In that special brand of arrogance that is so typical of a first-year law student, I told him that at the Brazos County D.A.'s Office, they prosecuted only felonies, and I would be able to jump right in and start trying murders as soon as I got out of law school. I elaborated by telling him that if I went to Harris County, I'd get stuck trying DWIs and other misdemeanors for too long before I got a chance to start trying the good stuff.
Judge Shaver shook his head and smiled.
"Son, you don't need to be looking down your nose at those DWIs and misdemeanors. You need to know what you are doing before you start trying serious cases," he said. "Misdemeanor is where you learn."
Although I didn't want to agree with him, I knew better than to argue. It would be years later before I came to realize how right he was.
I think most of us who have been lawyers for
Obviously, I ended up in the Harris County District Attorney's Office, and on the day I started, I went to the Justice of the Peace Divison. The arrogant law student from 1997 wasn't even assigned to handle something as serious as a DWI.
I was trying freaking traffic ticket cases.
In retrospect, the four months I spent in the JP Division were some of my fondest at the Office. I made some great friends. The camaraderie was tremendous -- and it remains the single thing I miss the most about the Office.
But most importantly, I learned how to stand in front of a jury and try a case.
And if I lost that case, the Scales of Justice weren't too badly damaged.
We tried them all back then and we won sometimes. We lost a lot. We tried No Seat Belt cases, fishing without a license, speeding, running stop signs, expired registrations and inspections and (on super serious days) Passing a School Bus -- the capital murder of the Justice of the Peace Division. We would try four or five jury trials a day sometimes. Sometimes, more than that. We didn't have to prepare. Our offense reports were literally traffic tickets.
After four months, we walked out of the JP Division feeling completely at ease with picking a jury, presenting evidence, and doing closing arguments. Granted, Justice of the Peace Courts are not courts of record, so none of us really walked out of there as procedural rocket scientists, but we learned the fundamentals of Criminal Law and Procedure in a way that just can't be taught in law school. Not even being on a law school's mock trial comes close to the real thing.
Back then, some of the big firms in Houston recognized the value of rookie lawyers getting some experience in the JP courts. They offered to send some of their new baby lawyers over to get some experience by trying cases on behalf of the State of Texas. Those offers were politely declined by District Attorney Johnny Holmes and later, Chuck Rosenthal. They knew the value of Baby Prosecutors getting that experience and (say what you will about past HCDA regimes) they knew the building blocks of cultivating a rookie and turning him or her into a damn good trial lawyer.
In short, the Justice of the Peace Court experience was priceless for those of us dumbasses, fresh out of law school. Just like how most of us start our first driving lesson in a mall parking lot or on a dirt road out in the country, we needed to get comfortable with the machines we were operating before we took them out on the freeway.
I bring all of this up now, because of this:
On Monday, District Attorney Kim Ogg proudly announced that she was going to reverse the previous longstanding policy of administrations past, and take those prestigious law firms up on their offers to play prosecutor in the JP Court. If you notice by the number of comments, it generated a lot of commentary in the Twitterverse. A lot of that commentary was pretty damn negative. [SIDENOTE: I totally learned this new trendy term yesterday from some people a lot younger than me called "Ratioed," which apparently is the verb used to describe what happens when you get more comments on your Twitter post than you get likes or retweets. As in, this post by Kim Ogg totally got ratioed." Who knew?]
The firms Baker Botts, Bracewell, Hunton, Andrews & Kurth, and Vinson & Elkins are the four big beneficiaries of the new part-time prosecutor gigs. Coincidentally, those firms all donated to Kim Ogg's campaign. There's nothing unusual about big firms making donations to political candidates, but one might argue that it is a little bit unseemly when the beneficiary of those donations is handing out free experience to those firms. But that's just my opinion.
Ironically, as Kim Ogg was outsourcing the experience that is gained in the Justice of the Peace Division, one of her high-level prosecutors, Alex Forrest, was getting raked over the coals for failing to comply with his duty to turn over exculpatory Brady evidence in the high-profile case against Arkema, Inc. I like Alex as a person, but he jumped to being the Bureau Chief of Environmental as one of Kim Ogg's handpicked hires when she took office in 2017. He skipped all of those priceless opportunities to gain experience and knowledge by going directly to the top of the ladder.
Coincidentally, Alex Forrest was a contributor to Ogg's campaign, as well.
I would like to wrap this up by saying a sincere thank you to Judge Doug Shaver for imparting that valuable lesson to me back in 1997. I may not have agreed with the advice at the time of delivery, but I ended up following it. You were 100% correct.
You can't put a price tag on that type of experience.
Unless you are Kim Ogg, that is.