January 17, 2008
GOP DA candidates say "We're not Chuck!"

Well, what would you expect them to say?

With Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal sure to be out of the job in 11 months or less, Republican candidates for the office pledged Wednesday to reform his agency well beyond the parts affected by the current e-mail scandal.

Their recipes for change showed the differences in their viewpoints and backgrounds.

"Change is here, and unless you live under a rock, you've got to know it's coming one way or the other," said candidate Jim Leitner, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor.

In their first joint campaign appearance, none of the four candidates mentioned Republican Rosenthal's name. Candidate Pat Lykos, a former judge, referred to the district attorney's e-mail saga as "those recent events."

Instead, the contenders portrayed Rosenthal predecessor John B. Holmes Jr.'s administration as the good old days.

"Johnny Holmes left this office with the reputation that it was never about politics," said prosecutor and candidate Kelly Siegler.

Still, candidate and Houston police captain Doug Perry, who has accounting and law degrees, said it was not time to go backward.

"Some things have been done the same way for the last 26 years," Perry said, adding that the time police officers must take to file charges with prosecutors and obtain search warrants can be shortened, to the benefit of crime fighting.

The winner of the March 4 primary will face Democrat C.O. Bradford, the former Houston police chief, in the November general election.

I realize this story was generated by the candidates' appearance at a forum sponsored by the Houston Professional Republican Women, but isn't it about time we heard what Bradford thinks about all this and what he'd do about it if elected? I don't know if he's not made himself available to the press on this issue, which was reasonable early on when there was a new revelation every five minutes about something stupid, atrocious, and/or potentially illegal that Rosenthal had been doing, or if they're not calling him. But now that this isn't a daily part of the news cycle, I think it's high time he and the newsies got together. I mean, the GOP primary for DA is important, and it's going to have an effect on the November election, but there is an election in November, and so far we're only hearing about half of it. I hope to see that get rectified soon.

One reason why we need to hear from Bradford now is because some of these GOP hopefuls are saying things that could do with a little of his perspective.

Siegler said she would make the district attorney's office more transparent to defense lawyers and the public.

"It will not be an office with prosecutors that win at all cost," said the chief of Rosenthal's special crimes bureau.

Siegler also said she would first solicit reform ideas from fellow prosecutors. "We know what's wrong. We know what's broken. ... I am the only one who has worked there the last 21 years. I know how it it operates."

You know what's wrong, you know what's broken, and yet you're only just now talking about maybe fixing it? Would you be saying any of this if the naughty emails that forced Rosenthal off the ballot hadn't come to light in time to get him to withdraw? Somehow, I doubt it. This is a fine illustration of why Kelly Siegler is the wrong person for the job.

Leitner said he would work for the crime lab -- which as part of the Houston Police Department reported a series of false and sometimes fabricated results -- to operate independently and would make sure his conduct is transparent and beyond reproach.

That's a darned fine idea. It's also one that C.O. Bradford voiced back in September.

We must have a Crime Lab that is truly independent. We must have a Crime Lab that is independent of the police department, and that is independent of the District Attorney's Office. We must have a Crime Lab where professional scientists are allowed to do their jobs and the evidence speaks for itself.

Evidence doesn't belong to the police, evidence doesn't belong to the defense, evidence doesn't belong to the District Attorney. Evidence belongs to no one, but means everything to everyone, and so it must be cared for by everyone. And without the proper examination and presentation of evidence, a system of keeping track of how many cases are won and pled takes the place of the TRUTH.

See what I mean? If we're not hearing from Bradford now, we're not getting the whole story.

One more thing, and again it's something for which Bradford's perspective would be crucial: Why is it that the DA's operations manual provision related to diversity and equal employment, which has been policy since 1993, is "pretty much ignored as far as our actual hiring practices are concerned"? Mark Bennett has a copy of the email, from the DA's general counsel, which raises that point. What are we going to do about that?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 17, 2008 to Election 2008
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