January 09, 2008
Oh, those emails: Day 2

Let's start with more from KHOU, since they were the first on the scene with this story.

[O]ther e-mails in the district attorney's office provide a glimpse of a possible ongoing attitude taken towards women.

An e-mail from division chief Joe Owmby to general counsel Scott Durfee says, "we need to include some hot interns."

"Pornography is not illegal in this country. But for a district attorney, a law enforcement agent, to have that on his office machine, suggests to me that this is not only inappropriate, grossly insensitive and raises real questions as to whether or not he's fit to hold this office," said 11 News political expert Bob Stein.

But political and legal experts tell us the potentially most damaging e-mails deal with Rosenthal's political campaign activities on county equipment and time.

Take his campaign Web site. It's designed and run by a county employee, who also happens to run the district attorney office's IT department.

In an afternoon e-mail to that IT director, Rosenthal writes, "How much do I owe ya'all for keeping my campaign website up?"

Another example: An e-mailed note from Rosenthal meant to ask people if they "would be interested in purchasing "Re-Elect Chuck Rosenthal" children campaign T-shirts for those "little voters to be."

There are also numerous other exchanges with county employees about Rosenthal's re-election barbecue fundraiser. All were sent from county e-mail addresses and the vast majority, during normal county business hours.

All of which is a major no-no, said Stein.

"Clearly Rosenthal not only went across that line, he went across that line by a full football field, using personnel, using equipment," he said.

So let me ask again: Who investigates Chuck Rosenthal? We all know he'd be on this like ants at a picnic if it were some other elected official, especially a Democrat. Who gets the job when he's the sinner? Has anybody contacted AG Greg Abbott to see if perhaps his office might have a role to play in this?

From the political, to the racial: In an e-mail Rosenthal forwarded to his friend Dr. Siegler, it describes Bill Clinton as the closest thing to having a black man as president, because, "He played the sax...," "He smoked weed," and "He had his way with ugly white women."

It also said he doesn't work, but still gets a government check every month.

Remember what I said yesterday about cutting Rosenthal some slack if it turned out he was only the recipient of this type of email? If he were the sender, as this update says, then all bets are totally off.

And finally there is an e-mailed photo found on Rosenthal's county computer. It is of an African-American man lying on his back on a sidewalk and seemingly unconscious. He is surrounded on one side by watermelon, that has clearly been eaten, and an empty fried chicken bucket on the other. The photo's sender is unknown, but it does have a title with it: "Fatal Overdose."

The KHOU story contains a copy of that image. Go ahead, take a look. And recall Siegler's words about these emails: "I didn't intend for it to be offensive. I didn't e-mail anybody that I thought would be offended by it." Allow me to pause for a moment to dedicate this song to the Sieglers.

More from the Chron, starting with a finalist in the Really, Really Doesn't Get It competition:

Kelly Siegler dismissed her husband's e-mails.

"He cusses like a sailor and his sense of humor is crude, to put it mildly," she said. "It's his computer and what he does at work is his business. He's the boss."

She declined to comment on whether Rosenthal should resign but said the revelations wouldn't affect her campaign.

"I would hope the voters are more concerned about qualifications of their DA than some inappropriate e-mails."

You'd think someone who entered the DA race with the statement that "The reputation of the office is the most important consideration" might see a connection between these emails and that office's reputation. I'm just saying.

The calls for Rosenthal to resign have begun:

"I am asking the people of Harris County to join me in requesting Chuck Rosenthal's resignation effective immediately," said Charles Bacarisse. "(He) has lost both the public trust and the moral authority required to serve effectively as district attorney of Harris County."

It's opportunistic, as well as a free shot, for Bacarisse to say this. But he has the virtue of being right, and I'll stand with him (and Jared Woodfill and Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who said the same thing) on it. At this point, someone ought to be very worried about a federal civil rights lawsuit being filed on behalf of every black defendant Rosenthal has prosecuted.

And more on the campaign activities:

E-mails about a barbecue fundraiser for Rosenthal's planned re-election campaign also were sent to his employees, the documents reveal.

It is widely considered illegal in Texas for public officials to campaign during work hours using government-owned equipment. Such instances in the past have led to charges of official misconduct, or theft by a public official.

"I'd like to kick off the 2008 re-election campaign with a barbecue in early October," Rosenthal wrote to his staff in one e-mail in August, as he announced a planning session for the event. "I appreciate your help, and I am looking forward to seeing you there."

Another e-mail announced Gail Hays, a captain investigator with the district attorney's office, would be at the credit union parking garage with barbecue tickets. It was unclear who sent that message. Hays did not appear at the garage because of bad weather, a follow-up e-mail states.

Dated through the middle of last year into the fall, the e-mails also contain campaigning strategies, including several references to the Democratic opponent, former Houston police Chief C.O. Bradford.

An investigator e-mailed Rosenthal in September to notify him of a Bradford fundraiser. In another e-mail Rosenthal writes of Bradford, "My Democratic opponent only managed to set HPD back 100 years."

Others contained data that could be considered opposition research for political purposes.

Rosenthal, for example, asked his political consultant, Allen Blakemore, about Bradford in a July e-mail:

"I have heard for years that Brad was not a regular officer for very long and that he climbed through the ranks in dispatch. Do you think I need an open records request to get his assignment?"

The e-mails contained exchanges between Rosenthal and employees with the consulting firm that was handling his re-election campaign, including one with a list of Republican precinct chairs, important grass-roots officials.

A follow-up e-mail had a draft copy of a proposed e-mail from Rosenthal's county account to those precinct chairs, inviting them to his barbecue fund-raiser.

"You do not need a ticket, simply go to the front of the line and let them know your name and that you are on my 'Friend of Chuck' List," it reads.

Something tells me that list is about to get a whole lot shorter.

UPDATE: Cory and The Professors weigh in, with each noting Rosenthal's enthusiasm for the death penalty, which is of course disproportionately applied to African-American defendants.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 09, 2008 to Scandalized!