Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Hiring more Harris Co. prosecutors would harm the rest of the system

In Houston, liberal advocacy groups, including the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, are opposing Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg's request for 102 additional prosecutor slots. (See initial press coverage.) Ogg says the slots are needed to make dockets move quicker. But Grits would favor expanding the public-defender office by that much LONG before I'd support that many more ADAs.

As it happens, an academic paper several years ago analyzed high prosecutor caseloads at the Harris County DA's Office, but recommended against addressing the issue by unilaterally hiring more prosecutors. Grits thought it relevant to revisit why those authors thought a hire-more-prosecutors approach was a bad idea:
The biggest problem with simply hiring more prosecutors is that doing so would have adverse effects on the rest of the criminal justice system. Increasing the number of prosecutors without a corresponding increase in public defenders would exacerbate the indigent defense problem. Defense lawyers would still be overburdened and would be in a worse position because they would then be facing prosecutors who were better resourced and thus better prepared for trial and less interested in plea bargaining. 
A second objection to simply appropriating money for new prosecutors is that there would be no guarantee that the allotted money would be used to reduce existing caseloads. Prosecutors’ offices may use the added manpower to simply file more charges. At present, overburdened prosecutors’ offices likely decline charges for minor criminal infractions that they simply lack the manpower to prosecute. Increasing the number of prosecutors may thus result in increased prosecution of low-level drug or prostitution cases without any real reduction in the caseloads of existing prosecutors. 
A third objection is that elected district attorneys in large offices (who are primarily administrators and typically do not handle actual cases) may view new staff as an opportunity to enhance their political reputations rather than reduce existing caseloads. At present, most local district attorneys have no choice but to use almost all of their budgets to handle violent crime. A sudden influx of new staff might lead elected prosecutors to create new departments or to allocate new lawyers to pet projects that will make political hay. For example, very few county district attorneys’ offices have the resources to handle long-term, paper-intensive, white-collar crime cases. Yet, in today’s political climate, many elected district attorneys would surely like to have robust white-collar divisions that focus on high profile issues such as mortgage fraud or investment malfeasance. Similarly, as it has become politically popular to “go green,” elected prosecutors might like to expand the size of their environmental divisions. Or district attorneys may simply be animal lovers who want to expand departments that focus on animal cruelty. All of these are worthwhile projects, but directing resources to new areas will do little to reduce the enormous caseloads facing existing prosecutors. (citations omitted)
Instead, the paper suggested tying any increase in prosecutor staffing with increases in indigent defense funding. That makes much more sense in the present political environment, and would reduce some of the unintended consequences that would likely arise from a one-sided arms race between prosecutors and defense.

6 comments:

Kuato said...

Where does the money come from? Grits - Do you know how county DA offices are funded? Anyone? Some must come from the State because all actions are done in the name of The State of Texas, as the Plaintiff. I know Career prosecutors draw from the State for the exceptional retirement benefits now enjoyed by only those in the public sector.

Kuato said...

Just came across this in a bill just filed.
So they are paid by the State from the State's treasury. At least the DA is.
but Ogg's request for more asst. DA's was made to the County Commissioners?

Sec.A45.126.AABURLESON COUNTY. (a) In Burleson County, the
county attorney of Burleson County shall perform the duties imposed
on and have the powers conferred on district attorneys by general
law and is entitled to be compensated by the state in the manner and
amount set by general law relating to the salary paid to district
attorneys by the state.

Rent-A-Voter said...

102 additional prosecutor = more marginal cases to keep them busy. More innocent caught in the plea bargain industrial complex. Bigger jails and prisons.

Tom said...

The Harris County DA's Office needs ancillary help as much as it needs more prosecutors. While Kim Ogg says the new prosecutors will provide staff to get more people in diversion programs quicker, she ignores the plight of her "number three" prosecutors.
The three is the junior prosecutor of the three assigned to a court and has lots of ancillary duties like preparing short probable cause statements to read to the trial court and gathering the defendant's criminal history. Many are in the office at 6 or 7 a.m. just to do that. It's clerical work and as a taxpayer, I don't want to spend $75,000 per year to have a lawyer do a paralegal's job.
And, the threes get to spend their weekends preparing for the four trials set for Monday even knowing only one will go. They don't have time to learn their other cases and to think about things like plea offers.
It's a miserable job and the biggest reason things haven't changed is because the office has always done it that way. The DA's office needs to let lawyers be lawyers and give them a workload they can handle. It's one thing for a junior lawyer to work in a major firm sweatshop for $150,000 plus from private clients and its quite another for them to work in a sweatshop on the public tab.
I understand the DA's office currently has a huge turnover rate and I'll bet a lot of it is the the shitwork the threes have to do along with trying to be lawyers.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion: If Prosecutors bothered to collect evidence and checked out witnesses before tying up the courts and the Courts would quit taking frivolous cases, it would help any back log.

Courts should not be back logged, the people have a right to a speedy trial. A competent Court does not have a back log. Of course, there can always be tribunal courts (common Law) to relieve the back log.

Anonymous said...

If she had not fired the competent ada's she fired when she was elected, she would not need to hire so many more. The current state of Oggs office is a joke. 26 year old know it all that can't even call complaints, much less work up a case. Look at intake. They have no idea on what to accept on or what to kill. Not all but the majority. No leadership, no seasoned attorneys, total lack of trial experience or anyone to learn from. The public defenders office is made up of lawyers that can't get clients on their own or want insurance. There may be a few true believers but with them having 1/2 the cases of any ada...Of course, the new Judges are no better. Harris County is going to blow up.