Monday, December 19, 2016

Harris DA office firings may set stage for more stable future

There's been much weeping and gnashing of teeth over Harris County DA-elect Kim Ogg's decision not to renew contracts for 37 prosecutors at the District Attorney's office. Reported the Houston Chronicle, "Like any good team that has suffered some under-performing seasons," she declared, "we're changing management. My administration is heading in a new direction."

Murray Newman - a former prosecutor fired by former DA Pat Lykos who, like many of those terminated this week, suffers from a wistful nostalgia for the Johnny Holmes era - opined that, "Yes, it is absolutely true that this happens with every Administration, but the numbers are usually relatively small.  I believe that my firing class was right around 10 people."

He's right about that, but here's what he's not saying: Lykos made a big mistake by not firing more people and Ogg is probably wise not to replicate her error.

Murray got fired, justifiably, because he lambasted his new boss publicly on his blog several times per week in commentary which, for an employee, amounted to insubordination. (Indeed, union organizers generally are more discreet in their anti-management attacks.) But otherwise, Lykos mostly replaced folks only at the very top of the DA food chain, leaving senior supervisory staff largely in place. Problem was, those folks felt the same way as Murray, they were just politically astute enough not to say so in public. And they proceeded to undermine Lykos from within at every turn, nearly from the moment she took office, then later agitated early and often for Mike Anderson, who ultimately ousted her in the Republican primary.

So, we've seen this movie and there's no reason for Kim Ogg to prefer a rerun of that trainwreck to a fresh new feature of her own making. In Austin, DA-elect Margaret Moore ousted 27 prosecutors in a much smaller office, but somehow nobody in the capital believes the world may come to an end as a result. To read Anderson's commentary in the Chron story, you'd think these 37 souls were the only thing preventing Houston from descending into chaos reminiscent of a scene from a Mad Max movie, and that no other lawyers in America's fourth largest city could possibly replace them. But here's a news flash from the Trumpian era: Winners pick their teams, and nobody's irreplaceable.

So, I'm sorry for folks who lost their jobs at Christmas, although I haven't heard any moaning for Obama-Administration officials' employment ending. Voters turned Devon Anderson out of office fair and square and her opinions about which of her friends deserve jobs at the DA office no longer carry weight. For the next four years, Kim Ogg gets to appoint people loyal to her. Nothing requires her to stick with her predecessor's team, and recent Harris County history shows that refusing to do so was probably a smart move.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Division Chiefs and Court Chiefs were instructing underlingo to ignore MMA requests as late as the last part of this year. I think Ms. Ogg got most of those cheating relics out of the office. Let's hope the rest understand the message that winning at all costs includes at the cost of your job.

Anonymous said...

The only way to truly make a culture change is to eliminate the bulk of the old timers, because that is who the junior employees are most likely to emulate. All the training in the world will not convince most people set in their ways for 20+ years so the sacrifice of their admittedly excellent skills is done to instill the desired changes. Will that mean the office loses more cases? Of course it does, anyone practicing criminal law in Harris County would be foolish to say otherwise, but in the long term, many hope the changes will be worth the cost.

On the flip side, the way the employees were fired was inexcusable. If that is what working at her father's law firm taught her was a common practice, her lack of human resources skills really needs a serious upgrade. That she lied and told the press she met with all the employees of the office over the previous weeks is another dark omen even for her most steadfast supporters, why bother lying on something so trivial when you don't have to? And before the spin goes too far, Ms. Ogg might have fired over 10% of the organization but a significantly larger number will be gone by next month, the others allowed to quit before the announcement was made. That was handled by other members of her transition team who were willing to communicate with Anderson's most vocal supporters, the bulk of the people fired simply in positions she needed to fill with her supporters and a handful that had ties to cases with some perceived problem.

Best of luck to Ms. Ogg and the rest of her team though. She greatly benefits from the democratic sweep that included a bunch of new judges, the election of a like minded new sheriff, and even Houston's latest police chief who despite reservations from Grits over the years, is more willing to go along with various changes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:28, they spoke to folks personally when Murray was fired and he and others howled like scalded cats. I do not believe there was any method of firing these prosecutors which would not have received the same reaction, be it by email, face to face, or by carrier pigeon. If you're looking for a reason to be mad about it, you latch onto it; if you think it's okay to fire them, you probably get over it. It is what it is. There's no pleasant way to receive a pink slip.

Anonymous said...

Grits, this is anon 12:28. Perhaps you misunderstand where I'm coming from. Of course those fired will be upset, most of them dedicated their lives to public service and as far as anyone in Harris County can say, only a couple of them were partisans of any sort. What is inexcusable is the manner of the terminations and the lies made to cover them up.

If you think that kind of conduct by a high level elected official is just fine, we'll have to agree to disagree. I want the new administration to succeed with the changes laid out on the campaign trail but as a fan of transparency, and someone that was hoping for the incoming DA to display the high ground morality she claimed was missing, I have come to question her already. Let's hope for a lot better conduct in the future...

Anonymous said...

Typical comment for cop hating, pro crime grits. Yous should be happy, criminal lovers will be in charge of the DA's office now.

Anonymous said...

Anderson was corrupt to the gills. Anytime a pal committed a crime, it was swept away beneath a carpet. And anytime a pal of a pal committed a crime the same thing happened. She rehired Lester Blizzard, and there was another hack who worked in the financial crimes bureau who was DWI and Lykos had fired and Anderson hired him back. Then there was about a half dozen or so of her investigators who committed crimes that, well, you get the picture.

And heck fire, she even worked dozens of deals, as did her late husband, for her pedophile pals. This was one of the worst:http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/No-prison-time-in-sexual-assault-case-6333949.php

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:05, by "such conduct" you mean firing people by email? I agree that's not ideal. I don't agree that there was ANY way she could have fired ANYONE without identical complaints being raised by revanchist holdovers from the Holmes/Rosenthal era. Nor do I believe that doing so would have claimed for her any "high moral ground" that any critic would have respected. Your complaint is about courtesy, not morals.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I think he means the shitty method of termination AND lying about it. Firing by email goes past the point of not being ideal by telling the world you met with the individuals first most certainly becomes a moral issue. If she'll lie about that, what else will she lie about?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Show me the quote where she claimed she met with them, 5:51. All I saw was more ambiguous than that and makes me think you're overstating your case.

There's no moral requirement to notify fired employees one way or the other. And since she never said she'd keep everybody, and is under no obligation to do so, honestly I cannot see your complaint. "Not ideal" is about as far as I'd go with it. IMO it's really a non-issue. People lose their jobs every day because courts set high bail and they can't get to work, but I bet none of these 37 ever gave their plight a second thought. It's a tough world out there and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Some of the 37 surely fall into that category, but c'est la vie.

TriggerMortis said...

Ogg stated she was going to clean house and pursue a different direction, she's just keeping her promise. Many of those she fired had been training baby prosecutors to cut corners here and screw Brady there, thumbing their nose at the law had been a way of life for them for their entire careers. Most were fine with and had likely supported Anderson and her decision to hide the fact that there wasn't any drug evidence after the constable had sold it all. I doubt even one will be unemployed long, though, there's no shortage of district attorneys who want crooked prosecutors. I bet that all will land jobs in surrounding counties before the ink is dry on their pink slips.

Anonymous said...

@Grits

Careful kind sir. You appear to be slightly enjoying the notion of these noble public servants receiving what they may claim is an undeserved injustice. If we apply criminal justice statistics to this case, we might with some confidence conclude about 15% or more are actually innocent even before any examination of the facts or law. But we shouldn't apply incorrect stats or hide exculpatory evidence or make undisclosed side deals with story witnesses for fabricated testimony. No we must keep it honorable when talking about these truly, breathtakingly incredible honest souls none of which would dirty their hands, surely, in the criminal defense line of work. No, we must think of this bunch in the same manner we do those unfortunate souls sitting in the freezing Texas prisons where coats are not allowed. I'm going to ponder on this some more to reinforce my conscience about criminal justice reform. Join me.

James Innes said...

"Elections have consequences."

Anonymous said...

Watch her press conference, not just for the part where she claims every employee was offered the chance to resign (ADA's are claiming she never met with them), but where she described the process used to determine who was kicked to the curb, and during the Q&A session.

http://www.click2houston.com/video/kim-ogg-press-conference-on-firing-of-employees

I look forward to seeing her enact changes in bail reform, eliminating the death penalty, and discouraging police from arresting citizens for small amounts of drugs. The bail bond company owners are livid and some in Austin are already threatening to change state law but she can do some good where needed. You have to break some eggs to make an omelet, yes?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not enjoying it, 8:01, just recognizing that there are far greater injustices in the world. Indeed, there are far greater injustices emanating from THAT OFFICE.

Anonymous said...

Funny, Grits, how you just gloss over the fact that George Soros bought Ogg's election to the tune of a nearly a million dollars in political donations. If you don't think there's a quid pro quo for that kind of financial support, you're delusional. And it happened in several other large prosecutors offices around the country as well. I don't believe for a moment that the firing of that many veteran prosecutors won't have a significant impact on the quality of prosecutions that emanate from that office. And what do you want to bet that Ogg's policy regarding the pursuit of the death penalty will be in lock step with the liberal establishment? You championed Craig Watkins for being the "anti-district attorney" until the corrupt stench from that office became even too much for you to bear. Your elation over the emasculation of the once proud flagship DA's office in Texas is both transparent and expected.

Anonymous said...

From the latest events, I think any hopes of a stable DA's office in Harris County are lost. Those who claim to make decisions based on facts then going around making wild-eyed accusations based on anonymous calls to continue their smear campaign long after they won the election are not likely to treat the run of the mill citizen any better. The spin doctors are working overtime on trying to minimize what Kim Ogg has said and done but the public isn't buying any of it. Much more of her antics and people will start openly talking about a recall petition long before her four years are up.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@6:49, I didn't "gloss over" Soros. but unless you have some reason to think he has a personal vendetta against these individuals, I don't think he's the one responsible for their dismissals, so I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. Besides, he gave $130k to elect her opponent in the primary, so her loyalties toward him are likely mixed.

Otherwise, perhaps you noticed that under Anderson death penalty cases in Harris County plummeted, but sure, blame Ogg for that, too. I am not elated over these firings, but neither do I lament them. It's a job, not an entitlement. Go get another one.

Bottom line: Anderson did worse than Rs countywide, but all the Rs lost. She was going down either way, Soros or no.

Finally, I'll thank you not to put words in quotes that I never used ("anti-district attorney") and attribute them to me. I praised Watkins when he was right and criticized him when he was wrong; I did the same with Anderson and will do the same with Ogg. Hell, I liked Devon Anderson. I didn't agree with everything she did, but she demonstrated personal growth while in office and exceeded my expectations.

@5:42: A recall petition because she fired people by email instead of in person? That's delusional. You'll need a lot more than insider baseball for that. Nobody cares about this issue but the fired individuals and people who know them. Voters expect politicians to clean house when they take over. In fact, a state rep emailed me to say the biggest complaint his constituents have when elections flip is that MORE people aren't let go so that real change could occur. That's surely how most voter view this tempest in a teapot.

Anonymous said...

Grits, this is 5:42. If you think my complaint is about the firing matter, you might want to get a few more hours sleep. I didn't even mention that at all, her meltdowns even before taking office revealing the Kim Ogg we were warned about.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I guess my confusion, 7:30/5:42, was you prefacing your comments with "From the latest events..." and you construing that we could draw conclusions about how "run of the mill citizens" would be treated based on the email firing of some government bureaucrats. It left one with the impression you were discussing, you know, the topic of the post and not some unknown events with no referent either in my post or your comment.

Anonymous said...

(Anon 5:42 here)
The "latest events" concerns, you know, the manner in which Kim Ogg is holding daily press conferences making accusations of criminal behavior on the part of still employed prosecutors following the law. With no evidence and no crimes she can articulate, she is going to waste money with investigations/witch hunts of people that will no longer be employed by the DA's office when she takes over next month.

Her demands of Anderson are laughable in the context of events, the manner of flip flopping obvious to anyone but a poli-cheer type invested in her career. The petty manner of how she emailed their lack of contract renewal just shows how out of touch she is with standard practices of human resources, no surprise given her limited experience supervising large numbers of people, but it is the followup that increasingly shows residents of Harris County are in for a bumpy ride, not a stable ride into progressive idealism as her supporters have suggested.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, I don't know, 9:52, you're all over the map. I can tell you're angry, but the reasons appear to be personal, not anything you're able to articulate to the point that others can know what the hell you're talking about. Voters don't care about this insider baseball crap. If there's to be some big problem that will make voters backlash against her (beyond the DAO regulars who would backlash anyway, no matter what), then you certainly haven't yet identified it.

Candice said...

I certainly don't have to say Anderson is corrupt, but since I am a victim and an elderly woman died because of what she did, I will say, I second, third, fourth. I reported that an elderly woman was being starved to death and got the run around by the Chief of Elder Abuse before watching the woman die. Then I faced political retaliation including threats of jail when the DA and DEVON SPECIFICALLY, knew I was innocent and hid the evidence and had the toxicologist lie. They used that "Dr" not a Dr Guale who is a veterinarian from Ethiopia?? She would not even admit to facts of guilt and it was all for harassment. I guess God is still on the throne. Merry Christmas!!

Anonymous said...

These people are prosecutors who put average people in jail on a daily basis with no remorse or regret of the manner in which they over power poor people and under prosecute their buddies. If they can't handle losing their jobs then we will see their remains on channle 2 when they jump from the roof of the court house. Good riddance to all you losers who can't pick yourself up and move on.

Unknown said...

Why don't we focus on stalling the cartel from taking over the city.

terry risher said...

Why don't we focus on stalling the cartel from taking over the city.