A Little Respect . . .
All five candidates for Harris County District Attorney were invited to speak today with the board of directors of HCCLA, the Harris County Criminal Lawyers’ Association, after a board meeting.
Only one of them bothered to show up: Kelly Siegler. (C.O. Bradford had spoken to the board before Chuck Rosenthal’s meltdown.)
[Edit: Jim Leitner and Pat Lykos say that they were not aware of the invitation. It appears that Kelly and Pat both sought to speak to the HCCLA Board and were both emailed invitations, but Pat’s did not reach her. My initial statement that all five were invited was based on a miscommunication. Pat had also wanted to speak to the HCCLA Board, and Jim is an HCCLA member.]
Kelly knew darn well that nobody in that room was likely to vote for her in the Republican primary — we’re all either Democrats or Jim Leitner supporters or both. Even if we voted for her, she knows that we don’t have enough political stick to make a difference in the Republican primary. [Edit: She also knew that HCCLA is not endorsing any candidate in this race.] But she came to talk to us anyway, because she wants to do a good job as DA and she recognizes that HCCLA represents an important group of stakeholders in the criminal justice system.
Kelly fielded some tough questions about her conduct in the Temple case, in which she applied for a bench warrant in one case to bring an imprisoned witness to Harris County so that she could interview him about another case in a different court. Kelly saw nothing wrong with this conduct, and seemed not to have considered the possible application of Texas Penal Code Section 37.10 to her behavior. “That’s the way we always do it.”
Aside from the interesting little question of whether “the way we always do it” is a crime under the Texas Penal Code, Kelly had some things to say that reduced my concerns that a Siegler administration would be four more years of the same.
“We might,” Kelly conceded, “not be complying with Brady as well as we should.” This was one of her reasons for promising to allow defense lawyers to copy offense reports.
Regarding pretrial diversion, Kelly said that she would work with the defense bar to agree on a general set of guidelines for people who might be eligible for pretrial diversion. These guidelines would be disseminated to the defense bar so that defense counsel would have a general idea of when their clients might successfully seek pretrial diversion. Then instead of having one person (currently the misdemeanor division chief [edit: for misdemeanor pretrial diversions, and the felony division chief for felony pretrial diversions]) decide who gets pretrial diversion, Kelly suggested that there should be 5-10 people on a committee making the decision. This would create consistency in the decision-making process [edit: over time].
When asked about unprofessional conduct among assistant DAs, Kelly seemed somewhat surprised to learn that such conduct was commonplace. She had no specific solutions, but promised an open door for defense lawyers to air their complaints.
Kelly also agreed to improve communication between the prosecutorial and defense bars by attending, with her upper management, regular meetings with the defense bar’s leadership.
“We need to do a better job of explaining to new prosecutors that Brady includes inconsistent witness statements,” she said, and offered to send prosecutors to Brady training sessions conducted by the defense bar, even though “we might not agree with you.”
Kelly described the current Office policy of not agreeing to less than 10 days on first-time prostitution cases as “outdated and stupid.” (I assume that she didn’t think that the minimum should be more than 10 days, but we didn’t discuss that.)
When discussing 12.44(a) time (the section of the Penal Code that allows the State to agree to county jail time for some felonies), Kelly said, “It’s not our job to worry if the jail is overcrowded. If we want to 12.44(a) someone that’s our business.”
Kelly was able to give the first coherent explanation I’ve heard of the Harris County DA’s refusal of summonses for class B marijuana cases: “It’d screw up the whole intake system.”
Kelly promised a larger major fraud division, which would be better at investigating and working up the white-collar crime cases. This brought a smattering of applause from the defense lawyers.
One of her first priorities if elected would be to “take care of the groups that got their feelings hurt” by Chuck Rosenthal.
Kelly came out strongly against DAs lobbying against life without parole. That lobbying was because LWOP would result in juries assessing death less often; Kelly called it “wrong.” (I’d’ve called it “heinous”, but “wrong” will do in a pinch.)
Speaking of the death penalty, Kelly proposes changing the way the DA’s Office decides whether to seek death. Instead of depending on a memo written by the chief prosecutor in whatever court the case happens to land in (a prosecutor who may not have tried a death penalty case), Kelly suggested that she would require the division chief to be familiar with the entire file, including mitigation evidence.
As I understood it, Kelly favored letting outsiders clean up the HPD crime lab mess.
Finally, Kelly said that Dallas DA Craig Watkins “has got some good ideas.”
We didn’t talk about racism in the DA’s Office. Or about Mensa. This is by no means an endorsement. I still doubt that Kelly will bring as much needed change to the Harris County DA’s Office as Jim Leitner. But I’m convinced that she’d be a good start.
If I had to choose today between Kelly Siegler and Pat Lykos, or Kelly and whatsisname Perry, I would choose Kelly. Today she showed the defense bar some respect, and a little respect, when you’re a criminal-defense lawyer, goes a long way.
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