Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lykos brings changes to Harris DA

Two stories about incoming Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos deserve readers attention:

First, she's already consolidating her own leadership team, starting with a new first assistant, Jim Leitner, and also bringing onboard former Judge Roger Bridgwater. Murray Newman, who until yesterday blogged pseudonymously at Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, was one of several prosecutors and investigators informed by the incoming administration that his services would no longer be required.

Murray campaigned vigorously for Lykos' main GOP primary opponent Kelly Siegler - a product of defrocked former DA Chuck Rosenthal's leadership team - and it was probably those harsh criticisms that earned his dismissal. I know from experience it's no fun to lose a job you enjoy in a political purge, but c'est la vie. Keep your chin up, Murray - the roses still smell as sweet from the other side of the bar. ;)

Meanwhile, Houston Chron columnist Rick Casey has an article on the new Lykos administration and recent idea exchanges with Dallas County DA Craig Watkins, a Democrat, who is wisely copying Harris County's "direct filing" intake system (see related Grits coverage) where prosecutors are on-call 24-7 to process cases:
As Harris County has done for decades, Watkins will make "intake" prosecutors available around the clock, seven days a week, to help police officers decide whether to jail suspects and how to charge them, and assist with paperwork.

One result: Not exacerbating jail crowding with suspects whose cases are likely to be dismissed. Another: Cutting down on errors that can hamper prosecution.

"Harris County has it and they love it," Dallas First Assistant DA Terri Moore told the Dallas Morning News. "They think it's good and efficient."

For her part of their mutual love-fest:
DA-elect Pat Lykos is not above doing some things Watkins has pioneered. That shouldn't be surprising. Even though she, unlike Democrat Watkins, is a Republican replacing a Republican, like Watkins she ran on promises to reform an office that had become controversial for a win-at-any-cost mentality sometimes tinged with racism.

Lykos said Tuesday she planned to put one of her prosecutors in charge of aggressively examining any post-appeal claims of innocence based on newly developed evidence.

She also said she, like Watkins, will have no tolerance for prosecutors who intentionally hide from defense lawyers evidence that might harm the prosecution's case.

Watkins told the Morning News last May that prosecutors who do this should face disbarment and if the harm was great, "it should be criminalized."

Lykos agreed.

"The intentional concealment of exculpatory evidence is a very serious matter," she said. "It is a clear breach of ethics. Under certain circumstances it should be criminal."

That would probably require an act of the Legislature.

These proposals in both counties sound positive. In Dallas, Watkins took heat when he first came onboard for firing top loyalists from the past administration, so arguably terminations of political opponents by Lykos are also following in Watkins' mold. With apologies and regrets to Murray and others who lost their jobs, I can't say I'm sorry to see the winds of change blowing at the Harris County DA's office.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harvard Law Review November, 2008 122 Harv. L. Rev. 306 LENGTH: 7009 words LEADING CASE The judge determined that probable cause existed for Rothgery's arrest, informed Rothgery of his rights and of the accusations against him (noting that formal charges had not yet been filed), and set bail. ... According to the Fifth Circuit, without prosecutorial awareness there could be no initiation of adversary judicial proceedings, and so Rothgery's right to counsel had not yet attached. ... He started by distinguishing between the right to counsel and the right to appointed counsel: "As I interpret our precedents, the term "attachment' signifies nothing more than the beginning of the defendant's prosecution... In Texas, Rothgery will protect a subset of defendants - those charged and released on bail - who currently do not have their right to counsel activated when the prosecutor is unaware of their charges... the Sixth Amendment right may attach before a defendant first faces a judicial officer. – events that do not involve the defendant's appearance before a judicial officer but that do have involvement of prosecutors.

Michael said...

I'll be happy to post my applause for any elected DA who makes good on his or her promise to hang out Brady-violating ADAs to dry. I haven't yet seen it in Dallas, much less Houston.

rage said...

He was only in office due to a political purge, so it seems fitting that he left due to one.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Rage,
Are you claiming that I was only in Office because of a political purge? If so, that's not true.
I applied for a job under the Holmes Administration and got it. I can assure you that I didn't know anybody of influence, and as a poor law student, I didn't contribute money to Mr. Holmes.
I was kept in office under Rosenthal because, quite frankly, I was way too low on the radar to have garnered much notice.

rage said...

Political purge isn't necessarily right, but politics generally, yes.

Same with all the judges who just got voted out. They complain about politics and straight-ticket voting, but that's the only reason they'd had their jobs so long anyway. There wasn't an unwritten rule that you didn't run against an incumbent, as they claim, there was a rule that Republicans wouldn't run in the primary, and we all knew Dems didn't stand a chance.

You kind of got caught up in the situation, but you also made your bed when you picked sides and belittled Lykos publicly.

You can't do that and expect to keep your job,

Dark Knight said...

Please stop comparing Lykos to Watkins -- I don't think she will appreciate that .

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Dark Knight, you'll need to speak to Rick Casey at the Chron - he's the one who made the comparison. Besides, she'll be lucky to get the good press Watkins has received compared to the way the media savaged her predecessor on his way out the door. She'd be wise to learn from Watkins' successes, just as it's smart for him to copy Harris' intake system.

And good luck, AHCL - I'm sure you'll land on your fett.

Anonymous said...

A huge number of former assistant DA's seem to think that they can set up shop as criminal defense lawyers without any "retraining."

I pity their future clients. Newman's blog shows that he believes everyone accused is almost certainly guilty, and that they deserve to be convicted. Well, here's a dose of reality: you cannot make a living representing innocent people. Unless you really believe your guilty clients deserve to have everything possible done to get them acquitted, you have no business representing them.

I see a bunch of ineffective assistance claims coming down from these newly minted defense lawyers. Unfortunately, most will be good enough to protect their reputations -- but not good enough to protect their clients.