You know, I’m enjoying the GOP DA runoff as much as the next political junkie, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen the last original episode and are now just watching reruns.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is in shambles after being shamed around the world. Or, prosecutors are briskly carrying out the job of obtaining guilty verdicts in criminal cases after recovering from the scandals involving former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.
Republican candidates for district attorney Pat Lykos and Kelly Siegler presented those contrasting pictures Wednesday, in that order.
“The office is in disarray,” former judge Lykos said. “And it has been discredited nationally and worldwide.”
Rosenthal, known nationally as chief of the local law enforcement agency that produces the most death penalty sentences in the nation, resigned after the disclosure of racist and sexist material and campaign communications on his government e-mail, along with romantic messages to his executive secretary.
Lykos, citing Rosenthal’s explanations that a mix of prescription drugs had clouded his thinking, said, “So he has had a core group of people running that office, and the culture that it has created has led to the scandals we have now.”
Siegler is chief of the agency’s special crimes division — part of the leadership group that Lykos criticized.
“Morale is back up” now that Rosenthal is gone, Siegler said. “Attitudes are good and we are back in the business of prosecuting criminals.”
For what it’s worth, I agree somewhat with Lykos, and I agree somewhat with Siegler. I don’t think there’s any question that the Harris County DA’s office has a bad reputation around the country and the world, though I think that pre-dates the whole ear-kissing thing; I’d flag Rosenthal’s buffoonish performance before the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas as the point where the rest of the world first noticed our DA’s office, though of course every time there’s an article about the death penalty we get more publicity. On the other hand, I think a lot of this bad press is attributable to Rosenthal himself, and so his departure was an immediate lift. We can of course still have an argument about how much more the office needs to disassociate itself from the man – that’s what this runoff, and if Siegler wins the November election is and will be about – but it’s fair to say that things are different now than they were in January and early February. At least, they look different, and since we’re talking the perceptions of others, that matters.
This is about where Siegler loses me:
Siegler said she is not responsible for Rosenthal’s errors in judgment, partly because he wouldn’t listen to advice from people such as herself.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Either Kelly Siegler and other members of the leadership group in the DA’s office knew that Rosenthal’s judgment was seriously impaired and they did nothing about it, or they didn’t know there was anything wrong. The former shows a lack of courage, the latter a lack of perceptiveness. I’m sorry, but saying “Rosenthal wouldn’t listen to me” isn’t good enough. If Siegler knew he was a problem, she needed to put pressure on him to get help or get out. She didn’t, and she has to own that.