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Vivian King

Ogg begins assembling her team

She has a lot of positions to fill, and a lot of work to do.

Kim Ogg

Several well-known defense lawyers will take top posts in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office under incoming DA Kim Ogg, her transition team announced Friday.

Vivian King, a prominent attorney who was an accountant for 10 years before becoming a lawyer, will be chief of staff in a reorganized office. She will oversee budgets, operations and other day-to-day running of the office.

David Mitcham will be Interim First Assistant and trial bureau chief, overseeing the majority of the 300 prosecutors in the office, supervising the trial bureaus and special prosecution divisions.

Dividing those responsibilities between two positions is a new way to organize the office. Historically, the elected district attorney’s second-in-command – the first assistant – has handled all of those duties.

Other notable hires include Jim Leitner, who was First Assistant under former DA Pat Lykos and will supervise the intake and grand jury divisions.

Other well-known attorneys who will take top posts include JoAnne Musick, who will supervise the sex crimes unit, and Carvana Cloud, who will be over the family criminal law unit, the division that prosecutes domestic violence.

Former Houston City Councilmember Sue Lovell will work as a special contractor as a government affair liaison.

See here for some background. This earlier version of the story includes a few other names. I can’t say I’m crazy about the Leitner appointment, since he just tried to oust Vince Ryan as County Attorney, but the rest look pretty solid. Tapping the defense bar for talent may look unusual, but it’s not. Former prosecutors become defense attorneys all the time – it’s just two sides of the same coin – and both Ogg and Vivian King had spent time as assistant DAs in the past. And if your mandate is to clean up and reform a DA’s office that really needs it, then you are by necessity going to look outside that office for the people who will help you carry it out. Maybe having a few people in the DA’s office who understand there’s more to justice than getting convictions is what that place needs.

Three panels investigating Sandra Bland’s death

One was appointed by the Sheriff:

Sandra Bland

In the wake of the controversial arrest of Sandra Bland and her jailhouse suicide, Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith has asked for an independent panel of civilians to evaluate all aspects of the way he runs his department, from the cell blocks to the streets, and make public recommendations for change.

“He wants to use this tragedy as a growth opportunity,” said long-time defense attorney Paul Looney, who has been asked by the sheriff to form the five-member committee.

[…]

“We have been given carte blanche. We have been told we’ll have access to any piece of paper we want. We can visit with any prisoner or person without notice,” Looney said. “We can go on ride-alongs,” he said of riding in patrol cars with deputies to observe them first-hand.

Looney said the committee will be a diverse group of leaders and that none will be in law enforcement. He also said they won’t pull any punches in making recommendations, which will be shared with the public.

“In a time period of great tragedy, there is also a great opportunity for growth, and he doesn’t want to miss that opportunity,” Looney said of the sheriff. “I don’t intend to be kind, the people I include on the committee will not be kind. We intend to be constructive.”

One was appointed by the District Attorney:

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis formed a second independent committee Monday to review the arrest and death of Sandra Bland and also released a toxicology report that one expert said suggests the 28-year-old woman used marijuana shortly before jailers found her hanging in her Waller County Jail cell.

Mathis said he was bringing in defense attorneys Lewis M. White and Darrell W. Jordan, both of whom are African-American, to lead a panel that will oversee the work of his office and make recommendations about charges for possible criminal conduct during the arrest and confinement.

“There are many lingering questions regarding the death of Sandra Bland,” Mathis said, explaining why he has asked for help just days after Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith formed a similar committee to review jail procedures.

[…]

The announcement that officials were forming another independent review committee did not build much trust with critics.

Former Waller County Justice of the Peace Dewayne Charleston said he didn’t know White or Jordan, so he couldn’t speak to their abilities or loyalties, but questioned any committee whose leaders are “appointed by the same person they are providing oversight for.”

“He’s not bound to take their advice, suggestions or recommendations, so it’s just window dressing,” said Charleston, who has called for Mathis to recuse himself from the case. “They could give him the best, most accurate recommendation but if he’s not obligated to accept it or just takes parts of it, it doesn’t really matter.”

Both White and Jordan have limited prosecution experience, graduated from Texas Southern University’s law school and work in small firms with five or fewer attorneys, according to the Texas State Bar’s website.

White, who passed the State Bar in 2002, worked under Mathis as a prosecutor for a year. Jordan, who passed the bar in 2006, has served as a prosecutor in the Army National Guard, where he still is a defense attorney. Jordan also has worked as a talk radio host for KCOH, part of the broadcasting company owned by Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall.

Vivian King, a prominent Houston defense attorney and former prosecutor, said she did not know White, but had confidence in Jordan, who she had as a student at TSU.

“I think he’s confident and smart and will ask for guidance where he needs it,” she said. “He does care about getting it right.”

JoAnne Musick, the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers, said the decision to bring in someone familiar with the county, like White, might give the duo a useful perspective. But she said that insider status also could undermine the public’s trust in the process.

“Houston is a very close and large area with tons of experienced former prosecutors and defense attorneys that could undertake that review,” she said, noting she knows neither White nor Jordan. “Their selection seems a little odd.”

Musick is one of five people selected by Hempstead and Houston attorney Paul Looney to serve on the sheriff’s review committee, which has not yet met. On Monday, Looney identified the others: Juan L. Guerra Jr., criminal defense lawyer; Randall Kallinen, civil rights attorney; Morris L. Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; and former U.S. Rep. Craig Washington.

Jordan ran in the 2010 Democratic primary for judge of the 180th Criminal District Court. Here’s the judicial Q&A he did if you want to know a little more about him. The Sheriff’s panel has several well-known people on it, and I think they will live up to Looney’s promise that they will not hold back.

There will also be a legislative hearing:

The same day Waller County officials released results of Sandra Bland’s autopsy report, state lawmakers announced they will meet next week to discuss jail standards and police relations.

Members of the House County Affairs Committee, chaired by Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman, on Thursday will discuss “jail standards, procedures with regards to potentially mentally ill persons in county jails, as well as issues stemming from interactions between the general public and peace officers.”

That hearing will be tomorrow, July 30. Here’s the press advisory from Rep. Coleman, who can always be counted on to do a thorough job, and more on the hearing in the Trib. We need to learn all we can from this tragedy, and then to actually follow through on it, or we’re just going to keep having more like it. Still more here from the Trib.

Endorsement watch: Criminal district courts

The Chron did its endorsements for the criminal district courts in two parts. In part one, three of the eight recommended candidates are Democrats:

182nd Criminal District Court: The best choice for this court is Brandon Dudley, the Democratic challenger, a graduate of UH Law and a legislative aide to state Sen. Rodney Ellis.

185th Criminal District Court: Vivian King, the Democratic challenger, is a board-certified criminal defense attorney who has campaigned on the issue of increasing the number of pre-trial bonds granted to defendants charged with nonviolent offenses.

208th Criminal District Court: Loretta Johnson Muldrow, a Democratic defense attorney, is the best choice for this criminal bench.

In part 2, three of the five recommendations go to Democrats:

248th Criminal District Court: The Chronicle believes Democrat Jim Sullivan will bring years of trial experience as a defense attorney and a reformer’s zeal to the 248th.

262nd Criminal District Court: Democratic candidate Tom Berg brings an impressive mix of educational, legal and military credentials to his campaign for this criminal bench.

263rd Criminal District Court: Democratic challenger Alvin Nunnery brings extensive experience both as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney that makes him the Chronicle’s choice for this criminal court bench.

Here are the Q&As that I have for the endorsed candidates:

Brandon Dudley

Vivian King

Jim Sullivan

Tom Berg

I have not received responses from Muldrow or Nunnery. I do have responses from one Democratic candidate the Chron did not endorse:

Darrel Jordan, 180th Criminal Court (note: from the primary)

For Q&As from Republican candidates, see Big Jolly Politics.

Judicial Q&A: Vivian King

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

My name is Vivian R. King and I am running for the 185th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Criminal cases that are classified as felony offenses by the Texas Legislature.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to add cultural diversity to the criminal court system and new ideas. The model used is out-dated, redundant, and it does not work. I want to bring innovative ideas to deal with the current offender culture, ie, vocational training for probationers who are between the ages of 17 and 30 who have no job skills.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have practiced criminal law for 18 years, as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and as a defense lawyer.

5. Why is this race important?

The current system does not work. 60% of the Harris County Jail is filled with defendants who are waiting for their court dates instead of serving time. This costs the county a lot of money. Most non-violent offenders should be on bond awaiting disposition of their cases so the jail is available for persons actually serving time. Also, the pre-trial services department has been misused for too long by the Republican Judges, ie, when people make bond, the County’s Pre-Trial Services Dept is used to help the paid bondsmen supervise defendants on bond. This is too costly for Harris County. Bondsmen should do their jobs and do what they are paid to do – get people to court. The Pre-Trial Services Dept should do what it was designed to do, and that is to let people out of jail on their own recognizance.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I want to turn law breakers into tax payers and require probationers to get vocational training and job skills to give them an alternative to incarceration. Harris County cannot afford to keep locking up non-violent offenders. Currently, young offenders are getting 6 months in jail and can never get jobs, job skills, or put their names on apartment leases. Young offenders are made to do community service or go to jail. Young offenders don’t have anything to offer the community until they receive vocational training and a job. Community service works when a person has a job and has something to give back to society. That’s an old model and it’s a broken model. I want to help fix this problem to address our current culture to turn law breakers into tax payers.