Ogg Administration, because I'm a Super Fan of Carvana. She and I have been friends since she started at the Office and she earned my respect with the way she handled her poor treatment under the Lykos Administration. Carvana is well liked and highly respected by her peers on both the prosecution and the defense. My only complaint about this is that I wish she had an even higher position within the Office.
Nathan Beedle -- Misdemeanor Division Chief This one was also a surprise and a blast from the past. Beedle was a year or two behind me at the Office and he left as a Felony Two. He disappeared out of the criminal law realm for several years, but reappeared a few years back. Nathan is a cocky smart ass, but I like him. We often found ourselves in cut down battles during our misdemeanor days, but he was regarded as a very talented trial lawyer.
Nathan left the Office after getting crossways with the Upper Administration for turning in his two week notice shortly after attending Career Prosecutor School. You can expect there to be some grumbling about that by some of the older former prosecutors. Contrary to those grumblings, I think he will actually be a good trainer to younger lawyers. I'm glad to see him back.
Sean Teare -- Vehicular Crimes Unit Chief Again, I (and most of Sean's friends) were surprised to see his name pop up on the list of returning prosecutors to the Office. He's a good friend of mine, but since leaving the Office for the Civil World during the Lykos Administration, he's been rather missing in action. I'm glad to see him back at the D.A.'s Office.
There has been some grumbling that Sean left the Office as a Felony Three and did not have experience trying cases that involved fatalities. Given the fact that Vehicular Crimes handles mostly Intoxication Manslaughter cases, some have argued he doesn't have the experience to head the Division. However, Sean has been a lawyer for over nine years, and he's a good one. He may have some learning to do, but I imagine he will ultimately do just fine. He's got guts and he's not afraid to speak his mind if a case doesn't rise to the level of being provable beyond a reasonable doubt. That's an asset in a Division that will deal with extremely emotional cases, where ration can sometimes be in short supply.
Colleen Barnett -- Floating Felony Court Chief Also from the Blast from the Past Files, we have the return of Colleen Barnett as Floating Felony Court Chief. Again, I think this is a good call. Colleen is also a friend of mine, and she is one hell of a trial lawyer. I had heard rumors that she was returning to the Office, and I'm glad to see her coming back. I would imagine that Colleen is going to be the Designated Hitter on a lot of very tough trials in the near future.
Some friends were surprised that Colleen was given a Floating Felony Court Chief position when there are currently so many District Court Chief positions that will need to be filled. I would imagine that this has more to do with her taking on tougher cases and not being limited to just any court. She has the experience to be the leader of the Trial Bureau, but apparently she has taken on the role of Ninja Assassin for the Office. This is interesting, because it seems to be a small preview of the restructuring of the Office's hierarchy.
Alex Forrest -- Environmental Unit Chief This one has some people scratching their heads because not many people know Alex. I've known him for several years now and he's a really nice guy. I haven't seen him in the criminal arena all that often, but he is a pretty young attorney. Environmental isn't exactly a hotbed of activity within the Office. I don't really see this creating too much controversy in the near future.
Elizabeth Eakin -- Data Analysis Director I don't believe that I know Elizabeth Eakin or what a Data Analysis Director does. According to the State Bar, she's been licensed since 2012.
Sue Lovell- Governmental Affairs & Shekira Dennis -- Outreach Coordinator I'm not familiar with these two staff members, but these positions appear to be more Administrative rather than legal. I don't believe they are attorneys, unless I'm looking under the wrong names on the State Bar website. Lovell has her own Wikipedia page and Dennis appears to be very involved in the Democratic Party.
And now we get to the trio of terrible decisions . . .
Jim Leitner -- Intake and Grand Jury Bureau Chief -- sigh. Despite our brief and torrid Facebook friendship, I still am not a big fan of the idea of Leitner back at the D.A.'s Office. My personal feelings aside, Jim was a giant disappointment to those of us who used to actually be fans of his prior to taking the role of 1st Assistant under Lykos. Back in 2008, most who knew Jim thought he would be a voice of reason to the temperamental Lykos. Unfortunately, he ended up becoming a wildly unpopular authoritarian who wielded his power at the office like a weapon. While over time I've almost come to look at Leitner with amusement, there are many current and former Assistant District Attorneys who loathe him far worse than I ever did.
Although Ogg didn't place Jim at the head of the hierarchy, his position as Intake Chief has some big undertones on what is ultimately going to happen on the David Temple case, and it doesn't exactly bode well for the chances of a retrial. Leitner has already gone on record as thinking that the capital murder warrant written by Dumb and Dumberer was a good one.
John Denholm -- Intake Shift Chief Speaking of Dumb and Dumberer, the Ogg Administration made two additional poor decisions by bringing in the chief architect of that ridiculous warrant, John Denholm. Denholm, who was last seen giving a less-than-enthralling lecture on body cameras at a CLE (which reminded me of this for some reason) will be taking the title of "Shift Chief." I have no idea what that title means, but it would seem that he will be in charge of writing some warrants. This also doesn't bode well for the retrial of David Temple, since Denholm, Leitner, and Steve Clappart all seem to think that a person claiming to have killed a dog is the exact same thing as an admission to Capital Murder.
This position is more than just a little concerning. Denholm is an angry man who likes to retaliate when he is pissed off. Yeah, let's put a slow-witted, angry man in charge of supervising all charges filed in Harris County. What could possibly go wrong?
Steve Clappart -- Chief Investigator Rounding out the Three Amigos of Bad Decision Making is our friend Steve Clappart, who makes his return to law enforcement as Chief Investigator for the Office. Clappart continues to disappoint me on several levels, because I used to actually respect him and think of him as a friend. Steve was the affiant on the notorious warrant that Denholm put him up to writing. In the glowing article written about him and Denholm by Lisa Falkenberg, he bemoaned losing friends for his "courageous" stand on the case.
In reality Steve lost friends because he was playing both sides of the fence. While signing off on a Capital Murder for a kid who allegedly (through double hearsay) claimed to have shot a dog, Clappart was also calling friends in law enforcement and telling them he was only pursuing the warrant because his boss, Jim Leitner, was making him do so. At the end of the day, Steve appears to go where he's ordered and that is highly disappointing behavior from a cop I used to think so much better of.
The trio of Clappart, Denholm and Leitner coming in under the Ogg Administration is a pretty tell-tale sign about the likelihood of a Temple retrial, but I'll talk more about that in a later post. As I've said before, and I'll say again, I do remain hopeful that the Ogg Administration wil be a good and successful one.