What's unfortunate, bordering on absurd, is the issue the unions and Anderson have chosen as their main attack on Lykos (maybe it polled well): "They were critical of Lykos' policy, announced in January 2010, to bring misdemeanor charges in cases where the drug residue is less than one-100th of a gram." In other words, they want more tax dollars spent on police and jail staff to arrest and house more people on penny-ante paraphernalia charges. Of course they do. They are police unions.
Lykos' new policy finally brought Harris County in line with what every other large urban county in the state had been doing for years. There are several great reasons for not prosecuting "residue" cases as felonies. First, when there's less than one-100th of a gram, there's often not enough for defense testing if it's requested (which is why Lykos said she chose that threshold). Before the US Supreme Court strengthened the Confrontation Clause in a series of recent cases led by Justice Scalia, this might have been acceptable. Post Crawford, etc., probably not.
Second, processing crack pipes through the crime lab so you can charge someone with possession wastes valuable crime-lab resources in a division that's already overworked and seriously in need of reform. The Houston PD's crime lab has had so many problems, anything that can be done to take pressure off that bunch is a good thing.
Finally, Lykos' residue policy has been a primary driver in the reduction in state-jail defendants serving time in the county jail, easing overcrowding pressure at a time when that's desperately needed in Harris County. If a new DA went back to Rosenthal-era charging decisions - which were an outlier among large counties for how to handle paraphernalia cases - it would add hundreds, if not ultimately more than a thousand, additional inmates to the jail at any given time. If Anderson won the job and changed just that one policy, county commissioners would literally have to pay to ship all those extra inmates to Louisiana, where the county would be charged on a per diem basis.
In other words, they hung their hat on a policy that, if implemented the way they suggest, would quickly require another county tax hike to pay for overtime, private prison beds, and extra transportation costs. Vote for me and I'll do things to raise your taxes! Not the first message I'd have picked for a GOP primary race against an incumbent, but we'll see.
To Grits, and I think for most rational people, that's just too much taxpayer-funded resources aimed at punishing someone for, say, an empty crack pipe where the only crack in their "possession" is the burned residue on the pipe itself. When you break it down from any cost-benefit standpoint, Lykos made exactly the right call. At least, toward the end, the Chron's coverage of the "no-confidence" vote mentioned that:
Lykos' policy was one long advocated by a majority of Harris County district judges, who have complained their dockets were swamped with minor drug cases instead of more serious cases.Even Murray Newman agreed with Pat Lykos on the crack-pipe policy at the time, and his view of the sitting DA is most akin to portrayals of cartoon or Bond-movie villains. If Newman could agree with his avowed nemesis on the subject (and he disagrees with Lykos on the time of day), that tells you this wasn't an unreasonable stance.
In 2009, 16 district judges signed a letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry asking that he support legislation to lessen the penalties.
Of all the things they could choose to attack her on, I'm amazed Lykos' opponents chose this one: Something nearly universally praised in public-policy circles, including but not limited to most of Anderson's former Republican colleagues on Harris County District courts, led by Judge Michael McSpadden. I also wonder if it's a great idea for Anderson to so brazenly associate himself with public-employee unions in a GOP primary when public-employee unions have become conservative-movement whipping boys? Further, do you want to be running as the Drug Warrior candidate in an election where the Ron Paul campaign is busily driving voters to the polls?
With police union backing he'll have plenty of money (assuming somebody hasn't gambled it all away), so I suspect Lykos will find Anderson a formidable, well-resourced opponent. The no-confidence vote was enough to get the media's attention. But the underlying basis for it puts Anderson and his inner circle at odds with GOP establishment types in the local judiciary, when there are plenty of issues they could have chosen that wouldn't isolate the challenger from potential allies with every attack. And no one should be proposing more taxes and bigger government in this year's inflamed GOP primary, even in the name of the Drug War.