Thursday, November 19, 2009

Should prosectuors, public defenders, cops be required to 'resign to run'?

Should county employees be required to resign before they run for public office? Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins initiated the debate by implementing a resign-to-run policy in his office six months ago, reports Kevin Krause at the Dallas News ("Dallas County public defender's proposed 'resign to run' policy has judicial candidates in office crying foul," Nov. 19):

to eliminate influence peddling at the Frank Crowley criminal courthouse downtown.

Watkins said that before he was DA, he remembers seeing defense attorneys negotiating plea deals with prosecutors who were judge candidates and then handing them envelopes with campaign contributions.

"For our system to work better overall, it's a policy that needs to be in place throughout the court system," Watkins said.

That makes a lot of sense for a District Attorney's office, but it's not every job where negotiating on behalf of the state is part of the employment description. I'm not sure the same strictures need apply to public defenders, who hold no similar leverage with which to extract contributions.

There's a risk that a countywide "resign to run" policy could really just be cover for an incumbent protection plan, since some of the most qualified people to lead the system at any given time may already be working in it. For example, "Sheriff Lupe Valdez said she would support a resign-to-run policy for her department," reported Krause. "In 2008, one of her deputies ran against her." I don't see any similar conflict for Sheriff's deputies running for office as I do assistant district attorneys. Indeed, where are we going to find law enforcement leaders to elect if they must leave law enforcement to run for Sheriff?

Incumbent protection - not preventing conflicts of interest - is why the public defender office is considering the change:

A key reason to enact a resign-to-run policy, [chief public defender Lynn] Richardson said, is to keep incumbent judges happy.

She said at least one judge has indicated that she will not use any public defenders in her courtroom unless the policy is enacted.

"Several judges have complained about the lack of trust for the office because we have so many attorneys running against them, and one judge has threatened to stop using the office as a result," Richardson e-mailed a county official.

Judge Angela King of County Criminal Court No. 6 is facing challenges from two assistant public defenders, neither of whom work in her court.

"You expressed to me that this has caused distrust of the office and has affected your ability to work with us," Richardson wrote in an e-mail to King. "You have indicated to me that having public defenders campaign against you would cause you to be distrustful of any assistant public defender assigned to your court."

Richardson said King confirmed that she would reconsider using public defenders if the resign-to-run policy is enacted. King didn't respond to a call seeking comment.

Other judges also are miffed about having challengers from the public defender's office.

IMO that's not a legitimate reason to keep people from running for office. Watkins' concerns about prosecutors negotiating on behalf of the state while receiving contributions from the lawyer on the other side of table probably are.

Assuming we're going to keep electing judges, Sheriffs and constables, what do you think? Should prosecutors or public defenders be required to resign to run? How about law enforcement officers? Where do you draw the line?

RELATED: See details of the proposed resign to run policy.


Anonymous said...

I suppose you can make that policy like you can anything. The question is would it pass legal muster as it relates to EEO laws. It seems to me there would be a double standard here since the officer already in the elected position would not have to resign to run for reelection but someone who is not in the office who desires the position would have to resign their position.

There is no end to all of this.

To further the arguement of limiting influence peddling......

Should judges be allowed to accept campaign contributions from trial lawyers?

Should sheriff's or candidates for the office be allowed to accept contributions from bail bondsmen and associated vendors like commissary companies, food vendors, inmate telephone companies, etc?

Should prosecutors be allowed to accept contributions from trial lawyers?

What you think Texas?

Anonymous said...

In 1764 Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishment (the philosophical and operational foundation of our current justice system) argued that judges should not be elected but appointed based on merit.

His reasoning is exemplified in this case -- overt politicization creates the appearance (and perhaps the actuality)of bias and undermines the concept of an impartial judiciary and judicial system.

Along the way -- in the effort to make the judiciary responsive to the public we have also made it vulnerable to bias and corruption.

There are trade off's with each but on balance I would prefer merit based appointment to elections and politicization of the courts and court officers.

Anonymous said...

The whole system is corrupt, look at DA watkins, there are 7 judges in Dallas that hired his wife as a "consultant"..Corruption will never stop as long as things like this are allowed to go on. These folks have no morals or ethics whatsoever..

Anonymous said...

My vote is to let ADAs and APDs run for benches without having to resign. If they violate county policy and campaign on county property during the work day, then sack them.

I personally don't think lawyers should be giving money to judges they practice before nor should judges be soliciting such.

S said...

Would Judge King require private law firms to enact the resign-to-run policy as well? I'm troubled by the implication that judges view the PDs office as something different than a law firm. If the judges wouldn't try to exert control over private firms, urging them to enact this policy, they shouldn't try to exert control over the public defender's office.

Anonymous said...

Good point, S.

Anonymous said...

What about the ethical violation committed byt Judge King? Did anyone ever consider that a judge using their position to coerce a county department head to enact such a protectionist policy might violate the Judicial Code of Conduct?

Anonymous said...

So if Whatkins is concerned about his prosecutors being accused of influence peddling, how come Whatkins wife gets to be a consultant for so many criminal court judges?

Whatkins must be afraid of some underlings rising against him or some of his wife's political consultant candidates.

Anonymous said...

I guess Judge King doesn't want the competition and isn't above having a temper tantrum to get her way. Unfortunately, it appears there is no one with enough backbone to stand up to her and protect the APD's in that department. Sad...

As S pointed out, it appears the judges in Dallas County are allowed to exert control over the PD's office in a way they would never be allowed to with a private law firm. And if judges can control the PD's on something like this, do you really think that's the end of it? Guess those defendants who wanted "real" lawyers and had distrust of PD's were on to something after all...

januerie said...

I second that...great point "S"! Now if you would all weigh in with your thoughts and opinions regarding a situation involving someone very dear to me.... Major felony case with a possible sentence of up to 3 life terms... public defender is representing the defendant in a very close knit, small and rural county. The case has been covered fairly extensively statewide by the media and to a lesser extent nationally as well.... Now the PD announces to the community his decision to run in the election for the Office of District Attorney.... while he is making little to no effort in terms of fulfilling his obligation to his client. The case is about to be set for trial and aside from the 5-10 seconds of verbal exchange that occurs in court as the case is being called, PD and Defendant have spoken for maybe 5 mins on the phone and that is all!!! Not only does this seem like a complete conflict of interest, and totally unethical...but also teetering on the brink of being Unconstitutional and all but void of anything resembling the foundation and spirit with which our judicial system was designed.... what do you people think? I am anxious to learn your thoughts here! Thanks for taking the time to read and hopefully respond! Have a happy day!