In the off chance that you haven’t been following the goings on down at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center and a runaway grand jury, it remains a freaking mess. And it is getting messier every day, with more and more political operatives and media becoming involved. The original intent of the grand jury was apparently thrown overboard in an effort to “get someone” over at the District Attorney’s office. The question is: why? Is it, as ADA Rachel Palmer suggests, a conspiracy designed to oust DA Pat Lykos or is it, as I have suggested, a runaway grand jury with so many inputs that it would take Edward Lorentz to help decipher the unintended consequences?
Remember, even the “head” of the movement to oust DA Lykos, challenger Mike Anderson, told me that he “completely understood my concerns about the appearance of impropriety with this Grand Jury”. So it is very easy to understand why ADA Palmer and her team would make the charge that the entire investigation is designed to embarrass the DA’s office in an effort to oust DA Lykos. I don’t agree with that and think it is far more complicated but I can’t argue that they do not have a compelling case. They laid out their case in two court documents this week, a Motion to Recuse Susan Brown and a Response to Motion to Compel. You will need to read them to understand their case but it is an expansion of what Mark Bennett outlined in part here: Live by the Hatchet, Die by the Hatchet.
After hearing the Motion to Recuse, Judge Al Bennett denied the motion and returned the case back to Judge Susan Brown Tuesday morning. I think that he was probably correct because as I said earlier, as far as I know, no one questioned Judge Brown’s integrity before this episode. But again, the appearance of impropriety is certainly there and I can’t blame or argue with the thought process of DA Palmer in regards to Judge Brown. Murray Newman makes light of the animosity that existed on the campaign trail in the 2010 primary with his attempt at parody but I was in the middle of both races (Palmer/Smyth and Brown/Dexter) and the animosity between the camps was very real and very high. And Murray very well knows that. As I stated here, I thought that Don Smyth’s experience was the overwhelming factor in his defeat of DA Palmer and I stick by that. I also supported now Judge Marc Brown against Danny Dexter, although my enthusiasm for that campaign (not Marc Brown) was dampened quite a lot when someone on his team released Mr. Dexter’s personnel files from his time at the DA’s office.
So, to me, ADA Palmer’s stance about the appearance of impropriety is very reasonable given the entirety of the circumstances.
Tuesday afternoon, Judge Susan Brown denied the request by the by the special prosecutors to force ADA Palmer to testify:
And again, I think that the Judge got it right. If you look at the recollections of the questions as stated in the Response to Motion to Compel, the questions are open ended, non-specific, and could basically allow the grand jury to go any which way they wanted. As the attorney for ADA Palmer stated in this KHOU 11 interview by Doug Miller, she turned over more than a thousand pages of documents and emails to the grand jury for review. A minor misstep in answering an open-ended question could have allowed the grand jury to charge her for perjury where in reality there was none, it was a simple recollection error. Also, all of her attorneys are ex-ADA’s themselves, so they know what could happen. Heck, just this week we saw an example of a grand jury returning an indictment against seven protesters from Occupy Houston after a judge had explicitly said that there wasn’t a chargeable felony offense. You simply cannot take a chance with a grand jury because of the power they wield.
Once again, to me, ADA Palmer’s stance in taking the Fifth Amendment is entirely reasonable given the entirety of the circumstances.
But it is quite obvious that she and the DA’s office are losing the media war. I was shocked when I watched ABC 13’s Ted Oberg’s report on the goings on at the courthouse. Here is his headline:
ADA still on job despite admitting she may have committed crime
Holy buckets, Batman, talk about a misleading headline! Taking the Fifth Amendment does not mean that you are admitting that you may have committed a crime. Sheesh. It means that do not have to answer questions at any time if you think that something you say may be used against you by the state. That is a long, long, long way from “admitting that you may have committed a crime”. That it comes from Ted Oberg, one of, if not the smartest persons I’ve ever met, is incomprehensible to me. Sweeps and ratings aside, that is a very misleading headline. For a balanced, unbiased piece, see Doug Miller’s interview linked above.
And then we have the Houston Chronicle’s teen columnist weighing in. Yes, Mary Benton, I know that she is supposedly an “opinion” writer and can say what she thinks but her “opinions” are rarely insightful and almost always biased against Republicans. Which is why I nicknamed her the Spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. But that is too long, so I’ll stick with the name that Cory Crow over at Harris County Almanac prefers: Lil’ Red. She seems to have bonded with Murray, as this “opinion” piece could have been taken straight from his tweets from the courthouse Tuesday. I thought that this line in the “opinion” piece was telling:
The deputy misdemeanor division chief, with her tangle of pearls and wisp of blond hair, seemed quite the sensitive type.
That was about the only original line in the “opinion” piece. Only Lil’ Red, the Chron’s teen columnist, could have pulled that one out of a long, boring court hearing. Catty little remark by Lil’ Red. Obviously the Chron’s decreasing circulation numbers shows that they prefer “opinion” writers over subscribers.
Just as obviously, the foes of DA Lykos have learned a lot in the last three years about media relations. Kelly Siegler could only dream of media that supported her bid.
So now we come to the grand jury itself, headed by some sort of wanna be cowgirl prosecutor/judge. And small time political contributor, as you can see in the money trail outlined in the Motions above. I had to laugh when I read Isaiah Carey’s blog post titled “THIS FOOLISHNESS HAS GOT TO STOP NOW!” In it, he says that Judge Brown said:
Brown also said someone has been posting the name of the grand jury foreman on several blogs.
Now boys and girls, that right there is damn funny. The grand jury forewoman likes her some publicity – she is the one that outed herself when she decided that the 185th Grand Jury needed to head up the road to Sam Houston State University to get them some learnin’. The article even comes with a picture that includes ADA Palmer:
“The tours gave us the opportunity to see close-up the outstanding work being done at the SHSU Crime Lab and the fascinating research being conducted at the STAFS facility,” said Trisha Pollard, an SHSU alumna and foreman of the Harris County Grand Jury. “The crime lab tour gave us a better understanding about controlled substances and the expense and complexity of running the tests as well as the enormity of the problem.”
“We’ve had some cases where it has been a long time before homicide victims were discovered,” Pollard said. “The ‘Body Farm’ tour gave us an insight into the investigator’s role in trying to determine the time of death and methods used to determine the cause of death.”
Emphasis added. Oh, you say, but that doesn’t say “185th”, it just says Grand Jury. Oh, yeah, you’re right. Let’s try this one because it has a way cool title: CSI Huntsville — fact, not fiction:
Trisha Pollard, a member of the Board of Regents for the Texas State University System who helped SHSU develop STAFS, was recently elected foreman of the 185th Grand Jury in Harris County. She arranged for a group to tour STAFS and the SHSU regional crime lab in The Woodlands last week to get an idea of how evidence is studied.
Again, emphasis added. Judge Susan Brown, your grand jury has been leaking like a sieve ever since they started this witch hunt. Don’t blame “blogs” for the problem, blame your grand jury. While I’m thinking about it, how did this happen?
Radack said Lewis called his office on Monday to tell him of the coming subpoena and informed him the city was getting free DPS supervision.
That would be County Commissioner Steve Radack saying that he received a call from attorney Chip Lewis, who is representing Amanda Culbertson, giving him a heads up about a coming grand jury subpoena. You know, the super duper secret grand jury? Leaking like a freaking sieve.
Remember again what Mike Anderson told me? That he met Trisha Pollard on a Habitat for Humanity project and she asked to be on a grand jury? And that once she was on one, she was a model grand jurist, going out and doing her own investigating?
Shouldn’t grand jurors be reviewing evidence presented? Not creating it? I know, I know, I’m just a hayseed from Pasadena and I’m certain that the blogging lawyers will “correct me” but I’ve always thought that our justice system was supposed to be fair. This “investigation” by a leaking grand jury seems anything but “fair”. I don’t blame the Anderson campaign for using this to their advantage because it would amount to a dereliction of duty if they didn’t. But I don’t think they are driving this, I think that a runaway grand jury is.
But that is nothing more than my opinion. ADA Palmer and her team could be entirely correct in their assertion that she is being used by political forces to bring down the current DA. It could be that nothing is wrong and it is just a simple investigation. I couldn’t agree more with Kevin Whited over at blogHOUSTON:
Seriously, all of this looks terrible for the DA’s office, whatever motivations you may think are at play (and anyone who tells you with 100% confidence they know and understand the motivations should be disregarded).
It does look bad for the DA in the media and I doubt anyone truly knows and understands the motivations. But how is it playing for the voters? We’ll know soon enough.