Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Big Brother is Watching You in the Harris County Jail

Early on in my career as a defense attorney, I made it a routine practice to advise all of my clients who were in custody to be aware of the fact that they had no privacy in the Harris County Jail.

The Sheriff's Office makes copies of your incoming and outgoing mail.  They record your phone calls and will turn them over to the prosecution.  Your "friends" in the pod with you will gladly snitch on any admissions that you give to them, if doing so will help their negotiations on their own cases.  More often than that, my client will nod as if this is self-evident.  Sometimes, a client will seem genuinely surprised and grateful for the information.

Despite the warnings, however, many clients can't contain themselves.

As was evidenced today, when the prosecutor regurgitated to me pretty much everything I had ever said to or advised my client of.

The prosecutor didn't learn this from listening in on any of my phone calls with the client -- not only would that have been illegal, but all of my conversations with him have been in person.

No, the prosecutor had simply listened to the conversations where my client relayed everything I had told him to his girlfriend.  The prosecutor even knew our strategy for offering a counteroffer.  Not to mention my entire trial strategy.

These are the moments that I want to bang my head against the wall.


Monday, September 26, 2016

The 2016 D.A. Debate

So, I just finished watching the Harris County District Attorney candidates debate, and I had a few thoughts.

First off, with the possible exception of the Sheriff's race, this is the most important local race on the ballot in November for Harris County.   For some reason, it aired between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. and no news network carried it -- not even Channel 2, whose own Khambrel Marshall was the moderator.  It kind of reminded me of the ending of Rocky 3, when Rocky and Apollo had a private fight that only they knew the outcome of.

I had to watch the debate via Kim Ogg's website.  Not that I'm supporting Kim, but she appeared to be the only game in town if you wanted to watch the debate online.  Dave Jennings over at Big Jolly Politics made his long-awaited return to blogging to point out that perhaps Devon didn't exactly want to maximize coverage of the debate.  I'm not sure that I entirely disagree with him.  Given the current news cycle, I actually think that it took a lot of guts to agree to a debate at the moment.

All in all, there were virtually no surprises in the debate, other than the fact that the audience was surprisingly unruly.  Both sides clearly had their supporters who seemed to be trying to outdo each other with their applause.  Disappointingly, some of Ogg's supporters began talking over Devon and yelling out things, which was extremely annoying.

Devon touted her new diversionary programs such as those for cases involving small amounts of marijuana, and prostitution.  Kim attacked systemic problems in the criminal justice system and the need to change.  I missed the closing statements due to a phone call and an overactive two-year-old, but I understand that Devon brought up some character issues with Kim.

As I've said before, Kim is a formidable candidate with some good ideas, but she diminishes them with her pandering and politicking.  Devon called her out on her politicking and she was right to do so.  If Kim would stick to her principles instead of manipulating statistics, it would make her a much more appealing candidate to me.

In the end, I doubt that the debate changed anybody's mind about the candidate they were supporting in the first place -- and I doubt that anybody who was undecided was actually watching it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dan Gerson

The Harris County Criminal Justice Community lost one of our legends overnight with the untimely passing of our friend, Dan Gerson.  He had been battling cancer for some time now, and although this loss was not unexpected, it doesn't make it any easier to deal with.  From judges to prosecutors to defense attorneys to police and court personnel, everyone seems to have known Danny and to know the guy was to love him.

In a building that is already brimming with personality, Dan was a standout.  Easily one of the most well-dressed attorneys, he alternated between the laughing friend that you always enjoyed talking to and the formidable attorney representing his client.  He did so seamlessly.  He was thoughtful, perceptive, funny, suave and kind.  A fellow attorney, commenting on Facebook, noted Dan's "quiet grace" and I can't think of a more succinct way to describe him.

He certainly wasn't an over-the-top type of lawyer.  He was quiet, yet gregarious.  Serious, yet bitingly funny.  He told war stories that were engrossing, and I never heard him tell the same story twice.  He was sincere and asked about your family, and he truly wanted to hear the answers.  He adored his family and he loved hearing about his friends' families too.

Dan was also a gateway to the history of Harris County Criminal Justice.  He literally had been practicing law since I was one year old.  He fully grasped how fascinating the cases and personalities that had passed through the hallways of the courthouses were and he would tell the stories.  He always downplayed his roll in them, but he recognized how important knowing those stories.

I've always said that the best thing about practicing in Harris County was that we younger lawyers got the opportunity to walk amongst Giants.  Dan recognized that principle in telling the stories of the old days, but he never acknowledged that he was a Giant himself.  

Dan had battled serious illness before and defeated it.  He made a point to check in with those who went through their own medical battles later on.  He was a kind and caring man.  

He also had a great sense of humor.

Those of us in the courthouse community have known that Dan was quite ill for some time.  Although we all hoped for the best, we have all known for awhile that our time left with him was running short.  Not quite as short, however, as some thought.  A month or so ago, an attorney erroneously notified the HCCLA Listserve that Dan had passed away.  Given Dan's prominent place in the community, word of his passing spread like wildfire.  Fortunately, the information was premature, and Dan took to Facebook to let his friends, family and fans know that the rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

There are few people in the world who could have appreciated the humor of such a false rumor like Dan did.  It also gave all of us an opportunity to pour out our emotions and tell him how much we loved him and were relieved that he was still with us.  If there was ever something positive to come out of a false rumor, I suppose this may have been the one example.

Dan was a true Renaissance man, and he easily had one of the most entertaining Facebook pages on the internet.  The travels with his family and the cool cars and cool places were always fun to see.  Few people possess Dan's self-confidence.  Only he would have the confidence to be a skinny bald man rocking the striped Speedo in the 80s.

The last time I saw Dan, he told me he was having to go back for more treatment and would be out for a while.  As always, he was smiling, upbeat, and funny.  He knew what he was about to start, and he still exhibited that quiet grace.  About a week ago, his wife posted a picture of Dan as he was walking into chemotherapy.  Dapper as always, he was wearing a collared shirt.  He was suave even in the worst of times.

There was a definite sadness in the courthouse about the loss of our friend, today.  He made his mark there and he was truly loved.  The place will truly not be the same without him.

I'm not alone in saying that I will miss my friend very much.