Ethics training at the Harris County District Attorney’s office

Immediately after the conclusion of newly elected Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson’s first mandatory training session for Assistant District Attorneys, several people that were appalled by the “training” asked me to look into it. So I filed a Texas Public Information Act to obtain a copy of the video taken at the training session, along with any Powerpoint slides or other materials used during the training.

After watching the entire presentation, I can see why people were upset, but frankly, after the way he handled his campaign last year, I’m not surprised by it. In fact, the image of DA Anderson standing before a room and talking about integrity disgusts me. The entire tone of the video suggests a sort of “bunker” mentality, an us against them, almost a “whine-fest” from the trainer, Rob Kepple of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Did you know the Innocence Project is the “enemy” of prosecutors? Nevermind that their work has resulted in the release of innocent men and women convicted by prosecutorial abuse. DA Anderson goes so far as to say that in the eyes of the Innocence Project, prosecutors are nothing more than pondscum. I suppose the old axiom is true – no good deed goes unpunished.

The “training” also describes our legislature as “out to get them” – “them” being prosecutors because they are “government employees” and the legislature apparently hates government employees. Oh, and the only reason crime has gone down since the 1980’s in Houston is because the legislature built more prison capacity. But now, “they” want to release criminals in prison for minor offenses because it is a whole lot cheaper to put someone on probation than it is to house them in a prison. Imagine that.

Mr. Kepple goes through a whole series of how people cheat in life and it isn’t cheating if you get away with it. I think his point was to say that prosecutors can’t do that but you’ll have to watch it to see how bad he made that point. And remember Pedro Oregon? You know, the guy that was killed dead, dead, dead because a bunch of yahoo cops forced a drunk driver to give them the address of his “dealer” and then started shooting for no reason? Yeah, he presents that as an example of using Johnny Holmes’ stellar reputation to get away with anything. Just totally bizarre.

Obviously, there are the obligatory shots at former DA Pay Lykos – hey, what do you expect from juveniles? And I really liked the part in Mr. Holmes’ remarks where he states that it is the DA’s job to set policy and the ADA’s job to follow it. It would have been nice to hear him say that during the campaign when the ADA’s were helping the Anderson campaign because they didn’t want to follow former DA Lykos’ policies. But hey, what is consistency when you want to go back to the “good old days”, right?

But you know what? I’m biased. Very, very biased in this case, so I won’t say much more about it. I urge you, no, beg you, to watch these videos and decide for yourself if this is the type of mentality that Harris County prosecutors should have. It’s a good thing that DA Anderson stated during the campaign that his job wasn’t to worry about taxpayer money, that was the job of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court. His job is to lock people up – who cares about cost to the taxpayer and whether or not it reduces crime in the long run? See this Texas Observer story for a taste of that philosophy.

I broke the video into four parts: Anderson’s opening remarks, Holme’s opening remarks, and Kepple’s presentation split at their 10 minute break. And the last video is the complete, unbroken video that I received from the DA’s office, just so you can’t say I left anything out other than a couple of minutes at the beginning while people filed in.

Anderson’s opening remarks:

Holmes’ opening remarks:

Rob Kepple, part 1:

Rob Kepple, part 2:

Entire, uncut video from the training session:

Comments

  1. says

    May I remind you that the ADAs who supported Anderson are American citizens who have the same civil right to participate in the political process that you and I do — and that, despite your snarky comment implying that there was something wrong with their doing so, they were in fact exercising their civil rights by supporting someone other than their boss during the campaign?

    Or do we want to return to the days of (Democrat-controlled) yesteryear when government employees were hired and fired, promoted and emoted, based solely upon whether their political reliability from the perspective of the (Democrat) party bosses?

  2. says

    David – I think you have let your bias against Mike Anderson affect your opinion of the training. Presecutorial misconduct is a serious issue and I applaud Judge Anderson's effort to teach young prosecutors about the issue. I heard the "us v. them" comments and the "win at all costs" baseball stories about Babe Ruth and Derick Jeter. The bottom line, though, was that our criminal justice system needs to follow the Bobby Jones method of playing golf, each golfer must be honest. I particularly liked the description of the difference between defense attorneys and prosecutors. Defense attorneys represent their clients whether they believe them or not; prosecutors have to believe in what they are doing. Mike Anderson, the prosecutor, did not believe the Mets player should be prosecuted for "kicking the cop in the groin" and he was not afraid to talk to Mr. Holmes about it. Mr. Holmes agreed with him and I strongly believe that is the kind of chief prosecutor we need in Harris County. The point about Mr. Holmes's reputation for fairness was not that it would allow him to get away with anything, but that the public could trust his judgment, knowing that if the cops needed to be prosecuted, he would have done so. Judge Anderson promised more training for the ADAs and he is following through with that promise and starting with ethics. I hope you will reconsider your opinion and give him an opportunity to show us the kind of prosecutors he wants in our District Attorney's office.

    • David Jennings says

      Bill Henderson, I am biased, as I freely admit. That is why I put the entire video up and asked people to view it for themselves. I appreciate your candor and always respect your opinion. Thanks, Dave

  3. Tagurit says

    This is not ethics, its force our employees to sit and listen or else. Suck it up folks we got 3yrs and 8mtnhs and then things will get better.

  4. Brad Walters says

    That Mike Anderson was even asking someone whether he was off base about dismissing the Mets case says a lot his hesitancy to dismiss a case he knew should be dismissed. The pressure to have the backs of law enforcement even when they are bringing nonsense is real. Prosecutors need to prosecute crimes they have no reasonable doubt about after doing due diligence on the facts, but too often they just look at what LEO tells them and accept it as gospel until a defense attorney makes them see the weakness of the case. Superb trial attorneys keep these weaknesses to themselves and wait for trial. Others trusting the ministerial role of prosecutors provide this information to prosecutors who then allow evidence to be lost and woodshed their witness to overcome the weakness in the case. This is most prevalent when the ADA believes the client is guilty and the exclusionary rule is in play. Too many will tolerate bad LEO acts in order to get a conviction with tainted evidence. This allows LEO to violate the rights of innocent as well as guilty and that’s how Mortons happen.

  5. Anonymous says

    An ethics question in point is what happened to cause a grand jury to indict Crystal Scott for the shooting death of Jonathan Ables during a altercation following an accident. In this situation a law enforcement investigation concluded the shooting was justified. However, the grand jury instead chose to indict Scott.

    Knowing the sway ADAs have over grand juries I cannot help to wonder what happened. If the ADA did not agree with law enforcement, did he/she investigate the shooting further? Did the ADA present new evidence that refuted law enforcement's findings? Or, did the ADA just chose to punt on this one?

    With Mike Anderson's tough on crime pronouncements, one might suspect that the ADA was only following his boss' return to a lock- em up and throw away the key policy. Such a callous policy does not further the pursuit of justice, but may very well mean the defendant will experience a future life of poverty from defending herself.

    The public deserves an explanation from Mike Anderson, sooner rather than later.

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