Thursday, December 01, 2011

Vote for me and I'll enact policies that raise your taxes! An unlikely issue for the GOP primary.

In what was pretty clearly an orchestrated one-two punch, this week six Houston-area police unions issued no-confidence votes against Harris County DA Pat Lykos just before their new candidate darling, former District Judge Mike Anderson, announced his candidacy for DA yesterday, running against Lykos in the GOP primary. Houston attorney/blogger Murray Newman had written Tuesday that, while he had no personal knowledge, "there are a lot of prosecutors and police officers right now who are dreaming of a Mike [Anderson] Christmas." Apparently they got their gift early.

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.

In 2009, 16 district judges signed a letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry asking that he support legislation to lessen the penalties.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Grits, speaking of prison healthcare, have you heard anything new on the UTMB contract with TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

They don't do trace cases so they won't crowd the jail, yet Harris County issues hundreds of arrest warrants for technical probation violation and use all 10,000 law enforcement officers as process servers and debt collectors for the courts.

Anonymous said...

The crack pipe issue is what the media picked up, not the main push. If you watch the newsconference held by the police, you'd see their biggest complaint is the irrational decisions being made at intake where cases must arrive proven beyond a reasonable doubt before an ADA will accept them. The legal standard is probable cause to charge an individual. The media coverage, unfortunately, focused on the subject they understood and that could be explained in seconds.

Anonymous said...

At the police UNION news conference reporters asked if they could provide ANY statistics or facts to back their assertion that Lykos was not accepting charges at intake. Then the UNION officials brought up the crack pipe residual issue.

Lykos has been a very good friend to law enforcement officers while DA. She could have, and indeed should have filed charges on the hundreds of cases where officers were caught committing perjury or filing false information on government documents. Hell, there have been a dozen cases where unarmed citizens were murdered by officers that she didn't file charges on. Several of whom were found to have been shot in the back according to autopsy results.

Anderson doesn't stand a chance. Corrupt to the gills, he makes Cluck Rosenthal look like an angel in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Nowif they would quit arresting, booking and prosecuting petty possession of marijuana. Somewhere around 8% of all bookings are for the petty possession of drugs in Harris County. Talk about wasting money!

Anonymous said...

Let's see a measurable amount and it's adulterates. Heck test a pipe and you have at least an ounce or more, if you call the pipe an adulterate. Just added to my felony conviction rate.

Hook Em Horns said...

Lykos will win re-election.

john said...

Tangentially, it occurs to me the reason coppers need to rely on unions is same as regular folks' problems in today's America: a lot of times, government entities are incompetent and crooked. So unions help balance the fight.
Part of the reason for cop corruption is the climate where THEIR leaders/oversight & political bosses lead the way in corruption. Pressure from above.
Corporations are a more efficient kind of crooked than in 1900--where the corps seek out (read: pay off) government as biased support, and there's no one to balance that for the regular folk---because their "representatives" are also bought off. (Ha, and the mainstream major media, too, so who's going to report "the rest of the story"--just Grits and a few talk radio or online watchdogs? Pretty much nobody on the biggest engine: TV.
With the collapsing economy, gov abuses their workers in order to raise revenue--typically off the back of the peasants. Workers do mostly what their bosses tell them! High crack pipes and misdemeanors.
That's not going to get better until we stop the appointees and unelect the incumbents. And it will have to happen over more than one election cycle. But can the economy last that much longer?
Any specific neglect, crime or other issue is diversionary from the systemic corruption--now multiplied by the economic collapse.
But I'm probably wrong; everything is rosy.

Anonymous said...

anon 01:10
I've know Anderson well, personally and professionally, for more than 20 years. There is nothing corrupt about him--what you see is what you get. I'd love to know what you think is corruption, and be careful, because defamation is a word I do know the definition to.