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November 11th, 2016:

Checking in with Kim Ogg

That’s District Attorney-elect Kim Ogg now.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, still hoarse from shouting over the jubilant victory party crowd after winning her race for Harris County District Attorney, said Wednesday that her first order of business would be to evaluate and secure all of the evidence used in thousands of pending criminal cases.

Ogg, who will take over the largest district attorney’s office in Texas on Jan. 1, hopes to ward off the problems of unauthorized evidence destruction that emerged after it was discovered that deputies at the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office threw away evidence in hundreds of cases. Scores of cases that may have been affected have yet to be resolved.

“It’s so we know that cases that are pled or tried, after I take office, have the real evidence to back them up,” she said Wednesday.

[…]

“It’s a new day in Harris County,” [Tyler Flood, president of Harris County’s Criminal Lawyers Association,] said “I’m hoping Kim will bring transparency to a very secretive regime.”

Ogg sketched out broad agenda items Wednesday but said little about specific plans or possible command staff. She said she is putting together a transition team and was not ready to announce who would be helping her helm the agency, which employs about 600 people including 300 lawyers.

In addition to evaluating the security and veracity of evidence, Ogg said she would be reviewing the pending capital murder cases, including a handful of death penalty cases currently scheduled to go to trial in 2017.

Under her administration, she said, a team of prosecutors will look at the evidence, both damning and mitigating, before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

“It’s a grave responsibility to undertake taking somebody’s life,” she said. “And I want more minds, and hearts, looking at these cases than just mine. So we’ll have a team.”

Ogg had the second-biggest day in Harris County on Tuesday, winning with 696,054 votes. That’s about 8,000 behind Hillary Clinton, and it means that like Clinton she received a fair number of crossovers. Getting a big vote total like that is both a mandate and a higher expectation level, so there are going to be a lot of eyes on Kim Ogg and what she does.

Not just locally, either. The Harris County DA’s race had a national spotlight on it going into Tuesday. A lot of that attention had to do with the DA’s prosecution of marijuana cases; Ogg as we know has outlined broad reforms for how cases like those will be handled. If she is successful at implementing those policies, it will be a big change and will likely have the effect of reducing the county’s jail population. I for one am looking forward to seeing her get started on that.

Ogg will have a lot on her plate from day one. There was a lot of turnover at the DA’s office after Pat Lykos won in 2008, and I expect there will be a lot more – some voluntary, some not – now that Ogg has won. For some insight on that, I recommend you read what former ADA (now defense attorney) Murray Newman says, from before and after the election. Transitions like this are opportunities for some people to settle scores and get grievances off their chests. That will likely result in a story or two that will be unfavorable to both Anderson and Ogg. I hope we can all keep people’s possible motivations in mind when we read those stories. Be that as it may, there will be a lot of new faces and new procedures at the DA’s office come January, and there will inevitably be some bumps in the road. How well Ogg manages the transition will go a long way towards setting the tone and laying the groundwork for implementing the real changes she wants to make.

One more thing: We all know that Ogg is a lesbian. Devon Anderson got into some hot water late in the campaign for bringing that up during a podcast interview. It hadn’t come up in either campaign before, and the vast majority of people in Harris County don’t care about anyone’s sexual orientation. But a few people with loud voices care A LOT about this sort of thing, and with Annise Parker back in the private sector (for now, at least), Kim Ogg is now the most high-profile elected official in Texas who is also a member of the LGBT community. That means she is the latest monster under Steve Hotze‘s bed, and she will be a target for people like Hotze and the hateful crap he likes to spew. I don’t know how that will play out, which is to say I don’t know how many people outside of Hotze’s little fever swamp will hear or care about anything he says, but I do feel confident saying that at some point during Ogg’s first term in office, he or someone like him will say or do something sufficiently disgusting that the rest of us will be forced to take notice. Be ready for it, that’s all I’m saying. The Press has more.

We may never know how the state did its court-ordered voter ID outreach

We sure don’t know how the money was spent on it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

On a television ad airing ahead of Election Day, Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos declares: “It’s voting season in Texas.”

The 30-second spot tailored by international public relations giant Burson-Marsteller is supposed to serve as a quick explainer to educate Texans on new voter ID requirements ordered by a federal court.

Yet, Cascos and state officials say they cannot reveal where the secretary of state’s office is spending taxpayer money to broadcast those ads and the names of an estimated 1,800 community groups partnering with Texas to circulate voter ID information at the local level.

Texas is using the lion’s share of a $2.5 million voter education effort on paid media and outreach to community organizations, but has refused over the course of months to provide details of how and where it’s spending public money for the public education campaign.

[…]

Texas’ main argument to withhold the information boils down to this: Burson-Marsteller drew up the plans and provided them to the state under contract as “proprietary” information.

A federal judge in August sealed records related to ad buy markets and community groups targeted to receive “digital tool kits” with updated voter ID information. The secretary of state’s office has since used the court seal as one of its reasons to deny media inquiries for the information.

Along with documents related to the current outreach program, the secretary of state’s office has refused to disclose information related to ad buys and market placement for a voter education campaign in 2014, the first statewide election cycle in which the voter ID law was used. The agency also will not release the name of a state lawmaker it wrote a letter addressing details of the 2014 education effort.

See here for some background. I’m sorry, but public money being spent by a public agency is something the public should know about. If Burston-Marstellar couldn’t handle the job without fear of having its “proprietary” secrets revealed, then we should have hired a different firm. I don’t even see the argument for secrecy here. And then there’s this:

According to a court document, Texas planned to send “digital tool kits” to 1,800 community groups with updated voter ID information as part of a strategy that “capitalizes on the connections community groups and organizations have to share information.”

Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said her organization was never contacted by the secretary of state’s office or Burson-Marsteller, despite being one of the largest active groups doing voter outreach.

“We’ve had many communications with the secretary of state’s office on this,” she said, “and it is a bit surprising they’re engaging with community organizations and not including us.”

On Friday, the secretary of state’s office said it had sent out more than 1,800 digital tool kits to date and that the agency has been in regular contact with the League of Women Voters of Texas, including sharing information about its education efforts and having Cascos speak at events with local chapters.

In the absence of a detailed accounting of how the money was spent, we are forced to take the SOS’s word for it that they have done what they were supposed to do. I see no reason why we should do that.