Reginald McKamie is the Democratic candidate for District Attorney in Houston. He’s running against incumbent Chuck Rosenthal, whose tenure has been rocky, to say the least. This is an important race in Harris County. It’s the highest-profile race of any competitiveness that any of us here will vote in, it will complement the efforts of Scott Hochberg, Charlotte Coffelt, Jim Dougherty, and Hubert Vo as well as all of the countywide judicial candidates, it will help give a measure of where the Harris County Democratic Party stands today, and most importantly, it has a chance to rid us of someone who just isn’t doing a good job.
I’ve met McKamie a couple of times, and I’m impressed with him. He’s a serious and thoughtful person, and I feel very confident that he’d make a fine District Attorney. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Click on the More link to see the answers.
CK: You have a broad legal background, with areas of practice in personal injury law, business law, admiralty law, and criminal defense. How well-suited do these areas make you for running the District Attorney’s office?
RM: To be an effective advocate for the state of Texas I think it is important to have a well rounded academic, social and professional career. A prosecutor with a diverse life experience will be more able to be objective and I believe will more likely seek out justice rather than pursue a very narrowly focused agenda that will not benefit the county. I have had a very diverse academic, social and professional career and I believe that will assist me in the administration of justice in Harris County.
CK: In the Chronicle’s endorsement of your candidacy, they cited your support of a public defender’s office in Houston. Why is this important? Why is it an issue in the District Attorney’s race?
RM: A public defenders office is important because we must make sure that we are not just seeking convictions, but truly seeking justice in Harris County. Presently, court appointed attorneys must curry to the Judges that appoint them. If the court appointed attorney does not move the docket along, he/she will lose favor with a Judge who seeks to keep their case docket at a minimum and that will adversely impact their future appointments in that court and therefore affect their future income. It is important that citizens have independent attorneys who represent their clients zealously so that all citizens will know that whatever the outcome of their case, it will be a just and fair outcome. The only way to obtain an attorney who will be independent is to have the money to hire your own attorney or have a cadre of attorneys who are not beholden to anyone in the courtroom for their check for those that are unable to afford a lawyer.
Your readers should know that studies show that the majority of Americans unfortunately cannot afford attorneys so people should not look at a public defender’s office as something only for those living under a bridge, but as a safety net for middle income Americans. It should be an issue in the DA’s race because the DA’s mandate is to seek justice and if the system is broken the DA needs to point that out and address it head on.
CK: Let’s talk a little about the Houston Crime Lab. What must be done to restore the public’s faith in the lab? What would you do as DA to help restore that faith? Do you believe an independent investigation is needed?
RM: To restore faith in the lab we must have an independent properly certified lab. In order to restore faith in the lab we must own up to the problems of the past and address them and correct them as best we can. While we can never give people back the years of their lives they have lost, we can certainly recognize and acknowledge that people have been wrongfully convicted and do what we can within the bounds of the law to remedy those wrongs. An independent investigation is absolutely required in order to restore some credibility to the criminal justice system in Harris County.
CK: You support a moratorium on the death penalty until the Crime Lab issues have been cleared up. What approach will you take to the other cases that have been affected by the Lab’s problems? Do you believe each case needs to be reviewed by the DA’s office?
RM: I do believe there should be a moratorium on the death penalty for those cases that rely upon analysis of evidence by the crime lab in Harris County until the crime lab problems are corrected. I think each case should be reviewed by independent laboratories and if independent analysis of the evidence does not support the evidence offered at the trial of the case, the state should either move to have all charges dismissed against the person or have the case retried if there is sufficient credible evidence for the state to make its case against the defendant. I do not believe the DA’s office should be reviewing the cases. I believe an independent body should be established to review the cases.
CK: Why is it so difficult to reverse wrongful convictions? Why do people like George Rodriguez and Josiah Sutton remain in jail long after DNA evidence appears to clear them? What should the District Attorney do when confronted with a case like that?
RM: Unfortunately, the wheels of justice move slowly. However, the District Attorney should do everything in his power to make sure the wheels of justice do not move slowly when he recognizes someone has been wrongfully convicted. To expedite the process for the two cases you cited, I would think they are important enough to assign an attorney from the DA’s office to make sure any roadblocks or hurdles that these two men may face are dealt with immediately so that they can be exonerated as soon as possible.
CK: The Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas, which overthrew the state’s sodomy law, started as a criminal complaint in Harris County. Both DA Chuck Rosenthal and his predecessor Johnny Holmes believed that it was not their place to second-guess the Legislature on controversial laws like that, and that their duty is to uphold the law as written even if they didn’t necessarily agree with it. Do you agree with that approach? Would you have handled that case any differently?
RM: The power of the District Attorney’s office is that he has prosecutorial discretion. While the DA must follow the laws of the state of Texas, the DA can decline to prosecute, not seek indictments, and do other things within the bounds of the law to ensure that justice is done and that the community is kept safe. I do not agree with the approach of Johnny Holmes and Chuck Rosenthal as you have described it. I would have handled the case differently.
CK: DA Rosenthal came under some fire for taking former Police Chief C.O. Bradford to trial on a perjury charge (see here and here). In a letter to the editor of the Chronicle defending his judgment in bringing this case to trial, Rosenthal wrote “Once the indictment was returned, the people had the right to learn the facts giving rise to the charge. Trials do that.” Do you agree with this statement? What role, if any, does the DA’s judgment about the merits of a case play?
RM: First, I do not think that the charge should have ever been brought to a Grand Jury for indictment. I think Chief Bradford would have been an excellent opponent for Chuck Rosenthal had he decided to run prior to the indictment. I think the indictment ruined any chance Chief Bradford had of running for political office in 2004. The DA’s judgment about the merits of a case plays a significant role in the criminal justice system because it is the DA who decides whether a case should be presented to a Grand Jury or not. It is the DA who decides whether the state will seek the death penalty. It is the DA who decides to accept or to even encourage a plea bargain or to go to trial or not. In short, the DA’s judgment about the merits of a case are of incredible importance.
CK: DA Rosenthal’s TV ads have a strong “tough on crime” theme to them. What does being “tough on crime” mean to you?
RM: Being tough on crime means protecting citizens from predators and violent criminals and making sure there is space in the prisons for those that commit violent crimes and who the public need to be protected from. I do not consider it being tough on crime to send a mother to jail for welfare fraud who worked during the Christmas holidays to provide Christmas gifts for her children.
CK: What is your overall campaign strategy? Do you believe you will get a boost from the Presidential election?
RM: My overall campaign strategy is to utilize e-mail and people power to get the word out that my campaign represents an alternative to what’s happening in Harris County criminal courts and if they want a change they need to vote and make a difference. I believe and have always believed I will get a boost from the 2000 presidential election. I believe the voters remember what happened in 2000 and those that are conscious have decided it will never happen again and that they will get out and vote. I believe the early vote numbers are proving that to be the case and that we will have one of the highest voter turnouts in recent history. I call it the “tide” principle. When the tide comes in there is nothing you can do to stop it, and when the tide goes out there is nothing you can do to stop it. I believe the political tide wants change and that the tide of change is coming in and there is nothing anyone can do about it and no matter how much money Rosenthal spends on “I’m tough on crime” ads, it will not change the tide.
CK: When voters go to the polls, how do you want them to view the DA race?
RM: I want voters to view the DA’s race as the most important local election on the ballot. Voters may go to the polls to vote for Kerry or Bush, but they are not likely to meet Kerry or Bush or to tell them they were mugged on Richmond or that they were accused of a crime that they did not commit, but I want them to remember that they or a loved one has a very good chance of unfortuantely being involved in the criminal justice system of Harris County as a witness, a victim or as an accused and they need to vote like their life depends on it, because it might. I want voters to vote for change.