The new DA’s new direction?

This article is about a guilty plea being entered by two of the four former staffers of the Mayor Pro Tem’s office who were arrested for improperly giving themselves bonuses, but the most interesting bit in the story to me is this:

The news comes on the heels of Harris County prosecutors’ decision to plea out two high-profile cases Wednesday, signifying what some believe is a change of philosophy under newly appointed District Attorney Ken Magidson.

Under former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, defense lawyers say, it’s doubtful that former Texas Southern University President Priscilla Slade and a man who faced the death penalty for gunning down a volunteer firefighter, could have avoided jury trials.

Lewis said he is “striking while the iron is hot.” He said antiquated and unreasonable policies Rosenthal put in place hamstrung his prosecutors from making good decisions.

“He had a draconian policy that he had to set the offer, not the prosecutors who handle the case, which I think is idiotic,” Lewis said. “Now the powers that be, now that he’s not there mucking it up, have started to get on a more reasonable track. It’s evidenced by Slade.”

Calls to Rosenthal were not returned about the two cases: Slade, who got 10 years probation and restitution to the university of more than $127,000, and Keith Hines, who faced the death penalty for gunning down a volunteer firefighter.

Vivian King, a defense attorney who assisted in the Hines case, agreed with Lewis’ strategy to try to get a more lenient deal.

She said she doubts prosecutors under Rosenthal would have allowed Hines to save his life by accepting life in prison without parole.

“I attribute it to the new DA,” King said. “I may be wrong, but that’s what I attribute it to.”

She said she also has the impression that Rosenthal didn’t reel in underlings who sought the harshest punishments.

Several assistant district attorneys, including Smyth, disagreed with the analysis of Lewis and King.

Magidson released a statement that said he does not believe anyone should draw any conclusions about him or the office’s philosophy on the basis of the plea agreements.

“Those plea agreements were case-specific, reached after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances presented by each matter. Future cases with similar charges may result in completely different outcomes depending on the facts and circumstances.”

Well, one could argue that this kind of careful, case-specific consideration is in itself evidence of a change of direction from the Rosenthal days. If the people who deal with the DA’s office think things are different now, they’re going to act as though it’s true. All I know is that whether these are isolated cases or part of an emerging pattern, it’s all good to me.

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