I have always said that the best thing about working in the Harris County Criminal Justice World is that it provides us the opportunity to walk amongst giants. Harris County boasts some of the most famous names in the history of Texas Criminal Justice: Percy Foreman, Racehorse Haynes, Dick DeGuerin, Rusty Hardin, Kelly Siegler, Johnny Holmes, and Dan Cogdell, to name a few. As impressive as all of those names are and the large volume of famous cases associated with them all, the name and face that I always though of when I spoke of giants was retired Harris County District Attorney's Office Bureau Chief Lyn McClellan.
Lyn passed away this morning after a lengthy illness.
Lyn was a career prosecutor who had been at the Harris County District Attorney's Office for at least twenty or twenty-five years before I started there in 1999. He retired in November 2008, shortly before I headed out the door. I wrote this post about him back on the occasion of his retirement.
He was an understated but fierce trial lawyer who had handled some of Harris County's most famous cases. He became the head of the Misdemeanor Division shortly after I started at the Office, which gave the baby prosecutors of my day the amazing opportunity to learn from a true legend of the game. It was the legal equivalent of finding out Tom Brady is coaching your high school football team.
Lyn exemplified the ideal of leading from the front as he supervised fifteen county courts with three prosecutors each -- none of whom had more than two or three years of prosecutorial experience. He raised a generation of us, and he held our love and loyalty throughout our careers. He was sarcastic and funny without ever being anything that approached unkind. He would offer advice, and if you asked him, off the cuff, to sit with you in trial, he would do it in a heartbeat.
He never bragged about his trial exploits, and if asked for a war story, he would usually tell a funny backstory to a case that had nothing to do with his trial skills. He wasn't afraid of getting in trouble if it was for the right reason and he never criticized the prosecutors who made mistakes. He turned all mistakes into teachable moments and he did so with a sense of humor. If you were a baby prosecutor who screwed something up, he worked you through it so it didn't happen again. He was the kind of boss that when you had something that you had reached your limit with, you felt no qualms about taking it to him. You knew he wasn't going to make you feel dumb or bad for not being able to handle it yourself.
I remember being a Misdemeanor Chief in Court Five around 2001 when my Three brought me a criminal mischief case where a kid had thrown a rock at a car as it drove down the street. The lady driving the car wanted charges upgraded to (I kid you not) Attempted Murder, and she was going on a verbal rampage toward anyone who would listen. I tried reasoning with her and was getting nowhere. When she demanded to speak with my supervisor, I was more than happy to pass it to Lyn. Without ever losing his temper, he took the lady through what a trial would look like when she took the stand and tried to convince the jury that a rock-throwing teenager had murderous intentions.
Lyn's catchphrase was loudly challenging someone to combat his logic by leading off with "I DEFY YOU TO SHOW ME . . . " and he used that phrase on me more times than I can count. I loved arguing and messing with Lyn. He took it all in stride and enjoyed the banter.
Around this same time, a large group of my peers were selected to go to Career Prosecutor School in South Carolina if they agreed to extend their commitment at the Office. Somehow, I didn't get an invite, so I asked Lyn why I had been excluded. He replied: "We're trying to get all those people to stay longer by sending them. We know we couldn't get rid of you if we tried."