January 11, 2008
More on AG Abbott's entry into the Rosenthal saga

Today's Chron story provides a little more info about Attorney General Greg Abbott's impending investigation of DA Chuck Rosenthal.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott launched an investigation Thursday into whether Harris County's top prosecutor, Chuck Rosenthal, violated state laws by using a government computer for campaign activities.

Abbott's office declined to discuss the investigation, which could lead to Rosenthal's ouster, referring questions to a short letter sent to the county's top civil attorney, Mike Stafford, who requested the inquiry.

"You asked the Office of the Attorney General to investigate allegations involving the Harris County District Attorney," wrote Deputy Attorney General Eric Nichols. "Pursuant to your request, this letter confirms that the Office of the Attorney General will open an investigation into this matter."

County commissioners last month set aside $50,000 for a private attorney to defend Rosenthal and two top assistants in their attempt to keep Rosenthal's e-mails private and defend Rosenthal against allegations that he illegally deleted e-mails. It wasn't clear Thursday whether county taxpayers might also pay for lawyers to defend Rosenthal in the attorney general's inquiry.

The new investigation, possible under a provision in state law that allows the removal of a district attorney for "official misconduct," is the latest development in an unfolding scandal over Rosenthal's e-mails, which included campaign fundraising invitations and discussions of his one-time political opponent, former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford.

Asked Thursday whether he would comment on the controversy, Rosenthal replied, "No, sir. Thank you."


It was unclear Thursday how the state investigation might proceed. The law sets out a procedure in which the attorney general's office would have to determine whether to file a petition for removal. That would require a finding of "official misconduct," which includes unlawful behavior.

It's generally unlawful for public officials to use government resources for campaign activity, but prosecutors have discretion based on the degree of the activity and the intent of the official.

We've covered that ground before. It may well be that there's insufficient evidence of a crime, and certainly Rosenthal gets the benefit of the presumption of innocence until such time that a jury convicts him of something, if it ever comes to that. But it would be nice to get the procedural question answered quickly.

AG Abbott's letter is here (PDF). Meanwhile, Mark Bennett gives a view of what life is going to be like for some of Rosenthal's employees as long as he's still in charge:

Other unresolved questions: will the Assistant DAs continue to proudly declare in voir dire that they "work for the elected DA, Chuck Rosenthal"? No, probably not; more likely, we'll have to help them make that point. And will they tell our potential jurors who attend Lakewood Church (all 30 thousand of them) that the view of the DA's office is that members of that church are screwballs and nuts? No, we may have to handle that part of jury selection too. And the part where we discuss racist "jokes" and sexist videos making light of violence against women. And the part where we discuss hardcore pornography sent or received at taxpayer expense. You know, just to make sure they won't hold it against the State in this particular case.

How long will it take Harris County juries to forget the glimpse they've had of the hidden sleaze of the Harris County DA's office? Kelly Siegler is a hell of a trial lawyer. As I've written before, she stands out as a prosecutor in part because she exhibits the kind of creativity in the courtroom that defenders use every day. (Of course, prosecutors aren't necessarily ethically permitted to exhibit the kind of creativity in the courtroom that defenders use every day, but that's what the voters like to see.)

And here's more on Siegler's Lakewood troubles.

Lakewood has a weekend attendance of about 45,000 members, led by Pastor Osteen.

Don Iloff, a spokesman for the church, said "Lakewood's members are very forgiving. They probably won't vote for her, but they will forgive her."


Her opponents for the GOP nomination had guarded comments -- or none at all -- about her Lakewood remarks.

"I don't want to be hasty," former state District Judge Pat Lykos said. "I don't want to comment until I see her statements, and it may not be appropriate to comment even then."

After reading Siegler's courtroom comments and her later explanation of them, former prosecutor and GOP rival Jim Leitner said, "Obviously Kelly didn't like that juror and she was scrambling for reasons" to justify striking him.

Houston police Capt. Doug Perry said he felt Siegler was "only doing her job" and trying to select an effective jury, "but I also want voters to know that, if elected, I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind."

Thursday afternoon the 300-member Houston Area Pastor Council called for Rosenthal's resignation and blasted Siegler's Lakewood comments.

"The bottom line for us," said Dave Welch, the group's executive director, "is this is a matter of public trust in an office of critical authority that has great bearing on people's lives. The actions by the district attorney and apparently some of his staff are beyond troubling," said Dave Welch, the group's executive director. "They raise doubt about the character and ethics and law within the office."

While the ministers' group stopped short of demanding Siegler resign or withdraw from the race, Welch said, "She is part of that culture in the district attorney's office that needs to be cleansed."

I think that last bit is something that hasn't quite sunk in yet, but Rosenthal's and now Siegler's actions really have cast a cloud over the entire DA's office, at least for the seven years that Rosenthal was in charge. Given what we know about their attitudes towards a whole lot of people, especially women and minorities, how much faith can we have in the work they've done - the charges they've brought, the penalties they've pursued, and so on? It's a huge deal, and I think it all does need to be cleansed, to use Welch's word. We can do a little bit of that now, but it's going to take a real change at the head of the office for the task to be fully realized.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 11, 2008 to Scandalized!

Kelly Siegler is part of Chuck Rosenthal's inner circle. The longer Chuck stays, the deeper the hole he digs, the worse for Kelly.

Posted by: Mark Bennett on January 11, 2008 8:40 AM

County commissioners last month set aside $50,000 for a private attorney to defend Rosenthal... That borders on implying that the good old boy Commissioners are defending Rosenthal with my money. Maybe that's why they're pretty scarce these days.

The same Chronic article you are quoting from also says: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who called for Rosenthal's resignation and the state inquiry, welcomed the announcement. Yes and County Judge Ed Emmett said this standing in front of a humongous Ed Emmett in his characteristic campaign script. Regardless of whether his campaign paid for this sign or the county paid for this sign, this is the use of county resources for campaigning and Emmett is standing in front of his campaign sign calling for Rosenthal's ouster for the same violation.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on January 11, 2008 12:28 PM