After Attorney General candidate Barry Smitherman’s visit to the Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club on January 2nd, I said this:
I do have a few questions about his presentation though. Why so little about the majority of his working career? He was an investment banker for 17 years but only made one small reference to that in this speech. He didn’t even mention the book he wrote about those days (click for a short preview). In contrast, he spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time on his 15 months as a prosecutor in Harris County. Typically, a prosecutor in Harris County needs far more time on the job than 15 months before trying felony or high-profile cases. But Smitherman said that he earned a reputation as someone that was a go-to guy on hard cases that no one else wanted. And at the same time he was writing a book on his old life and serving on the board of the Texas Public Finance Authority. He must have been a very busy guy! I did ask him a question about his time as a prosecutor and will use his answer in a follow up post after I find more information on his time at the HCDAO.
Obviously, I was skeptical of his remarks. The reason for my skepticism is that no one makes a name for themselves or earns a reputation as a go to guy in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in 15 months. No one. Perry Mason couldn’t do it. Okay?
Remember that old saying, trust, but verify. So I did. I immediately filed a Public Information Act request with the HCDAO for Smitherman’s trial record. And as I suspected, there is much less here than Smitherman is claiming on the campaign trail.
First, let’s look at a few of his statements, statements in the news and blogs, a Tweet, and his Facebook page header image. Bear with me – you need to get the context of his message about being a “proven prosecutor”.
In the video, Smitherman recounts his time as an Assistant District Attorney saying, “it was an honor serving as a prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s office where I tried cases protecting families from violence and assault and drunk drivers.”
Barry is a licensed attorney who served as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. As a prosecutor, Smitherman focused on keeping families safe by specializing in prosecuting family assaults and drunk driving cases.
Smitherman went on to say, “As a prosecutor, I sat as ‘first chair’ on many DWIs and family assaults. In fact, I was in trial most days and gained a reputation for trying cases that others didn’t want to try. I was also described by my bosses as having trial skills and courtroom presence ‘far beyond my years of experience.’
“Before I went to Austin I was a prosecutor here in Harris County. I started off late in life as a prosecutor. I was a 43-‐year old baby prosecutor. It was a second career for me. But I have to tell you. I found it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I could come home and tell my children, when they asked me what I “”did today, I put bad people in jail.”
“The second thing that you really ought to think about when you are trying to figure out who to vote for is who actually has experience in the courtroom. I think the Attorney General ought to know how to pick a jury. Ought to know how to make a closing argument. Ought to feel comfortable in the courtroom. I’m the only one in this race who’s been a prosecutor. I’m the only one who has met with the victim of a crime, heard her story, picked a jury, put the perp on, cross-‐examined, made a closing argument, got a guilty verdict, and watched the “”perpetrator hustled out of the courtroom in handcuffs. That is the kind of experience that you need.” “
Smitherman said the job of attorney general needed a leader, not someone who cast votes. He said his experience on the Railroad and Public Utilities commissions, as well as a prosecutor, made him the ideal choice to replace Abbott.
“When these guys were freshman legislators I was putting bad people in jail in Houston,” he said.
Smitherman served as a prosecutor in one of the greatest District Attorney’s Offices in this nation, the Harris County District Attorney’s office. While there, he established a strong record of prosecutions, particularly in the area of domestic violence and drunk driving cases.
Smitherman has a record. He has a record of being a tough prosecutor which will serve us well as he moves forward to use the AG’s office to help secure the Texas border with Mexico.
Smitherman recounts his time as an Assistant District Attorney saying, “it was an honor serving as a prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s office where I tried cases protecting families from violence and assault and drunk drivers.”
“I became a baby prosecutor in the Harris County DA’s office at the age of 43. And after everyone got through “”laughing at me, I became a good prosecutor. In fact, my specialty was prosecuting family assaults, particularly assaults where the man has beaten up the woman, usually a girlfriend but sometimes a wife, and she says it didn’t happen. We prosecute those cases in Harris County and let me tell you guys, there’s nothing more rewarding than putting a guy in jail who’s been beating up his wife for a long time. I could finally tell my “”children what you do for a living – I put bad people in jail. Really pretty simple.” “
“As a prosecutor in the Harris County DA’s office, where I was before we came to Austin, I prosecuted “countless cases.” ” (1-10-14 at the Austin Republican Women’s Club)
I developed a reputation for taking any case. I’ll take the hard cases. I’ll take the cases that could be difficult, that you might actually lose.
In addition, I asked him about his time at the HCDAO during the question/answer time at the Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club. Listen to his answer.
Get the idea? One of the main themes of the Smitherman campaign is that he was some sort heroic prosecutor, putting, as he says multiple times, bad people in jail.
So what would you think if I told you that in his entire 15 month career as a prosecutor, Smitherman had a grand total of 20 jury trials? Remember, he tells people that he prosecuted “countless cases” – can you count to 20? Does that sound heroic? How about his record of winning 11 of those trials and losing 9? And about all those bad people he put in jail? Well, there were five of them in total:
- James Wade Rogers – DWI 1st Offender – 10 days
- Aaron Osbaldo Garza – DWI 2nd Offender – 180 days
- Steven Brandon Alford – Assault-Family Member – 120 days
- Jimmy Dwayne Hasty – Assault-Family Member – 100 days
- Julian Ventura – Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon – 105 days
So when Smitherman says he put “bad people in jail”, he isn’t lying. Because five men did spend a few days in jail after Smitherman prosecuted them for Misdemeanor crimes.
But Johnny Holmes he ain’t (for those not familiar with Holmes, he is a legend at the HCDAO). Smitherman never prosecuted a single felony in his short time at the HCDAO.
Why is Smitherman exaggerating his split-second as a prosecutor and refusing to talk about his 17 years as a banker? That’s a question for another day.
Look, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t know any of the candidates. Smitherman lives in Austin and his two opponents in North Texas. I just knew something wasn’t right about Smitherman’s statements, so I went looking for the truth.
And the truth is that if we as Republicans are going to dissect Wendy Davis’ life story and find exaggerations and omissions here and there, and make them into campaign issues to try and disqualify her in the minds of voters, we’d probably better look at our own candidates. And Barry Smitherman can’t pass that test. And yes, I’ve tried to contact that mysterious woman that supposedly looked Smitherman in the eye and silently thanked him for convicting her boyfriend – I haven’t been successful yet but I’ll keep trying. Because something about that doesn’t feel right either.
Click here for Smitherman’s trial record as provided by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office after my Public Information Act request. And if you want to look up the individual cases, you can search the Harris County District Clerk’s website. Or if you are nice and ask, I can send them to you.