March 01, 2003
Rosenthal finally responds

It took an op-ed piece written by a couple of defense attorneys, but Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has finally commented on the perjury trial of Chief C.O. "BAMF" Bradford with a letter to the editor in today's Chron. I'm including it in full below to More link for my own ease of retrieval later. I have no desire to rebut any point the DA makes, but I will say this: It sure took him long enough to say something about this case, and it's more than a bit craven in my book to do so in a way that doesn't allow any questions to be asked of him. Maybe if he'd spoken to reporters around the time of the case (I recall the news stories saying he was "unavailable" when the verdict came in), he wouldn't have smartass defense attorneys taking such potshots at him in print in the first place.

On the Monday Outlook page ("What Bradford, ham sandwich have in common"), Troy J. Wilson and John C. Brittain suggest that my office prosecuted Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford in bad faith. While I welcome constructive criticism and debate regarding the decisions that I make, it is unfortunate for the readers of the Chronicle that these two experienced lawyers apparently overlooked some issues of law and fact before submitting their article for publication.

For example, understanding the law of perjury is fundamental to understanding the decision to present this case to a grand jury. In their article, however, Wilson and Brittain chose to ignore the Texas Penal Code's definition of perjury and quoted from a legal dictionary. While I might use a dictionary to ensure that the word is spelled right, I certainly would not use it to explain the unique parameters of Texas law.

They also cite the comments of one of Bradford's lawyers as "well-established law." Fortunately for us, the laws of this state are not written by criminal defense attorneys. Unlike Wilson and Brittain, I'll continue to rely upon the statutes drafted by the Legislature, and the interpretations of those statutes by our appellate jurists.

The worst aspect of their argument is their implication that my office manipulated a grand jury into indicting Bradford without adequate evidence. They repeat the canard that it is "well known in legal circles that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich."

This aspersion, often repeated by criminal defense attorneys to deflect blame from their clients, is false and insulting to the grand jurors who serve this county with little pay and much personal sacrifice. These true public servants work very hard to satisfy the requirements of the Texas Constitution that, unless an indictment is waived by the defendant, all felony accusations must be presented to grand juries before the state can proceed with a prosecution.

Grand jurors do not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused but whether there is probable cause for an indictment in any particular case. Most cases presented by prosecutors are "true billed," but that shows that the system works: Police don't arrest people on mere suspicion, and prosecutors screening the reports of those arrests do not accept charges that want for evidence.

Whoever said that my office could get a grand jury to indict without evidence has never been a grand juror or known one. Don't just take it from me: Talk to the judges who empanel grand juries. They will tell you that those folks who serve this community are fair-minded, independent people who are as much a cross section of society as petit jurors.

I acknowledge that Bradford has had a distinguished career, but popularity and station in life are not listed anywhere as reasons to except persons from being held accountable for their actions. The grand jury heard from all of the witnesses with relevant information. The chief and his legal counsel were provided the opportunity to have other witnesses testify. Once all of the information was before them, the grand jury independently returned an indictment.

Once the indictment was returned, the people had the right to learn the facts giving rise to the charge. Trials do that. Trials require admissible evidence in public courtrooms rather than spin in the media.

It may not be widely known, but Chief Bradford is a lawyer. I know that he knows that the misrepresentations made by the [opinion essay's] authors are not the law and that criticism of the grand jury system is unfounded. But it is like my father used to say, "No matter what the issue, you are always going to find people on your side that you wish were not."

Charles A. "Chuck" Rosenthal,

Harris County district attorney

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 01, 2003 to K-Mart Kiddie Roundup | TrackBack